Another star faded: Betty Garrett

Betty Garrett, star of “On the Town,” dies Sunday

The perky, pretty and talented Betty Garrett died on February 13 at the age of 91.

I was surprised to see that she was only in a hand-full of movies, most of which I had seen.  But even though Miss Garrett was only in six notable classic movies, the roles and her marriage make her unforgettable in Hollywood history.

Garrett was in what is considered one of Hollywood’s best musicals: “On the Town” (1949). Garrett stars along with Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin and Frank Sinatra in the film about three sailors on leave in New York.  Ann Miller says in a TCM interview that she realized in her “Caveman” dance in the museum, that she had the most impressive group of back-up dancers than any other musical during that time could have.

Garrett plays a plucky, man chasing female cab driver.  Garrett is a great singer and dancer but often was typecasted as the man crazy, love hungry female.

Husband and wife Larry Parks and Betty Garrett in 1955

In both “On the Town” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949), Garrett harasses Frank Sinatra (when he was seemingly cute and sweet) for love.  In “Neptune’s Daughter” (1948) she chases Red Skeleton. At least Mickey Rooney is the one after her in “Words and Music” (1948).

Though her film career wasn’t as huge as Bette Davis’, Garrett also had stage and TV success; even often appearing on the 1970s television show “Laverne & Shirley.”

One reason Betty Garrett’s career was brief, was due to her husband’s Communist Party ties from 1941 to 1945, according to her New York Times obituary.  Her husband, Larry Parks-star of “The Jolson Story“- admitted the ties before the House of Un-American Activities in 1955.  The two actors married in 1944 and were married until his death in 1975.

Betty Garrett is one of those actresses who may not have always had the biggest role in a movie-she was fourth billing in “Neptune’s Daughter“- you always remember her from a movie.

She left a mark in Hollywood with her flashing blue eyes, shining curly hair and vivacious singing.

Farewell Ms. Garrett, you will be missed. 

RIP Betty Garrett, you will be missed

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Y’alls dance, Y’alls dance: RIP Georgia Carroll

“Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll

Texas breeds cows, politicians and beautiful women.  One of these women was “Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll.

Carroll was born on Nov. 18, 1919 in Blooming Grove, Texas and became a model in the 1930s and 1940s.

Ginny Simms was Kyser’s orginal band singer. The two were romantically involved and Simms left shortly after they broke up. Carroll met future husband and band leader Kay Kyser during World War II, according to the Daily Tar Heel. Carroll enrolled in Kyser’s “Musical Kollege of Knowledge” as the band’s singer and the two later were married.

Carroll and Simms were the opposite end of the piano when it came down to talent and personality. They both brought different things to Kyser’s band.

Georgia Carroll was very beautiful and had an equally golden voice. Carroll was demure, classy and soft. She seems like she was probably polite, quiet and sweet in person. On the other hand, Ginny Simms had a beautiful voice, but she also had a lot of soul. She too was pretty but had a bit harsher appearance than Carroll. I don’t know much about Simms personally, but I do know that she went through men alot, and I’ve also wondered if she was working her way up the ladder. She dated Kyser, sang for him, then left when they broke up. She also had one of her big solo breaks in film after dating Louis B. Mayer. However, dating aside, Simms did have a long and successful marriage until she died in 1994.

Mr. and Mrs. Kyser

Kyser left the big band scene in the early 1950s, and moved his family to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Carroll remained in Chapel Hill from 1951 until her death this year at the age of 91.

Kyser was a 1928 UNC graduate- he wrote their fight song and was student body president- and that may be one reason I like him so much. Kyser has a lot of southern charm and humor and went back home to his roots when he retired. Carroll also was a UNC grad, taking 20 years to graduate when she just took one class a semester.  Carroll also helped start a historical preservation society in Chapel Hill in 1972 to save buildings that might be torn down.

On a bit more of a personal note, my grandparents lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina from 1956 to 1961, while my grandfather was teaching and getting his PhD at UNC.  Though Kyser was a Christian Scientist, Georgia Carroll and the children went to the same Lutheran church my grandparents went to. My mom was in the same Sunday school class as some of the Kyser children, though she was too young to remember, and my grandmother saw Georgia in church frequently. She said she was just as beautiful in person as she was on the screen.

Grandmama even said she would see Kay Kyser in the grocery store on occasion, but she was too nervous to say hello. Such a shame.

Rest in peace, Georgia Carroll. She is so beautiful and is yet another classic singer or star who has left us. Not only do I love her for her talent, but I have always been so intrigued that she lived so nearby.

I really had planned on calling her for an interview for my blog sometime, but never could get up the nerve.

Here is a great video of Kyser’s band with Carroll from “Thousands Cheer” (1943).  Carroll sings about 3 minutes in, but it also shows the energy and fun of Kay Kyser:

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Take it Easy Lina: RIP to Lina Romay

Lina Romay with Xavier Cugat in “Two Girls and a Sailor”

About three days ago I found out that the lovely Xavier Cugat rumba singer, Lina Romay, died on December 17.   I was really upset that her death went by me unnoticed, but obviously I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know because the New York Times only posted an obituary on January 1st.

I was planning on writing something about Miss Romay in the near furture. However, I think something was telling me to write about her when I unknowingly watched three Lina Romay movies in one day: “Adventure” (1945),” Love Laughs at Andy Hardy” (1946) and “Embraceable You” (1948).

Lina Romay sang for Xavier Cugat’s band during the 1940s, particuarly during World War II; when South American culture was popular in the United States as I mentioned in another blog post.

Lina Romay in the 1940s

The first time I came across Miss Romay was in high school in “Bathing Beauty” (1941) as she sang “Bim Bam Bum” and “Alma llanera” with Mr. Cugat.  I thought she was pretty and had a nice voice, but dismissed her as another forgettable singer.

Romay popped up in several other movies after that like in “Two Girls and A Sailor” (1944) and “Weekend at the Waldorf” as Cugat’s singer.  In other films she got to flex her acting muscles. In “Honeymoon” (1947) she plays Shirley Temple’s rival and in the film “Embraceable You” (1948), she is cast as the wise-cracking, but caring friend of invalid Geraldine Brooks

Sadly, Miss Romay is drastically underrated and forgotten. Once the war ended, big bands and rumba bands fizzled and so did Miss Romay’s career.  I hate this, because she is probably one of my favorite singers-she performs many of the songs on my favorite CD “Maracas, Marimbas & Mambos: Latin Classics At M-G-M – Motion Picture Soundtrack Anthology.”

Lina Romay retired in the 1950s. Romay had two long and successful marriages.  One to Jay Gould from 1953 until his death in 1987 and a second to writer Robert O’Brien in 1992 until his death in 2005.

Miss Romay, you will be missed.  Your version of “Babalu” will always be my favorite over Dezi Arnez’s.  Rest in peace.

Trivia on Lina Romay:
-Daughter of a Mexican diplomat
-Born in Brooklyn
-Worked as a Spanish-language radio announcer for horse races at Hollywood Park Racetrack in the 1970s and 1980s (according to the NY Times)
-Was in 19 movies and television shows as an actress and seven movies as a singer.
-Be careful while you are looking her up. Apparently an “adult actress” named herself after our Lina Romay in the 1970s.  When I wanted to write Miss Romay for an autography, I could only find the adult star and not the rumba singer.

I leave you with a video of Lina Romay and Xavier Cugat from “Two Girls and A Sailor” sing “Rhumba Rhumba” (I love her dress):

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My childhood crush: RIP James MacArthur

RIP James MacArthur

Long before I ever sighed for Van Johnson, swooned over Joseph Cotton or dreamed of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., there was James MacArthur.

I was probably five or six years old and my family was watching one of our favorite movies “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960).  Even as a child, I recognized his very attractive looks.  I didn’t really understand when my mom told me that MacArthur was now old when in the movie he looked so young. Did that mean I couldn’t marry him when I grew up?

Right now I am in total shock.  Just an hour ago, I was shopping in TJ Maxx when my mom texted me the bad news: that James MacArthur was dead at 72.  My first childhood crush-and my mother’s childhood crush- was gone!

Admittedly, I haven’t seen many of his films.  My favorites that I have seen are “The Interns” (1962), “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960) and “Spencer’s Mountain” (1963) -though I was jealous of every girl he ended up within the movie.  I will say I tried to watch his first feature film “The Young Stranger” (1957), but was so angered by the stupidity of his parents and other adults in that movie I had to stop. I’ve always wanted to see the Hayley Mills and James MacArthur movie “The Truth About Spring” (1965) but unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find it.

Mother and son, Helen Hayes and James MacArthur

I sometimes forget that James MacArthur is the adopted son of “the first lady of the theater,” Helen Hayes. He was even the god-son of Lillian Gish, talk about one lucky adopted child.

It’s so heartwarming to me to see them in pictures or films together.  In one obituary I read today, he said his favorite episode of  “Hawaii Five-O” was in 1975 when Hayes guest starred as Danno’s Aunt Clara, an old woman on vacation in Hawaii.  In the show Aunt Clara helped the detectives solve the murder (how cute!).

You will be missed, James MacArthur.  I will forever think of you as the young man  in “Swiss Family Robinson.”  Below is my favorite part from the movie. I’ll miss and always have a crush on your, Fritz.

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Hollywood’s prince: RIP Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis 1925-2010

I remember the first time I saw him as a child he was dressed as a woman.

When I was seven-years-old, I remember thinking he was cute as his tooth twinkled in “The Great Race” (1964).

Though Tony Curtis might not be one of my favorite actors, he is one actor that I remember watching in my early days of discovering classic film as a child. I even remember watching him on the “The Flintstones” as Stoney Curtis-that still gives me a good giggle thinking about it.

My favorite films of his are “Houdini” (1953), “Operation Petticoat” (1959), “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and “Sex and the Single Girl” (1964). All but one of those is a comedy. I know I’ve heard Tony Curtis say in the “Turner Classic Movies Private Screenings” with Robert Osborne that he was more interested in being a serious actor (like in “The Sweet Smell of Success”), but I really think he did his best work as a comedian.

Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis in “Houdini” (1953)

Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis had a tumultuous marriage that ended in divorce and they didn’t talk after that. His daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, didn’t have a good relationship with him because she lived with Janet after the divorce and “turned her against him,” according to Curtis in the “Private Screening” interview.

However, though I know Leigh and Curtis ended in divorce, they are one of my favorite Hollywood couples- along with Barbara Stanywck and Robert Taylor, Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker, Dick Powell and June Allyson, etc.  I guess I liked them as a couple because they were both so attractive and cute, and always looked cute and happy in their movies.

I was rather shocked when my mom texted me this morning saying Tony Curtis died. He was one of the last few old Hollywood actors who was active in film festivals and old Hollywood retrospectives. Most recently he was at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in Los Angeles in April.

Rest in peace, Mr. Curtis. I will always remember you being hit with pies in “The Great Race” or putting on a great Cary Grant impression in “Some Like it Hot.”  Thank you for helping to keep film history alive.

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Rose let go: RIP Gloria Stuart

Gloria Stuart in 1935

Many people know Gloria Stuart as the adorable old lady who plays Rose as an old woman in the 1997 waste of time “Titanic.”

However, when I think of Gloria Stuart, I think of her in my favorite Shirley Temple movie, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). Stuart played the country girl that befriends Shirley Temple and helps get her to a radio gig at the end of the movie. She also plays the love interest to attractive Randolph Scott.

Gloria Stuart was one of the many beautiful Warner Brothers glamour girls of the 1930s, however she did not have as a big of a career as other actresses such as Joan Blondell, Gail Patrick or Ginger Rogers.

She did manage to appear and be serenaded by  Dick Powell in “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935), one of the few “Gold Diggers” movies that didn’t star Joan Blondell.

I have to be honest, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms,” “Poor Little Rich Girl“(1936) and “Gold Diggers of 1935” are the only Stuart films I have seen. Most of her films were low budget 1930s and 1940s films. She had 69 film credits to her name, which sounds like a lot by todays standards, but wasn’t much for a 1930s and 1940s actress. Actresses like Kay Francis and Bette Davis made up to 100 films, filming two to four in just one year.

But though Stuart’s film career might not be as impressive as some, she accomplished one thing that many stars do not: She was married to her filmographer husband Arthur Sheekman from 1934 until his death in 1978, a long marriage by Hollywood standards that few are able to boast.

Stuart was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Role in “Titanic.” I think it is really a shame that she didn’t win, seeing that the film won every other Oscar, tying for most winnings with “Ben-Hur” (which in my opinion, how can you compare a stupid romance movie with the religious and moving Ben-Hur. I like the 1950s version of Titanic MUCH better).

Anyhow, let us not remember Miss Stuart for tossing a blue sapphire necklace into the ocean at the end of a movie, but for her lovely 1930s glamour as Dick Powell serenades her with “The Words are in My Heart.”

Gloria Stuart knitting

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RIP Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal in the 1960s

The first time I ever saw Patricia Neal was in the Waltons Christmas movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” (1973). In the Waltons pilot, she wasn’t glamorous and was a mother of seven children and living on a farm during the depression.

Many people remember Neal as being sexy in her own way but never glamorous. Paul Newman wanted her in “Hud” and George Prepard used her in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but many forget her early days as a studio actor.

She was groomed as a Warner Brother’s glamour girl and was dubbed the “next Garbo” by Jack L. Warner, according to Stephen Michael Shearer’s book “Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life.”

Her first role was a romantic, screw-ball comedy with Ronald Reagan, “John Loves Mary” (1949). It was a role that was more suited for Jane Wyman or Eleanor Parker and Neal looked uncomfortable in the role. Neal was a stage actress who entered the studio scene after World War II. She was too late for that type of role, because they were on their way out.

Glamorous Patricia Neal

“Her way with a gag line is painful,”said Bosley Crowther, New York Times critic from 1940 to 1967, about “John Loves Mary“.

After her role in “The Fountainhead” (1949) and several other mediocre films, Neal’s Hollywood career waned and Warner Brothers did not want to renew her contract, according to her New York Times obituary. She went back to acting in plays, but came back with a bang in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957).

Like Dennis Hopper, I like to remember Miss Neal in her glamour days at Warner Brothers, no matter how bad her films were. (I will say I didn’t mind the “Washington Story” but maybe that is because Van Johnson was in it). I suppose, I like to remember her from that time, because it is often forgotten and I simply like the 1940s and 1950s better than the 1960s.

I think it’s important to explore the early part of a great actor’s career, because it is amazing to see where they ended up.

Farewell, Patricia. You were a great actress and will be missed.

Did you know?
-Patricia Neal and writer Roald Dahl were married from 1950 to 1983.
-She suffered from a stroke in the 1960s while she was pregnant and was only 39 and had to learn how to walk again.
-She is the mother of 5 children.
-She and Gary Cooper had a torrid affair during the filming of “Fountainhead.”
-She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” but turned it down due to her stroke.
Source: IMDB and New York Times

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RIP Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood

I have to admit, I haven’t seen many of his movies.

Mr. Hopper is best known for his late 1960s and 1970s  “Easy Rider” like persona and continued on into the 1980s and 1990s with a long and successful film career.

He was nominated for his role in the 1986 film “Hoosiers” and was in retirement commercials to make financial planning look “cool.”

However, I would like to look at the times that many people forget. Before he was a pot smoking motorcyclist or crazed bus high-jacker.

None of this would have happened without those movies where he was casted as a 1950s angst young adult.  Without his friendship with James Dean, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood (three actors who died tragically), would Hopper have been the actor that some call crazy?

“Jimmy (James Dean) was the most talented and original actor I ever saw work,” Hopper said. “He was also a guerrilla artist who attacked all restrictions on his sensibility. Once he pulled a switchblade and threatened to murder his director. I imitated his style in art and in life. It got me in a lot of trouble.”

Hopper started out in the 1950s, a time people think of as pure and “Leave It To Beaver” like, but the youthful actors were not out playing bridge on Saturday nights.

“In the 50s, when me and Natalie Wood and James Dean and Nick Adams and Tony Perkins (Anthony Perkins) suddenly arrived… God, it was a whole group of us that sort of felt like that earlier group – the John Barrymores, Errol Flynns, Sinatras, Clifts – were a little farther out than we were… So we tried to emulate that lifestyle,” Hopper said. “For instance, once Natalie and I decided we’d have an orgy. And Natalie says “O.K., but we have to have a champagne bath.” So we filled the bathtub full of champagne. Natalie takes off her clothes, sits down in the champagne, starts screaming. We take her to the emergency hospital. That was *our* orgy, you understand?”

One of my favorite performances of Dennis Hopper’s is his role as Jordy in “Giant.”  Whenever I hear his name I always get the mental image of him throwing the perfume bottle into the mirror (my favorite part of the movie) when his Spanish wife couldn’t get her hair done in the hair salon.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hopper.

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