The Concession Stand

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rest in Peace, Gene Wilder

Legendary actor Gene Wilder has passed away at age 83.


Mr. Wilder was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as Jerome Silberman. (He began using the name Gene Wilder in his acting career at age 26.) He began his professional acting career after a stint in the army, studying under Lee Strasberg and getting accepted into the famed Actors Studio. Gene began touring the country as part of an acting troupe when he met Anne Bamcroft, who introduced him to her husband Mel Brooks. Years later, Mel called Gene to offer him his first big theatrical role- that of Leo Bloom in the comedy classic The Producers. It would be the first of many collaborations between the two legends.

Gene would go on to accept the role that would make him beloved by children around the world- that of Willy Wonka. He had originally declined the role, but later changed his mind. He agreed to make the film as long as he could make his grand entrance with a cane and limp, only to surprise everyone with an acrobatic somersault. Producers agreed and he made cinematic history.

In addition to his collaborations with Mel Brooks, Gene also began a comedic partnership with Richard Pryor, appearing in several films with his fellow legend. During this period he would also meet and marry Gilda Radner, becoming a legendary comedic duo. Sadly, he would lose Gilda to cancer in 1989.

Gene then went into semi-retirement, raising money for cancer research and opening support centers for women seeking help with their cancer fights. A true legend, he will never be forgotten by his millions of fans.

Whatever Happened to Joan's Conscience?


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Unintentionally Funny

Sometimes, despite the filmmakers' best intentions, a film gets laughs instead of gasps. Sometimes a studio will just hope that people won't laugh too much and will (more importantly) keep buying tickets. In other situations, the studio will try to pretend like they always intended the movie to be funny. Like the last film of its franchise- Airport '79: The Concorde.


The film was a laughable mess. After its first week, Universal Pictures decided to take advantage of the mocking laughter and sell their "thrilling" disaster as a comedy. Its slogan was changed from Fasten your seatbelts- the thrills are terrific! to Fasten your seatbelts- the thrills are terrific... and so are the laughs!

We feel your pain, Ms. Raye

Another movie whose makers thought was a serious picture was Mommie Dearest. Originally, Paramount Pictures saw the movie as a serious drama, with Faye Dunaway thinking she would get an Oscar for her efforts. Of course, her performance was a campy, crazy, hilarious mess. The film's ads were serious at first-


Only to become ridiculous to take advantage of Faye's insane performance:


The new campaign, though it sought to make lemonade out of lemons, was despised by Faye Dunaway who quickly disavowed the film. Her performance would gain her Razzies, not Oscars.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kelly Lynch, MD

The film Road House might seem like it was thrown together haphazardly, but a lot of prep work and effort went into its production. For example, the Double Deuce, Red's Auto Store and the barn that Dalton lives in were built specifically for the film.


Even Kelly Lynch got into her role. Kelly spent a month in an emergency room, learning how they operate. She also spent time with a doctor, learning how to stitch up an injury. When production started, she eagerly anticipated using her newly learned skills. Unfortunately for Kelly, however, most of her hospital scenes were cut from the film and she was given a surgical staple gun to use instead of sutures. Ms. Lynch considered her month long stint  in the emergency room to be a waste of time.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Old Hollywood: Hedda Hopper

One of the most feared women in Hollywood was also a failed actress- Hedda Hopper. Ms. Hopper was one of the pre-eminent gossip columnists who often found the ire of big name Hollywood legends who she frequently angered with her often exaggerated stories. Get on her bad side? She'd most likely include you in her next article, accusing you of being a communist, gay or worse. (At least in her mind.)


In one famed encounter, Spencer Tracy confronted her at Ciro's when she exposed his relationship with Katharine Hepburn. Mr. Tracy allegedly kicked her in the rear. Joseph Cotten once pulled a chair out from under her at a banquet. She once admitted that she did these things due to "sheer bitchery" and referred to her palatial Beverly Hills mansion as "the house that fear built." She reveled in her power and often used it to destroy careers. Sadly, she was successful most of the time. Her relentless attacks on Charlie Chaplin resulted in him exiling himself back to England. He only returned to Hollywood once after she had passed away. Though largely forgotten these days, Ms. Hopper's name was enough to send a chill down the spine of many a Hollywood legend back in the day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name...

In the early days of film, the major studios never put an actor's name in the credits. They didn't want to give attention to them to keep their salaries low. Despite this, one face stood out to moviegoers- a young lady known only as The Girl With The Curls.

Despite not knowing her name, audiences loved her and began demanding to know who she was. Sensing an opening, the young lady demanded that she receive credit on her films. Rather than her real name of Gladys Louise Smith, she used a name that would endear her to millions- Mary Pickford. 


The floodgates opened, soon every actor began getting credit on screen. This did result in the thing the studios feared most- salaries skyrocketed. This was a minor problem, however, since movie grosses also skyrocketed. Audiences would pay to see their favorites on the silver screen.

Despite the desire of audiences to really know their favorites, most actors adopted stage names, often to de-emphasize their ethnicity or to create a mystique. Ms. Pickford's stepdaughter by marriage would actually use a stage name that was less fanciful than her real one. Joan Crawford was born Lucille LeSeuer. Instead of seeing it as a name made for the screen, Louis B. Mayer thought it sounded like a fake name, created by a desperate starlet eager for attention. Ms. LeSeuer, therefore, became Joan Crawford.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thomas Edison and Hollywood

Thomas Edison likely never stepped foot in Southern California, though he undoubtedly influenced its greatest industry- the production of motion pictures.


When Mr. Edison invented the motion picture camera, the world was in awe. The world flocked to New Jersey to see if they could use this tool to make their own films. While Edison used the cameras in his own studio, he also wanted to make them available to others who could produce their own films, making New Jersey the center of film production. So why is the center of entertainment located all the way on the other side of the country in Hollywood?


While Southern California's nicer climate played a part in the industry's move out west, the biggest reason the major studios relocated to Hollywood was the crotchety Mr. Edison himself. While most companies would be happy to sell their product to customers, caring little what they did with it, Edison wanted to collect a royalty on top of the cost of the camera itself. Studios were expected to buy the cameras, then pay extra money to Edison based on how successful their pictures were. Studios chafed under these terms, since they had to pay Edison extra money for essentially doing nothing other than selling them the camera. How could the studios avoid these patent issues? By relocating as far from New Jersey as they could get- in Southern California. That the temperate climate provided better filming opportunities was the icing on the cake. While such a ruse wouldn't work these days, the divide between east and west was too immense for Edison to actively try to clamp down on things. He reluctantly just ignored the patent violations. Thus the entertainment industry would establish itself in Los Angeles.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Super Snowball

Making motion pictures has always been a costly business. With so many moving parts, it isn't difficult to see how a film's budget might spiral out of control. Louis B. Mayer at MGM dealt with costs by turning his studio into an impressive assembly line. Since most everyone at MGM back then was a full time employee, it was easy for him to operate this way. If an actor was being difficult, Louis B. Mayer could easily replace him with someone else working at MGM. If a script wasn't working, MGM could choose from numerous screenwriters already under its employ to fix it at a nominal cost. With the collapse of the studio system, however, this tried and true process became extinct. The new "free agent" model of film production would soon hold the potential to send movie budgets sky high.


The superhero franchise that started it all was Superman. Director Richard Donner literally invented the model for all of the superhero films that would come afterwards. Despite his success, Warner Brothers fired him during the production of Superman II. Without him, the franchise died out, reaching its sad conclusion with Superman IV. The huge success of Tim Burton's Batman, however, made Warner Brothers eager to bring back Superman in an entirely new series of films.


The film then entered a phase called pre-production. In Louis B. Mayer's heyday, "Pre-Production" was quick and streamlined. Studio executives would put together a film by digging into its personnel files and selecting the talent who would make the film. Since everyone was under contract to MGM, this process typically went quickly. The pre-production process for Superman, however was painful, lengthy and expensive. While MGM would just tell one of its staff writers to punch up a script, Warner Brothers would have to pay someone potentially millions of dollars to provide the same service. As a matter of fact, a script may go through numerous revisions and changes, requiring hefty payments to each screenwriter.

Having been released from the Batman franchise, Tim Burton was put in charge of putting together a new Superman. He enlisted Nicholas Cage, a Superman fanatic, to play Superman. Burton entered pre-production, soliciting scripts and story ideas. He easily went through millions of dollars before announcing that the film would begin filming eminently. However, Warner Brothers got cold feet and pulled the plug. By this time, Batman and Robin had underperformed at the box office and Warner had lost all interest in superhero films. It was an expensive decision.


Tim Burton's expensive pre-production costs weren't "written off" by Warner Brothers, however. The company had merged with AOL in the middle of the dot com bubble and when the bubble burst, things became grim. Warner Brothers wouldn't have to report the high costs of Superman's pre-production as long as it could say that it was still looking to make a film. This would be a great decision in the near term, because Warner Brothers wouldn't have to report a loss. It would be regretted years later.


When Bryan Singer was offered the opportunity to direct and produce a new Superman film, his production began life in a deep hole. Since Warner Brothers didn't report its costs from the earlier production, it would have to add them to Bryan Singer's production. It had become a toxic snowball, and would create a budgeting problem for the film. Despite not using anything that had been created by Burton, the cost of that production would haunt Superman Returns. While the film had other problems, the budgeting issue didn't help things. The film would go on to underperform at the box office, though it did have the positive effect of finally clearing that multi-million dollar charge off of Warner's books.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Death Note!


Death Note, the popular Japanese graphic novel, is a rarity, spawning interest in both its native country and in the United States. Both the Death Note animated series and the live action films have found their way to the United States, breaking sales records and inspiring Hollywood to attempt to adapt the series for American audiences. Unfortunately, this has been easier said than done. Though some big names have tried to attach themselves to the film, its American rights owner- Warner Brothers- has had a seemingly bumpy road getting the film made.

In Death Note, we learn about a mystical race of monsters called Shinigami, who each carry around a blank book called a Death Note. If a human's name is written in the book, he or she will die of a heart attack. Ryuk, a bored Shinigami, decides to drop his Death Note into the human world just to see what happens. It falls into the hands of a bright honors student named Light Yagami, whose father is a police detective. Light amazes Ryuk by instantly beginning to use the Death Note to kill criminals. Soon the world takes notice and dubs the mysterious vigilante 'Kira'. This also gets the attention of the authorities and a legendary detective known only as L. Thus begins a cat and mouse battle between Light and L.

Perhaps it's the dark material that has made this a difficult property to get off the ground; though its latest difficulties were caused by Batman and Superman. Massively underperforming, the film forced Warner Brothers to offload various projects. Death Note was one of them, though Netflix has picked up the project and it is currently under production. While the translation of the idea to American sensibilities is unknown, here is the currently announced cast:


Monday, August 1, 2016

Sister Bette?

In the mid 1980's, legendary singer Bette Midler had apparently dropped off the face of the earth. Her once meteoric career had stalled, allegedly a victim of her demanding, diva-like behavior. By 1985 she was eager to get back into movies. Touchstone Pictures, a then new subsidiary of Disney, was eager to find known talent who could be hired for less. Bette Midler fell right into that category. She quickly signed with Touchstone and struck gold. Her first film under the contract- Down and Out in Beverly Hills, was a huge success. She followed up with a string of modest hits- Outrageous Fortune, Ruthless People and Big Business. 


It would be 1988's Beaches that would give Ms. Midler- and her ego- the boost they would need to return to the bad times. Despite doing interviews stating that she would do whatever was expected of her, Ms. Midler began to return to form. She had (sort of) agreed to make the film Sister Act, starring in the role of Dolores Van Cartier, the errant songstress who winds up in the nunnery. Ms. Midler decided that she did not wish to make the film and was certain she had told Touchstone Pictures of that decision. The late announcement of her decision led to an all-out scramble to fill the role before shooting began. Dolly Parton was asked, since she had signed a deal with Touchstone Pictures, but she didn't feel comfortable taking the role on such short notice. In the nick of time, producers found their replacement- Whoopi Goldberg. Despite the turmoil behind the scenes, the movie was a huge success.