Classics in the Carolinas: Tallulah goes to college

At Byrnes Auditorium at Winthrop University, actress Tallulah Bankhead performed her one of her favorite stage role in the play “Little Foxes.”

Yes, Tallulah Bankhead performed at my alma mater in 1940.

Tallulah Bankhead wasn’t your typical Southern Belle.

Tallulah Bankhead as Regina Giddens in "The Little Foxes."

Tallulah Bankhead as Regina Giddens in “The Little Foxes.”

Born in Huntsville, AL, Bankhead’s father was William B. Bankhead-a politician from Alabama and Representative from 1917 to 1940.

But despite her prominent background, Bankhead has been described as flamboyant, wild and dabbled in alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.

She left her Southern roots at the age of 15 to travel to New York to become an actress and made her stage debut in 1918. She later was in Hollywood films starting in the 1930s.

After acting in films alongside Gary Cooper, Robert Montgomery and Charles Laughton, Bankhead made her way back to her southern roots.

In 1939, Bankhead originated the stage role of Regina Giddens in the Lillian Hellman play “The Little Foxes.”

Based in the early 20th century in the South, Regina manipulates her daughter and estranged husband to work out a business deal with her unscrupulous cousins.

“All in all, Regina Giddens is the best role I ever had in the theater,” Bankhead wrote in her autobiography, Tallulah: My Autobiography. “So The Little Foxes is the best play I’ve had. Up to this time most of my roles had been on the light and larkish side.”

Later made into a 1941 film starring Bette Davis, “The Little Foxes” ran for 410 performances at the National Theatre on Broadway.

“The Little Foxes” brought Bankhead to Rock Hill, SC.

Tallulah Bankhead and actress Eugenia Rawls perform in "The Little Foxes"

Tallulah Bankhead and actress Eugenia Rawls perform in “The Little Foxes”

On March 4, 1940, she performed her role of Regina Giddens on the stage of the brand new Byrnes Auditorium of Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) which was an all-girls school until 1975.

“Her seductive southern drawl was an instant hit in South Carolina,” according to the book York and Western York County, SC: The Story of a Southern Eden by J. Edward Lee and Jerry Lee Wes. “After her performance, the audience gave her a standing ovation.”

Bankhead had ties to York County. Her great-great-grandfather George Bankhead moved to lived in Bullock’s Creek, York County South Carolina before moving to Alabama in 1830, according to Lee and Wes’s book.

“As a (local) reporter asked the Hollywood actress about her fast-paced life in California, Bankhead…reminded the journalist, ‘Dahling, I’m from Bullock’s Creek,’” Lee and Wes wrote.

Though Bankhead was not in the film adaptation of the play, her Broadway costars Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, and Patricia Collinge starred with Bette Davis.

Knowing that Tallulah Bankhead once walked on a campus where I studied journalism, makes me feel just a little closer to the Golden Era of Hollywood.

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‘Apocalypse Now’ ruins film adaptation plans for SC professor

Winthrop University professor Haney Howell checks his e-mail every Sunday night around 12 a.m. to make sure students’ scripts for the student television show, Winthrop Close-Up, are submitted. He reads them over and sends the scripts back with corrections and feedbacks.

“Don’t forget an Anchor Lead in.” or  “This could be written smoother.” with e-mails signed “Get it done.”

However on May 5, 2012, Howell will be leaving Winthrop with graduating under-grads; retiring after teaching broadcast for over 20 years.

But before teaching students how to properly write a television script, Howell was the journalist one dreams of being one day. Howell’s career in broadcast spans from working as a disc jockey in the mountains of Tennessee as a teenager, evacuating from Cambodia and Saigon, and bringing live coverage from the Vietnam War.

Howell has shared conversations with Robert Osborne on New York bus rides and was friends with journalist, Ed Bradley. He even had a brush with Hollywood.

Shooting a story in Cambodia, 1973. Photo Courtesy of Haney Howell

“It all started at a dinner party in New York,” said Howell. “We were telling stories about the Vietnam war. Filmographer Jules Fisher was looking for a Vietnam movie and wanted the stories written down.”

After writing and negotiating, Columbia Studios flew Howell to Hollywood with a $25,000 contract.

 “They put me in the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel with my room overlooking Rodeo Drive,” he said. “Imagine that happening to a country boy from Tennessee.”

Howell ate in exclusive hotel restaurants and was given an inside tour of Hollywood homes inside Larry Gelbart’s Bentley.

Howell spent three days with “Bonnie and Clyde” director Arthur Penn and “MASH” screenwriter Larry Gelbart. The trio spent their time reading, writing and fleshing out the story under a working film title of “Hotel Royale.”

“The writing experience was incredible,” Howell said. “All of my expenses were on Columbia.”

But the Hollywood dream ended.

“The movie project died six months after ‘Apocalypse Now’ came out,” Howell said. “Francis Ford Coppola had a lot of problems with the movie; it went way over budget and it was too early for a Vietnam movie.”

The weekly Viet Cong news conference at Camp Davis on Tan Son Nuet in Saigon. Photo courtesy of Haney Howell

After the movie project ended, Howell adapted the screenplay into a book “Roadrunner,” which was published in 1980. His contact with Columbia allowed novelization rights of the story.

“I took the $25,000 and finished the book,” he said. “I was in a farm house in Normandy, France where we cranked out a chapter a day.”

Howell published “Roadrunners” with Jim Morrison. Morrison, a Green Beret,  wrote “Operation Dumbo Drop” in 1989, which later was adapted into 1995 film. “Roadrunners” is based off Howell’s experiences in Cambodia in the summer of 1973.  The novel is about soldier on the hunt for a gun and ends up getting his girlfriend killed in the process.

“I made ‘Roadrunners’ a novel because I can say its made up, even though its really an autobiography,” Howell said. “You can combine characters in a novel, because I met so many colorful people.”

Howell knew he wanted to write a book ever since he took a creative writing course at Midwestern University.

“I was told there were only two differences between being a published writer: there are the 60 million people trying to get published and you are the six million who have,” he said. “I love seeing my name on the binding on my shelf.”

Haney Howell and I at a Mass Communication banquet on April 6, 2012.

   I am proud to say I was a student of Haney Howell, and can call him a mentor and friend. Congratulations on your retirement, you will always be someone I admire. 

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My brush with Mary Pickford at Winthrop University

Here is a little post in honor Mary Pickford’s 120th birthday on Sunday, April 8, and the tearing down of historic Pickford Studios earlier this week.

Mary Pickford was Hollywood’s first American sweetheart.  Usually playing little girl roles with long curls and big eyes, though she was in her 20s or 30s. For example, when Pickford played an orphan in “Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farms” (1917) she was 25.

Silent star sweetheart, Mary Pickford

Pickford was Hollywood royalty, marrying top silent star, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and then married star of “Wings” Charles Buddy Rogers.

All of this build up of an important star leads to how she fits into my college career. During my senior year of college I took a media ethics class and I wrote a paper on white actors who played ethnic roles in classic film.

I sniffed around Winthrop University’s library and picked up a few autobiographies and biographies. I picked up Mary Pickford’s 1954 autobiography “Sunshine and Shadow” about her film career, thinking of her role as a Mexican-Indian in “Ramona” (1910).

I opened the book and found this:

Mary Pickford's autograph inside a library book at Winthrop University.

Winthrop University’s copy of “Sunshine and Shadows” is AUTOGRAPHED…and it’s down in the basement with other old books that are rarely checked out.

When I found that I ran out screaming to my roommates-though none of them knew who Mary Pickford was-and called my mom. I doubled checked it with other autographs online and it seems to match.

I plotted on how to get the book out of the library, even thought about claiming it was a lost book, which would be a $100 fine. I figured for that price, I could find it on Ebay.  I even asked if I could buy it from the library, but they said no. I don’t know if they realize they have an autographed book from one of Hollywood’s top silent stars.

Happy birthday Mary Pickford! I enjoyed my brush with you at my alma mater.

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Classic film in daily life: Room and Work space

Back in November I said I was going to start writing short snippets detailing classic film in my daily life.  You may remember my post about writing a Media Ethics paper researching whites playing ethnic roles in films. 

As I finish up my last week of college classes forever, I wanted to show how classic film helped to decorate my college dorm room and my desk at our student newspaper office.

I even cleaned up my room for all of you 🙂

My room:

My desk area with Nancy Drew, White Cargo, West Side Story posters on top and Brandon Flowers, Betty Grable and Doris Day below. Also on the desk is a "White Christmas" photo, Robert Osborne bobble head and my desk top background is from "Since You Went Away"

My closer has photos of LIFE magazine photos above it, I tried to be clever and put actresses looking in mirrors on my mirror, Deanna Durbin and Esther Williams autographs on top of TV and Im watching the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine in "The Guardsman"


More LIFE magazines over my bed

 I also have different film books lying around (I’m currently reading Betty Hutton’s “Backstage You Can Have”) and several VHS tapes and DVDs trying waiting to be watched. I didn’t add those because that seemed a bit much.

 My desk in The Johnsonian office:

My desk. Thats me on the desk top background with "I love Robert Osborne" written on the photo. As a joke each editor had their mug shot set as the background and something that defined them written about themselves.

Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable help me work.


Ruth Chatteron, Harry James, Don Ameche and Betty Grable also decorate my desk.

 Hope you enjoyed your little tour 🙂

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Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”


Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.


Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.


Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

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