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

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

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

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

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

Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin in the 1960s

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Advertisements

Musical Monday: New Orleans (1947)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
New Orleans (1947) – Musical #602

Studio: United Artists

Director: Arthur Lubin

Starring: Arturo de Córdova, Billie Holiday, Dorothy Patrick, Marjorie Lord, Irene Rich, John Alexander, Richard Hageman, Jack Lambert, Joan Blair, Shelley Winters (uncredited)
Themselves: Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman and His Orchestra, Charlie Beal, Kid Ory, Zutty Singleton, Barney Bigard, George ‘Red’ Callender, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Bud Scott

Plot:
Set in 1917 New Orleans, jazz and ragtime are growing popularity on Basin Street. Opera singing socialite Miralee Smith (Patrick), falls in love with casino owner Nick Duquesne (de Cordova) and jazz music. However, her mother (Rich) disapproves of both loves, even though she is a patron of Nick’s casino.

Continue reading

Watching 1939: What a Life (1939)

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

Betty Field and Jackie Cooper in “What a Life” (1939)

1939 film:  What a Life (1939)

Release date:  Oct. 6, 1939

Cast:  Jackie Cooper, Betty Field, James Corner, John Howard, Janice Logan, Hedda Hopper, Sidney Miller, Vaughan Glaser, Lionel Stander, Dorothy Stickney, Kathleen Lockhart, Sheila Ryan, Janet Waldo, Marge Champion (uncredited)

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Director:  Jay Theodore Reed

Plot:
Henry Aldrich (Cooper) is a flustered teenager who always gets blamed for what other people do and is considered the worst student at school. He also gets accused for stealing musical instruments. Barbara Peterson (Field) likes Henry, though he is oblivious. Barbara isn’t popular or considered pretty because of her braces and flat hair. When she gets a permanent and her braces off, Henry’s enemy George (Corner) asks Barbara to the school dance first.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Porgy and Bess (1959)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Porgy and Bess (1959) – Musical #601

Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Studios

Director: Otto Preminger, Rouben Mamoulian (uncredited)

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Clarence Muse, Claude Atkins

Plot:
Set in 1912 Charleston, SC, in a black fishing community, Crown (Brock) kills a man and when he flees, his girlfriend Bess (Dandridge) is left behind. Scorned by most of the community because of her past with drug abuse, Porgy (Poitier), who is a crippled beggar, takes Bess in. Bess and Porgy fall in love and she tries to turn her life around, but is tempted by Crown and drug dealer Sportin’ Life (Davis Jr).

Continue reading

“Must See Musicals” Book Giveaway

If you can’t tell, Comet Over Hollywood loves musicals. To celebrate TCM’s Mad About Musicals event in June, we’re rounding out the month with a giveaway! You can win a copy of ‘Turner Classic Movies: Must-See Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can’t Forget” by Richard Barrios.

All you have to do is enter the below form by July 1 and names will be drawn at random on July 2. You must be 18 or older to enter and live in the United States or Canada. Good luck!

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

 

Edith Fellows: Tossing pennies from heaven

Another star faded on Sunday, June 26.  Child star Edith Fellows died at the age of 88.

Her name may not as familiar as child stars like Freddie Bartholomew or Virginia Weidler, Fellows was still popular with audience, but usually was type cast as a brat.

She played a spoiled little pill in “She Married Her Boss” that Claudette Colbert whipped into shape.  She later played a homeless child fleeing a truant officer with the help of Bing Crosby in “Pennies From Heaven.”

Edith Fellows getting the spanking she deserves in “She Married Her Boss” with Melvyn Douglas and Claudette Colbert.

Her favorite film roles were as Polly Pepper the “Little Peppers” series because she got to play a nicer, well-behaved characters.

I will say, I did find her a little annoying in “Pennies from Heaven” but I really enjoyed her performance in “She Married Her Boss” as Melvyn Douglas’s daughter.  Since Douglas had ignored his child, he gave her whatever she wanted making her a spoiled brat. Claudette Colbert marries him and straightens her out.

It’s entertaining to see her as a brat, but hilarious when Colbert threatens her into being a good girl.

Newspaper clipping

I never knew much about Edith Fellows-except I always enjoyed seeing her in films-until I read her obituary today.

Like several child stars, Fellows was pushed into stardom. But this time, it wasn’t by a stage mother. Fellows had a stage grandmother.  Fellows had been abandoned by her mother when she was born and was taken by her grandmother.

Conveniently, Fellows’ mother reappeared once she started to make it big in the picture business.  Her mother wanted to take her child back.

Fellows said her grandmother was a tough woman, but her mother seemed worse. She stuck with her stage grandmother instead.

Looking lovely in 1941

Unfortunately, Edith Fellows suffered the same fate that Shirley Temple and Jackie Coogan did financially.

When Fellows was 21 she tried to retrieve the $150,000 that had been placed in her trust fund during her career. Through the Jackie Coogan Bill, child actor’s money goes into a trust fund so guardians don’t spend all of the earnings-such as Coogan’s parents did. Fellows was given only $900 of all the money she earned.  The rest was missing. She felt like her mother was probably responsible for it, because her grandmother had died several years before.

Fellows grew up to become a beautiful young girl.  I was just watching “Pride of the Bluegrass” (1939) last week and was surprised at how pretty of a young lady she had become. I feel like if she hadn’t been dropped from her Columbia contract and had the desire to further her career, she could have maybe turned into a glamorous star.

Though Edith Fellows wasn’t in too many movies she made a lasting impression on me in the ones she did make.  Now Fellows can send down those pennies from heaven that her character Patty Smith and Bing Crosby hoped for.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates.

The tears are on us: RIP Jackie Cooper

Cooper looked the same his whole life

Jackie Cooper was one of those people who looked the same all his life.  He was an adorable child, a handsome young man and then adorable again as an older man.

He had that round face that was almost too big for him as a child and large chubby cheeks which plumped up with a grin or perfectly reflected his flowing tears.

Cooper successfully went from playing the wise cracking child into being able to a adult actor; something many other child stars failed to do.

He won our hearts in “The Champ” as he steadfastly loved his alcoholic father Wallace Berry. He then tugged at our  heart-strings when tears rolled down his face when The Champ dies at the end.

Cooper later showed he could play a romantic young man to pretty actresses like Deanna Durbin in “That Certain Age.” I have to admit I thought he was rather cute and was crush worthy as a teenager.

Jackie Cooper crying

Like Margaret O’Brien and June Allyson, Jackie Cooper was famous for his crying scenes.  Once when Cooper didn’t want to cry Norman Taurog, his uncle and director of the movie “Skippy” threatened to shoot Cooper’s dog.  Joking aside about the multitude of tears, Jackie Cooper was a pretty good child actor and had a sincere childish way about him.

He acted in an era where children were allowed to be children in movies, unlike today where they seem to be little adults.  Other male actor children followed in his footsteps like the adorable Bobs Watson who cried better than any other child I’ve ever seen.

As cute as Jackie Cooper was, he also was a sort of odd-looking kid. He was pretty stocky and had a huge head.  Look at

Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Cooper and Paulette Goddard

the photo of Jackie, Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin. He’s nearly as tall as both of them, and wider than either.

I always thought Jackie Cooper seemed like a genuinely friendly man from interviews and had a really good career.  I have to admit, I wish he was the one who played Ted Nickerson in the 1930s Nancy Drew series. He seemed closer to the book character than Frankie Thomas.

Rest in peace Jackie Cooper. I hope he is able to be with his wife Barbara Kraus who died in 2009.  You will be missed, Mr. Cooper, the tears are on us. You are our Champ this time.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates.