actress

Happy Valentine’s Day!


The holiday is over, and I’m off to slumber, but this redhead hopes your holiday was as least as good as hers!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Fifi D'Orsay Thanksgiving Publicity Still

Things have been hectic at chez Spellbound. We’re moving! As I pack today, my husband’s been cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. While we hadn’t planned to move yet (our landlords are resuming occupancy of our apartment), something stressful has turned into a blessing. We’re relocating to a cool, new home–a loft on the second story of what used to be a movie theatre. We’re grateful for the family and friends who have been supportive through all parts of this process, and we can’t wait to settle into our new home.

I, also, can’t wait to take our turkey out of our oven like Fifi D’Orsay above. Marketed “The French Bombshell,” D’Orsay never set foot in France. She was born in Montréal, and her real name was Marie-Rose Angelina Yvonne Lussier. D’Orsay was clever. When auditioning for the Greenwich Village Follies, she sang her song in French to make herself stand out. She reinvented herself as an ex-Follies Bèrgere showgirl, and the Parisian persona stuck! Her career stretched from vaudeville to Hollywood movies to television to a final return to the stage, only on Broadway. She played Solange LaFitte, a former Follies star, in the Sondheim musical, FOLLIES. A perfect role to cap her career!

While I eat my meal tonight, I’ll take a moment to think of D’Orsay. I’m inspired by her ingenuity and drive, and those are traits I’ll call upon as Hubbs and I make a new home.

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Dress Up Friday: Carmen Miranda


For this installment of Dress Up Friday, here’s an image of Carmen Miranda that’s pure 1930s glamour. The performer was born in Portugal, but immigrated to Brazil as a child, and she considered herself Brazilian at heart despite maintaining her Portuguese citizenship. The woman, who would become famous for her Bahian costume featuring headwear adorned with fruit, was a successful milliner before her singing career took off.

The photograph is by Annemarie Heinrich, a European emigré to Argentina. Her family fled WWI Germany for safety in South America. Heinrich is best known for her portraits, often featuring stars of Argentinian cinema, and her nudes.

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Review: Debra Paget, For Example (2015)

Beautiful, classic film era actress Debra Paget never quite became an A-list star. Despite being in some high profile films, she was mostly relegated to genre roles, usually playing exotic parts and often wearing skimpy and skin-tight costuming. Filmmaker Mark Rappaport chose her as the subject of one of his latest video essays, Debra Paget, For Example (2015), that’s part career biography, part examination of studio era Hollywood, and part personal digression into side topics or characters that interest him.


Rappaport performs a sort of archaeology with classic film elements. The majority of his movie is comprised of clips from Paget’s films. He allows some excerpts to play straight through, while with others he creates new scenes by making collages with with his selected images and moments. At times the material shown simply supports the biography. Other times it’s used to illustrate points. Because of the material he’s working with, a video made in his Paris apartment on a Mac with Final Cut Pro has an expensive, glamorous look. Aspirational DIY filmmakers could be inspired by how easy it would be technology-wise to create their own movies without ever leaving home.


When the documentary opens, Rappaport repeatedly superimposes the 2oth Century Fox logo over Paget’s face. This happens first in black and white and then in Technicolor. During her fifteen year film career, she was a contract player for the studio for eight years. Those were her career’s glory years. She once was third in the volume of fan mail received there, only being bested by Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Getting beyond the surrealism of a logo appearing and disappearing through fade and reverse fade over her visage, the imagery suggests she was part of the studio, branded by it, and never bigger than it. She will always be part of its story and vice versa.


The director narrates the documentary and he attempts to provide a female companion voice by having Caroline Simonds periodically speak Paget’s thoughts. Simonds never really says anything to counter to Rappaport’s narration. Instead her lines bolster his point of view. Her lines don’t always ring true or come from a female point of view.


Rappaport brings up that in Paget’s film debut, Robert Siodmak‘s film noir Cry of the City (1948), it is weird that a fourteen year-old is the romantic love interest of thirty-eight year old Richard Conte‘s character. Simonds retrogradely asks, “Why is my mother allowing this?” Paget’s mother was a stage mother and pushed all of her children into performing careers, but her father was part of their family life. Either parent could have reviewed her potential roles and rejected parts or scenes. Ultimately that’s not the perspective of a fourteen year-old girl. Someone that age tends to think they’re more grown-up than they are. Paget might have thought Conte ancient as the young feel about anyone that much older than them, or she might have been so excited about playing such a dramatic role that the age difference might not have been on her mind, or she could have had an age inappropriate crush. Those are possibilities.


The filmmaker points out that Paget is repeatedly cast as older than her age. She later plays a college coed when she’s really high school age. There’s a suggestion that she was pushed into maturity working in an adult business. There’s a suggestion of how movies do sell us illusions. There’s a suggestion that the commodification of her charms had begun.


Rappaport evaluates Paget’s talents. In “her very first shot in her very first film,” he sees skill. “She knows how to walk across a room. Not as easy to do as you might think.” He praises her for being able to cry on demand. Essentially he goes on to say and show she could act, dance, and sing. She might have had a very different career as the musical film biography of John Philip Sousa Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) showed, except musical movies were on their way out.


The dark-haired-but-blue-eyed Paget found herself the studio’s go to woman for ethnic roles. She played Middle Eastern, Native American, South Sea island, and East Indian parts. For some films, she’d wear contact lenses to turn her eyes brown. She hated that because Kleig lights would heat the lenses up. Her thoughts on having her skin darkened for roles might not be recorded. Rappaport creates a sequence showing her many exotic parts. Not only does it highlight the absurdity of the films she was cast in, but also it acts like an odd sort of fashion show, and while the castings and characters were ethnically tone deaf, there’s a pleasure in seeing a beautiful woman wearing outlandish fashions in glorious Technicolor that makes everything prettier than it should be.

He discusses how sexualized her roles were. There’s the aforementioned skimpy and skin-tight outfits. In the Biblically inspired Ten Commandments (1956), her character was a sex slave, and the costuming had her braless. In Fritz Lang‘s The Indian Tomb (1959), she performs a bump and grind dance routine more suited to Las Vegas stages. Because of her image, Rappaport mentions how Paget was the first crush of many a boy. Those crushes may or may not have been innocent. I’m sure there was many a lad (and a lassie) who didn’t know why they adored the actress, who were getting a hint of what their budding sexualities were. Rappaport chooses to focus on the masturbatory fantasies she inspired. No mention is made of those who may have been influenced to be like the Paget they saw on the screen, a very different kind of wanting.

When the director digresses, parenthesis appear on the screen. They look like crescent moons, tying into the exotic mysticism of some of Paget’s parts. Digressions can be relevant, like when he compares Paget to Maria Montez, “The Queen of Kitsch.” Montez’s roles surpass Paget’s in outrageousness of performance and costuming as a montage shows. He appoints Paget “The Princess of Kitsch,” and then he says that one person’s kitsch may be another’s nostalgia, and he seems not to want to rob anyone of their pleasure in that nostalgia. Momentarily, he’ll focus on other performers because of their Jewishness or sexuality, Paget being the launching pad to that discussion. Despite the tangents, Rappaport covers a lot of of her life in little more than a half hour.


Even if I didn’t always agree with Rappaport, Debra Paget, For Example was a fun way to spend time. I’d seen the actress in multiple movies, but I’d never investigated her, and the documentary piqued my interest in seeing more of her films. I enjoy kitsch and camp. Within films not successful at being what their creators hoped them to be and getting remembered for the wrong reasons, there were performers like Paget working hard to make something out of a role and lucking into starring in moments of stunning imagery.

Note: I watched this movie as a paid subscriber to Fandor. You can view it here.

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The Casting That Almost Was–Louise Brooks as Dorothy Shaw

Louise Brooks Reading Gentlmen Prefer Blondes

When refreshing about Anita Loos for my post on the writer, I stumbled across a reference in ‘s excellent silent film column Silent but Deadly! about a casting that almost was–Louise Brooks as Dorothy Shaw.

Louise was the studio’s choice to appear in the first screen adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928). If she had been cast, this would have been her third film working with director Malcolm St. Clair. Louise had acted for him in two prior films, The Show Off (1926) and A Social Celebrity (1926). Instead another film was their third pairing.

Even though Louise’s The Show Off character was a Lorelei, the Dorothy casting wouldn’t have been against type. The character was a chooser of the road less travelled. While Lorelei pursued men with status, money, and jewels, Dorothy romanced who attracted her for himself, whether he was a writer, tennis player, or ballroom dancer, and she ended up having adventures like meeting the Prince of Wales and teaching him American slang. Everything depended on whom was cast as Miss Lee for Louise to appear the more romantic, less scheming, and in her own way, less conventional one.

Louise got as far as the screen test, which she bombed. Anita Loos viewed the test, and she was bitingly honest to the actress saying, “If I ever write a part for a cigar-store Indian, you will get it.” Likely due to lasting bitterness at losing such a high profile part, Louise “was partly responsible for the low regard that St. Clair’s films later fell into.” During her late in life rediscovery by cinephiles, she would tell interviewers what a terrible director he was, but she was critical of most of her directors.

We’ll never know what kind of Dorothy Louise would’ve been once she relaxed into the role, and we have to read period reviews  to know how the movie turned out. It’s a presumed lost film. It earned lukewarm reviews in which the cast were more praised than the project. Motion Picture News‘ critic Laurence Reid said it was missing “the sparkle of the book and the play.” We’ve the above picture of Louise to taunt us with the film that could’ve been, one we’d likely be lamenting as lost. Maybe we’d even be claiming that as Flaming Youth is to Colleen Moore, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is to Louise Brooks.

 

References

Foote, Lisle. “Malcolm St. Clair.” Buster Keaton’s Crew: The Team behind His Silent Films. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014. 102-03. Print.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928 Film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (novel).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Hutchinson, Pamela. “Anita Loos – Sharp, Shameless Humour of the ‘world’s Most Brilliant Woman‘” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Kramer, Fritzi. “Lost Film Files #9: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).” Movies Silently. Fritzi Kramer, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Louise Brooks.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Malcolm St. Clair (filmmaker).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Reid, Laurence. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Entertaining Enough But Lacks Color.” Internet Archive. Motion Picture News, 1928. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone celebrating today had a lovely Thanksgiving! What kind of weekend do you have planned? I’ll be using a good chunk of my long holiday weekend to finish up Michelle Morgan‘s The Ice Cream Blonde, watch movies, and get some writing done.

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Happy Easter!

As an Easter treat, here’s the delightfully magical silent short Les oeufs de Pâques. The film was written and directed by Segundo de Chomón for Pathé Frères. A contemporary of Georges Méliès, de Chomón was often compared to the other director due to their work in trick films, but the Spanish director would go on to work in other genres and for other directors, like Abel Gance. If you’ve seen other French silents from this era, then you might recognize this one’s lead actress Julienne Mathieu. She was de Chomón’s wife, and she started in films before he. She encouraged him to seek film work, so we have both to thank for the creation of this bit of whimsy in more than one way!

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Merry Christmas!

Colleen Moore Singing Christmas Carols

 

Merry Christmas from Spellbound by Movies HQ! The woman serenading us with carols is actress Colleen Moore. I selected her to share glad holiday tidings because 2014 was a great year for the departed actress. Her long thought lost final two silent films, Why Be Good? and Synthetic Sin, were restored, and they toured specialty cinemas and archives this year. A whole new generation who might not have seen her small number of surviving silents fell in love with one of Hollywood’s original flappers. Today Colleen is often overshadowed by Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, and Louise Brooks. During her height of Colleen’s fame, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.” Now audiences have two more chances to see how brightly she burned.

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That’s Not Musidora! A Case of Mistaken Identity Compounded by Tumblr

Perhaps it’s not unexpected that an actress who’s best remembered for playing a disguised thief suffers from a case of mistaken identity on the internet. In the silent film Les Vampires, Musidora plays Irma Vep, who dons a catsuit for convenience in movement as she commits her crimes. This may be the first cinematic catsuit, and it was followed by many in popular culture. It definitely was the first to have an erotic impact on the public. In a compliment of reverse chronology, Musidora has been called the Brigitte Bardot of her day. Musidora’s catsuit helped whip that fever of appreciation up. Particularly striking are the shots of her navigating the rooftops of Paris. Was she a dream or nightmare about to descend into a home? This most iconic image of her inspired a tribute photography shoot, and thanks to the lack of verification and attribution of images on the net, sites ranging from Tumblr to serious movie blogs to even an academic page accidentally have perpetuated a case of mistaken identity.

One image from this photo shoot appears repeatedly on the net, credited as Musidora:

Lys Reygor as Irma Vep Rooftop

As soon as I saw it, I knew this photo was not of Musidora. The model’s bone structure is wrong. The make-up is much too intentionally gothic. While Musidora wore make-up in her Les Vampires performance, her make-up looks naturalistic in comparison to this person in whiteface. The black brows are drawn on and do not match the more organic curve of Musidora’s. The model’s eyes are very kohled. The lipstick reads as actually black on film versus red lipstick photographing darkly. Another dip a little too far into the exaggeration of Musidora’s image is the black beauty mark. Musidora did not sport one in the film. Even the outfit is not quite correct. The model wears lace gloves reminiscent of a style popular in the 1980s. In the film, Musidora wears more practical opaque gloves. Maybe in honor of René Gruau‘s portrait of the actress in her most famous role, the model clutches beaded necklaces, something the character of Irma Vep does not do when jumping rooftops in the film. She’s stealthier than that. Plus, the photo looks too modern and crisp, even for one that might have digitally restored.

Here are some images of Musidora as Irma Vep in the catsuit for your comparison:

Musidora in Catsuit for Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Lying down in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Searching in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Caught in Les Vampires

My first step in solving the mystery of who took this photo of whom was to Google. I searched the web via text and via image, and I finally used the correct search words with the picture. I found that while Tumblr was the most guilty in attributing the photograph incorrectly, it also held my answer of the image’s origins. Lys Reygor’s Tumblr shows multiple copies of this image. Under one, a Tumblr user going by the name Jadé Antoinette credits Lys Reygor as the model and Béatrice Tatareau as the photographer. The photo shoot site is listed as Bordeaux.

Lys Reygor Tumblr Proof

I then used those three names as search terms, and I eventually found Béatrice Tatareau’s Musidora-inspired photographs on a French site called Wizzz. There was a whole gallery of them to scroll through. Off to the side was a citation of model (Lys Reygor), place (a rooftop in Notre-Dame, Bordeaux), year (1985), and photographer (Béatrice Tatareau). I had found proof of Jadé Antoinette’s claim! In doing so, I proved what I knew was true–That’s not Musidora!

My excitement at being right was moderated by the artist’s biography on Wizzz:

“Deux de mes photos de la série Sur les toits, rue Notre-Dame, Bordeaux, 1985 sont légendées à tort sur internet sous le nom de l’actrice Musidora, Irma Vep dans Les Vampires, le film de Louis Feuillade (1915) © Gaumont. Je tiens à préciser que je suis l’auteure de ces œuvres, épreuves argentiques N&B datant de 1985. Je signale ici l’appartenance de mes photographies au patrimoine de l’ADAGP. Merci de votre visite.”

Roughly translated by Google into English, it says:

“Two of my photos from the series on the roofs, Notre Dame, Bordeaux 1985 are wrongly captioned on the Internet under the name of the actress Musidora, Irma Vep in Les Vampires, Louis Feuillade ‘s film (1915) © Gaumont . I want to say that I am the author of these works, B & W silver prints dating from 1985, I note here of my photographs belonging to the heritage of the ADAGP. Thank you for your visit.”

I initially took up my search to disprove the the photograph’s authenticity. I did not want Musidora incorrectly identified anymore. There is not as much available documentation on the actress in English as there is in French, so I was going to assist with that in this case. I’m now asserting the authorship of the photograph and the others in its series as well. Tatareau is in the odd position of having a photograph become widely distributed online, which could be seen as a mark of success for her piece, yet not getting credit. It must be an odd position to be in as a creator! Film fans often get excited about potent photographs and share them quickly and frequently. Tatareau’s is a good example of making sure what you share is genuine. It’s, also, a reminder to give credit to photographers when we can. We’re sharing their work and creativity.

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You Know You’re A Film Fanatic When–Judy Holliday!

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn Posing in front of a Dictionary

 

You know you’re a film fanatic when you get emotional defending Judy Holliday‘s 1950 Oscar win for Born Yesterday to your husband–and he agrees with you the whole time!

Judy had formidable competition that year. She was up against Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve, and Eleanor Parker for Caged. While the other actresses starred in dramas and noirs with camp elements, Judy was the only lead in a straight comedy. Two out of the four films, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, continue to inspire rabid devotion today. Anyone with general classic film knowledge knows those films.

Judy’s legacy has another hurdle. She’s not as well-known to people who aren’t classic film fans, and even some classic film fans aren’t too familiar with her. Also a stage actress, Judy left a limited amount of filmed work when she died young, and not all of it is in-print to view at home. In stills, she looks like yet another actress playing yet another voluptuous, dumb blonde.

On film, she could take a role that would be a caricature in lesser hands and make her a character. She never overintellectualized her roles. She made being and seeming look easy. Judy had that same ability as Clara Bow to quickly shift emotions and thoughts across her face. She could make you laugh and break your heart at the same time, and she did as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Out of the four nominees, she’s the only one whose role I can’t imagine being played by another with the same impact. She owned her part. No one else would have given as an affecting or original performance as Billie.

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