hollywood

Star Wars Episode VIII: How Norma Jeane Became Marilyn Monroe (YMRT: 34) by Karina Longworth

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Today’s episode tells the secret, forgotten, and highly disputed story of the making of arguably the most potent Hollywood sex symbol of all time. In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe embodied a male fantasy of a woman who gave freely of herself, particularly of her body, and asked for nothing in return. Her blonde bombshell persona, “dumb” but also often touchingly vulnerable, would seem to be the exact opposite of the pragmatic femininity of the World War II era epitomized by women’s films stars like Bette Davis and “we can do it!” sloganeer Rosie the Riveter. But in fact, before she was famous,Marilyn Monroe was Rosie the Riveter: at age 18, with her husband off in the Merchant Marines, Monroe went to work at an airplane parts factory. And it was there that she was discovered, thanks (in a roundabout way) to Ronald Reagan. In this episode, we’ll explore how Marilyn became Marilyn, by tracing the former Norma Jean Baker from her troubled childhood through the war years, her early struggles to get a foothold in Hollywood, and the nude photo scandal which cemented her stardom. We’ll see how the future Marilyn’s experiences mirrored those of other American woman, and the culture at large, in the post-war decade, and we’ll see how her projection of vulnerability and even victimhood would ultimately have radical implications. 

Show Notes:

Like many women, I suspect, I’ve been studying MarilynMonroe my entire life, both accidentally and on purpose. I’ve read tons about her over the years — and if you haven’t and are looking for a place to start, I would recommend All of the Available Light: A MarilynMonroe Reader — but I had never focused specifically on her pre-fame years. Knowing I would never be able to read or reread all of the writings on Monroe in the limited time I had for researching this episode, I decided to focus on two books published within a couple of years of one another, both of which purported to offer fresh analysis of the pre-Marilyn years of Norma Jeane, and neither of which I had read before.

As a feminist reconsideration of Monroe’s personal story and legacy, I found Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn to be important, and even inspiring. It does, however, gloss over some of the details of this period inMonroe’s life, a flaw you won’t find in Donald Spoto’s MarilynMonroe: The Biography. However, if Steinem’s book is transparent about looking atMarilyn through feminism-tinted glasses, Spoto’s slants are, far less explicitly, and for lack of a better word, anti-feminist. Spoto is a generally well-respected biographer and even those who call into question some of his assertions in this book agree that it’s one of the most serious biographies of his subject. But the fact remains that anyone who writes about MarilynMonroe can only cherry pick amongst the scraps of biographical information left behind, and it seems like many of her observers choose what they want to choose to constitute evidence of the “real Marilyn” versus her sex goddess persona. There are traps within Marilyn scholarship, particularly in terms of her sexual history and appetites, which Spoto didn’t invent or end, but which he does occasionally fall into. But, you know, there but for the grace of etc etc..

Discography:

Fable of the Elements by Joan of Arc

Knife Fights Every Night by Joan of Arc

Them Brainwash Days by Joan of Arc

Oceanic Dawn by DJ Masque

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Les Yper-Sound by Stereolab

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Foxboz by Joan of Arc

Wonder Cycle by Chris Zabriskie

Intelligent Galaxy by The Insider

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Natural’s Not in It (The Rakes Remix) by Gang of Four

Barbara performed by US Army Blues

Gymnopedia No 2 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

Marilyn Monroe by Nicki Minaj

YMRT #27: Star Wars Episode I: Bette Davis and the Hollywood Canteen by Karina Longworth

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Today we’re launching a new series for the new year, Star Wars, which will focus on movie stars and their lives and careers during times of war. Our first eight episodes will explore stories of women during World War II, and we’ll start with the woman who dominated all aspects of Hollywood, including its war effort, in the late 1930s-early 1940s: BetteDavis.

This is the story of how BetteDavis evolved from a wannabe starlet who was constantly told she was too ugly for movies, to the most powerful woman in Hollywood, by playing heroines that had never been seen on screen before — to borrow a term from Davis herself, sympathetic “bitches.” After Pearl Harbor, the tenacious Bette became the figurehead of the Hollywood Canteen, a nightclub for servicemen staffed by stars, which was the locus of the industry’s most visible support of the troops on the home front.

The Hollywood Canteen was a catalyst for propaganda in more ways than one, aims Hollywood furthered by telling the story of the Hollywood Canteen in a movie called, um, Hollywood Canteen, starring Davis, John Garfield, Barbara Stanwyck, Peter Lorre and other celebrities as “themselves.” The movie and most press accounts of the Canteen portray it as a miraculous force for good in the world, which it probably was, but that narrative leaves out a lot, including illicit affairs, a murder, and an FBI investigation whose findings would have an impact on the blacklist of the following decade. 

Show Notes

This episode was a hell of a thing to research. BetteDavis published two autobiographies and both are very, very far from being impartial, but I consulted The Lonely Life a bit, as well as the authorized biography The Girl Who Walks Home Alone by Charlotte Chandler. I’d also recommend the Mysteries and Scandals episode on Davis, mostly to marvel at all of the ways in which A.J. Benza manages to call her a bitch without actually using the word “bitch.” Mark Harris’ Five Came Back was useful, particularly in its shading of the relationship between Davis and William Wyler.

More difficult was nailing down the story of the Hollywood Canteen. Hollywood Canteen: Where the Greatest Generation Danced With the Most Beautiful Girls in The World is as prosaic as its title; at least Hollywood’s propaganda about the Canteen, including the Delmer Daves movie Hollywood Canteen (excerpted in the episode) makes the spin fun. Much, much better is Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen. by Sherrie Tucker — a fascinating, beautifully written and researched study of the Canteen which goes into deep consideration of the social/racial/class/political conflicts enmeshed into this supposedly squeaky-clean nightclub which has become an icon of the supposed uncomplicated patriotism of the generation who fought WWII.

Discography:

Dance of the Stargazer performed by the US Army Blues Band

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Lonely Town performed by Blossom Dearie

Ghost Dance performed by Kevin MacLeod

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

I Knew a Guy by Kevin MacLeod

The Insider Theme by The Insider

5:00 AM by Peter Rudenko

Will be war soon? by Kosta T

Off to Osake by Kevin MacLeod

Balcarabic Chicken by Quantum Jazz

Hi Ho Trailus Bootwhip by Louis Prima and His Orchestra

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

My Country by Tune-Yards

YMRT #19: Raquel Welch, From Pin-up to Pariah by Karina Longworth

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The poster for RaquelWelch's second film,One Million Years B.C., became the top pin-up of the late 1960s, and Welch — a divorced mom of two who had been a cocktail waitress just a few months earlier — found herself in the odd position of being an old-fashioned sex goddess in the age of flower children and feminism. With her unprecedentedly athletic curves, Welch was willing to exploit her natural gifts to some extent, but was adamant about not doing full nudity. Her stubbornness about maintaining control over the representation of her body made her unpopular in an industry which wasn’t interested in anything about her but her body; at the same time, Welch was disdained by contemporary feminists for her sexualized image, even though in several of her films, Welch set the prototype for the modern day action heroine. Fed up at age 40, Welch sued a major Hollywood studio for conspiracy to defame her and end her career.

Show Notes!

When I first recorded this episode, for some reason I kept referring to One Million Years B.C. as One Billion Years B.C. I have no idea why — I wrote it correctly in my script for the show, but somehow was unable to either read it correctly, or notice that I was reading it incorrectly until I started editing the episode. I went back and rerecorded a few lines; if I missed any of the old “Billions,” I apologize. 

This was a deep research week. In addition to Welch’s own, somewhat disappointing book, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, I consulted many, many magazine and newspaper articles, some of which I found only on microfiche, which is not always well labelled. These were the key sources, linked where possible:

“Playboy Interview: RaquelWelch” by Richard Warren Lewis, Playboy, August 1970

“Raquel Redux” by Stephen Rebello. Movieline, August 2001

“Raquel’s Story like Fairy Tale” by Abe Greenwald. Syndicated column. May 7, 1965

“RaquelWelch Won’t Deny She’s Married” by Sheilah Graham, Hollywood Citizen-News (also syndicated elsewhere), August 5, 1966

“OK, OK, But Can She Act?” by Robert Neville. New York Times, September 11, 1966

“Pinup’s Progress,” by Martha Sherrill, Allure, May 1993

“RaquelWelch Interview,” by Maury Levy, Playboy Fashion, Fall/Winter 1982 

“Sex Goddess is Human, After All,” by Joyce Haber. Los Angeles, June 9. 1968

“What’s Troubling RaquelWelch?” by Marilyn Beck. Syndicated (retrieved from the Palm Beach Post, November 16, 1972) 

Also, this is the legal summary of the Cannery Row case which I reference in the episode. 

Mediography:

Excerpt from this excerpt from Myra Breckinridgehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFgHFcxH6Mg

Discography:

“Night City” by Dirty Beaches

“Strange” by Patsy Cline

“You Go To My Head (Instrumental)” performed by Chet Baker

“Sincerely” by The Moonglows

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

“Joe” by Scott Walker

“Money” by Jahzzar

“Bring Down the Birds” by Herbie Hancock

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

“The Wrong Way” by Jahzzar

“Poursuite” from the score to the movie Breathless, by Martial Solal

“Capri” from the score to the movie Contempt, by Georges Delarue

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel

“Gagool” by Kevin MacLeod

“Future Starts Slow” by The Kills

“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab

“What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let’s Watch Jason X” by Chris Zabriskie

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie

“Monte” by comounjardin

“Swimsuit Issue” by Sonic Youth

YMRT #13: Bogey, Before Bacall by Karina Longworth

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Humphrey Bogart is perhaps the most enduring icon of grown-up masculine cool to come out of Hollywood’s first century. But much of what we think of when we think of Bogart — the persona of the tough guy with the secret soft heart, his pairing on-screen and off with Lauren Bacall — coalesced late in Bogart’s life. Today we take a look at how Humphrey Bogart became Bogey, tracing his journey from blue blood beginnings through years of undistinguished work and outright failure (both in the movies and in love), to his emergence in the early 1940s as a symbol of wartime perseverance who could make sacrifice seem sexy. Finally, we’ll look at what it took to get him to take the leap into a fourth marriage that seemed to saved his life … until the world’s most glamorous stoic was faced with cancer. Next week, we’ll present the sequel to this story: Bacall, After Bogey.

Show Notes!

This episode was researched in part at the Warner Brothers Archives at USC. Thanks to Brett Service for inviting me to make use of the Archives and for helping me find what I needed. 

As I noted last week, each episode in this season has some connection to Hollywood Frame by Frame, the book I worked on which compiles previously unseen contact sheets of Hollywood still photographers. The admittedly rather flimsy connection to this week and next week’s episodes is that there are images in the book of Bogart and Bacall on the set of The African Queen. Pre-order the book now! </blatant plug>

There are a lot of biographies of Humphrey Bogart. I’ve flipped through many of them over the years, and I’m not sure there’s a single definitive or really great one. But, the most recent, Stefan Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun, at least does the work of sorting through most of the previously published sources and comparing versions of the truth. Bogey by Clifford McCarty was one of the few film books my parents had around when I was a kid, and it was disappointing to open it during research for this episode and find that it had more pictures than text, although that also makes it pretty emblematic of the wave of Bogey image worship that sprung up in the late-60s and 1970s, which we’ll talk about in next week’s episode.

I became interested in the idea of exploring Bogey’s life before Bacall through City of Nets, Otto Friedrich’s beautifully written book on Hollywood in the 1940s. which dramatizes Bogart’s relationship with his third wife, Mayo Methot. Other sources relevant to this episode include By Myself by Lauren Bacall, Who the Hell’s In Itand Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich, Humphrey Bogart by Nathaniel Benchley, Bogart and Bacall by Joe Hyams, Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life by Slim Keith with Annette Tapert. and finally, the chapter on Bogart in Louise Brooks’ Lulu in Hollywood. After his death, more than one Bogart biographer disputed Brooks’ impressions/interpretations of her old friend Humphrey Bogart, who she insisted was not the same man as the Bogey the world thought they knew. Of course, Brooks’ recollections are self-serving, but I always think first-hand accounts are interesting, especially when they challenge or add shading to a legend. And that’s the thing about Bogartography: for all that’s been written about the man, his life and his work, there still seems to be so little that we actually know. 

Discography

"Intro" by The Big Sleep

"Fourty Four" by The Kills

"Dances and Dames" by Kevin MacLeod

"Out of the Skies, Under the Earth" by Chris Zabriskie

"Divider" by Chris Zabriskie

"Melody" by Serge Gainsbourg

"Love Like a Sunset" by Phoenix

"roughcut" by Tripwire

"Life Round Here" by James Blake

"Your Impersonation This Morning of Me Last Night" by Joan of Arc

"Rite of Passage" by Kevin MacLeod

"For Better or Worse"Chris Zabriskie

"Intelligent Galaxy" by The Insider

"Looped" by Jahzzar

"Shadow of a Doubt" by Sonic Youth

"Cyllinder One" by Chris Zabriskie

"Theresa’s Sound World" by Sonic Youth

"Will Be War Soon?" by Kosta T

"Prelude No. 21" by Chris Zabriskie

"Tikopia" by Kevin MacLeod

"Benbient" by canton

”Don’t Fence Me In,” by Cole Porter, performed by Frank Sinatrac

You Must Remember This Episode 4: (The Printing of) The Legend of Frances Farmer by Karina Longworth

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During the last year of his life, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was obsessed with Frances Farmer, an actress from his hometown of Seattle who died in 1970. Farmer’s beauty and unique screen presence made her a star, but her no-bullshit ballsiness made her a pariah — and a target of the hostile media — in 1930s Hollywood. Farmer’s career went down the tubes in the 1940s when a couple of incidents of inconvenient drunkenness led to her being committed to an insane asylum by her own mother, and given a lobotomy.

Or, so Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, frequently told journalists while Cobain was promoting In Utero, the Nirvana album that includes Cobain’s tribute to the actress, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” (Love also claimed to have been married to Cobain whilst wearing a dress once owned by Farmer, and the couple named their daughter Frances, although that was likely at least co-inspired by Frances McKee of The Vaselines). Unbeknownst to them, the notion that Farmer was lobotomized was a fiction invented by a biographer with ties to Scientology, a lie which was then dramatized in an Oscar-nominated, Mel Brooks-produced movie which helped to make Jessica Lange a star. By the time Kurt and Courtney were championing Farmer as a proto-punk martyr in the 1990s, the legend of Frances Farmer as patron saint of…well, women like Courtney Love, had been printed so many times that it had swallowed up the truth of Farmer’s experience, and loomed much larger than her actual body of movie work. Today we’ll explore how, and why, that legend got printed, and try to explain how Frances Farmer became the patron saint of beautiful, bright, potentially batshit women whose self-destruction can be traced back to their signing of a studio contract.

We have special guest stars! Nora Zehetner (Brick, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men and most recently IFC’s Maron) played Frances Farmer; Brian Clark played Kurt Cobain, and Noah Segan IS Rex Reed.

And now for a few Show Notes:

Farmerology is a tricky field, because each new contributor to the canon seems to make a point of debunking those who came before them…and also quotes those same predecessors as though their works are unchallenged fact. So while the goal of this episode was to explain how and why Frances Farmer’s legend got printed, I’ve also used aspects of that legend (such as clips from the movie Frances) as “evidence.” When in Rome?

The main texts examined in this episode are Shadowland by William Arnold, and Will There Really Be A Morning? by “Frances Farmer.” As explained in the episode, these texts cannot be taken at face value, and the following resources were invaluable in providing additional information and context: 

“Shedding Light on Shadowland” by Jeffrey Kauffman

“Burn All The Liars” by Matt Evans, The Morning News

Frances Farmer: The Life and Films of a Troubled Star by Peter Shelleyhttp://www.amazon.com/Frances-Farmer-Life-Films-Troubled/dp/0786447451

Also cited within and/or relevant:

Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger

“Dark Side of the Womb, Part 2” Melody Maker, August 28, 1993

“Strange Love” Vanity Fair, September 1993

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

In the podcast, I’ve included a quote in which Kurt Cobain admits that he is worried that what happened to Frances Farmer could happen to his wife, Courtney Love. I could do a second episode just on that, but if you’re at all interested in what’s happened to Courtney after Kurt, read Nancy Jo Sales’ excellent November 2011 Vanity Fair profile, “Courtney Love in a Cold Climate.”

Music used in this episode

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Nirvana

“Knife Fights Every Night” by Joan of Arc

“Night City”  by Dirty Beaches 

“Paracosm” by Washed Out

“Lenny Valentino #3” by The Auteurs, remixed by Mu-ziq

“Prelude” by Gene Harris

“ Oh Brother #3” by Joan of Arc

“Pennyroyal Tea [Demo]” by Nirvana

“Rub Til it Bleeds” by PJ Harvey 

“Big Day Coming” by Yo La Tengo

“Asking For It” by Hole

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

You Must Remember This Episode 2: Frank Sinatra in Outer Space by Karina Longworth

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Welcome to the second episode of You Must Remember This, the podcast devoted to exploring the secret and or/forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. Today, we look back to 1979, when — while the music world was full of punk and post-disco coke rock, and the movie world was making the transition from the “New Hollywood” of the ’70s into the blockbuster age — Frank Sinatra recorded Trilogy: Past, Present and Future, a triple album with one disc each devoted to big band standards (“The Past”); covers from “the rock era” including Billy Joel and Beatles songs and also “Theme from New York, New York” (“The Present”); and, most amazingly, a 40 minute song cycle about life, love, death and visiting outer space (“The Future”). We’ll take a look at how and why “The Future” was made, and theorize as to why it’s fallen into the dustbin of pop cultural history.  

Show Notes

Songs

Tracks from Trilogy: Past, Present and Future, performed by Frank Sinatra:

“Let’s Face The Music and Dance”

“Theme from New York New York”

“Something”

“What Time Does the Next Miracle Leave?”

“World War None!”

“The Future” 

“The Future (Continued)”

“The Future (Conclusion)”

“Before the Music Ends”

“Can’t Get Started” performed by Frank Sinatra, from the album No One Cares

“Come Rain or Come Shine” performed by Frank Sinatra, from the album Sinatra and Strings

“New York is My Home” composed by Gordon Jenkins, from Manhattan Tower

“This is It” by Kenny Loggins, from The Essential Kenny Loggins

Other audio

“Jonathan Schwartz’s Good Time” from NPR http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1831872

Bibliography

Sinatra! The Song is You by Will Friedwald 

Why Sinatra Matters by Pete Hamill 

Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins by Bruce Jenkins 

“Frank Sinatra’s Heat-Seeking Missive Finds Two New Targets: a Columnist and a Deejay” by Cherie Burns, PEOPLE Magazine, May 5, 1980 

"Sinatra: The Legend Lives" by Pete Hamill, New York magazine, April 198