Announcing the Third Annual What A Character! Blogathon (2014)

I was only a leading man for a minute; now I’m a character actor. — Robin Williams

In 2012, we – by that I mean myself, Aurora, and Kellee – borrowed a catchphrase from our beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in order to host a blogathon dedicated to those amazing actors whose faces are familiar but whose names few remember.

The phrase is WHAT A CHARACTER, and the individuals concerned rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many star players wished they had. We never tire of seeing them or paying them tribute, and if the previous two installments of this event are any indication, neither do you.

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So, here we are with the Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement. We hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edward Arnolds, Alan Mowbrays, and Alice Bradys of the world, oft-forgotten names that never appeared above the title.

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If this is right up your movie alley, then give us a shoutout…

Me (leave a comment below) — Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club or tweet (@Paula_Guthat)

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled | (@IrishJayHawk66)

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen | (@CitizenScreen)

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We ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.  Since there are so many greats worthy of mention, we won’t take any repeats and we’re not limiting these to “classic” actors.  Great character actors have made their mark both before and since the end of the classic era and contemporary talents deserve some attention as well, so the field is wide open.
  • Please include your twitter and/or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 16, 17 or 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of the blogathon graphics in this post on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll simply link to your site’s home page.
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!  There are so many great characters worthy of attention, we would like to honor as many as possible.

Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 posts. Also find out who’s who with this Key to the WHAT A CHARACTER! graphic.

Character actors and participating blogs:

Agnes Moorehead – Tales of the Easily Distracted

Ann Doran and Lurene Tuttle – Theresa on Once Upon a Screen

Ann Dvorak – A Person in the Dark

Arthur Housman – Silent-ology

Beulah Bondi – A Thousand Words

Billie Burke – Girls Do Film

Burgess Meredith – The Last Drive-In

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Cecil Kellaway – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

Charles Coburn – Amy’s Rib

Charles Durning – Movie Movie Blog Blog

Charles Lane & Friz Feld – Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Chris Cooper – Jack Deth on Paula’s Cinema Club

Christopher Lloyd – The Movie Rat

Dennis Hoey – Silver Scenes

Don Beddoe – Christy’s Inkwells

Dame Edith Evans – Margaret Perry

Edna May Oliver – Portraits by Jenni

Edward Everett Horton – Outspoken & Freckled

Elsa Lanchester – Blog of the Damned

Eric Blore – The Blonde at the Film

Esther Dale – Caftan Woman

Frank McHugh – (This) Girl Friday

Grant Mitchell – Immortal Ephemera

Harry Dean Stanton – Joel’s Classic Film Passion

Henry Travers – Movie Fan Fare

Iris Adrian – Speakeasy

John Ridgely – Comet Over Hollywood

Karl Malden – Oh Rachel Leigh

Kathleen Howard – Sister Celluloid

Leo Carrillo – Phantom Empires

Melville Cooper – Classic Movie Hub

Peter Lorre – Second Sight Cinema

Richard Widmark – Danny’s Reviews

Rochelle Hudson – Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog

Thelma Ritter – Cinephiled

Thomas Mitchell – Once Upon a Screen

Tony Randall – A Shroud of Thoughts

Wallace Shawn – Moon in Gemini

Reckless Review – CHARLIE CHAPLIN: A BRIEF LIFE by Peter Ackroyd

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life, the new biography by Peter Ackroyd, definitely lives up to its billing. Yet for all its brevity, it’s packed with telling details about Chaplin and his life and work. And at times, it’s really two biographies in one, as Ackroyd consistently describes the polarity between the Little Tramp, “Chaplin’s shadow self or alter ego,” and the man himself, which becomes the through line of the story of their parallel lives.

Where the Little Tramp was infused with “common humanity,” Chaplin apparently demonstrated very little or none of that trait in real life. Simply put, he used many friends and colleagues like the props in one of his films, tossing them aside when he was done. He expected absolute fidelity from his lovers and wives while pursuing any other woman who struck his fancy. He seemed to flirt with Communism but equivocated about his beliefs and continued to make a fortune from the stock market.

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If “hypocrite” is one way to describe Chaplin, another might be “control freak.” I had already known that he was a perfectionist who took on nearly every task in the making a film, but here Ackroyd relates this tendency to the entertainer’s constant anxiety about poverty while giving specifics about the multiple takes and bullying Chaplin employed on set, techniques that wore down his actresses and crew. “Multiple takes” could often mean tens, in some cases hundreds. The scene in City Lights where he buys a flower from a flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), in the process discovering that she is blind, “took two years and 342 takes to assemble.”

The reporting of the City Lights story is just one example of the remarkable even-handedness Ackroyd maintains throughout the book. He is sympathetic to the entertainer’s childhood trauma, tracing the roots of Chaplin’s personality in his unstable, impoverished early life in truly dismal South London, but he doesn’t shy away from “the erratic, whimsical and imperious way in which Chaplin conducted his private life” either. Of his relationship, or lack thereof, with Cherrill, Ackroyd writes, “At the age of twenty she may have been too old for him.” Chaplin’s ill treatment of Lillita MacMurray (aka Lita Grey), first cast as leading lady in The Gold Rush, may be the most egregious example of his behavior towards women, but there are many other episodes presented here.

Despite the intermittent unpleasantness of his subject, the author also manages to capture the magic of Chaplin’s work, imparting a desire at least in this reader to see more of it, particularly A Woman in Paris, with which “Chaplin established a new cinema of social manners as well as a novel style of acting,” influencing both Ernst Lubitsch and Michael Powell. By what alchemy can someone so detached and cruel produce such heartbreaking emotions in the audience, about which he was ambivalent?

To sum up, Brief Life is a fascinating read. Obviously, completely new content would be an impossibility, but Ackroyd’s perspective on Chaplin’s duality is refreshing and insightful. As regular readers know, I am a relatively new silent film fan, and I learned quite a bit. If there is any flaw in it, it is the lack of footnotes or endnotes; I prefer the line between facts and interpretation to be clearer than that. There is, however, an extensive bibliography. It also does this designer’s heart good to see a book so appropriately well-crafted and old-fashioned — beautifully typeset, complete with a colophon, and silent-era-style typefaces for the headings, on deckle-edged pages. In some cases they do make them like they used to. Brief Life is perfect for any of those with an interest in filmmaking in general or Chaplin in particular…as long as they don’t mind a little of the gilding wearing off the idol.

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Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd is published by Doubleday on October 28.

The getTV Mickey Rooney blogathon MEGAPOST

The audience and I are friends. They allowed me to grow up with them. I’ve let them down several times. They’ve let me down several times. But we’re all family.

Mickey Rooney would have celebrated his 94th birthday this month, and in tribute, getTV is dedicating a substantial portion of the month’s programming to him. Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen, and myself, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, are thrilled to join forces with getTV for their first ever blogathon collaboration to celebrate Rooney’s career with The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, running the entire month of September.

As the posts are published, I will update this list. Check back for great new Mickey Rooney posts throughout September.

All about getTV
getTV is a digital subchannel available over the air and on local cable systems dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies. The network, operated by Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014. It features Academy Award® winning films and other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly 70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned stations and others. For information, visit getTV and connect with the network on Facebook and Twitter @getTV.

If you’d like to submit a blog post (or several) dedicated to Mickey Rooney – on his life, career, television work or a particular film – you can do so by submitting the entry to any one of the event hosts throughout the month of September.

Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club (leave comment below) – Twitter @Paula_Guthat
Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Twitter @CitizenScreen
Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Twitter @IrishJayHawk66

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We ask only that you please do the following:

  • Leave us a comment or send us a Tweet with your preferred Rooney topic
  • Let us know when you post your entry so we can promote it
  • Please copy @getTV on all tweets related to this event
  • Include the blogathon banner provided by getTV (above) in your post as well as the following statement:
    • “This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”
  • Have fun!

Thank you!

getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon: THE ATOMIC KID vs. BABY FACE NELSON by Jack Deth

As part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, Paula’s Cinema Club is pleased to present this post by occasional contributor Jack Deth. He is also a regular contributor at Flix Chatter, so be sure and check out his posts there too.

Welcome, all and sundry!

When given the opportunity to examine, elucidate, and opine on Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s busier actors of the 1930s and ’40s — opposite up and coming heavy-hitter Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, and countless young romantic musicals with Judy Garland, while being front and center in a string of shorts as very young man, “Mickey,” to a succession of lighthearted films about the travails of Andy Hardy — it’s the decade beyond that sparked my interest, in a quest to seek answers to the question: What now?

The 1950s presented Rooney with a string of offerings, some memorable, some not, which he took in a desire to put distance between himself and the characters most fondly remembered, cherished, and empathized with.

Two lesser-known films from this era caught my attention long ago, left their mark, and nearly demanded a second viewing, to see if that juvenile magic was still there. And for the most part, both films remain intact.

Without further ado. Allow me to proffer two distinct views of one of the more unsung character actors:
Breaking Away From Andy Hardy: A Mickey Rooney Double Feature
The first is a nearly forgotten, rarely seen, B & W post-Atomic Bomb comedy from 1954, directed on a miniscule budget by Leslie H. Martinson, and buttressed with the flimsiest of plots in and around the deserts of Nevada, New Mexico, and far southwest California.

ATOMIC-KID-finalThe Atomic Kid (1954)
Where Mr. Rooney plays amateur archaeologist, mineralogist, and uranium prospector, Barnaby “Blix” Waterford. Down on his luck financially and romantically, Blix and his partner and longtime friend, Stan Cooper (marvelously gravel-voiced and slovenly Robert Strauss, who played Sgt. Stanislaus “Animal” Kuzawa in Stalag 17) hear a rumor about a mineral lode deep beneath the sands of New Mexico. (Read: the outreaches of government-owned and -facilitated White Sands Testing Range.)

Atomic Kid~2 Blix and Stan approach the next-to-nothing town. Stan decides to wait and watch at a distance as Blix stumbles in, investigates, and eventually enters one standing clapboard home in the deserted, middle-of-nowhere “town,” sees mannequins fully dressed around a family kitchen table, feels hungry, and decides to raid the pantry for a peanut butter and sardine sandwich.

While far away in a sandbagged bunker, high-ranking Army officers and white-smocked scientists (amongst them, the always-reliable Whit Bissell) start the countdown for a Nuclear Test, then notice activity in the far-off rocks around mesas outside the “town.” Soldiers arrive. Stan tells them that Blix is somewhere in the “Test Town”. The countdown can’t be stopped or aborted. The bomb high atop a tower explodes!

A mushroom cloud rises. Winds gust and swirl dust and debris to all points of the compass rose. The dust settles and Jeeps and trucks arrive as guards set a perimeter. Stan and an entourage of scientists gather around outstretched Geiger counters.

Atomic Kid~3The site is hot. Just shy of leveled. Testament to the weapon’s destructive power. As a sound is heard, a pile of rubble and shingles shift. And Blix twists and inches out. Sandwich scorched on one side. Obviously unscathed. But speaking at about six times normal speed, and radioactively hotter than a three dollar pistol. Questions abound as Blix is taken to a lab and soaked in a heavy water tank to leech off some Roentgens.

Refreshed and his speech back to normal, Blix is introduced to Nurse Audrey Nelson (Elaine Devry, aka Mrs. Mickey Rooney at the time). And his luck changes. Though it’s kept in check, kind of, with a wristwatch-like device that points to different levels of danger when Blix gets excited. Which becomes often and obvious, as light fixtures in the immediate area that were turned off suddenly have brightly glowing bulbs.

Atomic Kid~4With the passage of time. Men in dark suits and hats arrive, announcing themselves as the FBI, and want Blix to roam around Vegas and other spots to help flush out a Communist spy ring. Blix obliges. With Nurse Audrey safely ensconced in a hotel room nearby at first. Becoming inseparable with time. As contact is made, and the Commies being just as sloppy and ill-focused as you would imagine in the 1950s. Led by stalwart Robert Emmett Keane as “Mr. Reynolds,” and Peter Brocco as “Comrade Mosely.” Blix plays dumb, once delivered to the spies’ hideout. Becomes excited as future plans are laid bare. Pulls off some razzle dazzle with lights, lab equipment and appliances. As the spies panic and run into the waiting arms of the FBI.

After all the excitement settles down. Blix decides to throw fate to the wind and ask Audrey to marry him. Audrey is standoffish at first. Yet slowly agrees. Sealing the deal with a kiss that lights up the romantically darkened room, to the point that the FBI agents covertly watching from across the cul-de-sac have a fair idea of what’s going on.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
Not really a buffoon, but more of life’s recipients of sad to bad tidings, enriching a rather flimsy plot and heightening the writing of a young upstart named Blake Edwards, in a “bread and butter” Republic Studios film that clocks in at 86 minutes.

Mr. Rooney also produced the film and used its budget frugally. Pinching pennies, though not really cutting corners, when necessary, while director Lewison uses Mr. Rooney’s talents as an ensemble player, if not the continuous focus of attention. All of the stock players have their times to shine. Especially Robert Strauss and Ms. Devry (the only woman in the cast), bouncing emotions off Mr. Rooney, who has lovely timing, and a penchant for riding the roller coaster from sad to ebullient and back again.

Is ‘The Atomic Kid’ a great film? No. Though it is a worthwhile diversion.And not just for its rarity.
A fairly well executed and streamlined into the near absurd. Not to be taken seriously. Outside of a fairly decent attempt to switch and take on a character a bit older and wiser than one which was a meal ticket only a decade earlier.


Which brings us to another journey of exploration, and a bit of exploitation, in a low-budget B&W United Artists release, directed by up-and-comer Don Siegel. And a screenplay, courtesy of Daniel Mainwaring (Out of The Past) and Irving Schulman.

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Baby Face Nelson (1957)
Which opens with the standard honorarium to the FBI and its agents, then shifts to the shadow-swept confines of Joliet Prison and the release of shabbiily-suited Mr. Rooney, as low-rent nobody and recidivist criminal Lester M. Gillis, to the tender mercies of 1933 Illinois.

Baby Face Nelson~2Fully expecting to follow the straight and narrow. Gillis is offered a ride within seconds of the prison gates closing. A ride to see “Mr. Rocca” (Ted De Corsia), leader of a small gang of bootleggers on Chicago’s south side, who may have had a hand in sending Gillis to Joliet originally. No love is lost, nor manly hugs exchanged, as Rocca explains the reason for Gillis’ early parole.

A Union bigshot is making too much noise and needs to be taken care of. Pointed out by Rocca as they share the back seat of a touring car. Gillis is given a silenced pistol to do the job. Gillis wants none of it. He takes the Rocca paid for hotel room, bathes, and is off to see his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (beguiling Carolyn Jones, long before “The Addams Family”). She watches the register and buzzer to the back-room offices of one of Rocca’s many pool halls.

Kisses are savored and a date is set for three hours later, when Sue goes off shift. In the interim, Gillis reads that his intended target has been murdered. Detectives bust in, and find the silenced pistol taped to the roof of the room’s flush box. A classic frame. Gillis is arrested. Booked. And gets to see Sue through a mesh screen before being shipped back to Joliet.

Sue finds out when and where Gillis is be loaded on the train to Joliet, and intervenes. Stumbling before two armed guards as Gillis knocks both unconscious and Sue wheels around with a getaway car, to ambush and seek revenge on Rocca and his hideout’s deserted staircase. With that task accomplished, Gillis decides to take Sue’s last name as they go to see if John Dillinger (Professional Bad Guy Leo Gordon) could use an extra gun hand. Dillinger nicknames the new arrival “Baby Face”. Gives him a Thompson. And explains their next payroll heist.

Baby Face Nelson~3Cleverly executed, with the main guns hiding in a plumber’s van as the armored car arrived at the factory. Dillinger and his crew have the drop on the guards. A steam whistle shrills. And Nelson cuts loose. Dropping the three guards as they head off to lick wounds and hide out at the out-of-season Little Bohemia Lodge, where unlicensed and lecherous, “Doc” Saunders (Cedric Hardwicke) works on Dillinger, and starts flirting with the recently-arrived Sue.

Dillinger doesn’t want the heat of three dead bodies and cuts Nelson and Sue loose. The two head west to Minnesota and a string of bank and payroll robberies. Courtesy of architect and engineer “Fatso” Nagel (Jack Elam), who supplies schematics and blueprints. One robbery goes bad, Nelson is wounded, and decides to return to the one place no one will look. The Little Bohemia Lodge.

A group of FBI agents decide to play a hunch after Dillinger is betrayed and removed from the spotlight of “Public Enemy Number One”, and are spotted shortly thereafter. An agent (Dabs Greer) is shot and killed. Baby Face becomes a worthwhile substitute, as Nelson and Sue begin putting together their own gang, among them, Homer van Meter (Perpetual Sap Elisha Cooke, Jr).

A final job is suggested by Nagel, with the help of the FBI — a bank job, whose execution catches the Feds off guard, with the addition of tear gas grenades. Van Meter and the rest of Nelson’s gang locked in the bank’s vault. And a hail of gunfire as Nelson and Sue slip through the Fed’s dragnet.

I’ll leave it right here for spoilers’ sake.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
An apocryphal and tabloid-splashed take one of the Midwest’s lower-tier desperadoes, heightening the folklore while bringing creepy life to a short and shallow man with an enormous chip on his shoulder.

Mr. Rooney fills the bill quite well. With mercurial mood swings, especially when and where Sue is concerned. Taking his anger out in grisly and cleverly edited ways. Letting his long-smoldering sociopath out to play and be glimpsed by Sue, who still loves him.

Backed up by a satisfactory Rogues Gallery of solid character actors of the day, on both sides of the law. Especially Mr. Hardwicke’s drunken “Doc” Saunders, Leo Gordon’s arrogant John Dillinger. And the building, grounds, lakes and dusty roadways around The Little Bohemia Lodge, a very familiar backdrop for several gangster and desperado films of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s. All under the touch of aspiring Don Siegel, adding another notch in his gun belt early on in his quest for greatness. And creating another noteworthy step towards branching out and away for Mr. Rooney!

This post is part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled, taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries. You can access the entire getTV schedule here and check to see if getTV is available in your area here.

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Announcing the getTV Mickey Rooney September 2014 Blogathon

In April of this year the world lost Mickey Rooney, an entertainer whose career spanned an unbelievable nine decades. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 23, 1920, Rooney was on the Vaudeville stage almost before he could talk, and appeared in his first movie at the age of six. From there the movies became his life. With sidesteps into radio and television Mickey Rooney maintained an enviable relationship with audiences for nearly the entire span of his life.

The audience and I are friends. They allowed me to grow up with them. I’ve let them down several times. They’ve let me down several times. But we’re all family.

Mickey Rooney would have celebrated his 94th birthday this September, and in tribute, getTV is dedicating a substantial portion of the month’s programming to him. Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen, and myself, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, are thrilled to join forces with getTV for their first ever blogathon collaboration to celebrate Rooney’s career with The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, running the entire month of September.

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As the posts are published, I will update the blogathon megapost. Check back there for great new Mickey Rooney posts throughout September.

All about getTV
getTV is a digital subchannel available over the air and on local cable systems dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies. The network, operated by Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014.  It features Academy Award® winning films and other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly 70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned stations and others. For information, visit getTV and connect with the network on Facebook and Twitter @getTV.

getTV’s programming in September will include a Labor Day Marathon dedicated to Mickey Rooney as well as themed double features every Thursday at 7 PM EST, as follows:
Thursday, September 4 – Nautical Musicals
Richard Quine’s SOUND OFF, 1952: 7:00 PM ET; 10:40 PM ET
Richard Quine’s ALL ASHORE, 1953: 8:50 PM ET; 12:30 AM ET

Thursday, September 11 – Crime Tales
Peter Godfrey’s HE’S A COCKEYED WONDER, 1950: 7:00 PM ET; 10:40 PM ET
Richard Quine’s DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD, 1954:  8:45 PM ET; 12:25 AM ET

Thursday, September 18 – Military Comedy
Don Taylor’s EVERYTHING’S DUCKY, 1961:  7:00 PM ET; 11:10 PM ET
Richard Quine’s OPERATION MAD BALL, 1957: 8:50 PM ET; 1:00 AM ET

Thursday, September 25 – Young and Older Mickey
Roy William Neill’s BLIND DATE, 1934:  7:00 PM ET; 12:20 AM ET
Carl Reiner’s THE COMIC, 1969: 8:35 PM ET; 12:20 AM ET

You can access the entire getTV schedule here and check to see if getTV is available in your area here.

The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon

If you’d like to submit a blog post (or several) dedicated to Mickey Rooney – on his life, career, television work or a particular film – you can do so by submitting the entry to any one of the event hosts throughout the month of September.

Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club (leave comment below) – Twitter @Paula_Guthat
Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Twitter @CitizenScreen
Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Twitter @IrishJayHawk66

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We ask only that you please do the following:

  •     Leave us a comment or send us a Tweet with your preferred Rooney topic
  •     Let us know when you post your entry so we can promote it
  •     Please copy @getTV on all tweets related to this event
  •     Include the blogathon banner provided by getTV (above) in your post as well as the following statement:
    • “This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”
  • Have fun!

Thank you!

Participants
OPERATION MAD BALL – Once Upon a Screen
THE BLACK STALLION – Outspoken & Freckled
NATIONAL VELVET – Minoo for Classic Movie Hub
BLIND DATE – Paula’s Cinema Club
ALL ASHORE – Vintage Cameo
‘Andy Hardy’ vs. 1950s Rooney – Critica Retro
THE ATOMIC KID – Jack Deth
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – Girls Do Film
Rooney at Disney – Margaret Perry
HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI – Blog of the Darned
STRIKE UP THE BAND – [This] Girl Friday
MY PAL, THE KING – Sister Celluloid
“The Comedian” on “Playhouse 90” – Caftan Woman
KILLER MCCOY – Another Old Movie Blog
BOYS’ TOWN – AnnMarie at Classic Movie Hub
IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD – Maeghan
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – Once Upon a Screen
BLIND DATE – Rob
BABES ON BROADWAY – The Hollywood Revue of 2014

 

31 Days of Oscar: Week 3 — ACTING

We have now arrived at week 3 of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, which coincides with Turner Classic Movies’ month-long celebration of the very best in cinema. Co-hosted by me (@Paula_Guthat), Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, the third installment of our Second Annual Oscar extravaganza addresses Acting, arguably the most remembered aspect of any film, particularly Academy Award contenders.

Hepburn Oscar banner

For various reasons, including a successful run of Blue Jasmine at Cinema Detroit, I’ve been thinking more about the Best Actress category this year than any other. Oscar front-runner Cate Blanchett is simply genius in the title role. Many people have mentioned to us that her acting (and to a lesser extent, that of the rest of the cast) are the reason they like or even love this unexpectedly downbeat movie. (Sally Hawkins is, of course, excellent. But Andrew Dice Clay? Really? Really. He’s actually good in it.) And I have agree, and also add that I think this is because Blanchett makes Jasmine seem like a real — albeit self-absorbed and delusional — person. I’m pretty sure Blanchett will win, she just earned a BAFTA, but the other contenders are Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep, so I guess it’s not a done deal. Be that as it may, I believe that Blanchett, assisted by the rest of Jasmine‘s acting troupe, is what kept people coming into the theater seven months after the film’s premiere.

And now, without further ado, here are this week’s posts:

Pam at Once Upon A Screen — The Golden Age of Hollywood Revisited: Henry Fonda Finally Wins An Oscar

The Gal Herself — In Praise of Practical Magic: Julie Andrews

Emily of The Vintage Cameo — Actors Playing Actors

Margaret of The Great Katharine Hepburn — Katharine Hepburn’s One and Only Academy Awards Appearance

Rich of Wide Screen World — Oscar Trading Cards: Actor Assortment

Karen of Shadows and Satin — Van Heflin in Johnny Eager (1941)

ImagineMDD — Hume Cronyn: One Life, a Boatload of Characters

Lê of Crítica Retrô — Best Oscar Acceptance Speeches

Kelly of …On Popcorn and Movies — The Origins of Smolder…Gary Cooper and a little bit about Pitt

Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear — Stuart Whitman in The Mark (1961)

Shane of Classic Film Haven — The Amazing Stories of Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor

Aurora of Once Upon A Screen — Spencer Tracy: Oscar and the Actor’s Actor


More of the Second Annual 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon:

Week 1 – SNUBS posts are here.
Week 2 – Music, Costumes, Cinematography, Writing, etc. posts are here.
Week 4 – The Directors posts are here.

31 Days of Oscar – The Snubs: Barbara Stanwyck in STELLA DALLAS

This chorus girl could grab your heart and tear it to pieces.
— Frank Capra

It’s difficult to consider Oscar snubs without thinking of Barbara Stanwyck. I remember reading a few years ago that she had never won an Academy Award. “That can’t be right,” I thought. One thing about this modern world, no one ever has to wonder about any factual information. In a couple minutes, I had confirmed without a doubt that, though Stanwyck received an honorary Oscar for “superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting” in 1982, she had been nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar, and indeed had never claimed the prize.

The four nominations were for her work as: the title character in Stella Dallas (1937), Sugarpuss O’Shea in Ball of Fire (1941), Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944), and Leona Stevenson in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Of these, the Stella Dallas loss is the one that Stanwyck herself apparently regretted.

Stella posterThis film had the kind of source material that still draws nominations today. It was based on an acclaimed novel about a woman who marries up and can’t fit in. Eventually she gives up her daughter, whom she loves more than anyone or anything else in the world, so the latter can have a better life. The role required the actress to age 20 years. It was a plum, and Stanwyck wanted it. However, producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted a screen test. Stanwyck felt she’d proven her abilities over seven years working in Hollywood, and refused to make it.

She was not a sure thing to play Stella. The director, King Vidor, wanted her to, but Goldwyn was remaking his own 1925 version of the film, and he maintained that Stanwyck didn’t have enough sex appeal. He favored, among others, Ruth Chatterton, who turned it down.

One of many things I’ve learned from reading Victoria Wilson’s comprehensive Stanwyck bio, Steel-True, is that Joel McCrea, a frequent co-worker and friend of Stanwyck’s, was enlisted by her agent and friend, Zeppo Marx, to persuade her to make the necessary test. McCrea got nowhere. He then approached Goldwyn and pointed out that if Stanwyck was dating the handsome and very popular Robert Taylor, then she must have something going on.

I always knew Taylor was idolized in his day. Another thing I’ve learned from Steel-True is how really extremely popular he was. More than 25 years before the Beatles, Taylor was routinely getting mobbed and having his clothes torn off. He often needed a police escort to go out in public.

Goldwyn wouldn’t hear any of it. Stanwyck would have to agree to a test, which she eventually did. Per Steel-True, her test was cut into a reel with 47 others, but there was no doubt about it. Even Goldwyn had to agree, Stanwyck was Stella.

Stella-Laurel-color-tintStanwyck is stunningly great in the film. She simply became Stella Dallas, cheap and vulgar yet lovable and generous, so that the melodramatic aspects of the character evaporate and leave a real person. She makes it believable that someone who desperately wants to move up in class somehow doesn’t know she is too much. If you don’t feel for her in the scene in the train car where Stella overhears her daughter Laurel’s “friends” ripping on her walk and clothing choices and then pretends, for Laurel’s sake, not to have heard them….check your chest, you might not have a heart in there.

The film was both a popular and a critical success. It and Stanwyck both got great reviews. Per TCM, “the movie was so popular it became a radio serial in October 1937, dramatizing the later lives of characters in the movie. The serial lasted for eight years.” [Emphasis mine.]

So what happened? First, her competition for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1938 was formidable: Irene Dunne for The Awful Truth; Greta Garbo for Camille (co-starring Stanwyck’s beau, Robert Taylor); Janet Gaynor for A Star Is Born; and the previous year’s winner for The Great Ziegfeld, Luise Rainer for The Good Earth.

Also, Stanwyck rebelled against the system, refusing to be tied to any one studio. At the time she was cast as Stella Dallas, she had contracts with two studios, RKO and Fox, and was working on a picture at a third, Paramount. She had been suspended many times when she refused to work on a picture that was wrong for her, and had been involved in breach of contract litigation. Studios were notorious for sometimes throwing together a big star and a weak script, relying on the talent’s drawing power to make money, and Stanwyck avoided those productions for the most part. However, as Wilson writes, “Barbara’s independence from the studios came at a price.” She often took roles that were originally meant for someone else. In terms of Oscar voting, she missed out on the consistent support and yards of good press that “team players” got.

I also think the realism of Stanwyck’s performance may have been another contributing factor. She is always so natural, and almost never seems to be acting.

A Stanwyck win was widely predicted, but whatever the reasons, Rainer prevailed on Oscar night, for the second year in a row.

PS: The Variety review of Stella Dallas contended that it was incredible that Stella would wear such crazy outfits when Laurel’s apparel, designed and made by Stella herself, was so elegant. I disagree. I think Stella would have wanted her daughter to fit in as much as possible so she would have copied her friends’ clothes. Stella knows she doesn’t fit in by that point, so she would not have done the same for herself.

Leigh Oscar banner flatThis post is part of the second annual 31 Days of Oscar blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen.  For more posts featuring Oscar snubs, visit the megapost at Outspoken and Freckled, and stay tuned for more Oscar-related posts throughout the month. Our blogathon gets its inspiration from Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar, “where every movie shown is an Oscar winner or nominee.”

Frank McHugh’s Most Important Role

Frank McHugh was perhaps the epitome of a reliable supporting player. You know this guy — you might not know his name, but you know his face.

frank-mchugh-headshotAs a Warner Brothers contract player in the ‘30s and ‘40s, no one backstopped stars like Bing Crosby, William Powell, and James Cagney better than McHugh. He was an expert at sheepish expressions, jittery laughs, and screwball action, usually serving as comic relief and providing larcenous or romantic complications when required.

McHugh was born into a stage family on May 23, 1898, and appeared in vaudeville with his siblings Matt and Kitty by the age of 10. Drawn from his stage career by the arrival of talkies, he arrived in Hollywood in 1930, signed with Warner Brothers almost immediately, and appeared in nearly 90 films in his first 10 years with the studio.

He was also known as a central member of the Irish Mafia, the tight-knit group of Irish-American actors that included Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy, Allen Jenkins, Frank Morgan, and Ralph Bellamy. They preferred to be known as the “Boys’ Club,” and Morgan and Bellamy were actually of German and English/French descent respectively, but these real-life ties translated well onscreen. McHugh and Cagney, for instance, appeared together in 12 pictures; McHugh and O’Brien in 11.

Frank McHugh and James Cagney bottle a little fun in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939). Frank McHugh and James Cagney bottle a little fun in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939).

What you may not know about McHugh is the valuable real-life part he played during World War II.

Like many in Hollywood, he enthusiastically supported the war effort, joining the Hollywood Victory Caravan in May 1942. This show traveled the United States, featuring performances by the biggest stars, with the ticket proceeds going the Army and Navy Relief Fund.

The star-studded Hollywood Caravan The star-studded Hollywood Victory Caravan at a stop in Minnesota

Mark Sandrich, director of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films, and Alfred Newman, Twentieth Century Fox’s musical director, organized the Caravan as a musical revue. It featured, at various times, Crosby, Cagney, O’Brien, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, Claudette Colbert, Charles Coburn, Joan Blondell, Joan Bennett, Eleanor Powell, Desi Arnaz, Bert Lahr, and Groucho Marx, along with McHugh (leaning forward in the top row above). In August and September of the same year, he went to England with a USO tour, the American Variety Show.

After those tours, McHugh continued his war efforts, producing his own show and taking it to the troops in Europe two years later. In November and December 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, “McHugh’s Revue” toured the front lines in Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany.

McHugh loved meeting and chatting with the servicemen, and the feeling was mutual. He received a citation from the Army, in which General Raymond S. McLain referred to the Revue as “an oasis in this desert of hardship and suffering….Your show was sparkling, and left a refreshing atmosphere in the spirit of many battle weary soldiers.” This certainly was McHugh’s most important, and possibly most loved, supporting role.

Many materials related to McHugh’s wartime activities, including his own account of McHugh’s Revue, are preserved in the Frank McHugh Papers at the New York Public Library, which I hope to see someday.

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This post is part of the 2013 What A Character! blogathon, co-hosted by myself, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen. Be sure and check out all the Saturday posts.

WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon Schedule

Here’s the schedule for our fast-approaching WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon…good times

Once upon a screen...

Co-hosts, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora (me) of Once Upon a Screen announced this year’s WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon on September 10th.  And now – it’s over!  Over forty bloggers submitted entries on some of the most beloved character actors in classic film – a truly impressive list of actors that represent all genre of film.

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I’d be remiss not to mention once again that this event was conceived from the phrase used by our home of the classics, Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  WHAT A CHARACTER! the blogathon proved a smash hit in 2012 and, as you can see from the following list, 2013 followed suit.  We simply love our CHARACTER ACTORS!  I hope you enjoy reading about these talents as much I have.

The entries

by Cinematic Catharsis – Dick Miller – Roger Corman’s greatest discovery, “Cult Icon”

by The Girl with the…

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TCM Party presents NOIRVEMBER with Warner Archive Instant

In our classic movie corner of the world, the eleventh month of the year is not dedicated to family gatherings or special sales. Here we celebrate crime-laden streets, shadowy figures, and suspicious cops. This is Noirvember.

Micheline Cheirel and Dick Powell in CORNERED (1945)
Micheline Cheirel and Dick Powell in CORNERED (1945)

In celebration of all things noir, TCM Party is joining Warner Archive Instant for a series of tweet-a-longs in November. We’ve chosen favorite films noir from the Warner Archive Instant offerings.

Using the hashtags #TCMparty and #Noirvember, we will gather to watch and tweet along as follows (all times are Eastern):

Sunday, November 3 at noon – Guest host Aurora [@CitizenScreen] has chosen Fritz Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT (1952) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Marilyn Monroe.

Experiment Perilous-lowres

Tuesday, November 12 at 8 p.m.@TCMparty host Paula has chosen Jacques Tourneur’s EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) starring Hedy Lamarr, George Brent and Paul Lukas.

Saturday, November 16, time TBD – Special guest host Karen [@TheDarkPages] has chosen Vincent Sherman’s THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (1950) starring Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran and Kent Smith.

@TCMParty host Trevor has chosen three noirs:
Thursday, November 21 @ 8 p.m. – Jack Bernhard’s DECOY (1946) starring Jean Gillie, Edward Norris and Robert Armstrong.
Sunday, November 24 @ noon – Richard Fleischer’s ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) starring Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens and William Talman.
Thursday, November 28 @ 8 p.m. – Edward Dmytryk’s CORNERED (1945) starring Dick Powell, Walter Slezak and Micheline Cheirel.

We hope everyone will want to participate, as it’s sure to be a fun, informative time. If you already subscribe to Warner Archive Instant, you’re all set. If you don’t, you can sign up for a free two-week trial here.

Either way, you need only be on Twitter at the scheduled time, use the correct hashtags, and wait for the host to signal, “START THE MOVIE,”  to enjoy online Noirvember.

We’re thrilled to be presenting these Warner Bros. film noirs as part of the excitement of #TCMparty, and hope this is the first of many collaborations between our enthusiastic film-loving community and the studio with deep dark noir roots.

Note that these Noirvember tweet-a-longs are in addition to the regular #TCMparty events, which follow along to scheduled programming on TCM (dates listed below). Please visit the TCM Party tumblr for more info.

Wednesday, November 6 @ 8 p.m. THE KILLERS (1946)
Wednesday, November 13 @ 8 p.m. GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957)
Tuesday, November 19 @ 8 p.m. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
Wednesday, November 27 @ 8 p.m. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)