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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Of Ones I Keep Coming Back To

Another Bite at The Wolf Man (1941)

Larry Talbot is likeable from our first seeing him share front seat with his chauffeur, a Yank with the common touch come home to awkward reunion with father Claude Rains, who looks anything but. Should Claude have had serious talk with the gardener or stable boy some years before? There was apparently an older son, also Lon-like based on a portrait, and you have to wonder what mother produced these two in concert with Rains. Such concern is what comes of seeing The Wolf Man perhaps too many times, but once you've done so, what is there to observe but petty details? Well, for one, a Blu-Ray so rich as to approach live performance --- nothing petty in that remarkable plus, each view confirming this as at least a fastest-paced of Universal horrors. I don't wonder fans welcomed the lycanthrope back for a quartet of follow-ups, him an only fresh monster Universal yielded in the 40's (and I'm not forgetting Rondo Hatton and Paula The Ape Woman, but do either compete?). Questions arise: Would Larry use Sir John's telescope to again peek in at Gwen, perhaps at bedtime? When Sir John tied Larry to the chair and left the house, did he not consider that his son may need a privy break? Ralph Bellamy looked back on this and Ghost Of Frankenstein mainly in terms of on-set laughs; could anyone satisfy him as to how meaningful these pictures were to us? Law enforcement is surprisingly lax as to gypsy Bela dying "in the confusion" of a wolf attack, and later on, with Larry aching to confess to other murders, no one listens. Talbot village would seem an ideal retreat from consequence of crime. I'd like knowing what crew person took home Larry's wolf head cane, "make a nice putter" indeed. Did someone eventually use it for just that? Chaney looks fit and almost handsome here, The Wolf Man a sole romantic lead for him that was credible. The character was "my baby," he used to say. By 1941, Lon was lucky to pull that one out of Universal's cooled-off oven.

Monday, October 28, 2019

30's Cost of Fake News

The Finger Points (1931) at Reporters Turned Corrupt

Chicagoans Find Fun in Viewing Head-Shot Jake Lingle
Jake Lingle was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He started off clean, but ended up dirty. Gangland saw to that. Jake covered crime till criminals bribed him to cover it up, then when something (but what?) went wrong, they rubbed him out. That was June 9, 1930. Parts of Chicago, it seems, kept roaring well after the 20’s. A tall, blond guy came up behind Jake in a crowded railroad underpass, sprayed his brains amidst a moving crowd, then blended among them. Talk about brass. Why not wait for a next football game and do your killing there? $1400 was found in pockets of the victim who earned $65 per week, this after Jake got plaudits as dauntless champ for law-order. Chumps were those who believed in him. Al Capone was figured to be back of the deed. Seven months search found a suspect that few agreed on, but he served eight years anyway and kept mum doing it. So was Jake Lingle a bad apple, or par for the barrel? Crooked cops were a dime a hatful, so why not journalists too? Imagine temptation of $60K a year that Lingle was alleged to have got. Scribing did not confer sacred trust as did a badge, said rationalizing damned. A lot of them gloried in the rackets and slept peaceful in gravy bowls. What a topic for Hollywood in muckrake mode, and what a custom glove for Richard Barthelmess as decency corrupted by insidious forces intent on swallowing us all. If Dick could be bought, was anyone safe?

Forceful aspect of the gangster cycle was how easily decent folk got sucked in, bootleg liquor bought with more honest dollars than not. Had we but obeyed Volstead, crime might starve in its cradle, but no, drinking was harmless and the law an unfair one, so bottoms up, said millions of Jake Lingles among us. The numbers racket would thrive by as subtle means later on. Civilians hardly realized they were doing wrong. Higher profile gang movies saw crime on insular terms, an isolated culture apart from clean communities. We could look at Little Caesar, Public Enemy, and Scarface without fear of sink to their level. Filmmakers implicating a wider public got wrists slapped, The Wet Parade a dirty mirror the upright didn’t want to look into ($112K lost). Movies then, even precode ones, prevailed upon their audience to respect the law. Reporters could be cheeky, bend rules, even pal with mobsters, but only to expose them later and uphold a status quo. To sell out for private gain was a killing offence. Many celebrate precode for its free-and-easy, even amoral, stance, but it was never really that. Crime did sometimes pay, but not often. It needed papal dispensation to let wrongdoers off the hook, rules less unyielding than when strict enforcement got hold, but a bitsy eyehook all the same. We’d like Barthelmess to be spared in The Finger Points because he kills no one, took only from crooks, is true-blue to friends, and is, after all, Richard Barthelmess … but snatch goes rug from beneath him when machine guns speak their peace. Maybe it was suggested-by-facts that imposed the windup, Jake Lingle a likely-as-not right guy to co-working chums. He wasn’t picking their pockets, but died sudden all the same.

Dick starts at $35 a week for his fictitious paper. Average income in 1930 was $1,368, so him in the middle would have drawn $26 plus. “Breckinridge Lee” seems educated, can type and compose stories. Many on actual sheets never wrote a word, were “street reporters” in that they got yarns, phoned them in, left others to do text. Bet there were plenty on payrolls who neither read nor wrote, but had nose for news like bloodhounds. Jake Lingle was a street reporter. Most in the trade, not thought of then as a profession, had to learn on the fly, spelling they picked up “one lousy letter at a time,” as Clark Gable declared in Teacher’s Pet twenty-seven years later. In wild enough towns, like certainly Chicago, the papers were expected to crack crime same as thought-inept police. Crooks often surrendered to editors rather than cops. That got sticky where aroused populace, and certainly law enforcement, said media was glorifying, if not protecting, gangsters. Breckinridge Lee gets beat up for too vigorous reporting in The Finger Points, his editor refusal to cover doctor costs the impetus to join with mob-linked Clark Gable.

Two from The Finger Points cast stood for a past and future of talkie stardom, Fragile Barthelmess and Growling Gable, one roaring in, the other easing out. Barthelmess enjoyed momentum of considerable hit that was The Dawn Patrol of a year before, but limit for him as a sound attraction was piling up. Slight of stature, his height five foot nine if sources are to be believed (he doesn't seem it), saw male co-players in The Finger Points dwarf him. We fear for Dick because of how vulnerable he seems. How long can this man get by hustling the Mob? Barthelmess spoke ideally to silent viewership, as one exhibitor bluntly pointed out: “When pictures were silent, a Bathelmess picture was an event. Whenever I could get one, the wife knew there was a new dress coming to her for business always was good … any picture that had Dick in it was a good picture to me, but … the talkies made a difference. As I watched The Finger Points, I sighed for the old Dick, the old ingratiating boy with the tender smile, the expressive eyes, and the complete mastery of the art of silent acting. In this picture, he is just an actor telling us in words what he used to tell us a thousand times more intriguingly in looks and action” (The Hollywood Spectator, 6-20-31). Here was sum-up that unfortunately could be applied to many a silent-era player facing high hill that was talking screens.

Silent-Era Barthelmess As Many Preferred Him. Note Artist's Signature for Attractive Border Design

Careful, Dick --- Those Are Real Shots They Are Firing

In contrast was lately-arrived Clark Gable to spoken parts, his voice pitched low as to make every line a threat. That plus height advantage cruelly expose an uneven match between he and Barthelmess. Latter having gone corrupt means Breckinridge Lee must die, frightfully so in a hail of tommy gun bullets. We flinch for the actor’s sake, these shots being real, and aimed all round Barthelmess, who relied for his life upon aim of a WWI vet Warners hired to make the scene look real. James Cagney went similar dangerous route for Public Enemy, and still recalled cold fear of the moment in his 70’s memoir. So much for big stars spared hazard of filming, the Barthelmess death scene still uneasy from 88 year distance. What price authenticity, especially where telling stories ripped from headlines. Showmen ran with the relevance, Harry Martin of the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Ky., printing up a bogus newspaper “extra” describing “the murder of a well-known reporter,” newsboys sent throughout town to distribute the sheet. Martin’s bally “had all the earmarks of a genuine newspaper and created a lot of excitement,” the evening’s shower of fake gazettes culminating in a midnight premiere of The Finger Points that got the “biggest opening gross the Brown Theatre has known.”

Lobby-Constructed News Office An Attention-Getter in Jersey City

Multiple Fingers Point at Merchants Participating in the Palace Theatre's Co-Op Ad

Persuasive Ad Cheered By a 1931 Trade
Other campaigns were as bold. Enterprising management for the Stanley Theatre in Jersey City N.J. built a reduced scale press room for lobby display which seated three “reporters” (culled from house staff). The display stayed up a week, was constantly manned, and drew excited comment from patrons plus anticipation for The Finger Points, “A Gripping Tale of an Ace Reporter Who Killed Stories For Hush Money.” Co-op ads were a natural because … well, it was about a finger pointing, as one would to participating merchants, the Palace Theatre of Lorain, Ohio in bed with a pharmacy, jeweler, florist, the round robin of local businesses seeking to get word out on goods they offered. Mutual back-scratch was seldom better utilized. The Motion Picture Herald (8-1-31) spotted an ad by management of the Macomb Theatre in Mount Clemens, Michigan, “an excellent example of how one mat can be brought up to a degree where it hits the reader square in the eye.” Particulars included “the use of varied type … the use of the reverse negative in order to change the tone (of the display ad).” Newspaper promotion reached a new level of sophistication as printing/reproduction techniques improved, and exhibitors took advantage of them. The Finger Points saw success for such efforts, a profit-getter, if modest, in a year when many of Warner releases lost money. It can be had on DVD from Warner Archive.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Family Friendly Pirates

UK-Made Treasure Island (1950) from Disney

Walt Disney didn't think much of Bobby Driscoll as an actor, but used him as moppet lead in several live action ventures, and to model for cartoon characters (him the human counterpart for Peter Pan). Loaning Bobby to RKO for The Window made a better use of his talent, star-building not yet a Disney expertise (it needed television and more ambitious live-act features to launch Annette and Hayley Mills to come). Treasure Island was made in England with dollars frozen there, a consequence of $ export regulations implemented by hard-hit Brit lawmakers digging out of war ravage. Treasure Island is stolidly faithful to a somewhat labored book. Disney used Byron Haskin to direct, but controlled proceeds from a West Coast 6000 miles away. He visited the location but briefly. Haskin did not recall the Great Man sprinkling genius over this show, but Disney may have seen UK output (a feature group done there, all period costumed) as mere expediency, getting lots more for dollars than could be had filming in the US, post-war inflation having sent stateside costs skyward.

A capable Brit cast gives Treasure Island nice Classics Illustrated flavor. I bet this one got rented a lot via non-theatrical arms; surprised, in fact, at not seeing it myself in school. Attention-getter at the time was Robert Newton, letting 'er rip as Long John Silver, and likeliest source of pleasure for kids who might have been bored with the rest. Treasure Island was grouped with Disney's second True-Life Adventure short, Beaver Valley, plus a new cartoon (Motor Mania in most ads I consulted), so patronage got more than money's worth. Here was family night at movies for 1950, and turning point for Disney constructing not just a feature, but an entire and balanced program. Treasure Island having been made at bargain neg cost of $1.3 million opened doors to whale of a profit --- worldwide rentals would top four million. Warm recollection of that may have inspired a surprise mid-seventies reissue, from which a close-up pirate shot full in the face was trimmed so as to avert a dread PG rating. The snip made for jocular trade reportage at the time. Who knew Disney had such violent skeletons in its family closet?

Monday, October 21, 2019

Where Genius Had a Price Tag

Home Front Comedy's Best Friend

I’m at last evolved to a point of liking Preston Sturges. Despite previous complaints of him, something whispered that it was not Sturges’ failing, but mine. Having re-watched most of the Paramount comedies, his greatness finally is plain, but to that add this: Sturges as onscreen funny is matched by fascination with the offscreen man whose luck ran calamitous as any H’wood artist achieving status, and then losing it. I still don’t fully understand how fate could have dealt Sturges such ruin. Did vultures sit in wait for a first slip, and then swoop? Like Orson Welles, Sturges a lot like Welles, there was genius talk, behavior to relish the crown, then collapse the outcome of hubris reckless-displayed. Reading books (the best by James Curtis, plus auto-bio notes Sturges’ widow assembled) made me want to call back decades and say, No, Preston, don’t speak so much truth to power. But to flip side of coin, Sturges had much insight to life, understood reality of people … how else would his pictures be so fine? He could be humble too, sadly where too late being so. There was his last meeting with Paramount heads, them resolved to keep him on humiliating terms or not at all, either OK because they were fed up, and Sturges, alone in this front office arena, begging to salvage the job and place he called home (“I love Paramount!,” to cold response). If ever I wanted a happier dreamland ending, here was it, but not to be. Why couldn’t Sturges the gifted scribe compose a happier life story for himself?

Among Paramount Comedies Not the Brain-Children of Preston Sturges ...

Sturges with Veronica Lake
Was any artist, writing and directing, more valued by an industry than one who over and over delivered great comedy? Think of those that did. Not many, but herewith a few from decades at respective peak: Chaplin in the teens (his summit an ongoing one), Lubitsch for the 20’s and beyond, Capra as 30’s supreme creator, then Sturges, who for wartime years had no peer. His was the Big Brass Band, noisy sure, but wasn’t most of home front humor? To successors, I’ll name Wilder for the 50’s, maybe Blake Edwards in the 60’s, and … Mel Brooks with the 70’s? Do please nominate others, or alert me if I’ve left someone out (not forgetting Keaton and Lloyd, but they weren’t credited for full creative oversee until later scholarship outed them). Anyone with sense knew Sturges was something utterly fresh at humor, plus heart, slapstick, sophistication. They hadn’t seen miracles like his wrought since It Happened One Night. Sturges was around long enough never to be an overnight sensation, so there was no calling him an upstart, dues paid over a decade writing for others to interpret. Sturges made a gift of his directing debut (The Great McGinty) as demonstration of ability to Paramount, knowing they’d pay dear once he clicked, that a foregone conclusion so far as Sturges saw it.

Sturges worked like a hound, needed (he said) but four hours sleep a night, and did initial features in less time, and for less money, than Para was otherwise resigned to. McGinty was liked, Christmas In July behind it, both profitable. Critics knew oil had been struck, Sturges as back-of-camera “star” more colorful than personalities he wrote for and directed. The Lady Eve was among bigger noises of 1941, as revolutionary laugh-wise as magic conjured by Welles and Citizen Kane from a same year. Paramount understood for comparative lame-ness of humor they otherwise sent forth. Look sometime at Skylark, also from them in 1941(TCM has used it, and in HD). You might be amused, no doubt would be, given time travel to a first-run house hosting hundreds, but Skylark is small beer beside The Lady Eve, this no secret then, let alone now. Racing horse that was Sturges left a Mark Sandrich or Mitchell Leisen at start gates, Para stars known for comedy at their best advantage working for him. Sturges got brasher as he advanced upward, Sullivan’s Travels stops-out when silly, somber where its writer-director went off comedy’s preserve to try something new. Folks arriving in a final third (lots did in days where it didn’t matter what time you showed up at theatres) figured Sullivan's for melodrama, which to showmen meant Buyer Beware. Complaints told Paramount, and Sturges, that there was limit to innovation.

Sturges knew he wasn’t infallible, at least from hindsight: “The ending wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to solve the problem … There was probably a way of doing it, but I didn’t happen to come across it. It might be profitable for a young director to look at Sullivan’s Travels and try not to make the same mistakes I did.” These were words dictated years past the fall, when Sturges wrestled with reasons why he lost it all. “Mistakes,” in say, the mid or late 50’s, would read as bold foresight by those watching Sullivan’s Travels from 60’s-forward vantage. Sturges' mood flip would be admired, imitated, by filmmakers later. What was Bonnie and Clyde but bank robbers on a cross-country, Sullivan-like spree? We are less shocked by sudden shifts because Sturges laid a template, one with more influence than the writer/director could appreciate during his lifetime (Sturges died in 1959). Of immediate copiers, there were plenty. I wonder if George Stevens’ The More The Merrier would have sprouted without Sturges’ films ahead of it.

How do we know if a thing is funny, or not, without an audience to confirm it? Most film mavens watch alone, or with one or two doing them the favor of accompany. I looked at No Time For Love this week to compare a boilerplate Paramount comedy with what Sturges was doing for them. It had Claudette Colbert with Fred MacMurray, and was directed by Leisen. I laughed --- alone in the room I laughed --- so guessed this was a riot in 1943. No Time For Love was scribed by four of Para personnel, according to credits, hardly product of a single creative force. Studios functioned best in this way, no one man indispensable to steady outflow of commercial product. Sturges, like other wunderkinds, was more than vague threat to those the system could take or leave, which in Hollywood, as in life, was just about everyone, Sturges a bigger talent than any, and he knew it. Just that was enough to seal his fate. Any little thing that went wrong became a big thing. Sturges’ fifth project was an unpopular idea about the man who developed anesthetic. Called Triumph Over Pain, Paramount let Sturges make it, then took the negative (their option under the contract), and shredded near-whole of what the writer-director did. He begged to be allowed to fix the mess for plentiful and eminently sensible reasons. Head man Buddy DeSylva, who appears to have really had it in for Sturges, said no. Triumph Over Pain went out as The Great Moment, which it was not for pay windows. Para brass held Pain/Moment against Sturges even as he delivered roaring hit that was Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, followed by popular Hail The Conquering Hero. Observers had to wonder how Paramount could let such an asset get away. I am yet baffled. There must have been some serious animus at play here.

Sturges Dictates to Secretary Jean Lavell
It’s sad to read of Sturges falling in with head case that was Howard Hughes. Crazy is crazy however much money you have. Sturges had been raised by oddballs, was distinctly one himself, so being duly tolerant of eccentricity, mistook Hughes’ serious unbalance for that. Fault over The Sin of Harold Diddlebock can be shared by Sturges and Hughes, or maybe the idea of Harold Lloyd coming back under Preston Sturges direction was a flawed one. It pleased Sturges to think that he could revive Lloyd’s flavor of comedy; they actually had much in common, even if outcome for Diddlebock was isolated runs, then withdrawal by Hughes, whose property the negative was. Zanuck of Fox came to a rescue, then wished he hadn’t, as Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend both lost money. It was figured that Sturges had lost his touch. That happened to funny folk before, and would again (Wilder a 60’s follower-in-decline). I looked for quotes as to what went wrong for Sturges, one theory advanced by Eddie Bracken, who should know: "Preston had a tremendous ego … Most of his hits came when Jean Lavell was his secretary, and she was the only person he really listened to. There’d be a meeting about a project and if he was going overboard, or becoming excessive, which was his tendency, Jean would tell him, “Why don’t you do this or that instead?” and he might argue, but he’d usually do it. Jean played a large part in the success of Sturges’ great movies … When he left Jean and Paramount and went over to Howard Hughes and Fox, his pictures didn’t turn out so well.” So could it have been that simple? A secretary’s quietly moderating voice? Remarkable how so often it is the littlest things that make all the difference. Not saying Bracken was accurate, but he was there, and the rest of us weren’t. Food for thought, whatever the truth.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

MacDonald Sings In The Here and Now

Broadway Serenade (1939) Another Metro Heart-Throb

'39 was time for Jeanette MacDonald to "go modern," this in deference to patron demand and need for product differentiation at Metro. You couldn't maintain stars by letting them do identical act over and again (even if it seemed at times like they did). MacDonald had worn period dress since linkage with Nelson Eddy, and maybe there was fear that operettas were getting stale. Anyway, she was re-routed to this, and fresh lead man Lew Ayres, who'd come off more believably as her kid brother rather than husband, as he's posited here. The two begin as a vaudeville team, tensions a result of JMc rocketing to legit stardom. Must husbands of overnight stars always behave so badly? And yet their mates stay loyal, despite luxury and better offers poured over them that certainly would be opted were this real life. As with most super-A's from MGM of this period, Broadway Serenade is over-dressed. Producer committees on the lot saw to that. A single or even handful of voices were no longer enough to see expensive projects through, not unlike movie business done today. Curiosity was there for MacDonald gone modern, as first-run ads attest. Note emphasis on Modern, Hotcha, Hi-De-Ho, each with own exclamation point.

MacDonald's character soars in plays that don't look much good, until Busby Berkeley takes over for a final blow-out that dwarfs the rest. Good writing always sniffed around edges of even top-heaviest MGM, thus pungent exchanges among B'way cynics clearly standing in for same-disposed scribes lost in a crowd of credited (or not) scenarists. Big spending was a distraction from much that was wrong at Leo, starriest vehicles left to suffer for too many cooks in too thick broth. Still, there is much to satisfy in Broadway Serenade, and moments plenty where it jumps to (our) attention. Vaude background can’t help but engage. See it for that if nothing else. Did not know till recent that MacDonald kept a detailed diary through her peak career. Might someone publish it, or have they already? Crowds supported a Broadway Serenade because she sang lots in it, and that’s all they needed to know. Is there a performer left that could claim a same? Again these ads, Shea’s pushing Metro shorts, “Pete’s New Hit” for a latest Pete Smith, Weather Wizards, and a “Science Unit,” The Story of Alfred Nobel, one of the John Nesbitt Passing Parades. Then the RKO Orpheum using an MGM “B,” Society Lawyer, for support. Latter is actually a good one, provided expectation is modest. Warner Instant streamed Broadway Serenade in HD before curtain dropped on that enterprise, so know that a transfer has been done, and maybe TCM will get back round to it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Of Lusty, Loving, Gambling Men ...

Power Propels The Mississippi Gambler (1953)

An 1859 Engraving
They called gamblers on the river “black-legs.” Virtually all were crooked as a dog’s hind leg. In antebellum Vicksburg, they strung up a handful to let the rest know card sharps weren’t welcome. Gamblers thrived in towns along the Mississippi before steamboats arrived in 1811, from there an onward-upward course until at least 500 men (and a few women) dealt pasteboard to suckers till the Civil War curbed river traffic. Anyone with a poke was fair game, many a chump starting trips flush, exiting gangplanks broke. Games were non-stop day and night, one experienced traveler estimating that not fifteen minutes passed without cards in play. Bartenders and not a few captains were in on shafts, every deck “shaved” or otherwise marked, sealed or no. Connivers got their percentage of yield. You’d not detect a cheat even where you knew full well he was cheating. That’s how expert the best of them were. Pros had no choice but to play false, closing margins for error a first priority. “They must cheat, or starve,” said one observer. After the war, when most of the lice had been cleared, came the rewrite. Gamblers were all of a sudden heroic figures, “the romance of rascality,” some called it. Pretty soon everyone forgot what predators these were, recasting them as gentlemen with a code, fleecing the rich to frequently assist the poor. Dime novels, and then movies getting aboard, made career gambling something to aspire to. History-be-hanged where rose-tint glasses prettied life amidst paddle-wheels and genteel wagering. Of films to celebrate this culture that never was, The Mississippi Gambler stands tallest. Run it to an audience (I have) and chances are they’ll figure it for historic fact and applaud besides (mine did).

The Mississippi Gambler was Universal’s 1953 idea of an ultra-A. In the silents, they’d have called it a Super-Jewel. Tyrone Power was lately loosed from Fox, conflicting data as to whether he was done there or this was his yearly-as-contracted outside pic; in whichever case, there was partnership with Ted Richmond, a busy producer bee for U-I, who steered Power to fifty-fifty split of profits, which thanks to Gambler’s three million domestic rental haul, yielded the actor $750K, money way beyond that for laboring at Fox. Postwar percentages gave players glimpse of wealth they hardly knew existed. Agents-lawyers with capitol gains hoodoo made ripping off tax men a sport equal to what sharpers did a century before, minus the tar and feathers, or hemp. This however, was but Power’s turn of the card. Others at U-I, including all who supported the lead man, saw leagues less than what Ty took. Consider sobering statistics: Piper Laurie, his love interest, began her contract with $100 per week, vaulted to $150 one year later. By 1953, just a few seasons after joining U-I, would Piper's pay have been higher? Then Julie Adams, a starter at $150 … no wonder Power seemed to her like a god off Olympus. I’ll not speculate on what small-part and background young men took home: Dennis Weaver, William Reynolds, Guy Williams. Hollywood then was as now --- live on velvet, or crumbs.

Wife Linda Christian Is a Visitor To The Set

And yet all was not soft for Power. His then-wife, Linda Christian, had wanted the role Piper Laurie got. He promised it to her ‘neath softness of sheets. They had even done a test, Ty bragging that “I own half the picture, so I can get my way!” Glare of U-reality left others to tell Linda she was out, Power “in a meeting” and never liking to be dispenser of bad news. The fissure as much as any fouled their marriage … maybe not so much as Ty’s score of willing mattress Anita Ekberg (a Gambler dress extra), whose chicken-scratch love notes Linda found in hubby’s overnight case. Ekberg would do as much mischief to Gary Cooper’s marriage a few years later. That’s what I love about these old stars --- feet of clay, right down the line. Linda Christian wrote a memoir in 1962, Linda: My Own Story, Power not around to say yea or nay to her account. Piper Laurie got out her Learning To Live Out Loud in 2011, recalled tension in Christian having lost the plum part, scars gone in any case by such a late date. Julie Adams’ The Lucky Southern Star, published that same year, had her telling Power on-set how excited she was when the Jesse James crew came near her hometown in 1939, to which he replied “When you were a little girl, no doubt,” both knowing awkward zone she stepped into. But why so aggrieved, Ty but thirty-eight when The Mississippi Gambler was made. Consider this was 1952, a time when thirty-eight was really thirty-eight, every nicotine trace showing up on Power’s face.

A Gambler Stroll Past Famed Notre Dame Cathedral on U-I Lot
Universal-International was seat of stalwart men and sirenous women (that last not a word, but I like it, so hereby invent it). Competition was hot for what stardom U-I could bestow. Jeff Chandler wanted The Mississippi Gambler, but Power left a bigger boxoffice footprint, and so was preferred. Latterly weak ones at Fox saw need for a vehicle that would speak to his strength, The Mississippi Gambler clearly it. Variety reported seven weeks shooting, all upon a backlot or boat pulled up to waterway U had dug. That craft still floated in 1975 when I did a USC summer session and walked decks just like the Fabulous Mark Fallon as essayed by Power, The Mississippi Gambler already a favorite thanks to a 16mm print got from NC’s own blackleg dealer by name of George Ashwell, from whom much ill-got treasure flowed in freeboot collector days. George could smell intense want soon as you’d come through his door, thus a high tab for The Mississippi Gambler on IB Technicolor, being three cartoons in trade, my original print of Deadline USA, plus $150. I felt like a hapless player after Mark Fallon showed his “tens-full” and scooped the pot. The Mississippi Gambler was worth it though, pleased mightily my college audience, a rare time when a finish (Piper finally yielding to Ty’s embrace) got spontaneous and lush applause. Things differed, however, when I ran Gambler to six or so fraternity brothers, each put off by Laurie marrying another guy at the halfway point, one explaining that by surrendering her virtue to the wrong man, she’d no longer be worthy of Power. That made a big impression, showing how invested even 20-22 year old boys could be in one of my old movies.

On-Set Reunion for Power with Former Co-Star Loretta Young

A Grand Winding Staircase Beloved of 50's Universal Sets, Used for Gambler, and in 1957 for Man Of A Thousand Faces

Break Time for Exuberant Ty and Julie Adams

Much of anecdotes real-life gamblers left turn up verbatim in Seton I. Miller’s story/screenplay. He clearly did his research, however The Mississippi Gambler was softened re history. A particular, and vivid, source for Miller was surely Forty Years a Gambler on The Mississippi, by George Devol, published in 1887 and an unapologetic account of his career dealing and stealing. The Mississippi Gambler’s John McIntire, as Fallon partner “Polly,” was based on a device Devol and others often used, coming aboard as a rube, or farmer with “pig money” almost begging to be separated from it. Fallon/Power announces from the go that he will deal only honest cards, which none of genuine articles was dumb enough to try, unless they wanted to go bust on a first trip and ones thereafter. Fallon and Polly escape dry gulchers by bailing off a boat steered close to shore, gold weighing down Polly so he has to discard it all onto muddy bottom, further incident taken from truth. Not trying to propose The Mississippi Gambler as documentary, but writing gives it flavor of the era, Seton Miller a sure-hand at lead man vehicles, having penned for Power (The Black Swan), plus numerous for Cagney, Flynn, Ladd, others. Notable too is Tyrone Power’s great-grandfather, an Irish-born actor/theatrical manager, who toured stateside and left an outstanding memoir, Impressions of America (1836), where he recognized “crying evils” supporting “the course of crime” that gamblers pursued.

John Goodno Scored This Meet For Being The Outstanding Exhibitor in Huntington, West Virginia

Mid-January 1953 saw military style campaign that was The Mississippi Gambler’s deep-to-upper-south opening, New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis each touted as “World Premieres.” 350 “pre-release” runs would follow at cities along the Mississippi, stars aboard for the haul, Power because it served him to serve, Piper Laurie and Julie Adams because publicity was as critical, perhaps more, than their job emoting before cameras. Being an actress for U-I meant performing for tie-ins, the women at department stores, doing chat shows for local TV, pulling plow that was lobby lines for autographs that took hours because masses kept coming. This was means, necessary ones, by which U-I kept talent before a public, as formula films weren’t enough in themselves to close a stardom sale. Piper Laurie acknowledged in her book that The Mississippi Gambler was a first “A” film she had been involved with, and who knew if there would be another under U-I tutelage? There was, decades later, a Winston-Salem western show, one of the last, where Piper Laurie set up to sell autographs, by herself, at least when I paused to speak. She was polite if not fully animated, another of those, like Virginia Mayo, who showed up for a North Carolina cowboy meet and then asked herself Why? I looked at this woman with the dupe stills and felt marker and thought how once she did this ritual for hundreds lined in a Loew’s lobby, their idea of glitter-land’s summit, back in the year before I was born. Now it was just me with nobody in front or behind to rush this occasion for meeting Piper Laurie. I told her how much I liked her book and she thanked me for that. It was only after driving out of the hotel parking lot that I realized I’d forgotten to ask for her autograph.
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