The Year Was 1938 – May 29th

Bob Hope in 1938
  • Bob Hope turned 35 on this day. The vaudeville, radio and screen star was then finishing his latest film at Paramount ‘Give Me a Sailor’ with Martha Raye and Betty Grable. [Hope would be teaming with Grable’s husband Jackie Coogan for a tour of live appearances over the summer. He would be back at Paramount for ‘Thanks for the Memory’ to finish out 1938 (four films total on the year). The comedian has three pictures ahead for 1939, including ‘The Cat and the Canary.’ The year after he finally gets teamed with his friend Bing Crosby for the first of the Road pictures – ‘Road to Singapore’].
  • Witty comedienne Beatrice Lillie shares a birthday with Hope and crosses over to 44. She was also in a film from Paramount this year supporting Bing Crosby – ‘Doctor Rhythm,’ a comedy musical, based on an O Henry story. [This was one of the few films she was in. She was the toast of the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, and the darling of the likes of Noel Coward and Cole Porter. The year 1939 finds her back on Broadway in a musical review put together by Coward].
  • Genius director Joseph von Sternberg also turned 44 on this day. He would be called back to the US in the fall by MGM to complete ‘The Great Waltz’ then shooting under the direction of Julien Duvivier. To entice him they offered a one picture deal. [After he turned his nose up at a project attached to Hedy Lamarr, he would direct ‘Sergeant Madden’ with Wallace Beery in a story about crime and cops and family, his only offering for 1939. In fact from here on out his works were rather sporadic].
  • Cinematographer Gregg Toland passed the 34 year mark this day. His most recent film had just opened and was playing at Grauman’s Chinese – 20th Century Fox’s ‘Kidnapped’ based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. [Next for his exacting eye – ‘The Cowboy and the Lady’ for Goldwyn, starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon. Toland photographed four films in 1939, and the first to kick off the year was ‘Wuthering Heights’ for which he won the Oscar for cinematography].

Vote for Citizen Kane

Vote for Citizen Kane

You have to see Citizen Kane.

Or so went the watchword around any college campus in the seventies. Especially if you took any film classes.

When it was announced for the schedule at the Harvard Exit, I didn’t join the queue for tickets. Instead, I called Art Bernstein. I had learned that they did reciprocate with other theaters in the area as a professional courtesy. (Though I do not know if they ever had to time to come and see a film where I worked. They probably attended the trade screenings for newer films).

Citizen Kane was…

A tour de force.


A powerful experience of sight and sound. Orson Welles fired on all cylinders when making this film. And a V-12 aircraft engine at that.

It was not a thrill ride like the modernday summer tentpole blockbuster. It was thrilling in that it was totally captivating. And it was a bit of a ride in the sense that you were on a journey with the reporter who is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the title character’s last recorded word – Rosebud.

The camera panned, tilted, moved, passed through skylights, and stopped and brooded. You were led around by the nose, and happy for it. The shots were composed, angled, and focused in multi-planes. Everything was calculated to rivet your interest. Gregg Toland, the cinematographer, gave his all to electrify the screen for Welles’ story.

The reality of the images was bolstered by the reality of the sound. Dialogues overlapped. Sounds near or far were distinguishable as such. The sound set tones, revealed character, enhanced emotions. And then the music by Bernard Herrmann fortified the whole.

Then the film ended. The lights came up. We all knew, (if we were paying attention) what Rosebud was. Ironically, the reporter character in the film did not. He was still in the dark.

Conversation bubbled up around me.  But I found that for myself, I just wanted to think more about it. A moral was somewhere there in the telling. For the viewer (or reader) the protagonist in a story becomes a lodestone, off of which to bounce oneself.

And that’s what I was doing. How could I avoid the fate of Charles Foster Kane? I was not rich, that would most likely help, but I could identify something in me that was similar. Ambition.

Ambition is what I settled upon as the stumbling block that brought him down. It was what led to the corruption in his character that left him bereft of his simple happiness.

So, I came away with a new ambition – to avoid ambition.