Monday, August 29, 2011

Starry, Starry Night(s)


Since 2003, August on Turner Classic Movies has meant a 31 day parade of stars, each day filled with the films of a different one, each honored for 24-hours of what is known and celebrated as "Summer Under the Stars."

This year, many received a day of their own for the first time. I was  surprised to discover that Charles Laughton, Montgomery Clift and Ronald Colman hadn't been featured before. I wasn't at all surprised, but was infinitely thrilled to find that Jean Gabin, icon of the French cinema, was to be honored for the first time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Father and Mother Were Movie Stars: Leatrice Gilbert Fountain Remembers

Just over a year ago, as Turner Classic Movies prepared to honor silent screen legend John Gilbert with a day of his own for the first time during “Summer under the Stars” 2010, I interviewed Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, daughter of the actor and his second wife, silent screen star Leatrice Joy. Leatrice Fountain and I had become acquainted several months earlier and it seemed a perfect idea to publish a discussion of her father’s career on the same day TCM fĂȘted him.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


It began long ago, the succession of beautiful blonde actresses who combined feminine refinement and sex appeal in a way that director Alfred Hitchcock could not resist depicting onscreen many times. Over the course of his career, Hitchcock honed this character type to a fine point and his final blonde stars were scrupulously stylized to evoke a very specific image.

Some of the most memorable:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Norman Rockwell with a Twist in Hitchcock's America: Shadow of a Doubt Rockwell
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was Alfred Hitchcock’s fifth American film and the first in which he believed he'd truly depicted America. His “first draft” attempt at this had been Saboteur (1942), but Hitchcock hadn’t gotten the cast he wanted, he felt the script was weak and that he’d been rushed into the project.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Love Lucy...A Few Reasons Why

Lucille Ball by Richard Amsel

This is my entry in the "Loving Lucy Blogathon" hosted by True Classics...for more, click here.

One reason I love Lucy is that my mom always reminded me very much of her. Both were smart, attractive and there was more than occasionally something they kept from 'the man of the house' (how I remember the phrase, "don't tell your father"). Mom was talented, ambitious, determined and funny, like Lucy. There were times, in certain situations, that she would imitate Lucy's famous "Ewwww!" take. But mom was what was then called a "housewife," a homemaker extraordinaire and PTA queen - Lucy was the greatest comedienne television has yet known.

As has often been noted, Lucille Ball was in Hollywood for years before she broke out on TV. She'd been tagged "Queen of B-Movies," which is something, but clearly not enough for an actress who'd shared the screen with the likes of Tracy and Hepburn, Astaire and Rogers, The Marx Bros., Bob Hope and Henry Fonda. Her popular radio series, "My Favorite Husband" (CBS, 1948 - 1951) was the stepping stone that led to Lucy's television super-stardom on "I Love Lucy," which debuted on CBS TV in October 1951.

I've always been especially fond of the Lucy episodes from seasons 4 and 5, beginning in February 1955, when the Ricardos and Mertzes traveled to Hollywood. These shows included cameos by various stars (including John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Van Johnson and Harpo Marx) and industry legends (Hedda Hopper, Dore Schary) along with the usual Lucy hi-jinks. But I think some of my affection for these shows is also tied to the fact that Lucy and her gang had come to Southern California, my own home ground.

I don't know how many times I've seen this Lucy sketch with William Holden (Season 4, Episode 17, "L.A., at Last," first aired February 7, 1955), but it still makes me laugh out loud. It's my favorite Lucy routine of them all and one of her two or three very best. The lunacy begins when Bill Holden, whom Lucy has already accosted and made a scene over at the Brown Derby restaurant, arrives at the Ricardo's hotel room with Ricky. Lucy improvises...

Not long ago I watched the amusing Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), in which Lucy and Holden co-starred. He hadn't yet collaborated with Billy Wilder, a teaming that would launch the actor's great film stardom, and Lucy was still a year or two from her move to TV.  I have to think that the two must've relished working together in this 1955 sitcom classic, two former B-stars now both firmly ensconced on the A List, and having a great time of it.

Click here for another of my favorite Lucy skits.

Turner Classic Movies Schedule of Lucille Ball Films, August 6, 2011
6:00 am Eastern/3:00 Pacific, Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
8:00 am Eastern/5:00 Pacific, Panama Lady (1939)
9:30 am Eastern/6:30 Pacific, Without Love (1945)
11:30 am Eastern/8:30 Pacific, Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949)
1:00 pm Eastern/10:00 am Pacific, The Fuller Brush Girl (1950)
2:30 pm Eastern/11:30 am Pacific, The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
4:30 pm Eastern/1:30 Pacific, Best Foot Forward (1943)
6:15 pm Eastern/3:15 Pacific, Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
8:00 pm Eastern/5:00 Pacific, Stage Door (1937)
9:45 pm Eastern/6:45 Pacific, The Big Street (1942)
11:30 pm Eastern/8:30 Pacific, Easy to Wed (1946)
1:30 am Eastern/10:30 pm Pacific, Lured (1947)
3:15 am Eastern/12:15 Pacific,The Affairs of Annabel (1938)
4:30 am Eastern/1:30 Pacific, Annabel Takes a Tour (1938)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

...aka/'Ann Newton' of "Shadow of a Doubt"

Shadow of a Doubt, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Macdonald Carey
Early in 2010 I was doing research for a post on Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt and in the process came upon an interesting piece by one of TCM's MovieMorlock bloggers, Medusa. Entitled "My Favorite Book Worm or: Where in the World is Edna May Wonacott?", it focused on the child actress who portrayed Ann Newton in Shadow of a Doubt. I was inspired to locate and contact Edna (now Edna Green) and asked her if she'd like to be interviewed. She agreed, and our conversation evolved into a blog post that first appeared at The Classic Film & TV Cafe on her 78th birthday in February 2010, was later published as a Sunday feature in The Yuma Sun and, later still, as an article in Films of the Golden Age. Here is a slightly revised version:

Edna May was nine years old and living with her family in Santa Rosa, California, when she caught the eye of director Alfred Hitchcock while he was in town preparing to make Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The director cast her in the role of Ann Newton, younger sister of the protagonist, Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) and niece of the villain, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). Edna May made quite a splash in the part and appeared in small roles in other films over the next few years.

That Alfred Hitchcock happened upon Edna May and cast her in Shadow of a Doubt is a minor legend, but an imprecise one. In some versions of the story, Joseph Cotten was with the director when they met. Edna clearly recalls the circumstances of that fortuitous day when she and two cousins were on their way home from a shopping excursion:

"I was discovered in Santa Rosa, standing on a street corner waiting for a bus. Alfred Hitchcock and producer Jack Skirball were standing at the same corner looking over the town."

Hitchcock (right) in Santa Rosa, near the spot where he met Edna
That particular corner bus stop, in front of a Karl's shoe store, had a view of several prominent downtown locations including the courthouse, a circular green and the bank. Hitchcock and Skirball were looking and talking and jotting down notes on a clipboard. Edna May watched them and was curious. She edged away from her cousins to be closer to Hitchcock and Skirball so she could find out what was going on. The two men noticed her observing them and began to look her over.

"My older cousin made me move away from them and next to her, and the two men kept looking at me and finally walked over to us and introduced themselves and said they were making a movie in town and wanted to know if I wanted to be in it." They asked for her address and said they would be out to talk to her parents that afternoon.

Edna May ran all the way home to tell her mother that she was going to be in a movie. Her mother, well aware of her daughter's vivid imagination, thought she'd made it up until the cousins arrived and confirmed her story.

Edna's first scene as Ann Newton
The next day Edna May and her mother were on the night train to Los Angeles where the young girl would make her screen test. The following morning they taxied from the Glendale depot to Universal Studios, where they were met at the gate and escorted to the audition. Edna May was given a script for the phone scene, the first appearance of Ann Newton in Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock directed her, basically instructing her on the reactions and expressions he was after. Edna May wasn't nervous, she just followed Hitchcock's direction and aced the screen test. She said she didn't have to be coaxed into taking the part, adding: "What nine year old wouldn't want to be in a movie?"

The story goes - and it's true - that Edna May had no experience as a performer up to that point, not even in school plays or church pageants, "I hadn't had any acting experience and no interest in ever doing such a thing..."

Abbott & Costello
While at Universal, Edna May and her mother ate in the commissary and were entranced as they watched actors and actresses in costume eating lunch. Edna remembers meeting Abbott and Costello, Deanna Durbin and Shemp Howard of Three Stooges fame that day. In fact, she and her mother were offered an all-expenses-paid weekend in Hollywood, including a chauffeur-driven car to take them anywhere they'd like to go. Edna May wanted more than anything to visit the Disney studios, but her mother, unsettled at being away from home and on her own for the first time, didn't want to stay - and they were on the train headed back to Santa Rosa that night. 

Though she was a novice, Edna May didn't receive any special training for her performance. She gives credit to the director: "I had no coaching for the part and just took direction from Alfred Hitchcock." She worked well with him and had no trouble understanding what he wanted from her. She felt it was the same for the other actors in the cast (Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Macdonald Carey, Wallace Ford). She recalls Hitchcock as a very quiet man who kept to himself much of the time (she often saw him reading comic books on the set).

Ann Newton was a unique character, a confident, self-possessed little girl who loved books and didn't hesitate to speak up. She was an observant child, the only family member who took a dubious view of Uncle Charlie early on. I wondered if Edna May had been like Ann Newton as a child. In some ways, she doesn't think so ("I didn't like reading and would rather be outside riding my bike or playing."). On the other hand, she noted that she was "a very confident kid and never doubted I could do anything I wanted to do." And she was observant; it was her curiosity about Hitchcock and Skirball on that street corner that set her Hollywood adventure in motion.

Ann Newton is not impressed
Edna remembers filming Shadow of a Doubt fondly: "The cast and crew were like a happy family. No one was treated any differently than anyone else. I had no favorites on the set other than the fact that I was madly in love with Joseph Cotten and melted every time he talked to me. Everybody knew this and I got kidded a lot!" Her crush on the charismatic Mr. Cotten didn't get in the way of her performance, though. Hitchcock's instructions to Edna May regarding her scenes with Cotten were: "It doesn't matter how nice he is to you, always be suspicious of him and question why he's doing what he's doing." Ann's skepticism of him is reflected the moment Uncle Charlie hands her an ill-chosen teddy bear gift and Edna May screws up her face and gives him a withering sidelong glance.

Shadow of a Doubt's exterior scenes were shot on location in Santa Rosa, which was unusual for the time. The interiors were shot at the studio on a soundstage. When the time came to travel to Hollywood again, Edna May's mother and brother accompanied her. Her dad, who was a Santa Rosa grocer, stayed home and minded the store. It was her brother who helped her memorize her lines.

Edna's classmate, Sabu, 'the elephant boy'
Filming on Shadow of a Doubt began in August 1942 and took three months to complete. While in Hollywood during the school year, Edna May was tutored on the set on the days that she worked. On off-days, she attended classes at the studio's schoolhouse. She particularly remembers one fellow student, Sabu, who captivated the class with stories about the elephants of India. His stories gave Edna May the impression that in India elephants were as common as dogs in the U.S., and treated in much the same way.

Edna May became close to Pat Hitchcock, the director's daughter, and the two often played gin rummy on the set. Both girls had crushes on Joseph Cotten, and when he gave Edna May an autographed picture inscribed "with love," Edna remembers that Pat was a little disconcerted because Cotten hadn't signed his picture to her with the same sentiment.

Joseph Cotten
The Hitchcocks frequently took Edna May to Hollywood's famous Brown Derby restaurant with them, and she spent many weekends as Pat's guest at the Hitchcock home. On most days, their meals would be ordered from the kitchen and sent up to Pat's room via a "dumb-waiter" built into the wall. One day, though, Pat told her there would be a formal dinner that evening and to "wear something nice." Edna May was flustered, not being familiar with the forks, spoons, knives, dishes and glasses used at proper dinners. She hoped to sit next to Pat and follow her lead. But Pat told her they'd be sitting across the table from each other and, when it came to the silverware, "just start from the outside and work your way in." It turned out that the evening's guests were Joseph Cotten, his wife and step-daughter - and Edna was seated next to him. She remembers being so smitten that she was trembling. And she'll never forget that he talked with her all through dinner.

Like so many kids of that era, Edna May had an autograph book. When it was Alfred Hitchcock's turn to sign, he did it as one might expect - with a twist. He signed the last page in the book and with his left hand (he was right-handed): "By hook or by crook, I'll be the last one to sign in this book."

At the end of the shoot, there was a goodbye party in San Francisco. Edna May received many gifts that she still cherishes, including an inscribed bracelet from Teresa Wright, a scarf with a "pigtail" motif from Joseph Cotten and a golden bow from Hitchcock inscribed "to Ann Newton from Alfred Hitchcock." Edna recalls that Hitchcock never called her anything but Ann throughout the making of Shadow of a Doubt.

Edna May Wonacott, child actress
Edna May, of course, was a local celebrity in Santa Rosa (then with a population of 19,000). "There was a lot of publicity and women would come into dad's store and want to touch the father of a movie star! I have lots of scrapbooks of the publicity and had quite a write-up in Life magazine and was in movie magazines. Little girls with pigtails and glasses suddenly started showing up on the street corners in town."

When Shadow of a Doubt was released it premiered in Santa Rosa and Pat Hitchcock came up from Hollywood and attended with Edna May. There was quite a hubbub in town over the film and its release signaled a war bond drive, with Edna May kicking it off at the courthouse in Santa Rosa. She also took a trip to sell war bonds in Salinas when the movie opened there.

When she signed a five-year contract with producer Jack Skirball, Edna May and her parents moved to Glendale following the release of Shadow of a Doubt. Her older brother, then in college, stayed in Santa Rosa and ran the family store until he went into the military and served during World War II.

Her first assignment for Skirball was to be It's in the Bag with Fred Allen, and Edna May was to have equal billing. But Allen balked at this and refused to work with her. Ultimately, her contract was broken, but when the film was eventually made without her, Edna May was paid in full.

The Bells of St. Mary's, Ingrid Bergman, center, and Edna, right
At this point, she signed with an agent who handled child actors exclusively. Edna May won small roles in several more films, and she has warm memories of working on Leo McCarey's The Bells of Saint Mary's (1945), a film nominated for eight Oscars and winner of one. She played Delphine, a girl about to graduate from St. Mary's, the one who smacks a baseball through a window in Mr. Bogardus's (Henry Travers) new building. Edna recalls that, like Shadow of a Doubt, the atmosphere on the set was "just like family." Ingrid Bergman was "a real sweetheart who said hello to everyone from the janitor on up when she came on the set." Edna also remembers that a member of the crew would play a little tune on an ocarina whenever Miss Bergman arrived. She adds, "We had a lot of fun with Bing Crosby - since there was a schoolyard set, he was always playing basketball with the kids."

Edna continued playing bit parts for the next few years but left acting at the beginning of the 1950s. Though her movie career is now long ago, she remembers those days with pleasure, "I have nothing but good memories of working in Hollywood. It was a different era than it is now and, being as young as I was, I didn't feel like an actress...I was just a kid who did what she was told to do."

Along with her memories, Edna has a treasure-trove of Shadow of a Doubt memorabilia. From her scrapbooks, copies of Life magazine and the prized goodbye gifts, to her original script with its cover signed by Hitchcock and the entire cast.

Edna mused that some friends of hers recently watched Shadow of a Doubt after she told them she was in it. They were quick to tell her: "You are just exactly like you were in that movie." And I'll admit that at times during our conversation I could hear a little bit of Ann Newton as I spoke with Edna Green.

Edna on the set of Under Western Skies (1945) with one of her co-stars, a young mountain lion

Click here for MedusaMorlock's post about Edna; click here for an update on Edna's life a year after our first interview, click here to view publicity photos from Edna's personal collection. Click here to watch a 2012 TV interview with Edna (courtesy of KPIX TV, San Francisco).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt Giveaway on Hitchcock's Birthday...the details

In celebration of Alfred Hitchcock's 112th birthday on August 13, Reel Life is giving away a DVD of one of his great masterpieces, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The giveaway will be in the form of a random drawing to be held on the 13th at noon Pacific Time. To enter, send an email to and include your name and mailing address (U.S. residents only, please).

In addition to the DVD, the winner will also receive an 8 x 10 photograph (shown below) personally autographed to them by Edna May Wonacott (Green), who portrayed younger sister Ann Newton in Shadow of a Doubt

Update: The drawing has been held and Jeff in Ohio is the winner. Thanks to all who participated!
The Lady Eve

Edna and Hitch on the set of Shadow of a Doubt