Watching 1939: Arizona Legion

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. 

1939 film: Arizona Legion

Release date: Jan. 20, 1939

Cast: George O’Brien, Laraine Day (billed as Laraine Johnson), Carlyle Moore Jr., Chill Wills, Tom Chatterton, Edward LeSaint, Glenn Strange, Harry Cording

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director: David Howard

When a stagecoach is robbed by Whisky Joe (Cording), everyone is too afraid to speak up and identify or accuse the criminal. Boone Yeager (O’Brien) is a hard-drinking cowboy who the judge (LeSaint) asks to infiltrate the clan of Whiskey Joe. The daughter of the Judge, Letty (Day/Johnson) is engaged to Boone and she doesn’t understand his recent behavior.

1939 Notes:
• Laraine Day was billed Laraine Johnson. Laraine changed her last name to “Day” after signing a contract with M-G-M. She only made three films released in 1939 and the last is what helped boost her career, Calling Dr. Kildare (1939). It was her first role in the Dr. Kildare film series, where she played the doctor’s girlfriend, Mary Lamont.

George O’Brien and Laraine Johnson (Day)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
There are several great westerns of the classic film era. And there are even more low-budget westerns that graced the silver screen. “Arizona Legion” (1939) would fall in the latter category.

The film plot isn’t anything new or different, though it is an entertaining film. During this point in his career, George O’Brien starring almost exclusively in westerns from 1937 to 1940. Many of these films barely (or don’t) surpass a 60-minute length.

While the film type or plot isn’t anything new to films at this time, O’Brien’s leading lady was. The lead actress is billed as Laraine Johnson, who later changed her name to Laraine Day and became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s contract players. “Arizona Legion,” Day’s fifth film, wasn’t necessarily important to her career, but 1939 was the year she broke out in films.

This same year, Laraine Johnson was signed to MGM, changed her name and was cast in the Dr. Kildare film series (starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore) as Dr. Kildare’s love interest. In 1940, she even went on to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940).

While some films released in 1939 are not of great importance in the grand scheme of things, some were the catalyst to a successful career. That could be the case for Laraine Day and this film.

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The First Lady of Baseball: Laraine Day

She was a perfect mix of sophistication and fresh-faced beauty.

Laraine Day was an All-American girl next door, who played Nurse Mary Lamont in the “Doctor Kildare” film series while under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day co-starred with top Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, Lana Turner and was directed once by Alfred Hitchcock.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of “Tycoon” in 1947.

The sweet-as-pie actress married the baseball infielder and manager, Leo Durocher. Nicknamed “Leo the Lip,” Durocher was a controversial figure in the sport, known for being outspoken.

During their marriage, Day became known as “The First Lady of Baseball.”

Durocher’s professional baseball career began in 1925 playing with the New York Yankees and continued on with the Cincinnati Reds from 1930 to 1933, St. Louis Cardinals from 1933 to 1937 and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1938 to 1941, 1943 and 1945.

Durocher managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Taiheiyo Club Lions.

Durocher was the manager of the New York Giants from 1948 to 1955 while he was married to Day.

Day served almost as a mascot and public relations manager for the team. She was friends with the ballplayers, their wives and the sportswriters and their wives. She was said to have polished the rough Durocher.

Day even hosted a “Day with the Giants,” which was a 15 minute television broadcast before each Giants home game. She also wrote the books about the teams called “Day with the Giants” (1952) and “The America We Love,” though the books are also said to be ghostwritten.

While they were married, she would watch nearly 77 games each year.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

“It’s making a nervous wreck out of me. I don’t feel like an average fan,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview. “Winning and losing affects our lives. It’s our future.”

She even adjusted her film career around his career, only making one movie per year and doing the occasional television show.

During the season, Day would go to spring training and attend every home game but stayed home with the children when the team went on the road, according to the article.

“Before I married Leo, I wanted to win an Academy Award,” she said. “Now all I want is for us to win a pennant. My work is secondary.”

But before meeting Durocher, Day wasn’t a baseball fan. She didn’t even know who he was.

Day, then married to musician Ray Hendricks, met Durocher at the Stork Club in 1944.

Everyone applauded when he entered and Day asked a friend who he was. The friend told her Durocher played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Day apparently asked, “What’s a Dodger?,” according to the book “The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age” by  Robert Weintraub.

“I didn’t know who he was, but I certainly did dislike him,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview, “Laraine Day Now No. One Fan of Giants.”

But the ice melted two years later when Day met Durocher on a flight. She was on her way to Minneapolis and was delayed in Chicago. So was Durocher. By the time their flight left, Day was smitten, according to the book by Weintraub.

Durocher was a well-known ladies man, being seen on occasion with actresses Betty Hutton, Linda Darnell and Copacabana show girl Edna Ryan.

Hollywood’s nice girl started an affair with the rough baseball player, and eventually filed for divorce with Hendricks in 1946. She was granted an interlocutory divorce from Hendricks on Jan.  20, 1947, meaning she had to wait one year before remarrying, according to Weintraub.

However, on January 21, 1947, Day traveled to Mexico where she received a second divorce decree and joined Durocher in Texas to be married.

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Day and Durocher were then surrounded by gossip and scandal, with Day being called an adulterer and bigamist.

It was deemed the Mexican divorce was not legal and her Texas marriage was illegal.

A year later, in February 1948, the two remarried and the Associated Press reported “Laraine Day, Leo Durocher to Wed Again.” Durocher was 42 and Day was 27, the Associated Press reported in the Feb. 14, 1948 article.

In 1955, Day found herself in another “scandal,” while she found herself in an unintentionally groundbreaking photo.

Center fielder Willie Mays played for Giants while Durocher was manager, and Day adored the ballplayer.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

“While I interviewed many ballplayers, the favorite of all is Willie Mays, who suffers tortures in the air and yet wins the heart of everybody,” Day is quoted in “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch.

Mays, Day and Durocher were featured on the April 11, 1955, cover of “Sports Illustrated.” Day stands between the two men with her hands on both of their shoulders.

But in 1955, it was an outrage that a white woman would have her hand on a black man’s shoulder.

Letters were sent to the magazine, now only a year old, from outraged readers and others asking to cancel their subscriptions, according to Hirsch’s book.

After 13 years of marriage, Durocher and Day divorced in 1960.

After their divorce, Day said she was done with baseball, according her New York Times obituary.

“When our relationship was over, so was my relationship with baseball,” the obituary quoted Day.

However, Day did return to baseball once more in 1994.

Durocher, who passed away in 1991, was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Day attended the ceremony in 1994 on her former husband’s behalf.

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My second favorite Day

LIFE 1943

She lights up the screen in every film and her last name is Day. I don’t mean Doris Day, but today’s birthday girl, Laraine Day.

Today would have been Miss Day’s 91 birthday (she passed away on November 10, 2007) and since she is one of my favorite actresses, I wanted to spotlight her talents.

There are a few actresses that I get excited about when I see they are in a movie like Marsha Hunt and Vera Miles.  I always feel like though they may not have a huge role, they really add something to the film.  Laraine Day is one of those actresses.

Laraine was the leading lady to some of Hollywood’s top leading men: John Wayne in “Tycoon” (1947) and “The High and the Mighty” (1954), Cary Grant in “Mr. Lucky” (1943) and Gary Cooper in “Dr. Wassell” (1944) not to mention Robert Mitchum, Lew Ayres, Herbert Marshall and Joel McCrea- several of who were personal friends.

Laraine started out in small westerns like “Arizona Legion” (1939) and “Painted Desert” (1938) opposite silent star George O’Brien. I’ve seen these movies recently and they aren’t anything special.  Laraine is miscast as haughty young women. If I wasn’t watching the movies for her, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to her.

Laraine Day and Lew Ayres as Nurse Mary Lamont and Dr. Kildare

But in 1939, the magic year for movies and several actors, Laraine was in two of MGM’s most popular series films: Dr. Kildare and Tarzan.

Her role in “Tarzan Finds a Son” is only about five minutes long but is memorable, Day and her husband die in a plane crash in the jungle and only their baby survives. The baby is adopted by Jane and Tarzan and named ‘Boy.’

Laraine makes more of a splash with Lew Ayres in “Calling Dr. Kildare” and “The Secret of Dr. Kildare” (both filmed in 1939) as lovely but occasionally snarky Nurse Mary Lamont.  In “Calling” Nurse Lamont is new to the hospital and tries to open young Kildare’s eyes to the conniving Lana Turner.  In “Secret” romance begins to blossom between Kildare and Lamont which continues until Laraine Day wanted off the series and her character was unhappily written out of the plot in 1941.

Laraine Day in the 1940s

During and after the Dr. Kildare series, Laraine Day made several entertaining films such as “And One was Beautiful” (1940), “Keep Your Powder Dry” (1940), “Kathleen” (1941) (with Shirley Temple) and “The Locket” (1946).  All great films, but  largely forgotten today.

Though she was in several high budget films with big stars her talent and fresh faced beauty seemed to be over looked.  According to her New York Times obit, Laraine Day was once asked what was most memorable about her experiences at MGM she said, “I guess getting paid, because I never got a part that would have done anything for me.”

Day was offered the female lead in “It’s a Wonderful Life” but turned it down since she was working on “The Locket.” The role went to Donna Reed (who also had a hard time getting good parts at MGM).  I wonder how that might have helped Laraine’s career.  Day was also promised the lead in Robert Taylor’s first film back from the military, “Undercurrent” (1946), but it was given to Katherine Hepburn. After this, Day didn’t return to MGM, according to IMDB.

Leo Durocher visiting Laraine Day on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947

These days, most people remember Laraine Day more for her marriage to baseball manager Leo Durocher from 1947 to 1960. They even appeared together in a TV segment on “Screen Directors Playhouse” with Jeannette MacDonald.

She wrote a book about being a “baseball wife” and was dubbed “The First Lady of Baseball” though she once told an interviewer that she never liked baseball.

I love Laraine Day, because  she brought something special to the picture even if she wasn’t the lead actress. For example in “I Take this Woman” (1940) I wanted to pay more attention to and learn more about Laraine than Hedy Lamarr and Spencer Tracy.

Laraine was beautiful and her smile and acting seemed sincere. Others had said that she was very friendly and smart. I only wish someone would write a biography about her so I can learn more!

Happy birthday Laraine Day, one of the loveliest stars of the 1940s and 1950s!

LIFE, 1945

And also happy birthday to Robert Walker and Cornel Wilde-October 13 must be a popular day for stars to be born.

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Jessica Pickens: Girl Reporter

Comet Over Hollywood is moving!

Well…not the blog, but the blogger!

The backstory

Ever since I’ve been in the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer. I had a big imagination and pictured myself on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine with my best seller.

In high school I got more interested in newspapers and majored in mass communications-journalism at Winthrop University getting involved in the school newspaper The Johnsonian, TV show, Winthrop Close-Up and radio station, WINR.

Starting in March, I started looking for a reporter position in the southeast. By the time I graduated in May, I figured out that getting a job at a newspaper was going to be harder than I thought (as some of you in media related fields might also have found).

For the past two months I’ve been working at a local Greenville newspaper as an advertising representative while still looking for a reporter position.

Two weeks ago, I got a job at The Elkin Tribune in Elkin, N.C. So I will be packing up and moving up to North Carolina-spreading my classic movie love to a whole new state!


In honor of this exciting, nerve-wracking event, I’m dedicating this post to journalists in movies. Everyone is invited to the party!

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine most likely up to no good.

Torchy Blaine Series: Torchy Blaine was a series of films made during the 1930s much like Boston Blackie, The Falcon or Andy Hardy. Torchy Blaine snooped and got into trouble in eight films from 1937 to 1939 (yep, they knew how to churn them out in those days). Torchy Blaine is a wise-cracking and troublesome female reporter. She eavesdrops, bugs rooms and follows people in order to get information-all highly illegal in these days, according to my Media Law and Ethics classes at Winthrop. Not only does Torchy usually get caught by the bad guys she is spying on, but she is constantly at odds with her policeman boyfriend, Steve McBride. At the end of each film, Steve and Torchy usually agree to get married but Torchy has to agree to give up her reporter career-as we all know, this doesn’t happen. Review: These films are very silly but equally entertaining. Through the eight part series, Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman all play Torchy.  But Glenda is my favorite Torchy. However, Lola wears some adorable lounging pajamas in “Torchy Blaine in Panama.”

Citizen Kane (1940): I don’t feel that I can discuss journalism movies without mentioning Citizen Kane. The film follows Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane and his rise as the top newspaper publisher. We all know this film is based off the life of William Randolph Hearst-who was still living at the time. In Joseph Cotton’s autobiography “Vanity Gets You Somewhere,” Cotton says “Kane” was set to premiere in Radio City Music Hall. Hearst made sure it did not play there-or in several other movie houses across the United States. That goes to show just how powerful he was. Review: I do really like this film. It was a bit of an ‘Indie’ film in its day so its funny that is revered so much now. I really enjoy it for the historical background of it as well.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell getting the scoop in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940): When you say “female reporters in film” Rosalind Russell with her crazy hats in “His Girl Friday” automatically comes to mind.  Roz plays the ex-wife of Cary Grant, her reporter co-worker, and is engaged to Ralph Bellamy. On the day that Roz and Ralph are supposed to get married, a huge murder story breaks and news hound that she is, Roz can’t stay away. Not surprisingly, Ralph Bellamy doesn’t get the girl in the end (like always), and Roz and Cary fall back in love in the midst of copy and photography. Review: I really enjoy this movie, but you REALLY HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION.  For comedic value, Cary and Rosalind talk very, very fast. Several actresses turned down this role including Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. I think Carole, Jean and Irene would have been perfect for the role, but I like seeing Rosalind in a role that is both sexy, funny and strong. Around this time she was flexing her comedic muscles with “The Women” and “No Time For Comedy,” and this is most definitely one of her best during this period.

Foreign Correspondent (1940): Though the United States had not yet joined the war, this Alfred Hitchcock directed film follows American reporter, John Jones-played by my heartthrob Joel McCrea-is sent on assignment to report on the war. Jones starts to uncover a spy ring in England that is aiding the Axis. Jones also meets and falls in love with Carol Fisher-played by one of my favorites, Laraine Day. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to ruin this Hitchcock thriller, but watch for a disaster ending. Hitchcock does it ingeniously. Review: I actually think this is the film the secured in my mind that I wanted to be a journalist. The excitement and discovery that Joel McCrea experienced was irresistible. To this day my AIM name is even the title of this film.

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in “Arise My Love.” This photo has nothing to do with journalism. Just makes me happy!

Arise, My Love (1940): This film also follows a reporter in Europe during the start of World War II. This time our hero reporter is Claudette Colbert as Augusta Nash, based off real life reporter Martha Gellhorn. Nash saves pilot Ray Milland (as Tom Martin) before he is about to be executed by Fascists for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Nash saves him, exclusively for the purpose of a story. Martin is thankful for his life, but also a little peeved. The two begin to fall in love though they resist because of their conflicting life styles: Nash doesn’t want to give up her career and Martin wants to fight in the upcoming war. Review: Colbert said this was one of her favorite films that she made. It might be one of my favorites too. There is a good mix of romance, adventure and journalism. Ray Milland is probably at his handsomest here.

Meet John Doe (1941): This is another film about unethical journalism. Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell is fired from her reporter job. To get her job back Ann prints a fake suicide letter in the newspaper signed by “John Doe” who says he will kill himself on Christmas Eve because he can’t take the world’s ‘social ills’ any longer. To prove the letter isn’t a fake (which it obviously is) Ann searches for a man who agrees to pose as John Doe. Gary Cooper (Long John Willowby) and his friend The Colonel (played by Walter Brennan) are in need of money and John agrees to play the part. John Doe becomes a national figure, inspiring people all over to change their ways and come together. However, the role of John Doe requires John to commit suicide. If he doesn’t, it will let down his believers, and newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (played by loveable or hateable Edward Arnold) doesn’t want to disappoint his readers. Review: I love love love this movie. It’s a perfect example at just what journalism can do. Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are so perfect together. We also get a treat of seeing Walter and Gary break out in mouth organ music. One of THE perfect examples of Frank Capra’s ‘social change’ films.

For other ‘Gary Cooper duped by the press’ films see Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

The real Ernie Pyle who is portrayed by Burgess Meredith in “The Story of G.I. Joe”

Story of G.I. Joe (1945): This is a semi-autobiographical film about World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played by Burgess Meredith.  Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry, lead by Lit. Walker played by Robert Mitchum, and fights with them in North Africa and Italy, documenting their experiences along the way. Pyle learns more about the men personally and we watch as battle wears on their nerves. The film follows real life and ends with Pyle being killed by a Japanese sniper. Review: This is one of my favorite war films, mostly because Ernie Pyle is one of my role models. When I interviewed at Fort Jackson-an Army base in Columbia, S.C.- there was a display about Ernie Pyle. I was so proud that they were honoring him and really wanted to be part of that newspaper. “G.I. Joe” was the only film Robert Mitchum was ever nominated for an Academy Award and unfortunately lost. I really feel that he deserved it.

There is an unintentional running theme throughout all of those films. All of them were made during war years and several from 1940. Here is a brief list of other films featuring journalists. I’ve listed the actors who portray reporters.

Other films:

My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937) -Maureen O’Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon

Nothing Sacred (1937)- Frederic March

Everything Happens at Night (1939)- Ray Milland and Robert Cummings

Philadelphia Story (1940)- James Stewart and Ruth Hussey

Lifeboat (1944)-Tallulah Bankhead

Objective Burma (1945)- Henry Hull

Close to My Heart (1951)- Ray Milland

The Sell Out (1952)- Walter Pidgeon

Roman Holiday (1953)-Gregory Peck

Never Let Me Go (1953)- Clark Gable

Teacher’s Pet (1958)- Doris Day and Clark Gable

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