Monday, March 30, 2009
SCREEN LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD
By Hubbard Keavy
Hollywood - March 20, 1932
Crime, from Hollywood’s standpoint, pays so well that the screen is bound to have it in one form or another. So the gangster story is coming again, but in an altered form.
The new formula, in effect, shows the policeman as the hero, the gangster as the heavy, with the law triumphant at the end.
It all began when Will Hays, the movie czar, following attacks in the press and the pulpit against the flood (19 out of 550 in 13 months, so the records show) of pictures that glorified the gangster, sent three stories back to the studios ordering the removal of the gangster angle. The day of the gangster picture, as such, is over.
The first one of the new type to reach the screen is “Beast of the City.” In it, Walter Huston is cast as an unpurchasable policeman who means to clean up his city of crime even if he has to give his life in the attempt.
Suddenly swept into office as chief of police, he has an opportunity to put his programs into effect.
“SOCKING” THE UNDERWORLD
Another picture treating police similarly is “Disorderly Conduct,” soon to be released.
It tells of the failure of the underworld to triumph over the honest police captain, played by Ralph Bellamy (doing his best job to date) and the eventual reformation of a patrolman (Spencer Tracy) who, because of a peeve, became dishonest.
A third soon to be made is “Radio Patrol” and is based on the same theory. With two such pictures already out and a third on the way, a cycle is almost inevitable. Hollywood may make America police-hero conscious.
Because they like action, crime stories always have been popular with the masses, who, according to a psychologist, get all the vicarious thrills they need out of seeing hard shooting and hard riding on the screen.
The first success the movies ever had was a crime story, a few hundred feet called “The Great Train Robbery.” It dealt with bandits and heroes and plenty of shooting.
“Westerns” were for many years the best and surest money-makers because a crime is essential to their plot.
America liked the gangster series, which merely took the old Western thrillers out of the saddle and put them in armored cars with machine gun protection.
ABOUT SCREEN FOLK
Harold Lockwood, Jr., son of the star who died many years ago, can’t seem to get out of the extra class.
Francis Ford, in the spotlight 15 years ago when he was a screen idol, is retired, living in a suburb near here. He also conducts a course in drama at the University of Southern California.
Weldon Heyburn bought a yacht the other day and immediately christened it “Grelita” which is Spanish for Greta. Still, in the face of this and other evidence, namely, that he is Greta Nisson’s only escort, he insists there is no romance between him and Greta.
A director, advised that one of his players was in error by wearing a wrist watch while in evening dress, replied, “Everybody does it. Even I.”
There’s an effective shot in “Alias the Doctor” which, if you’ve ever had an operation, will bring memories of that first unpleasant whiff of ether. It is the scene in the operating room. The camera takes the patient’s place, so you see the ether cone coming toward you, moving slowly into an appropriate fadeout.
Those who have read “Washington Merry-Go-Round” must have wondered how it will be put on the screen. It, I am reliably informed, will be filmed as a satire on politics and little but the title will remain when it is finished.
SONGS AND NEEDLEWORK
To amuse herself during her spare time, Ginger Rogers decided she would try to write a song. She even laughed at herself when she sat down at her piano, and of course she was somewhat surprised when a snappy little piece finally took form on paper.
Ginger was so encouraged that she wrote more songs – words and music – the total reaching nine a few weeks ago.
One of them she showed to a friend, who sent it to a publisher. Maybe you’ve heard it already. “It Used to Be You” is the title. Ginger says Rudy Vallee sang it one night.
If it clicks, says Ginger, she may try to sell some of the others. And in the meantime she’s writing more songs. That is, when she isn’t making needle point chair covers – her latest hobby.
Ginger’s mother thinks Ginger should have a new name and suggests Diane. Diane Rogers would be pretty. It’s a name that has been in the family a long time.
Ginger’s real name is Virginia. “Ginny” was the best she could do when she was a youngster, so she became Ginger when she grew up.
TOO MUCH RIDICULE
Three or four stories about Hollywood are being considered. One will bear the defensive title, “The Truth About Hollwood.”
Both “Queer People” and “Once in a Lifetime,” the smartest satires ever written about the town, are on no production schedules now and probably never will be. Both ridiculed too much.
A ROLE HE LIKES
Four or five years ago John Gilbert wrote a motion picture story, with the main character a scoundrel, a real 24-karat blackguard. He then could imagine no one in the role but Erich von Stroheim, ace portrayer of such rascals. But the last few years have brought a change in the movie goers’ opinions concerning principals who perform cinematic deeds justifying death or imprisonment in the last reel. So Gilbert himself will play the role.
The story, called “Downstairs,” takes place almost wholly on a huge estate in Germany. Gilbert is a chauffer whose villainy undermines the happiness and peacefulness of the entire household, “upstairs” and “downstairs.”
In a way, Gilbert explained, it is a psychological study, a cross-section view of two strata of life. Although the background is of wealth and society, the story centers around the menials on the estate.
Gilbert seemed as enthusiastic about the story as his co-workers at the studios said he was.
“I’ve had the story in mind for a long time,” he said. “When I couldn’t sell it, or even give it, to anyone for von Stroheim, I thought of myself for the part.
“Two or three years ago the studio officials turned it down because they role wasn’t sympathetic. Now I have permission to play the part and I am happier than I have been in years.
“The part I play,” he continued, “is that of a swaggering Don Juan who makes up for what he lacks in conscience with audacity. He is an outright villain but, nevertheless, is a fascinating chap. He will be hated for his villainy but he’s bound to be interesting.”
Gilbert is no novice at writing. In the old days before he began acting seriously, he wrote half a dozen adaptations including “The Last of the Mohicans,” and he wrote and directed “The Better Way” which starred Hope Hampton.
Gilbert has been treading on egg shells since his first talkie, “His Glorious Night” was so full of sappy dialog that he just couldn’t be good in it.
Although “Redemption” was made first, it was released as his second talking effort. If anything, it was worse.
These cost him many, many followers. Others since have been improvements, but the stigma of those first two has remained.
“Downstairs” and one other film remain to be made under his present contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
PLAYING A VOICE
Spencer Charters will be heard but not seen in George Arliss’ “A Successful Calamity.” His will be the voice of the president complimenting Arliss for some deed.
Charters was hired because his voice sounds like a President’s – however that is.
New additions to the “second generation” list are Phil Ford, son of the former star, Francis Ford; Wallace Reid, Jr., son of the late star, and Allan Hersholt, son of Jean.
All are playing small parts now.
“VON” ALWAYS WELCOME
The staff of a certain hospital in Hollywood considers Erich von Stroheim’s visits rather gala affairs.
And no wonder, for “Von” buys flowers and candy for the nurses, cigars for the doctors and interns, and midnight lunches for all who aren’t busy at that hour.
The actor-director holds court in his room. He is not only king but jester as well, telling stories by the hour and getting others in exchange.
Von Stroheim just left this hospital recently, having been there for a minor operation.
WAR’S CASH ECHO
Charles Resiner, director, still is collecting royalties on a song he wrote 15 years ago when he was a vaudeville performer.
It is “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France.” He has received a royalty check every month for years, ranging from large ones when the number was popular to small ones today, usually the result of the music being used in some picture score. His last check was for $13.50.
Eight short features varying from animated cartoons to sophisticated comedy will be released by Columbia Pictures. The various single reel series include: “The Grocery Boy,” a Mickey Mouse cartoon featuring Mickey, Minnie, and his assistant Pluto;
Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony, “The Bird Store”; Eddie Buzzell’s “Bedtime Story for Grown-Ups,” “The Gall of the North,” which presents a humorous slant on the Northwest Mounties; Charlie Mintz’ “Scrappy in Railroad Wretch,”
and “Krazy Kat” in “What a Knight.” A new edition of Screen Snapshots, the fan magazine of the screen. A travelaugh “Laughing with Medbury in Abyssinia,” and Futter’s “Curiosities” C-231.