Saturday, June 30, 2018
Friday, June 29, 2018
It was meant to be a comeback vehicle; Judy Garland would play a character from the trashy novel Valley of the Dolls who was not unlike herself. An insecure actress who found herself cast out of Hollywood and exiled back to Broadway, Anne Welles was surrounded by younger and more buxom beauties who she treated like trash. It might have been a tad bit uncomfortable for Judy, but she was hardly one to pass up a paycheck, especially one that could set her career aloft again.
Despite being a trashy piece of fluff, Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls was a huge bestseller that became a hot property in Hollywood. Twentieth Century Fox had won the bidding war for the rights, a rare win for a studio still reeling from the disastrous Cleopatra, an overstuffed mess that nearly bankrupted the company. The biggest reason for the film’s ballooning budget was the film’s legendary star, Elizabeth Taylor. Fearful of a repeat and in need of a money-making hit, Fox planned to put the boozy, pill popping Garland on a short leash.
Unfortunately for Ms. Garland, the studio had put Mark Robson in charge of the production. Mr. Robson didn’t want to work with Judy and sought to sabotage her in the eyes of the studio. Robson was allegedly cruel to just about all the female stars, but especially to Judy. Fox had warned Judy to refrain from her boozing and drug taking. Robson kept Jusy waiting in her trailer for hours, practically shoving booze and pills in front of her. Judy, bored stiff with nothing to do, gave into her demons. Robson reported her to Fox management who terminated Judy’s contract. The public firing humiliated Judy and gave Robson the actress he originally wanted- Susan Hayward. Ms. Hayward was a consummate pro, who didn’t know about and was not responsible for the terrible situation. The film would become a huge success.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988 made a sequel seem to be a no-brainer. Disney and Amblin Entertainment rushed Roger Rabbit short cartoons into production to seemingly tide audiences over until a feature film could be produced.
The production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, however, was not a smooth one. The option to make the film had originally been purchased by Walt Disney’s son in law, Ron Miller. When Mr. Miller was replaced by Michael Eisner, Mr. Eisner wanted to put his own stamp on the company and put the option on the shelf. Eager to work with Steven Spielberg, the company let him choose any project he thought viable to co-produce with the company. He chose Roger Rabbit.
While Eisner was not thrilled with the choice, the project moved forward. The first crack in the relationship between Disney and Amblin occurred when Disney cooled to the very idea of the film after the failure of Lucas’ Howard the Duck. Amblin was made to feel as though Disney was just doing Spielberg a favor, producing the film just to impress him. Spielberg also wasn’t happy with the company slapping the Touchstone banner on the film instead of the Disney name.
When the film became a blockbuster hit, Amblin felt that Disney was scrambling to take advantage and that its earlier doubts about the film’s viability had resulted in missed opportunities. Still, the film’s sequel was being planned- Roger Rabbit 2: The Toon Platoon.
The film was supposed to show Roger Rabbit joining the army during World War 2. Tensions between Amblin and Disney had increased, however. Planned attractions that would have taken Disney theme park guests into the world of Roger Rabbit were scrapped or delayed due to budget cutbacks. Rollercoaster Rabbit, which Steven Spielberg wanted to run before another co-production with Disney- Arachnophobia was placed in front of Touchstone’s Dick Tracy. The DISNEYLAND attraction Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin would be the final collaboration between the two companies. Since things have warmed up between Spielberg and Disney in recent years, however, Roger Rabbit could make his way back to the silver screen soon.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
George Lucas made many of his dreams come true. But there was one dream that never came true- George Lucas wanted to make a feature length version of Flash Gordon.
George Lucas had grown up with Flash Gordon and envisioned a state of the art special effects extravaganza. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t a big enough name at the time to get the funding needed to buy the rights. Film producer Dino De Laurentiis swooped in and snagged the rights, leaving George Lucas to his own devices. And what amazing devices he was left to!
George Lucas actually beat Dino De Laurentiis to the punch, creating his own mega franchise. Dino’s film, with its campy soundtrack and visuals, looked like the tired copy.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
The world was stunned when The Exorcist came on the scene. The film introduced horrors previously unseen on the silver screen. Most surprising was the angelic seeming Regan, who turned from an all-American girl into a horrific monster, shocking audiences around the world.
Played by young actress Linda Blair, the character caught the attention of the world, earning Miss Blair a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. It seemed that only huge things awaited her. A successful career wasn’t seemingly in the cards, however. A laughable sequel to the film fell flat. Linda went from B movie to B movie, earning steady paychecks but little acclaim.
Eventually, she would learn to just accept her fate, making appearances on shows and in movies that mocked her past roles- never living up to expectations.
Monday, June 25, 2018
Thousands of film projects are proposed and seriously considered every year at studios around Hollywood. Often, it only takes a big name to get the project off the ground. Sometimes even that doesn’t work to get a film approved. One of the biggest names attached to a seemingly endless number of unmade projects is Orson Welles.
Welles had an unheard of clause inserted into his contract with RKO- total creative freedom on any project he chose to undertake. At the time, most projects were put together by studio heads. A mogul like Louis B. Mayer would choose the scripts, the talent and lastly, the director. In the Studio System, the director was just another cog in the machine. Orson Welles wanted to be more- and RKO gave it to him. His first film under the contract was Citizen Kane. The film would become a masterpiece, widely believed to be the greatest ever made. It was a dazzling sign of things to come. What else would this visionary talent accomplish?
Sadly, Orson’s name would become synonymous with unmade projects and missed potential. Since Citizen Kane was seen as a thinly veiled and unflattering biography of William Randolph Hearst, the media titan put his entire organization behind the ruination of Orson Welles. Hearst’s catty gossip columnists spread lies about him and Hearst tried to discourage theaters from showing the film. Despite all this, the film went on to gain much acclaim, though many booed the very mention of the film’s name at the Academy Awards.
While Orson’s contract with RKO gave him one more film to make unfettered from studio meddling, RKO had to approve it first. The studio was skittish about giving Orson another blank check. Orson, on the other hand, felt that he had proven himself with Citizen Kane and wanted to finally make the film that he had originally intended to be his first- an adaptation of Heart of Darkness. RKO had already turned the film down as being too dark, too costly and too risky. Orson Welles thought Citizen Kane would be his ticket to getting Heart of Darkness made. It wasn’t. It would sadly be the first of many unrealized Orson Welles projects- casualties of a war with an insecure newspaper magnate.
Friday, June 22, 2018
When Hollywood woke up to the horrific news that Sharon Tate and four others on her estate had been brutally murdered, the once open doors of Hollywood estates slammed shut. The tony residents of Beverly Hills and beyond began fortifying their estates while many recounted their own near misses with death. Apparently Sharon Tate was planning a huge party that night, but many of her friends (luckily) weren’t able to attend. Many Hollywood stars and celebrities would tell interviewers of their good luck.
The truth was, however, that Sharon Tate was in no mood to host a big party. She was almost nine months pregnant and it was extremely hot. Of the other four people who were murdered, one was visiting the house’s caretaker and wasn’t there to see Sharon, two were living in the house to look after Sharon while her husband was away and one was a close friend who was also there to check in on Ms. Tate, who was in the last weeks of her pregnancy. There was no party planned for that night.
Two people can legitimately claim to have dodged the killers’ knives that night- Debra Tate, Sharon’s younger sister, had wanted to spend the night but those plans were canceled by Sharon because she wasn’t feeling well. Sharon had offered a spare bed to her housekeeper Winifred Chapman for that night, but Winifred declined. Ms. Chapman had stayed overnight at the house in the past because it was much cooler there than where she lived. Other than those two lucky folks, nobody else who told stories of narrowly averting the carnage at Ms. Tate’s house were telling the truth.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
When Three Men and a Baby began production, the studio went looking for a nice, vacant house that it could use for filming. It found just that, though it was never told why such a nice place was vacant, available and cheap. It seems that the son of the house’s owners had committed suicide in the house and the devastated owners no longer wished to live there. They had an issue selling the house because of strict laws that required them to indicate that someone had died on the property, so they rented it out, as those very same laws didn’t require them to report the death to renters. The ghost of the boy haunted the production, appearing on camera in one scene.
A chilling story, but it is definitely not true. While movie productions often locate real houses for exterior shoots, interior filming almost always takes place in a studio. Three Men and a Baby filmed on a soundstage, not an old house. The supposed “ghost” as shown above in the window was a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson’s character that had been propped up by the window. Ted Danson portrays an actor in the film and is even shown in the movie dancing with the cutout. The studio denied the story and explained that the cutout was really the “ghost” that people saw. Since the film had just been released on VHS at the time, the rumors actually helped sales, so the studio’s denials were seemingly halfhearted.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
In the 1980’s, South Africa was persona non grata in “civilized society” due to its backwards policy of apartheid. Eager to get outside investment after most companies had abandoned the country, South Africa offered humongous tax breaks to get multinational corporations to open up businesses in the beleaguered country. One incentive was meant to attract film production. Enter Action International Pictures, which decided to make Space Mutiny in South Africa with the hope that its lower budget could be stretched further with South Africa’s production credits.
The budget was stretched, but not significantly enough to make the film look like Star Wars. The film was laughed out of theaters. The film’s star, Cissy Cameron claimed that the film was always meant as a spoof of space films and that the goofy costumes, set dressing and bad editing were all done on purpose. The myth has taken hold among fans of the film, but the story is just not true. Looking at the initial promotion of the film and the film itself, it is obvious that the filmmakers were serious and thought that they were making a dramatic film. The laughs generated by this film were obviously unintentional.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Lana Turner’s Discovery was the stuff of legend; the gorgeous young starlet was said to have been discovered at Schwab’s Pharmacy at the soda counter, fresh off the bus from the Midwest. It would become the prototypical story of Hollywood success. It would be repeated often and inspire thousands of young women to head to Hollywood and jockey for a seat at Schwab’s Pharmacy.
The story, while mostly true, was embellished a bit. Lana Turner was discovered while ordering a soda, but not at Schwab’s- it was several miles down the road at the Top Hat Cafe. Additionally, Miss Turner was not fresh off the bus from the Midwest- she had been in Los Angeles for years. In fact, she was a student at Hollywood High School, skipping class. Perhaps Schwab’s was seen as a more glamorous place to be discovered; maybe the studio just wanted to de-emphasize the cutting class aspect of her discovery. In any case, the story became legend.
Monday, June 18, 2018
As Mickey Rooney often reminded us, at one point he was the number one star in the world. No star at MGM shined brighter than he in his heyday. As his star dimmed, he often reveled in whatever adulation still greeted him. His frequent appearances on talk shows often saw him sharing dubious stories of what life was like at MGM when he was on top of the world. One such story concerned a rather famous mouse.
According to Mr. Rooney, he was wandering the MGM Studio Lot as a child actor when he came across an office in which a man was drawing at an artist’s table. The man ushered the young Rooney into his office and showed him some hilarious drawings. Rooney was enchanted and after the impromptu meeting, the man introduced himself and asked what Rooney’s name was. “I’m Mickey, Mr. Disney.” Months later, the young boy was astonished to see a very special cartoon premiere of Hollywood’s biggest new star- Mickey Mouse.
An amazing story, right? Too bad there was little truth behind it. At the time that Walt Disney was working on Mickey Mouse, his studios were 15 miles and a world away from MGM. While Walt Disney eventually became good friends with Louis B. Mayer, his small operation would have been unknown to the film titan at the time, so it wouldn’t have made sense for Walt Disney to have been at MGM. Additionally, before Mickey Mouse, Walt’s films were distributed by MGM’s competitor Universal Pictures. The truth is that Mickey received his name from Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney and not from a chance encounter with Mickey Rooney.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Millions of tourists visit Hollywood each year, many of them touring one of the many studios offering backlot tours. While the most popular studio tour is at Universal Studios, which offers an entire theme park experience in addition to its famed backlot tour, Paramount, Columbia and Warner Bros. offer smaller scale tours of their filmmaking facilities.
Despite knowing that they probably won’t get plucked from the crowds and given a Hollywood contract, many tourists still fantasize about the possibility. For one beautiful and glamorous actress, that fantasy was actually a reality.
Gene Tierney came from an old money east coast family. Despite seeing the film industry as being beneath them, the family still made sure to tour a Hollywood studio on their California vacation. While being escorted on a special tour of the Warner Bros. backlot, Gene caught the attention of a Warner Bros. executive who tried to sign her to a contract on the spot. Her patrician parents were violently opposed to the idea of their daughter becoming a “lowly” actress. They eventually relented and Hollywood History was made.
Monday, June 4, 2018
In his later years, Groucho Marx would often blame his less than stellar film efforts on his brother Chico. According to Groucho, he’d often make a lesser film ‘because Chico needed the money.’ Though he’d continue making questionable decisions long after Chico had died, Groucho would still insist that any bad film he made during Chico’s Lifetime was solely due to Chico’s gambling addiction and money problems. Groucho, however, never seemed willing to turn anything down himself. His later years were filled with bizarre endorsements.
Since Groucho Marx is synonymous with children’s cereal, of course he’d naturally endorse Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. Children were naturally attracted to the cereal endorsed by a man older than their grandparents whose glory days had not since passed him by.
While Smirnoff Vodka was probably a more age appropriate product for Groucho to endorse, this picture seems to imply either that Groucho had resorted to thievery to keep himself drunk in his later years or had taken a side hobby of flashing poor victims.
When you think of an aging prankster, don’t you wonder which brand of car battery he trusts? Apparently Auto-Lite thought people in the 1950’s trusted Groucho Marx to tell them which battery to buy. Of course, this ad features not Groucho Marx but an unconvincing Groucho Marx lookalike. So we guess the story here is to buy counterfeit car batteries? The only person who probably got a laugh from this ad was Groucho Marx, who got paid to not really endorse Auto-Lite batteries. This time it was probably Groucho who needed the money.