Tuesday, April 22, 2014

HOLLYWOOD DAYS AND NIGHTS


A FIRST-TIMER'S NOTES ON THE 2014 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL 

Mid-day Thursday, April 10, as I waited for my repeatedly delayed flight to depart SFO for Burbank, I had to admit to myself that I'd made a miscalculation in planning my trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival.  I'd known for a few days that I would be arriving too late to attend both the Wednesday night "Tweetup" party I'd been invited to and the Press Day event set for Thursday morning. Now I was beginning to wonder whether I'd even arrive in time to check in at the festival press office and be able to attend opening night events.

By the time my plane finally landed and I managed to get to the Roosevelt Hotel, the press office was closed and its staff was down the street working the red carpet. Luckily for me, my contact, a hard-working member of the PR team named Chelsea, came back to the hotel as quickly as she could and signed me in. Armed with badge and goody bag, I was off to the entrance of the Chinese Theatre and got there just as most of the press and spectators were leaving the red carpet area. But Tippi Hedren was as late as I was and so I had a chance to snap a few quick photos of her before she moved on and the carpet was retired for the evening.
 
Tippi Hedren, April 10, on the red carpet


Soon I was rushing to the screening of Robert Aldrich’s darkest-black comedy, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) at the Chinese Multiplex 1. On my way I (almost literally) ran into online friend/blogger Kay Noske but we were headed in different directions and had just moments to say hello. I can tell you, though, that she looked, as I expected, most glamorous.

Bette Davis as Jane Hudson
Charles Busch, actor/writer/female impersonator, introduced What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with a nod to its stature as prototypical ‘Grand Dame Guignol’ and high camp. He also praised Bette Davis, whose turn as Jane is madly flamboyant, for the psychological acuity with which she interpreted the title role. Baby Jane on the big screen is a wild ride, an exaggerated and exciting mix of horror, pathos and outrageous camp. As I watched, I couldn’t help but imagine how much fun Bette must’ve had chewing the scenery as the crazed former child star.  Made on a limited budget, Baby Jane was the first American movie to recoup its costs in a single weekend…the weekend following Halloween 1962. And then came the flood of psycho-biddie horror films it inspired (Strait-Jacket, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, etc.).

As Baby Jane approached its grim conclusion it occurred to me that I hadn't eaten a thing since before noon. Because I hadn't had time to check out the eateries at the Hollywood Highland Center or the Roosevelt, I decided it would be easier to grab a bite at my hotel. Dinner and a glass of wine would mark the end of my first day in Hollywood.
~ 
 
Googie Withers and Clive Brook in On Approval; Claire Trevor and John Wayne in Stagecoach

Friday, festival day two, was the first full day of scheduled events, and the slate was a maze of often difficult choices. I’d committed to seeing one of my all-time favorite films, John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), in the morning, though I was very curious about On Approval (1944), the only film actor Clive Brook (Marlene Dietrich’s leading man in Shanghai Express) ever directed. Plus, stage legend Beatrice Lillie had co-starred with Brook in On Approval. But I’d never seen Stagecoach on the big screen and couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Nancy Schoenberger, author and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, introduced the film. Currently at work on a book about the Ford/Wayne collaboration, she shared anecdotes and backstory on Stagecoach. She reported that Ford had had to fight to cast Wayne as the Ringo Kid because the studio believed the young actor was too much associated with the string of B-movie Westerns he'd been making over the years. And she told us that Wayne admitted to modeling his onscreen persona on the mannerisms and movement of iconic stuntman Yakima Canutt. Canutt performed many stunts for Stagecoach, including one that is the stuff of legend:

Stuntman Vic Armstrong (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner) on Yakima Canutt's famous Stagecoach "drop"

Though the print wasn't perfect, nothing could lessen my pleasure in watching John Ford's great classic - with its superb screenplay, photography, editing and performances - on a theater screen with a rapt audience. 

Following Stagecoach, I was off to the Hollywood Highland Center to pick up something I’d neglected to bring with me and to GET SOMETHING TO EAT while I had the chance.

Kimberly Truhler with Cybill Shepherd at the 2013 festival
On my way to the Roosevelt to meet someone I’d known online for several years, I spied Kimberly Truhler whose blog, GlamAmor, I follow and whose webinars I've attended. You can’t miss Kimberly – tall and blonde in high heels of a bold primary shade that flawlessly matches her dress - and would recognize without having to ask that she’s worked in fashion and has an affinity for classic Hollywood style. We chatted until we were inside the hotel where she turned to go into Club TCM and I entered the lobby to meet my waiting friend.


I initially got to know Brandon Goco at TCM’s Classic Film Union, its online fan site, where both of us were blogging a few years ago. He was still in high school and winning awards for his film projects in those days. Brandon participated in my 2012 blog event, A Month of Vertigo, with a video blog on the theme of obsession and has, since then, finished college (as class valedictorian) and started working for the DGA (Directors Guild). Though he missed out on getting a festival pass this year, he was intent on attending the Sunday morning screening of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) with a standby ticket. Ozu’s world cinema masterpiece was inspired by Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), which was being shown down the street as Brandon and I spoke.

Next, I crossed the lobby to Club TCM – my first foray into the Roosevelt’s fabled Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards ceremony was held - to meet another friend.

1929 Academy Awards ceremony in the Blossom Room

 "Club TCM" event in the Blossom Room, April 11, 2014



Christian Esquevin’s website is Silver Screen Modes and he’s the author of Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label. We’ve been commenting on each other’s blogs for ages and finally conspired to meet, if only briefly, at Club TCM on Friday. He’d just seen Zulu (1964) and was about to go to the screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Christian had spent all of Thursday at FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) where he delivered his collection of original costume sketches that will be the focus of an exhibit set to open there in June. 

By the time Christian left for St. Louis, I’d decided to attend “A Conversation with William Friedkin” at Club TCM. Friedkin has always interested me. He'd been a wunderkind of the New Hollywood, directing two of its classics: The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). During the late 1970s he was married to the great French actress, Jeanne Moreau but, by then, his career had begun to falter. Though he suffered serious health problems at one point, he never entirely stopped making movies and has been married to former Paramount CEO, Sherry Lansing, since 1991. Friedkin's most recent films are Bug (2006) with Ashley Judd and Killer Joe (2011) starring Matthew McConaughey. Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, introduced and interviewed him and it was a spirited, often humorous, exchange that covered the major high and low points of the director's career. The articulate Mr. Friedkin, a great charmer, proved to have enough charisma, brash humor and intelligence to quite easily tuck just about any audience into his back pocket. By the end of the conversation I'd resolved to make a point of seeing his newly restored Sorcerer (1977) Saturday night at the Chinese Theatre.

Eddie Muller, left, and William Friedkin on stage at "Club TCM"
The Friedkin event had run later than scheduled because the Richard Dreyfuss interview before it had gone into overtime. Now it was the dinner hour...

Top and bottom: Musso & Frank's, then and now

Years ago I lived in Hollywood for a while, but it was during a time when the Walk of Fame area was neglected and seedy. Even so, because I was well aware of its history, I’d taken notice of Musso & Frank’s Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. Though I’d enjoyed a few lunches at the Brown Derby on Vine as well as a dinner or two at Perino’s, I’d never made my way to Musso & Frank’s. On Friday night, that would finally change. A friend and former colleague, who moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles some years ago, was meeting me there for dinner. She lives in the Los Feliz area and works at NBCUniversal but, like me, had yet to dine at the famous Hollywood haunt.

We decided to start with drinks at the bar in the newer (circa 1953) of two rooms that make up the restaurant. As we sipped cocktails and talked, I spotted a number of patrons wearing lanyards with TCM festival badges dangling from them. And as our conversation turned to Hollywood, old and new, visions of the grill’s illustrious guests of days gone by began to dance in my head…Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pickford, Valentino…Barrymore…Garbo…Rita Hayworth…Bogart with Bacall…Marilyn Monroe with Joe DiMaggio…Elizabeth Taylor…Steve McQueen. And the writers who came to town to write for the movies - Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Steinbeck…Vonnegut. They’d all spent time at Musso & Frank’s.

Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall at Musso & Frank's in 1957
The place was originally opened by partners Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet and called Frank’s Francois Café. Founded in 1919, the famed grill has witnessed the entire evolution of the movie business in Hollywood, from the silent era to talkies, from mid-century Technicolor/Cinemascope epics to today’s CGI extravaganzas.

The décor and ambience, like the red bolero-jacketed waiters, are distinctly Old Hollywood. The walls are trimmed and paneled in dark wood, the upholstery is red Naughahide and muted pastoral-themed scenes decorate the wallpaper. Most affecting of all, though, is the intimacy one feels with the Hollywood history that seems to saturate Musso & Frank’s. Oh yes, and the food is good, too.


...to be continued...

18 comments:

  1. LOVED this and shared your joy at finding you at the red carpet, my dear! Thanks for your kind words...how sweet. YOU need to get a new avatar--your current one does you no justice--you're far lovelier than that murky photo indicates! Like you, I adored Stagecoach; it was my first trip and I wept over the love of John....CARRADINE (surprise!). Here's my look at the TCMFF...wherein I praise Mr. C. and examine the concept of tribal hugs. http://moviestarmakeover.com/2014/04/22/finding-your-tribe-at-the-tcm-film-festival-2014-part-1/

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    1. Hi Kay, I'm completely in synch with you on John Carradine. The film has an ensemble cast to die for, and all are sublime - but he really stood out on the big screen. I'd never been aware of his (considerable) sex appeal before.

      Interesting you mention "tribal hugs." As I was getting ready to leave for the festival, a friend mentioned to me that I was going to meet "my tribe."

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  2. STAGECOACH is one of my favorite westerns. It has a great ensemble cast as you mention in your reply to Kay. I have been reading some stuff from a few bloggers on the TCMFF and it seems everyone had such a great time. I would have love to have been there for William Friedkin's conversation. I saw both BUG and KILLER JOE and felt they deserved more attention than the got at the time of release. Have you read his recent biography? It's really good! Looking forward to the next chapter!

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    1. I'm so glad I decided on the Friedkin event. I've seen "Killer Joe" and am very curious about "Bug," he is very fond of it himself. After the conversation, he stayed to sign copies of his autobio, but I was running late for dinner and had to go. Deep regret! Loved him. He should be co-hosting "The Essentials" with Robert O. Have you seen "Sorcerer"?

      I caught about half of the Richard Dreyfuss interview (by Ileana Douglas), too. Also quite interesting.

      I hope you and your wife will come out to Hollywood for the festival one year, John.

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  3. Wow, Patty, this sounds like an awesome experience. Maybe one of these years I can be a first-time attendee myself. And by that time, you will be an old pro. (And we will have to meet up for a glass of wine.)

    I love Baby Jane. It's one of my top-10 films of the entire 1960's. I think it would be incredible on the "big screen."

    How fun that you got to meet up with some fellow bloggers as well as with Brandon, who has gone a long way since participating in your Vertigo blogathon.

    Thanks for allowing your readers to attend this event vicariously through you.

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    1. Patti, I really hope you can attend - next year, in fact. The festival truly is Shangri-La for classic film lovers. You won't meet anyone who isn't a fan and doesn't know a lot about movies. It's hectic but, far more than that, it is paradise.

      Would love to have attended the "Baby Jane" screening with you. As you know, everything is magnified on a theater screen - which is saying something when it comes to "Baby Jane."

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  4. Your schedule sounds amazing... I really need a time machine so I can go back and do TCMFF again—and just switch up the events! I didn't make it to Musso & Frank's during the festival but hope I can make it down there soon, I always feel instantly transformed to Old Hollywood there!

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    1. When I lived in Hollywood I used to bemoan the fact that so many of the area's buildings and homes and other locations were not valued (or preserved) for their historic importance. That seems to have changed and it was wonderful to see that the renovated Roosevelt has returned to prominence and to see Musso & Frank's filled with movie fans.

      There were so many great films and events competing with each other at TCMFF that I'd love to go back again, too, and rearrange my schedule just to catch up with all I missed the first time around.

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  5. Thanks for the lovely comments, Patty! :) It was SO GREAT to finally meet you! I only wish we could have hung out longer, but such is the way of the festival. I actually had to depart early, too. I loved reading what you did through the festival and how enchanted you were with it all, including a visit to one of my favorite spots Musso & Frank. Hope to see you soon! xo

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    1. I'm so happy we managed to have a chance to meet, Kimberly. I hadn't done much in the way of getting phone #s in advance of the event (and I wasn't on Twitter much during the event) so, except for Brandon and Christian, meeting people was hit and miss. But I'll be back next year and will be much better prepared now that I have a better grasp of the logistics of the event. What fun it was!

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  6. I"m happy to read your summation here Patty since we never had a chance to reconnect at the festival. It is so intense, and it seemed to get more so as the week-end went on. But I'm happy that you're thinking of coming back again - that proves your crazy too.

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    1. Saturday was the most intense day for me, Christian, but I left the festival early on Sunday so who knows what might have been. But I loved it and, yes, I'll be back next year. It pleases me to know that you met and spent time with me and apparently didn't suspect that I'm crazy (too) till now...

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  7. I'm hoping to go to the Festival in a couple of years, after a lot of things settle down in life. However, I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. Like Patti said above, your post is like attending vicariously.

    Looking forward to reading more! :)

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    1. Thanks, Ruth. I hoped to convey a sense of being at TCMFF, though there's no way to really do the festival justice. I hope to see you there one of these years - and then read your take on the experience.

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  8. Patty, your TCM Film Festival experiences sound amazing! I especially enjoyed reading about the other blogger and TCM friends that you were able to meet in person. But, hey, you never told us what was in your goody bag....

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    1. I hope to meet you (and your wife) at a TCMFF one day, Rick. As it turned out, the key item in my goody bag was a festival T-shirt (I'd forgotten to pack my jammies)...

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  9. Patty - what a wonderful summary of what sounds like the experience of a lifetime. Your posts is positively elegant and I'm so glad that you got to meet so many blogging friends.

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    1. ...and I'll see you there in 2015, Marsha!

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