Tuesday, March 29, 2016

PATTY DUKE



Like many of you, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Patty Duke.  I met the woman over thirty years ago when I was working as a receptionist at the then relatively small talent agency, Creative Artists, which represented both her and her husband, John Astin.
                I knew her as Anna, her given name and one which everyone at the agency was requested to use.  If I didn’t know the actress, Patty, I did come to know the woman, Anna.  She was gracious, funny, and warm.  And she spoke in an almost gravelly voice.
                I loved her in the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, for which she won an academy award for Best Supporting Actress.  I was also a faithful viewer of The Patty Duke Show which aired in the early sixties (I can still remember most of the lyrics to the theme song.)
                Probably my best memory of Anna/Patty is the time my sister came to Los Angeles to visit with her son, Jonathan, who was about to celebrate his fifth birthday.  I offered to throw him a little party and then realized that I didn’t have too many friends with little ones back then.  I managed to “scrape up” a few kids, not wanting his party to be a disaster. When I mentioned this to Anna, she and John immediately offered to bring their two sons, Sean, who was a year older than Jonathan, and Mackenzie, who was a year younger.  I accepted their generous offer and John brought them to the party. Both parents were down to earth and very approachable.
                Patty Duke, or as I knew her Anna Astin, was a lovely woman who left us far too soon.

                                                           The Patty Duke Show Theme Song

Meet Cathy, who's lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square.
But Patty's only seen the sights
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights -
What a crazy pair!

But they're cousins,
Identical cousins all the way.
One pair of matching bookends,
Different as night and day.

Where Cathy adores a minuet,
The Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette,
Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose control -
What a wild duet!

Still, they're cousins,
Identical cousins and you'll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike -

You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind.

Copyright: Lyrics © Original Writer and Publisher
LyricFind

Monday, January 18, 2016

THE HAYS CODE: PRE-CENSORED HOLLYWOOD


I posted this several years ago. Thought it was worth another go-around, especially for readers new to my blog.


Watching a movie made in the forties or fifties, one gets the idea that certain themes were taboo.  That’s because they were. But this was not always the case. Many of the movies made in the twenties and even the early thirties were actually somewhat risqué.  These movies dealt with such controversial subject matter as adultery, homosexuality, drug addiction, abortion, incest, and miscegenation (or what was at that time referred to as “the mixing of the races”).

What then caused the sudden shift to more “morally correct” films?  Numerous Hollywood headlines in the twenties, the “Fatty Arbuckle” scandal amongst others, along with the strong influence of the Catholic Church, resulted in a general feeling that the film industry needed some sort of accountability. This was to come in the form of Will Hays, a man who had served as Postmaster General under President William Harding (ironically, Harding’s presidency epitomized scandal, but that’s another story). At any rate, this is how the Motion Picture Production Code came to be.

Until 1933, the moral values of film were overseen by a Catholic Foundation known as the National League of Decency (NLD) Hays, rightfully, didn’t feel that producers were adhering to the guidelines set forth. He was determined to put “more teeth” in the MPPC.

So what sort of “moral guidelines” did the MPPC put forth?  Aside from the avoidance of the above mentioned subjects, there were now “rules” to be abided that didn’t exist prior to the code: criminals had to be punished for their crimes, authority figures had to be respected (particularly clergymen), brutal killings could not be shown in detail, there was to be no nudity and no sex outside of marriage, (if there was, the participants couldn’t enjoy it, in fact, they had to suffer as a result of it) and so on.

Directors and producers paid little attention to the code and looked for ways to get around it but that soon changed.  In 1934 an amendment to the code was adopted which created the Production Code Administration, requiring all films to get a “certificate of approval” before they could be released (any theater that didn’t adhere to this would be fined $25,000). Joseph Breen, a journalist and an influential layperson in the Roman Catholic community, was appointed by Hays to spearhead the office. Breen, who was apparently one tough cookie, presided over the PCA with a rigid hand. Under his leadership, scripts that were deemed to be “questionable” (in its view) were changed. For instance, if a woman, lying in bed, were to be kissed, the man kissing her would need to have kept one foot on the floor.

Needless to say, the Breen office was not a favorite with directors, writers, and movie moguls and the final cut of films like Animal Crackers only made it to the screen in their much censored versions. (Groucho was notorious for having slipped many a double entendre under the noses of the PCA but in the fifties, when he had his own TV show, he was once again rebuked by censors. On one of his shows, he’d asked a contestant why she had so many children and when she smiled shyly and said she loved her husband a lot, Groucho quickly replied, “I love a good cigar but I occasionally remove it from my mouth”).

Back to the code.  As mentioned, the code was strictly enforced, whether it pertained to the adaptation of a classic book such as King’s Row (a good deal of sex, incest, and sadism in that one) or even to a cartoon (Betty Boop changed her attire from that of a flapper, to one that was deemed to have been more “sedate”).  Years of symbolic sexual implications passed by (trains entering tunnels, fireworks exploding, the tide rushing in, etc.) before adherence to the code began to weaken.

By the late forties, some subject matter began to become acceptable in films, prostitution for example. By the fifties, the film industry was feeling the competition from television. In addition to this, unregulated foreign films, with their more sophisticated themes, began making their way into the country and moviegoers’ demands changed. It was director Otto Preminger who is credited with first thumbing his nose at the PCA by using the word “virgin” in his film, The Moon is Blue. Directors such as Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot) soon followed suit.

Though the code ended in 1968 (the movie industry replaced it with “age-based” ratings), it had a far reaching influence even in television. For example, take the twin beds poor Laura and Rob Petrie were forced to sleep in.  And those Doris Day sex comedies of the sixties! It always amazed me while watching A Touch of Mink, to see Doris Day, a virgin in her late twenties or early thirties, turning down, for the sake of her virtue, an opportunity of traveling the world with her love interest, wealthy business tycoon, Cary Grant.

Pre-code films are truly quite remarkable and make one wonder how much greater might some of the movies have been that were made when the censorship code was strictly enforced. On the other hand, an argument could be made that having these restrictions may have resulted in more creativity and ingenuity on the part of filmmakers.

Below, I’ve listed a dozen of, what I consider to be, the best “pre-code” movies. They often turn up on TCM or they can be ordered as part of TCM’s “Forbidden Hollywood” trilogy.


1.    EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023986/  Starring William Warren (a pre-code favorite) and Loretta Young. Loretta plays the wife of a department store employee who is harassed by the lascivious store manager, Warren.

2.    BABY FACE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023775/   Stars Barbara Stanwyk as a girl from “the wrong side of the tracks” who uses her body and sexual know-how to climb the corporate ladder. (And climb she does). Incidentally, strong female characters were a cornerstone of pre-code films.

3.   THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024617/  This is a movie I’ve never had the opportunity to see, much as I’ve wanted to. Based on the novel SANCTUARY By William Faulkner, the film is apparently steeped in “Southern Gothic”. Starring Miriam Hopkins, it is recognized as much for its extraordinary cinematography as for its depiction of a flirtatious Southern belle who “gets what’s coming to her” when she falls in with a bad, bad gang.

4.    FREAKS (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022913/  I was first introduced to this bizarre depiction of a group of circus sideshow “freaks” by my brother when I was young and I found it terribly disturbing. (Particularly the man who was little more than “a head”, lighting his own cigarette.) With the advances in medical science, Americans are rarely exposed any more to the deformities depicted here. A good, if somewhat predictable, story with amazing characters.

5.    THREE ON A MATCH (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023590/  The story tells the tale of three school chums who reunite to find that their lives have taken very different paths. The seemingly most successful of the three (her name is Vivian, by the way) ends up throwing it all away in exchange for a life of debauchery and alcoholism.
What surprised me most when watching this movie was what a relatively minor role Bette Davis played. Like her co-star William Warren, Joan Blondell was another pre-code favorite.

6.    WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024772/  This film is a dismal depiction of the Depression. In order not to be a burden to their struggling, out of work parents, two teenagers, Ed and Tom, head for the road in search of work. They hop freights and camp out in God awful places with their newly acquired friend, Sally. When Sally suggests they visit her “well to do big city aunt”, they’re delighted (until they meet “auntie” and discover she makes her money by turning tricks).

7.    NIGHT NURSE (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022208/  I enjoyed this one immensely. My kind of movie: psychological suspense. When a nurse trainee (Barbara Stanwyk) is hired to care for two small sick children, she suspects that something (or rather someone) sinister is behind their illnesses. She employs the aid of a petty criminal (Clark Gable) to get to the bottom of things.

8.    LILLY TURNER (1933) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024258/  Like many pre-code movies, this one was directed by William Wellman. It tells the story of a carnival magician who deserts his wife when he finds out she's pregnant. She marries the carnival's barker, but soon finds herself attracted to a young engineer.  When Warner Bros. tried re-releasing this in 1936, they couldn’t get a PCA “seal of approval”.

9.    RED HEADED WOMAN (1932)http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023385/plotsummary  Another “woman sleeping her way to the top” story, this one starring a sultry Jean Harlow whose ultimate goal is to sleep her way into high society.

10.  TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023622/  This comedy starred Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, and Herbert Marshall. Since it takes a lighthearted look at pickpockets, and thievery in general, it would never have received PCA approval.

11.   POSSESSED (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022276/  Factory worker, Joan Crawford, enamored of the lifestyle and the man, acquiesces to becoming the mistress of influential lawyer, Clark Gable. Great chemistry between the two, who were paired in many, many movies.

12.  DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022835/  Having seen both this version and the later one starring Spencer Tracy, I’d have to say that this was the better of the two. Fredric’s incredible transformation from kindly Dr. Jekyll to maniacal Mr. Hyde was nothing less than brilliant. In fact, he earned his first Academy Award for his performance.

 FREAKS:

THE MARX BROTHERS: CHICO, HARPO & GROUCHO:


Hope you have a great week and thanks for reading,

RHODES LESS TRAVELED,
Vivian Rhodes
@VivianWrites
 



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

BROOKLYN: A FILM REVIEW



When I went to see it, I didn’t know much about the film, Brooklyn, other than the fact that it was a period piece, primarily set in the borough in which I grew up.  Having lived there in the sixties and seventies, the story, set in the early fifties, was before my time but hey, Brooklyn is Brooklyn.
            The story, based on the novel by Colm Toibin and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, is that of a young Irish immigrant, EILIS LACEY (Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in Brooklyn circa 1952. Having traveled there alone, her trip sponsored by FATHER FLOOD, (Jim Broadbent) a benevolent priest, Eilis is bewildered and somewhat intimidated by her surroundings. She is also extremely homesick for her small Irish town and for the company of the mother and sister she left behind.
Though she would like to study to become an accountant, Eilis initially takes a job working at a department store where it is suggested by her supervisor (Mad Men’s Jessica Pare) that she shake her depressive state, which is all too apparent in her lack of interaction with customers as well as in her drab appearance.
Eilis resides, with several other girls, in a boarding house run by a no-nonsense landlady, MRS. KEHOE (played with just the right amount of cheekiness by Julie Walters.)  Several of the other girls, more seasoned than Eilis, tease her about her innocence and general “just came off the boat” demeanor.
One night, Eilis decides to attend a dance thrown by Father Flood.  Here she is approached by an earnest young man, TONY FIORELLO (Emory Cohen) who finds Eilis’s unassuming appearance charming. In fact, he confesses to her later, that though he is Italian he attends these dances because he is attracted to Irish girls.
A sweet romance slowly blossoms between Eilis and Tony during which Eilis, no longer depressed, becomes almost radiant. The transformation is subtle but visible. Eilis and Tony’s relationship is only threatened when tragedy strikes and Eilis must suddenly return to Ireland.
Brooklyn manages to do what few films can in this day and age: it truly captures the hearts of viewers.  The performances of the leads as well as the supporting cast are brilliant, and the story itself, while simple on one level, has many layers to it.  The cinematography, particularly in the scenes shot in Ireland, was captivating as well.
Personally, I loved the way the director, John Crowley, captured the flavor of Brooklyn in the fifties and the fact that the authenticity was consistent throughout the film. I recently saw another period piece that, with costumes and period automobiles, went to great lengths to recreate New York during the same period, but neglected to pay attention to small details. For example, the seats in a scene shot in a subway car were modern and framed in chrome, whereas a similar scene of a subway car in Brooklyn depicted the seats just as they were then, upholstered in a straw-like material.  Such details may seem minor, but collectively they add up to the authentic feel a film conveys and how that feeling is delivered. 
Brooklyn, in my opinion, delivers big time.  I would recommend it highly.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy new year, and thanks for reading Rhodes Less Traveled.

Vivian

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

Thought this was worth a re-post considering the day.


            Today is Friday the 13th supposedly one of the most unlucky days of the year.

            So just why is the day considered to be unlucky?  I researched some possible explanations.  For one thing, in numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.

            In the past, some airlines skipped including the thirteenth row (probably fearing that many passengers wouldn’t book it.)  I recall years ago when I worked at Creative Artists Agency, we were situated on the fourteenth floor – there was no thirteenth floor. People working in the entertainment industry, by the way, are as superstitious as those in sports. (Try saying “Macbeth” in a theatre, or “good luck”.)

            As for Friday, it has often been regarded as an unlucky day to undertake journeys, begin new projects or deploy releases in production. Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800s.

            I'm going to take a moment to ask a favor of my blog readers.  If you haven't already done so, would you consider reviewing my book, Groomed for Murder?  It is available for $1.99 on Amazon
(http://www.amazon.com/Groomed-Murder-Vivian-Rhodes-ebook/dp/B007CDLCVO) and the reason I am asking now is because a script I wrote based on the story is being considered for another medium and good reviews of the book could only help. (I stress good...remember what your mother said? If you don't have anything good to say.....etc?:)  Would very much appreciate it.

 Have a great weekend and take special care today,

Vivian
Rhodes Less Traveled

Sunday, November 1, 2015

DID I HEAR YOU RIGHT? (Things not to say to someone who is grieving.)


 Tomorrow will be the tenth anniversary of my husband Rick's passing.  And while in many ways I have moved on with my life, not a day goes by that I don't think of him. Grief is a very personal thing and has no adequate timetable. Words like "closure" are meaningless to someone who has lost a loved one. Very often people find themselves at a loss as to what to say to someone in mourning.

I thought it might be a good idea to re-post the article I wrote several years ago which touched on just that subject:


A few weeks ago, I was stopped by a woman in the market who inquired as to whether I was wearing a fragrance. Thinking I was about to be complimented I told her that I was. She proceeded to inform me of the fact that fragrances cause cancer. (Wait, it gets worse).  I told her that my husband died of cancer and that if I learned anything it’s that death can come to us regardless of the precautions we take and that it is best to live life fully while we can.  Her response?  “Maybe it was your fragrances that contributed to your husband’s death”.

Am I kidding?  I wish I were.  People sometimes speak before they have time to consider the moronic and often hurtful things they say.  This woman was a stranger to me, but frequently well meaning friends and family members have been known to make foolish remarks to someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. I, myself, have said things that I have come to regret. Here are some things not to say to someone in mourning:

1.         He’s in a better place. I heard this said of a twenty-year old.  To me, a better place for this kid should have been a rock concert.

2.         Be grateful for the good years you had together. Of course one is glad for the good years; does it make a person ungrateful to have wanted more?
  
3.         Were you left well provided for? And you’re asking this why?

4.         Did he smoke? (Asked about a victim of lung cancer).  Did he use a cell phone? (Asked about a victim of brain cancer)  These questions are asked to receive the assurance that if one doesn’t ‘partake’ in said activities, one can avoid the same dire consequences.

5.         At least it wasn’t a real baby yet. Yes, this was actually said to a woman who miscarried in her 5th month.

6.         I know how you feel, I’m divorced. As bad as a divorce can be, it is not the same as death. I would ask someone with children who makes this statement, “Do your kids still have a mother or a father?” (whatever the case may be.) In addition to this, some people have, incredibly, said, “Believe me, in my case, death would have been better.

7.         What were her symptoms? Questions such as this are generally asked by those with a touch of hypochondria who are afraid that they might be experiencing similar symptoms.

8.         You can always have more children. Whispered, encouragingly, to the woman who has just experienced a stillbirth. As if having another child could possibly replace the one who has died.

9.          Well, you knew this day would come.  Whether said in reference to someone who was terminally ill or in regards to the loss of an elderly parent, it is an obvious and insensitive remark to make. Of course one knows that an elderly parent is not going to live forever, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the grief when the inevitable day arrives.

10.       I can empathize; I just lost my 96 year old father. While losing a parent is sad at any age (I lost my own father when I was only fourteen) the loss of someone who has lived a full life doesn’t quite compare to the untimely loss of a relatively young parent or spouse and certainly not to the loss of a child.

11.       You should get another (dog or cat) right away.   To most pet owners, a dog or a cat is a beloved member of the family that cannot just be easily replaced.  In fact, in many cases, the grief a pet owner feels over the loss of a beloved pet might be as strong or stronger than what others might feel for a human being. (This having been said, when someone has just lost a spouse, a sibling, a child, etc., it would probably not be the most appropriate time to bring up the loss of one’s pet).     
                                                                  
12.       Think of it as beginning a new chapter in your life. Though in many ways this is true, it is usually far too soon for a bereaved person to contemplate turning that first page in his or her life.

13.        You’ll be able to move on, real soon, you’ll see.  Contrary to the commonly held belief that grieving occurs in stages (denial, anger, sorrow, acceptance, etc.), it is actually not a linear process. One can feel that he or she has a handle on things and the grief can come back to bite you a year or two or even ten years down the line. The bottom line is everyone ‘moves on’ at his or her own pace and in varying degrees.

14.       At least you have closure. Closure is, in many ways, an empty word when dealing with the loss of a loved one.

15.       I’ll be there for you. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing to say provided you are truly prepared to walk the walk and not merely talk the talk.

Best thing to say under these circumstances, when you’re at a loss for words? I’m so sorry for your loss.


Have a great week and, once again, thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along,

RHODES LESS TRAVELED

Vivian

Thursday, October 8, 2015

THE INTERN: A MOVIE REVIEW



Producer/director/writer Nancy Meyers creates adult comedies for, well, for adults.  She has cast past hits like Private Benjamin, Something’s Gotta Give, and Father of the Bride, with the kind of actors baby boomers would most likely feel an affinity towards:  Goldie Hawn, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Alec Baldwin.  This, and her gift for zeroing in on the lifestyle challenges associated with that generation (becoming a father of the bride, intimacy at a certain age, retirement) has given her an incredible track record for making hit films or at least films that are likely to draw that particular demographic.
The Intern, written and directed by Meyers, is the story of widower BEN WHITTAKER (Robert DeNiro) who would like to spend his retirement years doing something that makes him feel useful.  Having worked for the greater part of his life he decides to apply for a position as an intern in an online startup company founded and run by a driven JULES OSTIN (Anne Hathaway) Though Ms. Ostin is hesitant to take on a “senior” as an intern, she eventually comes to lean on Ben both professionally and personally.
DeNiro, with the mere raising of an eyebrow, has the ability to play comedy with a subtlety not all actors can manage and much of the appeal of this film rests on his capable shoulders.
Rounding out the cast are a trio of young men (played by Andrew Rannells, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley) who are colleagues of Ben and who, rather than dismiss him because of his age, actually look up to him as does Jules. 
Is this a realistic scenario?  Probably not. But Meyers doesn’t necessarily aim for realism; she sets out to create an enjoyable movie that, incidentally, makes one think about our perceptions of marriage, age, and so on. (The young actress who plays Jules’s daughter, PAIGE, (Jo Jo Kushner) steals every scene she’s in by the way.) 
There is one particular instance in which Ben and the three young men set out to steal a computer (the details aren’t important.)  Watching this scene actually made me laugh out loud, something I don’t do very often in a movie theatre.  That in itself would make me recommend this film.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading Rhodes Less Travelled, Vivian