Tag Archives: James Stewart

My Dinner With Zuzu

For me, no holiday season is complete without a trip (or two) to Detroit’s Redford Theatre.  Going there to see Christmas classics like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street never fails to get me in the holiday spirit.  Not only is it a treat see my favorite holiday movies on the big screen, the theater is also beautifully decorated and there is always such a nice feeling of community in the audience during those movies.

2013-11-23 19.14.35Christmas came to the Redford a little early this year with three very special screenings of It’s a Wonderful Life. Actress Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey, made appearances at all three shows. But before the final screening on Saturday night, Karolyn joined a small group of VIPs for dinner at the Charles T. Fisher mansion in Detroit’s historic Boston-Edison district.  The Boston-Edison district is full of beautiful old homes, many of them built by or lived in by some of Detroit’s most famous residents including Henry Ford, Joe Louis, and Berry Gordy.  My mom and I were among the lucky attendees for this event and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to be there.

The Charles T. Fisher Mansion

The Charles T. Fisher Mansion

Before dinner, Karolyn briefly spoke to us about her career and answered a few questions.  Once dinner got started, Karolyn came around to each table to say hello and answer more questions.  Since Karolyn also starred in The Bishop’s Wife, I couldn’t resist asking what it was like to work with Cary Grant and Loretta Young.  She said Cary was just wonderful, but remembered Loretta as being a bit aloof.  However, she and Loretta started corresponding more when they were a bit older and Loretta would often send her prayer devotionals.  While they were filming The Bishop’s Wife, Loretta put a “curse box” on set and anytime somebody cursed, they had to put money in the box.  When the movie was finished, Loretta donated the money to a Catholic church.

As soon as we were finished with dinner and dessert, we headed over to the Redford Theatre to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.  I saw It’s a Wonderful Life at the Redford a couple of years ago and there was a great crowd then, but this time, it was even better — it was a sold out house!  Before the show, Karolyn signed autographs and took pictures with fans in the lobby.  If you ever have the opportunity to meet Karolyn, don’t be shy to say hello!  She’s extremely approachable and very sweet.

Me with Karolyn.

Me with Karolyn.

When stars make appearances at the Redford, they come onstage and give an introduction before the movie starts.  Typically this lasts about 5 to 10 minutes, but Karolyn went above and beyond and spent about half an hour talking about It’s a Wonderful Life trivia, her memories of making the movie, and what it was like working with Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra.  She didn’t have a single unkind word to say about working on It’s a Wonderful Life.  The experience was very stress-free for her and Jimmy and Frank made it very fun to be on the set.

Photo from the Redford's Facebook page.  This picture perfectly captures the essence of being at the Redford during Christmas.

Photo from the Redford’s Facebook page. This picture perfectly captures the essence of being at the Redford during the Christmas season.

It truly was a wonderful night, pun fully intended.  Being able to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen is always a joyous occasion, but having Karolyn there made it exceptional.  It was the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.

IAWL Book Autograph2On a side note, I got an autographed copy of Karolyn’s book “Celebrating It’s a Wonderful Life: How the Movie’s Message of Hope Lives On.”  If you’re looking for a gift for someone who is a big fan of the movie, this book would be a great choice.  It’s a very cute little book full of trivia, Karolyn’s memories, recipes inspired by the movie, and comments from fans about what the movie means to them.

What’s on TCM: May 2013

Humphrey Bogart in High SierraHappy May, everyone!

Rather than have just one Star of the Month for may, there will actually be several.  Every Tuesday night this month, TCM will be spotlighting some of cinema’s greatest tough guys, so that includes people like Bogart, Cagney, McQueen, and Robinson, just to name a few.

Friday Night Spotlight will be back with Illeana Douglas as the guest co-host.  Illeana has chosen the theme of “Second Looks.”  All of the movies she’s chosen weren’t particularly well-received when they were first released, but she thinks they’re deserving of a second chance.  I agree with several of her selections and since I’m all about those hidden gems, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of her other choices.

If you’re a Harold Lloyd fan, mark May 23rd on your calendar because TCM will be playing his feature movies and short films all night long, the vast majority of which have never been shown on TCM before.

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What’s on TCM: January 2013

Annex - Young, Loretta (He Stayed for Breakfast)_03Happy new year, everyone!  With winter officially underway, it’s very tempting to spend every night at home watching movies with a cup of hot chocolate, and TCM has plenty of reasons to do just that.

Loretta Young is January’s Star of the Month, in honor of her 100th birthday, and will be spotlighted every Wednesday night this month.  If you’re a fan of pre-codes, you’re bound to adore the first two Loretta Young nights.  I tend to enjoy heist films, so I’m really looking forward to every Tuesday night this month being dedicated to movies about big robberies.

Another star who would be celebrating their 100th birthday this month is Danny Kaye.  If you only know him from White Christmas, be sure to tune in on January 20th because TCM will be playing his movies for a full 24 hours, including an episode of The Danny Kaye Show and an interview he did on The Dick Cavett Show.

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Rose-Marie (1936)

Marie de Flor (Jeanette MacDonald) is one of the most renowned opera singers in the world.  She’s on top of the world, and although she has plenty of wealthy men throwing themselves at her, she doesn’t feel the need to accept any of their advances.  The only man she’s concerned with is her brother John (James Stewart), who is serving a prison sentence.  She’d been hoping he would get out on parole, so when she finds out his request was denied, she decides to wield her influence and hosts a dinner party for the Premier of Quebec.  But on the night of the party, Marie gets a message from Boniface (George Regas), informing her that her brother has escaped and killed a Mounty in the process.

Boniface knows where John is hiding, so he takes Marie out to Lake Shibuga so she can find him.  But once they get to town, Marie stops in the store to buy some clothes and she discovers Boniface has stolen her money.  The shopkeeper tells her to report it to Sergeant Bruce (Nelson Eddy), the new Mounty in town, but she doesn’t want to call attention to herself and decides to try earning some money singing at the local bar instead.  The local drunks just don’t appreciate her operatic style, but she does catch Sergeant Bruce’s attention, who just happened to be in the bar at the time.  He had heard all about her money being stolen, and even though she tries to downplay who she is, he’d recognize her voice anywhere.

Bruce takes Marie to a festival where he knows Boniface will be.  Marie gets her money back and forces Boniface to take her to her brother.  But by the time Bruce figures out that Marie and John must be related, she and Boniface are already on their way so he follows them.  Along the way, Boniface ditches Marie again and Bruce takes care of her.  Alone in the wilderness together, the two of them fall madly in love with each other.  Eventually, Marie makes her way to John, but she doesn’t realize that Bruce had followed her and he arrests John. Marie returns to the stage, absolutely devastated by Bruce’s betrayal.  Soon, the stress of performing becomes too much for her and she takes a vacation in the mountains, where she and Bruce are finally reunited.

Rose-Marie is the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy movie that I’ve seen and it definitely made me want to see some of the others they did together.  The operetta style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I don’t mind it and I can see why Eddy and MacDonald were such a successful duo.  It’s lighthearted and predictable, but who cares? It’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake.  As long as that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s a very enjoyable movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)

After his cousin Keith (James Ellison) runs off to Manhattan, Peter Morgan, Jr. (James Stewart) is sent after him to bring him home again.  Peter finds Keith, all right, but he also finds Francey (Ginger Rogers), a night club singer.  It’s love at first sight for Francey and Peter and after knowing each other for one whole day, they get married before getting on a train with Keith to Old Sharon, Peter’s hometown.  Peter’s parents, Peter Morgan, Sr. (Charles Coburn) and Martha (Beulah Bondi), have no idea about Francey and they’re pretty conservative, so they wouldn’t be too wild about Peter having eloped with a nightclub singer.

When Peter’s parents meet them at the train station, they assume that Francey came with Keith.  Peter really wants to tell his parents, but every time his father starts going on about Francey, his mother feels weak from a heart condition.  So then he decides to tell his parents during the prom held at the university where Peter teaches and Peter, Sr. is president.  There’s one other person Peter needs to break the news to: his first fiancée Helen (Frances Mercer).  Francey poses as a new student and Keith’s date to get into the prom.  She even meets Martha and hits it off with her.  But just as Peter is ready to tell everyone the news, Francey and Helen get into a fistfight that ends with Francey accidentally punching Peter, Sr.

Francey moves into an apartment and continues posing as a student so she can see Peter during his classes.  Peter does eventually manage to break the news to his father by blurting it out right before Peter, Sr. has to make a speech.  As expected, Peter, Sr. is not happy and Martha’s heart problems suddenly flare up again.  Except Martha missed the part where Peter said he was married to Francey and Peter, Sr. orders Peter to not tell Martha so she won’t get upset.  By now, Francey is getting frustrated with the situation and starts considering going back to Manhattan.  But when Helen catches Peter sneaking out of Francey’s apartment one night, she decides to tell Martha that Peter and Francey are together.  Martha goes to Francey’s apartment to investigate further and Francey accidentally admits to being married to Peter.  But rather than be upset, she’s happy.  She likes Francey and we quickly find out she’s not as uptight as Peter, Sr.  When Peter, Sr. insists that Francey and Peter divorce, Martha decides she’s fed up with his controlling behavior and leaves him.  Francey also reluctantly decides to leave Peter.  Martha and Francey unintentionally get on the same train together, but while they’re headed out of town, Peter and his father are trying to chase the train down and get their wives back.

I loved Vivacious Lady!  It instantly became one of my favorite Ginger Rogers movies, she was hilarious in it.  This was a perfect vehicle to show off Ginger’s comedic skills and she had wonderful chemistry with Jimmy Stewart.  Actually, this had a fantastic cast all around.  Jimmy was excellent, Beulah Bondi’s scenes with Ginger were so much fun, James Ellison made a great playboy type, and of course, if you want a stuffy, rich, older guy with good comedic timing, you can’t go wrong with Charles Coburn.  A wonderful bit of purely cheerful entertainment!

What’s on TCM: August 2011


It’s that time of year again!  Let Summer Under the Stars commence!  I love this year’s line-up.  Even though there are plenty of the usual SUTS suspects like Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, more than half of this year’s stars have never been part of SUTS before.  And many of those who have been featured before, haven’t been featured in quite a few years.  Let’s take a look at the full list of stars:

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Born to Dance (1936)

In Casablanca, everyone comes to Rick’s.  In Born to Dance, everyone comes to Jenny Saks’ (Una Merkel) Lonely Hearts Club in New York.  Jenny is married to Gunny Saks (Sid Silvers), but she barely knows him since he’s a sailor who has been away with the Navy for four years.  When Gunny finally comes back to New York, he takes his sailor friend Ted Barker (Jimmy Stewart) with him and heads straight for the Lonely Hearts Club to see his wife.  But Gunny and Ted aren’t the only ones arriving in New York this day.  Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) has just come to town looking to become a Broadway star and hits it off with Jenny.  When Gunny and Ted show up at the club, Ted and Nora fall in love, but things aren’t as warm between Jenny and Gunny.  Jenny has a daughter named Sally that Gunny doesn’t know about and Jenny doesn’t want him to know about her until she’s sure whether or not she really loves him.

However, actress Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) soon ends up driving a wedge between Ted and Nora.  When Lucy shows up on Gunny and Ted’s ship for some publicity pictures, her little dog ends up falling overboard and Ted is the lucky sailor to jump in and save it.  Lucy’s press agent sees the potential for more publicity out of this incident and gets Lucy to invite Ted out to dinner to thank him.  When her agent puts word out to the press about their date, Nora assumes that Ted loves her instead and refuses to see him.  But even though Ted still loves Nora, Lucy is smitten by Ted.  When Lucy’s agent suggests telling the press the two of them are engaged, she is outraged because she absolutely does not want to use Ted like that and threatens to back out of her new show if he does.

Meanwhile, Nora has gotten a job as Lucy’s understudy in her new show.  So what does Ted do to win Nora back?  He tells the press that he and Lucy are engaged, Lucy backs out of the show, and of course Nora goes on in her place and becomes a sensation!  Nora and Ted get back together and they all lived happily ever after.  Well, except for Gunny and Jenny.  Gunny was thrilled to find out he was Sally’s father, but he didn’t find out until after he signed up for another four years in the Navy.

In the book Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince, there’s a page that talks about how one day, Irving had been asked to come to a meeting with Cole Porter and the main cast of Born to Dance to hear songs written for the movie.  When he walked into the meeting, Irving was clearly unhappy about being asked to be there.  This wasn’t one of his movies, he was a busy man and had plenty of other things to be doing.  But by the end of the meeting, Irving was smiling and jumping up to congratulate Porter on what he called one of the finest movie scores he’d ever heard.  I think that story really sums up what kind of movie Born to Dance is — something you can watch when you’re in a bad mood and by the time it’s over, it’s awfully hard to resist smiling.  1930s musicals were all about fantasy and escapism and that is precisely what Born to Dance is.

I loved everything about Born to Dance.  It’s pure, exuberant fun, the cast is delightful, the songs are extremely catchy.  It’s got lots of great lines like, “Sally, you’re going to drive me to stop drinking,” and “He went out fifteen minutes ago for five minutes and won’t be back for a half hour.”  And there’s no going wrong will all that spectacular tap dancing by Eleanor Powell.  When I say the cast is delightful, that includes Jimmy Stewart.  This is a very unusual movie for Jimmy Stewart since he was so not meant for musicals.  But I’ve really got to hand it to him, because you can’t accuse him of not being a good sport about being put in this movie.  He was no Bing Crosby, but he doesn’t pretend to be Bing Crosby, either.  There are moments where you can tell that he felt out of his element, but he gave it his all anyway and managed to make that awkwardness totally endearing.  He may not have been a great singer, but he was completely adorable in it anyway.

What’s on TCM: May 2011

It looks like May is going to be a pretty busy month on TCM!  Esther Williams is the Star of the Month and since her movies tend to make me want to spend some time in the pool, I’d say she’s a good choice to help get you in the mood for summer.  This month you will also get a chance to catch the series Moguls and Movie Stars again.  If you missed it when it premiered back in November, it’s very much worth checking out.  Near the end of the month will be TCM’s annual Memorial Day weekend marathon of classic war films.  There are also a lot of great birthday tributes coming up including Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, and Rudolph Valentino.

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Wife Vs. Secretary (1936)

Van Stanhope (Clark Gable) seems to have it all: he’s a very successful magazine publisher, he’s been very happily married to Linda (Myrna Loy) for three years, and he’s got Whitey (Jean Harlow), the best secretary he could ever want.  Most wives would be worried about their husbands having secretaries who look like Whitey, but Linda trusts Van completely and she has every reason to.  At least she trusts him until all the suggestions from friends and family that Whitey must be one of those secretaries finally start to get to her.  But Linda isn’t the only one jealous of Van and Whitey’s working relationship.  Whitey’s boyfriend Dave (James Stewart) wants to marry her, but she loves her job and doesn’t want to quit to stay at home.

When Van decides to take on a new business venture, he has to keep it top secret from everyone, including Linda.  Whitey is the only person who knows what’s going on.  So when he says he’s been at a club all afternoon one day, Linda does a little investigating and finds out he wasn’t at the club all day, he was with Whitey.  Linda begins to fear that all those insinuations were right after all, she has no idea that he and Whitey were working together on the new business deal.  Things get even worse when at a company skating party, Linda thinks Van and Whitey look like a little too friendly and she asks Van to transfer Whitey to a new job.  Van refuses and Linda eventually decides she’s being ridiculous and Van promises to take her on vacation soon to make it up to her.

But just when Linda thinks they’re going to leave for vacation, Van has to go to Havana on business and can’t bring Linda along.  This was upsetting enough, but she is pushed to the breaking point when she calls him in Havana at two in the morning and Whitey answers his phone.  Whitey had to join Van in Havana at the last minute to take care of important business.  Even though there are hints of a mutual attraction between the two of them after they have a few drinks together, nothing happens.  But, of course, Linda assumes the worst and when Van returns, she asks for a divorce.  Van is devastated and begins to get a little too friendly with Whitey.  Even though Whitey likes the attention, she knows her boss well enough to know what he really needs and makes a last ditch attempt to get Linda to stay with Van.

Wife Vs. Secretary is a very smart movie.  Even though the title may conjure up images of Myrna Loy comically sneaking around, following Clark Gable and Jean Harlow around by peering in through office windows and hiding behind menus at restaurants in an attempt to spy on them, it’s far more subtle than that.  Clark Gable was often downright hilarious and both Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow gave very thoughtful performances.  Myrna’s character went through a whole gamut of emotions during the movie and she played each one very naturally.  It didn’t matter if her character was happy and engaging in witty banter or absolutely heartbroken, she handled it all like the pro she was.

At the time, Jean was working to try to soften her image a little bit so she really wanted to play something different from some of her past roles.  This wasn’t the first time she played a secretary, but Whitey is the polar opposite of Lil in Red Headed Woman.  Whitey’s not the type to keep her boss’ picture in her garter, she has no intention of breaking up anyone’s marriage, and she’s no gold digger.  She’s just a good-natured gal who loves her job and cares about her boss, but not indecently.  She really did seem like the kind of girl who would go for a Jimmy Stewart type.  Red Headed Woman is one of my favorite Jean Harlow movies, but I think she played Whitey just as well as she played Lil. Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, this was one of his first movies, but he already showed a lot of promise as that very down-to-earth type of guy that he’d become best known for playing.

I loved pretty much everything about Wife Vs. Secretary.  They couldn’t have asked for a better cast, I loved Clarence Brown’s direction, and I loved the writing.  With a story like this, it could have easily gone down a more over-the-top route and turned into an all-out screwball comedy.  But the subtlety of the writing gave the actors the perfect opportunity to take over and really make it great.  With a lesser cast, this movie would have been completely forgettable.  Instead, it’s a real gem.

Fun Fact: Wife Vs. Secretary was first released on February 28, 1936 so this review was published on the 75th anniversary of the movie’s release.

To read more of the Jean Harlow Blogathon contributions, head over to The Kitty Packard Pictorial!

 

Destry Rides Again (1939)

Back in the day, the town of Bottleneck was ran by Sheriff Destry and his deputy Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger).  But years after Sheriff Destry’s death, Bottleneck has become a pretty rough and tumble town run by saloon owner Kent and his barmaid Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) and Washington has become the town drunk, always reminiscing about the good old days when he was the deputy.  Kent has been running a fixed poker game that he uses to bilk ranch owners out of their land so he can charge cattle owners a hefty fee to let their cattle pass through.  When Kent tries this trick on Lern Claggett, Lern tells Sheriff Keogh and Keogh starts investigating.  Kent kills Sheriff Keogh and the mayor, who has been conspiring with Kent, tells the town that Keogh had to leave town suddenly and gives his job to Washington.  They assume that Washington will be too drunk to do the job properly, but little do they know that a little responsibility is a good thing for Washington.  He gives up alcohol on the spot and calls for Sheriff Destry’s son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart) to come to Bottleneck and be his deputy.

When Destry comes to town, it seems like he’s all wrong for Bottleneck.  Surprisingly for someone who’s supposed to be in charge of keeping such a wild town in line, he refuses to carry a gun.  He sure knows how to use one, but he just doesn’t believe in using them.  Destry becomes something of a town joke, but he actually manages to win Frenchy over after he breaks up a fight she’s in and she gets into a fight with him instead.  But then he gets to work at investigating Sheriff Keogh’s murder and arrests Gyp, one of Kent’s cohorts.  Kent thinks he’s outsmarted Destry by appointing another one of his cohorts as judge, but it turns out Destry is way ahead of him and has sent for a real judge to come to town for the case.  When Kent finds out, he’s furious and gets a gang of his friends ready to shoot Destry.  Frenchy knows what’s going on and tries to save Destry by having him come visit her at her house and the gang shoots Washington instead.  Now Destry is really mad!  He goes home, gets his father’s guns, and rallies all the gypped ranchers to take down all the outlaws.  An epic shootout takes place that results in Frenchy sacrificing herself for Destry.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m not terribly fond of Westerns.  There are a few that I like, but generally, I’d rather watch one of my cats sleep than watch a Western.  For me to say that I really liked a Western is one of the highest compliments I can give a movie and Destry Rides Again is certainly deserving of that honor.  I probably wouldn’t have sought this movie out at all if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a big Marlene Dietrich fan, but in the end, I’m really glad I gave it a chance because it’s a lot of fun.  It’s much more lighthearted than your typical Western, but it’s also got some very exciting action scenes that are so classically Western.

This was the first Western for both Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.  Of course, Jimmy proved to be a natural fit for the genre, and went on to make many more.  He was definitely perfect for that non-threatening, mild mannered character.  Dietrich actually wasn’t particularly keen on making a Western, but at the time, she was deeply concerned about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany.  Her friend Erich Maria Remarque told her that being in a Western would make her seem more all American and maybe American audiences would be more receptive to what she had to say about Nazis if they thought of her as one of their own.  So she agreed and I’m glad she went ahead with it, because she seemed to be having such a good time with her role.  At first, I was afraid that Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich would be kind of an odd couple, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them together.  Destry Rides Again is just a good time from beginning to end.