old hollywood

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

YMRT #16: Marlon Brando, 1971-1973 by Karina Longworth

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In the early 1950s, MarlonBrando became the first post-war mega-movie star, redefining screen acting and heralding the end of the star system by refusing to sign a studio contract. But as the studio system fell apart in the 1960s, and a new generation of moviegoers rejected the previous decade’s movie stars, Brando acquired a reputation as box office poison. This is the story of how, with two movies shot in 1971 — The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris — Brando turned his career around. He then spent his regained celebrity capital on an act of social activism that simultaneously drew attention to a good cause, and put Hollywood’s culture of self-adoration in its place. 

Show notes!

Today’s episode features excerpts from a conversation between myself and Austin Wilkin, the archivist for the MarlonBrando Estate. I’ve quoted liberally from Brando's own autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me. Of the many, many Brando biographies, Brando's Smile by Susan L. Mizruchi and MarlonBrando by Patricia Bosworth were the most helpful. I’m not sure how seriously to take Alice Marchak’s two self-published books about her time working as Brando's secretary (Wilkin suggested I take them “with a grain of salt”), but I did base some of the section on the 1972 Oscars on Marchak's More Me and Marlon. I consulted Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls to refresh my memory on some aspects of the making of The Godfather; I’ve also written about that film before.

I was a bit shocked to not be able to find an English-language biography of Bernardo Bertolucci (although maybe I shouldn’t have been). I made do with Bernardo Bertolucci: Interviews, and these twoarticles.

As noted in the podcast, my new book Hollywood Frame by Frame includes images of Brando on the set of The Godfather. The book also includes contact sheets featuring a much younger Brando, on the set of Julius Caesar

Discography:

“Preludes for Piano #2” by George Gershwin

“Exlibris” by Kosta T

“Looped” by Jahzzar

“Feel it All Around” by Washed Out

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

“Rite of Passage” by Kevin Macleod

“Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson

“Be Thankful For What You Got” by Massive Attack

“Blue Lines” by Massive Attack

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie

“Ghost Story” by Versus

“For Better or Worse” by Kai Engel

“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab

“money” by Jahzzar

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy

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 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