East Of Eden
"Louise as the winsome French girl in Now We're in the Air (1927)." (Photo and caption from "Lulu Forever")
I think the first time I can recall hearing the name "Louise Brooks" was years ago in a scene from "The Simpsons". In the 2002, season 13 episode "Weekend at Burnsie's", Mr. Burns prepares for a big investor meeting by practicing a speech with these lines: "So, profits will be thinner than...Louise Brooks negligee! You know, Louise Brooks, the silent star of Lulu?" While Mr. Burns got things a bit twisted (Louise played a character named Lulu, but the movie's English name is Pandora's Box, this quirky little tidbit stuck in my mind. Who was Louise Brooks, and being that she was a silent film star, how was she...
Noble Johnson (Image Source)
A few months back, I shared the story of Madame Sul-Te-Wan, the Black actress who got her big Hollywood start in "The Birth of a Nation" in 1915. Madame was one of the few actors in the film playing Black characters who were actually Black; the main characters of color were actually White actors in blackface.
Today, I want to talk about Noble Johnson, another Black actor who starred in films at the same time and enjoyed a long, successful career in Hollywood. Interestingly (although not surprisingly), Johnson was able to skirt the race issue by playing characters who were not Black. In a reverse of the "Birth" White actors, Noble gained fame and film credits, and became part of Hollywood...
Merle Oberon was stunningly beautiful, and one of Hollywood's first genuinely glamorous stars. She was also mixed-race, born in India, and acutely aware of existing racism and prejudice that could've easily derailed her acting career before it even had a chance to develop. So the beautiful actress became Tasmanian with a faux studio-promoted bio, and lived for decades with a lie that even had her mom acting as a live-in maid. Sigh. From The Daily Mail:
She was one of the great stars of Hollywood’s golden age and shared a kiss with Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights.
But mystery has always surrounded Merle Oberon’s early life, not least because of the version of events given by the actress herself.
In October 1951, Grace Kelly, just beginning to make a name for herself, decided to have a night out on the town at famous Manhattan nightclub, Stork Club. Also at the club that night was Josephine Baker, internationally renowned singer, dancer and famous ex-pat who was in the States to perform a series of concerts after years living in France.
Unfortunately, Baker wound up leaving the eatery after an hour of non-service; she stormed out claiming she had never received her dinner because of her race. Some dispute this, but one person who did not was Kelly. Observing the scene, she was shocked and left, too. From Mental Floss:
When the racist staff refused to wait...
(Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Image Source: BlackPast.org)
And no, I absolutely do NOT mean last year's controversial Nate Parker flick, "The Birth of a Nation". I'm talking the D.W. Griffith, 1915 film that celebrates the supposed end of the "treachery" that was Reconstruction and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. From Wikipedia:
The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon Jr. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay (with Frank E. Woods), and co-produced the film (with Harry Aitken). It was released on February 8, 1915.
LBJ LIBRARY PHOTO BY KEVIN SMITH
I love the above picture. I love that in 1968, Eartha Kitt, singer, dancer, Catwoman, invited to one of those oh-so proper "Ladies who Lunch" type-lunches by THE First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of LBJ, at the White House, and kept it really-real on the Vietnam War. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Debuting on Broadway in 1943, Kitt, born dirt-poor on a South Carolina cotton plantation, built a multifaceted show business life that included stage acting, dancing, singing (a come-hither 1953 hit version of "Santa Baby") and movies. When she made the 1958 film Anna Lucasta with Sammy Davis Jr., THR said her performance "is best summarized by the word 'great.' " In 1953, Kitt was making $10,000 per week...
Joan Crawford in 1959, by Eve Arnold.
I wrote about FX's "Feud: Bette And Joan" during my Lenten series of blog posts. I just watched the finale, "You Mean All This Time We Could've Been Friends?", and I'll admit, I may just have shed a tear or two at Jessica Lange's heartbreaking portrayal of the last days of Joan Crawford.
To be clear, I was far less impressed with "Feud" in it's entirety. While the casting was on point (how fun was Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper?), and the settings were great, the pacing on a whole was off. Some episodes zoomed by ("And The Winner Is..."), while others seemed like slow-moving, unnecessary filler ("More, Or Less"). Also unnecessary was all of the MANY times the audience was explicitly told...
Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in "Feud: Bette and Joan" (FX)
I have a thing for Classic Hollywood. "Singin' in The Rain", "North by Northwest", "Double Indemnity", "Carmen Jones", "The Seven Year Itch", "It's A Wonderful Life"- there is something so wonderful about the films of the 1940s and 50s.
There is also something to the films of the 60s and 70s, too, but something decidedly different. With the collapse of the Old Hollywood studio system and the massive changes in society concerning sex, civil rights and technology, the movies tended to be less polished formality and more... "The Graduate". Goodbye George Bailey, helloooo Mrs. Robinson.
And crammed right between the time of A-line crinoline...
A young Norma Jean Baker in the early 1940s. Many a Penny Pentecostal would still be rocking this same suit style well into the Carter Administration. (Source)
My latest Audible book streaming through my headphones is "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" by Donald Spoto and narrated by Anna Fields.
Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by stars who, despite talent, money, fame and beauty, were downed by the suffocating weight of their own inner psyches. Perhaps it was a weird fascination for an elementary school student, but it was there, and only grew as I got older.
If I had to guess as to why, it probably had something to do with my mother's severe depression. She was (and is) my first exemplar of femininity and beauty. She was a...
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