classic hollywood

Star Wars Episode VII: Lena Horne by Karina Longworth

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Signed to a contract by MGM in 1942, stunning singer/actress Lena Horne was the first black performer to be given the full glamour girl star-making treatment. But as the years went on and her studio failed to make much use of her, Horne started feeling like a token — and she wasn’t just being paranoid. A tireless USO performer during World War II, Horne and MGM were deluged with fan mail from African-American soldiers, an outpouring of support which still didn’t change the fundamentally racist institutional attitudes holding Horne back. We’ll trace her journey from the stage of The Cotton Club to the Hollywood Hills; her two marriages and her relationships with Vincente Minnelli, Orson Welles and Ava Gardner; her triumphs and disappointments on screen and off throughout the war era; the final insult which soured LenaHorne on Hollywood for good, and her remarkable late-in-life comeback.

Show Notes:

Before even listening to this episode, you might have noticed that there’s something a little different about it: it’s loooonnnng. This is not because I’ve suddenly fallen in love with the sound of my voice; it’s because I’ve fallen in love with the sound of LenaHorne’s voice. In the middle of my research for this episode, I discovered this public radio interview with Horne originally broadcast in 1966 and distributed by the Black Media Archive, and I thought it was so great that I immediately devoted the next couple of days to listening to all of the LenaHorne interview audio I could find. The episode is long because I included Lena’s version of her own story whenever possible, whether spoken or sung. 

There are several excerpts in this episode from the autobiographical stage show Lena mounted in the early 1980s, “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music.” Some of these excerpts come from a television version of the show that’s been posted on YouTube; others are from the official soundtrack album.

Other audio-video sources used in this episode, not including music:

LenaHorne on the Tonight Show

LenaHorne on Good Morning America, 1981

Clip from Cabin in the Sky

Jubilee! Episode #89, from Armed Forces Radio Service, July 24, 1944

Other sources include Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James GavinBright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood by Donald Bogle; A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin; and the book that got me started on the idea of including an episode on Lena into our Star Wars series, Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen by Sherrie Tucker.

Discography:

Stormy Weather instrumental, from a compilation called “Relaxing Jazz Instrumental 1940s Music”

Passing Fields by Quantum Jazz

Money by Jahzzar 

Dances and Dames by Kevin MacLeod

Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

Laserdisc by Chris Zabriskie

I Knew a Guy by Kevin MacLeod

Stormy Weather part 1, performed by LenaHorne in “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music”

Derelict by Beck

Main Stem performed by US Army Blues

Dagger by Slowdive

Gnossiennes No. 1 by Eric Satie

Can’t Stop Loving Dat Man performed by LenaHorne in ’Til The Clouds Roll By

There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie

Stormy Weather part 2, performed by LenaHorne in “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music”

TALES OF CELEBRITY DRUNKENNESS 2014 {YMRT #26:} by Karina Longworth

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In our first annual end-of-year clip show, we’ll listen to some of the booziest excerpts from the 25 episodes of You Must Remember This released thus far. Highlights include day drinking with Judy Garland; the irresistible antics of Kay Francis; the drunk driving arrest that wrecked Frances Farmer’s career, plus stories about Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and more. Also: a zone-out-for-a-second-and-you’ll-miss-it mention of the topic of our first show of 2015!

Discography

“Say You Will” by Kanye West

“Preludes for Piano” by George Gershwin

“Buddy Stay Off That Wine” by Betty Hall Jones

This episode includes clips from the following episodes:

#2: Frank Sinatra in Outer Space

#4: (The Printing of) the Legend of Frances Farmer

#5: The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland

#10: Kay Francis, Pretty Poison (Follies of 1938)

#13: Bogart, Before Bacall

#14: Bacall, After Bogart

#20: Liz <3 Monty

For soundtrack information for each of those excerpted episodes, please go to the show link.

YMRT #20: LIZ <3 MONTY by Karina Longworth

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Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift were best friends and co-stars in three films. The first, A Place in the Sun, is an undisputed classic which captures both stars at the peak of their talents and physical beauty. The shoot of the second, Raintree County, was interrupted by a horrible car accident in which Clift’s face was disfigured. This episode tracks Taylor’s relationship with the troubled Clift, from their first, studio-setup date through his untimely death — the result of what some have called “Hollywood’s slowest suicide.”

Show Notes!

Almost all biographical writing on Montgomery Clift seems to be indebted to Patricia Bosworth’s 1978 doorstop Montgomery Clift, which is the source of most of the quotes in this episode. Unfortunately, the countless Elizabeth Taylor biographies are mostly redundant, and the more recent they are, the more they seem to recycle old stories without new information or insight. My current favorite book about Taylor is Furious Love, by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, which tracks her relationship with Richard Burton, and thus was only useful for a small portion of this podcast. In researching this episode I consultedHow to Be a Movie Star by William J. Mann, Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor by Brenda Maddox, and Elizabeth Taylor: An Informal Memoir by Elizabeth Taylor, Bring in the Peacocks, or Memoirs of a Hollywood Producer by Hank Moonjean, and Who the Hell’s In It by Peter Bogdanovich.

There are pictures of Clift and Taylor on the sets of both A Place in the Sun (including the contact sheet featuring the photo at the top of this post) and Raintree County in my book, Hollywood Frame by Frame

Special thanks to Kent Kincannon, who played Montgomery Clift. 

At the end of this episode, there’s an excerpt from the Clash song “The Right Profile.” I don’t know much about the writing of the song, although I’ve read it was inspired by Bosworth’s biography, and the song essentially summarizes the book. For awhile, Julie Delpy was planning to direct a biopic about Strummer named after the song, although that looks like it has fallen apart. I’ve thought about doing an episode about Joe Strummer and/in Hollywood at some point in the future, but my sense from doing a small amount of research is that it might be a difficult subject, and that I would need to find an expert to help. Anyone know anyone?

Discography:

“American” by Lana Del Rey

“Burning Desire” by Lana Del Rey

“Au coin de la rue” by Marco Raaphorst

“I Only Have Eyes For You” performed by The Flamingos

“I Am A Man Who Will Fight For Your Honor” by Chris Zabriskie

“Dances and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“Out of the Skies, Under the Earth” by Chris Zabriskie

“Wonder Cycle” by Chris Zabriskie

“Off to Osaka” by Kevin MacLeod

“Dance of the Stargazer” performed by U.S. Army Blues

“Prelude No. 21” by Chris Zabriskie

“I Trust a Littler of Kittens Still Keeps The Colloseum” by Joan of Arc

“For Better or Worse” by Kai Engel

“Exlibris” by Kosta T

“Melancholy Aftersounds” by Kai Engel

“The Wrong Way” by Jahzzar

“Gymnopedie No. 2” by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

“The Right Profile” by The Clash

Follies of 1938, Part 1: Hollywood's Greatest Year (YMRT #8) by Karina Longworth

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This micro-episode sets up a topic we’ll be exploring throughout the summer: the films, stars and scandals of 1938. By midway through that year, Hollywood was in such a desperate downswing — and so concerned that Americans were losing interest not just in specific movies but in moviegoing as a habit — that the studios banded together to launch a massive PR campaign to convince the public that 1938 was Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year. It wasn’t. 

Show Notes!

This episode is shorter than usual, and not as polished as I would like it to be, particularly in terms of the recording quality, and these things are related. Mr. You Must Remember This has a new job, for which we are in the process of temporary relocating to San Francisco. I was short on time this week, and by the time I got around to recording, I was in Los Angeles and parts of my usual recording set-up were en route to our new home. All should be back to normal by next week. I hope. 

The primary research source for this episode was Catherine Jurca’s fascinating book Hollywood 1938: Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year. I basically piggybacked on her extensive, awe-inspiring research, and tried to synthesize it into something more anecdotal. This book gave me the idea to do a series of episodes stemming from the events of 1938, and so, while most of those future episodes won’t necessarily have much to do with the MPGY campaign, I thought telling that story would be the best possible way to begin a series called Follies of 1938. 

Next week, we’re going to return to our other ongoing series, The Many Loves of Howard Hughes. The tentative plan for the next few weeks is to alternate between series, but I reserve the right to mix it up, too. 

Music!

"Preludes for Piano #1" by George Gershwin

"Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra I - Allegro" by George Gershwin, performed by Oscar Lavant with New York Philharmonic

"Preludes for Piano #3" by George Gershwin

"Preludes for Piano #2" by George Gershwin

"Lady Be Good," performed by Count Basie and his Orchestra

"Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra II - Andante Co Moto" by George Gershwin, performed by Oscar Lavant with New York Philharmonic

"You Go To My Head," performed by Marlene Dietrich

You Must Remember This #3: Happy 110th Birthday, Val Lewton! by Karina Longworth

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A Very Special Halloween Episode! The writer-producer Val Lewton produced and ghost-wrote 11 films in just three years as head of the horror unit at RKO, many of which — Cat PeopleI Walked With A ZombieThe Curse of the Cat People,The Body Snatcher — were huge hits, helping to keep the troubled studio afloat in the early 1940s, and becoming influential genre film classics. Lewton died super young, but he crammed an enormous amount of life into his 46 years. Before establishing his unique style of horror at RKO, he was a publicist and a terrible journalist; he published at least a dozen books (including at least two porno novels, one of which he was very proud of), and through his career-making apprenticeship with David O. Selznick, collaborated with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and countless other classical Hollywood luminaries. Today — which would have been Lewton’s 110th birthday, if not for his untimely death in 1951 — we take a look back at his life and career, break down his groundbreaking aesthetic, and ask and answer an incredibly reductive question: did Hollywood kill Val Lewton?

SHOW NOTES!

Bibliography:

Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career, by Edmund G. Bansak

Icons of Grief, by Alexander Nemerov

Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror, by Joel E. Siegel

Music:

Excerpts from the scores of Cat PeopleI Walked with a ZombieBedlamThe Body Snatcher and The Seventh Victim, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

The Bride of Frankenstein theme, performed by the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra

"Cat People (Putting out fire)" by David Bowie

Film clips:

Cat People

I Walked With a Zombie

Bedlam

The Seventh Victim