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Monday, February 29, 2016

Rest in Peace, George Kennedy

Actor George Kennedy, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Cool Hand Luke, starred in the popular Airport movie franchise of the 1970's and played Frank Drebin's partner Ed Hockin in the Naked Gun films has passed away of natural causes at age 91.

Mr. Kennedy was born into a show business family and acting was second nature for him. He began behind the scenes on various television shows and soon found himself in front of the camera in guest starring roles. His leap to the big screen resulted in him winning an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke. The win catapulted him to stardom and he quickly gained roles like that of Joe Patroni in the Airport franchise.

Despite his skill with dramatic roles, George wished to take on comedy. He wanted a role in Airplane! but feared the wrath of the Airport producers. With the Airport franchise long dead, he finally got a chance to do comedy in The Naked Gun. That franchise introduced him to a new audience of appreciative fans. Mr. Kennedy continued to work until recently and always found time to give an autograph or pose for a picture with a fan. He will truly be missed.

Leap Day! The 29th Academy Awards Ceremony

The 29th Academy Awards ceremonies took place at the RKO Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

The ceremonies aired on NBC and were hosted by Jerry Lewis.

The Best Picture that year was Around the World in 80 Days.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscar Week: Best Picture #9- "The Great Ziegfeld"

The 9th Best Picture winner was The Great Ziegfeld, a highly fictionalized account of the life of Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Mr. Ziegfeld had passed away, leaving behind large debts. His wife agreed to permit a fictional biopic in order to raise quick money. The result was The Great Ziegfeld.

MGM spared no expense in recreating Mr. Ziegfeld's lavish production numbers and they impressed critics and audiences alike. The film was wildly successful despite taking huge liberties with the truth and a clear favorite to win Best Picture, which it did. Two of the co-stars- Frank Morgan and Ray Bolger- would go on to perform together in the classic The Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Oscar Week: Tinseltown Film Facts


Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth is generally considered to be the worst film to win Best Picture. It is believed that the film beat the picture most critics was the best film of the year- High Noon- because of the "Red Scare" that infected the United States at the time.


Gene Kelly only won a single Oscar- and it was an honorary one. Sadly it was destroyed after a fire swept through Mr. Kelly's house. He was presented with a replacement statuette by the Academy at the 1984 Oscar ceremony.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oscar Week: Best Picture #8- "Mutiny on the Bounty"

Starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, this swashbuckling adventure was a huge hit for MGM. Mutiny on the Bounty also holds the distinction of being the last film to only win Best Picture and no other awards and also the only film ever to feature three best actor nominees.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oscar Week: Tinseltown Film Facts


When Orson Welles won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Citizen Kane, the Hearst influenced audience booed him. In fact, the audience booed every time the film was mentioned. Mr. Welles would get the last laugh, however. Citizen Kane is now considered to be the greatest film ever made.


Walt Disney is the person who has won the most Oscars of any person- 26 in all. That doesn't include his special Oscar for the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


The 58th Academy Awards in 1986 was the FIRST Oscar ceremony in which every nominee was an American. Prior to that date, at least one foreign actor had been nominated in each and every Award ceremony.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscar Week: Best Picture #7- "It Happened One Night"

The seventh film to win for Best Picture was It Happened One Night. Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the film was one of the last romantic comedies produced before the Hays code went into effect.

The film would prove to be a lucky one for the cast; it was the first film to win all of the major awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and screenplay. This feat would not be duplicated until 1972's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 

In It Happened One Night, Clark Gable plays a reporter who sweeps the spoiled daughter of a millionaire off her feet. The screwball comedy was a huge success, taking American audiences out of the despair of the Great Depression for just a couple of hours. The film itself was said to be a harrowing experience. Both stars hated the script and proved to be difficult to deal with. According to director Frank Capra, Clark Gable eventually settled down. Claudette Colbert, however, did not. In a strange twist of fate, the screenplay that Ms. Colbert and Mr. Gable hated so much actually won an Academy Award. Claudette eventually apologized to Frank Capra back stage at the Academy Awards ceremony. After all, the role had earned her a Best Actress statuette.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Out of The Vault: "40 Pounds of Trouble"

Many studios wanted to film inside DISNEYLAND, but other than official Disney productions, nobody was allowed to film inside Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom. That changed in 1962 when Universal Studios was permitted to film inside the park, approved by Walt Disney himself. Starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette, the film featured 20 minutes of vintage DISNEYLAND in vivid color.

In the film, Tony Curtis plays a casino manager in Lake Tahoe who cannot step foot in California because of his recent divorce. Despite being an alimony deadbeat, he's portrayed as the good guy in this because his ex-wife is a shrill harpy. A degenerate gambler loses his shirt to the casino and promises he'll get the money, but must fly to California to do so. The gambler leaves his daughter for security and embarks on a flight that crashes, killing all aboard. The daughter, who was left in the care of the casino's lead singer (played by Suzanne Pleshette) is kept blissfully unaware. They decide to take her to DISNEYLAND before breaking the news to her, but Tony can't go to California... Or can he? He sneaks off to the Magic Kingdom where he is eventually caught in the parking lot.

While the movie takes many liberties (Tony Curtis is shown looking down Main Street from the monorail platform, a total impossibility) it is a glorious look at DISNEYLAND in the time of Walt Disney and remains a marvelous treat for any DISNEYLAND or Tony Curtis fan. 

The film had been out of print for years, seemingly lost to the world until 2010 when Universal Studios and teamed up to produce the Universal Vault Series, an automated system that produces professional quality DVDs when the order is placed. This film was one of the first to be released using the new system.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

CBS' Movie Studio

Like ABC, CBS also wanted to have some control over their theatrical programming, so in 1979 they also setup their own films studio called CBS Theatrical Films.

CBS would have much less luck than ABC. The studio was more conservative when it came to budgeting, therefore it was the last studio most filmmakers would consider. While ABC produced Academy Award winning films like Prizzi's Honor and Silkwood, CBS Theatrical Films' biggest hit was the teen romp Better Off Dead. With a mostly forgotten and ignored slate of releases, CBS closed the production company quickly.

A new studio- CBS Films- was setup in 2010. The division has been slightly more successful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ABC's Movie Studio

In 1979, broadcast television was paying huge sums of money for the rights to air theatrical films. The various networks thought that if they produced their own films, they could eliminate the outside studios completely. ABC decided that it would join CBS in setting up a movie studio who could provide it with a steady stream of films. ABC setup ABC Pictures, Corp. as its new studio arm.

At first, things went well. Despite the fact that control of the theatrical release dates was held by 20th Century Fox, the studio had some impressive hits like The Flamingo Kid:

And the highly awarded Prizzi's Honor:

However Fox soon decided to reserve its best distribution slots for its own films. ABC's films got short shrift. By that time, however, audiences were tiring of theatrical releases released on broadcast television. The networks were receiving films after they had appeared in theaters, aired on pay cable and were released on videocassette. If someone truly wanted to see a film, they had many opportunities before the network got their hands on them. Faced with the audience losses, the networks ended their bidding on movies and closed their movie studios. The last film produced by ABC Films was 1986's Space Camp.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rest in Peace, George Gaynes

George Gaynes, who was best known for his roles in the Police Academy franchise and television's Punky Brewster has passed away at age 98.

Mr. Gaynes was born in Helsinki in 1917, though his family immigrated to the United States when he was quite young. Mr. Gaynes got his start on Broadway, acting mostly in musical comedies. He didn't make the transition to film until 1963 when he starred in PT109. Alternating between stage, screen and television, he didn't become a recognized name in show business until 1984's Police Academy, where he played the addled Commander Lassard who often found himself the butt of the cadets' jokes. That same year he found even greater success as the old codger Henry Warnimont who adopts the troublesome orphan Punky Brewster.

His other roles were in such critically acclaimed films as Tootsie and lesser efforts such as the unreleased original version of Fantastic Four.

Mr. Gaynes leaves behind his wife of over fifty years and two children. His work- and the laughs it provided- will live on in the hearts of his millions of fans around the world.

Even More Tinseltown Film Facts


Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but was replaced when the paint used to make him appear metallic caused him to get very sick and put him in the hospital. Louis B. Mayer swore him to secrecy, though the casting was eventually made public on a Wizard of Oz television special.


Marlon Brando originally wanted to portray Jor-El as a toaster, theorizing that since he was an alien, viewers wouldn't know what he looked like. Director Richard Donner eventually brought him to his senses.


Long before the Studio Tour at Universal had an actor portraying Norman Bates on the backlot, a group of tourists were shocked when a crazed knife wielding lunatic ran out and menaced the tram to the shock of the tour guide. Had a killer somehow made his way onto the lot? No, it was Jim Carrey, who was blowing off some steam between scenes. The delighted tourists were treated to one of a kind pictures and autographs from the Canadian funny man.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Hollywood Accounting

Hollywood accounting has a certain mystique around it, and not for a good reason. Films that earn staggering sums of money are claimed to be hopelessly far from breaking even. Profit participants regularly file suit against the studios claiming they've been defrauded. What gives? How can a studio claim to lose money on a big hit with a straight face? Let's take a closer look!

In the glory days of Hollywood during the studio system era, every major studio directly made its films. They operated like factories with an entire infrastructure in place to make movies. Studio bosses acquired scripts, put together projects and took advantage of their lot's infrastructure to keep feeding the theaters of the world with product. Each project was funded directly, with studio bosses authorizing budgets and setting up their yearly slates of pictures. Movie making was a full time business, and the studios had to keep the various pieces working and profitable. This all changed in the 1960's.

The collapse of the studio system and the huge new budgets required to produce the sort of films that would entice people away from their televisions and out to the cinema brought new challenges to Hollywood. The textbook example of a film that could court disaster because of a runaway budget was 20th Century Fox's Cleopatra. The film suffered from huge cost overruns, tearing through its initial budget in record time, with only unusable footage to show for it. The film's failure nearly brought down the studio, requiring it to sell off much of its storied backlot to prevent bankruptcy. The studios, shocked at what the future might hold for them, upended their existing processes and changed up their business plans to deal with this new reality.

The studios themselves stopped directly making films. Instead, they began operating as big banks who mainly financed projects produced by other companies. The films were still controlled and released by the studios, but they were technically produced by smaller production companies who were, on paper, separate entities. To better understand this, let's use an example- The Wizard of Oz.

In the traditional studio system, a studio head at MGM such as Louis B. Mayer would green light the picture and set a budget for it. Studio executives would then begin lining up talent and resources from around the studio based on the allotted budget and begin production. In this example, MGM would be considered the producer of the film and would have to cover all associated costs or overruns. The different departments would chargeback their expenses against the production, knowing that they were all working for the same company. The "charges" incurred by a film would mainly be recorded for accounting purposes.

In the new studio system, MGM would create a new company called "OzCorp.", an independent business entity that solely exists to make Wizard of Oz. MGM, Inc. would then "loan" the entity the money it needs to make the film. A production staff would then begin assembling the talent and resources needed to make the film. Now here's where the accounting trickery comes into play. Under the old system, the studio machine shop would merely charge the production a fee that equaled the cost of providing the service. After all, they all work for the same company, right? Under the new system, the studio machine shop is expected to produce a profit. And technically, OzCorp. is a separate entity from MGM, Inc. So they are encouraged to charge the actual cost plus a certain percentage. Multiply this out over all of the various services and facility costs provided in support of the film and you can see how quickly a film's production can be padded by the studio. All of these costs add up, eating away at the net profits, though the studio is profiting all along the way.

If the movie successfully completes production with a reasonable budget, the studio then "buys" OzCorp., combining it with MGM, Inc. who then releases the film to the world. If the movie went hugely over budget and its cost overruns threaten the solvency of MGM, Inc., the company can merely wash its hands of the film. Since OzCorp. is legally considered to be a company separate of MGM, Inc., creditors can't arrive at MGM's gates expecting to be made whole. In fact, MGM, Inc. can make a claim of its own; after all, it loaned the original startup costs. This arrangement protects the studio's assets and is perfectly legal. If 20th Century Fox had produced Cleopatra in this manner, it wouldn't have had to sell off any of its storied backlot to pay off creditors. It could have written off "CleoInc." and thrown the film itself to the wolves.

In fact, protecting the studio is the primary reason for running things this way. That they can then pad production costs to deprive profit participants of their cut is but a fringe benefit of the scheme.

Friday, February 12, 2016

More Tinseltown Film Facts


The original actor who was offered the lead role in Taken was Jeff Bridges. After he dropped out of the project, Liam Neeson took the role of the father with a special set of skills.


In the classic MGM musical Anchors Aweigh, screen legend Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the mouse from Tom and Jerry. Jerry wasn't the first choice for that role, however. That honor went to Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney was willing to allow it. Roy Disney, on the other hand, was not. Due to World War II, the studio had fallen behind on many projects. Roy felt that the studio couldn't spare the resources required to animate Mickey into the sequence. MGM then chose its backup character- Jerry.


In the twilight of his life, Orson Welles was often forced to take any roles or work that came his way. That's why one of his final roles was the voice of Unicron in Transformers: The Movie.


The interiors for the rowdy Double Deuce bar in Road House were filmed just down the road from the Magic Kingdom of DISNEYLAND. Luckily Dalton was able to cool that rowdy crowd down!


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Studio System Part 2

In our previous chapter, we discussed the good things about the Studio System during Hollywood's golden age. But there were many reasons why the Studio System was broken up. One of the biggest was that it tended to push out smaller studios who couldn't afford to keep a full staff of actors and actresses. The smaller players had to go begging to buy talent from the major studios who could give anyone who got on their bad side a hard time. 

The big name talent were also given the shaft by the system. For example, if Clark Gable liked a script at Warner Brothers, he couldn't make it unless he could convince them to make MGM an offer for his services. Additionally, an actor or actress was at the whim of the studio heads when it came to booking roles. If Louis B. Mayer was upset at a performer, he could bury their career as long as he held their contract.

The collapse of the studio system put the power in the hands of the talent. No longer tied down to a particular studio, directors and stars were free to choose whichever projects they wished. The days of the powerful studio chiefs were over.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tinseltown Film Facts


Jerry Orbach, star of Dirty Dancing, Beauty and the Beast and Law & Order once worked for Mae West as a chauffeur. They stayed in touch after he left her employ and remained friends until she passed away.


Alfred Hitchcock's Rope is known for its revolutionary cinematography and editing. The film is shot so as to look like it was filmed in one continuous session, though there are many clever edits orchestrated by Mr. Hitchcock. The unorthodox production resulted in a broken foot for one crew member who stifled himself so that  shooting could continue. The shot was used in the final cut of the film.


When Roman Polanski began casting his film Fearless Vampire Killers, producer Martin Ransohoff insisted that he cast the little known actress Sharon Tate in the film. Roman resisted, thinking that Sharon Tate was a terrible actress and ill-suited for the film. Sharon's first impressions of Roman were equally negative and she wanted nothing to do with him. Martin persisted and they gave in, falling in love on the set and eventually marrying each other despite their initial misgivings.


When Orson Welles made the film Citizen Kane, which was loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, Mr. Welles became public enemy number one in Hearst's eyes. Mr. Hearst used every weapon in his media arsenal to shut the film down. He didn't succeed, though Mr. Welles found things to be rough going for the rest of his career. Mr. Welles used to talk about an awkward elevator ride in which he just so happened to share the space with Mr. Hearst himself. The two men stood in silence for the entire time, awkwardly looking at anything other than each other.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mae Conquers Myra

When Mae West agreed to star in the 1970 film Myra Breckinridge, she hadn't made a film in almost 30 years. She chose to leave Hollywood behind after her bawdy humor was declared off limits under the Hayes Code. Having amassed a huge fortune and being a shrewd investor, she didn't really need to work. When Fox approached her with the sordid Myra Breckinridge script she had to be convinced to take the role. While she enjoyed the idea of returning to form in a risqué project, she didn't need the cash. (She was sitting on a $75 Million fortune.)

Her requirements were actually quite tame. She insisted that her character be named Leticia Van Allen instead of Letitia Van Allen "for obvious reasons," (could the bawdy Mae West have balked at the letters 'tit' being in the name?) she required that only her character wear the colors white and black, (which caused an uproar with her co-star Raquel Welch) that she be allowed to write in some smutty double entendres and that her character be allowed to attend the film's orgy scene. All of these requests were honored, though Miss West eventually regretted starring in the film. She wouldn't make another film until 1978.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Studio System

When the old studio system is brought up nowadays, it often gets rejected in its entirety as an evil, unfair relic of a time when big Hollywood studios tried to control everything. While it did have some negative aspects, its positives are often over looked.

For example, nowadays, lesser known actors and actresses (including the character actors) typically have to hustle for each role they take. In old Hollywood, all actors and actresses were full time employees of the studios. They would make a set amount of money each week, get a pension and full benefits package and never had to worry about finding their next job. In fact, the burden of finding work would fall to the studio, who had to pay out an actor's salary regardless of whether he had actually worked that week. This made acting at the lower levels of Hollywood a steady, middle class option. Often, if MGM didn't have something for a particular actor or actress, they might "loan" them out to another studio for the week. Sometimes the actor or actress might get paid for doing nothing.

So if this was the case, why would some actors and actresses fight against this system? It would actually be the big name stars who would find this system to be unseemly. While they could command huge weekly salaries that would easily dwarf those paid to the lower level talent, they hated being stuck at one studio, forced to make pictures they might have hated. If, for example, Gene Kelly wanted to make a film at Warner Brothers, he had to get permission from MGM to do so. Even if MGM was willing to permit it, they still had to negotiate a price with Warner Brothers. If no agreement was reached, the coveted role would go to someone else. Thus, the bigger names in Hollywood would get freedom and much better deals if they could pick and choose their projects. Unfortunately, the lesser known character actors would not have this luxury and would have to go begging for roles.