Monday, January 4, 2016

LIZ SMITH: A Golden Era Start to a Shiny, Scary, New Year

I'm still big. It's the hotel suites that got small!
by Liz Smith

A Golden Era Start to a Shiny, Scary, New Year — Great Dish From Great Stars! 

"HERE I am in a supposedly grade-one hotel suite, and look for yourself! The ignominy of it all! No full length mirror! No chandelier! Must I rough it? Must I?"

That was the one and only Gloria Swanson, glamour queen of silent movies, and comeback queen of all-time in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic film, "Sunset Boulevard."
Miss Swanson — roughing it, but bravely forging on — was talking with television critic James Bawden, in 1974. This quote comes from a dazzlingly entertaining new book, "Classic Film Stars: Interviews From Hollywood's Golden Era," by Mr. Bawden and Ron Miller, who also covered TV for many years.

"Classic Film Stars" which will be published in April, is a treasure trove of info, scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.

I'm going to give you a small sample today, but I want to offer more of Miss Swanson, right off. I will say only that at one point she declares: "I was as completely unlike Norma Desmond as one could be." You decide.

On her later career: "Paramount dared offer me another film where I was the mother of a teenage girl, but I turned it down! Can you imagine! Joan Fontaine did it."

On co-star Rudolph Valentino: "I did like him. A very shy, miserable young man. He surrounded himself with tough women who bossed him around. He would not have survived talkies with his effeminate voice and mannerisms."
Valentino: "miserable and effeminate." (Thank you, Miss Swanson.)
On revivals of her silent films: "A lot of strange young men attend and swoon appropriately, but I assure you I am not camp. Not yet anyhow."

On Kate Hepburn in "Coco": "She was just awful. Imagine a woman who loves to dress in slacks cast as a great French designer."
Kate Hepburn in "Coco."
On Garbo: "I mean, if she really wanted to be alone, why live in New York? I I invited her around and said I'd give her lessons on how to remain a movie star without ever actually making movies. She never replied. I'm sure she got it."
Garbo — she declined Miss Swanson's advice.
On Myrna Loy: "One day I bumped into her and was stunned. Her skin was like parchment. I ordered her to eat nothing but bean sprouts and chamomile tea for a week and brought over a large jar of my own ointment. In a week those lines as big as the Grand Canyon vanished. She was ever so grateful."
Myrna Loy. She was "ever so grateful."
On her future plans: "To go on being Gloria Swanson. It's my life's work."

To James Bawden: "Please be quiet! I am trying to tell you my life story and you are interrupting me!"
Avedon's photograph of Gloria Swanson at 81.
MORE FROM "Classic Film Stars."

Ralph Bellamy: "I asked the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya why she was doing dreck like 'The Wolf Man.' She answered 'Same as you. American bucks.'"
Maria Ouspenskaya did it for "American bucks."
Joseph Cotton on Marilyn Monroe: "I never met a girl as introverted as Marilyn. When we filmed on location at Niagara Falls, great crowds gathered to see her. She couldn't cope, retreated into her shell."
MM — "Introvert?"
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. on former wife Joan Crawford: "She came from the poorest circumstances. She never knew her father. She washed tables at the boarding school where her mother worked. Later she was a taxi dancer and danced with escorts for 10 cents. Louis B. Mayer saw something inside her that appealed to all women — I think it must have been her vulnerability."
Joan Crawford — "Vulnerable?"
Fairbanks on Marlene Dietrich: "I was in love with her. Marlene was in love with Marlene."
Dietrich — her great love was ... Dietrich.
Cary Grant on Cary Grant: "The only time I ever played myself was in 'None but the Lonely Heart.' But nobody wanted to see the real me. So I put Archie Leech away and went back to being Cary Grant. And speaking as Archie Leech, I am not ungrateful for all that being Cary Grant has done for me."
Cary Grant — Nobody wanted to know Archie Leach.
Margaret Hamilton on working with Mae West: "She looked like an overstuffed mannequin. She said to me, 'Margaret, can I help it if every man on the set is crazy in love with me?' Well, the love was one-sided, I can tell you. She was forty-eight and needed special lighting to wash out her creases."
Mae West — all men did NOT desire her.
Audrey Totter on Susan Hayward: "There was a certain air about Susie. You knew she'd go to the top, and you knew she'd wring the neck of anybody in her way!"
Susan Hayward, tough cookie (watch your neck!)
Fay Wray on 20th Century-Fox mogul Darryl Zanuck: "He ordered me into his office and said if I'd just 'play along' I could be a big star ... Then he tried to kiss me and I ran out sobbing. If I'd played along, who knows how far I would have gone?"
Fay Wray — choosing between two monsters — Darryl F. Zanuck or King Kong?
Rosalind Russell on "Mourning Becomes Electra": "I was stunned when I was offered it. But Dudley Nichols, the scriptwriter said, 'Oh, no. You must play the daughter, Lavinia.' I couldn't understand her or that family. We filmed and filmed and after the third time the carriages come up to the door, I asked Dudley if that was necessary? He snapped 'How else are people going to get to the front door?' .... I started hating it ... I think I was just awful in it."
Rosalind Russell hating herself as Lavinia in "Mourning Becomes Electra."
Anne Baxter on "The Ten Commandments": I told Cecil B. DeMille I'd have to wear an Egyptian false nose, and he pounded the table. 'No, Baxter, your Irish nose stays in the picture.' It was all corny, sure, but DeMille knew it was corny — that's what he wanted, what he loved. And I loved slinking around — really, this was silent film acting but with dialogue. No shading was permitted. 'Louder! Better!' That's what De Mille roared at everyone."
"Sure it was corn. That's What DeMille wanted — what he loved!"
Jane Wyman on the set of her TV show "Falcon Crest": "Mel Ferrer says I had him replaced. Nonsense. His story line was over and the producers wanted him out. Lana Turner? I could never figure that one out. She was never prepared and you must know your lines on episodic TV. And after we had Leslie Caron around and then Gina Lollobrigida, I told the producers, 'No more international harlots. Do you understand me?!"

Jane, honey, I'm sure everybody understood you.
Jane Wyman — It sure is, Understand?!
WELL, believe it or not, that's just a taste of what "Classic Film Stars" delivers. There's great stuff from Kirk Douglas ... Jackie Coogan ... Joan Blondell ... Anna Lee ... Maureen O'Hara ... Dorothy Lamour ... Jane Greer ... Marie Windsor ... Keye Luke ... Gene Autry ... Diane Varsi, and on and on.

And I know it's the new year, and maybe I should have started off writing up "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." But that has already made more than a billion dollars.

My musings won't make or break it.
Contact Liz Smith here.