Monday, 1 October 2012

15 Old Hollywood Myths - DEBUNKED!

Hello my handsome pals and lovely gals!
Sorry I keep putting off the posts I promised. Still recovering from the Unfinished-Letter-Published fiasco, and still working to make the big posts I have in store perfect for you guys. That's how much I love you
To be honest with you, this idea for this post came to me today, as I was walking down the street thinking about Grace Kelly (things Marcela does) and I thought about all these people that say they hate her because "she stole Judy Garland's Oscar". Well, I'm sorry to break it to you fellas, but, as cool as that sounds, Grace did not actually tip toe into Judy's house in the wee hours of the morning and take the Oscar while the Garland clan was sound asleep. What she did do was walk up the stage when she heard her name and pick  up the statuette that, whether we like it or not, was rightfully hers.
"But Judy deserved it!" Guess what, friends? I'm not the biggest Grace Kelly fan on planet Earth either, but fair is fair. Judy did, indeed, deliver an Oscar-worthy performance on A Star is a Born, and from what I hear, should've taken home the Award. I have never seen The Country Girl, I don't know how good her performance was, so I can't say whether that is true. What I do know is that the Academy made its decision. Now, how's about we put this whole thing behind us and recognize that both actresses are still remembered and beloved today?
And while we're at it, let's debunk a few more Old Hollywood myths. It's time we clear the air about a few misunderstood individuals and institutions we all love so much.

BONUS: Grace Kelly stole Judy Garland's Oscar
Now, this one I already spoke of on the introduction. Whether you like it or not, Grace didn't steal anything. The Academy decided to give it to her. Which leads me to my next myth...

15. The Academy can do no evil/The Academy is all evil


Up there are the photos of four people who I would add to my Top 20 best performers the history of cinema. All of them walked out of this life without an Oscar. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and the biggest crime of all, Greta Garbo. I can name another ten if you want. In fact, someone else already did. Travesties like this make us question if the Academy really is apt to be judging who is the best in the filmmaking world. The Academy itself knows it ignores amazing people: The biggest proof of that is the "Honorary Oscar", a prize I see more as an apology. However, it's important to know that a lot of the Oscar losses come from fierce competition. It's not the Academy's fault that there was so many amazing stars in the Golden Age. They do recognize and help bring attention to some of the best works in movie history. The Academy is not all evil, but it's also not all good.

P.S. Barbara Stanwyck should've won for Double Indemnity. Fred Astaire should've won for Top Hat. Cary Grant should've won for North by Northwest. Greta Garbo should've won twice, for Camille and Ninotchka. 

P.P.S. For what it's worth, I don't think Katharine Hepburn deserved that Oscar for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. She should've won for The Philadelphia Story, Long Day's Journey Into Night and/or The African Queen. I'd give the '67 Oscar to the other Hepburn girl around, for her thrilling performance on Wait Until Dark. But, the record for most Oscars won by one single performer needs to stay with The Great 'til further notice.  

14. All Lauren Bacall ever did was marry a movie star

Okay, Marcela, calm down. I know how revolting this is, but don't use four-letter words. 
Please, lovely reader, look at that face up there. This chick was in over 40 movies, over 10 Broadway and off-Broadway plays, wrote three books (no ghost writer for Ms. Bacall - from her own wrist) and appeared in over 20 television shows. Guess what's in her living room? Her two Tony Awards, her Golden Globe, her National Book Award, her Cecil B. DeMille Award and her Honorary Oscar. All of those won after Bogart's death. Still think she needed him to get around in show business?
Sure, Humphrey Bogart is as wonderful a human being as they come, and he did provide her with the support and guidance any 18-year-old would need to be thrown into Hollywood at that speed. Yes, he loved her with all his heart and he delivered the most earth-shattering emotional experience of her life. But, before, during and after Bogie, Betty had and has talent of her own and this is what kept her afloat in her almost 70-year-long movie career. Even in To Have and Have Not, she was enthusiastically cast by the great director Howard Hawks without Bogie's even knowing about it. Performances such as Written on the Wind, Murder on the Orient Express, The Fan and the Broadway plays Applause and Woman of the Year are Betty's crowning glory as a versatile, professional and, most of all, an absurdly talented screen and stage star. 
Now stop saying she was only famous because of Bogie, will ya?

13. Typecasting was a bad thing

I know, I know. Typecasting. The T-word all self-respecting actors are expected to quake at. Jesus, is typecasting really so much of a career-ruiner that it should be avoided like the plague by anyone looking to become a legend? Hardly. 
Typecasting allowed for performers to be associated with a certain persona: Katharine Hepburn as the powerhouse feminist, Bette Davis as the cross-eyed villain, Humphrey Bogart as the pistol-carrying gangster and Clark Gable as one smooth-talking mustache man. Do you realize I just said everything these people are remembered by? Typecasting was exactly what put them in history. It's sad, I know, that these actor's versatility was shadowed by this, but considering how under appreciated Classic Hollywood is these days, if it wasn't for these "types", these people probably wouldn't even be remembered by now. As long as they make sure to show their versatility by doing one role or another of a different type (i.e. KHep on Summertime or HBogart on The African Queen), it's more than okay, as far as I'm concerned, to identify with a certain persona. It's what legends are made of.

12. Julie Andrews will never sing again
In 1997, the newspapers' front pages were covered with shocking and tragic news: Dame Julie Andrews has lost her voice. If you, like me, have been moved and thrilled by The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Victor Victoria and so many other film and stage musicals starred by the lovely lady pictured above, you will understand what that loss means to the world. What allegedly happened was that Ms. Andrews underwent vocal-chord surgery and emerged unable to belt out one single note. 
This story is only half true. While it is true that the great voice that announced the life of the hills to the sound of music is unlikely to ever be heard again, it is untrue that Julie won't even tackle Happy Birthday To You every October 1st (Happy Birthday, darling!). The truth is that her voice has been heavily impaired, but it still holds some artistic quality. In layman terms, she ain't gonna be hitting any 5-octave-high C's, but she can still sing ten times better than you and me. Probably combined.

11. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers wanted to be paired up 
Fred Astaire spent the entire beginning of his career (which was a long and crucial time) paired with his sister Adele, quite a competent dancer in her own right. He was known as "one of the Astaires" and was unable to plunge out onto his own persona. When he made it to the movies, he was horrified to know he'd be paired up again. And, Ginger Rogers, desperately wanting to prove herself a dramatic actress, wasn't too thrilled about being paired up in musical comedies. That didn't mean they disliked each other - on the contrary, Ginger and Fred were the best of friends all their lives and one can only imagine the memories they must have together - but if they hadn't been lucky to separate in pictures in 1949 and go on to have independent careers, they might've been remembered only as a duo and not as two individual performers. And when, in Lucy Ball's roast, almost 30 years after their separation, Dean Martin refers to Ginger as solely "the best thing that ever happened to Fred Astaire", one can hardly blame them for wanting to be viewed separately by the public.   

10. Humphrey Bogart was a tough cookie
If you believe Humphrey Bogart really talked like he did in the movies, carried around guns and wore raincoats and fedoras even when it's sunny out, I don't blame you. So did his wife before they met. It's only a testament to how realistic his performances were. But if there's one bad thing that comes with typecasting is the misconceptions that the actors behaved like their characters in real life. The truth is Bogart was one very respectful fella, who didn't resort to violence and held himself and his friends to very high moral standards. He loved his wife and his family more than anything and he showed it. I thought you might like some proof, so brace yourselves for the words of Humphrey DeForrest Bogart:
"Slim darling, you came along and into my arms and into my heart and all the real true love I have is yours – and now I’m afraid you won’t understand and that you’ll become impatient and that I’ll lose you – but even if that happened, I wouldn’t stop loving you for you are my last love and all the rest of my life I shall love you and watch you and be ready to help you should you ever need help."

09. Joan Crawford was a professional dancer

Despite the fact that we all love Joanie's dancing, the truth is: she wasn't a professional anything! Not a professional dancer, not a classically trained actress, but only a talented woman thrown into show business almost by accident but who succeed in it like few others. Joan learned everything herself. 

08. All Katharine Hepburn roles are the same

This is another one that I struggle to not use four-letter words about. Some people who don't know anything about The Great claim that her acting was weak because all her characters were the same, and furthermore, all her characters were her. But, Marcela, you ask, all Katharine's characters were strong powerhouse feminists and Katharine was a strong powerhouse feminist, right? Wrong!
Pictured above are the three Hepburn characters judged by me as the three most different ones in her movies. Eleanor of Acquitaine, a no-nonsense Middle Ages queen (queen of baddassery, that's what she was); Jane Hudson, a lonely spinster looking for love; and Alice Adams, a young helpless girl from a poor family who tried to see the good sides in life. Not very alike, are they?
What did happen was that Kate was typecast as the strong female figure (which I'm totally okay with - almost all her characters speak to me profoundly), and those were the ones that became the most famous, for the reasons I cited in #13. But, she did have different types of characters in her resumé. Not only in film, but in years of Shakespeare plays, in which she brought the public to tears with the realism of her portrayals.
What also happened was that Kate chose not to tackle a script in which she didn't believe: Kate believed in strong females, and thus she favored scripts that pictured such as opposed to damsels in distress.
This misconception is a product of people trying to take away from the legend Katharine became through the work of her own independent hands. And, as a very wise friend (who doesn't even like Katie haha) said, h8rs gonna h8 on K8, The Gr8.

07. Carole Lombard was a shallow comedian
Carole Lombard was the first female war casualty in the United States of America. She was travelling to promote war bonds and doing what she could to help the war effort. She was an outspoken liberal and she chose to be politically active throughout her entire life. Not only that, but she was an extraordinary actress, unmatched in the field of screwball comedy. 
While it is true that Carole enjoyed partying, having fun and using less-than-ladylike vocabulary (haha, don't you just love that about her?), to make this all she ever was is a disrespect to her memory and to what she represented to her country, her craft and the entire world. 

06. Hitchcock is the most well-recognized director of all-time

For the purposes of this post, I won't discuss whether or not he should be the most well-recognized director of all time (which he should). I'm here to discuss how underrated Hitchcock really was on his day. Just because today he is the most celebrated suspense director of all-time, that doesn't mean he was seen as anything much by the critics and (again) the Academy in his day. He has, in fact, never won an Academy Award. To be fair, his movie Rebecca won for Best Picture, but he was snubbed by most of the mainstream film awards for all of his 53-year-long movie career. 
He was, however, celebrated by AFI with a Life Achievement Award in the year of his death. In my book, doesn't make up for the (at least) 3 Oscars he had robbed from him throughout his life.

05. Most stars survived very well the transition from silents to talkies

Wouldn't it be great if Clara Bow, Pola Negri, Harold Lloyd and John Gilbert talked? Well, they do. Kinda. Almost all the silent performers have done at least one talking picture, but the difference between the big stars of the late twenties and those of the early thirties is overwhelming. The advent of sound victimized about 90% of screen stars. While it is true that it also gave way to the birth of amazing talkie stars, it's sad we lost such great talent. This can be explained by the need for a completely different kind of acting, in which actors were able rely on voice tone, soundtracks and dialogues and the pantomime, characteristic of the silent screen, became redundant. The stars that did survive, Garbo, Crawford and Chaplin, for instance, would've survived color, special effects, computerization or any thing that may come up in the cinema world. 

04. Lucille Ball was a harmless comic
A comic? Yes. The best of them? Certainly. But, harmless? God, no. 
I bet this will come as a shock for most of you (not you, Ri), but good ol' Lucy did more than just make the entire world love her as a quirky housewife or even just put the "lu" in Desilu Studios. This fiery redhead was, in fact, an enormous Hollywood mogul and practically ruled television for almost 4 decades.
When she bought her husband out of Desilu incorporated, in 1962, she was the sole owner of one of the most successful television production companies for 5 years. She produced her own show, The Lucy Show (the title was accurate enough), not I Love Lucy, but a smashing success in its own right. In 1967, showing remarkable business wits, she sold the company for a fortune to Gulf+Western, who created, out of it, today's giant Paramount Television. She created a second production group, smaller, LBP - Lucille Ball Productions. Again, she self-produced: Here's Lucy, that also experienced great success. The only time Lucy was ever a flop was on Life With Lucy, but this can be credited to her state of mind at the time, hardened by the loss of Desi Arnaz. For 35 years, everything Lucy touched turned to gold.
And what's amazing is that she became all this while still being the most beloved performer and television personality of all time. Because, hate whoever you want, if you hate Lucille Ball, I can only assume you also hate rainbows and chocolate pie. Right? 

03. The Golden Age never mentioned sex because of the Hays Code

Sometimes I really don't like the Code. What would Notorious be without censorship, for instance? But, all in all I gotta give it Mr. Hays. I really like what it did to movies. Sex was still depicted in pictures (brother, was To Have and Have Not the sexiest movie on Earth or what?), only in a different fashion. Instead of having sexuality in plain sight, like it is with a good half of the current flicks, movies made during the Code portrayed sex as a subjective, understated concept. Instead of using one's body and one's clothing to depict sexual concepts, the Golden Age movies relied on looks, lines and the general atmosphere of the scenes. 
When girls my age say Holly Golightly is the classiest character in cinema, I always chuckle. You knew she was a call girl, right? Aaah, the magic of the Hays Code of Production. 

02. Film and Television were good friends
I'm not really sure how things work today, but in the 1950s (this is kind of my signature conversation-started), television and film were arch-enemies. I know I'm not exactly proving my point by using a gorgeous picture of the queen of TV with one of the kings of cinema, however, it's important to note that Lucy's decision to move on to TV was a risky, albeit wise decision. Even though she struck gold, if she didn't, there was no way the movie world would accept her back. To go to TV was to betray cinema, that was losing viewers and lovers to this new interesting gadget that brought entertainment to our living rooms.

01. The stars today can't stand a comparison with the stars of yesteryear

Or, otherwise titled: Me looking for trouble. I know you all prefer the classics, and so do I, but I need to be fair and square for the sake of my blogging oath ("The truth and nothing but the truth, and NO REMAKES OF WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE!").
Keep in mind my favorite stars of all time will always be classics. If you take my Top 30 stars of all time, there's not a single living being born after 1940. But what I do want to say, in the interest of only fairness, that yes, there are exquisitely talented artists in today's film industry. Pictured above are two of my personal favorites. I like Cate Blanchett particularly because I see a lot of my Kate in her. What? Have I said something wrong?
We must be 100% honest in our admiration of Old Stars and the past in general: We mustn't shun the present and everything good it has to offer! It's okay to prefer the oldies, I do, but to rule all current films and performers as bad and with no personality is to be a little too harsh on people who really don't deserve it. Talent-wise, there are great many stars today that could hold their own against a Golden Age one. No current star is even nearly as good as a Classic one, mind you, but some don't look utterly pathetic in comparison. Which is a huge deal on its own.

Having said that, keep in my mind that what I said applies only to talent. If the current stars were put on a personality contest against the classic ones, they would lose miserably. What the stars of today have in talent, they lack in uniqueness, originality and overall star quality. Cate Blanchett may be a fantastic, pantsuit-wearing, free-spirited personality, but she will always be outshined by the ultimate pantsuit-wearer Katharine Hepburn. All the Golden Age stars overwhelmed us with their personalities and embodied entire shows on and off-screen. They will always be the best there ever was, no matter how talented the stars today may be.

I hope you liked this post and I realized some of these are rather personal opinions (especially #1!). I'd love to hear some feedback and thoughts from my lovely readers, so please, do proceed to leaving a comment below!

Much love and see y'all later!

So long,

P.S. Happy Birthday to the queen of the universe. Julie Andrews, I love you. 


  1. Hi Marcela, I really enjoyed this post and totally agree with everything you said. I believe the hays code bought sensuality to the screen and made people use the sexiest organ of the human body - the brain. Humphrey Bogart is such a sweetheart and that's what I love about him. I just wacthed Marked Woman this week and in the scene where he tells Bette Davis' character her sister died he steals it for me because the look on his face is heartbreaking. Great actor.

    1. Hey dear! Thanks for the lovely comment! Bogie is my favorite actor ever. I can't help believing all of his parts, and even when he was his typecast-y gangster fellas, I still adored him. That's when I like him the most actually!

  2. Hi, I loved your post. It is very thorough and entertaining. Strangely, I agree with your comments about the Code. I love Postcodes for there hidden/ smart sensuality and I love Precodes for being more open with it...Hmmm lets say Precodes would not be soo great, to me, without Postcodes. I agree the Academy sometimes get it wrong. Look at the Citizen Kane snub. Also I find it interesting reading about the first ever Oscars, that Lillian Gish was deliberately overlooked because she was alittle bit uncontrollable. I also loved Bogie in Marked Women, wonderful performance!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Emma! The thing about Precodes is that you don't expect them to be as modern as they are because you're used to Postcodes! (well, i speak for myself) so, yes, definitely they wouldn't be what they are without postcodes. Each era is fascinating in its own way!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! I agree with you on almost everything, especially about number 15. And is that letter from Bogie to Betty Bacall in one of her books? Because that must be the sweetest letter I have ever read. I knew that Bogie was the pistol packing, fedora wearing, ruthless killer as he was on screen, but wow, I didn't realize that the man had so much depth. I knew he had depth, but not that much.

    1. Thank you very much! Yes, that letter was taken straight from "By Myself", Betty's 1978 autobiography. It's fabulous, you should definitely try to get your hands on it. Bogart really is deceptively deep. Some things he did and said to Betty made my heart melt inside. Not only to her but the way he treated his kids and his friends make me think he was one of the most fascinating men who ever lived.

  4. Amazing and highly enjoyable post!
    I agree with many, like Betty Bacall's huge talent. Typecasting can shadow some talents, like what happened to Tyrone Power (an eternal swashbuckler with a few exception movies) or Anthony Perkins (= Norman Bates).
    I don't think many people think that almost all silent film stars survived the talkies, specially with movies about this, like Singin' in the Rain and The Artist. Yet, many mistakes are made about this. There are several versions about how John Gilbert failed in the talkies.
    I agree that there are several talented people nowadays in film industry. THe problem is that sometimes the industry itself doesn't help, putting them in silly comedies or super productions about monsters or other creepy things. I wouldn't watch Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, but I liked him in Sherlock Holmes, for example.

  5. Oh, I forgot something: three years ago, I wrote a text comparing the Nobel of Peace to the Honorary Oscar. It was the year in which Obama won the Nobel without doing much and I thought that they gave him the award to him because of his good campaign intentions and everything he represents. And the Honorary Oscar is really an apology to the greats who didn't win a competitive prize.
    Now I'm done with writing my opinions! :)

    1. Thank God you agree with the Betty part. My baby is so under appreciated that it angers me profoundly. I just watched a movie with her today, it's called "The Fan" (1981). She delivers a chilling performance. The movie itself is not for the weak-hearted ones, but I can appreciate a nice disturbing flick: I loved it! :D
      About the silent transition, you'd be surprised how many people think that if a star is great at a silent, he is also great at a talkie. People think it happened like in Singing In The Rain, where Gene Kelly was as successful in a talkie as he was in the silents, when the story actually happened more like The Artist or my favorite movie about the transition, Sunset Boulevard. "We had faces then!" One of my favorite lines.
      It is sad what the movie industry does with its talent today. I really don't understand why this is because the studio system is gone, so theoretically actors are free to choose whatever script they identify with the most. I guess it's the commercialization of the movie industry. It never works out when people try to make money the main purpose of art.
      About the honorary Oscar, exactly, an apology. "I'm sorry I ignored you when you deserved a statuette, so here's one completely out of context and that most movie buffs don't even take seriously" Ughh makes me so mad
      Thanks for such a lovely comment and I'm sorry for the long response! :D

  6. Wonderful post, Marcela! Great points. I have actually seen The Country Girl, but not Judy Garland's '54 film - so I can't really compare them. Grace Kelly does put on a great performance, especially compared to her usual roles.

    By the way, Fred and Ginger should have gotten married :P :D


    1. I completely agree about Fred and Ginge :D
      Thanks for the insight on The Country Girl! I've seen her more on Hitchcock and I found her fairly good, I wish people would stop faulting her for that Oscar thing :/
      Thanks, Dave!

  7. Fantastic post! I can't believe people actually think those things about Lombard, Hepburn, Lucy and Bacall... such nonsense. I completely agree with what you said about the code, I find the sexual tension between the characters much more interesting than displaying it all - it certainly makes directors come up with some creative stuff. Notorious is a perfect example of that, so much chemistry between the leads, I find it intoxicating. Another one I think it's splendidly done (and ranks as sexiest of all time for me) is the chess scene from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), with Faye Dunaway driving Steve McQueen insane - it's on the non-code frontier, but still isn't nearly as explicit as today.

    I also agree about the "old stars vs. new stars". There's certainly a lot of talent these days, but most actors lack personality and, well, dignity. One that I particularly like, though, is Daniel Day-Lewis - I find him very interesting and polite off screen, so there's still hope.

    The Academy can be really blind sometimes; I too laugh when people say Holly was so classy, and that Bogart quote melt my heart, completely!

    1. Funny you should mention Daniel Day-Lewis! He's been one of my favorites since I saw him on "My Left Foot".
      Notorious in unbelievably sexy! I watched that on the big screen at a late session, I was practically the only one in the room! Perfect ambiance!

  8. oh, how lucky!! If there's ever a screening of Notorious around here I will be there for sure, it's my all time favorite film!