Thursday, March 31, 2011
Selling Son Of Paleface --- Part Two
To that data of Philadelphia bidding $27,500 in advance for Son Of Paleface should be added this: They had to guarantee $37,500 for Martin and Lewis in Jumping Jacks and six weeks minimum playing time as opposed to Paleface's four. So what did this say to Bob Hope's primacy on the Paramount lot? The Dean and Jerry snowball had rolled for going on three years, its peak in sight for 1952's summer and giddy anticipation for Jumping Jacks. These boys were the fad Abbott and Costello had been ten years before, only to crowds bigger. Bob was around before either and his just showing up was no longer assured boxoffice. Jacks was beating M&L's previous Sailor Beware by a third in many houses, startling all the more was its largest take for Paramount since DeMille's Samson and Delilah and ongoing smash The Greatest Show On Earth. Numbers would tell the tale ... Jumping Jacks finished with $4.1 million in domestic rentals to Son Of Paleface's $3.1. Unkindest cut for Paramount lay in both having been independently financed and shot, by producer Hal Wallis and Hope Enterprises respectively. With Para little more than distributor, thickest gravy would be Wallis and Hope's to scoop.
So could there be wonder at Bob's willingness to pump for Paleface oil? He had radio and emerging TV to help with that. Exposure to either got you wired to his newest in theatres. Hope dropped in on the New York Paramount's opening night to join Louis Prima on stage and introduce SOP, that stand good for a first week swelled to $75G's. Jane Russell was meanwhile Chicago ways to help a newly reopened Oriental Theatre christen Son Of Paleface. There was too Roy Rogers' rodeo situated at Madison Square Gardens, spreading Paleface word through capacity bleachers. Such was media exposure of these combined that got message to masses undreamt of in today's scattered marketplace. Where I lived (well, not yet ... two years to wait for that), exhib friend-to-be Garland Morrison was ass't manager at nearby Elkin, NC's Reeves Theatre, assigned to bally Son Of Paleface without benefit of Bob, Jane, or Roy personal appearing. Garland came through with a borrowed buckboard he'd park front of the entrance with stills and playdate attached. That stunt got him ink in Boxoffice, but I can't help wondering ... weren't functioning buckboards still a fairly common sight on 1952 Elkin streets? They were in neighboring small towns, including my own.
Roy Rogers hadn't intended for Son Of Paleface to be a last theatrical feature. There'd been a break with Republic, recriminations following, and all-over TV dump of westerns sans Rogers' consent he felt entitled to. The company also spread thin reissued oldies to trade on RR's continuing popularity. This King Of Cowboys had built a cross-biz empire nearly a size of Autry's, both entering vid spheres with respective half-hour series in play as Son Of Paleface opened. Roy wanted back in features on independent terms --- was observing Bob Hope's operation a hint? There would be new RR westerns in color and widescreen, released through United or perhaps Allied Artists. That was at least Rogers' plan by 1954, but it wouldn't come off for reasons perhaps lost to time. A return to big screens post-Son Of Paleface might just have been the ticket, for in its way, SOP is among slickest and most accomplished of outdoor shows Roy did. Drop Hope and the thing plays like any of a dozen westerns Rogers did, only this time a much wider audience was getting what for many was first-time exposure to the sagebrush star.
Son Of Paleface's negative became asset of Hope Enterprises. So had a number of his other past Paramount releases. There'd be bookings, occasionally as bottom of duals, into the sixties, but no dedicated reissue. Hope had too much fresh product to compete with himself via vaulties. Besides, he'd revisit Son Of Paleface as Alias Jesse James in 1959, same old west setting and airing of gags that clicked before. What Bob (and partnering NBC) did have of considerable value was backlog of negs coveting syndicators wanted for 60's television lease. Trades heralded Allied Artists-TV scoring the lot in June 1963, ten years of use upon payment of $850,000 for seven Hope starring features dating from 1947's Road To Rio, and all had been solid hits in theatres (one of the highest prices paid for pix for TV, said Variety). A pair had tube-run earlier, Rio and My Favorite Brunette, but The Lemon Drop Kid, The Seven Little Foys, The Road To Bali, The Great Lover, and Son Of Paleface would be new to airwaves and likely major lures. AA even announced reissue for the group under a "Hope Jubilee" umbrella, but I found no evidence of that coming off. Indeed, the package was made available to broadcasters within weeks of the deal, July being launch for the seven to local channels. Son Of Paleface has been released on DVD several times, not always from flattering elements. I'd like knowing who stores negatives of the group with Bob gone. Does his family maintain an interest, or more to point, are they interested? There was packaging of four in the old HD-DVD format, certainly a best I've seen these pictures look. Welcome would be all Hope Enterprise titles arriving in a Blu-Ray box, but with DVD sales in general decline, I guess that isn't likely to happen.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Son Of Paleface and What's Funny --- Part One
I'm starting to question the whole Laughter is Contagious thing, having been told since forever how comedies play so much better in a crowd. Does an audience magically transform a show that isn't funny into one that is? Sitting alone with clowns is frightful prospect for many, but is that because they need others to cue them when to laugh? Is it a herd mentality that makes us seek out capacity rooms and reassurance that what we find amusing is indeed that? Ann sometimes wonders why I don't laugh (audibly) at comedy we agree works, and I respond that everyone's mirth mechanism differs. It's possible to appreciate humor more even if you laugh at it less. I once rolled off the sofa before an Ace Ventura routine most cultivated watchers would deplore, and I'd not call Jim Carrey an equal to comics of the GPS pantheon, so is there disconnect between my "appreciation" of comedy and response the basest of it sometimes provokes? Too often I find myself clocking laughs others might get from stuff I've watched too many times, Son Of Paleface most recent object of said cold analysis. There's sadness in time spent alone with movies crafted to please hundreds per unspooling, but we'll not see SOP through 1952 eyes again. A lot of us never did. Look at all this publicity and tieing-in, then imagine mobs primed to show up and guffaw at everything this cast laid down and called hilarious. I feel for ones who saw Son Of Paleface in that white-hot '52 summer, only to re-encounter it later and wonder why it didn't seem so yok-some anymore.
So this is maybe the best Bob Hope he did sans Bing. What does that say about the others? Serious notice of SOP came as result of Frank Tashlin directing, though I'd cringe at prospect of this one screened in a university classroom, straight-back chairs and an instructor to drain whatever amusement might inadvertently have come his pupils' way. I'll close Tashlin's part by acknowledging best gags as impossible ones he staged like cartoons done at career beginning with WB. Such came natural to a Bob Hope long versed in crashing fourth walls and well along conspiring with viewers to undermine pic conventions. We like Bob best when he's most irreverent. Here he was pushing (at least) fifty, displaying cheek of a newcomer half that age. Think longevity of this man's career and name another who approached it. Son Of Paleface plods here/there, I'd question how some thudding gags clicked even for packed houses, but when this one delivers, it's transporting, best moments being comedy sure-footed as was possible in days when likes of Hope defined what made a culture laugh.
He was an all-media titan then, as witness deal lately wangled with anxious Paramount. Bob had wanted more, always more, to stay on contract board ... fifty, maybe sixty, percent of receipts. Guess Para knew he could get it elsewhere, as they pret-near handed Hope keys to the Marathon gate and coffers within. Not unlike the Hal Wallis deal worked out previously, this was setting for Hope to have a studio address for making features he'd bankroll, then own outright. The Lemon Drop Kid ... was produced by Hope Enterprises with its own coin and without financial help from any bank, observed Variety when news of the renewed pact came down in September 1950. Hope was already planning a spoof western with Roy Rogers, to be financed by Lemon Drop profits. How did Paramount prosper in all this? They'd have the star for eight total commitments, four via Hope Enterprises and the balance in-house for which he'd get salary plus percentage (estimated by Variety to be about 25%). Budgets for each would be $1.5 million, in line with increased studio scrutiny over bottom-lines. In addition to total control of his own productions, Hope approved writers, directors, and players utilized for the Paramount shows. Added Variety: Complications between motion pictures and television will be straightened out by another clause which calls for a timing arrangement. It provides that Hope, the TV star, will not make live video appearances in spots where Hope, the Paramount star, is on the screen in first-run theatres. In this way, he won't be competing with himself.
Whatever its share of eventual profits from Son Of Paleface, Paramount could at least boost distribution fees by making theatres bid for what everyone knew would be a sure-fire hit. There were complaints in July 1952 of Para's failure to tradeshow Son Of Paleface, as if anyone needed proof it would score. Drive-ins had begun competing for new films and getting them. Los Angeles ozoners grabbed SOP and Paramount's other summer laff- getter Jumping Jacks for same day open as indoor houses, having ponied a $5,000 guarantee plus $1,000 more to defray distribution's advertising costs. A new era of cutthroat bidding was upon showmen across the land, perceived best product hotly chased for bragging rights as much as profit gained. With theatres now divorced from former owning producer/distributors, it was every exhib for himself. Paramount demanded advances to $27,500 plus a four-week minimum run for Son Of Paleface in Philadelphia. The Fox Theatre there smiled and paid up. With 2423 seats and overhead like theirs, what were options? Such a palace couldn't afford booking product less than a cinch for full attendance.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Warners' Tricky Selling of I Confess
Crushed Lips Don't Talk! says manhandling Montgomery Clift in one of numerous ads Warners concocted for I Confess in early 1953. Was director Alfred Hitchcock on board with this wildly misleading campaign? I've put up samples to demonstrate how WB strove overtime to sell a public on something entirely different from what AH put on screens. Books say Warners wasn't happy with this project from its conception. Tough stirring man/woman excitement (a must for merchandisers then) with a priest in the lead, worse still when it's girl idol Clift as cleric. Watch the movie, then take a squint at these ads. In none could I locate Monty in priestly robe. Only stills and a few lobby cards reveal truth of his casting. Holy men (and women) were anathema to merchandisers (RKO sold The Bells Of St. Mary's de-emphasizing Crosby and Bergman in collar and habit). Censorship robbing Hollywood of sex obliged east coast marketing to cover shortfall. Phrasing along lines of a shame confessed, a sin concealed, drew patronage to I Confess beyond what Warners and Hitchcock realized from Strangers On A Train, one better regarded now, but a back-seater then at $2.9 million in worldwide rentals as compared with $3.2 million I Confess brought home.
I Confess plays somber today, but notices in 1953 were positive, if not uniformly so. Reportage from first-running territories credited vibes off entertainment pages that helped business ( ... had crix doing raves was word out of Pittsburgh, while in New York, several strong reviews are contributing to (a) strong initial week). A check through exhibitor reactions found I Confess earning high marks, viewers exiting said to be satisfied. The following year's sock of Rear Window tends to leave just previous Hitchcocks shade-bound, but Confess was by commercial way a tidy success, its $700K profit one the director shared via net participation. What had begun as an independent venture by Hitchcock and British producer/exhibitor Sidney Bernstein, their company called Transatlantic, was taken over in whole by Warners after AH began shooting on location in Quebec. Transatlantic is reported to have run into difficulty setting up outside financing, observed Variety. Warners' previous deal had been to release indie projects Hitchcock oversaw, including Under Capricorn and Rope, while using the director for occasional films done in-house, for which he drew a salary and percentage. I Confess thus began as Transatlantic's and finished as Warner's, the negative becoming distributor property upon receipt.
A primary thing I Confess had over Strangers On A Train was Montgomery Clift, a fresh face whose every move drew notice, going Farley Granger's femme appeal many times better. All this pic needed now was a love ballad to close sales, composer Dimitri Tiomkin prevailed upon in December 1952 to "clef" a title tune after fashion of his High Noon number, then Number One-ing across the country. Though it wouldn't be heard in I Confess, Tiomkin's song was covered by Perry Como, Sarah Vaughan, and others in advance of opening, and fed anticipation, reinforced by ads, that Hitchcock's new thriller would put forbidden love front and center. Quebec was site for a February 12, 1953 premiere, city fathers having sent Hitchcock home from location filming with WB-addressed entreaty (and signed petitions). This was followed by engagements along the east coast through February, possibly to gauge interest before a three-theatre Los Angeles open in that month's final week, a $30,000 take from this called satisfactory by Variety, but perhaps not enough so for the LA first-running trio, as they brought in RKO's oldie, Too Many Girls (1940) to, in Variety's words, bolster the second week of I Confess. Another reason for the pick? Too Many Girls was an early joint appearance of mega-watt tube personalities Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
New York and Chicago saw I Confess bolstered as well, with stage shows weighted toward pop acts familiar off radio and platters. An interesting contrast these must have been ... high-powered singer/bands performing, in Chicago's case, for a full hour, then ceding way to Hitchcock's brooding I Confess. A first week at New York's Paramount Theatre returned $75,000, slightly below hopes said Variety, despite Patti Page, comedian Bobby Sargent, and Jerry Wald's Orchestra doing live honors. Page's highlight was smash hit Tennessee Waltz, followed by Doggie In The Window, sung to a live pooch on stage. Imagine all this with I Confess for a chaser. A final day of the bill's third week was cut short for an evening's "Special Preview" of the 3-D sensation, House Of Wax, set to open April 10 and most hotly anticipated film on Broadway.
A two-week stand at the Chicago Theatre (ad above) during latter weeks of March saw I Confess looking to overcome the usual Lenten low grosses (Variety), Chicago's bill strengthened by local singer made good Joni James, late of Billboard's Number One hit for six weeks, Why Won't You Believe Me, which had sold two million records. Ralph Marterie and Orchestra had been ten weeks on BB charts in 1952 with Caravan, an instrumental soon to become a standard we've all heard. I mention these acts because they were background against which many saw I Confess for a first time. For better or worse, they set moods for Hitchcock's film, and for many, Joni James or Patti Page was reason for going, not I Confess. Minus these stage attractions, Hitchcock's thriller might have gone down to key engagement slumps and from there, lesser revenue and bad showman word-of-mouth. It was, after all, the principal cities that set a tone for any film's boxoffice reception to follow. Smaller towns relying on a feature alone to make the grade often found to detriment how much stage shows were responsible for movies sold to them as established hits. I Confess went into smaller markets with the aura of a hit, and did become a hit, but how much was attributable to now obscure bands and performers that made much of its success possible?
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Favorites List --- Elizabeth Taylor
A few weeks ago, I read something to the effect that Elizabeth Taylor had an explosive tell-all memoir sealed in a bank vault of unknown locale, and upon her death, it would be unearthed for right-away publication. Could anyone blow the lid off Hollywood so completely as Liz? News of her death came over a drug store fountain's TV halfway through my foot-long hot dog. Everyone in the place set down forks to watch. We'll hear more about this Last Star's legacy before a week (or day) is out. TCM already sent a mass e-mail announcing tribute nights. Taylor stayed longer than you'd expect of a glamour name with so much offscreen baggage. Where was life-saving difference in way she handled personal travails as compared with a Marilyn Monroe broken by her own? What ET experienced in this life would not be believed if we knew just the half of it. That's why I really hope there's a book where it's all gotten down for what I'm sure would be a more than eager readership.
Taylor's best friends were said to be those best at keeping secrets. Who could a person in her position trust? There must have been a score who gained confidence, then betrayed it. Imagine unerring eye she developed for users and their agendas. And did anyone get closer to so many doomed personalities? There's James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson to start, plus others I've doubtless forgot. Taylor never sat for a career interview (did she?), I guess for fear they'd harp on personal stuff, for which you'd not fault her reticence, but then there'd be surprise of participation in Paramount's A Place In The Sun DVD, where she spoke of Monty Clift with insight and affection. Such was exception she'd make to No Press rules chiseled in rock from madness of a Liz-Dick era unknown to generations after and near-forgot by those of us around during tabloid hysteria.
I always wonder if stars look at their old movies. Laid up as she mostly was toward the end, did ET finally revisit a lifetime's screen work? Must have been several the actress barely recalled doing. If not for TCM, would most be seen anywhere? To younger folk, Elizabeth Taylor was eldest support for Michael Jackson, if that. She stayed prominent through the 60's of Burton and Cleopatra, continued marrying through a disco 70's, remained famous for having been so famous through decades since. Taylor never had to worry about outliving legend as did others still around long past a public's recognition. Will Liz as definitive face and fashion of a gone era capture a generation groping for something like her style? Think of Audrey Hepburn stepping down runways from beyond. And Marilyn Monroe, known better today for still, rather than moving, images. Now that Elizabeth Taylor's past frailty and age, might there be icon status more lasting than these and even fame she knew during life?
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
King Of The Cowboys
Can taste for singing cowboys be acquired past childhood? I didn't care for them then, but do now, in full knowledge that's going at it in reverse. But who's even discussing SC's anymore? Roy and Gene are stuff of waning nostalgia and estate auctions. Running them to an audience wouldn't even occur to me, yet both please, even in admitted solitude. Roy's been heaping served of late at Rancho Greenbriar, courtesy Republic waves off Netflix. It's easy to dismiss cowboys short of watching them. You figure on knowing their game and being too sophisticated to play, then one smacks the unexpected over complacency's fence and digs get underway for more. There's been six Roys so far this week and I'm still at it. Burnout's got to come, but hopefully not before spilling impressions here. Hang it all, he was likeable, could ride, sang better than Gene, and punched like demons (especially on rougher William Witney directed occasion). My loss comes of missing Roy during his 40's peak, first exposure being instead to spangles and guitar-strumming amidst TV variety he and Dale called 60/70's home. Had he really stuffed his horse to rear up eternally for visitors at the Roy Rogers Museum? The dog too? Both these were sold recently. Can't imagine to who. My ceilings are too low for Trigger, and prospect of a taxadermied Bullet holding night vigil would be just another word for Sleep No More.
We never had a Roy Rogers Restaurant around here. Was their food good? His celebrity hung on a long time for someone no longer doing movies. I seldom watched RR's TV show, playing as it did on CBS Saturdays behind preferred Heckle/Jeckle and such. Mixing up horse, dog and vehicle names vexed me. Buttermilk was Dale's mount, though I keep wanting to think the Jeep's name was Clarabelle, but wasn't that a dummy on Howdy Doody? ... no wait, she ... no, he ... was a clown. Uninspiring too was Roy and Dale happy trailing while theatre and other vid westerns got rugged beyond hope you'd vest in Rogers' family-friendly brand. I'd got to thinking they were for little kids before I was eight. Vintage movie Roys to balance scale were lopped to uniform 53 minutes, no matter original running times, Trucolor ones in black-and-white only. TV wrecked this star's feature legacy. A shame Rogers never bought up negatives like Autry and Bill Boyd so he could save what he'd poured fifteen years of effort into. Roy would admit being performer first, businessman second, this a polar opposite to go-get-it Gene.
These Republic westerns run a pockmarked trail. Many that were shortened remain so. Some of the Roys they color-shot exist only in B/W. I don't know of so many casualties among any other (largely) 40's made group. Bunches went Public Domain and are sold accordingly by varied DVD labels. Complete prints of otherwise hacked titles became available thanks to collector efforts. A single Rogers starring feature can be had on DVD via Republic library owners, Bells Of Coronado, not his best, but nicely representative of the Trucolor run. Ones I looked at came off meaner mold cast by directing William Witney. He was for making fists connect with hardened postwar attitudes. No way could you call Roy a noir westerner, but who dreamed we'd see him outnumbered and brutally beaten by Dave Sharpe's outlaw band in Bells Of San Angelo? --- a painful enough scene for me to watch, so imagine effect on 1948 small fry. I'll bet fans appreciated Roy ushering them onto toughened ground, his a kid's preview for Anthony Mann-ed up westerns to come.
No cowboy got so much animal assist as Rogers. Horses and especially dogs crowd every frame. It's hounds to rescue of Roy in Bells Of San Angelo. Bullet goes fang and claw against Grant Withers' "bad" Doberman in Spoilers Of The Plains, while Trigger vanquishes a renegade horse in thrall of Under California Stars outlawry. Oft-occasion find Rogers patting dogs at length, his clear love for animals give shows a warmth unique to this star's output. Down Dakota Way takes time to explain symptoms of hoof-and-mouth disease, while Twilight In The Sierras has Roy taking extended care of gunshot Trigger. I regret the encroaching cynicism that made all this passé. There's community and cheer about these westerns that would not survive them. Rogers even did a Trucolor prologue for Saturday matinees, The Cowboy's Prayer, asking theatres-full to bow heads with he and Trigger. What I'd not give to have been on hand for crowd reaction to this charming, and sincerely felt, couple of minutes (it's on You Tube). Republic spent generously on Roy even after reducing budgets and applying stock footage to other series. The party ended in 1951 when Rogers left Republic and set up televising tents. DVD's of good quality can be had on PD-RR from The Roan Group, VCI, and Sinister Cinema. Paramount-owned Republics stream through Netflix and more continue to be added.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Harlow In Hollywood Is Here
There sometimes are books you don't want to end. One for me is Mark Vieira's newest, with Darrell Rooney, Harlow In Hollywood, just out for the actress' hundredth birthday and laying down a rarest and most dazzling array of JH images ever gathered between two covers. Vieira has written before on Garbo, Irving Thalberg, Golden Age horror, and precode. Each fit coffee tables and are visual treasure finds. What he and Rooney achieve via Harlow is a screen legend in day-to-day context with a gone Hollywood she'd briefly thrive in. JH was as much about places as persona, being habitué to glamour spots we associate with Hollywood in prime years. The authors tour us by luxury hotels, horse tracks, chic bars, sundry sighting along Deco boulevards since condo-converted and parking decked. I've never felt so close to events of Harlow's era. Vieira and Rooney make it vivid as something you might step into and experience now. If only!
There are revelations aplenty here. Seems Harlow had gangland assist getting early parts at Columbia, thanks to unsavory coupling with a Mob figure. I want to buy JH as good-hearted victim of studio and rapacious family scheming, but this was no babe in woods ... in some ways she was anyone's equal for cunning. I actually like Harlow's offscreen mix of saint and sinner, all of us human and being of such combine after all. She'd be a bore as mere naïf ground down by Mayer, Mother, and attendant pitiless system. Harlow played trollops too well to be so clueless of their nature as interviews implied. Trouble early on was parts defined by her hair. So long as it shone porcelain white, there'd be no casting beyond "sex vultures" she'd grow to despise. Maybe an industry laughed at Harlow because they felt threatened by her forthright allure. And yes, she seems to have been regarded a joke much like Clara Bow. You could put Harlow's mop on a clown and it would look no less unreal. Code enforcement extended her career for making MGM humanize Jean's persona, a switch-to-brownette ideally timed to an industry's Code-changed circumstance.
Natural looks would calm Harlow's approach. She'd seem less agitated and blend in easier with co-players. Wife vs. Secretary shows how things might have gone had Harlow lived. The Bombshell was all of a sudden serene, a welcome switch. Interaction with Gable is relaxed, both maybe knowing positions were secure by 1936, so why light Red Dust fireworks for a public to whom they'd become old friends? I think Harlow would have gone increasingly Carole Lombard's way given longer life. The latter calmed down too in dramatic roles/subtler comedy of Made For Each Other, To Be Or Not To Be sort before her own tragic and premature exit (for me, 20th Century/Lombard resembles Libelled Lady/Harlow --- way loud). Harlow was headed for image transition not unlike a Joan Crawford, though I'm less sure JH had JC's determined, if not ruthless, survival instincts. Surely there'd have been a move away from Metro --- what 30's actress survived their early 40's purge? --- maybe a switch to Warners or Fox. I picture Harlow doing easier-going comedies with Fred MacMurray at Paramount, maybe easing back to Metro for guest mom spots with Jane Powell, though a surviving Lombard is more readily imagined than a transitioning to middle-age Jean Harlow, that largely for CL's more stable life choices and avoidance of private life predators. There's something doomed about Jean Harlow's very countenance, as if there was just no way she'd make out it out of the thirties (or her twenties). Vieira and Rooney capture beautifully the glamour and ultimate sadness of a life excitingly, but shortly, lived.