Friday, July 30, 2010

Booking 'em Again!

One of my earliest posts here had to do with books and my love of almost all showbiz related ones. (If you click on Suzanne Somers’ name in the column to the right, it will take you to that blurb.) I can’t resist picking up rare or strange hard or paperbacks that have some sort of Hollywood information or tie-in, even though I have no room for all of them! For intance, did you know that the infamous 9 1/2 Weeks was based on a 1978 novel? I thought I was bad until a friend of mine introduced me to one of his friends who has turned his entire basement into a wall-to-wall, stacked to the ceiling pop culture library with copies of practically every TV and movie related book ever published! I was strangely awed, somewhat appalled and yet jealous of this eye-popping collection. Sometimes when I’m out and see something odd, I’ll say, “I need to by this so that X can’t get it first!” LOL

I always have several books going at once. My pool book, as I mentioned a few posts back is “From Here to Eternity.” It may last until summer 2012 at the rate I’m going. Despite a whole subplot about homosexuals that was cut from the movie for obvious reasons, I just cannot seem to apply myself to reading it the way I’ve devoured other novels. Then I have a treadmill book. I try to do hardbacks for that because it’s far easier. I read a bio on James Mason, written by Robert Morley’s son and now am reading the novel version of “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.”

In the car, I keep a book on hand to read at restaurants or in the park or what have you. For this, I always like something with short chapters that I don’t have to stay too invested in. Right now that book is “Life is a Banquet,” Rosalind Russell’s unsentimental, but amusing and affecting, auto-bio. Then I have books in the family room, usually coffee table style or other picture-filled books to read during commercials or whatever. You’d think I’d be a little bit smarter after all this, but unfortunately the subject matter isn’t really all that widening, mentally! Still, I used to amaze my Aunt Sharon during Jeopardy when I could answer obscure questions. She’d look at me as if I was a genius and I’d reply, “Oh, that was in a movie called 55 Days at Peking” or some other title!

One of my recent reads was one I was really not looking all that forward to, but I’ll usually give anything a chance. I needn’t have worried. The book was funny, informative, charming and, quite surprisingly, very touching! “Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Me” was an account by Bob Hope of all his many, many shows to entertain the troops from WWII on up to The Gulf War.

I have found some of Bob’s stuff to be amusing at times, but couldn’t really count myself as a significant fan. To me, probably because of my age, he was sort of an older, rather stiff, man who told jokes in front of a blue curtain with little animation or enthusiasm. I also had seen some of his fairly ruinous 1960s films (and, of course, there’s his appearance on The Golden Girls as the imaginery “father” of Rose Nylund!)
Hope kept a massive catalogue of all the jokes he’d ever been given (and he freely admits to having writers concoct practically all of them), recounting them here as they were delivered to each of the many different occasions, shows, makeshift camps, hospitals and every other place imaginable. But there’s more. As Hope describes the shifting tides of world peace and disharmony, the reader gets an unexpected lesson in history, with disarmingly concise appraisals of what was causing the (seemingly never-ending) conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in during his lifetime.

I’m always a sucker for self-deprecating people who display humility and, though I know Bob Hope did have confidence deep down, he isn’t afraid to poke fun at his lack of courage and his general persona. What’s really surprising is that the book contains several anecdotes and/or situations that were so touching, poignant or other wise heart tugging that I had tears welling up in my eyes at least half a dozen times! (Now, I will admit that, despite wanting to believe that I’m an acid-ridden cynic, I am really a hopeless, sentimental slob. Just the other day, I had to watch the A&E Biography of Betty White through a river of tears because I admire and adore the woman so much that I could hardly stand being confronted by all her stunning accomplishments and endless personal warmth in the show! How humiliating is that?!)
Hope worked closely with a person I really knew almost nothing about. (Less than nothing, actually!) Singer-actress Frances Langford was along for a large number of his tours and she comes across in the book as a deeply caring and seriously committed person. It was she for whom the song I’m in the Mood for Love was written in 1935 for one of her movies. As late as 2002, she (who had enjoyed a successful and well-appointed life) counted entertaining the troops as the highlight of her existence. Her life was endangered on several occasions during these tours, but she never faltered. In fact, her final public appearance in concert was in Vietnam in front of the troops she adored.

It’s just a charming, interesting book, far a field from the typical, glitzy type of auto-bio I am drawn to. I felt, all at once, educated, entertained and enriched after having read it and plan to give a copy of it to a high school friend of mine who’s son is in Afghanistan right now. One thing that cannot be deined is that, whatever he thought of the conflict at hand, Bob Hope loved his servicemen and women.

Now, to get back to the dirt! Ha! I stumbled upon a paperback at a thrift store. (I love to make a beeline to the book departments at such places because often there are items there that no one else but me could possibly care about! This is where I found an old copy of the little-known sequel “Around the World with Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis and the British novelization of The Thomas Crown Affair.) This tome cost me, literally, pennies, because it was 50% off books day and the book was already $0.50! "Not This Time, Cary Grant" was written by Shirley Eder, a gossip columnist I had never heard of, though she was apparently quite prominent during the late 50s and the 60s.

There was a point (primarily in the 1970s) in which leading (or once-leading) columnists would publish collections of their most memorable interviews or otherwise relate their experiences from their days amongst the stars of Tinseltown. Adela Rogers St. John, Rex Reed, Earl Wilson and Rona Barrett were among the names of folks who did this. And, thus, so did Shirley Eder. Shirley was a very close friend of Barbara Stanwyck and was also quite close to Kathryn Grayson, though she hobnobbed to some extent with practically anybody who was anybody at one time or another.

One of the more amusing stories had to do with her inviting Miss Carol Channing (along with her husband Charles) over for dinner. Beforehand, Charles called up and had an unbelievable litany of questions and qualifications. For example, he wanted to know what type of carpet she had because Carol was allergic to wool. Then he asked about her water, stating that Carol was only permitted to drink bottled water and only that sold by a company called Mountain Valley. (He added that Carol drinks two gallons of the stuff in the period between dinner and bedtime, and according to Eder, she did just that.)

He then said that Carol couldn’t eat anything cooked from a gas stove and that they would be having no cocktails, only cranberry juice! Shirley ran down the menu to him, fearful of whatever allergies Carol might have only to be told that Carol was allergic to every single item listed, but that there was no concern because she’d be bringing her own dinner anyway!! He had only asked about the stove in case something of hers needed to be reheated!

The night of the dinner, Carol brought a picnic basket and pulled out two large Mason jars. One was filled with some sort of boiled, dried meat and the other one had half a dozen specially baked, organically grown potatoes inside. Eder claims that Carol ate every single bite of all that she brought (and maintained that friendship with Miss Channing was worth any amount of inconvenience or unusualness), but when she finally could resist no more, she asked Channing what in the world that meat was that she had been scooping onto her plate. Channing reportedly replied, in a tone that seemed as if it was as natural as anything, that it was “Moose meat!”

Eder really had nothing bad to say about (almost) anyone, though most of the stories were somewhat amusing and, occasionally, reflected a little on the person’s character (such as when Lana Turner announced that she could have Eder’s husband if she wanted him!) She also recounted a situation in which Joan Crawford ordered calves liver for her and Stanwyck’s lunch one time without asking if they’d even like it and Stanwyck eating it anyway despite loathing the stuff. Later, however, the stars’ friendship was tested when Joan wanted Barbara to meet her for dinner in L.A. at 5:00 because her stomach was on “New York City time!” Stanwyck refused to go at that hour and that was that.

But the one person Eder profoundly disliked, and spelled out that fact very clearly in her book, was Raquel Welch. In 1968, Eder met Welch for the first time and they got off on the wrong foot. At a press junket for The Biggest Bundle of Them All, Eder remarked, “How does it feel to be appearing in a movie with two great actors, Edward G. Robinson and Vittorio De Sica?” to which Welch allegedly replied, “You mean, how does it feel to have them appearing in my picture? I am the star.” Eder, after having Welch walk away right then, later discovered that Welch was indeed billed above the title (and her astounding body was the key component to the advertising.)

Had she read her press kit beforehand as any seasoned reporter should have and worded her question differently, she might have gotten a different response. (And in her book, she states that De Sica got top billing over Welch, but that is not the case.) Still, Welch obviously was not the world’s most humble person! Eder snarkily wrote about Bundle that it, “seemed forever waiting to be released. And when, at last, it played some theatres (not too many), it bombed!” She added, “Every once in a while, if you have insomnia and are willing to stay up to watch just about anything on TV including test patterns, you might see (it) on the ‘late-late-late show.’” God, I love catty remarks like that!

About a year later, after an Academy Awards ceremony at which Welch was a presenter (prompting Eder to remark in her book, “God, you and I know she was not a nominee!’), Eder made another faux pas. She somehow talked herself in to believing that Welch had won the much-ballyhooed role of Jennifer in the upcoming Valley of the Dolls and congratulated her on it! Welch allegedly responded, “Obviously, you don’t know your business. I was offered over two hundred thousand dollars to do the role, but I turned it down.”

The two just weren’t meant to hit it off. There was another incident in which a mutual friend tried to heal the damage, but it didn’t work out. Finally, Eder recounted a story in which Welch reportedly showed up an hour and a half late to a manicurist’s appointment at The Beverly Hills Hotel, expecting to be taken in within moments. The manicurist asked her to wait fifteen minutes, but after five she pressed the woman to take her immediately. When she was informed that it would be at least ten minutes further, she allegedly stormed out, but not before flinging a magazine back into the salon, hitting the receptionist in the face with it!

Is Welch this haughty and impossible? Her reputation is not the hottest. I want to like her (and find her 1960s looks to be absolutely unbelievable!), but there have been many folks who have tangled with her over the years.

Earl Wilson’s book “Hollywood Laid Bare” had a story in it about Carol Lynley and her loathing of her The Poseidon Adventure costar Red Buttons. For whatever reason, in 1972, Lynley was not endeavoring to endear herself to much of anyone, really! She had remarked to Roger Ebert that two-time Oscar-winning actress Shelley Winters had “always been that fat” in response to Winters’ talk-show assertion that she had deliberately gained thirty pounds in order to play Belle Rosen.

Then she started in on Oscar-winning actor Buttons, claiming he had been unprofessional, a scene-stealer, a person who hogs the camera and, best of all, called him “a cunt!” She referred to him this way time and again during their chat. Wilson, unaccustomed to this sort of thing, asked her to repeat herself  because he was so taken aback. He asked if he could quote her on it and she took no issue. He didn’t quote her in the story, but only in the book, which came out later.

Afterwards, at the premiere of the movie, he questioned how two people who despised each other so much could enact scenes with so much convincing tenderness and intimacy (they were paired up very closely throughout the film.) He was befuddled by the dichotomy of this gentle, affectionate work on screen in relation to the violent reaction of Lynley towards Buttons in the interview. Finally, he asked Buttons up front about it and felt he had to use the same word that Lynley had given him when describing her attitude. Buttons offered no comment, but according to other reports, Lynley had developed something of a crush on him during the arduous filming, in which his character protected and coddled her character always, but that he (a married father of two) had spurned her affection, thus leading to a feeling of rejection and anger in her.
In any case, this seems like only a blip on the radar screen now. The costars have since buried the hatchet and have appeared at functions over the years (including the premiere of that dire remake, Poseidon) looking happy and chummy. Membership within the cast of Adventure is like a fraternity. The rabid fans of the film hold annual screenings of it aboard The Queen Mary and it just doesn’t do for people associated with it not to just embrace it and get along, though Gene Hackman won’t even so much as discuss or mention the picture.

I mentioned Kathryn Grayson above. She figures into one of my favorite tales contained in the book “Hollywood Talks Turkey” by Douglas McClelland. This gem of a book contains lengthy quotes of stars dissecting those motion pictures that went terribly wrong.

The mid-50s were a tough time in the movie business and Grayson, who’d headlined many colorful musicals in her day, was let go from MGM. Paramount believed there was still some life left in her, so they hired her to play in the classic operetta The Vagabond King. Featuring Rudolf Friml music, it would seem right up the soprano’s alley. However, they costarred her with a Maltese tenor named Oreste Kirkop (who, for the film went simply by Oreste.)

Grayson, who’d had no tremendous love for her prior operatic costar Mario Lanza, nonetheless would surely have had him back rather than contend with Oreste, who spoke no English and had to have his lines dubbed. He was also rumored to have urinated whenever and wherever he felt like it! (It must be said that Miss G. didn't perptuate that part of the story, anyway.) Already, experiencing the major difference between filming a musical at MGM and now filming a musical at Paramount, the star was really regretting having taken the project on. Used to working alongside the stellar MGM orchestra, at Paramount she had to sing along with prerecorded music, the way Bing Crosby (one of their top stars) preferred to do it.

This is the hilarious part to me. Having decided that it was going to be a turkey, the top-billed songstress claims that she decided to turn her face away from the camera as much as possible during filming and to show her back as much as she could in makeshift effort to disguise the fact that she was even IN IT! I find that riotously funny. Fortunately, I had read this book long ago and so, when I found myself in a really shitty play once, I opted to utilize this technique, though I don’t think I was any more successful at obscuring my participation in it than she was in this film! She later got to know Oreste through mutual friends and grew to like him much more. It was to be, however, her final feature film.

I just love to read biographies and autobiographies of famous Hollywood actors and actresses. Sometimes I’ll even read one on a performer I have no particular affinity for maybe because they worked with so many people I like and I can find out more about them from it! You can never know what you’ll find in an account of one’s life. Gloria Swanson’s 1980 auto-bio “Swanson on Swanson” was positively gargantuan and somewhere, nestled deep in the pages and not easy to find if you didn’t mark it, is her story of suffering from all sorts of serious and painful female problems following the birth of her daughter. Nothing was working until she asked one of her doctors about “the healing power of the sun.” Thereafter, she took off to a secluded country estate with one of her female staff in tow and proceeded to sit in the lawn with her naked legs spread to the skies, dribbling sterile saline into her private parts in order to mend herself!!!!!!! (I am not making this up.) She did this for a considerable amount of time until she was back to (almost) new. (Incidentally, this is the book she was writing when she appeared as herself in Airport 1975 - in 1974! It took her that long to get the lengthy thing finished.)

Then there’s “Gary Cooper, An Intimate Biography” by Hector Arce. Not only does the book reveal that one of Gary’s earliest movies, 1929's Wolf Song, originally contained a nude bathing scene with him showing some amount of his body (the scene was removed when censorship cracked down soon after and is now not shown in all of the remaining prints of the film), but there are still photos around that shows a fragment of it, one of which is in the book. 

The photos here are the one from the book and another one taken on set during the filming. (Still another shot, not represented here, depicts him covering himself with an Indian blanket between takes.) They prove that the scene existed, but wouldn't it have been great to see a star such as Gary Cooper frolicking nude in a lake?!

Better yet, the same book casually drops the bomb that Gary Cooper, at least prior to daughter Maria being born (and I know nothing about any changes that were or were not made from then on!) was a practicing nudist at home. The minute he hit the door, he was fond of taking it all off until time to go back out the next morning!

If you are very familiar with Cooper, you know that he was known for being rather significantly endowed. His one-time live-in lover, Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez was famously (and hilariously) quoted as saying: “Gary Cooper has the biggest dick in Hollywood, but no ass to push it with!” The mere idea of Coop wandering around au naturel when in his prime is scintillating. In his early years, he was one VERY handsome man.

I’m sure I’ll be unearthing more thoughts on books I’ve enjoyed as time goes by. Lord knows I have heaps of them. Somehow, knowing that most out of print books are unlikely to be replaced, I feel an odd sense of obligation to rescue them before they are lost, burnt, tossed away or otherwise destroyed. I’m an avowed declutterer, so I often worry that I’m gathering up too many and will become a hoarder, so it’s a constant struggle to know when and when not to bring one home!

For those interested, I present part of the chapter on Carol Lynley from Earl Wilson's Show Business Laid Bare, Signet Books 1974:


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