15 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 181 | October 15, 2010

Living Legends

Our theme this week
Living actresses who are 90 and older

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Luise Rainer
Tuesday         —   Maureen O’Hara
Wednesday    —   Betty Garrett
Thursday        —   Joan Fontaine

Olivia de Havilland

olivia de havilland

Born July 1, 1916
Age 94

Among the very few actresses who qualify for this week’s theme, two are sisters.  In yesterday’s feature on Joan Fontaine, we noted that the two are indeed special—the only sisters (or siblings, for that matter) to win Oscars for acting.  Both won Best Actress statuettes, and Olivia de Havilland, in fact, won two.  Some good genes there.

Olivia, the elder by a year, was the one more determined to be an actress.  In 1934 she was about to enter drama school when she got the chance to understudy for the role of Hermia in a Los Angeles stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Opening night she filled in, got good reviews, and played the part through its run.  Warner Bros. soon cast her for the same role when it adapted the play for the screen, and the 18-year-old de Havilland put off drama school to make movies instead.

She made four films in 1935, including the sea adventure Captain Blood, with Tyrone Power, their first of eight films together.  All were directed by Michael Curtiz except They Died with Their Boots On (1941), with Raoul Walsh at the helm.    Among the others, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Dodge City (1939).

De Havilland earned her first Oscar nomination for the biggest picture of the time, Gone with the Wind (1939).  She played Melanie Hamilton, the gentle, orphaned daughter of an affluent family who marries her gentlemanly cousin, Ashley Wilkes, to the dismay of Ashley’s admirer, Scarlett O’Hara.  De Havilland is one of the last surviving members of the film’s cast.

She earned a Best Actress nomination for Hold Back the Dawn (1941), as the prospective bride for Charles Boyer, who angles to marry an American so he can get into the country.  De Havilland starred with Henry Fonda in The Male Animal (1942), and with Bette Davis in In This Our Life (1942).  She made a couple more films while under contract to Warners, before winning a landmark case that freed her to make the kind of movies she wanted to, and changed forever to what degree studios could control talent.

She made To Each His Own (1946) at Paramount, a soap about a small-town mother with an illegitimate son.  Though not considered now to be a career highlight, her performance did earn an Oscar, her first win.  She played the good and evil twin in The Dark Mirror (1946), a noirish murder mystery directed by Robert Siodmak.  She earned critical acclaim and another Oscar nod for The Snake Pit (1948), playing a woman in an insane asylum who can’t remember how she got there.

Her greatest achievement may have been as the homely Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1949), William Wyler’s screen adaptation of the Henry James novel Washington Square.  The cast included Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, and Miriam Hopkins, and among the four Oscars that the film won, one was de Havilland’s second award for Best Actress.

After fifteen busy years at the top, de Havilland made fewer movies after her mid-thirties, and eventually she moved away.  “Hollywood became a very depressing place in the early 1950s,” de Havilland said in an interview last year. “The golden age had obviously ended and television had ended it.  Where studios were making 100 movies a year in the 1930s, they were now making 25 or 10.  There was a sense of terminal decline, of great depression.”

Some of her notable later films include Not as a Stranger (1955), Stanley Kramer’s directorial debut; Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), costarring Bette Davis (with de Havilland filling in for Joan Crawford); Pope Joan (1972); and Airport ’77 (1977). 

The estranged relationship between de Havilland and Fontaine has been fodder for writers over the years, but if the two sisters have nothing to say to each other, they have nothing more to say to the press.  In de Havilland’s words:  “That is one subject on which I never speak.  Never.”  Perhaps if she finishes her autobiography, she’ll have a change of heart.  Though I wouldn’t count on it.

Olivia de Havilland lives today in Paris, where she has made her home since the 1950s.


As we wrap up the week, let’s note a few other grandes dames of the acting world who have passed the 90-year mark and live on:  Barbara Billingsley (Leave It to Beaver, Airplane!), age 94; Zsa Zsa Gabor (Moulin Rouge), 93; Celeste Holm (All About Eve), 93; Phyllis Diller (A Bug’s Life), 93; Janet Waldo (The Jetsons), 92; Marjorie Lord (The Danny Thomas Show), 92; Doris Singleton (I Love Lucy), 91; Jayne Meadows (Lady in the Lake), 90.  Here are some others due to celebrate their 90th this year:  Nanette Fabray (The Band Wagon), October 27; Ann Rutherford (Gone with the Wind), November 2; Noel Neill (Superman), November 25.

As noted last week, Gloria Stuart (Titanic) died September 26, at the age of 100.  The British comedian and film star Norman Wisdom (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) died on October 4, at the age of 95.

The Heiress (1949)
William Wyler, director
Henry James (novel), Augustus Goetz, Ruth Goetz (play, screenplay); writers
Leo Tover, director of photography
Final Scene / Spoilers
Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend, Miriam Hopkins as Aunt Lavinia


The Snake Pit (1948)
Anatole Litvak, director
Mary Jane Ward (novel), Frank Partos, Millen Brand (screenplay), writers
Leo Tover, director of photography
Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham


Quote of note
Aunt Lavinia
:  How can you be so cruel?
Catherine:  Yes, I can be very cruel.  I have been taught by masters.
—Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), The Heiress (1949)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 Oct 2010 @ 03:33 PM

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 14 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 180 | October 14, 2010

Living Legends

Our theme this week
Living actresses who are 90 and older

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Luise Rainer
Tuesday         —   Maureen O’Hara
Wednesday    —   Betty Garrett

Joan Fontaine

joan fontaine

Born October 22, 1917
Age 92

The de Havillands were a British family living in Tokyo, where the father was an attorney.  Two daughters were born a year apart.  The older was Olivia, the younger, Joan.  The girls and the mother soon moved to California, and not long after, the parents divorced.  Olivia and Joan grew up to become actresses, as their mother was, with Olivia keeping the family name and Joan eventually adopting her mother’s stage name, Fontaine.

Joan made her film debut in MGM’s No More Ladies in 1935 (billed as Joan Burfield).  She then appeared in a string of RKO pictures, including A Damsel in Distress (1937), Gunga Din (1939), and The Women (1939), and despite the success of some of the films, her RKO contract was not renewed.

Fontaine met producer David O. Selznick as he prepared for Alfred Hitchcock’s American debut, Rebecca, of 1940.  She auditioned and got the female lead, the unnamed second wife of Laurence Olivier’s Maxim de Winter.  Less a thriller than a Gothic romance, the film is hardly the most Hitchcockian of the great director’s movies, but it was among his most successful—his only one to win the Best Picture prize, with a total of eleven Oscar nominations, including one for Fontaine as Best Actress.

Her next film was another by Hitchcock, the noirish thriller Suspicion, of 1941, with Cary Grant as the mysterious husband who may want to kill his wife—or not—and Fontaine as the suspicious spouse who may be just imagining things.  Another success, the film earned three Oscar noms, including one for Best Picture, and Fontaine, at the age of 24, took home the Best Actress statuette.  (She would be the only actor to win an Oscar in a Hitchcock film.)

She worked steadily in movies though the next decade.  Her credits include the title roles in The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1943), and Ivy (1947).  She starred with Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), perhaps the best of the Hollywood films of director Max Ophüls.  Her films of the 1950s were not as successful, and she devoted more time to theater, and later, television.  She starred in a horror film, The Devil’s Own, in 1966, her last movie credit.

Fontaine was married four times and divorced four times, the last in 1969.  The most notable item from her personal life, however, is the difficult relationship she has had with her famous sister, Olivia.  Apparently they were rivals from an early age, vying for their mother’s attention (Joan perceived Olivia as the mother’s favorite), as well as in their Hollywood careers.  Both became Academy Award winners (the only sisters to each win an acting Oscar), with Joan, the younger, winning first, and competing against her sister, among others, in 1941.  Their feud continued for years, until 1975, when they reportedly stopped talking to each other altogether.  Neither has commented publicly on their relationship.

Joan Fontaine lives today in Carmel, California.

Suspicion (1941)
Alfred Hitchcock, director
Anthony Berkeley (novel); Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville (screenplay); writers
Harry Stradling Sr., director of photography
Joan Fontaine as Lina


The Making of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”
Part 1
Part 2

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Max Ophüls, director
Stephen Zweig, Howard Koch, writers
Franz Planer, cinematographer
Joan Fontaine as Lisa Berndle, Louis Jourdan as Stephan Brand

Quote of note
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
—Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca (1940)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2010 @ 11:13 PM

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 13 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 179 | October 13, 2010

Living Legends

Our theme this week
Living actresses who are 90 and older

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Luise Rainer
Tuesday         —   Maureen O’Hara

Betty Garrett

betty garrett_2

Born May 23, 1919
Age 91

Betty Garrett may be the least known of this week’s movie actresses, and those who do know her probably remember her for her recurring roles on TV sitcoms (Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family, Edna Babish on Laverne & Shirley).  But Garrett was a musical comedy star of movies during the 1940s and ’50s, and her story is one worth remembering.

Garrett was born in Missouri and for the most part grew up in Seattle.  She traveled east in the ’30s to study theater, work the Borscht Belt, and join, for a time, Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater.  She made her Broadway debut in 1942 and worked onstage and in nightclubs for the next few years.  Her break came with the successful 1946 revue Call Me Mister, which led to a contract with MGM.

Big City (1948) was her first film, a non-musical drama, with Garrett playing the potential bride of a cop played by George Murphy.  Words and Music (1948) was a musical based on the lives of songwriting team Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (a whitewashed account, since depictions of Hart’s homosexuality were not permitted at the time).  The film featured Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, their last film together, and Garrett performed a few songs, including “Way Out West” and “There’s a Small Hotel.”

On the Town (1949) was a big hit, a musical starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin as three sailors on shore leave in New York.  Garrett played Hildy Esterhazy, the taxi driver who gets amorous with Chip, the sailor played by Sinatra.  In a busy year for her, she also appeared in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, again with Kelly and Sinatra, and Neptune’s Daughter, which features Garrett and Red Skelton doing one rendition of the year’s Oscar-winning song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Then, suddenly, Garrett vanished from the screen, and it would be another six years before her next film.  She was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, not for anything that she ever did, but for being married to Oscar-nominated actor Larry Parks (The Jolson Story), who was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951.  Parks ultimately cooperated with the government, but his movie career was destroyed anyway.  Garrett and Parks performed onstage and toured Europe, but the movie business was not interested in hiring them.

Garrett did make it back to the big screen mid-decade, for a couple of films.  She costarred with Jack Lemmon and Janet Leigh in the musical My Sister Eileen (1955), which was well received.  She then made a B-picture crime drama in 1957, The Shadow on the Window, playing a murder witness held hostage by teenagersAfter that she worked sporadically, occasionally onstage or on television, but for the song-and-dance star her career in movies had effectively ended.

Betty Garrett and Larry Parks were married from 1944 to 1975, until his death.  Their two sons are Garrett Parks, a composer, and Andrew Parks, an actor.

Neptune’s Daughter (1949)
Edward Buzzell, director
Charles Rosher, cinematographer
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
Frank Loesser, songwriter
Betty Garrett (Betty Barrett), Red Skelton (Jack Spratt)


My Sister Eileen (1955)
Richard Quine, director
Charles Lawton Jr., cinematographer
“As Soon As They See Eileen”
Jule Styne, music, Leo Robin, lyrics
Bob Fosse, choreographer
Betty Garrett as Ruth Sherwood

On the Town (1949)
Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, directors
Harold Rosson, cinematographer

“Come Up to My Place”
Leonard Bernstein, music; Adolph Green and Betty Comden, lyrics
Betty Garrett (Brunhilde), Frank Sinatra (Chip)

Quote of note
:  Hildy, do you know where we can hide?
Brunhilde:  Sure, I know a place right across the Brooklyn bridge where they’ll never find us.
Gabey:  Where is it?
Brunhilde:  Brooklyn!
—Gabey (Gene Kelly), Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), On the Town (1949)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2010 @ 05:11 PM

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 12 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 178 | October 12, 2010

Living Legends

Our theme this week
Living actresses who are 90 and older

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Luise Rainer

Maureen O’Hara

maureen o'hara

Born August 17, 1920
Age 90

Maureen O’Hara is the youngest of this week’s 90-and-up club, and the youngest when she got her start in movies.  Born and raised in Dublin, she studied drama as a girl, worked in local theater, and made her debut in British film at the age of 17.  She caught the attention of Charles Laughton, who signed her and cast her in her first major roles—in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed period piece Jamaica Inn and as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, both 1939.

The war in Europe prompted Laughton to sell her contract to Hollywood.  O’Hara made a few films for RKO Studios, and in 1941 she costarred in How Green Was My Valley, a drama about a Welsh family at the turn of the century.  The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It was the first of her five collaborations with Oscar-winning director John Ford.

O’Hara worked steadily in the years that followed.  She made The Black Swan (1942), a swashbuckler with Tyrone Power, and The Fallen Sparrow (1943), a flim noir with John Garfield.  She played the mother of young Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street, a film that became a perennial Christmas classic (though it opened in May of 1947).  Sitting Pretty (1948), the film that introduced the character of Mr. Belvedere, with Robert Young and Clifton Webb, was another hit.

She reunited with Ford, playing opposite frequent costar John Wayne, for the western Rio Grande (1950), the Irish romance The Quiet Man (1952), and the naval biopic On the Wings of Eagles (1957).  Our Man in Havana (1959) was Carol Reed’s adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, with Alec Guinness, and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) was a comedy starring Jimmy Stewart and Fabian.

O’Hara was known for her beauty and talent, the passionate and sometimes fiery heroines she played, and her famously red hair.  She never won notice at Oscar time, but many of her films are highly acclaimed.  She was a top star of her day, and she worked with many of the leading directors and actors in Hollywood.

O’Hara made a short-lived comeback during the 1990s, but for the past decade she has been retired.  Today she lives in Ireland, with homes also in the U.S. and Virgin Islands.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
William Dieterle, director
Victor Hugo (novel); Sonya Levien, Bruno Frank (screenplay); writers
Joseph H. August, cinematographer
Charles Laughton (Quasimodo), Cedric Hardwicke (Frollo)
Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda


Maureen O’Hara
Tribute with Film Clips

Quote of note
“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.  Don’t you see?  It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for.  It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”
—Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), Miracle on 34th Street (1947)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 12 Oct 2010 @ 11:49 AM

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 11 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 177 | October 11, 2010

Living Legends

In looking to feature living actors who are 90 and older, I soon realized there were more candidates than I could cover in a single week.  For that reason they are split in two.  The featured actors for last week were all men.  This week will be all women.

For what it’s worth, the two groups have a couple of distinct differences.  For the most part, the men are still active, working into their 90s.  The women, mostly, retired from the movie business a long time ago.  Four of the men have a living spouse, and even the ones who were married multiple times usually have had a long marriage sometime in the life, several of them married more than fifty years.  None of the women has a living husband, and none has had one for at least the past couple of decades.  Make of that what you will.

Two of the actors from last week have won Oscars, including one Honorary Academy Award.  Among the actresses for the upcoming week, three are Oscar winners, including today’s featured star.  (She, in fact, has lived beyond her 90s, so this week we have a new theme title.)

Our theme this week
Living actresses who are 90 and older

Luise Rainer

luise rainer

Born January 12, 1910
Age 100

Centennials are usually marked for people who are long gone.  Not the case for Luise Rainer.  Still with us, she was able to celebrate her 100th this January.

Rainer was born in Düsseldorf and raised in Hamburg and Vienna.  In her teens she joined the theater company of prominent director Max Reinhardt.  She worked on the stage in Berlin and Vienna, and she also made three German films.  She won raves and earned a reputation for distinguished work.  With the rise of Hitler and of anti-Semitism, she fled Europe at the age of 25, signing a Hollywood contract with MGM.

Her English-language debut was Escapade (1935), opposite William Powell, and during production she met her husband-to-be, writer Clifford Odets.  Next came the two films on which her legacy rests.  She costarred with Powell and Myrna Loy in The Great Ziegfeld (1936).  Rainer played Anna Held, famous star of the Ziegfeld Follies (the film presented a sanitized version of the true-life relationship between Held and Ziegfeld, who never married).  Though not a big part, she won Best Actress.  The logical choice to play O-Lan in Irving Thalberg’s production of The Good Earth (1937), adapted from the Pearl S. Buck book, might have been Anna May Wong, but with Paul Muni set to play Wang Lung, Rainer was cast as the female lead.  She played a humble Chinese slave who has hardly a line of dialogue.  The role was very unlike her glamorous image, and the performance may be better known now for its trivia, rather than cinematic, value.  Rainer won her second consecutive Best Actress award, becoming the first two-time Oscar winner in any acting category.  (Rainer won despite competition from Greta Garbo, who was up for Camille that year, one of the more baffling picks in Oscar history.)

Rainer claimed the back-to-back awards were a curse, and her career quickly declined.  (Irving Thalberg, a champion of hers, had died soon after filming of The Good Earth had wrapped, and that may have been a factor too.)  Rainer played the wife of Johann Strauss II in The Great Waltz (1938), her last hit.  Four other MGM films were duds.  She starred in Paramount’s Hostages in 1943, and that marked the close of her Hollywood film career.  She turned down Fellini when he offered her a role in La Dolce Vita.  Decades later, she took a small role in a European production, The Gambler (1997), a film about Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Luise Rainer now lives in London, where she attended a British Film Institute tribute marking her 100th birthday this year.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Robert Z. Leonard, director
William Anthony McGuire, writer
Luise Rainer as Anna Held, William Powell as Flo Ziegfeld
Several scenes


The Good Earth (1937)
Sidney Franklin, director
Pearl S. Buck (novel), Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, Claudine West (screenplay); writers
Karl Freund, cinematographer
Luise Rainer as O-Lan

Quote of note
“When I go back in that house, it will be with my son in my arms.  I’ll have a red coat on him, and red flower trousers, and a hat with a gilded Buddha and tiger-faced shoes, and I’ll go into the kitchen where I spent my days as a slave and into the great hall where the old mistress sits with her pipe, and I’ll show myself and my son to all of them.”
—O-Lan (Luise Rainer), The Good Earth (1937)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2010 @ 11:38 AM

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