Wednesday, April 27
My first official event for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival wasn’t a film, but a presentation by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins, authors of the new book “Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers” over at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of costume design in film, so this presentation was definitely something I wanted to see. I was thrilled that their presentation wasn’t just about the big designers like Adrian and Edith Head. One thing they discussed was some of the mysteries they had to solve in the process of writing this book, which I found really fascinating.
One such mystery they had to deal with was what ever happened to Clare West. Clare West was the first credited film costume designer and designed costumes for films like Intolerance, The Birth of a Nation, The Ten Commandments, Male and Female, Why Change Your Wife?, and The Navigator just to name a few. West was a very celebrated and accomplished fashion designer outside of film, too. But after 1925, West simply seemed to drop off the radar. Jorgensen and Scoggins didn’t know what became of her and trying to find out what happened to her turned out to be quite a challenge. Scoggins is a probate attorney who routinely tries to piece together family trees to locate heirs, but even he had a difficult time finding her living relatives. When they were able to finally get the clues they needed, it turned out she had bipolar disorder, which wasn’t very well understood at the time, and that’s why she bowed out of the fashion world.
Not only was the presentation very informative and interesting, but getting to visit the Hollywood Heritage Museum was a real delight. If you love film history and happen to be in the Hollywood area, the museum is well worth a visit. The Hollywood Heritage Museum is located in the Lasky-DeMille Barn, which was one of the first film studios to be built in Hollywood and is currently the oldest film production facility still in existence in Hollywood. In December 1913, Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky began leasing the barn and the first film they produced there was 1914’s The Squaw Man.
The Hollywood Heritage Museum houses a great collection of film memorabilia, including a Charlie Chaplin Tramp costume (also worn by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.), props from The Ten Commandments (1956), a costume worn by Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur, a collection of Marion Davies dolls, one of Mary Pickford’s makeup kits, and much more. It even features a re-creation of Cecil B. DeMille’s office as it would have looked during the time he worked there.
Thursday, April 28
Festival activities got into full swing on Thursday evening. While many people were checking out the welcome party and the poolside screening of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman at the Roosevelt Hotel, I was with Jessica and Nikki watching the red carpet arrivals. My media credentials don’t actually get me into the big opening night screening, but watching the red carpet arrivals is always a lot of fun. Sean Cameron of Turner Classic Movies is the emcee of the red carpet and always does a great job of keeping the crowd entertained when he’s not talking to one of the festival’s many guests.
If there’s a star at the festival you really want to see, but you aren’t sure if you’ll have a chance to actually see them during the festival, watching the red carpet arrivals might be your best bet to see them. Not all the special guests at the festival walk the red carpet, but a lot of them do. This year, I had the pleasure of seeing guests like Darryl Hickman, Ted Donaldson, Chris Lemmon, Gina Lollobrigida, and Salvatore Cascio, all of whom I would not have been able to see in person otherwise. Norman Lloyd and Roger Corman also walked the red carpet, even though they weren’t introducing anything at the festival or doing any other events.
My favorite story from the red carpet involved Anna Karina. Since Band of Outsiders was on my list of festival must-sees, I was definitely excited to hear she’d be on the red carpet, too. When she walked down the red carpet, she didn’t stop to talk to Sean Cameron and she wasn’t introduced. When she reached the area where we were sitting, she walked by very shyly. I barely even had time to realize who was walking by when I heard Kendahl yelling, “Je t’aime Karina!’ She walked by so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of her on the red carpet. I was sitting on the far end of the bleachers, close to the sidewalk, and a couple minutes later, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Anna Karina standing on the sidewalk just a few feet away from me. I was able to snap a couple of pictures of her through the bars on the end of the bleachers.
After watching the red carpet arrivals, I had been planning to go see Dark Victory, but since I stayed a little bit longer at the red carpet than I had originally planned to so I could see Gina Lollobrigida, I would have had to make a very frantic dash to the TCL Multiplex to get there in time. But I was pretty hungry by then and so were Nikki and Jessica so we all decided to skip the first block of movies in favor of dinner. As much as I would have loved to see Dark Victory on the big screen, I’m kind of glad I opted for dinner.
When we were done eating, we headed over to the multiplex and Nikki and I got our numbers for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. By that time, we had a little bit of time to kill before the movie started so we headed over to the bar for a drink. Just as Nikki was handed her drink and the bartender started working on mine, the fire alarms started going off. Everyone in the multiplex had to be evacuated, including the people who were in the theaters. The first block of movies was extremely close to ending at the time. Outside the theater, I talked to a person who had been in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn who said there was only about 15 minutes left of the movie. Another person who was in Dark Victory said the alarms went off right as Bette Davis was about to go in the house and go upstairs.
Fortunately, the fire alarms were only set off because someone had vandalized a fire extinguisher and not because there was an actual fire. So while the whole incident wasn’t an ideal way to start the festival, the staff handled it all exceptionally well. Everyone who had been in theaters when the alarms went off was able to go back and see the end of their movies and the next block of movies was only delayed by about half an hour.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was introduced by Katharine Houghton, who starred as Joey. Houghton was an excellent guest and had a lot of fascinating things to say about her experience making the film. Although many people assume it must have been fun for her to work with her aunt, Katharine Hepburn, she says it was actually rather difficult. Since Spencer Tracy was so frail at the time, that was taking a toll on Hepburn. There were problems with the studio, who were not only concerned about Tracy’s health, but because they didn’t initially realize that the film dealt with interracial romance. Tracy wasn’t interested in making the movie at first, but changed his mind after director Stanley Kramer said to him, “You can either spend your final days rotting away, or you can spend them doing something that’s really going to make a difference.”
At the time Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was being produced, interracial marriages were still illegal in 14 states. According to Houghton, the movie was made with the intention of appealing to people who weren’t completely sure where they stood on the issue and trying to persuade them to take the more progressive stance. Unfortunately, Houghton became a target for many people who did not agree with the film’s message. Stanley Kramer had warned her that she would likely find herself in the middle of controversy by appearing in the movie, and that certainly ended up happening — Houghton received some death threats over the film.
Houghton was the type of guest I could have easily listened to for much longer. I had only seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner once before the festival and that was quite a while ago, so it was almost like getting to see it for the first time all over again. All in all, it was a great way to start off an incredible festival.