Category Archives: Tributes

Obit: Gloria DeHaven (1925-2016)

About 15 years after the launching the highly innovative and spellbinding moving picture, the scrappy moguls realized that the future of their industry depended on more than the novel technology itself. After reading several fan letters inquiring about the people in the movies (who were then uncredited), they came up with the ingenious idea of grooming movie stars for public consumption (we all know how well that worked out).

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

The star machine had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. One of the best practitioners of this method was MGM, whose endearingly corny but apt studio mantra was a place where there were “more stars than in heaven.” MGM, specializing in gorgeously gauche fare, was a perfect fit for the crude and synthetic star system.

One of its starlets, Gloria DeHaven who died from a stroke July 31st, has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Born to vaudevillian parents Carter and Flora Parker DeHaven, Gloria began her career early, making her screen debut as an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).

From the get go, this fresh-faced glamorous brunette (sometimes blonde) exhibited confidence and glamour and made a good impression in small supporting roles, best of which was Best Foot Forward (1943). She more than held her own against the large and vibrant cast, as a feisty co-ed who instigates antagonism towards publicity-hungry actress Lucille Ball, who opportunistically accepts a prom date from a young cadet. This film marked the first pairing between DeHaven and June Allyson who along with Nancy Walker vibrantly delivered the show stopping musical number “The Barrelhouse, The Boogie Woogie, and The Blues.”

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

DeHaven and Allyson had such great chemistry that the next year, they got their first leading roles as plucky singing sisters in the charming morale boosting WWII musical Two Girls and A Sailor. As two singing sisters who gently spar for the affections of a boyish sailor played by Van Johnson, DeHaven’s sexiness and poise as the slightly impulsive sister who attracts the men perfectly complements Allyson’s warm, maternal, though slightly homely sister. Musically, DeHaven’s smooth, clear mezzo and Allyson’s raspy alto are in sync. In the end, audiences gravitated more towards the cuter, All-American Allyson and Johnson who starred in several subsequent films together, thus ending the Allyson DeHaven duo. (Off-screen, the two women remained best of friends).

With that, DeHaven was relegated back to supporting roles, as mostly kid sisters or secondary ingénues. She always brought an effortless, personable, slightly naughty but nice quality that deftly eschewed cloying sappiness. Her charm and vivacity sparkled even if the film didn’t. She easily outshone the negligible song and dance man, George Murphy, mediocre songstress Ginny Simms, and antiquated ex-Vaudevillian fuddy duddy Charles Winninger in the clunky Broadway Rhythm (1944).

DeHaven had a couple of major career setbacks in the mid-40s. First, she was suspended for refusing a role in Good News. Her next assignment, Summer Holiday, a strange but interesting (though not entirely successful) musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Ah Wilderness, was a highly troubled production that sat on the shelf for two years, and flopped miserably when finally released. Collectively, this kept her off screen for three years.

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

While many of her peers utterly resented Dore Schary replacing an acrimoniously ousted Louis B. Mayer as head of production at Metro, DeHaven appreciated the chance to play against type in grittier roles under the new executive’s auspices. She gives a potently poignant performance as the black sheep of a cold, elitist family who has a pregnancy out of wedlock (and naturally a tragic outcome) in the broody melodrama The Doctor and the Girl. In the nifty, cynical little film noir, Scene of the Crime, a bottled blonde DeHaven is effective as a quasi femme fatale who strips in a skeevy nightclub and cavorts with riff raff.

Although both films turned a profit and received decent reviews, DeHaven went back to lighter fare, playing Judy Garland’s slightly self-centered sister in the bizarre farm-set musical Summer Stock and Red Skelton’s love interest in The Yellow Cab Man. Shortly after, she left MGM and freelanced, where the quality of the material declined.

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

While no longer an A-lister, DeHaven worked steadily on television, Broadway, and nightclubs until the 1990s. She continued to display her versatility in a variety of excellent performances ranging from a shady old-flame who embroils private detective Mannix in a murder case to an assertive travel agent friend of Jessica Fletcher in a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. In one of the best episodes of the series, DeHaven, engages in several delightful catfights with several grande dames of the studio-era Julie Adams, Kathryn Grayson, and Ruth Roman, all of whom had dalliances with a town handyman whose shrewish wife was recently murdered.

Like several of the classic stars, DeHaven was approached a few times to write an autobiography, but the deal always fell through because she refused to write a “tell-all” account of her Hollywood days. Instead, in public appearances, DeHaven emphasized the positive aspects of being part of the “Metro family” (though she found some of the sillier aspects of the censorious Hays Code disagreeable). While she didn’t have the widespread fame as some of her peers (I would say she was sorely underrated), Gloria DeHaven has made a lasting impression on movie-loving folks like me.

Obit: Maureen O’Hara

Courtesy of www.zeit.de

Courtesy of www.zeit.de

To cineastes and film scholars Maureen O’Hara, who recently passed away in her sleep at the age of 95, is best known as the woman in a number of John Ford-John Wayne westerns, whose ravishing beauty rivaled that of the wide vistas of the Monument Valley locales; and as dutiful mothers in scores of films, most famously in Miracle on 34th Street and The Parent Trap. Like many her other redhead contemporaries, such as Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming, O’Hara tended to get cast in roles that capitalized on her glamour in Technicolor rather than for her talent.

I would like to write a few words about her work in a film that hasn’t been mentioned in any of her other obituaries. One role that utilized more than her eye-candy quality was the starring role as a talented ballerina who ends up working as a stooge for a burlesque show in the oddball, but compelling dramedy Dance, Girl, Dance (1940). Directed by Dorothy Arzner, the sole remaining female director under the Code (though she fizzled out shortly after this film), O’Hara convincingly transitions her character from a docile waif to an a young woman who develops a firm backbone after dealing with various shysters from her demeaning burlesque gig and getting thwarted around like a yo-yo in the shenanigans of bored and snarky married socialites (Louis Hayward and Virginia Field).

She lucidly and forcefully delivers one of the most articulate and impassioned speeches to a crowd of unruly male hecklers demanding to be treated with respect. She is one of the few female characters who chooses her art over a man and doesn’t get punished for it. Did I mention that she engages in one of the most spirited cinematic bitchfights with a belligerent and opportunistic burlesque dancer (Lucille Ball, also excellent in an against-type role)?

Even in her more ornamental assignments, O’Hara imbued each character with sensitivity, intelligence, pathos, and heart. With her passing, we are closer to the end of the classic Hollywood era.

Obit: Lizabeth Scott (1922-2015)

Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

The evening of Friday Feb. 6 was a sad occasion for the Film Noir community with the passing of Lizabeth Scott (she actually died on the 31st of January). Her home studio Paramount intended her as a carbon copy of sorts to Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall (a common practice in the Studio Era to keep their stars in line), but she quickly forged her own personality.

Aided by her smoky contralto voice, slim slinky physique and angular beauty, Scott perfectly fit in with the shadows and grit of Noir. Fans remember her best for her turns as avaricious femme fatales in Dead Reckoning and Too Late for Tears. She gives her best performance in the latter as a housewife who becomes a mercenary murderess when she and her plain, simple husband (soon to be ex) stumble on a bag of major cash intended for a shady character (Dan Duryea).

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Scott totally sinks her teeth into a character that has no redeeming features, pulling off the hard feat of making the audience root for an unrelentingly soulless and unscrupulous dame. As she demonstrates in a scene with her character’s antagonist played by Dan Duryea, she has an intriguing way of feigning submission that comes off as a parody of the construct of femininity. (The New York Times, which almost always trashed Scott’s acting, gave her a glowing review.)

While fans remember Scott’s criminal baddie characters, most of the roles she played were essentially good girls heavily seasoned with spice. Scott, who was a very sophisticated 25, could have been a total misfire as a rebellious teenager who falls for a dangerous criminal in the 1947 Technicolor Noir, Desert Fury. Since the film itself is wonderfully oddball, Scott’s “miscasting” is an asset as she adds a rough sexual tension that might not be present from a more typical ingénue. Her relationship with her mother (played by the fabulous Mary Astor) has a striking hard-boiled love-hate quality with a lesbian subtext.

Courtesy of www.popscreen.com

Courtesy of www.popscreen.com

In Dark City, best known as the film debut of Charlton Heston, Scott gives her most underrated performance as a nightclub singer who is both a part of the criminal underworld and a tender and faithful companion to Heston’s good-bad guy.

She is equally credible as the good girl in the melodrama The Company She Keeps. Scott elevates the potentially soggy character, an altruistic parole officer, with a clear-sighted, unsentimental performance. She is able to hold her own against Jane Greer, who has the far meatier role as the bruised parolee who falls for Scott’s fiancé.

Courtesy of jake-weird.blogspot.fr

Courtesy of jake-weird.blogspot.fr

The moral ambiguity of Film Noir began phasing out by the 1950s as McCarthy and his hysterical anti-commie posse seized Hollywood with their well organized, but pointless witch-hunt. Quality roles for Scott started dwindling as well. She plays femme fatales with humor and charm in Two of a Kind and Bad for Each Other, but the films themselves are dreadful bores.

Unlike most of her studio-era peers (often under duress from the big boss), Scott never married. In the reactionary regressive cult of suburban domesticity that plagued much of 1950s America, Scott was an easy target for a salacious Confidential article, which alluded that she was a lesbian “prone to indecent, illegal and highly offensive acts in her private and public life.” While this story did not outright destroy her career, it didn’t help it either.

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Around the same time Scott developed stage fright (which is not uncommon among seasoned performers) which made acting less appealing to her. Her appearances became increasingly more sporadic until she retired from the biz for good in 1972. She gives a scene-stealing guest starring turn, playfully camping it up as a mysterious, but sexually aggressive widow in a 1963 episode of the TV series Burke’s Law.

Intellectually curious about the world, Scott continued studying literature and philosophy. In interviews, she came across as an intelligent and thoughtful person. Now that Scott is gone, we are nearer to the end of an era of the great femme fatales. Thankfully, their cinematic legacy will live on.

Tribute: Robin Williams’ Best Scenes

Robin Williams Most Magical Moments

Courtesy of pbcvoice.blogspot.com

Courtesy of pbcvoice.blogspot.com

 By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Robin Williams wouldn’t want us to be sad about his passing. Instead he’d want us to celebrate the laughs and achievements that are this great man’s legacy. Unfortunately I am a wee bit too young to give more than a nod to Mork and Mindy, although I did enjoy Mork’s cameo episode on Happy Days (it’s weird what TV Land makes available and what they don’t). Before you get on my case about not having Mrs. Doubtfire in my favorite Robin Williams’ scenes, I confess that I haven’t seen it yet. So without further ado here are some of the highlights from Robin William’s film repertoire, at least from the one’s I have seen.

I’ll start with a rather unusual choice, One Hour Photo, which is not the first or even the fifth film that usually comes to mind when speaking of Williams. In fact I can’t remember the entirety of the film because it was late one night on HBO or something like that. One moment stuck out to me, when Williams held a figurine from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. As it turns out Williams was a fan of the show as well as other fandoms and his daughter was named after the Princess from the Legend of Zelda series. I know it’s a weird reason to like something, but I think he’d approve.

Courtesy of forum.foreignmoviesddl.org

Courtesy of forum.foreignmoviesddl.org

Williams had a way of standing out even in the smallest of roles. Two of which were the Night at the Museum series as the beloved president Teddy Roosevelt and the coveted role of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. In the latter he spends less than 10 minutes on screen and isn’t even credited, but even in that wild movie, the fact remains you can’t forget about him.

He was also a beloved presence in children’s films, some of which are the best produced of all time. In both the Disney film Aladdin and Steven Spielberg’s Hook, he brought so much fun to the characters through his ability to improvise and his genuine love for making people laugh. The Genie might be one of the most popular sidekicks in the Disney’s film library. It’s amazing that there is over 16 hours’ worth of recording for the character, most of which was improvised by Williams himself. Despite his talent he didn’t consider himself a great singer and yet “A Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are super catchy.  His Jack Nicholson impression which makes me smile every time.

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

I said before in my tribute to Bob Hoskins Hook is in my top ten favorite film list of all time For one the cast is brilliant and for another, it takes a kids movie to a very real place and tackles real kid issues without talking down to them. Jack is mad at his father, Peter Pan (Williams) for missing his baseball game and a lot of kids are able to relate to that sort of thing. In the beginning we see how becoming an adult has really seemed to suck the fun out of old Peter but he eventually realizes he’s become too obsessed with work and needs to remember what it’s like to be a kid again to realize what is really most important. And also, who didn’t love that food fight scene?

Love it or hate it, The Birdcage displays some of William’s most hilarious scenes of all time. Many dismiss the film feeling that it accentuates terrible gay stereotypes. You must consider that it’s based off a French play, which was later adapted into an English musical, so naturally that adds to the over the top factor. I understand how the subject can be offensive to some, it’s a side-effect of comedy which we can accept or just ignore. One scene that a friend of mine noted for being a standout is when Williams’ character is trying to get Nathan Lane’s character to act more masculine while buttering a piece of bread. Thankfully some wonderful individual has put this on YouTube because a description alone would not do it justice.

Courtesy of www.bradwarthen.com

Courtesy of www.bradwarthen.com

Good Will Hunting earned Williams an Oscar. All in all it’s a great film. His character gives such insight to people so it’s really hard to pick just one moment. The chemistry between him and Matt Damon is incredible and the lessons he teaches Damon’s character are also being instilled on us, the audience. This just makes this film more awesome. I think people will be quoting the advice in which he states that a person cannot really understand and feel loss until they love something more than themselves.

I have a confession to make, I was 14 and an angry young individual when I first saw Dead Poet’s Society and dismissed it as an overly bloated piece of rubbish. Then I re-watched it a few years later because I noticed one of my best friends was quoting it all the time. I don’t know how I missed the weight of those quotes then, but damn. It should be obvious that with the very word in the title, Dead Poet’s Society has a lot to say on the subject of life and death.

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

Courtesy of www.fanpop.com

Today more than ever those lines, especially about death ring out as we see Williams not as the teacher he played in the film, but as the tragic student Neil, a character despite outward appearances and being loved by friends, ends up taking his own life. This film is not a bad place to start for anyone who wants to try to understand depression. It shows the overwhelming weight of the illness and how despite all the love, sometimes you get to a place where words can no longer reach. I know I said I wasn’t going to focus on Williams’ death, but I really can’t dismiss the parallels of the movie and Williams’ real life.

He made us laugh, he made us cry, he gave us words to live by and instilled lessons on us but above all else he was a great gift to all and he will be greatly missed. RIP Robin Williams.

Obituary: Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Williams the Lovable Anarchist

Courtesy of www.theexcomedy.com

Courtesy of www.theexcomedy.com

Death is inevitable. However, certain passings such as Robin Williams’ on Monday August 11th, catch us by surprise and leave us totally devastated (for a few days at least). At 63, he wasn’t especially young. He wasn’t even particularly healthy, having open-heart surgery in 2009 and many years of cocaine and alcohol abuse, the latter with which he struggled even to the very end.

Even so his death is a major shocker. In his numerous public appearances, Williams possessed the energy of a solar-powered wind-up-toy. Above all, Williams seemed to be the indomitable survivor, invincible really, with a real zest for life (even when he constantly made fun of his own inner demons.)

Courtesy of www.bohomoth.com

Courtesy of www.bohomoth.com

His death is the Marilyn Monroe for our generation. On the surface, a comparison between the shapely blonde bombshell and the manic and hairy comedian might seem out of whack. In many ways, they had similar career trajectories. Both had highly idiosyncratic, singular talents that endeared them to the masses and catapulted them to superstardom. While the industry realized their uniqueness, very few producers and filmmakers knew what to do with them, rarely capitalizing on what made them special.

Williams caught the world by storm with his dimension-altering performance as the alien Mork in the now-cult late 70s and early 80s sitcom Mork and Mindy. Series creator Garry Marshall realized Williams’ battiness from his first audition where he stood on his head in a chair, and fostered Williams’ freedom of expression, even clearing out chunks in the script to give him time to improvise, later to be joined by Williams’ idol Jonathan Winters.

While most of his fame and fortune came from Hollywood movies, many of the projects water down his insanity in favor of a more conventional patness or they feebly attempt to coopt his wild comic persona, but reduce it to shrillness.

Courtesy of findingthewrongwords.blogspot.com

Courtesy of findingthewrongwords.blogspot.com

One movie performance that stands out is his voiceover work as the Genie. Miraculously, the dictatorial Disney allowed him to ad lib almost all of his dialogue. His presence singlehandedly elevates Aladdin as he counteracts the standard bland Disney tedium with an endearingly unhinged performance.

His lightning-paced stream-of-conscious lines that fuse numerous celebrity impressions (ranging from Jack Nicholson to Walter Brennan to Ethel Merman), accents, ethnicities, stock characters, and cultural references are perfectly suited to the medium of animation, reaching the full potential of the deepest depths of absurdity that is rarely scratched at the surface in animation. In one of the Oscar’s many arbitrary rules, Aladdin was deemed ineligible for a Best Original Screenplay nomination because of Williams’ improvisations, which ironically gave the film its quality.

It’s an unforgivable sin that Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg cheated Williams (who was paid minimum scale) out of the royalties that he more than deserved.

Courtesy of www.hitfix.com

Courtesy of www.hitfix.com

It’s Williams’ stand-up specials and his appearances on talk shows that are of interest. Underneath his warmth and lovability, Williams was just as shrewd and ruthless as George Carlin or Bill Maher at dealing with unpopular and un-PC topics, such as mocking people with disabilities, corporations, and patriotism. Anybody looking for belly laughs must check out his 2002 HBO special Live on Broadway, a brave and hilarious show, especially in dealing with George W. Bush and the Patriot Act so raw after 9/11, when everybody was still angry and terrified. Warning, you will need an inhaler handy as your ability to breathe will be compromised.

You could always count on the rebellious and unpredictable Williams to bring vitality to the staleness of talk shows with his devilish (but ultimately benign) sense of anarchy. Occasionally, there is a savvy host like Johnny Carson or Craig Ferguson that will work with Williams’ insanity. More often than not TV interviewers, unable to keep up with Williams’ intellectual spontaneity, insistently stick to their script of trite questions asked five million times before.

Courtesy of www.smh.com.au

Courtesy of www.smh.com.au

One particularly epic moment of television was when Williams appeared on Inside the Actors Studio. Under the reins of host James Lipton, the program is a dry laundry-list of an actor’s most famous movie/TV roles. Williams wanted no part of this generic line of questioning and in his usurpation, gave the audience a master class in the art of improv, and not to mention, entertained the hell out of everyone.

If I had a magic lamp, my wishes would be 1) Robin Williams would still be here 2) He would be doing a ton of stand-up 3) filmmakers and producers would get their act together and use his gifts rather than suppress them.