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Monday, July 21, 2014

Paramount Introducing Telemeter and a "New Youngster"

Forever Female (1953) Is Fresh Blu-Ray Arrival

A Broadway swing station between All About Eve and The Country Girl, Forever Female is a frothiest serve of backstage life. Success and prestige for All About Eve (multiple Academy wins) inspired performers to examine themselves. The business of entertaining came under scrutiny, from filmmaking in The Bad and The Beautiful to burlesque of Top Banana. Knowing there was most drama in legit, Hollywood put its opposite-coast rival under hot lamp of truth-telling re egos and stardom passing prime. Examinations could be merciless, as for Bing Crosby in The Country Girl, Ginger Rogers for two occasions, Forever Female plus Black Widow, and always there were kids trying to break in, most at Metro where Broadway translated still to melody rather than melodrama. Paramount's bid with Forever Female served purposes beyond mere nod to Eve, FF being launch pad for "Future Star" Pat Crowley and a home viewing format Para hoped would revolutionize entertainment, Telemeter.

Movies still, as always, served youth best as of 1952 when Forever Female went into works. The original title, Reaching For The Stars, might have been more apt to describe struggle of newcomers to seize the stage, and it was a same in Hollywood where failure to cultivate fresh personalities was noted ("Famine In New Faces," complained Variety). Trouble was the town overselling untried talent on conviction that an organized enough campaign could make any product stick. Such may have been a case with Pat Crowley, who had pluck and oodles of pep, but thudded despite a marketing assault comparable to Rommel's across African desert. Not that Crowley lacked goods, but even she might have suspected these were oversold. Everywhere was seen her face from September 1952 and transplant from stage and TV beginnings (Carousel and a Tovarich re-do on Broadway, plus A Date With Judy and anthologies for the tube). 750 unknowns had been interviewed and/or auditioned in New York by Para scouts, from which three were brought to Hollywood for screen testing. The winner would get not only an extended contract, but the ingénue lead in Forever Female. Others, then, were being evaluated besides this trio of girls, namely Paramount star-builders who'd be put to their own test of creating a next "overnight" sensation.

Let it be done a new way, suggested Paramount chief Don Hartman, and so it was left to studio rank-and-file to select a winner from the three contestants. This may for once have been on the level, Variety reporting "White-Collar Casting" conducted by "secretaries and office boys" brought to screenings of the tested femmes for purpose of picking a winner. Paramount could then straight-face announce this most democratic means by which stars were now born. Not from cynical press room recess, but via honest selection by working folk just like ones buying tickets. This was clever means of manufacturing a star with clean hands, though you wonder how losers Christine White and Sally Heston felt about the contest. I checked fate of both at IMDB. Christine would do uncredited bits in features like Vice Squad, turn up in 1958's Macabre, and much, much television. Sally Heston didn't turn up at all. Count these two, then, among the 749 who tried and failed at brass casting ring of Forever Female, but was Pat Crowley so much better off for getting the part?

A judge had to approve the nineteen-year-old's starting salary of $350 per week, it understood that $1,000 might be reached should Paramount exercise all options over a seven-year contract period. This was the same sort of indentured servitude long practiced by majors, but Para wasn't for sinking so much publicity into property they didn't own. Column/news mentions were frequent as Forever Female went into production (10/1/52) and build-up of Pat Crowley intensified. As in multiple Star Is Born fictions, there was move to change her name, Paramount hiring a "Hollywood numerologist," who proposed fifty-five variations on a new moniker, such being old style huckstering of perhaps unhelpful sort, so again Para turned to on-lot wage earners for assist. In what may have been a staged revolt, Crowley herself said no to the name switch and even to billing as Patricia, preferring the more gender-neutral Pat. "Anybody who sees me will know I'm a girl," she cheekily told Army Archerd.

How then, to keep light focused on Pat Crowley as Forever Female waited out the year to release? Here was a showcase wrapped fourteen months before audiences would see it, with a personality that needed to register during the interim. 1953 would amount to haul of a comparative unknown to a press and public who'd not see her on screens till after Christmas. In a meantime, there was utility work that Pat Crowley would perform to earn keep. She and Para pactee Jan Sterling escorted ex-P.O.W. guests to the 7-15-53 premiere of Stalag 17 at the Warner Beverly Theatre in LA, while tests were conducted later that month by director Michael Curtiz in which Crowley participated, the object to determine which camera lenses would work best for Paramount's new Vistavision process. Other studio ingénues to pose included Marla English of later AIP fame, and Kathryn Grandstaff (Grant). There would come the inevitable Photoplay magazine award that placed Crowley among 1953 newcomers "most likely to succeed," the honor shared with seemingly every young player the industry had in hoppers that year.

Where Forever Female made trivia history was its being a first-ever major studio feature to World Premiere on television, even though that November 1953 event was restricted to "sunny and prosperous" Palm Springs viewership. Paramount's experimental "Telemeter" would be means by which entertainment could be delivered to home sets as cable later would be, an idea years ahead of wider 70's implementation. The idea of a "boxoffice in the home" especially appealed to Para topper Barney Balaban, who liked prospect of selling tickets to hearth sitters. If they wouldn't go out for a show, the show would come to them, at coin deposit price. Anyone who'd fed gas meters would know Telemeter as an old friend, only this one gave movies for money, sans necessity of leaving armchairs. Here was where that "lost audience' could be got back. Paramount half-owned the system with International Telemeter Corp. of Los Angeles, and 11/53 launch would see Forever Female in simul-opening at Palm Springs' Plaza Theatre plus local TV sets to which coin boxes had been attached.

Telemeter was fed off a closed circuit that served Palm Springs viewing, so could avoid FCC ban on pay television, this not being classified as "free air" (the signal coming in on phone wires). 400 households subscribed to closed circuit TV, and 71 of these participated in the Telemeter test, paying $1.35 to see Forever Female's evening broadcast, which followed the afternoon's USC-Notre Dame football game, home-received for a dollar. As to outcome, said International Projectionist magazine, opinions differed. "It was felt by some that Forever Female was not the best choice for starting the test. A comedy is enjoyed most with a large responsive audience rather than when viewed by a few people at home. Also it was noted that TV reproduction tended to blur or wash out detail in backgrounds and long shots." Toward bally for the event came one star of Forever Female to theatre-appear and visit Palm Springs homes in which Telemeter was installed. That star was Pat Crowley.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Pat Crowley, four years later, would be the final leading lady for Dean & Jerry in HOLLYWOOD OR BUST.

George Reeves has a nice bit near the start of FOREVER FEMALE playing a character named George.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great info on Telemeter! All news to me! I've always thought RKO General's Subscription TV project at WHCT, Hartford, Connecticut back in the 60's was the first full fledged pay TV experiment. That one flopped too, of course, but only after years of trial and error.

5:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Aspects of Pay TV, and an Ernie Kovacs send-up of same, as recalled by Donald Benson:

One of the Ernie Kovacs compilations has a short bit where Kovacs feeds coins into a television to watch some kind of horror/mystery. Of course the meter and Kovacs's coins run out right at the climax.

I remember a commercial from my childhood (early 60s) that had an evil Pay TV singing "gimme, gimme, gimme your gold!" as greenbacks showered down into a sack. Don't recall if that was related to a specific election or campaign. Since we only had B&W sets with variable reception, the appeal of seeing big movies on the home screen eluded me.

Now, at last, we have something pretty close to Telemeter: Pay per view. My cable package has an on-demand function where specific movies and shows can be viewed with a click of the remote -- and a fee will appear on your bill. It's like having a hotel minibar in your living room.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Pat Crowley visited you if you had Telemeter! Boy, people would do anything to promote a movie (or gimmick) back then. Can you imagine Megan Fox showing up at your front door the first time "Transformers" ran on pay-per-view?

9:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

If Megan Fox showed up at my front door, I wouldn't know who the heck she was.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Yeah, who's Megan Fox?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Now if Gene Roth showed up at your front door, John...!

12:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Rest assured, Gene Roth and I would have lots to talk about, firstly his pre-actor years as an exhibitor.

No kidding about Megan Fox --- I actually had to look her up just now on IMDB to see who she is.

12:30 PM  

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