For the Love of Deanna: Remembering Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin in "I'll Be Yours" (1947)

Deanna Durbin in “I’ll Be Yours” (1947)

The first time saw Deanna Durbin was on the front of a DVD case.

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

I was 14 and gazed at this pretty, young lady happily looking back at me on the front of the “Deanna Durbin: Sweetheart Pack.”

Though I had no idea who Durbin was, I bought the DVDs.

The first film I watched was “Three Smart Girls” (1936) and immediately fell in love with Durbin’s smile, singing voice and charm.

Through the years, I’ve tried to watch as many musicals as possible- now up to 470 movie musicals-and Durbin’s films have been some of my favorite.

Debuting in films at age 15, Durbin’s popularity pulled Universal Studios out of bankruptcy, won her a Juvenile Oscar in 1938 and made her one of the top paid women in the United States.

Her popularity was world wide with fans such as Winston Churchill and Anne Frank. She influenced fashion in “Nice Girl” (1941) with a white organdy, ruffled dress, according to USA Today.

LIFE photo of Durbin

1938 LIFE magazine photo of Durbin

She was considered for the role of Dorthy in “Wizard of Oz” (1939) (as was Shirley Temple) and to be the voice of Snow White in the 1937 Walt Disney cartoon. However her voice was considered too mature at 14.

Similar to fellow child star Shirley Temple, Durbin had dolls and other merchandise created in her likeness. Today, it’s difficult to find a Deanna Durbin doll under $200.

After her first on-screen kiss with Robert Stack in “First Love” (1939) she transitioned into teen and adult roles with leading men such as Joseph Cotton, Gene Kelly and Tom Drake.

But after 21 films and at the height of her popularity, Durbin left films and lived the remainder of her life in France.

“I hated being in a fishbowl,” she was quoted as saying in her New York Times obituary.

Long after she had left films, her influence and sunny disposition continued to spread, this time to fans like myself. Durbin quickly became one of my favorite movie stars and singers as I worked my way through her films. In 2005, she was kind enough to respond to a fan letter with an autograph and even paying for postage from France.

Durbin in color

Durbin in color

My favorite Deanna Durbin films include “The Amazing Mrs. Holliday” (1943) where she plays a missionary caring for World War II orphans, and “It Started With Eve” (1941). Though Durbin has great chemistry with “Eve” leading man Robert Cummings, she has even more impressive chemistry with Charles Laughton. The rumba scene with Laughton is one of my favorite comedic scenes of the English actor.

My favorite songs of Durbin’s include “Amapola” and “Les Filles de Cadiz.”

It was announced Tuesday that Durbin passed away at the age of 91.

Though she is gone, she will forever be singing in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Deanna.

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

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“Now it’s time to say goodbye”: Remembering Annette Funicello

Just thinking about her makes me smile.

annette funicello 2

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello has always been a source of happiness in my household. Her films, the Annette mystery book series, her music- she has always been a favorite of the Pickens’ family.

Though I didn’t grow up in the 1960s, I grew up with Annette. My mom was a huge fan so I was introduced to “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and “Babes in Toyland” (1961) at a young age.

“I had Annette books, coloring books and paper dolls growing up,” my mom, Lisa Pickens, said. “I really liked her a lot. Since she was only in movies while she was young, we didn’t see her age. There was something special about Annette.”

Annette was an original Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She autographed a photo for me in 2008

Annette was an original Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She autographed a photo for me in 2008

Even in the past two years, summer afternoons were spent downloading her songs on iTunes and watching old Mickey Mouse Club episodes and the Annette series. In the serial Annette was a “country cousin” who moves to the city to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle.

“Throughout all the years we were friends she never changed from that sweet person who cared so much about others,” said Mousketeeer Sharon Baird, on the Official Disney Fan Club. “She always had time for everyone; family, friends and fans alike. It’s no wonder she was America’s sweetheart.”

In the 1950s, Annette Funicello stood out as a Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. Her background was Italian and she looked different than the other, Anglo-Saxon children.

She even suggested that she change her last name to “something more American,” but Walt Disney disagreed, saying her own name made her more unique, according to IMDB.

And her uniqueness is what made her the most popular of the original Mousketeers.

“The Disney studio wasn’t like other studios. It was just like home – it always had a small-town, family atmosphere,” she said.
Along with The Mickey Mouse Club, Annette starred in Disney films such as “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” (1964) and “Babes in Toyland.”

Her fame brought her to recording career, with records like “Hawiaannette,” “Itallianette” and “Danceannette,” but Miss Funicello didn’t think she could sing.

“The Sherman Brothers wrote a song for me for the Annette series called ‘How Will I Know My Love,’” she said in an interview. “They told me we have to put this on a single. People are writing us like crazy wanting to buy it. I told them I don’t sing. And they said, ‘Well I’m signing you to a recording contact, young lady.’ And I said yes sir, and that’s what started my singing career.”

Composer Tutti Camarata was the one who created “The Annette Sound.” This is where she would sing the song once. She then would listen to the song with headphones, while trying to sing along as exact as she could, she said.

“It gave me that larger sound that I needed, because my voice is very small with a range of about of three notes,” she laughed. “It worked. I think my favorite song was ‘Pineapple Princess.’ I was lucky enough to have five songs that made the Top 10.”

Stevie Wonder, early in his career, with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in "Muscle Beach"

Stevie Wonder, early in his career, with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in “Muscle Beach”

Annette was also one of the first performers to sing with the Beach Boys as they were growing in fame.

“I really shouldn’t put down my singing career, because I’m so appreciative of everything that came my way,” she said.

In interviews and in her autobiography “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” Annette seems like somebody you would run in to at the store. Annette was sweet and down to Earth, making her more relatable for her fans.

With Tommy Sands in "Babes in Toyland"

With Tommy Sands in “Babes in Toyland”

Even while she was in movies, her father still worked at a gas station, and Annette wasn’t allowed to date until she was 16, according to her New York Times obituary.

In real life, she stayed friends with fellow teen stars Frankie Avalon, Shelley Fabres and fellow Mousketeers Doreen Tracey and Cheryl Holdridge, who passed away in 2009. She was good friends with Jimmy Dodd from the Mickey Mouse Club until his death in 1964.

While she was 21-years-old and still under contract at Disney, she was approached about roles in beach films. Walt Disney approved Annette doing the films as long as she didn’t show her belly button in bathing suits, according to the New York Times.

These films included the silly, but fun, “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965) and “Beach Party (1963).

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in "Beach Party"

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in “Beach Party”

Annette retired from films, only making a few appearances, after she married her first husband in 1965 to raise her family.

“She was always there for car pools, Hot Dog Day and the P.T.A,” her daughter said in 1994.

After they divorced, she remarried in 1986 to Glen Holt. They remained married until she passed away.

Annette returned for a few appearances in the 1980s including “Back to the Beach” (1987) with Frankie Avalon, and an appearance on the TV Show “Full House” where Michelle pronounced her last name as “Funny-Jello.”

It was in 1987, she learned she had Multiple Sclerosis and established the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.

Miss Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, and the world seems a little dimmer.

“Everyone who knew Annette, loved and respected her,” said Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Miller.  “She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, and was always so kind to everyone. She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father. Annette will always be very special to me.”

Rest in peace, Annette. You will always remain in our hearts as you chant “Meeska-Mooska-Mouseketeer” and surf the beaches of California.

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Metropolitan Opera singer dies at age 99

Actress, opera singer Rise Stevens in 1941

Actress, opera singer Rise Stevens in 1941

A Kennedy Center Honoree, 351 performances at the Metropolitan Opera House and handful of Hollywood films.

Opera singer and actress Risë Stevens had an impressive resume, including a 62 year marriage.

The singer who performed “Carmen” 124 times passed away March 20 at the age of 99.

Stevens with Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby in Going My Way, 1944

Stevens with Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby in Going My Way, 1944

She is best known in the opera world for being a successful operatic singer on the stage. However, classic film fans will recognize her from her role in the Bing Crosby film “Going My Way” (1944).

In the film, Stevens plays an old girlfriend of Crosby, who is now a Catholic priest, Father O’Malley. After he turned to life as a priest Stevens becomes a successful singer and performs selections from “Carmen” in the movie. Stevens helps save the church from financial troubles by performing a piece of music written by Father O’Malley, “Going My Way.”

“I probably would never have reached that vast public had I not done films,” said Stevens. “At least, I won a lot of people over to opera.”

Stevens’s first film was in 1941 with fellow opera singer, Nelson Eddy in “The Chocolate Soldier.”

Rise Stevens and Nelson Eddy in The Chocolate Soldier, 1941

Rise Stevens and Nelson Eddy in The Chocolate Soldier, 1941

“He really could have had an operatic career, but he just made too much money, too soft and too easy,” she said.

But her career is much vaster than a few Hollywood films.

Stevens performed with the Metropolitan Opera from 1938 until 1961, leaving the opera while she still had her voice, according to her obituary in the Miami Herald.

“It always bothered me, these great singers when I heard them again and again, remembering how magnificent they sounded once and no more,” she said.

Born in New York, she sang on the “Children’s Hour” radio show when she was a little girl. She later studied at Julliard. When she was invited to perform with the Metropolitan Opera, she declined. She said she wasn’t ready and made her formal debut in Europe, according to her New York Times obituary.

“I had a good career,” she is quoted in her Miami Herald obituary. “Now the joy is in watching the young musicians grow, mature, and perhaps become successes.”

Rest in peace to one of America’s best singers: Rise Stevens.

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His father called him Dobe: Remembering Harry Carey, Jr.

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first month of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us. This is the last of Comet’s 2012 rememberances.

Harry Carey, Jr.

Harry Carey, Jr.

He could be seen frequently along side John Wayne, and his father nicknamed him Dobe for his red hair that resembled adobe soil.

Along with actors Paul Fix, Ward Bond and Mildred Natwick, Harry Carey, Jr. was a staple in John Ford westerns.

Following in the footsteps of his character actor father, Harry Carey, Carey Jr. usually seemed to play a baby faced innocent in westerns.

Coming from the acting family, Carey, Jr. appeared with his father in “Red River” and with his mother, Olive Carey in “The Searchers” and “Two Rode Together.

Three of his first movies starred John Wayne: “Red River” (1948), “3 Godfathers” (1949) and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949).

But Carey, Jr. wasn’t just a character actor in John Ford’s films but also was close friends with Ford and John Wayne.

“I loved Duke and he loved me,” Carey said in an interview with in 2009 for the book Duke, We’re Glad We Knew You. “The thing is, I don’t think he ever forgave me for being the son of Harry Carey. Harry Carey was his absolute hero.”

 John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson, John Agar and George O'Brien on the set of "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".

John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson, John Agar and George O’Brien on the set of “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”.

TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Legends – John Ford (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon / Three Godfathers / Cheyenne Autumn / Wagon Master)

Carey, Jr. even married within the John Ford stock company, marrying Paul Fix’s daughter, Marilyn from 1944 until his death at the age of 91 on Dec. 27, 2012.

Though Carey, Jr. usually didn’t have  a large role, he always added something special to his films, whether it be a comedic moment or an emotional scene.

Out of all of the John Ford stock players, he was one of my favorites.

“My journey has been that of a character actor,” the New York Times quoted from Carey’s autobiography. “I’ve worked with the great and the not-so-great. But mostly I’ve worked with men and women who loved their profession, and who like me, had kids to raise and houses to pay for.”

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“How’d you get to be so cute”: Remembering Phyllis Thaxter

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Eyes twinkling and bright smile.

The first time I was introduced to MGM actress Phyllis Thaxter was as she played Van Johnson’s wife in the World War II film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944).

“How did you get to be so cute?” Van Johnson asked in the film.

“I had to be if I was going to get such a good-looking fella,” she said.

Spencer Tracy, Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."

Spencer Tracy, Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” the story of Doolittle’s raid on Japan, was Thaxter’s first and probably best role.

Thaxter’s acting career started on Broadway, and she was signed to MGM in 1944. The actress was the daughter of a Shakespearean actress and Supreme Court justice, according to a Hollywood Reporter article.

Many of the sweet and petite actress’s roles were as wives and mothers, such as Ronald Reagan wife in “She’s Working Her Way Through College,” Margaret O’Brien’s pregnant mother in “Tenth Avenue Angel” and a single mother who becomes Gene Kelly’s love interest in “Living in a Big Way.”

In the early 1950s, Thaxter left MGM and signed with Warner Brothers, but her contract was terminated in 1952.

The stumble in her career wasn’t her choice.

Thaxter in 1945

Thaxter in 1945

In 1952, Thaxter was swimming in Portland, Maine while visiting family. She found she lost strength in her legs, and her brother rescued her. Thaxter had polio, according to a New York Times article.

She was put in an iron lung while pregnant, because the lung needed for breathing was weakened, according to the article.

But Thaxter overcame the disease, only suffering from pain in her feet due to nerve problems that her daughter said she never complained about.

Thaxter’s career continued with television work until 1978, when she played the role of Ma Kent in “Superman,” the role most remember her for today.

“I worked harder on that film than anything I’d done; I couldn’t be bad,” Thaxter said.

Though she wasn’t a glamour girl, Thaxter’s daughter Skye, said her mother discussed some of her romances with leading men, saying she had a “hell of a good time.”

“ Mother and Montgomery Clift were very much in love,” Skye Aubrey said in a New York Times article. “They talked about getting married. They were planning on it. Then he found out he was gay.”

Phyllis Thaxter passed away on Aug. 14, 2012, at the age of 92.

Though she isn’t as well known today, she has always left an inexplicable impression on me, and I will go out of my way to see her films.

Maybe it’s because she was “so cute.”

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The Butterscotch Voice: Remembering Tony Martin

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Tony Martin with wife of 60 years, Cyd Charisse, and children Tony Jr. and Nicky in 1956.

Tony Martin with wife of 60 years, Cyd Charisse, and children Tony Jr. and Nicky in 1956.

Hedy Lamarr, Esther Williams, Rita Hayworth.

He romanced and was married to the most beautiful women in the movies.

1940s and 1950s crooner Tony Martin had a smooth voice that could be compared to melted butter, or what his friend Gabriel Guerrero described as “butterscotch,” in a USA Today article.

“You Stepped Out of a Dream” from Ziegfeld Girl:

“I think I sound like a fella who’s always making a plea through his music,” Martin said. “Sort of a plea of sincerity.”

Martin’s career began on the “Lucky Strike Radio Hour” during the 1930s and moved on the Gracie Allen and George Burns Show.

Tony Martin with ex-wife, Alice Faye in 1939 at the premiere of "Hollywood Cavalcade."

Tony Martin with ex-wife, Alice Faye in 1939 at the premiere of “Hollywood Cavalcade.”

He began his film career at RKO in the late 1930s but was more successful when he moved to MGM, performing in movies like “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941), “Easy to Love” (1953) and “Hit the Deck” (1955).

But his most successful endeavor was his marriage to dancer and actress, Cyd Charisse in 1948.

Martin was first married to actress and singer, Alice Faye. Faye and Martin met while filming “Sing, Baby, Sing” in 1937, according to a New York Times Article.

They married in 1937 and were divorced by 1941. Faye was 20th Century Fox’s top star and her fame interfered with their marriage.

“To many people around town, I was Mr. Alice Faye,” Martin said.

But his marriage to Cyd Charisse lasted for 60 years until her death in 2008. The couple met while Charisse’s fame was still growing at MGM. Charisse and Martin had one child together, Tony Jr., along with her son Nicky from a previous marriage.

Tony Martin in 1955.

Tony Martin in 1955.

“She stepped out of a dream,” Martin said about Cyd.

The two never starred in any films together, aside from a brief cameo Charisse makes at the end of “Easy to Love,” but the couple performed in singing and dancing tours in their later years, according to a USA Today article.

“To him, walking out on to a nightclub floor is as simple and natural as going to the kitchen for a glass of water,” Charisse said in “The Two of Us,” the joint autobiography she wrote with Martin in 1976.

Martin passed away on July 27, 2012, at the age of 98. But even well into his 90’s, he was still performing and his voice was just as rich.

“His voice is more or less intact,” a New York Times critic wrote after a 2008 performance. “Time has certainly taken its toll. He no longer belts. But the essential Tony Martin sound was still discernible.”

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The original girl who couldn’t say no: Remembering Celeste Holm

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Celeste Holm as Ado Annie in "Oklahoma"-Broadway 1943

Celeste Holm as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma”-Broadway 1943

She was the first one who couldn’t say no to kisses from men in the Oklahoma Territory.

Celeste Holm originated the role of Ado Annie in the first 1943 “Oklahoma” Broadway performance.

She auditioned so she could do her part during World War II.

“There was a need for entertainers in Army camps and hospitals,” Holm was quoted in a USA Today article. “The only way you could do that was if you were singing in something.”

Holm didn’t have the typical Hollywood look when she signed on with 20th Century Fox in 1946. But Holm made her mark in films.

One of Holm’s first films in Hollywood won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1947’s “Gentleman’s Agreement;” a film about anti-Semitism in America.

She was nominated for her role as a nun with Loretta Young in “Come To The Stable” (1949) and also starred in the psychiatric drama with Olivia de Havilland, “The Snake Pit.”

But Holm’s biggest role was in between Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in “All About Eve” (1950). Her role as Karen won her another Oscar nomination but it didn’t win her Davis’s friendship.

“I walked onto the set and there’s Bette and I say, ‘Good Morning,’ and she said, ‘Oh, shit, good manners,’” Holm said. “I felt as if I’d been hit in the face with a wet flounder and I never spoke to her again. She called me a ‘Bitch,’ okay.”

Holm was cast in the musical remake of “The Philadelphia Story,” “High Society” with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly, who became engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco during the filming.

Holm remembers Kelly’s ring being as “big as a skating rink,” according to the book Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess by James Spada.

When people marveled over the ring, Holm said Kelly would reply, “It is, sweet isn’t it?”

Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm in "All About Eve" (1950). Photo from LIFE magazine

Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm in “All About Eve” (1950). Photo from LIFE magazine

While Holm’s film career dwindled in the 1960s, she turned to acting on television and charity work; advocating organizations such as National Mental Health Association, National Council on the Arts and UNICEF.

Since the early 2000s, Holm’s health began to decline, and she began to suffer from memory loss in 2002.

Holm passed away on July 15, 2012, at the age of 95 from a heart attack. Her family asked for memorial donations to be made to some of her favorite charities, according to her USA Today obituary.

Now, from January to March, I hope to honor Holm’s memory as I perform a role she originated. I’ll be acting as Ado Annie in a local performance of “Oklahoma.” I hope I make her proud as I recreate the man-crazy role.

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“I wasn’t trying to set the world on fire”: Remembering Ernest Borgnine

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Ernest Borgnine in 1956 with his Oscar for "Marty"

Ernest Borgnine in 1956 with his Oscar for “Marty”

His rough mug may fool you into thinking he was a gruff individual until he smiled.

Though Ernest Borgnine could play an evil villain in films, Borgnine broke hearts playing the gentle butcher with his Academy Award winning performance in “Marty” (1955).

Borgnine wasn’t your typical movie star: slightly heavy, not handsome and gapped teeth.

“The trick is not to become somebody else. You become somebody else when you’re in front of a camera or when you’re on stage. There are some people who carry it all the time,” he said about his career. “That, to me, is not acting. What you’ve gotta do is find out what the writer wrote about and put it into your mind. This is acting. Not going out and researching what the writer has already written. This is crazy.”

His acting career started when his mother suggested acting as a possible line of work when he left the Navy after 10 years of service, according to a USA Today article.

“She said, ‘Have you ever thought of becoming an actor,” Borgnine was quoted in the article. “You always like to make a damn fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give it a try?’ ”

My first encounter with Borgnine was in “From Here to Eternity,” as he played the mean spirited Fatso Judson, who kills Frank Sinatras character. His performance was frightening and stuck with me.

Borgnine could be rough, like in the "Emperor of  North Poll" (1973) as he strangles Lee Marvin.

Borgnine could be rough, like in the “Emperor of North Poll” (1973) as he strangles Lee Marvin.

Over the years, the more I saw of Borgnine, the more I was impressed.

His role as Debbie Reynolds father and Bette Davis’s husband in the “The Catered Affair” is sympathetic, as he tries to pay for a wedding that is more than his family can afford.

And he could be completely adorable, like here with Jimmy Durante in 1956.

And he could be completely adorable, like here with Jimmy Durante in 1956.

But even after his heyday, Borgnine stayed involved in Hollywood with, recently going on the Turner Classic Movie Cruises, showing up at film festivals and even doing voices on “Spongebob Square Pants.”

Borgnine’s Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies was one of my favorites. He is like a regular old man you may meet in the grocery store.

“I wasn’t trying to set the world on fire; I was just trying to keep my nuts warm,” Borgnine chuckled to Osborne as he related a sign on a street vendor’s cart to his life philosophy.

After six decades of entertaining us with his gap-toothed grin, Borgnine left us on July 8.

“I was a character actor. Do I look like a good-looking man? No,” USA Today quoted him saying from a 2011 interview. “But, see, I keep working when the rest of the boys are retired.”

Ernest Borgnine in 2011 after being given his Lifetime Achievement award at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Ernest Borgnine in 2011 after being given his Lifetime Achievement award at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Remembering Andy Griffith

This post is a mix of remembering stars who died during 2012 and an addition to the Comet Over Hollywood mini-series, “Classics in the Carolinas”-which highlights classics movie related topics in North Carolina and South Carolina. 

 Opie’s Candy Store, Mayberry Embroidery, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Barney’s Restaurant.

These are stores you would see as you walked in downtown Mount Airy, North Carolina while the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song echos from many of the stores.

Andy Griffith related stores in downtown Mount Airy, NC. Comet Over Hollywood photos by Jessica Pickens

Andy Griffith related stores in downtown Mount Airy, NC. Comet Over Hollywood photos by Jessica Pickens

Squad car tours are given around the town and there is even an Andy Griffith Bypass and Andy Griffith Mall. Every September the Mayberry Days festival brings fans from all over the world to the small town to celebrate the show with barbecue, musical performances and golf tournaments.

The quaint Surry County, North Carolina town was home to television icon Andy Griffith and was the model for the fictional television town of Mayberry.

Working in Elkin, NC, I lived 30 minutes away from Mount Airy, and while fans all over the world mourned the death of Griffith on July 3, 2012, I knew his death would be an even bigger deal in Surry County.

Andy Griffith is the main tourism draw in Mount Airy. In September 2011, the Mayberry Days festival brought in 70,000 visitors, I learned while writing an article at the Tribune for the 2011-2012 Surry County Directory.

“Mayberry is the hook for 90 percent of our visitors,” said tourism director, Jennifer Eisenhower. “A lot of people come here for the small town, Mayberry experience.”

Andy Griffith in the 1960s.

Andy Griffith in the 1960s.

Griffith was born in Mount Airy in 1926 and graduated from Mount Airy High School 1944.

He was popular in high school and took trombone lessons from a local reverend, remembered Mount Airy News lifestyles editor, Eleanor Powell.

After graduation, Griffith attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill- also the alma mater of Kay Kyser– with hopes to become a Moravian minister. However he changed his major to music, according to a UNC article by Patrick Winn.

Griffith was homesick when he first went to UNC but ended up becoming popular, acting in several Playmaker’s performances such as “The Mikado,” and joining Phi Mu Alpha music fraternity.

At Chapel Hill, Griffith met his first wife Barbara Edwards, married from 1949 to 1971.

After graduating in 1949, Griffith taught high school music in Goldsboro, NC.

Griffith worked his way up in the business while performing in plays and comedic radio monologues. He made his breakthrough performance in Hollywood with the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd” and his television show “Andy Griffith Show” in 1960.

“The Andy Griffith Show” was said to be based on Griffith’s memories of growing up in Mount Airy, which he has both confirmed and denied throughout he years.

The television show mentions nearby “Mount Pilot”-which in reality it Pilot Mountain– and that Mayberry is north of Winston-Salem, which is all true for Mount Airy.

I remember sitting at my computer at the Elkin Tribune and seeing the news pop up about Griffith’s deaths.

All I could think was “Uh oh,” as I called my editor to tell him our front page stories would be different for the next day’s paper.

The Elkin Tribune’s sister paper was the Mount Airy News, where our newspaper was laid out and printed. I remember talking to one of the paginaters and asking how she felt about Griffith’s death and how people in the town were reacting. It seemed a huge thunder storm that came through town was a bigger deal to most of the citizens.

“It’s been pretty quiet. I don’t really care,” she said. “He didn’t treat the town well and even asked for us to pay him when he dedicated the Andy Griffith Bypass a few years ago.”

Regardless of the bitterness of locals, Griffith has brought millions of tourism dollars to the town.

“Tourism has really saved us, Andy is the hook. He is the reason people come to Mount Airy,” Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, told CNN.

Visitors from Spain, Germany, Peru, India, the United Kingdom, Guatemala and Canada have all traveled to take part in the Mayberry atmosphere.

“Some months we see guests from all 50 states,” Eisenhower said. “A lot of people come here for one reason: to see all the Mayberry attractions, and they continue to come back.”

February 2012 during one of my visits to Mount Airy with the Andy Griffith statue.

February 2012 during one of my visits to Mount Airy with the Andy Griffith statue.

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Our Polly Benedict: Remembering Ann Rutherford

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Ann Rutherford in 1940

Ann Rutherford in 1940

At first glance, Ann Rutherford was just merely a young, pretty teen star who played Mickey Rooney’s girlfriend in the 1930s and 1940s Andy Hardy film series.

But Miss Rutherford was so much more.

Seemingly an all-American teen, Rutherford was actually born in Vancouver, Canada. Though the attractive brunette was in several lower budget MGM films, Ann always brought something special to the screen.

From performing as Scarlett O’Hara’s sister Careen in one of the biggest films of all time, “Gone with the Wind” (1939) to Andy Hardy’s selfish girlfriend Polly Benedict, Rutherford was a well-rounded young actress.

Rutherford decided to become an actress after she had to stay after school for disobeying a teacher, according to a 2010 Los Angeles Times article.

“I thought if I had a job I wouldn’t have to go to that crummy school anymore. That would liberate me,” she said.

She passed KFAC and applied for a job as an actor and got a job a month later, according to the article.

Rutherford lied about her age when she got into films, saying she was 18 instead of 15, according to the Los Angeles Times article.

“What did I know,” she said. “I stuffed a lot of Kleenex in my bra and went out and said, I’m a leading lady.”

She was even a leading lady in westerns at age 16, with leading men like Gene Autry and Walter Huston.

Young MGM stars gather for Judy Garland's 16th birthday party : Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper and Marjorie Gestring.

Young MGM stars gather for Judy Garland’s 16th birthday party : Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper and Marjorie Gestring.

“I told them I was 18; otherwise they wouldn’t have used me. I did about 15 pictures for Mascot within ten months, until my mother took one good look at me in daylight and broke my contract.  I had circles under my circles,” she said. “In those days, you shot a six-day week, and if you were on location, you shot a seven-day week; and most of those pictures were made in eleven days.  If it was a big feature, they made it in fourteen days.”

While obituaries read “Gone with the Wind actress dies,” that isn’t the only reason I love Ann.

Ann Rutherford as Polly Benedict and Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in 1938.

Ann Rutherford as Polly Benedict and Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in 1938.

Naturally you also remember Andy Hardy and “Pride and Prejudice” (1940), where she plays Lydia, the foolish sister who runs away with a soldier.

But my favorite films of hers include the “Whistling” detective films with Red Skelton and “Keeping Company” (1940) where she plays a young newlywed. In these two films, Ann has the opportunity to grow up and perform as an adult woman.

Ann’s career ended in the late 1940s and she made occasional television appearances in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1953 she married director William Dozier until his death in 1991. She retired from acting to be a mother to her daughter and stepdaughter.

Ann’s days as an adolescent actor weren’t as bad as Natalie Woods or Judy Garland but she once said you have to know when to quit.

One day she got home early from the studio and her four-year-old daughter Gloria was playing with her nurse and didn’t want to stop to play with her mother.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing, letting a strange woman raise my daughter?’ So I quit acting,” she said.

Rutherford passed away on June 11, 2012, at the age of 94, one of the last living stars of “Gone with the Wind.”

But her legacy won’t just live in her role as Scarlett’s younger sister. She will be remembered for her fresh face and sparkling smile.