The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Elizabeth Taylor’s Tribute

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Good morning, everyone! Today is a bittersweet day, as it’s the final day of my favorite time of the year on Turner Classic Movies, Summer Under the Stars. If you’re not familiar with how this special programming works or didn’t get the chance to check out my recommendations for Rod Taylor’s day, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of his or her films. Despite not seeing as many of the films as I would like, I couldn’t be more excited to finish the month of great tributes to great actors with a salute to perhaps one of the greatest actresses of them all, Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart once again for making the 2017 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon one to remember, and I definitely can’t wait to participate again next year with even more recommendations!

5. National Velvet (1944) on TCM at 6am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in a scene from National Velvet (1944).

I’m no stranger to making top five lists; in fact, if you’ve been following me for some time you’ve likely found that they’re commonplace around here. Even though I found that narrowing down five great performances given by Elizabeth Taylor was among the most difficult of all of the lists that I’ve ever compiled, it was a no brainer for me to include her breakout picture, National Velvet (1944). Based on the bestselling novel by Enid Bagnold, Velvet Brown (Taylor) becomes the owner of an unruly horse that she calls “The Pie”. Velvet sees a great deal of potential in him as a racehorse, however, and with the help of former jockey Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) and with the support of her family, she trains The Pie to compete in England’s Grand National race. First turned down by MGM for appearing “too boyish” for the leading role (likely the only time she was ever told such a thing in her life), 12 year-old Elizabeth trained relentlessly for three months and ate steak every day in order to become the type of lady that the script required and prove the studio wrong about how right she was for the part. For her efforts alone, she ended up earning the role. While normally I don’t care for athletics or films about them, it’s nearly impossible to deny that the acting abilities and striking beauty that Elizabeth Taylor posessed for her age makes this movie a standout that’s head and shoulders above other films of its kind. If you find yourself awake this early in the morning and want to catch a delightful film starring Elizabeth at her most adorable, I highly recommend seeing National Velvet (1944) while her marathon gets off to the races!

4. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) on TCM at 2pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954).

I couldn’t be more excited that Turner Classic Movies is airing this captivating romantic drama during its salute to Elizabeth Taylor. Told in flashback by the leading man himself, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) is about Charles Wills (Van Johnson), a lieutenant during World War II but a level-headed aspiring author at heart who meets Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) on the day that the war ends on the European front. Helen is a vivacious and carefree woman who comes from a family that’s used to being wealthy, and despite their opposing backgrounds, the two wed. But will Charles and Helen find a way to make their marriage work when unemployment, a daughter, Helen’s extravagant lifestyle, and other suitors come into the mix? This film, which is loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisted” published in 1931, was originally meant for Cary Grant with Shirley Temple in the role of his daughter, but I couldn’t imagine a better film being made with anyone other than this exceptional cast that also includes Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, and Roger Moore in his first American film. It’s a beautiful and realistic picture overall that I don’t think was given a fair break after its release. Due to an error with the roman numeral copyright notice number, the film’s copyright began in 1944 rather than its actual release date in 1954, and due to MGM believing that The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) had another ten years under copyright, it was never renewed and fell into the public domain in 1972. Normally the film becoming available to everyone would be a good thing, but because there are an astronomical number of copies in circulation, it’s nearly impossible to find the movie in a good quality. For these reasons and more, I recommend that you watch it now more than ever, as Turner Classic Movies does not show this marvelous film often and I highly doubt that you can find a better quality version of it anywhere else.

3. Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975) on TCM at 4:45am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Giant (1956).

I always adore it when TCM shows a documentary during Summer Under the Stars. There’s no better way to give insight and shed light onto the on and offscreen life of the actor or actress that the channel is saluting, and more often than not the documentary being shown is a rare and engrossing one that won’t be found anywhere else. Such is the case with Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975), an hour-long tribute to one of the most preeminent and talented actresses of all time. So much has been said and written about Elizabeth Taylor that it’s sometimes difficult to discern the truth from the legend, but luckily this film is made up of interviews with the people who knew her best, including but not limited to the narrarator of the documentary and four-time costar of Elizabeth’s, Peter Lawford, close friend and Giant (1956) costar Rock Hudson, and in a very special and rare interview, Elizabeth’s own mother Sara Taylor. The special allows the audience to develop a deeper understanding of both Elizabeth’s life as well as her films, as context from nearly every aspect of her life is prominently displayed and discussed. Of course it’s a real treat to hear Sara Taylor talk about her perception of Elizabeth and her opinion of how she’s been shown to the public, but the conversation that surprisingly captivated me the most was with Richard Brooks, her director on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). During filming, Elizabeth’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash that left her devastated and unsure if she would ever find love or ever make another film again. Not much information had been given about her emotions and actions in the days following his passing, but Brooks gives a fascinating firsthand account of that and how she courageously completed the picture despite her hardships. All in all, if you’re an fan of Elizabeth and have the opportunity to check out this documentary out, I couldn’t advise a better way to conclude Summer Under the Stars.

2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) on TCM at 10pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a publicity photo for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

In my humble opinion, if you haven’t seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), you simply haven’t seen an Elizabeth Taylor movie. Taylor turns a fantastic play by Tennessee Williams into a classic film as she takes on the role of Maggie “The Cat” Pollitt, the neglected wife of Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), a Southern ex-football hero who injured his leg jumping hurdles at his old high school in a drunken attempt to relive his glory days. Brick has taken to the bottle ever since the suicide of his confidant and fellow football player, Skipper, and has not only forsaken his wife but also his family, including his wealthy father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) who is dying of cancer. With the exception of his own wife Big Momma (Judith Anderson), most of the mogul’s family is more concerned with what will become of his fortune after he passes on, especially Brick’s brother Goober (Jack Carson), his shrill wife (Madeleine Sherwood), and their army of bratty children. As I mentioned before, Elizabeth Taylor was going through a substantial amount of heartache during the production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with costar Paul Newman saying of her preserverance, “She was extraordinary. Her determination was stunning.”; Elizabeth later returned the sentiment: “Paul Newman is one of the sweetest men I know. He was so unbelievably supportive with his kind words and just being there for me. He helped me through an enormously difficult time in my life, and I will always be grateful.” To me, the sheer fact that Elizabeth was able to complete the film at all is a testament to her resilience, but even more praiseworthy is the brilliant performance that she gave in spite of her personal struggles. This might be saying a lot, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) has always been near the top of my list of what are objectively the greatest films of all time, right behind Gone With the Wind (1939). Its inegnious dialogue and superior cinematography lend to this honor the most in my eyes, but there’s no denying that this film would be a fraction of what it is today without the efforts of Elizabeth Taylor.

1. BUtterfield 8 (1960) on TCM at 8pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor shown with her Best Actress Oscar for BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the 33rd Annual Academy Awards in 1961.

Virtually all of the films on this list have received critical acclaim over the years, with my number one pick being no exception, but I must admit that I’ve put BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the top mostly because it’s my personal favorite picture starring the iconic actress that we’re celebrating today. The film is about Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor), a model who has a reuputation in New York City when it comes to the opposite sex. She leans on Steve Carpenter for support (played by Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth’s husband at the time), who is a composer and her close friend, while setting her sights on Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), a married man who has time and money to burn as he’s married to an heiress (Dina Merrill) and has been given a job with a title and no actual work involved. After a series of complications and misunderstandings, Gloria and Weston begin a torrid love affair, but will Gloria’s desire to become a respectable woman complicate their relationship even further? Will Weston be able to see her as anything other than what others see? Elizabeth Taylor had intended for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) to be her final screen appearance, as she wanted to retire and begin a peaceful life with husband Mike Todd. Todd made a verbal agreement about this with MGM, but after his death, the studio forced Taylor to make this film and fulfill the terms of her studio contract for the meager sum of $125,000 (for comparison, Taylor’s next film, Cleopatra (1963), led to her becoming the first actor to ever earn $1 million for a single picture). Elizabeth hated the film as a result, and to make matters even worse, while filming she survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia that required a tracheotomy, and was even pronounced dead for a brief time during the ordeal. The star ended up winning her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress for BUtterfield 8 (1960), which she considered merely a sympathy Oscar given to her because of her recent health problems. I respectfully disagree with her assumption and I couldn’t commend her performance more. Elizabeth is absolutely dynamite in BUtterfield 8 (1960), and if you’re looking for a primetime walk on the wild side and an engaging two hours with Elizabeth Taylor today, this is the film for you.

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The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon — Ten Things You Might Not Know About Dean Martin

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It brings me great pride to report that we’re heading into the second day of The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon! I couldn’t be happier that this blogathon has brought so many people together in order to celebrate Dean Martin’s 100th birthday. It’s taken us quite a while to get to this point since I first announced my plans to celebrate another birthday with a blogathon all the way back in February, but once the poll results were in picking Dino as our honoree, I knew exactly what my own entry would be about. I must admit that even I’m not an expert on Dean Martin, but from the little bit that I’ve learned about his personal life over the years, I’ve found that the person that everyone percieves him as today doesn’t quite match the man who he really was in some instances. So, I thought that it would be fun to compile some little-known facts about Dean that I could share with you all. I hope you enjoy!

  1. Although Dean Martin was born in Ohio to Gaetano and Angella Crocetti, he spoke only Italian until the age of five.

  2. Dean’s son, Dean Paul Martin, revealed in later years that his father usually drank apple juice onstage rather than the liquor that many believed was in his glass during his performances with The Rat Pack. He also mentioned that if Dean had been drinking Jack Daniels instead (his alcohol of choice), he would have been too drunk to perform.

  3. Dean is one of only thirty-three people who posess not one, but three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One was awarded to him for his work in motion pictures, another one for television, and a third for his recording career. The only people who have more stars than Dean Martin are Bob Hope and Tony Martin with four stars each, and Gene Autry with five stars.

  4. Elevators and death were among Dino’s greatest fears.

  5. His friends often described Dino as an introvert who was hardly the center of attention at parties, even going completely unnoticed when he wore a large pair of glasses to events. He was reported to be quiet usually and liked to spend time alone, and that even his closest cronies seldom knew what he was thinking.

  6. In 1962, Dean was slated to star with Marilyn Monroe in Something’s Got to Give (1962), a remake of the Cary Grant classic My Favorite Wife (1940). Production quickly took a turn for the worse when Monroe was fired for her numerous absences from filming among other reasons. Lee Remick was summoned to replace Marilyn, but Dean refused to continue the film without his close friend and exercised his contractual right for approval of his co-star. As a result of his loyalty Marilyn was rehired, but after her passing on August 5, 1962, the film was abandoned by Dean and the studio.

  7. Dean Martin had an impressive forty-one singles reach the Billboard Hot 100 charts during the course of his career, with dozens more that charted but didn’t quite reach 100. However, only three singles ever reached number one: “That’s Amore” in 1953, “Memories Are Made of This” in 1956, and “Everybody Loves Somebody” in 1964.

  8. Charlton Heston revealed in his autobiography In the Arena (1995) that Frank Sinatra prevented Dean from performing at Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural ball as President of the United States because he was too drunk.

  9. Despite reports to the contrary, Dean Martin was actually two inches shorter than his longtime partner Jerry Lewis, with Dean standing at 5’10” and Jerry standing at 6’0″. In order to make Jerry appear shorter for their comedy acts, Dean would wear lifts and Jerry would cut the heels off of his shoes.

  10. Dean maintained a brief career as a boxer, fighting under the name of Dino Crocetti. He won twenty-five of the thirty-six matches that he fought, but he would later joke that he lost eleven out of twelve.

I hope you enjoyed these lesser-known facts, and I hope to see you all for the rest of the blogathon!

Cooking With the Stars — Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole

Hey, fellow classic film fans! I’m back with my second installment of Cooking With the Stars, a series of posts in which I whip up and review a delicious recipe that was cooked or eaten by a classic film star. More often than not it will even be their own personal recipe! Most of the recipes that I’ll be posting in this series will be courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers. If you’ve ever wanted to try vintage cooking or the favorite foods of your favorite icons, her blog is the place to go! I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky test cooks for her upcoming Columbo Cookbook, a compilation of recipes that were either featured on the hit television show or cooked by one of its stars. Today I’ll be bringing you the second of three recipes that I plan to blog about for the book, Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole, courtesy of the author of the upcoming book herself. Thank you so much once again, Jenny!

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Vera Miles was born on August 23, 1929 in Boise City, Oklahoma, but soon after her birth her family relocated to Kansas, where she attended school in both Pratt and Wichita. After graduating from high school, Vera worked nights as a typist and operator for Western Union, but her first real taste of fame came in 1948 when she won the coveted title of Miss Wichita, and went on to win Miss Kansas and compete in the Miss America pageant. Vera excelled in the pageant circuit, snagging the titles of Miss Chamber of Commerce, Miss New Maid Margarine, and Miss Texas Grapefruit on top of that before 1951 came to an end. Her many titles as a beauty queen caught Hollywood’s eye, and Vera Miles moved to Los Angeles in 1950, landing bit parts in both film and television. It was the legendary director John Ford who gave Vera her first starring role in the classic western The Searchers (1956), opposite John Wayne. The very next year she began a five-year personal contract with another iconic filmmaker and the one with whom she’s most closely associated: none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who added Vera to the long list of delicate blondes who he hoped would serve as replacements for his muse, Grace Kelly, who had just retired from Hollywood in order to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco.

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Her first job for Hitchcock came when she starred in the pilot episode of Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962), titled “Revenge”, in which she played the dramatic leading role of Elsa Spann, a woman assaulted by an unkown attacker. The master of suspense admired her performance so much that he instantly cast her in The Wrong Man (1957) with Henry Fonda, a film that proved to be yet another success in their partnership. Hitchcock put in motion a third thrilling production for his newest leading lady, but when Miles became pregnant with her third child, the director was forced to replace her with Kim Novak in what would eventually become one of his best known classics, Vertigo (1958). During and after her pregnancy Vera remained a constant in Hollywood, appearing in well-received films like The FBI Story (1959) with James Stewart and continuing to make numerous television appearances, which she would go on to do even after she stopped making films. Notwithstanding the gap between collaborations, Hitchcock was still determined to make Vera Miles his biggest star, and to do that he put her in her biggest role to date, that of Lila Crane in Psycho (1960). The film was a smash, yet Vera would only go on to appear in one more critically acclaimed film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Despite her roles in so many iconic films and television shows (The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Columbo, and The Outer Limits, to name a few), sadly Vera hasn’t received the fame and notoriety that she deserves. Though she retired from acting in 1995 and has declined public appearances and interviews, she is fortunately still with us at age 87 and still graciously responds to her fan mail.

I was warned that this dish is very cheesy, but decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway, and I’m glad that I did! Luckily I’ve been watching The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) in order and was able to watch her episode, “Mirror Image”, while I was cooking. It was incredibly well-acted, and the special effects and camera tricks were phenomenal! If you want a delicious and versatile meal to munch on while you watch this lovely Hitchcock blonde in action, here’s how you can make this recipe:

Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole

  • 2 pounds / 900 grams Cheddar Jack cheese
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour
  • Dash of salt to taste
  • 2 small cans of green chilli peppers
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • Dash of oregano
  1. Grate the two cheeses and mix together.
  2. Separate egg whites and beat until stiff, adding the flour for added body.
  3. Beat egg yolks until fluffy and gently fold into egg white mixture.
  4. Take chilli peppers and chop. If you desire less of a hot taste, remove some of the chilli seeds as they contain the hot flavor.
  5. Grease a large casserole dish that would serve about five people and layer a portion of the egg mixture into the dish.
  6. Layer part of the chopped chilli pepper, ending with a portion of the cheese. Repeat until ingredients are used up.
  7. Slice the fresh tomato over the top and and add a sprinkling of oregano.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees F / 190 degrees C / Gas Mark 5 for 30 minutes, or until mixture is set.
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My casserole just before it went into the oven!
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My finished casserole!
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A serving of the casserole! This one looks much prettier than my serving of the first Cooking with the Stars dish!

It’s that easy! This wasn’t the healthiest meal that I’ve ever made (all that cheese meant a lot of grease!), but it tasted great! The egg and tomato made this a recipe that could be a perfect addition to a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The recipe is wonderful as it is, but I could see more of the chilis or some fresh green bell pepper, spinach, or mushrooms making this a healthier and more complex brunch staple. I would also recommend dividing this recipe up if you’re just cooking for yourself and don’t want leftovers for days and days (mine lasted three!). I hope that you all get to try this for yourselves! You could even write to Vera if you love it! Stay tuned until my next review, where I’ll be trying out a dish from another Pyscho (1960) star!

The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon: Agnes’ Early Life and Role in Citizen Kane (1941)

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Today I’m paying tribute to the talented Agnes Moorehead! I’d like to start off by thanking In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting yet another fantastic blogathon. I wish it all the success possible, and I can’t wait to write about Carole Lombard in January! I’d also mention that I don’t intend to tackle and discuss the entirety of such an iconic film as Citizen Kane (1941). There’s just too much to say about such a picture, and to do it justice it would require many posts. Besides, our star of the day (despite giving a fine performance) hardly appeared in it, so I think discussing her early life and path to her breakout role in Citizen Kane (1941) would far better suit the theme we’re trying to highlight today. So without further ado, on with the post!

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Agnes Moorehead as a happy child, c. 1904

Agnes was born on December 6, 1900 (though she would later tell the white lie that she was born in 1906) to a Presbyterian minister named John Henderson Moorehead and a singer named Mildred McCauley. Her first performance was surprisingly early; at the age of three she sang “The Lord’s Prayer” at her father’s church, urged by her mother. Later on her family moved to St. Louis, where Agnes honed her acting talents by impersonating members of her father’s congregation with her sister, much to the encouragement and delight of both of their parents. At the age of ten Agnes joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company (“The Muny” for short) as a singer and dancer for four years, where she also developed a strong interest in religion that would remain with her for the rest of her life. There are conflicting reports as far as which high school she attended; she claimed that she graduated from Central High School in 1918, but she does not appear in its yearbook and lived nowhere near the school. Thus, I am led to believe that she graduated from Soldan High School that same year, as she does appear in their yearbook and within proximity. While both of her parents were supportive of Agnes’ desire to act, as I mentioned earlier, her father insisted that she complete her education first. Always one to respect his wishes, she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Muskingum College in Ohio in 1923, while appearing in several stage productions on the side. The very same year she landed her first job as a singer for a St. Louis radio station, which instilled in her a deep appreciation for the medium which would last well into her later fame.

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Agnes as a lovely young woman, c. 1920s

Afterwards her father recieved a pastorate in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, uprooting the Moorehead family and Agnes along with them. She went on to attend the University of Wisconsin, earning a Master’s degree in English and Public Speaking. Afterwards she taught English and Drama for five years and in between studied pantomime in Paris with the illustrious Marcel Marceau. In 1928, Agnes enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating with honors the following year and adding yet another accomplishment to her resume. From there Agnes’ career would begin to falter, however, as she struggled to find work with the exception of a few minor stage productions once she left school. She often found herself unemployed and hungry, and later recalled a period of four days during which she went without food, saying in hindsight that it “taught her the value of a dollar”. Soon Agnes found work in the medium that she loved straight out of college: radio. Stations began to clamor for her and her many voice talents, and she often worked on several programs each day. During that time she met actress Helen Hayes, who encouraged her to try for Hollywood, but her first attempts failed and she was rejected as not being the “right type”, leading Agnes to head back to radio, where she met the man who would give her her real shot at the big time: Orson Welles.

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Agnes and fellow Mercury player Joseph Cotten on the set of Citizen Kane (1941).

It was through her work on such radio programs as “The Shadow”and “March of Time” in 1937 that she met and befriended Welles, and he soon invited her to join him and fellow actor Joseph Cotten (who of course would later star in Citizen Kane (1941) as well) as charter members of his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” program. The first show performed by Welles and his company that would attract worldwide attention was the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of 1938, which Miss Moorehead was deeply involved in and resulted in a lucrative $100,000 per picture deal for Welles with RKO Studios. The Mercury Theatre players, including Moorehead and Cotten, were on their way to Hollywood. Welles’ very first picture for RKO was none other than Citizen Kane (1941), and he made every effort to heavily include the Mercury Theatre cast, and of course this was not limited to Agnes Moorehead, who made her first onscreen appearance in the film as the mother of the titular character, Charles Forster Kane. Despite only appearing in the film for one brief scene, Welles made sure to give Moorehead ample credit during the end credits, as he did with every actor who starred in the film and assisted him in his rise to the top. The one scene and plug at the end was all that she needed, and as they say, the rest was history.