Loretta Young

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.

Midnight Mary (1933)

Midnight Mary 1933 posterLife hasn’t been easy for Mary Martin (Loretta Young).  Her mother died when she was very young and as a teenager, she was sent to reform school for a crime she didn’t commit.  After getting out of reform school, she tries her hardest to find a job, but there aren’t any jobs to be had.  When Mary’s friend Bunny (Una Merkel) introduces Mary to Leo Darcy (Ricardo Cortez) and his gang, Mary can’t resist the prospect of having food and shelter, so she gets involved with them too.

While Leo and his gang are planning a robbery at a casino one night, Mary catches the eye of lawyer Tom Mannering, Jr. (Franchot Tone) and it’s love at first sight.  He knows that she’s tied up with Leo, but when the police arrive at the casino, he helps Mary escape.  He brings her to his place for dinner and the have a lovely evening together.  Before she leaves, she asks him to help her find a real job so she can go straight.  After she goes to secretarial school, he finds her a job as a secretary in his law firm.  But when they go out to eat one night, a cop recognizes Mary from the night at the casino and arrests her.  She refuses to implicate Leo, so she is sent to jail.

A year later, Mary is a free woman again.  Tom has since married another woman and Mary’s job prospects haven’t gotten any better.  It isn’t long before she’s involved with Leo and his gang again.  When Mary and Leo run into Tom and his wife at a nightclub one night, Leo becomes very jealous of Tom.  Even though Mary does everything in her power to convince him that she doesn’t care about Tom anymore, Leo still wants Tom dead.  He has some of his men try to do the job, but they only succeed in taking out Tom’s friend instead.  Leo decides to do it himself and Mary does the only thing she can do to save Tom — kill Leo first.

I just love Midnight Mary; it’s easily one of my favorite pre-codes.   And how could I not love it?  Midnight Mary is one bright, shining gem of a movie.  It has so many of the qualities that I love about movies from this era.  Fast paced story?  Check. Strong lead character? Check. Scandalous material? Check, check, and check!  But above all else, Loretta Young is fabulous in it.  In fact, the entire cast is wonderful with Franchot Tone, Ricardo Cortez, and Una Merkel, who are all quite perfectly cast in their respective roles.  And I can’t neglect to mention the first-rate direction from William Wellman!  It’s a winner in every respect.

Loose Ankles (1930)

Loose Ankles PosterWhen Ann Harper’s (Loretta Young) grandmother passes away, the family gathers for the reading of the will.  Ann’s grandmother was a very wealthy woman, so Ann’s family members are all eager to find out what she’s left to them.  Much to everyone’s surprise, most of the estate is left to Ann, but there are strings attached — she will not receive her inheritance until she gets married to a man approved by her repressed aunts Katherine (Ethel Wales) and Sarah (Louise Fazenda).  Not only that, the only way anybody in the family will get their inheritance is if Ann gets married without being involved in any scandals that make the newspaper.

Ann has no desire to get married and resents being forced into it, so she needs to get involved in a scandal and fast.  She puts an ad in the paper looking for a young, attractive, unscrupulous man and when Gil Hayden (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) sees it and decides he’s the man for the job.  He shows up at Ann’s apartment to find Ann and her eager maid ready to set up the big scandal.  But while they’re waiting for the newspaper reporters to arrive, Ann’s aunts come over and try to force Gil into marrying Ann, so Gil jumps out of the window.  However, during their brief time together, Gil and Ann start to fall in love with each other.

When Gil goes home and tells his roommate about his meeting with Ann,   Gil’s roommate decides Gil needs to marry Ann for her money.  One night when Ann is out at a new nightclub, her aunts go to keep an eye on her.  Gil and his roommates are also there.  Gil’s roommates ply Ann’s aunts with alcohol, leaving Gil to spend time with Ann.  But when the club is raided, it turns out Ann’s aunts are the ones most likely to make the scandal sheets.  The only way Ann will save their reputations is if they allow her to marry Gil.

Loose Ankles‘ plot is flimsier than a piece of paper, the acting isn’t good, and at 70 minutes, it still manages to drag on for too long.  But if you’re just in it for the pre-code factor, you might have a little fun with it for that reason alone.  It’s certainly not a great movie, but if you want pre-code material, it at least delivers on that.

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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Platinum Blonde (1931)

When a showgirl sues Michael Schuyler (Donald Dillaway), part of a very prominent social family, for breach of promise, reporter Stew Smith (Robert Williams) is sent to cover the story.  The Schuyler family desperately wants to keep the scandal out of the papers, so they try bribing the reporters to not cover the story.  Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow) also tries to charm him out of running the story, but Stew is one reporter who can’t be bought and runs the story anyway.

After the scandal hits the papers, Stew stops by the Schuyler estate.  Not to apologize, but to return a book he had taken with him while he was there.  Inside of it, he found some love letters the show girl was planning to use to blackmail Michael into giving her more money, and he knew the family would want those back.  Stew knows the difference between news and blackmail and doesn’t want any part of the latter.  Ann offers him a $5,000 reward, but he turns it down and the two of them end up having lunch together.

Ann and Stew get along very well and continue seeing each other.  They very quickly elope, to the shock of everyone, especially Gallagher (Loretta Young), Stew’s best friend and secret admirer.  Ann’s family disapproves of her marrying someone from a lower class, but she reassures them that she’s going to turn him into the perfect gentleman.  Many of Stew’s friends give him a hard time about being a kept man.  He wants Ann to move into his apartment and they can live off of his salary, but instead, they end up living in a wing of the Schuyler family estate and Stew has a very hard time adjusting to Ann’s way of life.

Stew and Ann’s worlds collide during a party the Schuylers throw for a Spanish embassador.  Gallagher is sent to cover the story for the paper and Ann isn’t happy to discover that her husband’s best friend is a woman.  Not only that, when a rival reporter shows up to offer Stew his own column under the condition that he uses the byline “Ann Schuyler’s Husband,” Stew punches the reporter.  Sure enough, the fight lands them on the front page of the paper.

The Schuylers are absolutely horrified by the whole event, but Ann sticks by Stew and encourages him to write a play.  One night, Stew skips one of Ann’s many society events to work on the play.  But when he needs a little inspiration, he invites Gallagher and some of his other friends to come over, and before he knows it, there’s a wild party going on.  Despite all the crazy antics going on around them, Gallagher and Stew manage to come up with the idea of doing a play about his marriage.  However, when the Schuylers come home, they aren’t happy about his little party.  Ann gets into a fight with Stew and he decides he wants out of this marriage.  He ends up back in his old apartment and finishing his play with Gallagher by his side.

I really loved Platinum Blonde, despite its forced ending.  However, the title felt a little inappropriate to me.  The first time I saw it, with a title like that, I was expecting a madcap comedy like Bombshell.  In reality, it’s a smart look at the power of social class differences that’s more on the witty side than the madcap.  Frank Capra’s direction and a strong script serve as a rock-solid foundation for Harlow, Williams, Young, and a delightful supporting cast to bring it to an even higher level.

I absolutely adored Robert Williams in it, who unfortunately died a short time after Platinum Blonde was released.  He only made a handful of movies during his life and showed great promise in Platinum Blonde, it’s really too bad that he didn’t get to have a more prolific film career.

She Had to Say Yes (1933)

In the midst of the Great Depression, companies are doing whatever they have to to keep any business they can get and things are no different for Sol Glass’ (Ferdinand Gottschalk) clothing company.  When buyers come in from out of town, he had been arranging for call girls to take them out on dates, but the buyers were getting tired of being set up with gold diggers, so he decides to start setting the buyers up with the company’s stenographers instead.

Florence Denny (Loretta Young) is one of Sol’s stenographers, but she’s engaged to salesman Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey) and Tommy doesn’t want her going out on dates. Florence agrees to stay out of it, but when fellow stenographer Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn) gets sick before she’s supposed to go out with Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot), Tommy agrees to let Florence fill in. Florence and Danny get along very well, but when Danny has too much to drink and gets a little too forward with her, she leaves, not wanting to be unfaithful to Tommy.

However, Tommy isn’t as faithful to Florence as she is to him.  He’s been seeing Bridie on the side, but after she finds out about it, Danny comes by to apologize for his behavior and takes her out on a real date. They continue to see each other and while they’re having dinner one night, she steps in to help Danny seal a major business deal with Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert).  But when Luther complains about Florence’s high pressure tactics, he makes Danny think that Florence has been living in sin with Tommy.

Danny is disappointed to think that Florence isn’t as virtuous as he thought she was. He brings her out to his friend’s empty house out in the country and tries to rape her, but doesn’t have it in him to actually go through with it. Unbeknownst to them, Tommy had followed them out and when Florence runs to him, Danny overhears Tommy accuse her of prostituting herself. Danny realizes that Florence was telling the truth after all and reams Tommy out for accusing her of such things.

On the whole, She Had to Say Yes is only a so-so movie.  The story has issues (who says stenographers can’t be gold diggers?) and despite the fact that Busby Berkeley was a co-director (his directorial debut, actually), it is surprisingly devoid of visual style. But if you like pre-codes, this is easily one of the wildest ones you’re apt to find.  It ranks up there with Baby Face, Red Headed Woman, The Story of Temple Drake, and Three on a Match.  Loretta Young is pretty good in it, but its pre-code appeal is definitely the movie’s strongest selling point. Even if you’re familiar with pre-codes, She Had to Say Yes still manages to be pretty shocking.

Along Came Jones (1945)

When Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George Fury (William Demarest) ride into the town of Payneville, Melody is confused and kind of amused when everyone in town seems to be afraid of him.  Melody’s a completely harmless guy, so imagine his surprise when Cherry de Longpre (Loretta Young) informs him there’s a gun pointed at him.  She takes Melody and George back to her ranch and along the way, she explains that everyone Payneville thinks Melody is notorious outlaw Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea).  Melody and Monte really don’t look alike, but they do have the same initials and share some of the vague characteristics listed on Motne’s wanted poster.

Cherry urges Melody and George to get out of Payneville right away, and naturally, they take her advice.  But once they get a little bit out of town, they realize their departure would be a perfect diversion for the real criminal to escape, so they go back to Cherry’s ranch to see what’s going on.  It turns out Cherry and Monte had been friends when they were children, and even though she doesn’t like what he’s turned into, she still feels obligated to take care of him and has been hiding him in her barn.  To protect Melody, Cherry lets him stay at her ranch for the night.

The next day, Cherry convinces Melody to take Monte’s saddle so he can distract the posse chasing Monte and Monte can get away.  But when Melody goes to town posing as Monte, Melody gets into some trouble and has to be saved by Cherry.  But there’s one thing that Monte left behind and that’s some of the money he stole.  Even more problems arise for Melody and Cherry when other people come to claim it — including Monte himself.

I really wasn’t a big fan of Along Came Jones.  It was nice to see Gary Cooper having some fun with the Western genre, but it isn’t a particularly well written movie.  The basic premise of the movie had potential, but it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.  If you’re looking for a fun Western, definitely go with something like Destry Rides Again or Cat Ballou instead.