Sunday, June 18, 2017

One-of-a-Kind Celebrity Dolls, Pt. 3: More Creations from Amazing Artists

Lauren Bacall by Cyguy
In this better-late-than-never third and final installment in our series on "OOAK" (One-of-a-Kind) celebrity dolls, we'll peruse the work of some highly accomplished and well-respected artists; Pt. 2 featured the work of prolific "repaint" artist Noel Cruz and Pt. 1 focused on the history of celebrity dolls.


Cyguy's work has been called hyper-accurate, and of himself the artist has stated, "I am obsessed with creating a perfect likeness when I am making celebrity dolls...I will keep working on a doll until I am really satisfied with it." Most dolls, he says, take a week or so for him to create, "with some of the more complicated ones taking several weeks." His name is Cyrus and on Instagram he's known as Cyguy83. His primary muse and most popular doll-for-sale is Madonna, but he is equally adept at replicating Old Hollywood icons...for example:

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story
Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina
Rita Hayworth
Veronica Lake
Like most OOAK artists, Cyguy works with existing doll head molds, stripping off the original paint and repainting them, but he also, particularly when dissatisfied with the result, may sculpt a new head and cast it in a mold. Cyguy's very-in-demand dolls sell for as much as $1,500 each. Cyguy's creations are also on display on Facebook. Click here for a May 2017 interview with Cyguy in Vogue Italia.


Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Roman Holiday and Love in the Afternoon
Last December, Melissa of the Everything Audrey site posted "The Ultimate Guide for Audrey Hepburn Gifts for Christmas or Birthdays." In her lengthy feature, she included photos from and a link to the website of OOAK doll artist Lulamee (please note, Holly Golightly's real name was Lulamae). Of Lulamee's work Melissa wrote, "Look at the enormous amount of detail and care that she puts into these dolls to make them look just like Audrey. All I can say is wow."

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Lulamee's Old Hollywood muse is Audrey, though she also creates dolls based on contemporary celebrities and animation characters. She is a proud member of the Repaint Society and showcases her work (as Lulamee) on Instagram and Facebook as well as her on own website.

Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina

Kim Goodwin is a make-up artist with the Cloutier agency who, during his career, has worked on famous faces such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone and Charlize Theron, to name a few. Goodwin began creating his own OOAK Marilyn Monroe dolls because he felt the tribute dolls being produced by established manufacturers were not up to par. He begins his work by stripping and repainting Franklin Mint dolls, then adds hair and recreates specific costumes and accessories Marilyn wore in her films, at public events and in photo shoots. Kim Goodwin's OOAK Marilyn Monroe dolls were selling on EBay 15 years ago for $700 and more, and their value has only risen since then. Click here to view a gallery of Goodwin's Marilyns.

Marilyn Monroe in There's No Business Like Show Business, Niagra, The Misfits, and a July 1962 photo shoot

Clark Hanford is not a typical OOAK doll artist, but an artist/artisan in Westport, Connecticut. Hanford's stunning rendition of Marlene Dietrich, gowned-to-the-teeth during her concert years, is so realistic that it appeared and was credited in a print publication as a photograph of Marlene herself.

Before moving to Westport, Hanford lived in London for many years, where he sold his work in Notting Hill. Along with creating sconces and painting portraits, Hanford crafts 34" figures of Golden Age stars like Marlene, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra. His creations are handmade to order and outfitted in costumes he also makes himself.

Marlene Dietrich, the concert years
Clark Hanford with a Marlene Dietrich figure on display at a local shop

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CASABLANCA at 75, Let the Celebrations Continue

Casablanca - winner of Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch) Oscars and possibly the film from Hollywood’s golden era that has aged better than any other “as time goes by” - turns 75 this year. Casablanca was honored at the 8th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in April with a screening on the final night of the event at the TCL Chinese Theatre, that opulent icon of glamorous days gone by that is just now celebrating its 90th year.

This was an ideal way to close out TCMFF 2017; there is no movie that better qualifies as classic than Casablanca, and there is no movie palace still operating with more Hollywood history than the Chinese. The theater (always Grauman’s to me) remains resplendent with old-school glamour even as it has undergone modernization to include digital IMAX capacity. I have no doubt that the 931 other people who shared the screening with me that evening had anything less than a sublime experience.

And now, thanks to the San Francisco Symphony, comes another chance to celebrate Casablanca at 75 in a unique and exceptional setting. On Friday night, June 2, and Saturday night, June 3, the symphony will screen Casablanca onstage as the orchestra performs Max Steiner’s unforgettable score live.

As with nearly all the composers who would together establish the tradition of writing music for film once sound arrived in Hollywood, Max Steiner’s roots were in European classical music. Born in Vienna in 1888, he was a child prodigy. His godfather was Richard Strauss and he later studied under both Brahms and Mahler. Young Steiner went on to compose an operetta at age 16 and would be conducting at His Majesty’s Theater in England by age 17. He emigrated to New York in 1915 and, over the course of many years on Broadway and in the theater, worked with legends like Gershwin, Ziegfeld and Jerome Kern. He moved west in 1929 and stayed for the rest of his life, another 42 years.
Max Steiner
Max Steiner has been long regarded “the father of film music,” with an impressive list of 300 credits that includes the scores for King Kong (1933), A Star is Born (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Searchers (1956), and every significant film Bette Davis made through the height of her career, from Of Human Bondage (1934), Jezebel (1938) and The Letter (1940) to A Stolen Life (1946).  Of the 20 nominations he garnered over a span of 21 years, Steiner won Oscars for The Informer (1936), Now, Voyager (1942) and Since You Went Away (1944). Though he was also associated with RKO and David O. Selznick, it is with Warner Bros., the studio for which he worked for 30 years, that Max Steiner’s name became synonymous.

In his entry on Max Steiner for the International Film Music Critics Association, Paul Cote has written of Steiner’s contribution to Casablanca “…he was able to use his romantic disposition to lift otherwise bleak films out of the depths of misery. Nowhere was this more evident than in Casablanca, a seemingly cynical war drama that we nevertheless now regard as one of the most crowd-pleasing screen romances of all time. Much of the reason that we read the film as a bittersweet love story and not a jaded war drama comes from Steiner’s unrelentingly romantic score. With Casablanca, Steiner took the melody from the popular song “As Time Goes By” and transformed it into a love theme that virtually dominated the film. In fact, so forcefully did the love theme dominate the film that it shaped and continues to shape the way audiences remember Casablanca.” It was a 10-year-old song Steiner had never wanted in the first place, yet such was his skill that he not only used "As Time Goes By" to great effect in the film, but also gave the old tune new and everlasting life as an American standard.


I can’t imagine that anyone reading this post doesn’t know Casablanca inside and out, but just in case...
Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson in Casablanca
An amazing cast headed by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (with outstanding supporting turns from Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Leonid Kinskey and Madeleine Lebeau, who just died last year at age 103) conjures a stirring tale of romance and international intrigue set in a mysterious and exotic locale. Set mostly at Rick’s, a jumpin’ “gin joint” in North Africa run by a world-weary American expatriate, the action takes place in December 1941, just as the U.S. enters World War II. Rick (Bogart), though a cynical sort, is obviously a noble character, but his nobility will be tested when the woman who broke his heart in Paris arrives in Casablanca with a man who turns out to be her resistance-leader/hero husband. Will Rick do the right thing when the time comes or will he do what is expedient? Will Rick and Ilsa (Bergman), who clearly love each other, disappear into the foggy Moroccan night together? And what will become of all the con men and schemers, refugees and expatriates, resistance fighters and Nazis scurrying through Rick’s and the alleyways of Casablanca? With the film's climax comes a series of surprises, the sweetest of which is “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

In his 1992 50th anniversary review of Casablanca, Roger Ebert christened it “The Movie.” While he allowed that there might be better or more profound films, Ebert argued that Casablanca deserved its distinction as “The Movie” because it was, at age 50, so deeply treasured, a perennial favorite of film fans after so many years. And it is still, 25 years after Ebert's review, one of the most beloved movies of all time. Along with the categories for which it won – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay – “The Movie” was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Rains), Best B&W Cinematography (Arthur Edeson), Best Editing (Owen Marks) and Best Score (Max Steiner). 

Those who attend Casablanca at the San Francisco Symphony on June 2 and 3 will be watching the film minus its recorded score. That music will have been digitally scrubbed (or stripped) from the soundtrack so that the score can be performed live by the full symphony orchestra. For film lovers and film music lovers who live in or will be visiting the Bay Area, this is a one-of-a-kind, must-have experience!

For more information and to buy tickets for the San Francisco Symphony’s performances of Casablanca, click here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Underseen & Underrated: "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948), from the Madcap Mind of Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges’s final remarkable comedy, the deliriously dark Unfaithfully Yours (1948), screened twice at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, on April 7 and April 9. That it screened a second time speaks to the impact of this lesser known Struges jewel the first time it was shown; many of the screening slots on the festival’s final day are held open for repeat showings of “smaller” films that proved to be especially popular on their first run.

Presenting Unfaithfully Yours on April 9 was “Czar of Noir” and host of TCM’s Noir Alley, Eddie Muller. He spoke of his reaction when TCM’s festival programmers told him that the overall theme for the 2017 event would be “Make ‘Em Laugh” and that “Dark Comedies” would be a sub-category. Assuming the obvious, he replied, “You’ll be showing Unfaithfully Yours then, right?”

Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges’s future Hollywood career became his destiny when, in 1929 and living in New York, he wrote the Broadway smash hit Strictly Dishonorable. He would make his way to the movie capital following the play’s screen adaptation in 1931. He began at Universal but made his name at Paramount where he penned several popular films including Easy Living (1937) and Remember the Night (1940). In 1940 he asked for and was given a chance to direct as well as write. The result was his political sendup, The Great McGinty, a break-out hit that brought Sturges an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, the first ever awarded in that category. His move behind the camera would make him one of Hollywood’s first credited writer/directors, and his successful transition into that role paved the way for all writer/directors to follow, from Billy Wilder to the Coen Brothers.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PANIQUE (PANIC), a Timely French Noir from Julien Duvivier




During TCM’s 8th annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood last month more than 75 films were presented, all of them classics and almost all of them appealing to me. But there were two that I was absolutely determined to see: the Powell/Pressburger masterpiece Black Narcissus (1947), presented on nitrate-based film stock, and a less well known, newly restored French film, Panique (1946), from director Julien Duvivier.

Panique might not have caught my eye on the intensely packed festival schedule had I not, thanks to Don Malcolm and his Mid-Century Productions, been recently introduced to French film noir. Last November I attended Malcolm/MCP’s 3rd French noir fest in San Francisco. That illuminating event featured 15 “black” French films, including Le Dernier Tournant (1939), director Pierre Chenal’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. In the role of Cora’s husband Nick (played by Cecil Kellaway in MGM’s 1946 version) was Michel Simon, one of the most celebrated character actors in French cinema.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Rare Noir is Good to Find 2, San Francisco's Second International Film Noir Festival - Coming in May

For four days in May, twelve mostly rare films noir from eleven countries around the world will screen at San Francisco's Roxie Theater in the heart of the city's Mission District. The event, A Rare Noir is Good to Find 2, is the second international film noir festival to be presented at the Roxie by Mid-Century Productions, the company that has already staged 3 annual French film noir festivals there. Says Don Malcolm, Mid-Century's veteran noir programmer, "As astonishing as it is to know that there are hundreds of French noirs awaiting rediscovery on American movie screens, it's even more amazing to see just how prominent film noir was in just about every significant filmmaking nation in the years following World War II."

Camino del Infierno (The Road to Hell) from Mexico, 1951

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Nitrate Experience, BLACK NARCISSUS at TCMFF 2017

Kathleen Byron and Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus, a production of The Archers

One of the truly sublime experiences (and there were many) of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival was the joy of viewing a nitrate print of The Archers' (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) great masterpiece Black Narcissus (1947) on the big screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre.

Black Narcissus is a film that dazzles, one of the most spectacular examples of mid-century Technicolor films ever produced. I could hardly imagine that its often voluptuous, frequently Vermeer-like imagery could possibly look any better than I had previously seen. Little did I know that I would be transported to a realm of color that could be called other-worldly. The adjective "awesome" has been entirely worn out for decades, and so I'll simply say that the impact of seeing the film's lush Technicolor photography on nitrate-based film stock was awe-inspiring.  

A climactic scene from Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus, the story of a group of nuns who are sent high into the Himalayas to open a convent school but are undone by the alien and seductive atmosphere, was filmed by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Cardiff would win the 1947 Oscar for color cinematography for his efforts and go on to film The Archers' next great masterpiece, The Red  Shoes (1948). He would later take on Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), Huston's The African Queen (1951), Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), among many other films.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

OOAK Dolls, Pt. 2: Repaint Artist Noel Cruz


Noel Cruz is one of the most highly acclaimed among OOAK doll repaint artists on the scene. A Filipino-American based in Anaheim, California, Cruz’s reputation rests upon his talent for fashioning repainted dolls that bear amazing likeness to their subjects. His specialty is character and celebrity dolls, dolls produced by manufacturers like Tonner and Franklin Mint that Cruz strips of their original paint and repaints with infinite care – and with stunning results. His creations are much sought after, and some have sold for more than $2,000 via his EBay store.

The Elizabeth Taylor doll shown above depicts her as Angela Vickers, the character she portrayed in A Place in the Sun (1951). Cruz's transformation of the original factory doll is dramatic. The original bears some passing resemblance to the actress, but is essentially lifeless, where Cruz's makeover is uncannily lifelike.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

OOAK Dolls: So Real They're Unreal

Bette Davis by CyGuy

Celebrity dolls, I discovered, have been around for a long, long time. According to Ellen Tsagaris of Dr. E's Doll Museum blog, the first commemorative doll is more than likely the Venus of Willendorf and other Venus figures discovered in Europe and said to be between 25,000 and 40,000 years old. Creation of tribute dolls continued through the ages, but it was during the reign of England's Queen Victoria that the popularity of such dolls surged. Royals, celebrated beauties and military heroes were all commemorated with dolls in their likenesses and prima ballerinas were memorialized as paper dolls.

With the arrival of movies in the 20th century came the manufacture of dolls based on film stars; the first Chaplin doll appeared in 1915. The runaway popularity of the Shirley Temple doll produced by Ideal in 1934 brought the production of more dolls based on popular stars like Sonja Henie, Deanna Durbin and others.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The End of An Era

I, we, had hoped he would return. Robert Osborne had gone on hiatus from his hosting duties at TCM before and had always come back. Surely he would return again. But now we are told that he is gone forever and the world, especially the world of classic film, seems to have tipped on its axis.

Monday, February 13, 2017

TCM's 2017 Classic Film Festival

TCM's 8th annual Classic Film Festival is set for April 6 - 9 in Hollywood, and this year's central theme is Make 'Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies...if there was ever a year we needed some laughs...

Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert and Rudy Vallee in The Palm Beach Story
Among the comedy classics to be screened are two of my favorites from writer/director Preston Sturges, The Palm Beach Story (1942) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948), with Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell. Also on the program: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Born Yesterday (1950), The Front Page (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932), Harold Lloyd's Speedy (1928) and Twentieth Century (1934). A special presentation, Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks (2017), will feature several rarely seen short animation films by Iwerks, an early collaborator and partner of Walt Disney.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lady Gaga for "La La Land"

Or: Lady Eve Goes Gaga for La La Land

I stepped up to the ticket window at the Century Regency 6 on a Wednesday morning earlier this month intending to purchase an early bird ticket to a film that was in the last days of its run at the multiplex. But Fate would have it otherwise; the movie had already begun 15 minutes ahead of schedule for some logistical reason or another. When I asked if there was another film that hadn’t started yet but would soon, I was told, “Well, La La Land is starting right now.” Ah, one of the other movies I wanted to see. So I grabbed a ticket and hurried into the theater. The opening scene, a splashy and jubilant musical number set on a present day traffic-jammed L.A. freeway, was already in high gear. Taken by surprise at the hoopla onscreen, a near-over-the-top homage to a film genre so very long gone and out of fashion, I wasn't sure whether I was going to like this movie or not, but then...

Monday, January 9, 2017


The 2017 film noir festival season kicks off in the U.S. on January 20 in San Francisco when the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City 15 opens at the city's historic Castro Theater. Satellite Noir City festivals will follow through the year in L.A., Chicago, D.C., Seattle, Kansas City and Austin.