Friday, December 31, 2010

All Right, Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for My Close-Up

As this year comes to a close I wanted to watch another classic movie, and although I am not planning a New Year's Eve for two, I did want to watch the crazy shenanigans of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (Paramount Pictures, 1950).  The film stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a washed up silent film star, and William Holden as unsuccessful writer, Joe Gillis.  At first Joe is only helping Norma with her crazy, lofty, and nonsensical script - a script that Norma believes will mark her return to the pictures.  But it soon becomes apparent that Norma has fallen in love with Joe and she lavishes him with jewelery, fine clothes, and that infamous New Year's Eve party for two.  As Joe gets wrapped up in Norma's illusions of re-gaining her fame, he also realizes that she is crazier than anyone thinks, and he has also fallen in love with his friend Betty Schaefer, who is an aspiring writer who reads scripts at Paramount.  Norma gets wind of this and an argument ensues.  I won't give the whole movie away, but I will say that the film deserves all of the accolades it has garnered over the years.  From the casting to the costumes, writing, and cinematography, Sunset Blvd. is a must-see film.  Gloria Swanson's performance is riveting, and the whole picture is just really creepy and foreboding, but also kind of seductive and fascinating.  A great way to spend an evening in.
Photo by toestubber from Flickr Creative Commons
Here is some trivia on the film and I hope that the new year is filled with bright stars, big pictures, and not too many close-ups.
  • In 2007 Sunset Blvd. was listed on their 10th anniversary list as the 16th best American film of the 20th century by the American Film Institute.
  • Right before William Holden came on board to play Joe Gillis, Montgomery Clift was signed to do the role for $5,000 dollars a week.
  • The shot of Gillis dead in the pool was achieved using mirrors at the bottom of the pool and shooting from above.
  • There are several cameos in the film, including Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Buster Keaton.
  • Norma Talmadge may have been the inspiration for the character of Norma Desmond, and for the character of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952)
  • The swan bed that Norma Desmond sleeps in for the film was first used in the film The Phantom of the Opera (Universal Studios, 1925)
  • Norma Desmond's home in the movie was an actual house belonging to the former wife of J. Paul Getty.  It was used five years later in the film Rebel Without a Cause (Warner Bros., 1955).  Unfortunately it was torn down just 2 years later in 1957.
  • The line "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" was ranked the no. 7 movie quote out of 100 by the American Film Institute.
  • William Holden celebrated his 31st birthday during filming, and Gloria Swanson celebrated her 50th.
  • The film got 11 Oscar nominations, it won 3, but it did not get Best Picture.  All About Eve (Twentieth Century Fox, 1950) won for Best Picture that year.
  • While the movie was in production it was code-named "A can of beans" because of how Hollywood was being portrayed and the fear of a bad reaction.

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
Photo by cirne from Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, December 24, 2010

Movie Review: Holiday Inn, 1942

Marjorie Reynolds during her screen test for the movie
Photograph: Elliot Elisofon; LIFE Photo Archive
When it comes to holiday movies there are plenty of choices.  It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Miracle on 34th Street, to name a few.  However, there is nothing like the combination of Christmas, a love triangle, Fred Astaire, a great story, and singing and dancing numbers a plenty, which you can find in the classic movie Holiday Inn (Paramount Pictures, 1942), starring Bing Crosby (Jim Hardy), Fred Astaire (Ted Hanover), Marjorie Reynolds (Linda Mason), and Virginia Dale (Lila Dixon).  The story begins with performers Jim, Ted and Lila.  Ted steals Lila away from Jim and the two begin their own performances leaving Jim behind.  Jim leaves the limelight and starts farming, because that is his dream - the simple life.  A year goes by and Ted gets the idea of opening up a nightclub that is only open during the holidays (in order to continue his lazy ways - which I love, since I excel at laziness).  When Jim meets up with Ted and Ted's manager again, he lets them in on his new idea.  They dismiss it, but Ted's manager gives Jim's card to a floral shop girl who is looking to break into show business (Linda).  Linda ends up at the Holiday Inn and soon her and Jim are on a roll with performances throughout the year for each holiday.  When Lila ends up leaving Ted for someone better (a guy she thinks is a billionaire), Ted comes crawling back to Jim, and subsequently he also falls for Linda.  The whole stealing Jim's girls away is sort of a hobby for Ted, and I think that's why I was totally rooting for Jim the whole time.  Towards the end a Hollywood deal comes the way of the Holiday Inn, but Jim declines it, still hoping for that simple life, and Ted and Linda leave him in the dust.  But Linda is really in love with Jim and is getting miserable out in Hollywood.  Jim also misses her and business isn't the same at the inn without them, so he goes out to Hollywood to get her back.  In the end Lila also comes back to Ted, and Jim and Linda reunite, with both couples dancing and singing the night away into the new year.

Honestly I have to admit that sometimes musicals bore me, especially modern day ones (I walked out of the theater during Chicago), but for some reason musicals like Holiday Inn are completely endearing to me (maybe it's just that old Hollywood charm).  I know White Christmas starring Crosby in 1954 is kind of a re-working of Holiday Inn, but honestly I would give this one a try first.  It's quieter, less flashy, and in black and white, but it's also pretty darn good.

Here's some more trivia on the film, and I hope everyone's days are merry and bright in the coming year.  Happy Christmas Eve!
  • The Holiday Inn hotel chain is named after this movie (it was founded in 1952 by Kemmons Wilson).
  • The song "White Christmas" was written for this movie by Irving Berlin.  It won the Academy Award for best original song in 1943, and to this day it is the second best selling music single ever (the first is Elton John's re-working of "Candle in the Wind", "Goodbye England's Rose", which only surpassed it in 1997). (Note: this article still says "White Christmas" is the best selling music single ever)
  • As a Christmas gift to the studio, Fred Astaire worked for two weeks without pay during filming of Holiday Inn.
  • The Navy Relief Society received the proceeds from the New York premiere of the film.
  • The sets from Holiday Inn were re-used during the filming of White Christmas (Paramount Pictures, 1954).
  • The shoes worn by Fred Astaire during the firecracker dance sequence were auctioned off for $116,000 dollars' worth of war bonds.
  • The "drunk dance" in the film reportedly had Fred Astaire drinking two shots of bourbon before the first take and one shot before each subsequent take, until they finally got the shot during the seventh take.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2008; 356 pages; ISBN 1599901641
My Goodreads
Rating: 5.5 stars

I saw this and figured it was the perfect read for a nostalgic librarian
like myself. The story takes place in 1940's Chicago right before the United States enters into World War II. This is an excellent book that I wish I would have picked up sooner, but I'm glad I finally did. Ruby, her mom and her sister live in "The Yards" of Chicago. Ruby's father has passed away, so her family is left in a pretty dire financial situation. Ruby's mom is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and has to stop working, so Ruby goes to work at the meatpacking plant. Then she hears about "dancing halls" where girls get paid a-dime-a-dance. Ruby loves to dance and is determined to get her family out of the yards, so she takes the job. She has to learn the hard way what taxi dancing is really all about and all the while she lies to her mom, her sister, and sometimes even to herself to continue working as a taxi dancer. There are also issues of first love, racism, friendship, and of course the war. The author did an excellent job of presenting period details throughout the book. She talks about what everything cost, the style of the dresses the taxi dancers wore, the shoes, the makeup, and even where they would eat after a long night of dancing. There are also parts of the story that talk about the music of the era, which is especially important to Ruby since she absolutely loves to "hoof" (slang for dancing). I thought the story was extremely well-written, well-researched, and well-paced. The period details are excellent, as well as the language and the characterizations. It felt authentic and heartfelt and I just had to give it more than five stars.

Photo: From website

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hostess with the Mostess

Photograph: Martha Holmes; LIFE Photo Archive
With the holidays upon us it seems a perfect time to blog about that bygone get together known as the cocktail party. Lately I've come across many articles and internet sites that offer up classic cocktail party fare, such as pigs in a blanket, shrimp cocktail, canapes, deviled eggs, and coconut shrimp, to name a few.  What I love about the cocktail party is the idea of converging in someone's home, mingling, enjoying a few cocktails, some hors d'oeuvres and basically getting treated to a night out without really going any where. People dressed up, they made an effort to be a great hostess and host and they opened up their homes to friends, family, and even work associates in order to celebrate the season.

I'm thinking the following would help any hostess with the mostess in perfecting their holiday cocktail party.  For example these handy dandy crib sheets for making cocktail party conversation will help you get the conversation started with a short list of literary and historical anecdotes: Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets from

Also, here are some classic cocktail recipes to get the party started:
Old Fashioned
1 Sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 tablespoon Club Soda
1 oz. Bourbon
1 Lemon Peel
How to: Muddle sugar cube, bitters, and club soda in a rocks glass.  Stir in the bourbon and the ice.  Garnish with the lemon peel.

1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 oz. Campari
How to: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Maraschino Cherry
How to: Swirl all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

For a good 'ole Martini, see my previous post here.

Finally, some helpful articles and sites that list classic cocktail hors d'oeuvres:
Cocktail Party Invitation from

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Purse-fect Accessory for a Night Out

Seems like around this time of the year everyone is asking "What to wear, what to wear??".  Well that's fine and dandy, but I also love to figure out what clutch or purse to pair along with my holiday outfits.  Do I want to match the color perfectly to my little black dress or do I want to go with a pretty print to give it some punch and a dash of the unexpected?  Here are some of my favorite vintage clutches that I currently own, as well as what I would pair them with if I had a limitless clothing budget.  

I'm loving this rich emerald color. Dress by Just Cavalli from Net-a-Porter website.
I have always loved a leopard print paired with a bold red. Dress by Roberto Cavalli from Net-a-Porter website.
This clutch is not for the feint of heart, so neither is this dress. Dress by Emilio Pucci from Polyvore website.

Here are some stores to try in case you want to venture out the purse-fect vintage clutch for yourself.