It wasn’t long after Loretta Young’s 2000 death that her treasures began turning up in Hollywood memorabilia shops. These were personal effects of a long career --- key book stills lovingly preserved in leather albums. Now they were sales fodder among file cabinets bulging with imagery from movies admired, forgotten, or half so. Much of Loretta’s output fell around the half so, or below it. Collectors quickly scarfed those few of greater interest. Career history she’d maintained was thus cherry-picked and ripped asunder. The rest were ignored (any takers for Paula or Mother Was A Freshman?). Wasn’t there family left to care? Grandkids to pass these along to their offspring, even if a greater public had forgotten? Stars who live long enough eventually find themselves sole custodian of legacies the parade has passed by. Their stuff means little more than family histories any of us might be alone in seeing after. Other than precodes lately rediscovered, Loretta Young did (mostly) movies for the moment. She was no bad actress, but neither was she Davis or Crawford. Young protected the image and took few chances with it, being the perfect star face people associate with old (and lightly ridiculed) Hollywood. I figure her to have thrived more on fan magazine covers than films. Once tamed by the Code, at considerable loss to us and Loretta, she became a waxen presence at 20th Fox where entering and exiting cavernous sets (mostly period ones) became stock in trade. Costumes briefer and clinging for early-thirties Warners became long trains following her into pageants not unlike those that swallowed Norma Shearer at Metro. So much was marked disposable, including ones with new to celebrity Tyrone Power, being for the most part modern comedies designed to consolidate fan loyalty for a coming male counterpart to Young’s somewhat empty stardom. Many were (remarkably) made available last year on DVD, nestled among ten so-called Matinee Idol features with Power. Don’t for a moment discount them, for each offer a remarkable summation of what that industry was best at. Nothing puts you further inside the skull of dream merchandisers than these puff balls with sell-by dates clearly marked.
Such froth was designed to tide us over to the next big ticket Power show. They were modest accompaniment to copies of Photoplay a girl fan might pick up going to or from the theatre, product made specifically for those who loved movies and just everything their favorites did. Whereas money was short in 1937 (sorta like today), it’s worth considering how much followers invested in stars they embraced. To see Power/Young at your venue might cost fifteen to twenty-five cents during matinee hours, a time many regulars chose as a hedge against cumulative expense of seeing multiple features in a given week. Photoplay was an additional quarter per month, that in addition to whatever you’d spend on rival publications. To be a serious fan was to surrender most disposable earnings to newstands and boxoffices. Films like Love Is News, Café Metropole, and Second Honeymoon (all 1937 releases) collected monies from those sufficiently enthusiastic (and indiscriminate) as to situate movies at the head of leisure time priorities, while larger ventures like Suez and In Old Chicago cast nets to wider audiences more selective. Fan comedies (or romances) were generally modern dress, thus less expensive. Love Is News had a negative cost of $371,000 and domestic rentals of $762,000. Profits were $361,000 and helped Tyrone Power gather momentum from his debut in Lloyds Of London and follow-up In Old Chicago. Cunning was Fox’s way of following expensive shows with several of modest means and beneficiaries of interest and good will generated. In fact, these saw greater profits than big-budget Suez, which came along in 1938. I’m happy to finally see such in-betweeners at optimum quality befitting care with which they were directed and photographed. Here is the truest eye candy of a vanished era, and most have been shelved for many years. Going to them with unrealistic expectations is to court disappointment. They are comedies only in the sense that you wouldn’t classify them as anything else. Tyrone Power and Loretta Young are not Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. They’re not screwy enough to be screwball, and too timid to be farce. They are girl meets boy, girl misunderstands boy briefly, then succumbs to boy plus viewer desire and expectation. Femmes probably attended in groups, mooned over Ty, then bought dress patterns in hopes of duplicating Loretta’s wardrobe. Men likely took in Power/Young less out of choice (which dates made for them), but with undoubted hopes that running times might be taken up taking liberties where possible in crowded balconies. Couples could do worse yet for enjoying these together, as all three are agreeably unisex in appeal and happily brief in duration (the longest is just 84 minutes).
Newspaper stories seem dated as madcap heiresses that intruded upon so many of them during the thirties. Both are endangered species now. Seems the only news we read nowaday is accounts of staff being laid off as more papers go broke and films like Love Is News retreat further into a never-land modern viewers find so remote, if not peculiar. This is a sort of show the uninitiated might surf by on a classic movie channel to confirm suspicion that none of it has anything to do with life today, and indeed, nothing about Love Is News parallels modern experience. Where was audience identification even in 1937? Power and city room rival Don Ameche trade socks in the jaw and work innumerable double-crosses throughout. Everything’s ramped up in that foolish manner latter-day filmmakers occasionally emulate, always with disastrous result (seen Leatherheads?). We accept behavior in 30’s comedies for being well enough removed to imagine (some) people actually comported themselves such ways. I take these things too much to heart, but it gave me jitters seeing Loretta Young stage a road crash (with herself as injured party) just to get Tyrone’s attention, a gag befitting anything-for-a-laugh abandon fashionable then. Love Is News and kin are like cannonballs rolling faster and louder as they go downhill. You’re willing to spot them twenty or thirty minutes before exhaustion grabs hold (in fact, I fell asleep in the second half last night and had to go back today for the rest of it). Ever notice how often characters get mad and quit jobs in 30’s comedies? Was that wish fulfillment on the part of writers depression-bound to studios? Love Is News posits its romantic escapade as one that engages an entire country, headlines screaming of each encounter between Power and Young, a conceit at least marginally believable as both are larger-than-life attractive in ways surpassing even glamour thresholds prevailing at the time. These two really were almost too good –looking for their own good. Power especially suffered when some of that faded, as advancing years dictated it must. A 1949 remake of Love Is News called That Wonderful Urge finds him trying again with comic instincts sharper but freshness sufficiently diminished as to make you sorry he’s being put through such tired (and by then old hat) paces. Love Is News benefits from the enthusiasm of an actor in quest of stardom and imagining that parts will surely get better if he just pitches in now with all he’s got.
I’m actually sparking up to the Tyrone Power fan base with today’s post. Plenty are out there, as witness this site and that, both among the best tributes to any past luminary. One has a particularly lively and informative discussion group I enjoy following, this and other online evidence causing me to wonder if Tyrone Power isn’t indeed top man among leading men of the Golden Age. Fox must have realized meaningful sales on two volumes (so far) of Power DVD’s (there’s enough left, by the way, for a third). Women still go for him in a big way. His appeal is very contemporary. There’s a sensitivity about Power even when he double–deals a leading lady, an assurance that it’s all in service to silly plots he’d never take seriously. What also works is the voice … seemingly a lost art (if not a discarded tool) of the acting profession. By way of unfavorable comparison, I watched a film the other night with Edward Burns, a contempo name with looks and no small ability, but couldn’t someone teach him to speak? I’d read of weak-toned Clark Gable being perched at cliff sides to yell himself hoarse, emerging from that wilderness only after necessary deepening of vocal range (they even used the device with Lauren Bacall!). Power had at least that (and from the beginning), even if he occasionally mis-stepped otherwise. Café Metropole opens with a drunk scene, always a caution light no matter who’s enacting same, to which still inexperienced Power falls victim, with another trap door opening just afterward when he’s obliged to fake a Russian accent for nearly the rest of 83 minutes. Power’s best at earnest love scenes with Loretta Young, raison d’être for all three comedies. Their coupling in fact takes precedence over moral and ethical considerations that might otherwise dictate actions of less beautiful people. When the divorced pair reunite in Second Honeymoon, it’s a given they’ll consummate attraction shared by an audience quite willing to overlook the fact that Young’s character is now married to hapless Lyle Talbot and Power’s on a campaign to break them up. I’m frankly surprised the PCA let this scenario pass. Were they so smitten by the two as to ignore such blatant moral trespass? Maybe there is a different set of rules for Gods and Goddesses.