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.

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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.

 

 

Set your DVR for these Audrey Hepburn classics this month

Audrey Hepburn is the TCM Star of the Month…and I can’t even accurately express my excitement!

Every Monday during the month of June, TCM will air a block of Audrey Hepburn films. The lineup is a great mix of beloved favorites and rarely seen gems (War and Peace!). You’ll notice two films noticeably absent: Sabrina, Charade, and Two for the Road. Sabrina airs a lot on TCM so I’m okay with letting that one go and I feel like Charade is very well known due to the fact that it’s Audrey and Cary Grant but I will say I was bummed to see Two for the Road left out. The film is one of my favorites of her dramatic performances. Stanley Donen’s comedy/drama told in a nonlinear style is a vivid portrait of the ups and downs of a complex 12-year marriage. Audrey is beautiful and heartbreaking as Joanna Wallace. It’s a much different Audrey Hepburn than Princess Anne or Holly Golightly. This is a film that has grown on me over time and as I’ve gotten older myself. Anyway, TCM’s lineup is still great but if you’re interested in Audrey Hepburn, you should seek that one out as well.

As an Audrey Hepburn-phile, here are the films you should tune into during this special month that aren’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No offense to the film, it’s fun even though it’s problematic but Audrey was so much more than that. Really, you should just watch all of the films airing but if you can’t these are the ones you MUST NOT MISS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Go to Monte Carlo (1951, Dir. John Boyer, Lester Fuller)

In this British-French comedy, Audrey plays a spoiled actress in a small role. One of her meltdowns is hilarious. The movie as a whole isn’t the best but it’s a great glimpse at a star in the making. The film is rarely seen and very hard to track down. Audrey was only 22 and she speaks French in it. Thanks to TCM for finding it and airing it. Quite the feat!

We Go to Monte Carlo airs at 2:45 AM on June 6th

Roman Holiday (1954, Dir. William Wyler)

Audrey Hepburn had success on Broadway in Gigi and only a handful of bit parts in small European films but Roman Holiday would change her life forever. As Princess Anne, Audrey is gracious and ethereal, every bit the princess you’d expect her to be. She and Gregory Peck are magnetic. The film was a huge hit overseas and won her the Oscar for Best Actress.

Roman Holiday airs Monday, June 5th at 8 PM.

Love in the Afternoon (1957, Dir. Billy Wilder)

Love in the Afternoon gets a bad rep because it’s another film in which Audrey is paired with a love interest who is much older than her but here it’s an important plot point. Billy Wilder directed this charming tale about a playboy who falls in love with the daughter of a private investigator who has been hired to dig up dirt on him. The story sounds convoluted but it all works because when you have Billy Wilder and Audrey, what can go wrong?

Love in the Afternoon airs at 10:15 PM on June 5th.

Funny Face (1957, Dir. Stanley Donen)

Audrey, Fred Astaire, and Paris? A match made in heaven if you ask me. Audrey’s character Jo Stockton is one of my favorite performances. A hipster bookworm who is discovered as a model but would rather continue her life as an amateur philosopher. Shot on location in France, this film fills all my francophile sweet spots. The luscious photography, closeups of Audrey, and lovely musical numbers make it an ‘S’wonderful, s’marvelous’ watch.

Funny Face airs at 10 PM on June 26th.

The Nun’s Story (1959, Dir. Fred Zinneman)

After a number of ingenue roles, Audrey needed a film that would show the world she was much more than a fashion plate princess. The Nun’s Story was the answer. This film is a deeply moving story about a young nun who struggles with her life living with obedience to the church and her faith when she faces the horrors of WW II. Audrey’s performance as Sister Luke is a powerful mix of expressive work using just her face and an internal struggle to bring her character’s journey to the screen. It is fascinating portrait of the struggle of humanity and spirituality that is not to be missed.

The Nun’s Story airs at 1:30 AM on June 12th

War and Peace (1956, Dir. King Vidor)

This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel is the first and only time Audrey and husband, Mel Ferrer, share the screen. Admittedly, I’ve never cared for Ferrer much as an actor, he always came off as super bland to me but it’s nice to see him and Audrey onscreen together. The casting is a bit inspired in this picture with Henry Fonda portraying the Russian Pierre Bezhukov but under King Vidor’s direction it is a valiant effort at a period piece. Audrey is charming and radiant as Natasha. Her performance alone makes up for the short comings in this 3 and a 1/2 hour epic.

War and Peace airs at 2:15 AM on June 26th

How to Steal a Million (1966, Dir. William Wyler)

60s Audrey is one of my favorite Audreys. She could wear mod and couture like no one else and How to Steal a Million is a perfect fashion show but it’s also a highly enjoyable comedy with Peter O’Toole. Audrey reteams with director William Wyler for this witty comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum before anyone realizes it’s a fake made by her father. Audrey and O’Toole make a great pair oozing sophistication in ever frame. But they’re not just beautiful people parading around Paris, the film is a delightfully funny ride.

How to Steal a Million airs June 19th at 8 PM.

Paris When it Sizzles (1964, Dir. Richard Quine)

With a troubled production history and a script that goes off the rails many times, Paris When it Sizzles has gained a reputation as a cult favorite in recent years. This film should be so much better than it is when you’ve got Audrey, William Holden, and Paris but it requires the viewer to suspend disbelief and be prepared to go on a wild ride.Audrey and Bill still have the charming chemistry you saw in Sabrina and when the material calls for some outlandish moments, they go all in. With many tongue in cheek references and high profile cameos, the film is meant for you to have fun even if the people making it didn’t necessarily have a good time.

Paris When it Sizzles airs June 26th at 8 PM.

Wait Until Dark (1967, Dir. Terence Young)

If anyone tells you Audrey Hepburn isn’t a great actress after The Nun’s Story, show them Wait Until Dark. Audrey plays a blind woman who is terrorized by a group of thugs in search of a doll filled with heroin they believe is in her apartment, unbeknownst to her. Audrey received her fifth and final Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Susy Hendrix. Audrey attended a school for the blind to learn mannerisms and is very believable in the role. You sense her struggle and desperation. Alan Arkin is terrifying in his breakout performance. The film’s final act will have you on the edge of your seat.

Wait Until Dark airs June 19th at 10:15 PM.

Robin and Marian (1976, Dir. Richard Lester)

This is a different approach to telling the story of Robin Hood. Sean Connery and Audrey are the much older version of Robin and Marian in a subversive take on the tried and true tale. The result is a moving story of a man who knows he is aging but must fulfill his duties as a hero. Audrey came out of retirement to take the part. According to a biography, her sons begged her to take the part because they wanted her to work with James Bond. The film may not be one of the most exciting of the Robin Hood films, but with the work of Connery and Audrey it’s an exploration of heroism that will leave you inspired.

Robin and Marian airs June 27th at 6 AM.

Always (1989, Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Audrey makes her final film performance as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s Always. It’s a small role but more than appropriate for a legend who inspired us all. The film is a beautiful sendoff for a woman who gave us so much.

Always airs June 26th at 12 AM.

TCM will be livetweeting during the 8 PM hour every Monday in June. Join the conversation using the hashtag #LetsMovie.

TCM Backlot Guest Programmer Humberto Martinez gets ready for his closeup

Earlier this year, the TCM Backlot hosted its first ever TCM Backlot Guest Programmer contest where the winner would be flown to Turner Studios in Atlanta, Georgia to present a night of films alongside host Ben Mankiewicz. The lucky winner is a radiologist in South Florida whose warm personality and love of films makes you instantly feel like family. His name is Humberto Martinez.

TCM Backlot Guest Programmer winner Humberto at his home theater

As a fellow Backlot member, I entered the contest and in doing so, you can see each of the entries. I must admit that when I saw Humberto’s I immediately said, “that’s the guy who’s going to win.” I said that because Humberto is what makes and what we all love about TCM. Humberto is a classic movie fan with a passion and friendliness that radiates off the screen. I felt like I already knew him in that 90 second clip. He has this wonderful energy that made the clip so fun to watch. It turns out that Humberto is my neighbor. He doesn’t exactly live next door, but lives about ten minutes away from me so we were able to connect before his big TCM debut.

Humberto invited me to his home theater that he opens up to residents and his students every Friday. It’s his haven for his classic movie memorabilia but also the place for him to share his passion. When I arrived, he was standing at his door proudly wearing his TCM Backlot shirt and he told me quietly that whoever comes into his home must know that his home is their home and that hosting and talking about film is what he loves. That man in the Backlot video giddy discussing film is just as infectious in real life. Humberto took me to his home theater which is adorned with both classic and contemporary movie posters. Memorabilia including plates from Gone with the Wind and Casablanca are adorned throughout as well as a lot of Disney posters, pictures and figurines. Humberto was right, I felt at home.

Humberto filmed his TCM intros with Ben Mankiewicz on March 24th. He received a call from Yacov Freedman, the manager of the TCM Backlot club, that he had been a finalist. Shortly after Robert Osborne passed and Humberto believed the offer was over that there was no way TCM would be able to pull off the contest. This speaks to the professionalism of TCM. They knew they had a job to do and worked through their grief to select the winner of the contest. When Humberto found out he won, he couldn’t believe it.

He was flown to Atlanta, Georgia like a star. The morning he arrived at TCM, he was handled like a VIP getting wardrobe and makeup treatment. He tells me he got goosebumps sitting in the chair when his makeup was getting done because he was in the same room used by Robert Osborne during his tenure. When he arrived on set, he felt the warmth of the studio lights and there it was, the TCM set right in front of him. Everyone on the set was as lovely and friendly as he imagined. But what he didn’t imagine was that he would be assigned a person who would fill his cup for him with whatever drink he wanted during the duration of the shoot. So that’s what life is like on the other side of showbiz?

Humberto called the shoot an “out of body experience.” The day after he thought he dreamed the whole thing because it was an experience that exceeded his expectations. It almost didn’t happen as smoothly. The night before he had an allergy attack due to the feather pillows in his hotel room. He says you’ll notice he has a coarse to his voice during his introductions and promises he sounds much better in real life. And I can attest to that too. He considers himself very lucky to have been given this opportunity and wishes every fan can have the chance.

Catch Humberto Martinez’s Guest Programmer night Wednesday, May 24th on TCM beginning with Pal Joey at 8:00 PM followed by The Eddie Duchin Story and Bye, Bye Birdie.