Schulenberg’s Page: Real Life Kings and Queens

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January, 1977: Gerald Ford’s presidency was in its last days and somewhere a person had written:

“You have to know Gerald Ford a long time to know how really stupid he is!”

We were wondering what we might look forward to with Jimmy Carter as President!

To celebrate, Mary Milton and I spent New Year’s Eve quietly. But the next evening met with a few friends at Caliban’s on Third Avenue, an Irish bar that had been transformed into a foodie destination and was getting a lot of attention!

Mary was adventurous with food discoveries and always finding great places as they were reaching their peak and before the hype began!

This was no exception.

A few days later I was back making the rounds between art directors and fabric and accessories suppliers!

Ric Mendez and Bruce Patterson had a friend from their Santa Barbara college days arrive in town. His name was Doug McCoy who, for obvious reasons, they had named “Drug” McCoy! (Nothing seriously hard but a regular user of marijuana; and it became tedious to spend a lot of time with him).

Bruce and Ric introduced him to favored spots in town and I went along since I needed to share information with Ric and it was also fun to see a newcomer’s reactions to the city!

I never needed an excuse to go for ice cream at Serendipity III!

I read that the Museum of Modern Art would be screening a print of Queen Christina, the movie that Greta Garbo had persuaded MGM to produce.

Queen Christina was directed by the brilliant director Reuben Mamoulian who would eventually direct the first production of the musical, Oklahoma, Carousel and Lost In the Stars. In 1927 he’d directed DuBose Hayward’s Porgy and in the mid-30s he directed Gershwin’s operatic treatment, Porgy and Bess. After moving to Los Angeles he directed Becky Sharp, the first three-strip Technicolor feature starring Miriam Hopkins!

He was inventive cinematically in many ways and is considered as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, that of The Golden Age of Movies!

The film, Queen Christina, has been the subject of much speculation. Since it was basically made at the instigation of Greta Garbo herself, much of the speculation revolves around Garbo.

Queen Christina by David Beck.

Since the real life Queen Christina was presumed to have been homosexual, later film commentators have assumed that that was what attracted the enigmatic Garbo to the project! She is dressed in period men’s clothing in the film and is initially perceived to be a man by people who don’t know that she is in actuality the Queen of Sweden!

The leading male character in the film is played by John Gilbert who had been the only man known to have been romantically involved with Garbo and who’d even been engaged to marry her!

The story of John Gilbert and his career in sound films is a sad one. He’s been portrayed amusingly as a silent film matinee idol whose voice in sound films was too high and thin to go with his dashing image!

However,  I’ve read another explanation of his failure to succeed in sound films and since his voice is appropriate to his image in Queen Christina this alternate version is believable! That story is that Garbo had agreed to marry him and an elaborate ceremony was arranged to be held at Marion Davies’ palatial beach house on the beach at Santa Monica.

The day arrived but Garbo didn’t!

The assembled Hollywood elite had gathered and waited. And waited.

Finally Louis B. Mayer, exasperated, is reported to have said: “Why doesn’t he just f**k her and forget about it!”

Gilbert had been drinking and is said to have overheard Louis B’s comment. Furious with Mayer, Gilbert socked Mayer knocking his head against a wall! After he’d cooled down he attempted to apologize; but Mayer vowed to ruin him! And Garbo never made an appearance!

Sure enough, Gilbert was given bad films and the sound had been tampered with — removing the bass tones!

This was Gilbert’s first major talkie and was directed by Lionel Barrymore.

Mayer, a longtime friend of Barrymore’s, supplied Barrymore with drugs to diminish the pain of the paralyzing arthritis and chronic pain from several hip accidents that he suffered. He persuaded Barrymore to work with the sound!

It was said that the bad script along with the tampered sound was what amused the audience and damaged Gilbert’s career in sound films!

Garbo had demanded Gilbert for Queen Christina and, being uniquely irreplaceable, got her demand!

So Mary and I went to MOMA and afterwards I told her all of these background details.

The story of Gilbert’s altercation with Mayer was witnessed and told to Gilbert’s adult daughter by movie star Eleanor Boardman, the wife of director/producer King Vidor.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have no memory of being with Bill Shannon.

In fact, I have no memory of Bill Shannon himself!

I’m certain that he wasn’t with us at the screening at MOMA!

A few days later I was back running errands and hoping that something bigger would come from all of this!

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