Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy 4th of July, Hollywood Style

Celebrating the 4th of July, Hollywood Style!

Mitzi Gaynor

Clara Bow

Gloria Grahame

Cleo Moore

Friday, June 26, 2015

Whatever Happened to Kato on The Green Hornet?

This is for all you Green Hornet fans...

In late 1935, radio director Jim Jewell was responsible for casting the new radio program, The Green Hornet. Not satisfied with the way the Chinese actors were portraying Chinese on the Dr. Fang program (circa 1933-1934), Jewell talked by phone with Cullen Landis, once a leading juvenile in the movies and now directing commercial films for Jam Handy. Since Landis was looking for two Chinese actors for a film and Jewell was looking for a Japanese for the role of Kato, they made a successful exchange. Actor Tokataro Hayashi was the first to play the role of Kato beginning in January of 1936. His talent contract assured him $25 per week to play the role, “whether by radio or visual broadcasting and for as many performances as are necessary.” As of September 8, 1938, his salary went up an extra $5 per week. Hayashi was renamed by Jewell as Toyo, and he is sometimes credited on paper as Raymond Hayashi and Raymond Toyo. 

Today, fans listening to the radio program prefer the earlier adventures because the actors playing the roles were best suited. When Toyo was replaced, the actor tried to speak Oriental but there can be no comparison when an Oriental tries to speak English. But there remains a mystery that has puzzled thousands of historians... until now. 

Sometime in 1942 (the exact date remains unknown), Raymond Toyo Hayashi came upon a problem that offered no solution. Because of the war, the U.S. government sent official notice that Toyo was to be sent back to Japan. Since Dick Osgood was broadcasting a series called March of Victory for the Hi-Speed Gas Stations, and a number of scripts had to be cleared through six departments in Washington, the little Japanese believed that Osgood might have an “in” with the government. But it was not so and when Britt Reid phones Kato from his office at The Daily Sentinel to make preparations for the evening’s adventure, he does so alone using a private line. Numerous episodes make reference to the private line, but many of the later ones do not mention it. Fans of the series often wondered why Reid would discuss such plans over a phone line that could be monitored by a switchboard operator, but this explanation was offered many times in the earliest of Green Hornet adventures.

Osgood could do nothing to aid Toyo. Trendle had no influence with members of Congress to have the notice served on Toyo waived. According to Osgood, the Japanese actor disappeared, “presumably to a concentration camp in the west.” No one at WXYZ ever saw Toyo again. This was what Osgood reported in his book, Wyxie Wonderland (Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1981). And for more than two decades, historians including Terry Salomonson and myself assumed the same.

Bob Keller in Waukesha, Wisconsin, brought to my attention some information that solves the mystery. A recently-published article by Clifford Hayashi reveals not only Raymond's past before he became an actor at radio station WXYZ, but what happened to the Japanese actor during and after World War II.

Small note I would like to add before you click the link and read this amusing story. Some of the facts are not 100 percent accurate. For example, Hayashi claims the actor was paid $60 a week at WXYZ. Both Terry and myself have a zerox copy of all the talent contracts at WXYZ and his starting pay was $25 a week, later raised to $30, as stated above. But for the most part, like any historical document, this is as good as it gets and we are very thankful Clifford Hayashi was able to compile this information, with the assistance of Raymond's daughter.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

 All was not well in the cosmos with Carole Lombard. Forever immortalized on celluloid, she is perhaps best known for To Be or Not to Be, a satire that was released two months after her untimely death. “I believe that everything that happens is determined by an inflexible Fate,” Lombard later remarked. Ironic when you consider that her life was struck down by a number of hardships, including a life-changing auto accident. On January 16, 1942, returning home from a war bond our, Carole Lombard perished in a plane crash 30 minutes outside Las Vegas. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, Lombard became iconic as a result of a pre-mature death and the public’s never-ending question: “what would she have accomplished had she not died so early?”

To Be or Not to Be was a brilliant satire of the times. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in a Polish soldier's efforts to track down a German spy. Doesn’t sound much like a comedy and at the time the film was released, neither critics nor public were in the mood to laugh, finding the picture tasteless and callous. Over the years, however, the movie has been re-evaluated and has since become a classic.

Carole Lombard
Miriam Hopkins was the original choice for Maria Tura. She turned the role down when she realized Jack Benny had all the laughs and her part would largely be his straight man. Lombard saw the overall quality of the material and took the part. Lombard took the female lead despite the strenuous objections of her husband, Clark Gable. After the shooting of this film was finished, Lombard told many people that To Be or Not to Be was the happiest experience of her career from start to finish.

This week I finished reading Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3, by Robert Batzen. A fresh look at Hollywood's "Queen of Screwball Comedy," Carole Lombard, presents a thorough examination of the events that led to the shocking flight mishap that took her life on the side of Mt. Potosi in 1942. It also provides a day-by-day account of the struggles of Lombard's husband, Clark Gable, and other family, friends, and fans to cope with the tragedy.

In effect, having just completed the first sale of war bonds and stamps in the nation following its entry into World War II, Lombard became the first Hollywood start to sacrifice her life in the War (40 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor). The War Department offered Gable a funeral service with full military honors, but he refused it, knowing that his wife would not approve of such spectacle.

Lombard was a tomboy with athletic prowess and spirit far exceeding her size (she was petite and stood 5' 2", with shoes). She became good friends with many in Hollywood, never let fame get to her head, and contributed both time and money to help further the careers of others. Jack Benny was so taken back by Lombard that two days following the plane crash, he was unable to attend his weekly Sunday evening radio program.

Based on extensive research rather than gossip, Fireball further explores the lives of the 21 others on the plane, including 15 members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and addresses one of the most enduring mysteries of World War II. On a clear night full of stars, with TWA's most experienced pilot at the controls of a 10-month-old aircraft under the power of two fully functioning engines, why did the flight crash into that Nevada mountainside?

She was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first woman killed in the line of duty in WWII. FDR greatly admired her work for the war effort

Looking back, very few of her films are above average but among my favorite is a quick guilty pleasure titled Supernatural (1933), in which Lombard co-starred with pre-screen cowboy star Randolph Scott. The story dealt with ghosts and possession, a woman ala Roxy Hart executed for her crimes and her spirit invading the body of an innocent woman, taking possession of her senses only to seek revenge against the man responsible for her execution. Lombard found director Victor Halperin so vexing that at one point she reached out her arms and shouted to the heavens, “Who do I have to screw to get off this picture?” Since that day in 1933, that line may have been the most quoted on-set line in Hollywood history.

She portrayed a hooker in a risqué pre-Code drama called Virtue, which featured a tawdry plotline and women in stockings and garter belts who “would do anything to get ahead.” Understanding what sold tickets at the box office, Lombard gained a reputation for going braless onscreen, acquiring cult status at the grindhouses for nipples poking through silky dresses and displaying lots of leg. Before takes she would apply ice cubes to ensure her perkiness caught on camera.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
“I've lived by a man's code designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick,” Lombard was once quoted. Sex sold and Lombard had no problems defending her honor behind the camera. She was known for swearing like a sailor but many theorize it was a defense mechanism against the wilds of male testosterone. Besides, she had competition. Jean Harlow was so sexy that she made nearly every line of dialogue into the Kama Sutra.

Her first husband was William Powell. Sparks flew between the two from the first rehearsals, and a healthy infatuation catapulted them to the nearest bedroom. He was almost 40; she was 22, making pictures by day and playing the field by night. After their divorce, Powell romanced Jean Harlow and the rest is history.

No Man of Her Own became the only picture both Lombard and Gable co-starred together. Both were married at the time to other people and neither seemed to be interested in a “test drive,” but they respected each other and their talents. If anyone tells you it was the movie that they met and fell in love and got married shortly following, you can debunk that myth.

Lombard performing on stage on January 15, 1942.

It was during filming of Twentieth Century that Howard Hawks and John Barrymore discovered that the fun-loving Carole Lombard was stiff and cardboard when the cameras rolled. This is one of the reasons why film buffs do not regard her as a great actress – not like Bette Davis and Greta Garbo. “She couldn’t act for a damn,” Hawks later remarked. “She just became completely phony.”

Before Clark Gable, she contented herself with sex and adoration, with doubts about marrying again after William Powell. There were other loves – George Raft, Russ Columbo – but the death of the latter came back to haunt her many times over. She was linked romantically to the crooner and his death traumatized her.

Recovery attempts of the plane wreckage. 
Lombard was the inspiration for actor Robert Stack, then a youth who taught her how to hold a gun and shoot skeet. Stack appeared in To Be or Not to Be on the recommendation of Lombard and until the day he died the actor never hid his admiration for the actress.

Lombard helped urge Lansing Brown toward self-forgiveness when a freak accident caused the death of Russ Columbo, and participated in subterfuge for Columbo’s frail and incapacitated mother, who was never told of her son’s death. Instead, a lavish European tour was dreamed up, and Russ would send her letters from exotic locations that spoke of his latest successes, while his remains settled into a crypt in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Lombard threw herself into redecorating her Hollywood Boulevard house and brought in “Billy” Haines, a leading man in the silent era who could not crack into talkies. He was gay and his effeminate speech patterns brought his orientation to the forefront. He became one of Lombard’s causes and her notoriety that accompanied her support of a gay actor meant more than cash and helped to launch a 40-year decorating career.

Lombard was responsible for the successful career of Alice Marble, tennis player, who was down on her luck. When Marble suffered a number of health issues, Lombard found a general practitioner and paid the bills. A few years later Marble would claim the California state singles title, the U.S. Open Women’s Singles title at Forest Lawn and a clean sweep at the Wimbledon in 1939.

The plane crash that killed her took place less than a month before the Oscars. Despite her mother's premonition of the disaster, she refused to take a train to Los Angeles. She was reputedly in a rush after getting wind of an alleged affair between her husband Clark Gable and a young actress named Lana Turner, who at the time were filming Somewhere I’ll Find You (1942). The decision for Lombard to take the plane was decided literally by the flip of a coin, with Carole winning the toss.

Fireball is a great read. If you don’t have time to read a biography about Carole Lombard, of which there are a more than eight (half of them amateur 40-page print-on-demand cheapies sold through and cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia), I recommend this book. Lombard’s life is summarized properly with great prose. Who knew that retired movie actress Clara Bow, residing fifty miles southeast of Mt. Potosi on a sprawling ranch called The Walking Box, witnessed the plane crash? I learned someone new with the turn of every page.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders

The motion-picture serial, routinely dismissed, overlooked, or undervalued by mainstream film historians, finally receives the acclaim it deserves in the meticulously researched book, Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, by Ed Hulse.

Drawing on the well-established conventions of pulp fiction and stage melodrama of the blood-and-thunder variety, "chapter plays" thrilled silent era audiences of all ages and, more importantly, made weekly movie-going a habit for millions of Americans. From Helen Holmes to Pearl White, Charles Hutchison and Ben Wilson, the stars of cliffhanger serials gave us so much... and left us wanting more. Produced for an adult audience during the silent era, it will come as no surprise to those who have watched many of the sound serials that cliffhanger chapter plays made a major transformation in the thirties toward a juvenile audience. Columbia Pictures knew the demographic -- why else would they have licensed such radio properties as Jack Armstrong, Hop Harrigan, Batman and Captain Video for their serials? Universal attempted to cash in on Buck Rogers, Smiling Jack and Flash Gordon with their entries -- the latter of which played a major influence on George Lucas and his Stars Wars movies.

Sadly, many of the silent serials are neglected by film buffs who do not share an appreciation for a visual art form that was crafted with a lack of a sound track... but the best of the serials stems from the silent era. That was why Ed's book, many years in the making, was worthy of momentarily dropping present-day projects to dig deep into his book, Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders. Here, Ed offers a comprehensive history of serials from the halcyon days of The Perils of Pauline (1914) to the advent of talking pictures. His account is illustrated with hundreds of rare stills, posters, lobby cards, advertisements, and even frame blowups from surviving 35mm nitrate prints. The illustrations won't be found on the internet with a google search, adding value and appreciation to this fantastic tome. In debunking old myths and uncovering new information about vintage "cliffhangers," Ed provides an education for anyone who wants to learn all about the history of cliffhanger serials and for those who thought they knew all about them.

Ed explores the budgets and profits of the serials, distribution, billboards and one-sheets, the rise and fall of independent film studios, the celebrity status gained by the screen stars, stunt men and injuries, and much more. Even more fascinating was lack of preservation for many of the cliffhanger serials (UCLA lacked sufficient funds to preserve all of John Hampton's nitrate prints, and in the ensuing years some deteriorated beyond the point of no return) and how that situation has changed in recent decades. Still, much of the damage has been made which is what makes this book all the more important.  

The largest chapter in the book centers on Pathe Exchange, Inc., also known as "The House of Serials," and the factory that produced some of the classics we still observe on the big screen. Ed confessed to me that the book was so large by the time he completed his project that Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders is the first half. A second half, Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains, will be published soon. Looking forward to it.

You can check out Ed's blog, with tons of information about cliffhanger serials, along with how to purchase his book and magazine here: