A tale of two Ritas

Rita Hayworth and Rita Moreno are two of the most popular actresses of the classic Hollywood era but while one is celebrated for being a Hispanic trailblazer, the other had that chance taken away from her in the United States. Rita Hayworth’s Spanish roots are now discussed as a piece of trivia in her life and as a horrifying reminder of whitewashing in Hollywood. When Moreno arrived in Hollywood, she came as Rosa Moreno and has said she was heavily influenced by Hayworth. Hayworth’s paternal uncle actually coached Moreno in dance and Rosa ended up changing her name to Rita in her honor.

Rita Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York as Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her parents were both dancers. Her father, a renowned classical Spanish dancer, wanted Rita to follow in the family’s dancing footsteps. She eventually became a part of his act and they made their way to Hollywood. Rita was noticed by the head of Fox Film Corporation and he ended up signing her to a short contract. Because of her, what they called “exotic and dark” features, she was reduced to playing “foreigner” roles such as an Egyptian and Russian under the name Rita Cansino. Her time at FOX was underwhelming as the roles for foreigners and dancers were few and far between, she was dropped but then Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures signed her to a seven year contract. Believing there were not many roles for “exotic foreigners” at his studio either, Cohn had Rita Cansino’s name changed to Rita Hayworth to amplify her mother’s American roots. If that wasn’t enough, the studio had her hair dyed red and she underwent a painful electrolysis procedure to raise her hairline. Rita Hayworth was born. With her Spanish features all but gone from her looks, she appeared in eight films in 1937. The general public began to notice and fan mail poured in. She continued to work steadily which led to a breakout role in the film Blood and Sand for 20th Century Fox, the same studio that dropped her. In a cruel twist of irony, she portrayed a Spanish woman in the film named Doña Sol des Muire. But this character was (surprise surprise) a sultry temptress! It was the first of many screen sirens she would portray during her career.

ritahayworth_colorHayworth had a long and prosperous career in Hollywood. She was so popular that a photo of her was one of the top two pin-ups requested by GI’s in World War II. Hayworth even served as the cultural ambassador to Brazil for President Roosevelt under the Good Neighbor Policy. Although Hollywood whitewashed Rita, there are elements of Rita Cansino you can pick up on when you watch her films knowing her background. In a film like Gilda, her dancing scenes in the nightclub showcase her roots as a dancer and commanding of the crowd. Then comes The Loves of Carmen. This film is close to the Rita that came to Hollywood more than any other character she portrayed. In this retelling of the opera Carmen, she portrays a gypsy in Spain and performs classical Spanish dances, the kind she grew up with. Watching this film, it’s hard not to be heartbroken by thinking of what may have gone on in her mind as she performs dances she used to but now as woman with an image that was completely overhauled by Hollywood. The studio may have whitewashed her looks but they couldn’t take those pieces of her Spanish identity.

I often wonder how frustrated she must have felt in films where she did play a Hispanic woman such as Blood and Sand, Carmen, and You Were Never Lovelier. Many of these parts, save for Carmen, were just beautiful women that didn’t have much to do aside from dance, seduce and smile. They also had heavy American overtones to them. She wasn’t given the opportunity to showcase the character’s dimensions and Spanish backgrounds as she should have been. It wouldn’t be until Rita Moreno’s Anita in 1961’s West Side Story that audiences would finally see a fully realized Latinx character, this time of Puerto Rican descent.

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As Anita, Moreno brings to life a character who is loyal, hard working and fierce. During her solo America, we learn more about her struggle with leaving behind her home country, making it in the United States, and her dual identity. This song does so much for progress and representation that it still packs a punch today and is still very much relevant. Moreno won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita beating out the tough competition of Hollywood icons such as Judy Garland in Judgment at Nuremberg.  Progress was made that night as Moreno became the first Latinx actress to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was quite the achievement but was this lauded in the papers the next day? Nope. To make matters worse, Moreno continued to be offered stereotypical ethnic roles after her groundbreaking achievement. She wouldn’t work again until seven years later! Even before Anita, she was playing the roles that Rita Hayworth was being offered before her whitewashing including the slave girl Tuptim in The King and I and what she herself called “conchita” roles in westerns and other pictures.

After her self imposed exile from film, she found work on television and expanded to theatre where the roles were richer. This would lead to her winning the EGOT in the shortest amount of time of any performer. Moreno continues to be challenged in a wide range of roles to this day. Last year, she starred as the matriarch of a Cuban family in a reboot of One Day at a Time on Netflix. At 85, there is nothing stopping her.

But the stories of these Ritas are still very similar to the kind of struggles Latinx performers face today. Look at Lin-Manuel Miranda for example. He has made a name for himself on Broadway but he had to write those roles himself, those weren’t coming his way. When was the last time you saw a Latinx actress portray the starring role in a film? Bonus, when was the last time you saw a Latinx actress portray something other than a maid or a sexpot? The careers of Rita Hayworth and Rita Moreno should be celebrated but if you look deeper, they serve as a cautionary tale that Hollywood still needs to do better when it comes to Latinx representation on the big screen.

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Why Ricky Ricardo was more groundbreaking than you remember

ilovelucy_lucydesiIt’s hard to imagine since it’s been in the public conscience for decades but this year, I Love Lucy will celebrate 66 years! It’s an incredible milestone for a show that hasn’t been off the air since it went on the air in October of 1951.

I Love Lucy is remembered and celebrated for its hilarious comedy and the standout performance of Lucille Ball but looking back on the show, it’s amazing to see just how groundbreaking it was. We take for granted the couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz because of all that we know about them but for audiences in 1951 seeing a Caucasian woman married to a Cuban man was really a sight that wasn’t all that common and at worst, not easily accepted.

Arnaz and Ball were very vocal about this during the production of the series and in retrospectives. The story goes that Ball wanted Arnaz to play her husband on the show but studio execs said no because no one would buy that the two would be married because of their differences but the duo fought back pointing out that they had already been married for 13 years!

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Beyond the interracial relationship, one can not deny what Ricky Ricardo means to Hispanic and Latino culture. It’s easy to point the finger at his broken English to say Ricardo was a stereotype but in actuality, he was a more groundbreaking character than you think. Ricardo was a loving husband and father, he spoke Spanish, English, and even though his Spanglish was a point of comedy on the show, nobody made a big deal about Ricardo being Cuban. It was accepted and appreciated. He’s one of the most positive representations of a Latino character we’ve ever seen on television.

For starters, in the Ricardo household, Ricky was the breadwinner with a successful nightclub act. At his job, he was a leader and we see that in many episodes where he interacts with his band and the club manager. In his nightclub act, he was always pushing the envelope infusing Spanish music, dance and costumes. Later on in the series, Ricardo took full control by opening up his own club, Club Babalu, referencing his most famous song.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated on I Love Lucy is how they dealt with the cultural differences between Lucy and Ricky in a way that was relatable. In the episode ‘Be a Pal’, Lucy thinks Ricky is losing interest in her and tries several methods to win back his affection. With the help of Ethel, she tries to transform their home into Cuba or what she thinks is Cuba by going out and buying a bunch of things she believes will remind him of his childhood home. She takes it up a notch even further by dressing up as Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda. The situation she gets herself into is even more hilarious when you see that the only things she could find were what America in the 50’s and even now thinks is Spanish when it’s actually more of a Mexican influence: donkeys, ponchos, chickens and fruit. Then she sings a song in Portuguese but she thinks it’s Spanish. All of this makes Ricardo’s reaction even funnier because he’s so lost in the situation. None of this is anything like what he grew up with. It’s a very American situation that displays the lack of cultural knowledge, but Ricardo reminds her of his love for her, that he’s happy in America just the way things are and tops it off with a sweet kiss.

Ricardo’s English is always a source of comedy on the show, and there are moments on the show where Lucy tries her hardest to communicate with Latino characters specifically Ricky’s mother and other members of his family. Arnaz was committed to pointing out multiculturalism in the United States and worked with the writers to address that. One of my favorite moments of the series is when Ricardo reads a bedtime story to his son, little Ricky. There are two things at play here. One, we see a Latino character caught between two worlds trying to tell a bedtime story to his son who will grow up to be bilingual. Two, we see a Latino character as a devoted father when often times society tells us that isn’t the case. The touching and hilarious moment below:

I love the episodes where we meet Ricky’s family most notably when Ricky’s mother visits New York and ‘The Ricardos visit Cuba.’ The episodes showed the audience his relationships with his mother and uncle. For a 30-minute situation comedy in the 50s it’s easy to skim through them but as I revisit these episodes, I see the added depth these relationships had on Ricardo as a character. Ricardo, like Arnaz, never forget where he came from and was always committed to being the best he could be in America, the place that gave him a shot. That was something very important to Arnaz that he spoke about often. In this moving clip from Ed Sullivan’s ‘Toast of the Town,’ he describes this transition giving a deeper insight into his legacy.

Desi Arnaz was a television pioneer whose commitment to the industry is still thriving. If it wasn’t for Desi Arnaz, you wouldn’t have reruns, tv shows wouldn’t be shot with multiple cameras, writers wouldn’t be acknowledge at the Emmy awards, the list goes on but never forget his acting and what he brought to American audiences when it comes to Latino representation.

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Summer of Tone: The great Franchot Tone binge-watch

Every year when fall comes around, I always ask where did the year go? For me, this year is a little different. It’s been a whirlwind! I moved and started a brand new job three months ago and I’ve had a hard time catching up ever since. Sorry blog readers! (All two of you! :P) But I have had a productive summer in another arena, I watched A LOT of Franchot Tone movies.

This summer was meant to be the “Summer of Bette and Joan.” I was intrigued to watch more of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s films after the You Must Remember This series on Crawford and the public’s newfound fascination with Davis and Crawford thanks to the FX miniseries Feud. I only caught half of the episodes of Feud but unfortunately, didn’t get to finish it. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. I just didn’t find it gripping and felt it was more caricature than introspective study on these women and the double standards of Hollywood. A friend of mine lent me a copy of the book The Divine Feud which is one of the source materials for the miniseries and one thing struck me was learning that Franchot Tone may have been the catalyst for one of the most iconic rivalries in cinema history. Franchot Tone. This guy:

It makes sense! Look at that classy gentleman! Legend has it that Davis fell in love with Tone on the set of Dangerous but he was engaged to Crawford at the time setting off this most famous feud. Of Tone, Davis wrote in her autobiography, “I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately, everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.” When it comes to Davis’ lovers, Tone is way more dashing than that dog Gary Merrill. Crawford and Tone were only married for 4 years but if you do a Google image search, JoanTone was one of Classic Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. They apparently became better friends after the divorce and Crawford took care of Tone during the final months of his life. It’s quite a sweet story in the end despite their differences.

Tone was actually a discovery for me earlier this year when Clark Gable was Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies. I saw him in Dancing Lady and was smitten with his sophisticated charm. I actually didn’t put two and two together that he portrayed Archie Taylor, the wealthy man who bets another man to keep quiet for a year for $500,00, in a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone. I binge-watched the entire Twilight Zone series in January so it was only a matter of time that I would fall into a rabbit hole of Franchot Tone.

Tone is an interesting actor whose name isn’t as recognized as it should be in the canon of Classic Hollywood. His wealthy background served him well in his roles as he was often cast as the rich guy who wooed women. During this great binge-watch, I noticed a pattern in his films: he turns up the charm to our heroine, she resists him because she can’t be bought, and in the end he either does a caddish thing and gets rejected or is a wealthy man with heart of gold who proves himself and gets the girl. This was true in many of his MGM films but these were rather limiting of his talents. I’m so glad I didn’t write Mr. Tone off because I discovered this man possessed a wide range that didn’t get the opportunities it should have. Tone was a trained theater actor who was part of an elite, groundbreaking group of performers in his home state of New York before coming to Hollywood.

Here’s the list of films I watched:

Dangerous                                       Reckless

Today We Live                                Bombshell

Mutiny on The Bounty                The Unguarded Hour

Advise and Consent                     The King Steps Out   

Uncle Vayna                                    Between Two Women

Exclusive Story                               The Girl Downstairs

Gentlemen are Born                     The Wife Takes a Flyer

The Girl From Missouri                 Pilot #5

Suzy                                                     Honeymoon

The Bride Wore Red                    Quality Street

Fast and Furious                        Love on the Run

But wait! There’s more! The great Franchot Tone binge-watch didn’t end with 22 films. I even watched a tv movie he did where he starred as Natalie Wood’s father, Too Old for Dolls, and his Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode that pairs him with Mary Astor. It was a lot of Tone. It helped that Tone was one of the stars honored during Summer Under the Stars so I had access to many of the film mentioned above but then I found other films of his during other Summer Under the Stars days, Warner Archive and two Tone films aired last week on TCM.

It was great to have so many resources at my disposal but I almost wish I didn’t watch them all so quickly because now, I don’t have that many left! Towards the end it felt more like a weird obsession where perfect Franchot Tone was following me and appearing in my thoughts! Actually, why am I complaining? He’s wonderful.

Tone has a very different look compared to his contemporaries. He does look like a member of NY’s elite and it’s striking compared to the Clark Gable’s and Robert Young’s of his era. I just wish his characters had more meat on them like William Powell’s. He got to shine and was recognized by the Academy with an Oscar nomination as the idealistic Ensign Byam in Mutiny On the Bounty where he got a meatier role to showcase a character’s moral struggle. At the time of this Oscar ceremony, Best Supporting Actor wasn’t a category yet and some historians credit Tone as being a catalyst for it saying he would have won if the Best Actor field hadn’t been crowded with his Bounty co-stars Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. Even if he didn’t get the biggest parts in his pictures, I will say this, for every “lousy” character Tone played, he made the most of them and brought a natural quality that made him stand out. When you go away from the rich playboy roles and into roles like the poor mailman in The Bride Wore Red, a doctor in Between Two Women, and a devoted member of the military in Pilot #5, he’s able to unfold a lot more layers to these men even if the material he was given didn’t show it on the page. In the comedies Fast and Furious, Honeymoon, and The Girl Downstairs, Tone is able to let loose and a lot of that comes through in his face. He makes so many great faces in comedies that fuses through in his body language, I think he would have done well in a screwball.

In his later years, hard drinking and an infamous, near fatal fist fight hardened his looks but he was able to use that in his performances. One of my favorites is as the aging president in Advise and Consent. On his Summer Under the Stars day, TCM aired the rarely seen adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Here, all that theater training shines through in a production that was a labor of love for Tone who not only acted in it but co-produced and co-directed. The film has the pace of a play with a lot of dialogue that feels slow moving at times but it’s one you have to stick with because it feels as close to seeing Tone on the stage and the results are worth it.

If you look at Tone’s body of work in the 30’s, he worked with every great leading actress in the era from Davis, Crawford, Jean Harlow, Myrna Low, Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell, Maureen O’Sullivan and Ann Sothern. Of all his collaborations, I love his films with Jean Harlow best. He made four with her: Bombshell, Reckless, The Girl from Missouri and Suzy. The two were gorgeous together, had excellent chemistry and matched wits. Whereas in some of the films of JoanTone, Crawford’s characters steamroll over him because of the way they were written which was the case for many of her films. But in the JoanTone films, it’s sweet to see their offscreen love come through. I’d even say the same for Dangerous. There are scenes in that where you can sense Davis was smitten with her costar especially in this scene where they’re playing cards.

As the summer of Tone comes to an end, I’m hoping to visit his roles in Phantom Lady and Five Graves to Cairo, and if you have any suggestions on films I should watch or revisit, let me know in the comments. Tone has a body of work with a wide range of characters and films. His television work is also great and it’s impressive that he was still a working actor in some fashion up until the decline of his health. Not that many stars were primed to survive the 30s era or even television so the fact that Tone was able to take chances and get a new life as a character actor speaks to his talent. While it rouses our interest to read the salacious stories, Tone should be remembered for his work but the fact that two of the most gorgeous and powerful women ever in Hollywood fell for his charms tells us Tone definitely had a lot going for him.

Me and Miss. Jones: My favorite performances of TCM’s Star of the Month

I’ve written often on this blog and on Twitter about my love for actress Jennifer Jones. This month TCM is honoring her as their “Star of the Month” for the first time in the channel’s 23 year history. I couldn’t be more excited! Jones is one of those actresses who has unfortunately been forgotten or not as celebrated as others. This could be due to her reclusive nature. Jones rarely gave interviews and made very few public appearances.  Unfortunately her turbulent private life and love life have gained more attention than her work which is sad because to me, she’s a very interesting and unique actress. She played a lot of ethereal characters but the humanity she brought to them made them more than what some would consider a “manic pixie dream girl.”

I first became fascinated by her in the film “Since You Went Away” very early on in my classic Hollywood fandom. “Since You Went Away” is one of my all time favorites. It’s a beautiful wartime drama about a family on the home front during WWII. Jones plays the teenage daughter of Claudette Colbert who is in love with a soldier (played by real life husband at the time Robert Walker). I was taken with not only how beautiful she was but also the childlike vulnerability underneath. Jones portrayed a myriad of characters from saints to sinners, a wretched, dependent housewife or an independent doctor, and she was convincing in all of them. Unfortunately, because of her dark brown hair and unique features, she was called upon to play ethnic roles most notably as a “half-breed” in “Duel in the Sun,” a half Cuban in “We Were Strangers,” and a half Asian/half European in “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.” It’s outrageous and in each of these films her character experiences racism yet Jones was able to showcase their dignity and humanity.

I’m excited TCM is airing some of her harder to find on television titles such as “Ruby Gentry,” “We Were Strangers,” “Good Morning Miss. Dove” and “Tender is the Night,” these are all films I haven’t seen but I’m bummed “Carrie” isn’t on the list. It’s an underrated film pairing Jones with Laurence Olivier. If you ever happen to run into it, definitely pick it up and give it a watch.

Here’s my list of films you shouldn’t miss during the celebration of Jennifer Jones.

“The Song of Bernadette” (Dir. Henry King, 1943)

In her first starring role, Jones is Bernadette Soubirous, in this moving tale of unrelenting faith. Jones’ performance is silently powerful as the young French peasant girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Don’t let the religious theme or the film’s nearly 3 hour running time hinder you, what this film ultimately boils down to is the universal theme of sticking to your beliefs. Jones is so good in this film in a role that is a lot more complicated than one might think. Legend has it that Henry King himself directed the screen tests and instructed actresses to look beyond the camera at a shining light. He said he knew Jones was his Bernadette because “she didn’t just look – she saw.” This was the first of several collaborations and I believe Jones was at her best under his direction.

“The Song of Bernadette” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET

“Since You Went Away” (Dir. John Cromwell, 1944)

I mentioned this film above but I believe it’s one of the best films about war and its impact on families at home Hollywood has ever produced. The all star cast is stellar and its themes are relatable even today.

“Since You Went Away” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 5:30 a.m. ET

“Duel in the Sun” (Dir. King Vidor, 1946)

David O. Selznick’s attempt at making another Gone With The Wind doesn’t come close but this seductive western is a relic worth watching. Nicknamed “lust in the dust” by the censors and media for its frank portrayal of sex, the film’s overblown production history has overshadowed this film. I think Jones does a good job as the sensuous Pearl, a woman who wants to be a “good girl” but can’t shake the temptation of her vices. The film features in all star cast including Gregory Peck, who is loathsome as a villain, Joseph Cotten who plays his brother, Lillian Gish, Charles Bickford, Lionel Barrymore and Butterfly McQueen. A head’s up that this film is an unapologetic product of its time. It’s definitely something.

“Duel in the Sun” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 3:00 a.m. ET

 

“Love Letters” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1945)

“Love Letters” reunites Jones with Joseph Cotten who appeared in “Duel in the Sun” and “Since You Went Away” with her. The duo made four films together and she considered him one of her favorite costars. I always enjoyed the camaraderie between these two. Jones plays an amnesiac victim with two personalities who Cotten falls for. She pulls of this dual role with dream like fragility that would serve her well in when she re-teamed with Cotten and director William Dieterle for “Portrait of Jennie.”

“Love Letters” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 11:00 p.m. ET

“Portrait of Jennie” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1948)

“Portrait of Jennie” is one of the most unique films to come out of the studio era. This fantasy romance has Cotten playing a struggling artist and Jones as Jennie, a sweet and mysterious woman who inspires his work. I won’t give up too many details because I’m afraid to spoil the film but I will say it’s unlike any of the classic Hollywood films of its time.

“Portrait of Jennie” airs Tuesday, September 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET

“Cluny Brown” (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)

Jones didn’t have many opportunities for comedy, this and “Beat the Devil” are her only comedy films and it’s a shame because she had chops. In this unnderrated Ernst Lubistch film,  she’s irresistible as a naive maid who’d rather follow in her uncle’s footsteps and become a plumber. Charles Boyer lays on his usual charm as a Czech writer who falls for her. The film also features a young Peter Lawford in an early role. It’s a sweet comedy that will make you wish Jones made more of them.

“Cluny Brown” airs Tuesday, September 6 at 1:00 a.m. ET

“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (Dir. Henry King, 1955)

Based on the true story of a Eurasian doctor who falls in love with an American war correspondent in Hong Kong, Jones and William Holden heat up the screen in this Cinemascope production. This is a flawed film with a script that has dialogue that makes me shake my head and Jones playing a half-Asian but I love this movie. I really buy the chemistry between the two leads and Jones looks so beautiful in gorgeous Chinese dresses. The film is groundbreaking because it was shot on location and also featured many Chinese actors except for Miss. Jones so I want to give credit where it’s due there and I must say the cinematography is breathtaking. The film also featured the popular title song “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” that won an Oscar.

“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” airs Tuesday, September 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET

I’m so excited for Jennifer Jones month on TCM. Unfortunately I work nights so I won’t be able to see as many of the films featured in real time but I will be tweeting as often as I can so join the conversation and let’s celebrate all things Jennifer Jones.

 

 

Thanks for the memories, Great Movie Ride

Last month Disney’s iconic Great Movie Ride attraction closed its doors for good. The Great Movie Ride was the last original attraction from the opening day of what was then known as Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989. In 2014, the ride was given an upgrade when it partnered with Turner Classic Movies. The ride was refurbished with the addition of Robert Osborne as a narrator and an updated ending montage. The TCM Backlot organized a special goodbye celebration with Disney’s fan group, D23 the day before the ride bid farewell. I was one of the lucky few that was able to attend the event (I was told the registration for the event filled up within seconds, I still can’t believe I got in) and it was only fitting that my plus one be my mother. I loved being able to share this experience with her because it brought me back to my childhood. I must admit it was a lot more emotional than I expected because sitting with her felt like I was transported to the late 90s at the peak of my classic movie adolescence obsession.

When it was announced that Disney was closing it to make room for a Mickey and Minnie-themed attraction, I was devastated. It sounds dramatic but it’s honestly true. I grew up in Orlando and yes, I used to go to Disney World all the time. My dad worked there for over a decade so I’ve experienced countless birthdays, character breakfasts, you name it. My mother even tells the joke that at one point when she asked me if I wanted to go to Disney I once said, “again?” in an exasperated tone. Growing up as an awkward classic movie fan, The Great Movie Ride was my place. It was the ride I always looked forward to and I would drag my parents to take me on it every time.

Being on The Great Movie Ride felt like you were in a classic movie. I felt like one of those small town girls who go to Hollywood and sees the bright lights of tinsel town as their dreams of stardom occupy their thoughts. From putting my handprints on Audrey Hepburn’s in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater facade to walking into the building and waiting in the queue looking at memorabilia worn by iconic stars, Disney created a tribute to the Hollywood dream factory. I was already a big classic movie fan before I road the ride but the Great Movie Ride’s trailers before the attraction and montage at the end introduced me to films and actors I love ’til this day. This was more than just a theme park ride. This deepened my life long love affair with film.

What I didn’t realize about the Great Movie Ride was that it was inspiring me to learn more about these films and the people who made them come to life. There was also a camaraderie created by the ride host that made it a communal experience. If you stopped and looked around, you could see people being moved by seeing the clips of the films and parents telling their kids about the movie on the screen that they saw “in the good old days.” For someone who felt alone liking these movies at a young age, this showed me a community I didn’t know existed.

We arrived at 7 am for the event to check in. It was so early and before the park opened but excitement filled the air. There were people in custom made Great Movie Ride shirts, people dressed in vintage clothing, some Backlot t-shirts and even a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. When we all huddled in the forecourt of the theater, we were greeted by two imagineers who were instrumental in bringing this ride to life. They then led us on a guided walking tour where we could see just how detailed the ride was and get an up close look at the animatronics.

During the tour I gained a much deeper appreciation for the ride in particular the gangster and Alien sets. These were always my favorites because they were so immersive but being able to walk inside them I got to see so many details like a pair of heels, just what was written on the headlines of the newspapers on the floor and the detailing of the Ripley animatronic. When we got to the gangster set, one of the imagineers who started his Disney career as a Great Movie Ride tour guide recreated the gangster part and still had the dialogue memorized. It was a real treat! After our walking tour we got to ride the ride for one last time. When the tour guide gave his final spiel and said goodbye, there was a long thunderous applause. It was really special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ride, we were treated to a brunch and Q&A session with the imagineers. I asked them what it was like working with Robert Osborne and why they thought that was a good fit for the ride. These two men didn’t actually work with him the day they shot his intros and recorded his track but they did tell me that adding him gave the ride the emotional component they felt it was missing. They elaborated saying that films are passed on either generationally or from a friend and having Robert there was like seeing a friend because he’s not just an icon when it comes to classic movies but an ambassador of the art. It’s his familiar face that reminds viewers of that uncle they watched movies with or that friend who gave you the copy of The Wizard of Oz. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t hear about the day of the shoot but I got a tap on the shoulder after the question was asked and it was from Michael Roddy, the Show Director for creative entertainment at Disney World. He told me that he was the one who directed Robert that day and actually wrote his scripts. Michael said Robert could not have been nicer and was so enthusiastic during the shoot. He added that you could just tell how much he loved movies and that he took the time to talk to everyone involved in the small shoot from the camera man to the person giving him water. When one of the TCM staffers gave a toast before the brunch, she told us Robert really loved being a part of the ride adding he was really thrilled and honored TCM collaborated with Disney for it.

I have to say the brunch was very bittersweet. It was then that it hit me that I was never going to see animatronic Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart again, never mouth the words “we had faces” when Gloria Swanson says them in the montage and feeling heart eyes at seeing William Holden sitting next to her, I was never going to wonder if we were going to get the gangster or the cowboy as our tour guide because The Great Movie Ride is no more. I’ll miss what The Great Movie Ride did for me and how it inspired countless other filmgoers but I will cherish these memories and share them in hopes that it will inspire a love of the classics for others like Disney did to me.

TCM turns the spotlight on Gay Hollywood during Pride Month

I’ve always considered TCM my film school and I know so many others who didn’t go to traditional film school feel the same way. Within the last few years I’ve seen TCM go even further in their commitment to educating their audience by giving diverse voices a place to speak.  We’ve grown as a society and the network has been very good at reflecting that, so I was thrilled to see TCM spotlighting important queer filmmakers and films during the month of June, Pride Month. The spotlight on Classic Hollywood’s LGBTQ community couldn’t have come at a better time since Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, the first for a film that features a gay lead.

Dave Karger and William Mann courtesy of TCM Public Relations

Gay Hollywood’s history has largely been hidden just like it was for the time these filmmakers, stars and creatives worked. Former Entertainment Weekly columnist and Oscar historian Dave Karger, who is always a wonderful guest host, is joined by William Mann, author of Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, and Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. Karger was kind enough to answer a few questions about the film series which concludes Thursday, June 29th.

1. I’m a very proud of TCM for spotlighting the gay community’s contributions to Classic Hollywood. As the host, why do you feel it is important to bring these actors and creatives’ stories to light?

I’m proud of TCM too! And I’m so happy to be a part of this series. I think it’s important because for decades, gay men and lesbians in Hollywood weren’t able to live truthfully for fear of being discriminated against, losing their audience, or violating the Hays Code. This TCM Spotlight allows us to recognize the achievements of the gay community in the film industry starting as long as 85 years ago.

2. This year’s Oscar for Best Picture Moonlight made history becoming the first LGBT film to win, which just goes to show how long this road has been for representation of the gay community on film. What movies from the classic era do you think helped lay the groundwork for stories like this one to be told?
Obviously, movies like Midnight Cowboy, Boys Don’t Cry, and Brokeback Mountain, all of which won major Academy Awards, furthered the cause. But I would also single out Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, a film that brought to life the black lesbian experience two decades ago.
3. What is the earliest instance of a gay character on film?
If you go all the way back to 1895 you can see two men dancing quite intimately in The Dixon Experimental Sound Film. But it’s only through 21st Century eyes that we would perceive them as gay.

Director George Cukor with the cast of his film, The Women

4. Gay rights has advanced a lot in the past few decades and some people might not realize just how difficult it was for LGBT people to live authentically. Aside from the gay stories happening on screen, what were some of the challenges gay filmmakers faced in real life in the studio era?
Earlier this month we featured the gay actor William Haines, who was a big star in the ‘20s and ‘30s but refused to play the Hollywood game and date women. Eventually studio head Louis B. Mayer issued an ultimatum and told him to deny his sexuality or lose his job at the studio. So his homosexuality essentially ended his film career.
5. What obstacles do you still see for gay filmmakers or stories about LGBT people today?
I still think we have to ground to make up when it comes to the major studio system. Too often gay characters are comedic sidekicks or even villains. I’d love to see more big-studio films feature gay characters in lead roles with complex storylines.
6. What is the one thing you hope viewers take away from this series that’s still applicable in the 21st century?
I would love for people to be inspired by the courage and artistry of the gay men and lesbians that we’re featuring. While they might not have been “out” publicly in the sense that we understand today, they still lived with some level of authenticity and contributed immensely to the film industry in lasting ways.
7. During your research, who’s story inspired you most on a personal level?
I was very moved by the story of Montgomery Clift, particularly around the filming of Suddenly Last Summer which we’re airing this week. This was after his horrible car accident and during a time when he was abusing alcohol which negatively affected his performance on the set. But both Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn supported him on set and helped him through such a difficult time. Clearly, Clift had a good heart despite his addictions.
8. For viewers who want to learn more about these stories, what books or documentaries would you recommend for further education?
Everyone should see the fantastic documentary The Celluloid Closet which is the ultimate primer on Gay Hollywood. And my guest for the series, William J. Mann, has written several fascinating books including Behind The Screen and the William Haines biography Wisecracker.
Many thanks to Dave and TCM for taking the time to chat with me and for hosting such a valuable and eye opening series.

Fashion made in heaven: The legacy of Audrey Hepburn and the skinny black pant

Like peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper, Audrey Hepburn and the little black dress are synonymous with each other. As much as I love her iconic look in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or her playful black dress with matching “cat” cap in Sabrina, where’s the love for the skinny black pant? When Audrey Hepburn burst into stardom, she didn’t look like any of her contemporaries. Curvy Marilyn Monroe dominated the screen and Sophia Loren was captivating post-WWII audiences. When waif Audrey showed up, Billy Wilder famously said, “This girl, singlehandedly, may make bosoms a thing of the past.”

Wilder’s first collaboration with Hepburn was on the film Sabrina. Sabrina is also significant as it was the first time Audrey was dressed by her long-time collaborator, designer Hubert de Givenchy. What Givenchy did in Sabrina, that Roman Holiday did not was give Audrey clothes that showcased her slender figure. One of the standout looks is the all black outfit seen below. Givenchy paired a chic pair of cropped black trousers with a long sleeve deep V neck in the back shirt to create a sophisticated look that took Sabrina Fairchild from a naive chauffeur’s daughter to a woman taking charge of her own destiny.

Ahepburn_sabrina

A similar look created by Givenchy three years later in Funny Face would eclipse her status as a fashion icon. It’s a look that’s still duplicated in popular culture just as much as the little black dress.

As Jo Stockton, Audrey wears this all black ensemble in the beatnik dance scene. Because she was going to have to dance, it was designed with movement in mind. In this scene, Jo is at her most carefree. Here in the club, she’s surrounded by her people: intellectual equals and hipsters. These are the ones she believes she belongs to and with.

audreyheoburn_funnyface

The all black look has taken on a life of its own. It’s timeless, elegant, and fun. Even if Audrey is dressed in all black, her spirit in that moment in the film is welcoming and infectious. You want whatever it is that she’s having that allows her to enjoy life through dance.

And it’s a look that’s often imitated. Everyone who pays an homage to Audrey is influenced by her but is never trying to take her place. No better place is this look seen than in the music video.

In Whitney Houston’s video “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” the legendary singer travels through time paying tribute to her biggest influences. In one scene, she visits Funny Face‘s Parisian nightclub and recreates the dance from the film. Houston is so adorable in this. She has the charm once possessed by Audrey and you can tell she was having just as much fun as the people who made Funny Face.

In 2011, Beyonce wore the all black ensemble for her video “Countdown.” Unlike “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” in Beyonce’s video she wears the luck and performs similar choreography instead of recreating most of the scene. Beyonce brings Audrey into the 2010’s with dancers of this era infuses classic moves with a contemporary flair. What I love about both videos so much is that women of color are showcasing Audrey’s style. Audrey’s style was accessible to everyone. Givenchy set out to create a look that would showcase Audrey’s figure and the same thing is done for both women above. For Beyonce, it’s even more special as she was pregnant at the time with her daughter Blue Ivy Carter. This outfit shows the world that pregnant women like Beyonce can still go out there, do it all, and look classic and beautiful in the process. The all black look evolved to become a celebration of the body, in all its forms.

Then three years later, Taylor Swift channeled Audrey for her video “Shake if Off.” Like Houston and Beyonce before her, Swift’s video is filled with references to different dance styles from ballet to hip hop. In a moment where she is the lead singer of her band letting loose, she wears the all black number. Instead of loafers, she changes things up with pointed black ballet flats with a leopard printbringing Audrey in front of a new audience yet again. This look isn’t showcased as much as the others so you might blink and miss it or not make the connection but having seen Funny Face countless times and other pop culture influences before it, one knows what it means and gets the idea. Like Jo Stockton in the club, Swift’s song pairs very well with the idea of enjoying and expressing yourself in life on your own terms as Jo did in Paris.

The original, often imitated never duplicated Funny Face airs Monday, June 26th at 10 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies. As a cultural touchstone, I know this look has appeared in many other places, what are some of your favorite homages to Jo Stockton? Share in the comments below. For now, I’ll leave you with Gap’s 2006 commercial used to sell the skinny black pant. I think it’s so much fun and it was made with approval from Audrey’s son, Sean Ferrer.