star wars

Star Wars Episode XVI: Van Johnson by Karina Longworth

Van Johnson

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Join us, for the final episode in our Star Wars series (for now). VanJohnson was MGM’s big, all-american heartthrob during World War II, an one of the most reliably bankable stars in Hollywood, on and off, for over a decade. On screen, Johnson embodied bland, unthreatening, boyishness. Off-screen, he was an introvert with a mysterious personal life, and by 1947, Van’s lack of a lady friend was becoming a distraction. In a bizarre effort at damage control, Van married his best friend’s wife — on the same day as their divorce. 

Show Notes:

This is the sixteenth and final episode in our Star Wars series. At least, for now -- I'd like to return to the concept later, but transpose it to other wars. We'll also be revisiting the lives and careers of people like Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne in a future series on the blacklist. 

This episode was requested on our forums by “Marc” way back in January, when the Star Wars series first began. Marc had made a note in the forums about the “VanJohnson marriage switch,” which I had never heard of before. I had knownJohnson as the rather milquetoast co-star/romantic lead in musicals like The Shop Around the Corner. (I did like him in the Fitzgerald adaptation The Last Time I Saw Paris, although that movie suffers from the problems a lot of adaptions of great 20th century literature suffered from under the production code.) But I somehow missed the stories about Johnson’s marriage, as well as the flurry of writing that followed his death in 2008. While the New York Times obit suggests Johnson married Evie Wynn against the wishes of MGM, manyotherwritings in concert with Johnson's death noted that Johnson was widely acknowledged to be gaypositioning the marriage as a studio-ordered cover-up.

The above linked posts helped me find the books which I based this episode on, all of which are great reads: We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills by Ned Wynn, VanJohnson: MGM's Golden Boy by Ronald L. Davis, and Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer.

Thanks for listening for these sixteen weeks! We'll be on hiatus for the next three weeks, so this might be a good time for you to explore our archives. Here are some of my favorite episodes that you might have missed:

Kay Francis, 1930s party girl par excellence

Isabella Rossellini in the 1990s

Low-budget horror pioneer Val Lewton

Ida Lupino, groundbreaking female film director

The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland

Discography:

Faster Does It by Kevin MacLeod

Gymnopedie No 2, by Eric Satie, performed by by Kevin MacLeod

Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod

Money by Jahzzar

Impossible Bouquet by No Age

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie

Celebrity Skin by Hole

Star Wars Episode XV: Why John Wayne Didn’t Sign Up by Karina Longworth

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No actor on movie screens in the 1940s embodied American patriotism and unpretentious masculinity better than JohnWayne, whose career was revitalized in 1939 with John Ford’s groundbreaking western, Stagecoach. But Wayne didn’t have the defining experience of most adult American men of the 1940s — though he played uniformed men in several movies, off-screen Wayne didn’t enlist to serve in World War II. We’ll talk about the motivations Wayne had to stay home, from his relatively late-blooming stardom to his affairs with Marlene Dietrich and the prostitute he ultimately married; Wayne’s relationship with decorated veteran Ford and their uneasy collaboration on the film They Were Expendable; and the connection between Wayne’s lack of military service and his later right-wing activism. 

Show Notes:

Aside from being a casual fan of movies like The Quiet Man and The Searchers, I knew very little about JohnWayne before deciding to include him in this Star Wars series. In not knowing where to start with learning about one of the greatest, most controversially mythic stars of the 20th century, I decided to compare and contrast two biographies published within months of one another: Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching For JohnWayne, and JohnWayne: The Life and Legendby Scott Eyman. I chose Eliot's book specifically because there was a Daily Mail story last year which used it to back up claims that Wayne avoided the war because he was so in love with Marlene Dietrich. But I didn't actually find that assertion in Eliot's book, at least not in any kind of literal way. It seems like it was a willful mis-inference on the part of the British tabloid. 

UPDATE, 4/21/15, 9:11 AM: I can't believe I forgot to include Mark Harris' Five Came Back in this episode's bibliography! It is the first place I learned of John Ford's disapproval of Wayne's approach to the war, so it's more responsible for this episode than any other source.  

Discography:

I’m Not Dreaming (Instrumental) by Josh Woodward

Keechie by No Age

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Falling In Love Again performed by Marlene Dietrich 

Gagool by Kevin MacLeod

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Let’s Call it a Day performed by Marlene Dietrich 

Star Wars Episode XIII: Walt Disney by Karina Longworth

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As the creator of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the inventor of the sophisticated feature-length animated film feature, Walt Disney changed Hollywood and brought millions of children and adults boundless joy. And yet, Disney’s legacy is marred by the common perception that he was also a racist, misogynist and anti-semite. In this episode, we will attempt to reconcile the Walt Disney who turned his studio over to the US government and military during World War II for the creation of training films and anti-Nazi propaganda, with the Walt Disney who repeatedly associated himself with anti-Semites and their causes, and whose prolonged battle with unions left him embittered and determined to rid Hollywood of what he perceived of as the scourge of communism.

Show notes:

Special thanks to our special guest, Mark Olsen, who played Walt Disney.

The starting point for this episode was the speech given by Meryl Streep at the National Board of Review awards dinner in January 2014, in which she detoured from a tribute to Saving Mister Banks star Emma Thompson to call out WaltDisney for being a “gender bigot” who “had some racist proclivities.” While some stepped up to defend Disney against these allegations (see particularly this post by Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew), it felt as though the general reaction online ranged from unquestioning enthusiasm (Vanity Fair put the phrase "best speech ever" in the URL of their article) to unquestioning shrugs, as though Streep was merely saying out loud a truism that a lot of people thought was old news. At the same time, I knew that whatever he felt personally, Disney’s animation studio had been active in using their characters to drum up support for World War II and, particularly, distaste for Hitler and the Nazis. Then, shortly after Streep’s speech, in researching Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here for an essay I wrote for the film’s recent UK DVD release, I came across some information about Walt’s 1941 visit to South America in indirect support of what would soon be known as the Allied cause. Then, a couple of months ago, I came across a new book called Disney During World War II. Written by John Baxter and commissioned/published by Disney themselves, this book isn’t pure puff piece — it’s particularly critical of Walt’s interest in Victory Through Air Power — but it doesn’t go near the allegations articulated by Streep. I figured these different versions of who WaltDisney was and what he believed would be fertile territory for exploration.

This episode includes audio clips from Der Fuehrer's FaceThe New Spirit and The Three Caballeros.

Other sources:

WaltDisney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

In Defense of Walt: WaltDisney and Anti-Semitism

WaltDisney’s grandniece backs up Meryl Streep’s racism claims: ‘Anti-Semite? Check. Misogynist? OF COURSE!!!

The full text of Ayn Rand's Screen Guide for Americans

Discography:

Life Round Here by James Blake

Air Hockey Saloon by Chris Zabriskie

I Want to Fall in Love on Snapchat by Chris Zabriskie

The Sorcerer's Apprentice, by Paul Dukas, performed by Leopold Stowkowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Intelligent Galaxy by The Insider

Private Hurricane by Josh Woodward

Readers! Do You Read? by Chris Zabriskie

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Gymnopedie No. 3 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

Money by Jahzzar

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Snow Drop by Kevin MacLeod

Passing Fields by Quantum Jazz

All of My Tears by Spiritualized

Something Against You by The Pixies

Star Wars Episode XII: Bob Hope vs. Bing Crosby by Karina Longworth

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 Bob Hope is remembered as the 20th century celebrity most devoted to entertaining the troops. Bing Crosby, Hope’s partner on seven Road to… films, sang the song that became an unlikely alternate national anthem during World War II. This is the story of Hope and Crosby’s partnership, their rivalry, and the different ways they endeared themselves to the boys overseas. Included: Hope’s embrace of multi-media celebrity and his mastery of hosting the Oscars; and Crosby’s road from drunk driving to blackface, to being voted the most admired man in America.

Show notes:

I debated whether to make this one episode or two, and ultimately I decided to combine them because a) there was maybe not enough to material to do a standalone show on Crosby, and b) I frankly didn’t have enough enthusiasm to do a standalone show on Hope. But in going the double-episode route, I made the decision to condense the section on the Road to… films, in order to include a section on Holiday Inn. I did this primarily because I really enjoy Holiday Inn, but also because the things about it that are problematic (cough, blackface) also peg the film to its exact time in a way that seemed worth exploring within this series, which is all about what Hollywood was like during this specific moment when the makeup of the planet was under threat. 

This week’s primary texts were Richard Zoglin’s recent Bob Hope biography Hope: Entertainer of the CenturyJody Rosen’s book on "White Christmas"; and the American Masters documentaryBing Crosby: Rediscovered, directed by Robert Trachtenberg.  This episode contains clips from the films Going Hollywood (this video clip is incredible, I highly recommend it) and Holiday Inn, and this clip of BobHope hosting the Oscars.

This LA Times article recaps the details of Crosby’s DUI arrest.

Discography:

Love Walked in performed by the Louis Armstrong Orchestra

Thanks for the Memory performed by BobHope and Shirley Ross

Balcarabic Chicken by Quantum Jazz

Dances and Dames by Kevin MacLeod

Two Fat Feet by Fiery Furnaces

Rub Alcohol Blues by Fiery Furnaces

Barbara performed by US Army Blues

White Christmas by Irving Berlin, performed by Bing Crosby

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

OLPC  by Marco Raaphorst

Danse Morialta by Kevin MacLeod

Silent Lucidity by Queensryche

White Christmas performed by Otis Redding

Star Wars Episode XI: Charlie Chaplin by Karina Longworth

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The most successful film of Charlie Chaplin’s career was also the most controversial: in The Great Dictator, Chaplin viciously satirized Hitler before the US entered World War II, and the comedy helped rally a previously war-shy American public. We’ll explore the connections between Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, and explain why most of Hollywood tried to stop The Great Dictator from being made. Then we’ll switch gears to discuss how Chapin’s wartime activism and his troubled personal life collided to benefit J. Edgar Hoover, who spent thirty years trying to prove that Chaplin was dangerously un-American. 

Show Notes:

The impetus for this episode was a documentary produced and aired by TCM, which I first saw about a year ago, called The Tramp and the Dictator. The film was co-directed by Michael Kloft and the great silent film historian Kevin Brownlow (if you haven't seen his series Hollywood, on the silent era, find it and watch it post haste), and it tells the story of how and why Chaplin made The Great Dictator, using previously unseen material shot on the set of the film. I thought it would be interesting to contrast this aspect of Chaplin's war experience with the section of City of Nets in which Otto Friedrich describes Chaplin's personal life and the scandals it caused during the war years as a kind of prelude to the legal issues that would get him thrown out of the US a few years later. 

 

Additional Bibliography:

Chaplin's War Trilogy: An Evolving Lens in Three Dark Comedies, 1918-1947 by Wes D. Gehring

Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics  By Steven J. Ross

CharlieChaplin: Jewish or Goyish?

Audio excerpts from The Tramp and The Dictator and The Great Dictator via YouTube

Discography:

Preludes for Piano #2 by George Gershwin

Wonder Cycle by Chris Zabriskie

Benbient by Canton

Exlibris by Kosta T

Gagool by Kevin MacLeod

Devastation and Revenge by Kevin MacLeod

I Need to Start Writing Things Down by Chris Zabriskie

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod

I Know a Guy by Kevin MacLeod

Robocop by Kanye West

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

Star Wars Episode IX: John Huston and Olivia De Havilland (YMRT #35), with Special Guest Rian Johnson by Karina Longworth

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She was the raven-haired beauty whose lily-white persona was forged by her supporting roles in Gone With the Wind and several Errol Flynn swashbucklers. He was the real-life swashbuckler, the heroic lover/drinker/fighter whose directorial debut,The Maltese Falcon, was an enormous success. They met when Huston directed de Havilland in his second film, In This Our Life, and began an affair which would continue, on and off, through the decade, as he joined the Army and made several controversial documentaries exposing dark aspects of the war experience, and as she waged a war of her own, taking Warner Brothers to court to challenge the indentured servitude of the star contract system. De Havilland’s lawsuit went all the way to the California Supreme Court, and had massive implications on the future of labor in Hollywood and beyond. 

Show Notes:

Special thanks this week to Rian Johnson, who played John Huston.

Olivia de Havilland is still alive, living in France and, judging by her most recent interview, she’s still, at nearly 99 years old, lucid and fascinating. I should note that in that linked interview, which I came across after finishing this episode, De Havilland says she and Errol Flynn never actually got together despite a mutual attraction. In talking briefly about their supposed affair in this episode, I probably should have used a qualifier like “reported." There are, in fact, many reports suggesting that the pair did have an off-screen relationship; still, I can’t think of any reason why we should doubt a 98 year old woman when she insists that the hot affair that she is rumored to have had 65 years earlier didn’t actually happen. That said, she can protest all she wants, but the idea that she and Flynn were lovers is so pervasive that, true or otherwise, it’s part of Olivia De Havilland’s legacy in the collective imaginary. And that’s what we do on this podcast: talk about myths, legacies, and the collective imaginary.

Certainly, most of what John Huston has said about his own life should be assumed to be some kind of spin or exaggeration, although in his case he’s more likely to invent affairs that didn’t happen than downplay reports that one did. Huston’s entertaining autobiography An Open Book was a source for this episode, but weighed with a grain of salt against Lawrence Grobel’s The HustonsJohn Huston: Courage and Art by Jeffrey Meyers; and Mark Harris’ Five Came Back, which goes into much further detail on Huston’s war documentaries, and particularly the stagings of The Battle of San Pietro, than I was able to include here. 

As far as I can tell, there has not been a biography devoted solely to De Havilland. There is Robert Matzen’s Errol and Olivia, which I flipped through but didn't really put much stock in, as it's obsessed with the idea of a Flynn/De Havilland affair to the point of distraction. I did not bother with Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine by Charles Higham, because Higham is a controversial figure involved in next week's episode, but when I inevitably do an episode on Olivia and her sister Joan, I'm sure I'll look into it.

To fill in the gaps, I relied on two articles buried deep in the files at the Margaret Herrick Library: “In the State of California De Havilland vs Warner Brothers: A Trial Decision That Marked a Turning Point” by J.L. Leck, American Classic Screen Magazine, May/June 1982; and a transcript of talk with students De Havilland gave at AFI’s Institute for Advanced Film Studies, on October 23, 1974. I also watched the Huston episode of Creativity with Bill Moyers, and listened to the audiobook of the first few chapters of Anjelica Huston's memoir, A Story Lately Told.

Discography:

The Simple Complex by Uncle Bibby

Private Hurricane (Instrumental version) by Josh Woodward

The Wrong Way by Jahzzar

Gymnopedie No. 3 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin McacLeod

Tara by Roxy Music

In This Our Life opening titles score by Max Stiener, performed by the National Philharmonic

Readers! Do You Read? by Chris Zabriskie

Dances and dames by Kevin MacLeod

Laserdisc by Chris Zabriskie

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Melancholy Aftersounds by Kai Engel

Slim Fitting by Glass Boy

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Air Hockey Saloon by Chris Zabriskie

I’m Not Dreaming (Instrumental version) by Josh Woodward

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ performed by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood

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

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”

Star Wars Episode VI: Marlene Dietrich at War (YMRT #32) by Karina Longworth

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German actress/singer Marlene Dietrich — famous for her revolutionarily ambiguous, highly glamorous sexual libertine persona, as displayed on-screen during the 1930s in films like Morocco and Shanghai Express — was embedded with the Allies during World War II as a performer, propagandist, and de facto intelligence agent. We’ll explore how and why this happened, why the experience left Dietrich depressed and financially destitute, and how Billy Wilder convinced Marlene to play a Nazi sympathizer in the filmmaker’s attempt to make a post-war Hollywood propaganda film, A Foreign Affair. Also: a few of Dietrich’s many affairs with co-stars such as John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, her plot to kill Hitler, and the FBI investigation that tried (and failed) to prove that Dietrich was a German spy.

Show Notes:

A Foreign Affair, which I discuss in the episode and highly recommend, is not on DVD. I first saw it in a rep house in Paris two years ago, and then found a copy on VHS while I was working on this episode. The short clip I included in this episode comes from the radio version of the film, which is on YouTube.

To keep things interesting, this week two of my sources, though very different books, both have the same title. Dietrich’s own autobiography Marlene, first published in 1989, claims to set the record straight on all of the previous books written about her, which she insists are rubbish. She’s so persuasive on this matter that I ignored all other books published while she was alive, and focused on Marlene: A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler, who spent some time with Dietrich in the 1970s and also interviewed many of her friends and lovers, but held back publishing her book until 2011, long after Dietrich’s death. 

In looking for information on the making of A Foreign Affair, I discovered two books new to me: Charles Brackett’s diary of working with Wilder, It’s the Pictures That Got Small; and A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder’s American Films by Gerd Gemunden. I found the former to be almost too bitchy, and the latter to be a little academic but very useful in its detailing of Wilder’s wartime and post-war experience.

Two other sources worth mentioning, both of which I read years ago but did not consult directly this week: Josef von Sternberg’s memoir Fun in a Chinese Laundry, and Gaylyn Studlar’s book on Sternberg and Dietrich’s collaborations, In the Realm of Pleasure.

The bit about Dietrich’s FBI file comes from this Guardian story, and details on Operation Muzak and other aspects of Dietrich’s war experience come from this article on the CIA’s own website.

Discography:

You Go to My Head performed by Marlene Dietrich

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Give Me The Man performed by Marlene Dietrich

Assez performed by Marlene Dietrich

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Benbient by Canton

Lili Marlene performed by Marlene Dietrich

Prelude No. 21 by Chris Zabriskie

Look Me Over Closely performed by Marlene Dietrich

Black Market performed by Marlene Dietrich

Gymnopedie No.3 by Eric Satie

Illusions performed by Marlene Dietrich 

Star Wars Episode V: Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles (YMRT #31) by Karina Longworth

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Margarita Cansino went to work at age 12, pretending to be her father’s wife so that the pair could get work as a dance team in Mexican nightclubs. Within a decade, chubby, visibly Hispanic wallflower Margarita had been transformed into Rita Hayworth — the quintessential all-American sex goddess of the World War II era. At the peak of Hayworth’s stardom, she fell in love with and married writer/director/actor/radio personality/magician Orson Welles. The glamour girl and the boy genius were happy together, for awhile — as long as both bought into a utopian plot they had cooked up to leave Hollywood. When that soured, the couple broke up…and then made a movie together, The Lady From Shanghai, in which Welles distorted their failed relationship into a bad-romance masterpiece.  

Show notes:

Special thanks to Larry Herold, who played Orson Welles — and the many others who auditioned to play Orson Welles

This episode was initially inspired by the succinct, beautifully written description of Cansino/Hayworth’s transformation/rise to fame in Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets. The other key sources for this episode were Barbara Leaming’s If This Was Happiness, which seems to be the only substantive biography of Hayworth (I would say it’s time for a new one, but Leaming’s book is the rare star biography which seems to lack glaring distortions or omissions); My Lunches with Orson by Henry Jaglom and Peter Biskind; and Simon Kellow’s Hello, Americans! Regarding the latter, I would have loved to have fleshed out Orson Welles’ South American misadventures, but I figured it would be best to save that for a future episode of its own.

There is a clip in the episode from The Lady From Shanghai, excerpted from this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qay6OgDXfT0

Discography:

This episode includes several songs from the White Stripes album Get Behind Me Satan, which was apparently inspired in part by RitaHayworth. Two songs on the record mention her by name; the title another, "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" — which I’ve used as the closing song of the episode — is basically an echo of Orson Welles’ emotional turn away from Hayworth, once she had fully invested herself in him.

Keeps on a Rainin’ (Papa Can’t Make No Time) by Billie Holiday

I Knew a Guy by Kevin MacLeod

Fiery Yellow by Stereolab

Calabash by Co-fee

Je t’aime…Mon non plus au motel by Serge Gainsbourg

The Hardest Button to Button by The White Stripes

Cups by Underworld

The Nurse by The White Stripes

Laserdisc by Chris Zabriskie

Dance of the Stargazer by the US Army Blues

Cylinder One by Chris Zabriskie

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Danse Morialta by Kevin MacLeod

Passing Fields by Quantum Jazz

Wonder Cycle by Chris Zabriskie

White Moon by the White Stripes

Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) by the White Stripes

Star Wars Episode IV: Gene Tierney (Or, The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, Chapter 5) by Karina Longworth

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On-screen, gorgeous brunette actress Gene Tierney helped to invent the femme fatale in movies like Laura and Leave Her to Heaven, and off-screen, she had serious romances with four of the great playboys of the 20th century: John F. Kennedy, Howard Hughes, Prince Aly Khan and costume/fashion designer Oleg Cassini. So how did she end up, at age 38, standing on a ledge fourteen floors above 57th Street, wondering what her body would look like on the pavement if she were to jump? The answer to that question begins at the Hollywood Canteen.

Show notes:

This episode is technically a cross-over between our Star Wars series and our most long-running series, TheManyLoves of Howard Hughes. I haven’t found a Hughes biographer who categorizes Tierney as one of the aviator’s great loves, but like Ida Lupino, Tierney was a woman who moved in and out of Hughes’ life over the course of a couple of decades. And, like Lupino, Tierney was a sometime lover who benefitted from Hughes’ largesse, but also saw it get in the way of a marriage. 

But this episode had to be told from Gene Tierney’s perspective, and not Howard Hughes’ — or Oleg Cassini’s, or John F. Kennedy’s — and so while there are plenty of books one could read about Gene’s various lovers, my primary source was Tierney’s own autobiography, Self-Portrait. Are all celebrity autobiographies inherently suspect and probably at least partially fiction? Of course! But Tierney’s book is so compelling, and her story so inherently tragic, that it almost seems like bad form to fact-check her version of it. 

Special thanks to Noah Segan, who reprised his role as Howard Hughes. 

Discography:

Wonder Cycle by Chris Zabriskie

Tikopia by Kevin MacLeod

Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod

Take Good Care of it by Spiritualized

Will Be War Soon? by Kosta T

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Honestly Now by Joan of Arc

Glamorous Glue by Morrissey

Cylinder One by Chris Zabriskie

This is a Low by Blur

Star Wars Episode III: Hedy Lamarr (YMRT #29) by Karina Longworth

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Hedy Lamarr was a pioneer in more ways than one. After inventing the movie sex scene scandal as the Austrian teenage star of the banned film Ecstasy, she gave up acting to become a trophy wife to a Fascist arms dealer. Then, on the brink of world war, she fled her marriage, hopped a boat to New York, and talked her way into a contract at MGM. In Hollywood, the exotic Hedy was held up as a fresh new face in contrast to the "box office poison" girls of the late 1930s. With her first Hollywood film, Algiers, Lamarr became a major star, and the so-called "most beautiful girl in the world" had a promising career ahead of her. But she was bored in Hollywood, and in the midst of World War II, she used her free time to co-invent a radio-control technology meant for 1940s-era torpedoes, which would ultimately pave the way for cell phones, wifi, bluetooth, and drone warfare. She also accumulated six ex-husbands, stumbled onto an inventing partner through her quest to increase the size of her breasts, publicly disowned her own autobiography, sued Mel Brooks for making fun of her, and got arrested and tried for shoplifting from a Beverly Hills department store a full decade before Winona Ryder was even born.

Bibliography:

Hedy Lamarr is not exactly a household name these days, but there has been enough interest over the past 25 years in her contributions to our wireless culture that I wanted to make sure I wasn't simply retreading familiar territory. The good news is that her life encompassed so much that there would be enough for a full episode even if I had left out her her groundbreaking invention (and in fact, after this episode was in the can, I regretted somewhat not going into more detail about her later marriages, particularly the one to Howard Lee, who divorced Hedy and immediately married Gene Tierney -- the subject of next week's episode). The bad news is that most modern-day sources of information about Hedy both acknowledge that her autobiography Ecstasy and Me was fictionalized by its ghost writer, and also reiterate stories told in that autobiography as though the source's reliability isn't in question. In this episode, I quote from Ecstasy in order to talk about Hedy's opposition to the book, but I tried to find other sources to back up its version of events elsewhere. The two most significant other sources (although both are, at times, guilty of sourcing from Ecstasy and Me) were Hedy's Folly by Richard Rhodes (which isn't very interested in Hedy's movies, or any aspect of her life outside of her inventions, but gets credit for having one of the best book covers of all time), and Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer.

Discography:

Preludes for Piano No. 1 by George Gershwin

A Froggy Day performed by Cyril Grantham and his orchestra

Goodbye Emmanuelle by Serge Gainsbourg, performed by Tricky

Stars by Warpaint

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Sleeping with the TV On by Double Dagger

White by Frank Ocean

Man O’ War by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

OLPC by Marco Raaphorst

The Operation by Morrissey

The Waxen Pith by Aphex Twin

 Oh, Lady Be Good performed by Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra

No Joy in Mudville by Death Cab For Cutie

Dark Paradise by Lana Del Rey

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Cylinder One by Chris Zabriskie

The Future by Prince 

Star Wars Episode II: Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (YMRT #28) by Karina Longworth

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After struggling to find her niche in Hollywood, Carole Lombard came into her own in the mid-1930s first as the queen of screwball comedy, and then as romantic partner to the star dubbed The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable. When the US entered World War II, to the chagrin of her stoic husband, Lombard immediately volunteered their services to FDR, and the actress ended up spearheading the first of many Hollywood whistle stop tours to sell bar bonds. Hurrying back from that tour, Lombard died in an awful plane crash, leaving a guilt- and grief-ridden Gable behind. In the traumatic aftermath of his beloved wife’s death, Gable — the epitome of Hollywood's idea of unimpeachable masculinity -- had a physical and emotional breakdown. In his despair, the 41 year-old Gable had strings pulled so that he could join the army to fight against Hitler -- a huge Gable fan who reportedly became desperate to capture the actor while he was flying combat missions over Germany.

Bibliography: 

My main sources for this episode were Robert Matzen’s book on Lombard’s life and the investigation into her death, Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3; Garson Kanin’s memoir Hollywood, which includes a wonderful chapter on Lombard; City of Nets by Otto Friedrich; and the Gable biography Long Live the King by Lyn Tornabene. I was not able to find copies of two books by Warren Harris, Gable and Lombard and Clark Gable: A Biography (and actually, at the Hollywood branch of the LA Public Library, the librarian told me both had been stolen). And I didn’t realize until after I finished the episode that there was a biopic about the pair made in 1976, starring James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh. You can watch it on Amazon Instant Video; I can’t tell you whether or not you should. 

This episode includes an audio clip from Nothing Sacred (1937), directed by William Wellman.

Discography: 

Preludes for Piano No. 1 by George Gershwin

Little Room by The White Stripes

All of My Tears by Spirituaized

Motoroller Scalatron by Stereolab

Faster Does It by Kevin MacLeod

Gagool by Kevin MacLeod

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

Prelude No. 21 by Chris Zabriskie

Off to Osaka by Kevin MacLeod

Dances and Dames by Kevin MacLeod

Transparent by Peter Rudenko

Most At Home in Motels by Joan of Arc

Rock My Boat (Roger O’Donnell mix) by DNTEL

Rock My Boat by DNTEL

Cylinder One by Chris Zabriskie

Gymnopedie No. 3 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

I’d Die Without You by PM Dawn

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