Star Tributes

Remembering Mickey Rooney at TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images.  That's me in the second row with the flower in my hair.  Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood is to my left, Carley of The Kitty Packard Pictorial is on my right.

Photo courtesy Getty Images. That’s me in the second row with a flower in my hair. Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood is to my left, Carley of The Kitty Packard Pictorial is on my right.

Just a few days before the Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival kicked off, the film world lost one of its biggest legends — Mickey Rooney. Rooney had attended the festival in previous years and although he wasn’t there physically this year, his presence could still be felt very strongly.

During a press conference on the first day of the festival, Ben Mankiewicz was asked about his experiences working with Rooney and he spoke about the last time Rooney was a guest on the TCM Cruise. During that trip, Rooney had been scheduled to do four Q&A sessions. After doing three of the sessions, he was taken ill. Although it was nothing too serious, considering his age, doctors and TCM staff agreed it was best to cancel the final Q&A session. Not being able to do that Q&A session devastated Rooney. Rooney asked Mankiewicz to visit him in his room and Mankiewicz arrived to find Rooney with tears in his eyes. This was shortly after news had broken about Rooney having been a victim of elder abuse and he had testified before a US Senate committee about it. After having been through all that, for him to be able to go on the TCM Cruise and be among people who appreciated him meant everything to him.

National Velvet Mickey Rooney Elizabeth Taylor

The festival’s main salute to Mickey Rooney came Sunday morning with a screening of National Velvet with Rooney’s long-time friend Margaret O’Brien in attendance. Everything about the tribute was very thoughtful, heartfelt, and moving. National Velvet was selected as the movie to show because in his autobiography, Rooney said the line, “What’s the meaning of goodness if there isn’t a little badness to overcome?” resonated so strongly with him, he wouldn’t mind it being his epitaph.

Margaret O'Brien Eddie Muller TCMFF 2014

Margaret O’Brien wore a beautiful green outfit, which she had recently worn when she had dinner with Mickey on St. Patrick’s Day. Mickey really liked that outfit so she decided to wear it again for this tribute. One thing O’Brien really emphasized is that for the last two years of his life, Rooney was being cared for by people who truly had his best interests at heart. She also spoke of his love of animals and how he enjoyed painting, writing poetry and limericks, and watching the news and Turner Classic Movies. Rooney and O’Brien were working on a movie together, an adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” just before he passed away and he was still as passionate about acting as he ever was.

Margaret O'Brien Joey Luft TCMFF 2014

Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation was on hand to lead the discussion with O’Brien. Joey Luft, son of Judy Garland, made a guest appearance to escort O’Brien into the theater. After O’Brien was seated, Luft stepped aside and let O’Brien and Muller do most of the talking, but there was one moment when he couldn’t resist joining the conversation. Since Rooney enjoyed writing poetry, Muller wanted to read a poem Rooney had written called “Flesh and Bones” while a picture of Rooney was displayed on the screen behind him. When the picture failed to come on the screen as planned, Luft came back out to tell the story of how there was a similar problem with a projector at his father Sid Luft’s memorial. Rooney, being the consummate professional that he was, kept things going at that moment by getting up and talking about Sid Luft’s relationship with Judy Garland.

The poem “Flesh and Bones” was lovely. It was a really poignant and honest look back on his life and how even though he wasn’t perfect and with all the ups and downs he encountered in his life, he did the best he could.

Mickey Rooney TCMFF Tribute

The picture of Mickey came up on the screen as we were leaving the theater.

Five Reasons Why I Love Lucy

Happy 100th birthday to Lucille Ball!  Lucy is easily one of the most beloved pop culture icons of all time. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who can’t recognize her picture, name one of her films, or describe one of the many classic scenes from I Love Lucy.  Everyone has their own reasons why they love Lucy, here are just a few of mine:

1.  Plain and simply, she’s hilarious!

2.  She was the first woman to own her own studio.  When she and Desi divorced, she bought out his half of Desilu studios and continued to run the studio very successfully on her own.  Lucy had a very keen eye for shows that she thought would have a lasting appeal and she’s the one to thank for green-lighting classic shows like Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and The Untouchables.

3.  Television simply wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Lucy.  I Love Lucy was the first show filmed in the multi-camera style to be filmed in front of a live audience and the first show to prove that there is a market for reruns.  Lucy and Desi didn’t want to move to New York to do the show, they wanted to stay in Los Angeles.  At that time, most prime time shows were broadcast live from New York, recorded by a kinescope, and then the kinescope recordings were aired on the west coast.  Since the quality of kinescope recordings were far inferior to the live broadcast quality, the only way to do a show in Los Angeles and have it look good in east coast airings would be to actually film the show and edit it.  Lucy and Desi offered to take pay cuts to cover the extra production costs, but only if Desilu could keep the rights to each episode after it aired.  At the time, nobody saw the potential value in re-running shows, so they got their wish.  Of course, Lucy and Desi got the last laugh because they went on to make a fortune in syndication.

4.  Lucy has a history of getting the last laugh.  When she was young, she went to a dramatic school in New York and was told that she was too shy to have any future in showbiz.  And after being dubbed the Queen of the B Movies, Desilu studios went on to buy the old RKO backlot where she made a lot of those B movies.

5.  Lucy got the best classic film guest stars for her shows.  Who can forget the Harpo Marx and John Wayne episodes of I Love Lucy?  I remember liking the Betty Grable episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.  She also got Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Jack Benny, and Ginger Rogers for episodes of Here’s Lucy as well as Joan Crawford for an episode of The Lucy Show.

For more Lucy appreciation, be sure to visit True Classics to read more contributions from some terrific bloggers.

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Where do you even begin when talking about someone like Elizabeth Taylor?  Everybody will remember her for something different: her movies, her glamour, her perfumes, the numerous marriages, the diamonds, her humanitarian work.  No matter what you best remember her for, there’s no denying that she was a completely unforgettable woman.  She was one of the last true legends of classic Hollywood and was truly a one of a kind lady.  One thing’s for sure: the world just got a lot less glamorous.  I think Paul Newman gave the best tribute to Elizabeth that I’ve ever seen:

TCM will be paying tribute on Sunday, April 10th, 2011 with 24 hours of her movies:

6:00 AM – Lassie Come Home

7:30 AM – National Velvet

10:00 AM – Conspirator

11:30 AM – Father of the Bride

1:15 PM – Father’s Little Dividend

2:45 PM – Raintree County

6:00 PM – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

8:00 PM – BUtterfield 8

10:00 PM – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

12:30 AM – Giant

4:00 AM – Ivanhoe

And now, on a lighter note, a couple of my favorite funny pictures of Elizabeth and her short but sweet appearance on one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons:

Jane Russell (1921-2011)

Boy, was I sad to come home from work and literally have the first thing I saw when I turned on my computer was the news that Jane Russell had died.  I’ve only really seen a few of her movies, but I’ve always had a great fondness for her.  She always knew who she was and and lived life on her own terms and she made no apologies for it.  Plus she was the star of one of my favorite movies, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  I refuse to even call that movie a guilty pleasure because it’s just so much fun to watch.  She and Marilyn are one of my favorite on-screen duos, I always wished they had made more movies together.  Since I’m always going to best remember Jane for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I’m just going to share some of her best moments from that movie.

We’ll miss you, Jane!

Tura Satana (1935-2011)

The name Tura Satana may not ring many bells to mainstream film aficionados, but to those who appreciate the cult classics, Tura Satana was a true legend.  Best known for starring as Varla in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, she also made appearances in Our Man Flint, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,  and played a streetwalker alongside Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce.  A lot of people don’t realize what a fascinating life she led.  Her life story sounds like it could be the plot of one of her movies.

Born in Japan, she spent some of her childhood in the Manzanar internment camp in California before moving to Chicago with her family after World War II.  But once she got to Chicago, she had to deal with a lot of the anti-Asian attitudes prevalent in America at the time.  When she was nine years old, she was walking home from school one day when five men raped her.  The men who attacked her went unpunished and the judge actually sent Tura to reform school instead, but Tura took the old adage of “that what does not kill us, makes us stronger” to heart.  She took up martial arts and made it her goal to hunt down each of her attackers and make them pay — which she did.  While in reform school, she became the leader of a gang before getting married at the age of thirteen in an arranged marriage.  She then moved to Los Angeles and became a model.  When she posed for Harold Lloyd, he told her she was beautiful and encouraged her to get into movies, words that meant a lot to someone who still felt like an awkward teenager.  When she returned to Chicago, she became a queen of burlesque and worked with other burlesque icons such as Tempest Storm and even attracted the attention of Elvis Presley, who once proposed to her.

In 1963, she made her film debut with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce.  She made a few other appearances here and there before her career-defining role as Varla in  Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in 1965.  Tura didn’t just play Varla, she was Varla.  Of course, her figure made her the perfect star for a Russ Meyer movie, but with her martial arts skills and no-nonsense attitude, nobody could have ever played that part better.  Watching that movie, it’s no surprise at all that she spent some of her youth as a gang leader!  After FPKK, she made a few more movies before taking a job working in a hospital and later as a police dispatcher.  In recent years, she spent a lot of time traveling and making appearances to meet fans of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and shortly before her death had been working on a documentary of her remarkable life.

Faster, Pussycat is one of my favorite movies, so I truly was sad to hear Tura had died on February 4th.  Even though she was one woman you’d never want to cross, she was always exceptionally gracious to her fans.  After I saw FPKK for the first time a few years ago, I went to her website and saw that she had an official MySpace page so I sent her a friend request, assuming I’d just get accepted automatically and that’d be it.  Imagine my surprise when I got a personal message from Tura asking why I requested her because she noticed I hadn’t mentioned any of her movies on my page.  So I explained that I had just recently seen FPKK and loved it and loved her in it, and she replied saying she was glad to hear I liked it so much and welcomed me as part of her Pussycat Gang.  I was quite impressed that she actually took the time to look at her fans’ pages and only wanted to accept people who really were fans.  I admire how she was able to rise above so much and come out so strong, I love how much she embraced her legacy as Varla, and I always like a person who is good to their fans.  She was a truly amazing woman who will be greatly missed.

Celebrating 100 Years of Jean Harlow

Whether you’ve been a fan of Jean Harlow’s for a while or you’re just getting acquainted with her work, this is a very exciting time to be a Harlow fan.  March 3, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Jean Harlow’s birth and there are lots of exciting things going on to celebrate.  First, TCM just released a collection of four of her most memorable movies: Dinner at Eight, Libeled Lady, China Seas and Wife Vs. Secretary.  TCM will also be featuring Jean as their star of the month in March, so lots of her movies will be coming up soon on there.  But what I’m most excited for is a new book, “Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937” by Darrell Rooney and Mark Viera.  I have a big weakness for books chock full of beautiful pictures and “Harlow in Hollywood” boasts tons of previously unpublished pictures of the original blonde bombshell.  My pal Carley from The Kitty Packard Pictorial recently sat down with Rooney and Viera to discuss the new book and an upcoming Jean Harlow exhibit in Los Angeles and she has kindly let me re-print some of that interview here:


The Last Ziegfeld Girl

Doris Eaton Travis literally danced her way through a remarkable 106-year-long life.  Doris was born into a family of performers on March 14, 1904 and began taking dancing lessons at the age of four.  At the age of five, she made her stage debut along with her brothers and sisters.  Doris and her siblings worked steadily in theater throughout the 1910s.  When Doris was 14, her sister, Pearl, was working as a Ziegfeld Girl.  One day, Doris went to one of Pearl’s rehearsals and was given a job in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918.  She began rehearsing for the Ziegfeld Follies on the last day of eighth grade and had to perform under pseudonyms to avoid problems with child labor laws.  Doris was a Ziegfeld Girl from 1918 through 1920.  In 1921, she went to Hollywood and made her film debut in At the Stage Door and went on to make 11 movies from 1921 until 1933.  In addition to films, she also performed in five Broadway shows and in some shows in Hollywood.  Most notably, she debuted the song Singin’ in the Rain while performing in the Hollywood Music Box Revue.


Lena Horne 1917-2010

Lena Horne is a woman who very much deserved to be a bigger movie star.  She probably would have been a bigger movie star had she worked in the film industry of today, not of the 1940s.  But unfortunately, she worked in movies during a time when the film industry couldn’t make full use of her talent in movies purely because she was a black woman.  In 1941, Lena was performing in nightclubs when MGM composer Roger Edens saw her perform and knew he had found someone special.  Edens convinced Arthur Freed to listen to her sing, Freed got Louis B. Mayer to listen to her, and Louis B. Mayer signed Lena to a seven-year contract at MGM.