Friday, April 20, 2018

HOLLYWOOD LOVE: SAMMY DAVIS JR AND KIM NOVAK

In 1957, Sammy Davis Jr. was a rising star. He’d just completed an acclaimed performance in Mr. Wonderful on Broadway and had a popular nightclub act with his father and uncle called the Will Mastin Trio. It was a strong comeback from a car accident three years earlier, when a pipe went through Davis’s eye, permanently blinding him. For the rest of his life, he would wear a glass eye.

The accident, however did nothing to curtail Davis’s charisma and sex appeal. Hollywood starlet Kim Novak certainly noticed him. She was about to film Hitchcock’s Vertigo when she saw Davis perform in a Chicago nightclub. Though they didn’t speak much at the time, Davis wanted to get to know the actress. His friends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh obliged by inviting both of them to a party at their house. Soon afterward, there was a blind item in a gossip column: “Which top female movie star (K.N.) is seriously dating which big-name entertainer (S.D.)?”


This bit of idle gossip was far from harmless. An affair between Novak and Davis had the potential to destroy both of their careers. In 1957, interracial marriage was illegal in half the states. Most Americans were against it. A Gallup poll from 1958 showed that only 4 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage. On top of that, the United States Supreme Court had only recently ordered the desegregation of public schools, and the showdown in Little Rock, Arkansas, over the integration of the city’s Central High School would occur the following year. The national atmosphere was fraught with racial tension.

As a black man, Davis had been stopped from dating white women before, but this time was different. Novak was a movie star. That year, newspapers were calling her “the hottest female draw at the box office” thanks to films like The Man with the Golden Arm and Pal Joey. Columbia Pictures was grooming her to replace Rita Hayworth, who studio head Harry Cohn disliked. As the latest Hollywood sex goddess, Novak was potentially worth millions.

When he saw the gossip item, Davis called Novak to apologize for putting her in an awkward position with the studio. According to his autobiography Sammy, Novak replied, “The studio doesn’t own me!” and invited him over for spaghetti and meatballs. Soon after, they were dating.


Their affair continued for most of 1957. Davis and Novak were aware of the risks they were taking, but that, it seems, made the relationship more exciting. “She hadn’t thought about me anymore than I had thought about her—until it was forbidden,” Davis wrote in his autobiography. “Then we became conspirators, drawn together by the single thing we had in common: defiance.”

Arthur Silber, a close friend and companion of Davis, often chauffeured the couple to a rented beach house in Malibu. They went to great length to hide their relationship—Davis would sometimes lie on the floor of the car under a blanket to avoid being seen with Novak.

“It was like we were in the FBI or something,” Silber says in an interview. “I would drop him off in front of her house in Beverly Hills and we would set up a time or a day for me to pick him up.” Davis also had a private phone line installed at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas where he worked so he could talk to Novak without the hotel switchboard listening in.

In December, Novak went home to Chicago for the holidays while Davis stayed in Las Vegas. He missed Novak so much that he found a replacement for his act and flew overnight to see her and meet her parents.


Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Sun-Times heard about the visit and mentioned it in his column. Gossip heated up. There was a rumor Davis and Novak had taken out a marriage license. “Kim Novak is about to become engaged to Sammy Davis Jr. and Hollywood is aghast,” reported The London Daily Mirror. When Columbia Studio head Harry Cohn found out, he became enraged that his star—who he regarded as property he’d invested in—was dating a black man.The next morning, while flying to Los Angeles, he had the first of several heart attacks that would soon kill him.

By all accounts, Cohn was a ruthless studio chief who admired Benito Mussolini and had ties to the Chicago mob. He even wore matching ruby “friendship rings” with gangster Johnny Roselli. There are various accounts of what happened next, but what’s clear is that Cohn took out a mob hit on Davis. Gangster Mickey Cohen found Davis’s father and passed on the threat. Silber was there when Davis received the phone call, and he begged Davis to break up with Kim Novak. Sadly, Sammy called Kim Novak, and they both agreed to end the relationship. It was a sad end to a beautiful romance and another example of how racism destroyed lives and relationships...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

THE LAST DAYS OF JOAN CRAWFORD

When screen legend Joan Crawford died in 1977, the obits of Joan Crawford chronicled her tough, traumatic youth, her 81 movies and her driving second career as a director of the Pepsi-Cola Company. But there was no accounting for the eerie last 18 months of her 70-odd years. One of the few who knew was showbiz correspondent Doris Lilly, a close confidante and neighbor in the Manhattan apartment building where Crawford lived since 1967.

Did Joan Crawford take her own life? As an experienced reporter and Joan’s friend, Lilly said that she can only conclude that she did. She was cremated, according to her wishes, and no autopsy was performed to see if she might have taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Yet there is much evidence that she was preparing to die.

Among the many “coincidences”: Her death occurred on May 10, the 22nd anniversary of her marriage to her fourth and last husband, the late Pepsi chairman Alfred Steele—the only man, she said, she really loved. (Years after his death in 1959, she still set a place for him at the dinner table.) Starting in February, she began “cleaning out,” sending Dorsi and a few other friends household items that she said she would no longer need. Just two days prior to her death, on Mother’s Day, she told Doris she spent the day alone; none of her four adopted children came to call. The next day Joan sent her beloved pet Shih Tzu, Princess, away to be taken care of by friends in the country. In fact, Princess had not been outside the building for over a year, much less separated from her adoring mistress.


The coroner’s office said this great star died of heart failure, and in a way they were right. Her heart had been broken, and she died from a lethal dose of loneliness—and fear. Unbeknownst to even some of her closest friends, Joan had received an anonymous phone call in the winter of 1975. “I will kill you,” the caller said. “You won’t know where or when, but I will get you.” Terrified, she called in the police and the FBI. For months her 22nd-floor five-room apartment was under guard. A variety of exotic locks, latches and alarms were installed. For the last 18 months she had refused to set foot outside her apartment. To reach her, friends were given a number to call, leave a message and wait for her to call back. When she slept, it was behind bolts in her bedroom, with a pale pink night-light burning.

During those months of self-imposed exile, Doris saw a great deal of Joan Crawford. Along with her psychiatrist and perhaps a half dozen others, she was one of the few. Joan had her meals delivered in and busied herself writing thousands of notes, for which she had become famous over the years.


But what she loved most was cleaning. “There’s a little bit of Harriet Craig in all of us,” she once told friends, referring to the meticulous housecleaner she portrayed in one of her films. A visit to Joan’s apartment was like a visit to a hospital operating room. A house-boy waxed the parquet floors every other day. “I gave up carpets years ago,” she explained, “when I realized I couldn’t keep them clean all the time.” The draperies were cleaned once a month; plastic liners were installed on the window sills. Some live by the sword, but Joan Crawford lived by the mop. The maid, Frieda, was always scouring in the kitchen, and Joan would often join in. Just three weeks before her death she had strained her back scrubbing the floor.

Each and every piece of furniture—and the walls—had been treated with a vinylizing process that could not be penetrated by dirt. There were no fresh flowers or plants. In the film Harriet Craig, Harriet finally loses her crackerjack maid by demanding that the tree outside the back window be washed and waxed. Joan, too, filled her apartment with yellow wax flowers and plastic plants—ones that could be swabbed with soap and water.

Although there have been stories that this once great beauty had gone to ruin, nothing could have been further from the truth. There was a time when she carried a flask of 100-proof vodka to parties, but that was long ago. She stopped drinking completely six months before she died and quit chain-smoking cold turkey. Her figure was slim and taut, and she let her hair go salt-and-pepper gray. She didn’t wear or need makeup. Thanks to expert plastic surgery and a superb bone structure, she could have passed for 55.



Still, Joan was desperately unhappy. After the death of Alfred Steele, she played a major role as Pepsi’s spokeswoman for more than a decade. But PepsiCo’s current chairman, Donald Kendall, had frozen her out completely over the past two years. She still wanted to act, but now the scripts weren’t coming in. Last March 21 the American Film Institute honored her archrival Bette Davis with a nationally televised tribute. No one approached Joan, and it hurt. Nonetheless, Joan, an avid TV watcher, told Doris that she thought the event was a glorious tribute to a great star. For this performance alone, Joan Crawford could have earned another Oscar.

There has been a lot of renewed interest in Joan Crawford, since the docudrama of her life on FX in 2017. While Bette Davis was the bigger star, and probably was the better actress, Crawford has the sadder life. Joan knew that her daughter Christina was writing a sordid biography of her, and like many of her friends said, Joan was disguarded by the Hollywood that she built. Whether or not Joan committed suicide or not, the fact was her last years were very sad and lonely for her...



Sunday, April 1, 2018

ARTICLE ARCHIVE: JERRY LEWIS

Here is an interesting read. It's a copy of the People Magazine article from October 6, 1980 which details the divorce of Jerry Lewis from his then wife Patti...

One of the relatively few serious works by comedian Jerry Lewis, his 1971 book The Total Film-maker, begins with a touching dedication to the woman he married in 1945: “To Patti, whose love, patience and wisdom never diminished while waiting for me to grow up.” Patti Lewis, alas, now appears to have quit waiting. In papers filed a month ago in Los Angeles, the first and only Mrs. Lewis requested a legal separation—and $450,000 a year to support herself and the youngest of their six sons, Joseph Christopher, 16. Her husband, she charges, “has displayed an open disregard for our marriage, and I am a ‘financial puppet’ at the mercy of his office, with no money of my own.”

Her court papers complain bitterly of his extravagances, which she says have caused household bills to go unpaid, forced her to sell her jewels and led her to dispense with all live-in help: “He often pays the airplane travel, including specially chartered Learjets, for groups of his friends to meet him on vacations. He has hundreds of suitcases and keeps buying more. He has hundreds of tape recorders and keeps buying more.” The real object of her disaffection, friends say, is SanDee Pitnick, a 30-year-old former stewardess with a bit part in Jerry’s latest movie, Hardly Working. Patti complains that Lewis, 54, set up joint housekeeping in Las Vegas—and that he has recently “lavished gifts of jewelry and luggage on [his] woman friend in Paris, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Florida.”


The Lewis family life-style clearly demands cash. Still residing in their 31-room mansion (with 17 bathrooms) are three of their six grown sons, as well as five dogs, four cats, eight parakeets, four cockatiels and four fish. Patti claims that Jerry’s annual income amounts to some $1,278,000 after taxes, and that their community property runs “in excess of $7 million.”

Jerry’s side of the story is yet to be heard, and Patti is speaking only to the court. But friends say she has long put up with her husband’s roving eye—and that her lawsuit comes less from shock than from exasperation. Certainly, her husband’s restlessness comes as no surprise to her. As she wrote of him in a magazine article 13 years ago: “You just never know what phase he’s going to go into next.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

WESTWORLD: A MODERN CLASSIC


Not many new television series thrill me. The majority of them are either idiotic reality shows or boring unfunny comedies. I was skeptical when I first watched HBO's "Westworld", but I was pleasantly surprised at what a great television series this is. Westworld is an American science fiction western thriller television series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO. It is based on the 1973 film of the same name, which was written and directed by American novelist Michael Crichton, and to a lesser extent on the 1976 sequel Futureworld. It is the second TV series based on the two films, the first being the short-lived 1980 series Beyond Westworld. Nolan and Joy serve as executive producers along with J. J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub, and Bryan Burk, with Nolan directing the pilot. The first season premiered on October 2, 2016, concluded on December 4, 2016, and consisted of ten episodes. In November 2016, HBO renewed the show for a ten-episode second season.

The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who may indulge in whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts.

The series' debut on HBO garnered the network's highest viewership ratings for a premiere since the first episode of True Detective in 2014 and Westworld ranks as the most-watched first season of an HBO original series ever. Westworld has received largely positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for the visuals, story, and performances.


Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood were the first cast members formally announced, taking on the roles of Dr. Robert Ford and Dolores Abernathy, respectively. Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Angela Sarafyan, and Simon Quarterman were all announced as cast members in August 2014. James Marsden and Eddie Rouse were also added to the cast. It's the cast that really makes this series. I am totally enthralled with the roles that Anthony Hopkins (original creator of the park) and Ed Harris (mysterious man in black). I had never really took notice of actress Evan Rachel Wood either, but she is great in her role as one of the robots who grows a conscious.


The shows just finished it's 1st season, and even before the 2nd season debuts, I know it is premature in calling a series as a future classic, but Westworld really has everything it takes to be a classic. It's one of those shows that take a life of its own, much like the cowboy robots the show depicts. I would not miss this future classic..


Thursday, March 22, 2018

CELEBRITY ADS: HUMPHREY BOGART

In the ad below, I thought Humphrey Bogart was selling cigarettes, but he is actually selling a pocket pen! It's amazing that even in classic Hollywood, stars would lend their names to anything! This advertisement came from 1951...



Friday, March 16, 2018

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE - WEB EPISODE 5

Here is my 5th episode of my You Tube web series. This time around I spotlight the songs of the great Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. I hope you enjoy it, and please keep the requests and comments coming...


WHAT A CHARACTER: PAUL FORD

One of my favorite movie musicals growing up was 1962's The Music Man. The stars of the film of course were its stars Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, but an unexpected fun part of the film was any scene that character actor Paul Ford was in. He played the part of the town's clueless mayor. He attacked the role the way he did any of his other film work. Ford even made the smallest part a memorable part of any movie.

Ford was born Paul Ford Weaver in Baltimore, Maryland in 1901. His father was described as "a well-to-do businessman" who lost his fortune when his investment in a soft drink company failed. At an early age, he showed an adept talent for performance, but was discouraged when directors thought he was tone-deaf. After attending Dartmouth College for one year, Ford was a salesman before he became an entertainer.

He took his middle birth name, which was his mother's maiden name, as his stage last name. The change occurred after he failed an audition as Paul Weaver but was successful when he auditioned again as Paul Ford. In later years, Ford made his hollow, reverberating voice one of the most recognized of his era. His success was long in the making, and he did little acting, but instead raised his family during the Great Depression.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Public Works programs provided Ford with work, and to the day he died, he was a passionate Democrat. He first ventured into entertainment, however, in a puppet theater project that the Works Progress Administration sponsored. Years later, he said of that opportunity: "I got on the puppet project of the W.P.A. and helped write and put on shows for the Federal Theater. We did puppet shows at the World's Fair in 1939 and 1940, and 1 served as narrator, a kind of Hoosier cornball in beard."

Following his experience with puppets, Ford worked as an attendant at a gas station before turning to acting for a career. His first professional acting job was in an Off-Broadway production in 1939. In 1955, Ford played the bank president in the NBC comedy series Norby. He became an "overnight" success at age 54 when he played Colonel John T. Hall opposite Phil Silvers on Silvers' The Phil Silvers Show TV show (often known as Sergeant Bilko or just Bilko).


His signature role may well be the part of Mayor George Shinn, a befuddled politico in the film adaptation of the Broadway show The Music Man. Ford played the role straight and received glowing reviews. The other role he is most identified with is that of Horace Vandergelder opposite the Dolly Levi of Shirley Booth in the 1958 screen version of The Matchmaker. Ford had an active career in both films and television until his retirement in the early 1970s.

Despite being a respected Broadway character actor, Ford was notorious for being unable to remember his lines. This would alternately cause difficulty forcing him and those around him to improvise. This became especially notable on The Phil Silvers Show.

Most actors who worked with Ford claimed he was a kindly and very funny man. He was known for his quotes about the Depression in later years, including, "My kids used to think everyone lived on peanut butter sandwiches." His final role prior to his death was a Washington doctor in Richard. In 1976, Ford died of a heart attack at Nassau Hospital in Mineola, New York. He was 74. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, and two sons...