Monday, May 20, 2019

façade: Janis Paige

Ever since the recent passing of Doris Day, my mind has occasionally found itself preoccupied with another actress, the irrepressible Janis Paige, largely because of the connection between the two.

In terms of the Hollywood-&-Vine axis, Paige was a B star, actually a co-star. Yeah, maybe on paper. But in reality, on the big screen, whatever film she was in, she commanded as only a Star can.
Her filmography is varied and lengthy but in her most entertaining performances, Paige played randy women of a certain age with va-va-voom in her eyes and a chilled Martini in hand - her hair seeming red even when it was blonde: Charles Walters' "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960) and Jack Arnold's "Bachelor in Paradise" (1961). For me, she's always been a hands-down pleasure to watch and I get an added kick from Paige being a fellow Virgo. (We share the same birthday.)

For all intents and purposes, she had what I call the Kay Thompson role in Rouben Mamoulian's film of Cole Porter's "Silk Stockings" (1975). Surely you remember her one big scene, belting out and dancing with antic glee with Fred Astaire in the "Stereophonic Sound" number (choreographed by Hermès Pan, with an assisst from Eugene Loring). She was no substitute here. In "Silk Stockings," Paige pretty much out-Thompsons Thompson.

Her lead film roles usually cast Paige opposite Jack Carson or Dennis Morgan, again in B movies. True stardom came on stage in 1954 when she appeared as Babe Williams, the in-your-face head of a labor union's grivance committee in the Rose-Adler musical, "The Pajama Game," playing opposite John Raitt. When Warner Bros. bought the film rights for the show, Jack Warner was intent on casting the entire Broadway cast to reprise their roles, except for a major name in one of the two leads.

It was a crap shoot - literally - if either Paige or Raitt would be in the film. Frank Sinatra was approached for the Raitt role - he would have played opposite Paige - but he declined. Enter Doris Day, who accepted the female lead and played opposite Raitt in the 1957 film.

Oddly enough, Paige had starred with Day in the latter's first film, Michael Curtiz' 1948 "Romance on the High Seas," and went on to appear with her in the aforementioned "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," in which they played rivals.

In 1963, Paige got another lead role in a big Broadway musical - Meredith Willson's "Here's Love," based on "Miracle on 34th Street," in which Paige played the part originated by Maureen O'Hara. But on screen during these years, the '60s, the actress rarely got to stray from her fun-gal roles - until Hall Bartlett did give her the opportunity to do a variation on this archetype in his 1963 psychodrama, "The Caretakers," in which Paige played an aging prostitute undergoing a serious meltdown.

Bartlett showcased Paige and the critics, who rather casually dismissed the film, singled her out. Like Janis, it remains a guilty pleasure.


Notes in Passing: Doris Day was 97 when she passed. She is survived by at least one former co-star, Janis Paige whose birthday is September 16th. She'll be ... 97. Her last theatrical film was Burt Kennedy's "Welcome to Hard Times," released in 1967 and starring Henry Fonda, Warren Oates and Janice Rule. After that, she became a fixture in some 50 TV movies and series (often as a recurring character). Her final acting role came on "Family Law" in 2001.

 Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you. -J

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(from top)

~Coctails and fliritng - Janis Paige uses both on Bob Hope in Jack Arnold's "Bachelor in Paradise"
~photography: MGM 1961©

~Publicity still of Paige for "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
~photography: MGM 1960©

~With John Raitt in the stage production of "The Pajama Game"
~photography: Friedman Abeles 1954©

~With Craig Stevens in the Meredith Willson musical "Here's Love"
~photography: Friedman Abeles 1963©

~Paige in "The Caretakers"
~photography: United Artists 1963© 

~A typical pose for "Silk Stockings"
~photography: MGM 1957©

Thursday, May 16, 2019

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson...

One of the tidbits mentioned in every appreciation written about Doris Day, who passed on May 13th at the age of 97, is that she was Mike Nichols' original choice to play the relentlessly intimidating Mrs. Robinson in his 1967 film, "The Graduate." It's a Hollywood legend. The above photograph provides a preview of what it might have been like with Day in the role.

No, it's not an early, unused shot from "The Granduate." Day famously - and wisely - turned down the part, even though she could have handily pulled it off.  The still is actually from her 1960 comedy for Universal, "Pillow Talk," but it provides an enticing peak of what could have been.

Full disclosure: I've never been crazy about "The Graduate." It's an amusing film but I simply didn't "get" it, which is odd because, at the time, I was approximately the same age as Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin and should have related to it. (Although he was playing a 21-year-old, Hoffman was 30 when he made the movie.) And repeated viewings haven't helped.

Subsequent screenings have only made me more critical of the film. The "iconic" Simon and Garfunkel song score never made much sense to me and both Hoffman and Anne Bancroft (who, of course, played Mrs. Robinson) are singularly unpleasant in the film, especially Bancroft.

Not good company at all.

But back to Doris Day. "The Graduate" is one of five films - at least, five of which I know -  that would have starred her in the lead.

-- When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II set out to produce their own film version of "South Pacific" in 1957, their choice to play Nellie Forbush was Day. Perfect casting. But she lost the role under singularly unusual circumstances. Both she and Joshua Logan, who was to direct "South Pacific, were reportedly at a Hollywood party where Day was asked by the host to entertain the guests with a song. She demurred, something which offended Logan, so much so that he wrote her off and cast another actress in the role. Mitzi Gaynor played Nellie in the 1958 release.

-- When Jack Warner bought the screen rights to "Gypsy," his intent was not to cast the show's original stage star, Ethel Merman. She was never much of a box-office attraction and this was an expensive property. Two actresses inquired about the role - Judy Garland and Doris Day. Garland wanted to play the lead with her daughter, Liza Minnelli, in the title role. A deal breaker. Plus Garland brought back memories about how shabbily Warner treated "A Star Is Born" in 1955. Day - who was once a Warner Bros. contract player - was just the right age for the role and had the perfect voice for it. But she was no longer under contract with the studio, having moved on, and Warner never forgot that her last film for his studio, 1957's "The Pajama Game," although critically liked, was not a box-office success. Rosalind Russell played Madame Rose in the 1962 release.

-- Rumors were rampant in the 1970s that Twentieth Century-Fox was playing with the idea of filming Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" with Day and Debbie Reynolds in the roles created on stage by Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins. The movie was never made. A missed opportunity.

-- Finally, Albert Brooks wrote his 1996 film "Mother" with the hope of casting Day in the title role. But, again, she demurred. She had been out of the spotlight now for more than two decades, quite comfortable with her pets and animal friends in Carmel and, well, passed. Her friend Debbie Reynolds ended up playing the role, and quite memorably.

Moving on, one tidbit that's been missing from the Day appreciations has to do with her leading men, specifically her most-frequent male co-star.

If you're thinking Rock Hudson, you'd be wrong.

That would be - drum roll, please! - Gig Young.

Day and Young  appeared in four films together - ”Young at Heart,” “Teacher’s Pet,” “Tunnel of Love” and “That Touch of Mink.”

Hudson follows in three titles -“Pillow Talk,”  “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers"

Day also made three films with Gene Nelson ( “Lullaby of Broadway,”  “Tea for Two” and “The West Point Story”), Gordon MacRae (“Tea for Two,”  “On Moonlight Bay” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”) and Jack Carson (“Romance on the High Seas,” “My Dream Is Yours” and “It’s a Great Feeling”). And two each with James Cagney (“The West Point Story” and  “Love Me or Leave Me”), Ronald Reagen  (“The Winning Team” and “Storm Warning”), James Garner (“The Thrill of It All”  and “Move Over, Darling”) and Rod Taylor (“The Glass Bottom Boat” and “Do Not Disturb”).

I'm not counting "Starlift," given that Day, Nelson, Cagney and MacRae all play glorified cameos in it.

Note in Passings: More about "The Graduate"... While Nichols wanted Day as Mrs. Robinson, his original choice to play Benjamin was Chris Connelly who, at the time, was famous for his role as Ryan O'Neal's younger brother in the TV version of "Peyton Place."  (Connelly, who died young at the age of 47 in 1988, would go on to play O'Neal's role in the TV adaptation of "Paper Moon," opposite Jodie Foster.) 

Mrs. Robinson, like most of the older adults in the film of "The Graduate," has no first name. In the book, we are told that her first initial is "G." In the stage version that starred Kathleen Turner, she's called Judith.

One more thing. I also never understood why the word "plastics" gets such a huge laugh in the film - and still does. Walter Brooke's advice to Hoffman in that famous scene has actually proven to be downright prescient.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you. -J

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~Doris Day in "Pillow Talk"
~photography: Universal-International 1960©

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

cinema obscura: Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (1970)

Inspired by Glenn Erickson’s epic May 11th review of Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" for Joe Dante's Trailers from Hell site, I've elected to dust off my own take on this wonderful film which, at long last, is receiving its due.

The occasion for the review by Glenn, whose own site is the fabulous Cinesavant, is the new BluRay/DVD release of Ashby's film, under Kino's KL Studio Classics label, in an excellent new transfer with outstanding color (according to Glenn) and lengthy interviews with stars Beau Bridges and Lee Grant and producer Norman Jewison. I just ordered my copy.

Can't wait.

My essay, originally dated November 27th, 2017, is running intact here, replete with the reader comments at the time, including one from Dante.

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Turner Classic Movies rarely screens R-rated films from the 1970s and, when it does, it's generally at two in the morning. That's understandable. TCM's "brand" is work from the 1930s thru the '60s. Plus, R-rated films embrace such New Wave elements as nudity, liberated sexuality, extreme violence and, yes, dirty talk. Definitely the stuff of After Midnight viewing.

But Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" is one of its few '70s titles, rated R, that Turner plays regularly in prime time and often in the Star Spot - 8 p.m.

And deservedly so.

Arguably the best movie on race relations made in this country by a major studio (United Artists, which specialized in independent films before that phrase was coined), "The Landlord" marked the directorial debut of the late, great Ashby, who started his career as an (Oscar-winning) editor.

The film was one of two back-to-back titles that Norman Jewison had planned to make with his look-alike star, Beau Bridges, the other being 1969's charming "Gaily, Gaily." (It's uncanny; at the time, Jewison and Bridges could pass for brothers.) When Jewison became waylaid by the demanding pre-production work required for "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), he offered Ashby, who had edited "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) and "Gaily, Gaily" for him, the chance to work on a film as its director.

"The Landlord" is notable for having a rare behind-the-scenes diversity that most likely explains its success as a reasoned, level-headed and yet hugely emotional social study. Its source material is a novel by Kristen Hunter, adapted for the screen by Bill Gunn, himself a filmmaker (1973's "Ganja and Hess"). Both Hunter (1931-2008) and Gunn (1929-1989) were black; Ashby (1929-1988) and Gordon Willis (1931-2014), the film's peerless cinematographer, were white. Its cast, of course, is mixed.

Bridges - in perhaps his finest (and most relevant) performance - is hugely appealing as Elgar Enders, a clueless rich kid who decides to liberate himself from his repressive conservative family by purchasing a run-down apartment building in the Park Slope neighborhood of New York and setting up housekeeping among its black tenants - and this was years before the idea of inner-city gentrification became a dubious reality.

"The Landlord" consists of one memorable moment after another, fueled by a major (and award-worthy) performance by the much-missed Diana Sands (1934-1978) who is at once heartbreaking and wildly desirable as one of Bridges' tenants with whom he has an unwise affair.

There are entertaining supporting turns by Lee Grant (Oscar-nominated here) and Walter Brooke ("The Graduate") as Bridges' parents; Susan Anspach and Will MacKenzie (now a TV director) as his sister and brother; Louis Gossett, Jr. and Douglas Grant as Sands' husband and son; Robert Klein as Anspach's boyfriend; Marki Bey as a dancer attracted to Bridges, and Pearl Bailey (1918-1990), terrific as another tenant. And then there's Grover Dale in a brief, hilarious bit as Grant's personal dancer instructor. (BTW, prior to "The Landlord," Grover Dale and Will MacKenzie appeared in the original Broadway production of the musical "Half a Sixpence.")

Appreciation of "The Landlord" took decades, the renewed interest in it sparked by critic Pauline Kael's belated review. However, in 1970, it was hastily denounced as blaxploitation (!) by critics who simply didn't "get it."

Judith Crist, reviewing for New York magazine, and Gene Shalit, critic for The Today Show as well as Look magazine, both named it one of the year's "10 worst films." Hardly. Crist was a friend and, when I asked her about her harsh response to the film, it seemed to be largely in reaction to one anti-Semitic joke in the script: When Grant finds out that Bridges is dating the light-skinned Bey, she shrugs, "She's probably only Jewish."

Crist was also critical of the artwork for the film (which was obviously inspired by the ads for "M*A*S*H"): A phallic finger poking at two doorbells that resemble breasts.

On the technical side, there's Al Kooper's spot-on song score and Willis' shimmering cinematography - so good that it makes even the film's ghetto setting seem inviting and companionable. It becomes apparent why the Bridges character is so comfortable there. For this occasion, Ashby recruited colleagues William A. Sawyer and Edward Warschilka to edit his film, although I have a hunch that he had a hand in it. Just a guess.

Ashby's next film after "The Landlord" was "Harold and Maude" (1971) which was also initially dismissed before finding a loyal cult audience. Then came an amazing output: "The Last Detail" (1973), "Shampoo" (1975), "Bound for Glory" (1976), "Coming Home" (1978) and "Being There" (1979).

Beau Bridges, meanwhile, always one of my favorite actors, has had an eclectic career with some 200 television and movie credits that are all over the map, but among his films, I especially appreciate the two titles he made for Sidney Lumet, "Lovin' Molly" and "Child's Play," James Frawley's "The Christian Licorice Store," Peter Ustinov's "Hammersmith Is Out," John Schlesinger's "Honky Tonk Freeway," Jonathan Kaplan's "Heart Like a Wheel," Tony Richardson's "The Hotel New Hampshire," Steve Kloves' "The Fabulous Baker Boys," Jack Fisk's "Daddy's Dyin' ... Who's Got the Will?" Michael Ritchie's "The Positively True Adventures of the Texas Cheerleader-Killing Mom," Diane Keaton's "Wildflower," Alexander Payne's "The Descendants"and, of course, "Gaily Gaily" and "The Landlord."

"The Landlord" looms as a template for responsible socio-comic filmmaking at its best, both entertaining and informative. TCM will air it again tomorrow night, November 28th, at 10 (est).


Note in Passing: Whether you're familiar with the film or not, the next time you watch it, pay attention to the first few seconds of the film.

It's a quick shot of Ashby's real-life wedding to actress Joan Marshall who, under the name of Jean Arless, played Emily/Warren in William Castle's seminal 1961 cult film, "Homicidal." The "love-in"-style wedding - Ashby was an old hippie - was attended by the film's producer, Norman Jewison, and its cast. That's title star Beau Bridges (above) in the yellow tee on the extreme left. If you look closely, glimpsed directly behind the bearded Ashby is Diana Sands and behind her is the film's ingenue, Marki Bey.

And that's Jewison getting kissed (below) by Marshall. It was Joan's personal experiences which she related to scenarist Robert Towne that became the basis of perhaps Ashby's biggest commercial hit, "Shampoo."

Hal Ashby died in 1988.

Bonus Picture: Bridges with Gossett and Sands in a musical dream sequence ultimately cut from the film:

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you. -J

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(from top)

~Beau Bridges in the opening sequence of "The Landlord"

~Publicity shots of Hal Ashby and Norman Jewison

~Diana Sands and Bridges in a scene from the film

~One-sheet posters for "The Landlord" and Fox's "M*A*S*H"

~The pre-credits wedding of Ashby and and Joan Marshall (aka Jean Arless)

~Bridges with Gossett and Sands in the musical dream sequence deleted from the film.

~photography: United Artists and Twentieth Century-Fox (1970)©