noah segan

Star Wars Episode X: Errol Flynn (YMRT #36) by Karina Longworth

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ErrolFlynn arrived in Hollywood in 1934 and almost immediately became a massive star, his swashbuckler-persona propelling many of the decades biggest action hits, from his debut Captain Blood to his signature film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and beyond. Flynn's dashing good looks, put-on posh British accent and life-of-the-party personality masked the fact that he was actually an Australian bounder with a shady past, a history of recurrent malaria and a propensity to avoid reality by any means necessary. Secretly too sick to serve in World War II, Flynn stayed home in Hollywood and instead starred in perhaps the biggest sex scandal of the decade, a rape trial from which Flynn emerged maybe even more beloved than before. And then, twenty years after his alcoholism-aided demise in 1959, Flynn was publicly accused of having been a Nazi spy during the peak of his career. 

Show notes:

Special thanks this week to Noah Segan, who played ErrolFlynn.

The story of ErrolFlynn’s life and career is one of denial and misdirection -- sometimes self-imposed, sometimes mandated by Warner Brothers -- and there’s no more entertaining example of this than Flynn’s autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Composed with a ghost writer during the last year of Flynn's life and published posthumously, Wicked portrays Flynn as a lovable rake, self-destructive and self-deprecating, but somehow heroic throughout. It's a great read. It's also hard to believe. I quoted from it because Flynn is eminently quotable, but brought in other references for most of the facts.

A star as enigmatic, and a man as conflicted, as Flynn will justifiably inspire many, many biographies. Because I couldn't read them all, I relied mostly on The Two Lives of ErrolFlynn, and The Spy Who Never Was by Tony Thomas, which is a rebuttal to Charles Higham's highly controversial ErrolFlynn: The Untold Story, which is the source of the claims that Flynn spied for the Nazis in Hollywood and Europe during World War II. What do I think about Higham's claims? I think he distorted some evidence, and made a few inferential leaps, to give his accusations form. It's hard to believe that Flynn was ignorant of the Nazi ties of his friend Herman Erben (who Flynn calls "Koets" in his autobiography, apparently because Erben couldn't be tracked down by the fact-checkers), but on balance, I think if ErrolFlynn is guilty of anything, it's most likely of having no moral center. Which is pretty bad, but it isn't treasonous. 

Some additional sources: 

Police Plan Further Inquiry Into The Life of Peggy Satterlee.” Reading Eagle, January 21, 1943

Throwback Thursday: ErrolFlynn Stood Trial for Statutory Rape in 1934, Hollywood Reporter, May 1, 2014

Discography:

Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

Single by Everything But the Girl

The Insider Theme by The Insider

Intelligent Galaxy by The Insider

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Faster Does It by Kevin MacLeod

Happy 1984 and 2001 by Joan of Arc

OLPC by Marco Raaphorst

Transparent by Peter Rudenko

Fiery Yellow by Stereolab

Blue Feather by Kevin MacLeod

5:00 by Peter Rudenko

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Benbient by Canton

YMRT #21: The Birth of Barbra Streisand's A Star is Born by Karina Longworth

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There have been four Hollywood films made under the name and/or with the basic story of A Star is Born. The definitive version may be the one starring Judy Garland, directed by George Cukor in 1954; the most reviled version is the one starring Barbra Streisand, made in 1976 and produced by Barbra’s hair dresser-turned-boyfriend Jon Peters. In the middle of the New Hollywood 1970s, when American film was supposedly engaged in a mass project of questioning establishment myths, Streisand and Peters embraced Hollywood’s oldest, most institutionalized myth and appropriated it as a way to build a enormous (and enormously un-self-aware) monument to their own lives and their real-life romance. The result was both a huge success, and a disaster. It paved the way for Streisand’s future directing career and Peters’ future as a Hollywood mogul, while also branding both with bad reputations — partially thanks to an expose on the production of the movie published by its jilted director. 

Show notes!

This was the toughest episode I’ve done to this point, because there are so many stories to tell about Peters, Streisand and the making of this film, and it’s hard to know which of those stories people have heard before, and what background I needed to provide. I probably could have done this episode without summarizing Streisand’s relationship with Elliott Gould, say, or Peters’ post-Columbia struggles, but that stuff is sort of why I was interested in what happened in the middle. In the end, I wrote and rewrote the script many times in the editing.

Nothing in this episode is “secret,” but I think a lot of it has been forgotten, particularly Frank Pierson’s expose on the making of A Star is Born, which was published first in New West magazine, and then in New York magazine. (One thing I couldn’t fit into the episode: at that link, there’s a quote from Barbra about Pierson’s article, which she gave to Geraldo Rivera. Rivera was one of Jon Peters’ best friends.) It’s hard to imagine a world in which such a thing would be possible, for a director to pull back the curtain and reveal what working with a much-more-famous star/producer was really like. It probably couldn’t have happened ten years before, and it definitely wouldn’t have happened ten years after. Sometimes people talk about the New Hollywood era as though the lunatics were running the asylum, and that was never really entirely true — there were always executives, and studios were becoming corporate entities — but it is true that several wormholes of possibility opened. One of those wormholes allowed for unfiltered writing about the making of movies and the people who made them — which of course also has something to do with the ways in which journalism changed in the 1960s and 70s. 

An excellent example is the reporting of Grover Lewis, some of which is collected in the out-of-print, essential, Academy All the Way. In this episode, I referenced Lewis’ 1971 profile of Streisand, “The Jeaning of Barbra Streisand,” which you can also read here

Special thanks to Noah Segan, who played Jon Peters. 

Additional bibliography:

Hit and Run by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? by Rachel Abramowitz

Barbra by Christopher Andersen

It Should Be Called ‘Dickhead’” by Nikki Finke, Deadline Hollywood

Studio Head” by William Stadiem, Vanity Fair

Interview with Joan Didion, Academy of Achievement, 2006

Mediography:

Streisand’s director’s commentary on the 2004 DVD release of A Star is Born was useful for research purposes, and is also excerpted in the episode.

Discography:

“The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born, Instrumental, performed by Warner Brothers Orchestra

“Private Hurricane (Instrumental) by Josh Woodward

“Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand

“Moonlight Saving Me” performed by Blossom Dearie

“Chiado” by Jahzzar

“Holy Thursday” by David Axelrod

“I Was the Fool Beside You For Too Long” by Yo La Tengo

“Money” by Jahzzar

“Funny Lady: How Lucky Can You Get” by The Studio Sound Ensemble

“Make a Wish (For Christmas)” by Lee Rosevere

“Benbient” by canton

“Fiery Yelloe” by Stereolab

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie

“Whole Lotta Love,” performed by Ike and Tina Turner

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

“Dnaces and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“Object Du Desire” performed by James Figurine

“Au coin de la rue” performed by Marco Raaphorst

“Undercover Vampire Policeman” by Chris Zabriskie

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“Intelligent Galaxy” by The Insider

“Inside You” by Eddie Henderson

“Make it Drums” by Daedelus

“Finale: Watch Closely Now” from A Star is Born, performed by Barbra Streisand

YMRT #7: The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, Chapter 1 by Karina Longworth

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The first episode of a multi-part series on the Hollywood romances of Howard Hughes traces Hughes’ arranged marriage at age 18 to Southern society belle Ella Rice; his affairs with silent star Billie Dove and Jean Harlow, who Hughes helped to establish as a sex symbol whose body was used to evoke both money and military might; and his attempt to invent himself as the most powerful independent producer in town, with his directorial debut, Hell’s Angels

Show Notes!

Key research texts this week included Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske; and Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters, by Richard Hack. There were few discrepancies in terms of the way these two books depicted this time period in Hughes’ life, and I take them somewhat more seriously than another book which I mention in the episode, Darwin Porter’s Hell’s Angel: America’s Notorious Bisexual Billionaire (typing this, I’m realizing I got the subtitle slightly wrong in the podcast; sorry!) 

This week, I watched Hell’s Angels for the first time, and was really pleasantly surprised by it. The UCLA restoration currently available on DVD is *gorgeous,” and the dialogue scenes, directed by James Whale, have a kind of vulgar, inelegant honesty to them. 

I wouldn’t consider them direct research materials, but more than nonfiction sources, I picked up the feeling of 1920s Hollywood from a number of novels, including (of course) The Day of the Locust, but also a few lesser-discussed books I’ve read over the past year: The Big Money by John Dos Passos, Hollywood by Gore Vidal, and The Western Coast by Paula Fox. I highly recommend them all. 

As previously noted, this is intended to be the first episode in a multi-part series about Hughes’ Hollywood relationships. Right now the plan is to alternate episodes on Hughes with installments of another series, which I plan to launch next week (however, I’m traveling tomorrow-Monday, so it’s possible my production schedule will get messed up.)

As always, if you like it, put a ring on it by subscribing to and/or rating and reviewing the podcast at iTunes, and tell your friends to follow us on Twitter @rememberthispod

Music

“Ill Build a Stairway to Paradise” performed by Whiteman and his orchestra

“Safe in Heal,” performed by Sonic Youth

“Paris,” performed by Dirty Beaches

“S’Wonderful,” performed by Eddie Condon and his orchestra

“Summertime,” performed by the Sidney Bechtet Quintet

“Shadow of a Doubt,” performed by Sonic Youth

“Frelon Brun,” performed by Miles Davis 

“Life Round Here,” by James Blake

“Keechie,” by No Age

“The Man I Love,” performed by Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France

"Skeletons," by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"Dramamine," by Sebadoh

"Fogbow," by Joan of Arc

"A Foggy Day," performed by Cyril Grantham with Geraldo and his orchestra

"Cemetary Party," by Air

"Drippy Eye," performed by Black Moth Super Rainbow

"Zoetrope," by Boards of Canada

"Alice," by Sunn O)))

"Big Louise," by Scott Walker

"With Plenty of Money and You," performed by Tony Bennett

"I Got Plenty of Nuthin’," performed by Avon Long

"Baby Vampire Made Me," by Helium

"Girl/Boy Song," by Aphex Twin

"This Hollywood Life," by The London Suede