The Concession Stand

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Joan Crawford for Pepsi!

Nobody can say Miss Crawford didn't give her all to Pepsi!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: Ring Lardner, Jr.


Ring Lardner, Jr. was an unapologetic leftist. He actually had joined the American Communist Party in 1937, though than as now, it was not illegal to do so. He became a publicist in Hollywood before deciding that he had a knack for screenwriting. He took a job with Twentieth Century Fox, where he worked on classics like Laura and Forever Amber. While the studios were uneasy about his politics, they ignored them until HUAC subpoenaed him and he refused to answer any questions.


He soon found himself fired by Twentieth Century Fox and blacklisted. He fled to England where he worked on a novel and wrote under a pseudonym. It is rumored that one of his films won a best screenplay Oscar, though that has never been verified. His presence on the blacklist would be lifted when producer Martin Ransohoff put his name on the credits of The Cincinnati Kid. Ring would go on to write the screenplay for the theatrical release M*A*S*H, setting up a huge franchise for Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that had turned its back on him. Mr. Lardner would pass away in 2000, the last of the Hollywood Ten to pass away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jerry Lewis Cinemas

Hoyvin, glayvin! In the 1970's Jerry Lewis' career had hit the skids. He might have been revered in France, but he was box office poison in the United States. How could he parlay his previous fame into cash? Why not try his hand at promoting a chain of family-friendly cinemas?

You kids and your glayvin, hoyvin cinemas! 

Jerry Lewis Cinemas was a chain of franchised theaters that foresaw the current trend of multi-plex theaters. Investors could build their theater from a pre-designed plan and show family-friendly second run films. Jerry Lewis' team provided an operational plan that would minimize overhead and maximize profits for the franchisees. How could they go wrong?

Jerry Lewis in person? Is that a threat?

Well, opening up a theater that wouldn't show more adult fare right when some of the greatest cinematic achievements were being made was a bad idea. That was one of the first changes Jerry made, allowing the franchisees more freedom in choosing what they exhibited. One of the biggest stumbling blocks, however, was the name. Meant to bring Hollywood glamour to the sticks, the name instead dragged them down. Jerry Lewis was seen as a hokey, schlocky also-ran who was no longer relevant. Plus, potential customers were confused. Did this theater only show those old, creaky Jerry Lewis films? By the end of the decade, some of these theaters resorted to showing porn, while the others slowly but surely shut down. Mr. Lewis was forced to declare this enterprise as dead as his career was.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: Edward Dmytryk

Edward Dmytryk was born in Canada, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. They moved to Los Angeles, where Edward became a naturalized citizen who attended Hollywood High School and worked for Famous Players/Lasky. (Which later became Paramount Pictures.) He worked his way up, becoming a projectionist, film editor and eventually a director.


Mr. Dmytryk actually did join the Communist party and was convinced to not testify before HUAC. He fled the country and directed a film in England that was suppressed in the United States. He was soon returned to the United States where he was arrested and imprisoned. This time he gave into the pressure and testified twice, naming names. Hollywood rewarded him by re-hiring him. He then made the film he was most known for- The Caine Mutiny.


Edward never really apologized for his transgression, believing that he was justified because of the damage his career suffered.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Blacklisted: M*A*S*H by Ring Lardner, Jr.

The Original screenplay for M*A*S*H was written by Ring Lardner, Jr. who had been blacklisted for alleged ties to the communist party.


Friday, November 18, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: Lester Cole


Lester Cole came from a family that was unapologetically socialist. His parents immigrated from Poland, bringing their Marxist philosophy with them. His father was a union organizer, who enjoyed the freedom to espouse his views freely in his adopted country, a freedom that would be seemingly taken away from his son.

Lester originally thought that he'd be an actor, but he quickly decided to become a screenwriter. He established himself as a clutch screenwriter who could punch up any script. During his first 15 years of screenwriting, he would write over 40 screenplays and establish the Writer's Guild. After he declined to appear before HUAC, only three of his scripts would be produced until he passed away at age 81. (And those were only produced after being submitted under a pseudonym.) Lester would be jailed for ten months for refusing to appear before HUAC. Again, being a communist or joining the communist party was not and never was illegal. Lester, like the rest of the Hollywood Ten, was being persecuted primarily for his political views, which was anathema to the very same principals that HUAC was claiming to protect.


Interestingly enough, his biggest hit was made after he remained on the blacklist. Written under a pseudonym, the G Rated family film Born Free was loved by both critics and audiences alike. The very same audiences who might not have patronized the film had they known its pedigree.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: Herbert Biberman


Herbert Biberman was born in Philadelphia to an artistic family; his brother was famed American artist Edward Biberman. Herbert, however, found his way to Hollywood. Mr. Biberman was anti-war, opposing the United States' entry into World War II right up until it was obvious that Nazi Germany needed to be stopped. Because of this, the FBI originally suspected him of being a Nazi despite his Jewish faith.

After the war, Mr. Biberman's actions ran afoul of HUAC and he was imprisoned alongside the Hollywood Ten on contempt charges. After his release, Herbert found himself blacklisted and his membership in the Director's Guild was stripped from him. Despite this, he decided to work independently, directing a film about Mexican-American workers and their fight against a greedy company. The film initially earned him few plaudits, with the government trying to ban the movie. Pauline Kael would castigate the film, painting it as a communist plot. The film would eventually find a wider audience, becoming a film archived by the very same government that sought to block it years before.

Biberman passed away in 1971 and his membership in the Director's Guild would be restored posthumously.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: Alvah Bessie


Alvah Bessie came from a wealthy family with an authoritarian father. His father used the family's wealth to control his children, dictating what they would study in college and where they would study it. Upon his father's death, Alvah chose to leave his practical studies behind and focus on the arts, originally becoming an actor. Unable to break out, he moved to France to live with other American expatriates in the artist section of town. Originally translating French novels into English, he quickly began writing his own novels. The world took notice and he earned plaudits from the likes of Ernest Hemingway.

Upon his return to the United States, Bessie became ensconced at Warner Brothers, writing and punching up scripts. At the time, the studio system would keep a staff writers on the payroll who would be called upon to fix existing scripts, adapt novels into scripts and anything else the studio might assign. (These days, most writers outside of television are not actual studio employees.)

Alvah soon grew concerned with the rise of fascism around the world, but particularly in Europe. Seeing no movement willing to fight back against this, he joined the American Communist party. While the United States would eventually start fighting fascism on the side of the Allied Powers during WWII, Bessie was considered to be "pre-maturely anti-fascist", which brought scrutiny upon him. At the conclusion of the war, looking for a new nemesis, Congress chose communism and began heaping scorn upon anyone deemed "anti-American". Alvah found himself on the outs with the mainstream.

Mr. Bessie soon found himself summoned before HUAC to participate in the kangaroo court that didn't seek to arrest anyone; as a matter of fact it was not illegal to be a communist or communist sympathizer. The hearings were mainly setup to stir up the populace against communism and provide a showcase for their grandstanding. Alvah chose to defy the order and spent ten months in jail. Since it wasn't illegal to be a communist, the only way to punish anyone was to blacklist them from work, which sadly happened to Bessie.

While Bessie never worked in Hollywood again, he did continue writing novels, eventually telling his side of the story in the fictionalized The Un-Americans. While Mr. Bessie's life eventually recovered, his career never did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hollywood Ten: HUAC Comes Calling

The House Un-American Activities Committee was convened to flush out people who might be promoting communism in the United States. The committee began its work in 1938 as a political ploy by Republicans to discredit President Roosevelt's New Deal. Enacted to help common Americans during the Great Depression, the New Deal was seen as promoting socialism. FDR was merely trying to help out the common man and forestall the type of revolution that had, ironically, taken place in Russia and swept socialism into that country.


When World War II became the country's biggest priority, the committee was tabled. The United States would have to team up with a country whose method of government had been seen as insidious and a threat to the United States. While the committee had been mostly forgotten by the end of the war, supporters of the military complex that had been built up to fight the war were eager to find a way to keep it operational. Enter a new enemy- communism.  Congressmen, eager to make a name for themselves, sought to find communism everywhere they could and one of their biggest targets was Hollywood. They found communism everywhere they looked; the holiday classic It's A Wonderful Life unfairly targeted businesses by demonizing 'old man Potter', other films depicted ragtag groups overcoming the establishment. In their minds, Hollywood was slowly trying to poison the minds of Americans into accepting communism.


So the HUAC was reconstituted and began investigating communism everywhere they looked. Oddly enough, then as now, it wasn't illegal to be a communist nor to espouse communist values. Members of the committee weren't really trying to prosecute anyone; they couldn't, as it would be unconstitutional, but that didn't stop them from grandstanding and smearing regular folks.


In fact, the notorious "Hollywood Ten" were not jailed for being communists- they were jailed for not appearing before HUAC's innuendo filled kangaroo court. Their principled stand, unfortunately, would come at a great personal cost.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tom Neyman, 1935-2016

Tom Neyman, who played the fearsome Master in the film Manos: The Hands of Fate, has passed away at age 80.


Widely believed to be one of the worst films ever made, Manos gained a cult following after it was mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mr. Neyman embraced his notoriety, attending conventions and starring in MANOS Returns.

Mr. Neyman is survived by his daughter, who also appeared in the film and was reportedly the only actor in the original film who received payment for her work; in her instance, it was a bicycle.

The Beginnings of the Hollywood Ten

At the end of World War II, two obvious military giants had emerged- the United States and the Soviet Union. While the two countries had banded together to defeat Nazi Germany, they were always strange bedfellows. The United States had embraced capitalism and was poised to enjoy its biggest boom years, while the Soviet Union had just recovered from its own revolution prior to the war and had embraced socialism. While these two forms of government were wildly different, there wasn't really anything that made them naturally opposed to each other.


The end of World War II exposed the devastating damage caused by the war. Gruesome murders and other crimes by Nazi Germany were discovered and the entire continent began rebuilding what was lost. Separated by vast oceans, the United States had no such infrastructure problems and set about turning its war machine into industries that could help rebuild and profit from Europe and the Soviet Union's resurrections. A few industrialists, however, pondered their futures. What would a peaceful world look like for them? Additionally, they were never fans of the social net created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. How could they turn the tide in their favor? Create a new menace- communism.


The mainstream began to vilify communism, making it the natural enemy of the total democracy they imagined the United States to be. Persons believed to be sympathizers of communism were marked as traitors or seditionists. Ironically, the only serious act of sedition known about nowadays was perpetrated by the same people who were now railing against communism. This group, which included Prescott Bush, wanted to overthrow FDR because of his various social programs. By the late 1940's, they were promoting the idea of communists as traitors and had set their sights on Hollywood.


Hollywood was shocked by this unwanted attention. Long known for sweeping its more sordid behaviors under the rug, it had been by all accounts, a very patriotic place during the last world war, producing propaganda films and materials to aid the war effort. Many stars had either fought in the war or entertained the troops. Who could question their patriotism? Congress, however, saw an opportunity to place a target on the business, questioning its content and character. At first, Hollywood struck back, making a radio series featuring Judy Garland and other big names remarking on how patriotic the business was and how freedom of speech was an important pillar of our democracy. The bombastic tone backfired. Congress saw blood in the water and began an unprecedented, unfair and unconstitutional war against "communism", ushering in a world of danger for those who spoke out and a never ending lineup of foreign "enemies" that the United States was now supposed to defend itself against.

We will look at the notorious Hollywood Ten who stood up for their freedoms, often at great personal cost to themselves over the next few weeks.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marlon Brando: Crazy Like a Fox?

It was no secret that Marlon Brando was difficult to deal with and often made bizarre suggestions to "improve" the movies he worked on. Despite getting paid millions for doing little on Superman, he still risked the huge payday with his behavior and suggestions. Among the most bizarre was his thought that his character should be depicted as a toaster with him providing the voice. Luckily for the production, Brando was not a central actor and his insanity left the set when he did. Years later, the same would not be the case for The Island of Doctor Moreau.


The film was always going to be bizarre, but the presence of Brando made it more so. He insisted that the production hire a dwarf he got a kick out of as Dr. Moreau's assistant. He required that his character wear white paint on his face. He refused to wear pants so that the director wouldn't include his considerable girth on screen.


After viewing the on set insanity, actor Rob Morrow left the production, forcing the studio to hire David Thewlis for his role. The film's budget skyrocketed and co-star Val Kilmer grew impatient, ordering the producers to dramatically reduce his part. Despite taking the role to work with Marlon, Val regretted the decision after learning that Brando despised him and refused to do many scenes that required both of them.

A funny story told by cast and crew involves Marlon Brando not memorizing his lines. Brando insisted he be allowed to wear an earpiece with a stagehand feeding him the lines. Police radios often interfered with the device, leading Marlon to unwittingly announce robberies and police chases.

Audiences didn't know what to make of the film and it became a notorious box office disaster. Not even the lure of seeing Marlon Brando wearing kaftans was enough to attract them to theaters.