Monday, December 16, 2013



One of the things I love most about the holidays is giving gifts. This year I happen to have presents for a few classic film buffs and I'll be giving them this week.

Literally the biggest gift to be given - at 1,000+ pages - is Victoria Wilson's long-awaited, long in-process  biography, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907 - 1940. Detailed, thorough and fascinating, Wilson traces Stanwyck's family history back to long before the future star came into the world as Ruby Stevens. The hefty tome also covers Stanwyck's show business beginnings, at a very tender age, as a dancer, her rapid rise to Broadway and Hollywood stardom, two marriages and 88 films. As well-written as it is meticulously researched, Steel-True is impossible to put down once picked up. Fifteen years in the writing, this reader only hopes Wilson's volume covering the rest of Stanwyck's life and career, from 1941 to 1990, won't take quite so long to make its way to print.

Here, Victoria Wilson talks about Stanwyck's appeal for her and the writing of Steel-True:

The by-invitation-only funeral of Orson Welles, who died in October 1985, took place in a downtown Los Angeles slum. His eldest daughter, Chris, who flew in from New York to attend, thought the rundown building seemed more like a "hot-sheets motel" than a funeral parlor. She was told by her stepmother, Welles's last wife from whom he had been long separated, that there was "no money" for anything more.

The one-time wunderkind's career as a filmmaker had collapsed years earlier, though he never stopped working - writing and struggling to get financing for his projects.  In his final years, one friend who stood by him and tried to both help find support for his work and bolster his confidence was independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom. The two lunched often at Hollywood's fabled Ma Maison (the bistro that made Wolfgang Puck's name) and one day Welles suggested Jaglom record their mealtime conversations. From 1983 until 1985, Jaglom did just that. Film historian Peter Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) learned of the tapes Jaglom had made with Welles and eventually edited the content - published earlier this year as My Lunches With Orson.

The Jaglom/Welles-"unplugged" chats are intriguing and quite often dishy. And then there's the "dancing bear show," the larger-than-life persona Welles donned as occasion required. Jaglom must've felt, at times, like he was front row/center for the greatest show on earth...

Two of the most celebrated leading ladies/movie stars of the 1950s were Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. Very different types - one dark, voluptuous and mercurial, the other a cool and stunning blonde - they are nonetheless considered two of the most beautiful and talented actresses of their era.

My final gift is a celebration, in two parts, of these mid-century icons. First, TCM's Greatest Classic Legends: Elizabeth Taylor DVD collection. The set features Vincente Minnelli's sparkling romantic comedy, Father of the Bride (1950), with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett; the Richard Brooks production of the Tennessee Williams classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), co-starring Paul Newman; Butterfield 8 (1960), the drama that brought Taylor her first Oscar, directed by Daniel Mann and co-starring Laurence Harvey; and Vincente Minnelli's 1965 melodrama set in Big Sur, The Sandpiper, co-starring Richard Burton and Eva Marie Saint.  Paired with the Taylor DVD collection is Gina McKinnon's recently published What Would Grace Do?, a style guide/mini-biography of Grace Kelly (aka/Princess Grace). Lots of pointers here - useful in a world some would find lacking in classic taste and timeless style.


A random drawing will be held Saturday, December 21, at 5:00pm PST. I will select three winners from the names entered and the first chosen will have first pick, the second name drawn will choose next and the third winner will receive the remaining gift. All winners will be notified immediately.

UPDATE: The random drawing was held, winners were selected and congratulations to Bob in Illinois (Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True), Christina in Ontario, Canada (My Lunches with Orson) and Lindsey in Michigan (TCM's Classic Legends: Elizabeth Taylor DVD collection and What Would Grace Do?). Thanks to all who entered and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

(Congratulations to Marsha in New York, winner of the recent random drawing for TCM's Greatest Classic Films: Astaire & Rogers, Vol. 1, DVD collection - she tells me the set has already arrived)

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