The Year Was 1938 – May 15th

Publicity shot from Room Service – The Marx Brothers
  • ‘Room Service’ with the Marx Brothers to begin shooting today at RKO under director William A Seiter. [The boys would return to MGM for ‘At the Circus’ released in 1939].
  • Director Herbert Leeds leaves for Callander, Ontario, Canada where he will direct a fictional story using the talents of the Dionne quintuplets for 20th Century Fox. Jean Hersholt went with him to play the doctor; also along was Lou Breslow, the writer; and Daniel B Clark, cameraman. Film — is entitled ‘Five of a Kind,’ and would be released in Oct 1938. [A documentary short from RKO in 1939 would cover the fifth birthday for the quints].
  • Frank Capra is elected president of the Screen Director’s Guild, replacing another director at the top, King Vidor who was then in London on assignment for Metro. Capra’s ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ was then in production at Columbia.

ITEM THAT PIQUED MY INTEREST

  • BIll Robinson to be the guest of honor of the Hollywood Vaudeville Frolics at the new Las Palmas Theater. [‘Bojangles’ the tap dancing wizard of vaudeville, Broadway, and film (Shirley Temple films, of course) had four films in 1938, but none in 1939. Instead he was on Broadway in The Hot Mikado, a jazz version of the Gilbert and Sullvan operetta].
Ann Miller in 1938 – seen in both ‘You Can’t Take It WIth You’ and ‘Room Service’

A New Daily Series

Beginning tomorrow I will be starting a new series. In line with my interest in classic films and 1939 the Miracle Year, in particular – I will be noting down news items from Variety that caught my eye, and sometimes impact the year in question. They will be about the actors and actresses, sometimes the featured players, sometimes the extras – those in front of the camera. I will also cover the people behind the camera – producers, directors, etc – and the people behind them at the studios. And maybe there will an occasional exhibitor thrown in for good measure.

So stay tuned, and Watch This Space.

Hitchcock and Me

Hitchcock and Me

I had to do some research to nail down the time period that I was at the Cinerama theater. As I mentioned in a former post, the theater changed hands some time during my tenure there. I was able to run down the date that this occurred by checking with the Seattle Times newspaper website. On August 15, 1972, the Cinerama was taken over by the Sterling Recreation Organization.

Using this same site I was able to track down the films that were booked at the Cinerama and hopefully to trace back to the time I started. I am not quite one hundred per cent sure, but I think I began when Stanley Kramer’s film, Bless the Beasts and Children was playing there, which puts the date as sometime in November 1971. I don’t think many people are familiar with this film. Not many saw it when it was out. It was a “coming of age” story about a bunch of misfit boys out to save a herd of bison from slaughter.  It wasn’t long before a second feature, the sci-fi film Marooned was added to it to help out.

From then until the take over, I tore tickets for:

Ryan’s Daughter – by one of my favorite directors – David Lean

Sometimes a Great Notion – Paul Newman (starred and directed) which might have been a re-release as it opened originally in 1970

A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick – this carried an “X” rating for its violence and controversy

Silent Running – directed by Doug Trumbull (famous for the SFX on Kubrick’s 2001)

While Bruce Dern and his robots Huey, Dewey and Louis were trying to save the last of Earth’s plant life, another figure joined the lobby to promote an upcoming film. And I had my eye on him.

Alfred Hitchcock was a great showman as well as a legendary director. For his upcoming film he had had full size cutouts of his standing figure created for theater lobbies across America. There he stood with a finger pointed at whomever he was facing. And attached to the back of the figure was a small tape recorder that continually played a message from the Master of Suspense – all centered around neckties – to huckster for his latest film – Frenzy.

I prevailed upon Mr. McKnight to give me the cutout after the film completed its run. And he acceded to my request, but not until after the run was stretched a bit when Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me was added to boost the attendance.

When Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask” moved in, I moved Hitch out and gave him a ride home in my Roadrunner.

Upon arriving home, I propped Hitch up on the front step and rang the doorbell. When my Mom answered the door, she must have jumped a foot in the air, and three feet back. After she recovered her composure, she told me, “Let’s do it to Dad!”

So we did.

Josh Logan Director

Josh Logan Director

Howard Kazanjian called him Mr. Logan. And to Josh Logan, Howard was Howard.

Logan was not only a respected director, with lots of credits on stage and in film, he was also a writer and producer in both mediums. Josh used to talk to Howard about personal things – the difficulties in his life – stretching back to losing his father to suicide when but three years old.  Though, now happily married and with children of his own, he hinted to Howard that challenges and struggles dogged his steps.  (A couple years later Logan talked in public more freely about his bipolar disorder and the relief that lithium was bringing him).

Mr. Logan was 58 at that time, which was probably the median age of those who made up the crews at WB. The studio made the choice for first AD on Camelot.  It was a poor one – there were quite a few projects at the time that were tying up the best. Howard was given the second AD slot. With his get-up-and-go, can-do attitude, Logan came to depend very much upon Howard.

Howard was the only one from the crew (except for perhaps DP Dick Kline) that was invited out to the home Logan had rented in Beverly Hills. Howard came with his girl friend. When the butler, towel over his arm, answered the door, and greeted them each by name, a small mystery was cleared up. Josh when on set was always impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie. And highly polished shoes. And this was despite what type of setting they toiled in. At times it was downright gritty. For instance, when working in the “snow” scene which I have noted before was actually salt – all the shine had worn off those shoes by the end of the day. The next morning when Logan arrived on set, the shoes were restored to their glossy glory. And here greeting them was the reason why they were always pristine.

There are sometimes uncomfortable chores handed out to ADs by their directors. Two weeks into shooting, preparations were being made for the “It’s May” scene that called for lots of extras. Howard was charged with arranging their auditions. It seemed that Logan interviewed every male extra in Hollywood. He would have Howard line them up for review en masse in the street – different groups – knights – street musicians – townspeople etc. Logan would walk the line like a general reviewing his troops. One group he wanted to have a second look at, and ordered Howard to assemble them again, but this time just in their underwear. Shades of Erich von Stroheim, but understandable when considering this group needed to look fit – no unseemly bulges in the tight leather jerkins or other close-fitting garments that these extras would be wearing for the lusty month of May number.

Logan had an office on the lot (the one currently occupied by Clint Eastwood and his Malpaso Company). His secretary administered things for him there. From this HQ, he would drive over to whatever set was scheduled for that day, (sometimes visiting a couple) and after a review with Howard and Kline, Logan would tell them what needed to be done, and return to his office until the preparations were complete. One afternoon when they called the secretary to relay a 10 minute warning, she informed them that Logan wasn’t in. The associate producer Joel Freeman called down to the studio gate, and the guard there confirmed that Logan had indeed driven off the lot. Logan had visited the set, but upon leaving there, he switched to auto pilot and drove home. Thereafter Joel left a standing order with the gate guards – that if it were only midday they weren’t to let Logan off the lot.

On tap for next week – Dick Kline DP, the next installment in the Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.