Hi, everyone! If you haven’t noticed, I had to change my topic for the wonderful June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by the always gracious Simoa of Champagne for Lunch. My original idea was to review Strategic Air Command (1955), one of the lesser-known films that June made with the incomparable James Stewart, while visiting the Al Lang Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where a portion of the picture was filmed. I couldn’t resist the opportunity as it’s one of the many classic movie filming locations that I recently found out are near my hometown! As much as it disappoints me as I’m sure it does my readers, however, not only was I unable to access the film itself, but I wasn’t even able to get into the stadium! I was aware that it is still in use today (after being converted into a professional soccer stadium in 2011), but I was unaware that the sport had just started its season this month! Rest assured that one fine day I’ll get into the location, take some pictures, and write an article about it that will do it justice. Until then I want to give Simoa a huge thank you for allowing me to change my topic so late in the game, and I hope you all learn something new as I share with you ten facts that you might not know about our lovely birthday girl June Allyson, who would have turned the big 100 today!
1. When June was eight, she fractured her skull and suffered a broken back as a result of a falling tree branch. Her doctors told her that she would never walk again, and for four years she was confined to a heavy steel brace that covered her entire torso. She ultimately regained her health, and even taught herself to dance by watching the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
2. June had the ability to cry on cue. She later explained that her method for inducing tears was to “try very, very hard not to cry, so the more I thought about not crying the more I cried”. Her Little Women (1949) costar Margaret O’Brien also had this gift, and according to Allyson, they both “could not stop” crying during O’Brien’s death scene.
3. She never had the opportunity to place her hand and footprints in front of the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like many of her costars, but she was awarded a star for her work in motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and got to place her hand and footprints in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park on August 21, 1989 (which is thought to be heavily inspired by Grauman’s).
4. After filming The Secret Heart (1946) together, Allyson became great friends with her costar, Claudette Colbert. On June 18, 1948, Claudette became godmother to June’s only daughter, Pamela Powell.
5. June was an avid fan of mystery writer Agatha Christie, so much so that her personal library consisted of every novel that Christie ever wrote. She also considered Christie’s character Jane Marple to be her favorite female detective.
6. She initially wanted to become a doctor, and began acting in order to pay for medical school. She ended up falling in love with the craft, and eventually paid for her brother to become a doctor instead. She still took a lifelong interest in health and medical research, however, especially after her first husband Dick Powell passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer on January 2, 1963.
7. During the time of her breakout role in Two Girls and A Sailor (1944), June stood at just 5′ 1″ and weighed only 99 pounds.
8. In 1945, Harvard Lampoon voted June as their worst actress of the year. The “award” for worst actor that year went to Van Johnson, who costarred with June in six films.
9. Judy Garland was one of June Allyson’s closest friends. The two met while they were both under contract at MGM in the 1940s, and Judy would often give June rides to the studio in her car. In interviews after Garland’s passing in 1969, Allyson said that she could hardly talk about Garland without crying because she was “such a special lady who didn’t have appropriate help available to her in her lifetime”.
10. Despite often portraying the perfect housewife in film and on television, June was quoted as saying, “In real life I’m a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook – anything in fact but the perfect wife”. I managed to dig up a few of her own personal recipes courtesy of the blog Classic Celebrity Recipes, so go ahead and try them out for yourself and tell me if you agree with June!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Hi, everyone! I couldn’t be happier to keep trucking along with continuous blog posts through the end of the month by participating in incredible blogathons like this one! I’d like to start out, as always, by thanking our gracious host, Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I’m still in the process of becoming a major Van Johnson fan, so this gave me the perfect chance to check out another film of his that I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t think of many stars more deserving of some extra attention in a tribute like this one, I hope the blogathon is a great success, and I hope that I can keep discovering more films starring this iconic actor to enjoy! I’d also like to wish Van Johnson himself the happiest of birthdays today, and I can’t wait to read everyone else’s entries about such a wonderful person!
I have to admit that I was fairly hesitant to watch Easy to Wed (1946), as I had a very disappointing experience back in June watching a different remake of one of my favorite films that also starred Van Johnson, In the Good Old Summertime (1949). However, I knew that I wanted to pay tribute to Van by reviewing something new to me, and the fact that this film also stars Esther Williams (one of my favorite actresses of all time) sweetened the pot and made this opportunity too enticing to pass up. As you might imagine, the film is a line for line remake of the classic 1930s screwball comedy Libeled Lady (1936). In Easy to Wed (1946), and essentially in the original film as well, the newspaper The Morning Star publishes a false story in which heiress Connie Allenbury (Esther Williams) steals another woman’s husband. With the assistance of father JP Allenbury (Cecil Kellaway), Connie sues for libel, hoping to earn $2 million and sink the paper in the process. The Star’s business manager Warren Haggerty (Keenan Wynn), who seems to often ditch his personal life for the sake of the newspaper that he works for, leaves his bride Gladys Benton (Lucille Ball) at the altar in order to fix the situation. Of course Gladys is none too happy about this, but somehow gets tangled up in Warren’s scheme to put womanizer and former employee of the paper Bill Chandler (Van Johnson) on the case, marry him to Gladys, and have Bill romance Connie at their hotel in Mexico City in order to turn the artificial story calling Connie a husband-stealer into the real McCoy. But will the underhanded plot work, or will complications arise and lead to the gang finding another way to get the Star out of the jam that it’s in?
This is a change of pace in many respects for our man of the hour, Van Johnson. Easy to Wed (1946) attempted to force the star into two things that he definitely wasn’t: a philanderer and anything but all-American. When William Powell took on the role of Bill Chandler in the original film Libeled Lady (1936), he was a debonair man of the world whom the audience could easily believe as a ladies’ man. I’m sure that audiences were stunned by this personality change in Van Johnson just as I was, but he makes the part his own in ways that I would never have thought possible. While the four stars of Libeled Lady (1936) fight it out for screen time, it’s clear that Johnson earned top billing in Easy to Wed (1946) for a reason, and he dominates the film without seeming like he’s stealing the spotlight from any of his costars. Even more impressive were his Latin singing and dancing numbers with Esther Williams, which was out of both stars’ comfort zones, especially Williams as it was her first time singing at all in a film. The Spanish reprise of “Acérate Más” was by far the more critically acclaimed of their two compositions, but the one that delighted me and caught my attention the most was the Portuguese song “Boneca de Pixe” (also known as “Boneca de Piche”). The tune was based on a Portuguese fable and was originally performed by Carmen Miranda with different Latin male singers in recordings as early as 1938. Miranda herself taught Johnson and Williams how to sing the song, and her teaching certainly paid off with a performance that was absolutely marvelous despite how much it derailed the plot. Nowadays, the number would likely receive a scathing review and perhaps even be accused of whitewashing or cultural appropriation, but I feel that I have to give credit to both actors where it’s due, as the song seems incredibly difficult to master and I understand that Portuguese is one of the harder languages to learn.
Easy to Wed (1946) was Johnson and Williams’ second film together after Thrill of a Romance (1943), and the two were looking forward to working together again, but not all was well between the members of the cast. According to Williams’ autobiography Million Dollar Mermaid (1999), an offscreen rivalry began between Esther Williams and Lucille Ball while the two actresses were getting their hair styled on set. Lucy accused Esther of stealing her husband of six years, Desi Arnaz, and Esther claims that the redhead did this often to other leading ladies that she knew, as she was “wildly jealous” and considered every woman a “natural enemy to her”. To quote Esther further, “Desi called several times asking me for a date, even though he was already married. I told him that I was in love with Ben Gage [her husband of fourteen years] and had no interest in anyone else. I told that to Lucy, too, and added that even if I had not been in love, I wasn’t interested in her silly Latin singer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the right thing to say either. The fact that I didn’t find Desi attractive made her cry.” Regardless of how the actresses clashed, Lucy gave a standout performance in the film as well as Van and Esther. Jean Harlow’s shoes were in my opinion the most challenging to fill in the remake, and Lucy recreates Harlow’s brashiness in the part of Gladys without disrespecting her and making the dialogue that she originally spoke seem trashy. Even Van Johnson himself added in his own autobiography that her portrayal “reveals the embryo of her Lucy Ricardo role in the later I Love Lucy television series”. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Keenan Wynn, who rounded out the leading cast. With the exception of Esther, I was most excited to see him in the film as I’m a great fan of his work, and Keenan doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. As a man who was often corraled into supporting or even throwaway parts, I was overjoyed to see the actor battle it out with the best of them in a leading role, and I only wish that he could have snagged more screen time in this type of movie more often. I mentioned last month when I reviewed In the Good Old Summertime (1949) that there were a lot of components to it that should have made me enjoy that film, but somehow I ended up not enjoying it at all. Surprisingly this time around, the opposite turned out to be the case. There are so many reasons why this picture should not work, but everything comes together seamlessly, and while it’s not the pinnacle of filmmaking, I’m incredibly pleased to say that I loved Easy to Wed (1946) and would highly recommend it to any Van Johnson fan looking for a fun film of his to watch on what would have been his 101st birthday!
It’s Day Eight of my favorite time of year on TCM: Summer Under the Stars! If you’re not a Turner Classic Movies connoisseur like myself, Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films! When I found out that one of my favorite actresses of all time would be honored, I was thrilled and knew that I had to write about it, especially for all of you who have never witnessed Summer Under the Stars and find watching all twenty-four hours of one person’s films daunting. So, if you don’t know where to begin or simply want to see my top picks for what to watch on Esther Williams’ birthday, keep reading!
5. Dangerous When Wet (1953) On TCM at 4:15pm EST
Esther shows her competitive swimming chops in this captvating picture when she plays Katie Higgins, a perserverant farm girl who hopes to become the first woman to cross the English Channel. Of course her journey to the finish line comes with its fair share of trials and tribulations including a face-off between her manager Windy Weebe, played by Jack Carson, and charming Frenchman André Lanet, played by Fernando Lamas, who would become Esther’s real life husband a full sixteen years after the completion of this film. In fact this picture is perhaps known as the most famous that she made with an offscreen love, as much as it’s known for the iconic dream sequence in which Esther swims with Tom and Jerry and the black lace and rhinestone swimsuit that adorns her towards the end of the movie. A delightful afternoon treat, Dangerous When Wet (1953) has all of the great themes and tropes associated with a great women’s sports film.
4. Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) On TCM at 10:00pm EST
If Esther had to be defined by the title of one of her films, Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) would probably be it. It was the name of her 1999 autoboigraphy, after all, despite the fact that the film itself is a biopic of Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman. Kellerman herself had a great deal to do with the filming of the picture, and was initially pleased with the decision to cast Esther to portray her. Later on, however, the film’s subject found Esther to be “too beautiful” to play her and thought Victor Mature’s cheapskate depiction of promoter Jimmy Sullivan was “the antithesis” of his real life counterpart because “he never did anything cheap”. In addition, this film is one of many that put Esther Williams’ life at risk after the star broke her neck while diving off a fifty foot tower. She spent six months in a body cast before recovering to complete the film, but boy are we glad that she did. If you have the time to spare this evening, I certainly recommend that you check out this masterpiece of Technicolor and gold lamé swimuits.
3. Easy to Love (1953) On TCM at 12:30pm EST
It certainly is easy to love this star-studded vehicle set against the background of Florida’s Cypress Gardens amusement park. Williams stars as Julie Hallerton, a busybody aquatic performer who can do it all from waterskiing to modelling, from clowning to pageantry, except land the man she wants, her manager and agent Ray Lloyd (played by Van Johnson, who else?). When her swimming costar Hank (John Bromfield) and singer Barry Gordon (Tony Martin) start to pine for her as well, what was first a complicated relationship for two becomes an unbelivable love square. In fact, all three men hold their own so well that if you aren’t too familiar with Esther Williams’ vehicles like I wasn’t when I first saw this film, you might have no clue which man she ends up with until the very end! The true highlights of this film include a great glimpse of Esther’s waterskiing abilities in a fantastic number choreographed by the great Busby Berkeley as well as some lavish costumes and scenery including a Florida-shaped swimming pool made on location in Cypress Gardens just for the movie (which I was surprised to find out is now a part of Florida’s Legoland park and is currently filled in with thousands of Legos!). Outside of the pool, I also feel that crooner and husband of Cyd Charisse (watch out for my picks for her on the 14th!) Tony Martin stole the show, and I found myself rooting for him to end up with Esther in the end. All in all, I definitely suggest that you check out this midday extravaganza, and keep a sharp eye out for a cameo of Cyd Charisse in the flesh towards the end!
2. Thrill of a Romance (1945) On TCM at 4:00am EST
I know, I know. It really is cruel of me to recommend a film that will only be showing at four in the morning, but this wartime romance is without a doubt the film that I am
most excited for that I haven’t seen yet. Esther stars as swimming instructor Cynthia Glenn who marries businessman Bob G. Delbar (Carleton G. Young) almost as hastily as he ditches her on their honeymoon for a business deal. Of course, who better to distract the scorned newlywed than Major Thomas Milvaine (Van Johnson, again, who else?) as a slippery slope of a love triangle begins. Of course not knowing the ending myself, I find this film to be very intriguing because there are only two possible endings, and both go against the film codes of the era. Either Cynthia follows her heart and ends up with Thomas, resulting in an annulment which would leave Bob in the dust and be quite the scandalous move in 1945, or Cynthia chooses to stay with her husband and this could possibly be the first Williams-Johnson film that chooses not to pair the constant onscreen couple, also a very scandalous move in 1945. Either way this film promises to be entertaining and beautifully shot, and I know that I’ll be pulling an all-nighter tonight to see how it ends!
1. On An Island With You (1948) On TCM at 2:15pm EST
What couldn’t I say about this film? It’s my favorite Esther Williams picture that I’ve seen so far, and the fact that it was also the first one that I ever saw gives it a special place in my heart. It starts off as a movie within a movie when Esther plays Rosalind Rennolds, who in turn plays a native on a tropical island fighting with fellow native played by Yvonne Torro (Cyd Charisse) for the affections of a naval officer, played by Ricardo Montez (Ricardo Montalban). Lieutenant Kingslee (Peter Lawford) reports on the set as a technical advisor, but instantly forgets his duties and focuses all of his attention on Rosalind. Determined to make her remember the time that they spent together three years ago, he kidnaps her and whisks her off to the island where they first met. This film has everything, from exotic locales to delightful swimming sequences with Williams and Lawford (her most attractive costar, in my humble opinion), but the dancing sequences out of water with Montalban and Charisse are what truly set this film apart from most Esther movies in which all of the notable action is underwater. Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat steal the show a little more than most viewers would want, but despite the distraction I find the riveting plot, magnificently beautiful stars, and diverse characters make this film an absolute must-see.
Of course there are so many perfect Esther movies in her filmography that it was almost impossible to compile this list, and I definitely think that today’s Summer Under the Stars tribute will be one to remember! I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to participate in this blogathon, and make sure to keep an eye out for my other two entries on the 10th and 14th!