Monday, July 27, 2020

Goodbye to Olivia De Havilland

Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie in the 1939 classic movie Gone With the Wind, died over the weekend at 104. What a long and exciting life she led!

I looked her up on Wikipedia and learned an interesting tidbit. She made eight films with Australian heart-throb Errol Flynn, but despite their many pairings, fireworks between them never ignited. Here's why:

Although known as one of Hollywood's most exciting on-screen couples, de Havilland and Errol Flynn were never involved in a romantic relationship.Upon first meeting her at Warner Bros. in August 1935, Flynn was drawn to the 19-year-old actress with "warm brown eyes" and "extraordinary charm." In turn, de Havilland fell in love with him,but kept her feelings inside, later recalling, "He never guessed I had a crush on him ... it never occurred to me that he was smitten with me, too."

Flynn later wrote, "By the time we made The Charge of the Light Brigade, I was sure that I was in love with her." Flynn finally professed his love on March 12, 1937, at the Coronation Ball for King George VI at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where they slow danced together to "Sweet Leilani" at the hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub. "I was deeply affected by him," she later remembered, "It was impossible for me not to be." The evening ended on a sobering note, however, with de Havilland insisting that despite his separation from his wife Lili Damita, he needed to divorce her before their relationship could proceed. Flynn reunited with his wife later that year, and de Havilland never acted on her feelings for Flynn. 

I thought I'd read somewhere that she couldn't stand him. Guess I was wrong!

These are the films they appeared in together: 
Captain Blood (1935) 
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) 
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) 
Four's a Crowd (1938) 
Dodge City (1939) 
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) 
Santa Fe Trail (1940) 
They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

I haven't viewed all of them, but of the ones I have, I think I enjoyed Robin Hood best! Have you seen any of them?  If so, which are your favorites?  

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Jack Johnson's Tragic Love Story

Jack Johnson and Etta Duryea
If you're familiar with the movie The Great White Hope, you probably know that the Jack Jefferson character portrayed by James Earl Jones is based on the real life American boxer Jack Johnson.  During the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915).

Geoffrey C. Ward wrote an excellent biography of Johnson entitled Unforgivable Blackness, which was made into a PBS documentary by Ken Burns. 

Johnson's success brought fame and riches, and to the dismay of most of white America at the time, he disregarded the social and economic standard set for blacks in American society.  He flaunted his wealth in fine clothes and fast cars, and broke the taboo of a black man consorting with white women.

The charismatic Johnson was married three times, and all his wives were white. In January  of 1911, Johnson married Etta Duryea, a glamorous Brooklyn socialite who was well educated, played the piano and sang.  She was also the former wife of businessman Charles Duryea, the engineer of the first ever working American gasoline powered car.

Etta was prone to depression, and after news of her marriage to Johnson made it back to Brooklyn, the isolation she suffered from being cut off from family friends, along with Jack's raucous lifestyle, contributed to her suicide in 1912.

In Unforgivable Blackness, Ward recounts how appalled Etta's relatives were that she had married such a man as Jack. At her funeral, one of Etta's family members accused Jack of never having loved her, and to this he said something like, "I have eyes and I have a heart, and they told me I loved her."  (I must confess, I was so touched by that line, I used it myself in my novel The Governor's Sons.)

If you'd like to learn more about the real life Great White Hope, be sure to read Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson or check out the PBS Documentary. Johnson's story is truly a fascinating one!

Had you ever heard of Jack Johnson?

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Research: Unexpected Finds

Johnny Depp in Public Enemy
"Sometimes when you take another look, you will find something to be grateful for that you might otherwise have overlooked." Elizabeth Elliot

Isn't it amazing when we find something we're not even looking for at all? Research can be like that at times. As a former reference librarian, I enjoy searching for information and finding answers. But sometimes, as writers, we can make unexpected discoveries that can actually help us while crafting our stories.

Maybe you've been trying to determine just the right expression for a 1930's character to use when you hear Johnny Depp say "like nobody's business" in the movie Public Enemies. Or maybe you want some in depth information on thespians in turn of the century New York, and then you stumble upon just the right book at a flea market--for $2.00! Perhaps you're trying to envision a dinner party from the 1930's, and when flipping through channels, find an old movie depicting just that. Or while visiting the museum, you see a furniture exhibit that can help you develop a description for a bedroom in 1889.
Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler
in Dinner at Eight

Could be that we're more attuned to what's around us when we're creating narratives. However, finding something that helps us when we least expect it, is the most fun and unexpected part of research!

What have you found to be grateful for lately?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Lena vs. Ava in the Role of Show Boat's "Julie"

Lena Horne
One of my favorite movies from the Hollywood heyday of musicals is Show Boat, made in 1951, starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson.

The sultry Ava Gardner also starred as "Julie," the mixed race (mulatto) character.  However, before she was cast, the beautiful (African American) Lena Horne was considered.

While Lena Horne was employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (MGM), her appearances in movies were shot so that they could be cut easily from the films she appeared in. This was because MGM feared audiences of that time, especially those in the South, would not accept a beautiful black woman in romantic, non-menial roles.

This was probably the main reason she lost out on playing "Julie."  I remember seeing her on a talk show back in the '80s explaining how MGM's makeup department had come up with a foundation for her to wear as "Julie," called light Egyptian.  Shortly afterwards, however, Ava Gardner was the one being slathered with it and not her!

Ava Gardner
Ironically, Ava Gardner was one of Lena's closest off-screen friends.  She practiced for the role by singing to Horne's recordings of the songs, since Lena had already appeared in the "Show Boat" segment of Till the Clouds Roll By (1946).  In that, she had appeared as "Julie" singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (which was, as all her MGM appearances, shot in such a way that it could be easily edited out of the film).

Another irony for Lena is that she had been invited by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II themselves to play "Julie" in the 1946 Broadway revival of Show Boat, but had had to refuse because MGM would not release her from her contract.

Shortly after her death in 2010, Time Magazine provided a biography on what Lena Horne's film career could have looked like:

Gorgeous, gifted and preternaturally poised, the 24-year-old actress-singer came to Hollywood in 1941 and quickly became the first African-American movie star. She was a sensation in her first leading role, as the Congo goddess Tondelayo in MGM's White Cargo. She earned an Academy Award nomination as the light-skinned black girl passing for white in Elia Kazan's Pinky, then capped her first decade of stardom playing Julie and singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in the 1951 film Show Boat.

Those roles were eventually played by Hedy Lamarr, Jeanne Crain, and Ava Gardner, respectively.  It's a shame we'll never know what Lena Horne could have done with them!

Have you ever seen Show Boat? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!