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Monday, April 17, 2006

Hollywood Family Moments

I tend to wonder what was going through the minds of the kids when these Hollywood family shoots took place. Were they "made" to sit still and pose for these home invaders from Daddy’s studio? Did the tranquil domestic scene as captured by the still photographer in any way reflect the reality of their home lives? Celebrity offspring memoirs have been an ongoing industry for many years. In the wake of Mommie Dearest, we tend to forget the earlier, respectful ones penned by the sons and daughters of Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman, and others. Most of these kids elected to mind their own business and hoped that others would do the same. A lot of us would be surprised to find one of them living quietly next door. It’s been known to happen. Last year I read that William S. Hart’s son had just died. William S. Hart’s son!! I'd have thought he was born around the War of 1812. Somebody told me that Leslie Howard’s aforementioned daughter was living in quiet obscurity somewhere in South Carolina. I just saw an old fan mag piece today where she and Dad are posed together --- he’s boasting of her dramatic prowess on radio, and promises she will carry on the family’s dedication to Thespus. So what happened there? How did she wind up in S.C.? Any of these kids could tell amazing stories. Some of them have. Gary Cooper’s daughter gave us a splendid picture book a few years ago with photos from the family archive and affectionate commentary. That’s her with both parents around 1960, not long before Coop’s passing. She related an anecdote once about a birthday party in the early forties where the kids got to see The Plainsman, with Dad manning the 16mm projector. When they got to the scene where indians had Coop trussed up over a cooking fire, she had to look back to the operator for reassurance. His wink and smile assured her of an eventual screen rescue. Such things must have happened a lot when kids went to see their famous parents at the movies.

Let’s start with the least likely perfect husband/father and work up. We’ve addressed Gary Cooper, and his various wanderings are sufficiently well known so as not to require a recounting here. Suffice to say that by the time this picture was made, Coop had settled in for the third act curtain, which would not be long in coming. But what of Bob Mitchum
? Notorious, roustabout Bob, late of a hoosegow sojourn after an admitted flirtation with the cannabis weed. The same Bob whose noirish screen exploits and lurid off-screen dalliances would seem to disqualify him for any Father Of The Year awards --- and yet he remained married to the same woman till the day he died. Story is that whenever a dish of the moment pressed the marriage issue, Bob would always respond by assuring her that it was alright with him, but, You’ll have to ask Dorothy first (Dorothy being the wife, natch). Now how’s that for disarming? Even Shirley MacLaine, a notable Bob paramour, was at a loss for words when confronted with such unassailable Mitchum logic.

John Wayne
had a passel of kids that spanned a couple of generations. Here he is with a few of the second group. The older ones were grown and serving, for the most part, under the Batjac flag. That’s the third wife, Pilar, and this pose tied in with the release of True Grit. Wayne’s firmly ensconced in elder statesman status by now. For a star of his magnitude, it’s remarkable how often he’d found himself flat broke. It happened during the mid-fifties (investment counselor gone bad) and again when he sunk everything into The Alamo. This was one actor who had to keep working to maintain the fuel supply in that yacht. I read once that Wayne’s adolescent daughter often preferred mall shopping to afternoon boat rides with Dad. I’m just sitting here trying to imagine any circumstance wherein I’d pass on a day spent in John Wayne’s company. Nope --- can’t think of one.

Finally --- the perfect husband and father. At least I thought so until I checked out that recent Peter Bogdanovich book, Who The Hell’s In It? Seems there were cracks in the idealized James Stewart marriage --- and what’s this about Kim Novak? Maybe I’ve been naïve, but this was like the time I found out Santa Claus wasn’t on the level --- don’t read it unless you’re prepared to have some illusions shattered. All of which reminds me that we’ve done too little on James Stewart here at the Greenbriar, which is odd considering how much we enjoy his westerns, not to mention the Hitchcock
shows. For that matter, we’ve done virtually nothing on westerns, despite our long-standing fondness for them. Did I hear they tore down Stewart’s old house in Beverly Hills? I would imagine a lot of those old star mansions are beginning to crumble. Anybody know the status of the residences along that street?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I was a little disillusioned when I read in Maria Riva's book that Stewart and Dietrich were having an affair not long before Dietrich had an abortion (during filming of "Destry Rides Again"). But then, knowing Marlene, we still can't be sure who the other near-parent was...

8:12 AM  
Anonymous JimTex said...

Bogdanovich? Gee, what a prime example of "judging not, lest ye be judged."

Marry the sister of Dorothy Stratten? Why the heck not?

What kind of Vertigo/Obsession thing is amiss with him? Is this his "homage" to Hitch (and by extension, De Palma)? Or am I the only one creeped out by this?

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am mystified by Hollywood's willingness to destroy all those lovely old mansions. They are a part of Hollywood history, once gone they can never be replaced.
I have seen photos of Joan Crawford's Brentwood mansion undergoing extensive renovation though.

John, it would be fantastic if you could do a post on this topic at some point in the future.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to the Stewart/Novak affair theory: In the recent James Stewart biography by Marc Eliot, Kim Novak explicitly denied that they were ever romantically involved. Though Stewart apparantly had a crush on her.

6:16 PM  

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