Monday, May 29, 2017

The Best Years of Our Lives

It's Memorial Day and I'd like to send a huge thank you to all of the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving our country in the military.

Reflecting on this day last night, an old movie came to mind that I haven't seen in years. The Best Years of Our Lives is one of my favorite movies, perfect for Memorial Day or any day. I've posted the original November 22, 1946 New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther below:

It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for quiet and humanizing thought. Yet such a one opened at the Astor last evening. It is "The Best Years of Our Lives." Having to do with a subject of large moment—the veteran home from war—and cut, as it were, from the heart-wood of contemporary American life, this film from the Samuel Goldwyn studio does a great deal more, even, than the above. It gives off a warm glow of affection for everyday, down-to-earth folks.

Virginia Mayo's character is such a tart!

These are some fancy recommendations to be tossing boldly forth about a film which runs close to three hours and covers a lot of humanity in that time. Films of such bulky proportions usually turn out the other way. But this one is plainly a labor not only of understanding but of love from three men who put their hearts into it—and from several others who gave it their best work. William Wyler, who directed, was surely drawing upon the wells of his richest talent and experience with men of the Air Forces during the war. And Robert E. Sherwood, who wrote the screen play from a story by MacKinlay Kantor, called "Glory for Me," was certainly giving genuine reflection to his observations as a public pulse-feeler these past six years. Likewise, Mr. Goldwyn, who produced, must have seen this film to be the fulfillment of a high responsibility. All their efforts are rewarded eminently.

For "The Best Years of Our Lives" catches the drama of veterans returning home from war as no film—or play or novel that we've yet heard of—has managed to do. In telling the stories of three veterans who come back to the same home town—one a midde-aged sergeant, one an air officer and one a sailor who has lost both hands—it fully reflects the delicate tensions, the deep anxieties and the gnawing despairs that surely have been experienced by most such fellows who have been through the same routine. It visions the overflowing humors and the curious pathos of such returns, and it honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt—hurt not only physically but in the recesses of his self-esteem.
This scene always makes me teary.

Not alone in such accurate little touches as the first words of the sergeant's joyful wife when he arrives home unexpectedly, "I look terrible!" or the uncontrollable sob of the sailor's mother when she first sees her son's mechanical "hands" is this picture irresistibly affecting and eloquent of truth. It is in its broader and deeper understanding of the mutual embarrassment between the veteran and his well-intentioned loved ones that the film throws its real dramatic power.Especially in the readjustments of the sailor who uses prosthetic "hooks" and of the airman who faces deflation from bombardier to soda-jerker is the drama intense. The middle-aged sergeant finds adjustment fairly simple, with a wife, two grown-up kids and a good job, but the younger and more disrupted fellows are the ones who really get it in the teeth. In working out their solutions Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films.
Myrna Loy and Frederic March are great together!

And by demonstrating frankly and openly the psychological blocks and the physical realities that go with prosthetic devices they have done a noble public service of great need. It is wholly impossible—and unnecessary—to single out any one of the performers for special mention. Fredric March is magnificent as the sergeant who breaks the ice with his family by taking his wife and daughter on a titanic binge. His humor is sweeping yet subtle, his irony is as keen as a knife and he is altogether genuine. This is the best acting job he has ever done. Dana Andrews is likewise incisive as the Air Forces captain who goes through a gruelling mill, and a newcomer, Harold Russell, is incredibly fine as the sailor who has lost his hands. Mr. Russell, who actually did lose his hands in the service and does use "hooks," has responded to the tactful and restrained direction of Mr. Wyler in a most sensitive style.

As the wife of the sergeant, Myrna Loy is charmingly reticent and Teresa Wright gives a lovely, quiet performance as their daughter who falls in love with the airman. Virginia Mayo is brassy and brutal as the latter's two-timing wife and Cathy O'Donnell, a new, young actress, plays the sailor's fiancée tenderly. Hoagy Carmichael, Roman Bohnen and Ray Collins will have to do with a warm nod. For everyone gives a "best" performance in this best film this year from Hollywood.

One great movie! Have you ever seen it? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Maria, Maria

Carol Lawrence: the original Broadway Maria
Hubby and I were watching a re-run of the TV series Kung Fu over the weekend, and Carol Lawrence was a featured guest star. Hubby didn't know who she was. I told him that she'd played Maria in the Broadway version of West Side Story.  He said, "she played Maria?" "Yes, I told him, "on Broadway, not in the movie version."  Well, I've always wondered why Natalie Wood starred in the film rather than Carol Lawrence. So here's why, from TMC:

The first order of business in bringing West Side Story to the screen was casting. This was left largely to Robert Wise,who had been chosen as co-director primarily for his work with film actors (stage choreographer-director Jerome Robbins would handle the musical sequences). The Broadway leads, Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence, were deemed too old by 1961, a curious decision considering the "teenagers" in the film were eventually played by people ranging from their early 20s to 30s. 

For the role of Tony, everyone from Marlon Brando to Elvis Presley was mentioned. Brando, who made his musical debut in Guys and Dolls (1955), was reported by The New York Times as being "very anxious" to do the picture, "however, he wants to play the young lead and is worried at 34 whether this will be plausible on screen." The question turned out to be moot. The producers decided early on not to seek major stars since the project was considered to have enough advance appeal to attract large audiences on its own. 


Natalie Wood: the movie Maria
Dozens of actors were tested before the male lead was given to Richard Beymer, who had made his mark in George Stevens' film version of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Several of the original dancers from the stage musical of West Side Story were brought to play members of the Jets and the Sharks, although the show's Anita, Chita Rivera, was bypassed in favor of Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican actress known to movie audiences from The King and I (1956). George Chakiris, who played Riff in the London production, was cast as Bernardo. The role of Riff was assigned to gymnastic champ/dancer dancer Russ Tamblyn, even though Arthur Laurents thought the all-American actor "didn't belong" in the picture.

Natalie Wood was Ernest Lehman's choice for Maria, but when it was decided to go with unknowns, she was eliminated, and the long testing process began. Ina Balin was an early favorite, but her deep voice contrasted too much with the soprano requirements of the songs. Barbara Luna was the tentative choice after all the tests, but suddenly Lehman's suggestion was reconsidered. Former child star Wood was just coming off the success of her first adult role in Splendor in the Grass (1961) when she was offered the script for West Side Story and one for Parrish(1961), a melodrama being produced by her studio, Warner Brothers. 


She thought the latter script was "crap," but knew if she refused it, Jack Warner would make it impossible for her to go to United Artists for West Side Story. So she faked a case of tonsillitis and checked into the hospital to have them removed, effectively ending her obligation to star in Parrish. Her plan almost backfired when she contracted an infection that developed into pneumonia. She was in critical condition for three days, but recovered in time to report to work on West Side Story in April 1961.

There's your trivia for the day! Is it new to you?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Barbara Bilingsley: Real Mom vs. TV Mom

Mother's Day was yesterday, so today I thought I'd share a little something about Barbara Billingsley. If you're not familiar with that name, she's the actress best known as June Cleaver, one of the world's greatest TV moms from the sitcom Leave it to Beaver.

While playing a mom on TV, she was also a mom of two boys in real life, so here's some interesting trivia about that, courtesy of Wikipedia.:


"She was the ideal mother", Billingsley said of her character in 1997 in TV Guide. "Some people think she was weakish, but I don't. She was the love in that family. She set a good example for what a wife could be. I had two boys at home when I did the show. I think the character became kind of like me and vice versa. I've never known where one started and where one stopped." As for the idealized TV family onLeave It to Beaver, which continues in reruns on cable more than half a century after its debut, Billingsley had her own explanation for the Cleavers' enduring appeal. "Good grief," she told TV Guide, "I think everybody would like a family like that. Wouldn't it be nice if you came home from school and there was Mom standing there with her little apron and cookies waiting?"
Billingsley, however, questioned her character's reactions to the Cleaver children's misbehavior, basing her concern on personal experience as the mother of two sons. As the co-producer Joseph Connelly explained, "In scenes where she's mad at the boys, she's always coming over to us with the script and objecting. 'I don't see why June is so mad over what Beaver's done. I certainly wouldn't be.' As a result, many of Beaver's crimes have been rewritten into something really heinous like lying about them, in order to give his mother a strong motive for blowing her lady-like stack."

I watched reruns of Leave it to Beaver while growing up and thought she was a great mom. My mom was and is still a great mom, but she never wore pearls and heels while doing housework! Did yours?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Good Southerner

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to meet one of the descendants of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. I was not familiar with this gentleman's famous ancestor, but learned an interesting fact that probably isn't documented in any history book.

According to WikipediaHenry Alexander Wise (December 3, 1806 – September 12, 1876) was an American lawyer and politician from Virginia. He was a U.S. Representative and Governor of Virginia, and US Minister to Brazil. During the American Civil War, he was a general in the Confederate States Army. He was the father of U.S. Representatives Richard Alsop Wise and John Sergeant Wise.

There's even a book about Henry A. Wise available on Amazon called A Good Southerner. The book blurb says, "Wise (1806-76) was extremely active on the Virginia and national political scene from the early 1830s to the mid-1860s, drawing popular support because of his projection of hopefulness and energy. Regarded as eccentric, Wise is given, in this study, an interpretation that finds consistency in his life-long controversial and impulsive behavior. Simpson stresses Wise's ambivalent attitude toward slaves and slave-holding, authority and authority figures, and Virginia and the United States."

I am currently writing an interracial historical romance, so talking to Mr. Wise's descendant helped me a lot! The gentleman I spoke to is an African American, descended from Wise's son, William Henry Gray, who was born to Elizabeth Gray, Wise's slave. I learned about the loving relationship between Wise and Gray and that provided some great insight for developing my story. 

 Ever heard of Henry A. Wise? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Double-Take!

I got a kick out of this story when I first heard about it, and when I told my kids, they had a hard time believing it. Fun story! Here it is reprinted from The New York Post.
There’s a set of biracial twins in the UK who are turning heads because one is black and the other is white.
Born in 1997 to a white father and a half-Jamaican mother, the sisters have grown accustomed to getting mistaken for being just friends — and they have even had to produce their birth certificates in order to prove they are in fact related, Barcroft Media reports.

Modal Trigger
Lucy and Maira Aylmer pose with their mother, Donna, father, Vince, and siblings George, Chynna and Jordan. 

“No one ever believes we are twins because I am white and Maria is black,” Lucy explained. “Even when we dress alike, we still don’t even look like sisters, let alone twins.”
After giving birth naturally, the twins’ mother, Donna Douglas, did a double-take as she looked at her daughters for the very first time.
“It was such a shock for her because obviously things like skin color don’t show up on scans before birth,” Lucy said. “So she had no idea that we were so different. When the midwife handed us both to her, she was just speechless.”
And when it comes to the girls’ personalities, they are nearly as different as their looks.
Lucy, who has red hair and a very fair complexion, studies art and design at Gloucester College, according to Barcroft.

Modal Trigger
“No one ever believes we are twins because I am white and Maria is black,” says Lucy. 

Maria, who has brown hair with a caramel complexion, studies law and psychology at Cheltenham College. They have three siblings, who all have mixed skin color.
“All our older brothers and sisters have a skin color which is in between Maria and I,” Lucy said. “We are at opposite ends of the spectrum and they are all somewhere in between.”
Lucy says one of the great things about having a twin who looks completely different is that people don’t mistake them for one another.
“We were in the same class at infant school, but no one ever had a problem telling us apart,” she explained. “Most twins look like two peas in a pod — but Maria and I couldn’t look more different if we tried. We don’t even look like we have the same parents, let alone having been born at the same time."
Were you familiar with this story? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!