The Other Side of the Rainbow

The Other Side of the Rainbow With Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol by Mel Tormé is an account of his time as composer and musical adviser on the 1963 television series “The Judy Garland Show”. The book, published just one year after Garland’s death, has become rather infamous for its catty tone and inaccurate portrayal of the show and the star. I recently bought and read the original 1970 printing of the book (as pictured) after hearing how horrible Tormé was to Garland. Perhaps in 1970, this book was the height of tastelessness, but here in the super-futuristic year of 2007, one hardly blinks an eye. There’s nothing he says about Judy that we haven’t already heard a dozen times over. That said, Tormé’s self-serving faux innocence is immediately apparent. A full two chapters are devoted to Tormé fussing about whether he’ll take the job on “The Judy Garland Show” or not. He discusses it with his manager constantly, and even after learning the show is a huge media event and prestige piece for CBS, he still thinks the show will hurt his career. Tormé, who misses no opportunity to beat his own drum, says he’s in a bit of a career slump because of that darned “three-chord” rock and roll. He approaches publishers with his songs, but they all sadly turn him away, telling him, “Your songs are good, Mel. Too good.” I assure you I am not making this up. Tormé’s naive, clutch-the-pearls-in-surprise attitude permeates his every … Continue reading

Wife Vs. Secretary (1936)

With a title like “Wife Vs Secretary”, one would expect a standard 1930s “woman’s weepy” starring Kay Francis, George Brent, and lots of inappropriate haute couture for everyday wear. Instead, this 1936 film is a charming blend of romantic comedy and drama, fast-paced and with lots of lively dialogue. The film opens with a butler preparing for the day. When the butler goes to wake a second butler, we realize that the man of the house, Van “V.S.” Stanhope (Clark Gable), is so rich that his butler has a butler. V.S. and his wife Linda (Myrna Loy) meet for breakfast — remember, the married rich in 1930s films never slept in the same bedroom — and flirt and coo like newlyweds. V.S. has recently been on an extended fishing trip, and a worried new maid inspires Linda to scold her, saying, “Whether Mr. Stanhope touches his trout or not is no concern of yours.” This fun, entendre-laden dialogue peppers the entire film. The trout in question reveals beautiful diamond jewelry, planted there by V.S. for his lovely wife. V.S., owner of a fashion magazine, returns to his office. There we meet Helen “Whitey” Wilson (Jean Harlow), Stanhope’s indispensable secretary. When Linda arrives to visit Van’s office with Van’s mother in tow, trouble starts. V.S.’ mother is suspicious of a beautiful platinum blonde secretary that Van has given a pet name to. Later, when Linda and V.S. — and yes, I did get the “versus” pun on his name — are … Continue reading

Murder By Television (1935)

Like most of my film entries, this post contains spoilers. “Murder by Television” is a public domain mystery movie, shown occasionally on TCM and available in various compilation sets. This 1935 z-grade flick starring Bela Lugosi is a well-known cult favorite. My first impression of the movie was that it was a very early talkie, possibly made in 1929 or 1930. I was surprised to find it was made as late as 1935; many of the bad elements of early sound movies are present in this low-budget film. There was little music in the soundtrack and I swear I saw props that were hiding microphones. The entire movie was shot with static cameras and stiff-as-a-board actors plastered to their marks. The majority of the characters were rich white folk sporting formal dress and fake British accents. As you can see, they managed to get a cast of men who all look alike. Bravo. There’s quite a bit of confusion about the plot in online reviews of “Murder by Television”, and it’s no wonder. The plot, simply put, stinks. The film is a convoluted whodunnit with what I suppose is a hint of science fiction thrown in the mix, although I am perhaps too kind. The movie begins with James Houghland, an inventor who has created what is essentially satellite television. Arthur Perry (Bela Lugosi) is apparently Houghland’s representative, and knows that some sneaky capitalist swine want to buy Houghland’s invention and make gajillions of dollars. Perry tells the capitalist swine … Continue reading

In the Background: Richard Simmons

Fitness guru Richard Simmons once told A&E’s Biography that he spent time in Italy in his early 20s, and was a bit actor in the 1969 film Fellini Satyricon, an epic tale of decadence and bloodshed populated by hundreds of extras with unique faces and surprising bodies. It’s no surprise that a young, doe-eyed, very large young Simmons would be cast as one of these human decorations. Continue reading