Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BORN ON THIS DAY: LENA HORNE

One of the most beautiful and most talented of the African American singers to come out of the 1930s was the great Lena Horne. Her recordings, especially the ones from 1940s and 1950s showed what a mega talent she was. Sadly, during her short movie career and even monumental singing career, she faced prejudice and racism that complicated her legacy. Lena Horne was born on this day in 1917.

Lena Horne was born in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Reportedly descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of European American, Native American, and African-American descent, and belonged to the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated people.

Her father, Edwin Fletcher "Teddy" Horne, Jr. (1892–1970), a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade, left the family when she was three and moved to an upper-middle-class black community in the Hill District community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Edna Louise Scottron (1895–1985), daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre troupe and traveled extensively. Scottron's maternal grandmother, Amelie Louise Ashton, was a Senegalese slave. Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.


When Horne was five, she was sent to live in Georgia. For several years, she traveled with her mother. From 1927 to 1929 she lived with her uncle, Frank S. Horne, Dean of Students at Fort Valley Junior Industrial Institute (now part of Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia, who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From Fort Valley, southwest of Macon, Horne briefly moved to Atlanta with her mother; they returned to New York when Horne was 12 years old. She then attended Girls High School, an all-girls public high school in Brooklyn that has since become Boys and Girls High School; she dropped out without earning a diploma. Aged 18, she moved in with her father in Pittsburgh, staying in the city's Little Harlem for almost five years and learning from native Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine, among others.

In the fall of 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade starring Adelaide Hall, who took Lena under her wing. A few years later Horne joined Noble Sissle's Orchestra, with which she toured and with whom she recorded her first record release, a 78rpm single issued by Decca Records. After she separated from her first husband, Horne toured with bandleader Charlie Barnet in 1940–41, but disliked the travel and left the band to work at the Café Society in New York. She replaced Dinah Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. More hit records and a contract with MGM would follow in 1942. The rest of Lena Horne's life, both good and bad, is musical history...


Friday, June 26, 2015

RECENTLY VIEWED: JURASSIC WORLD

Now that I have two young children, I have not seen a grown up movie in the movie theater since 2010's comedy Date Night. A lot has changed in five years and mostly the prices. So for Father's Day my wife talked me into going to see the new film Jurassic World. I went by myself, but I am glad I did. I saw the first Jurrassic Park movie in the movie theaters as a teenager, and I have seen each additional sequel as well, and I had to see this newest film.

This is the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park film series. The screenplay was co-written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, and Trevorrow. The film stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, and Irrfan Khan. Wong is the only actor from any of the previous films to appear in the film. Set 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World takes place on the same fictional island of Isla Nublar, where a now fully-functioning dinosaur theme park has been in operation for ten years. The park, however, plunges into chaos as a genetically-modified dinosaur named Indominus Rex breaks loose and runs rampant across the island.


Universal Pictures initially intended to begin production on a fourth film in 2004 for a summer 2005 release, but endured over a decade of "development hell" as scheduled release dates were pushed back several times while the script went through revisions. Steven Spielberg, director of the first two Jurassic Park films, acted as executive producer, as he had for the third film. Thomas Tull also acted as executive producer; his production company, Legendary Pictures, funded approximately 20 percent of the film's budget. The film was produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley, and was released by Universal on June 10, 2015 in European countries, June 11 in Australia, India and Malaysia, and June 12 in North America.


I was a huge fan of actor Chris Pratt from his television work on Parks And Recreations from 2009 to 2015. As for Bryce Dallas Howard, I actually saw her in the 2004 movie The Village. I was worried that this movie would be silly and repetitive. Even though this is the fourth movie in the series, it was just about better than the first one. There were lots of nods and references to the first movie, and one minor star BD Wong from this first movie actually had a huge role in this film. Very rarely can a sequel, some twenty-two years after the original brief life in a film series, but they managed to do that with Jurassic World. I don't want to reveal too many plot details, but I highly recommend this movie. I am lucky that I have a wonderful wife who would let me relive my child hood for at least 120 minutes to watch this great popcorn film...

MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

PAST OBITS: ALICE FAYE

Here is the NY Times obituary for the underrated musical actress Alice Faye from May 10, 1998. She was a wonderful entertainer - both as a singer and as an actress...


Alice Faye, Hollywood Star Who Sang for Her Man, Is Dead
By ALJEAN HARMETZ


Alice Faye, one of the few movie stars to walk away from stardom at the peak of her career, died yesterday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was in her mid-80's.

The cause was cancer, according to her publicity company, Jewel Baxter, which said she had had two stomach tumors removed last month.

Ms. Faye's warm, husky contralto and demure sexuality in ''Tin Pan Alley,'' ''Hello, Frisco, Hello'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' made her one of Hollywood's top 10 moneymaking stars in 1938 and 1939. Under contract to 20th Century Fox for a little over a decade, during which she made 32 movies, Ms. Faye walked out in 1945 after Darryl Zanuck, the studio's leader, chopped up her scenes in ''Fallen Angel'' to highlight the performance of a younger Fox star, Linda Darnell.

Ms. Faye handed the keys to her dressing room to the studio gate guard and drove off the lot.

''When I stopped making pictures,'' she told an interviewer in 1987, ''it didn't bother me because there were so many things I hadn't done. I had never learned to run a house. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to shop. So all these things filled all those gaps.''


It was that attitude of taking life as it came without shaking her fist at fate that informed many of her screen performances. She was the honest, good-hearted girl who stood by her man. And when that man did her wrong, her response was to sing a torch song and love him harder. Off screen she had an unlikely but happy marriage to the brash band leader Phil Harris, whom she married in 1941. Hollywood gossip columnists gave the marriage six months, but it lasted 54 years, until Mr. Harris's death at the age of 91 in 1995. They had lived for many years in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.

Ms. Faye, whose original name was Alice Leppert, was the daughter of a New York City policeman and grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Although some books list her birth date as 1912, she insisted she was born in 1915 but had lied about her age when she joined the Chester Hale vaudeville troupe at 13.

After several years in the chorus, Alice Faye, still a teen-ager, got a job on Broadway in ''George White's Scandals of 1931,'' which starred Ethel Merman, Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee. She sang ''Mimi'' at a cast party, and Mr. Vallee hired her as a singer on his radio show. When ''Scandals'' was made into the Fox film ''George White's Scandals of 1934,'' Ms. Faye replaced Lillian Harvey as Mr. Vallee's love interest. Mr. Vallee's wife sued for divorce, naming Ms. Faye as his love interest off screen as well.


Fox put Ms. Faye under contract and presented her as a brassy imitation Jean Harlow in movies like ''She Learned About Sailors'' and ''King of Burlesque.'' After Mr. Zanuck's 20th Century Films merged with Fox in 1935, the studio softened her image. Jack Kroll of Newsweek once called her ''a luscious marshmallow sundae of a girl,'' and her ripe figure fit the many period movies like ''Little Old New York'' and ''In Old Chicago'' in which she sang to Don Ameche, Tyrone Power or John Payne from the stage of a saloon.

Mr. Ameche lost her to Mr. Power in ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' and ''In Old Chicago'' but won her affections in ''You Can't Have Everything,'' ''Hollywood Cavalcade,'' ''Lillian Russell'' and ''That Night in Rio.''

It was the one-two punch of ''In Old Chicago'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' in 1938 that made Ms. Faye a top box-office draw. A year later she and Mr. Power were teamed for the last time in ''Rose of Washington Square,'' a fictionalization of the Nicky Arnstein-Fanny Brice story that was later the basis for the Broadway and Hollywood musical ''Funny Girl,'' which starred Barbra Streisand. Ms. Faye had been responsible for Mr. Power's stardom. In 1936, when he was only an extra, she insisted that Fox test him.

Her voice was inviting, and Irving Berlin once said he would choose Ms. Faye over any other singer to introduce his songs. In 1937, George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her the best female singer in Hollywood. In ''Rose of Washington Square,'' with tears in her eyes, Ms. Faye poured her love and faith in her no-good man into ''My Man.'' But the song with which she is most closely associated is the Academy Award-winning ballad ''You'll Never Know'' from ''Tin Pan Alley.''


An early marriage to Tony Martin, a singer, ended in divorce after three years when Ms. Faye had become a star and Mr. Martin had not succeeded in the movies. When she remarried, she said, she was determined not to let that happen again. She and Mr. Harris were the parents of two daughters by the time she walked off the Fox lot after ''Fallen Angel.''

So she spent the next eight years raising her children and appearing with her husband on a successful Sunday evening radio program, ''The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.''

In 1962 Ms. Faye returned to 20th Century Fox as Pat Boone's mother in a poorly received remake of ''State Fair.'' In 1973 she toured in a revival of ''Good News,'' and in 1976 joined other golden-era stars in cameo roles in ''Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.''

In 1984 Ms. Faye became a spokeswoman for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, encouraging ''young elders'' to live a healthy life. In 1990, she was co-author of a book, ''Growing Older, Staying Young,'' with Dick Kleiner.

Reminiscing about her years at Fox, Ms. Faye described the studio as a kind of penitentiary.

''So I decided to make a new life for myself,'' she said. ''A home life. I had been chauffeured to work, made up, dressed, given my meals and chauffeured back home. I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to be independent. I equated independence with seeing daylight during the week and learning how to drive a car.''


Monday, June 22, 2015

RIP: JAMES HORNER


James Horner, one of the most prolific composers in recent years, has died. On June 22, 2015 his single engine airplane crashed about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California, killing the composer instantly. This is according to Horner's attorney Jay Cooper.

He was noted for the integration of choral and electronic elements in many of his film scores, and for frequent use of Celtic musical elements.

Horner scored over 100 films in his long career. His first major film score was for the 1979 film The Lady in Red, but did not establish himself as a mainstream composer until he worked on the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner's score for Titanic is the best selling orchestral film soundtrack of all time while Titanic and Avatar, both directed by James Cameron, are the two highest-grossing films of all time. He has also collaborated multiple times with directors Jean-Jacques Annaud, Mel Gibson, Walter Hill, Ron Howard and Joe Johnston.

Horner has won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, three Satellite Awards, three Saturn Awards, and has been nominated for three British Academy Film Awards.

James Horner began studying piano at the age of five, and trained at the Royal College of Music in London, England, before moving to California in the 1970s. After receiving a bachelor's degree in music at USC, he would go on to earn his master's degree at UCLA and teach music theory there.


Before writing his first film scores, Horner was an accomplished concert hall composer. His first concert work in over 30 years came with Pas De Deux though, and featured Norwegian duo Mari & Hakon Samuelsen.

At the beginning of 2015 Horner wrote the music for Jean-Jacques Annaud's adventure film Wolf Totem, which marked his fourth collaboration with Annaud and also Horner's first film score in three years.

Horner's future projects include the music for the forthocming film The 33 for director Patricia Riggen, which will be released in 2015. He will also write the music for Southpaw, a sports drama film directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams. The film is scheduled for release on July 31, 2015.


In 2014 Horner composed the commission piece Pas de Deux, a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, which was premiered on November 12, 2014, by Mari and Hakon Samuelsen with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko. The work was commissioned to mark the 175th season of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Horner also composed Collage, a Concerto for Four Horns, which premiered on March 27, 2015, at the Royal Festival Hall in London by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jaime Martin, with David Pyatt, John Ryan, James Thatcher and Richard Watkins as soloists.

Despite all of prolific work though, his best remembered work was the song "My Heart Will Go On" for the movie Titanic. It made Celine Dion a star, and it catapulted James Horner to composer superstar alongside other composers like Marvin Hamlish and John Williams.

James Horner is survived by his wife and two daughters. He was 61...


SHARPSHOOTER: THE REAL ANNIE OAKLEY

Blessed with a natural talent for sharp-shooting, Annie Oakley proved herself dominant in a sport that was long considered a man's domain. Oakley was a gifted entertainer as well; her performances with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show brought international fame, making her one of the most celebrated female performers of her time. Annie Oakley's unique and adventurous life has inspired numerous books and films, as well as a popular musical.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860 in rural Darke County, Ohio, the fifth daughter of Jacob and Susan Moses. The Moses family had moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania after their business -- a small inn -- had burned to the ground in 1855. The family lived in a one-room log cabin, surviving on game they caught and crops they grew. Another daughter and a son were born after Phoebe. Annie, as Phoebe was called, was a tomboy who preferred spending time outdoors with her father over household chores and playing with dolls. When Annie was only five, her father died of pneumonia after being caught in a blizzard.

Annie worked at the county poor house growing up, but she then returned to her mother's home at the age of 15. Annie could now resume her favorite pastime -- hunting. Some of the game she shot was used to feed her family, but the surplus was sold to general stores and restaurants. Many customers specifically requested Annie’s game because she shot so cleanly (through the head), which eliminated the problem of having to clean buckshot out of the meat. With money coming in regularly, Annie helped her mother pay off the mortgage on their house. For the rest of her life, Annie Oakley made her living with a gun.


Annie entered a pigeon-shooting match in 1881 against a single opponent, unaware that soon her life would change forever. Annie's opponent in the match was Frank Butler , a sharp-shooter in the circus. He made the 80-mile trek from Cincinnati to rural Greenville, Ohio in the hopes of winning the $100 prize. Frank had been told only that he would be up against a local crack shot. Assuming that his competitor would be a farm boy, Frank was shocked to see the petite, attractive 20-year old Annie Moses. He was even more surprised that she beat him in the match.

Frank, ten years older than Annie, was captivated by the quiet young woman. He returned to his tour and the two corresponded by mail for several months. They were married sometime in 1882, but the exact date has never been verified. Once married, Annie traveled with Frank on tour. One evening, Frank's partner became ill and Annie took over for him at an indoor theater shoot. The audience loved watching the five-foot-tall woman who easily and expertly handled a heavy rifle. Annie and Frank became partners on the touring circuit, billed as "Butler and Oakley." It is not known why Annie picked the name Oakley; possibly it came from the name of a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Quickly Butler and Oakley were the toast of America and Great Britain.


After years of living out of trunks, Frank and Annie were ready to settle down in a real home during the show's off-season (November through mid-March). They built a house in Nutley, New Jersey and moved into it in December 1893. (The couple never had children, but it is unknown whether or not this was by choice.)

During the winter months, Frank and Annie took vacations in the southern states, where they usually did a lot of hunting. In 1894, Annie was invited by inventor Thomas Edison of nearby West Orange, New Jersey, to be filmed on his new invention, the kinetoscope (a forerunner of the movie camera). The brief film shows Annie Oakley expertly shooting out glass balls mounted on a board, then hitting coins thrown up in the air by her husband.


Annie and Frank kept busy, traveling together to advertise for Frank's employer, a cartridge company. Annie participated in exhibitions and shooting tournaments and received offers to join several western shows. She re-entered show business in 1911, joining the Young Buffalo Wild West Show. Even in her 50s, Annie could still draw a crowd. She finally retired from show business for good in 1913.

Annie and Frank bought a house in Maryland and spent winters in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Annie gave free shooting lessons to local women. She also donated her time to raising funds for various charities and hospitals.

In November 1922, Annie and Frank were involved in a car accident, in which the car flipped over, landing on Annie and fracturing her hip and ankle. She never fully recovered from her injuries, which compelled her to use a cane and a leg brace. In 1924, Annie was diagnosed with pernicious anemia and became increasingly weak and frail. She died on November 3, 1926 at the age of 66. Some have suggested that Annie died from lead poisoning after years of handling lead bullets.

Frank Butler, who had also been in poor health, died 18 days later...





Saturday, June 20, 2015

RECENTLY VIEWED: THE HAPPENING

The movie The Happening is a very different type of movie than I usually review here. It was on the cable channel FX recently, so I gave this dark movie another viewing. The Happening is a 2008 American supernatural thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan that follows a man, his wife, his best friend, and his friend's daughter as they try to escape from an inexplicable natural disaster.

The plot revolves around a cryptic neurotoxin that causes anyone exposed to it to commit suicide. The protagonist, a science teacher named Elliot Moore (played by Mark Wahlberg), attempts to escape from the mystery substance with his friends as hysteria grips the East Coast of the United States.

In New York City's Central Park, people begin committing mass suicide. Initially believed to be a bio-terrorist attack using an airborne neurotoxin, the behavior quickly spreads across the northeastern United States. Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher in Philadelphia, hears about the attacks and decides to go to Harrisburg by train with his wife, Alma (played by the cute and quirky Zooey Deschanel. They are accompanied by his friend Julian and Julian's eight-year-old daughter Jess. Julian's wife is stuck in Philadelphia but is expected to meet them in Harrisburg. The train loses all radio contact en route and stops at a small town. They receive word that Philadelphia has been attacked and Julian's wife was not able to get on the train to Harrisburg. Julian decides to go look for her, leaving his daughter with the Moores while he hitches a ride with a group of people in a Jeep Wrangler. However, the town has already been hit by the toxin. Succumbing to it, the driver and Julian both commit suicide.

Elliot, Alma, and Jess hitch a ride with a nurseryman and his wife. The nurseryman believes that plants are responsible, as they can release chemicals to defend themselves from threats. The crew are joined by other survivors and split into two groups, with Elliot, Alma, and Jess in the smaller group. When the larger group is affected by the toxin, Elliot realizes that the plants are targeting only large groups of people. He splits their group into smaller pockets and they walk along, arriving at a model home. Two other groups arrive on the property, triggering a neurotoxin attack, signaled by what appears to be wind tossing the vegetation. The next house they come upon is sealed, its residents trying to protect themselves from the toxin. Elliot's attempts to reason with them are deemed unsuccessful when the residents shoot Josh and Jared, two teenage boys whom Elliot had earlier befriended.


Elliot, Alma, and Jess next come upon the isolated house of Mrs. Jones, an elderly eccentric who has no outside contacts and is unaware of the current disaster. The following morning, Mrs. Jones becomes infected with the toxin. Realizing that the plants are now targeting individuals, Elliot locks himself in the basement but is separated from Alma and Jess, who are in the home's springhouse out back. They are able to communicate through an old talking tube, and Elliot warns them of the threat. He expresses his love for her before deciding that if he is to die, he would prefer to spend his remaining time with her. The three leave the safety of their buildings and embrace in the yard, surprised to find themselves unaffected by the neurotoxin. The outbreak has abated as quickly as it began.

Three months later, Elliot and Alma have adjusted to their new life with Jess as their adopted daughter. On television, an expert, comparing the event to a red tide, warns that the epidemic may have only been a warning. He states that humans have become a threat to the planet and that is why the plants have responded aggressively. Alma discovers she is pregnant and embraces Elliot with the news. In the Tuileries Gardens at the Louvre Palace in Paris, France, a scream is heard and everyone freezes in place as the wind rustles through the trees, signifying another attack by the plants, ending the film on a cliffhanger.

Compared to director M. Night Shyamalan's other hits like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Signs (2002), this movie pales in comparison. However he managed to make an idea of toxins being given off by plants scary and suspenseful. It is not a movie for anyone under 16, since there is a lot of violence in the film, but it is worth a watch if you like thrillers. After watching this movie, I will never be mean to my plants or lawn again...

MY RATING: 6 OUT OF 10


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

HEALTHWATCH: JOHN HURT

Veteran actor John Hurt has disclosed he is fighting pancreatic cancer. The 75-year-old, who was Oscar-nominated for his role in 1980's The Elephant Man, said he would continue working despite the diagnosis.

"I am undergoing treatment and am more than optimistic about a satisfactory outcome, as indeed is the medical team," he told the Press Association.

Hurt, who starred as the War Doctor in Doctor Who in 2013, added he would continue with his professional work.

"I am continuing to focus on my professional commitments and will shortly be recording Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (one of life's small ironies!) for BBC Radio 4," he said.

The actor said wanted to announce his diagnosis to the press because he had "always been open about the way in which I conduct my life and in that spirit I would like to make a statement".


The prolific actor is due to be seen on the small screen in November in new Sky Atlantic drama The Last Panthers, opposite Samantha Morton.

He also has roles in some seven other projects, according to IMDB, including the upcoming Tarzan film, due for release next year.


Sir John was seen last year in the Dwayne Johnson film Hercules, and also appeared as The War Doctor in the iconic Day of the Doctor episode, for the show's 50th anniversary in 2013.

Among his other best-known roles include 1978's Midnight Express, for which he was also Oscar nominated and the 1975 TV series The Naked Civil Servant, which earned him a Bafta TV award.

He was also Bafta nominated for his role in Ridley Scott's Alien - the film which famously saw the titular creature burst out of the actor's stomach and has often been described as one of cinema's most memorable moments.

But many consider Sir John's performance as the deformed Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man as his greatest role.

He was knighted earlier this year for his services to drama...


Monday, June 15, 2015

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: HOLLYWOOD KIDS - PART THREE

Here is our final installment of Hollywood stars and their children that often lived in their shadows...


Phyllis Astaire, the daughter of Fred Astaire (1899-1987) and Phyllis Astaire (1908-1954)

Phyllis today at 71

Tracy Davis, the daughter of Sammy Davis Jr (1925-1991) and May Britt (born 1934)
Tracy today at 53


Melissa Montgomery, the daughter of George Montgomery (1916-2000) and Dinah Shore (1917-1994)

Melissa today at 56



Saturday, June 13, 2015

RIP: MONICA LEWIS

Monica Lewis, a singer and actress who performed with Benny Goodman and voiced the cartoon character Chiquita Banana, died today at her home in Woodland Hills. She was 93.

Lewis was on the first broadcast of Ed Sullivan’s Toast Of The Town, and subsequently performed with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis among others including Frank Sinatra. In 1951 she toured Korea with Danny Kaye.

In addition to a recording career, Lewis had roles in numerous Hollywood movies and TV shows. In the 1950s she appeared in pictures with Red Skelton (Eat My Dust), Mickey Rooney (The Strip) and Barry Sullivan (Inside Straight). Much later she had parts in the feature films Earthquake, Airport and its sequels, plus Nunzio and The Sting II.

Lewis’ TV work included guest-starring roles on the series Wagon Train, Night Gallery, The Virginian, Marcus Welby, M.D., Remington Steele, Ironside and Falcon Crest.

In 2014, she was featured in Ned McNeilage’s documentary short Showfolk, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival was later screened at the Los Angeles and Palm Springs film festivals.

Lewis, who was married for 40 years to the late Universal Pictures production exec Jennings Lang, is survived by sons Rocky and Mike...


Friday, June 12, 2015

THE LAST DAYS OF CAROLE LOMBARD

Carole Lombard was not only one of the most beautiful women ever captured by film, but she was one of the greatest actresses. She could be fun in a ditsy comedy or gripping and emotional in a tense drama. The sad factor is Carole Lombard died too young, but she died helping her country. Lombard had tickets to return to California by train, but was so determined to save her marriage, she decided to save time by embarking on a cross-country trip, with several refueling stops, on a noisy and bumpy commercial airplane with an unpressurized cabin.

Her terrified traveling companions — Lombard’s mother, Elizabeth Knight, and MGM publicist Otto Winkler — tried to talk her out of the flight. But Lombard, who had pulled strings to get last-minute seats on TWA Flight 3, challenged Winkler (who told his wife he had a premonition of a crash) to a coin toss. He lost, and all three, along with all 19 other passengers and crew, ended up losing their lives.

It was just five weeks after Pearl Harbor had plunged America into war, and military personnel on their way to assignments had priority on civilian transportation. When Flight 3 landed in Albuquerque to pick up mail and passengers, Lombard was told by an airline employee that she and her party were being bumped to make room for Army Air Corps flyers.

Based on testimony from a Civil Aeronautics Board, Lombard not only wouldn’t budge, but threw her weight around — and got her way after citing that she had just sold $2 million worth of bonds in a single day and threatening to make calls to the big shots who had gotten her on the plane in the first place.

Because of the weight of Lombard’s copious luggage and equipment carried by the flyers, the plane could only carry a limited amount of fuel leaving Albuquerque — not enough to make it to the final destination, Burbank, California.

Ideally, there would have been a refueling stop in Boulder City, Nev. But Boulder City didn’t have landing lights, and a series of delays (caused by weather and the abortive attempt to remove Lombard) forced a fateful nighttime stop at another, better-equipped airport just outside Las Vegas.


Exactly what caused Flight 3 to slam into a Nevada mountain peak, on a perfectly clear night shortly after takeoff, has been debated for decades. Lombard’s death was a huge international story for days, particularly after the grief-stricken Gable arrived and tried to scale the steep 7,800-foot peak to help recover his wife’s body.

Carole Lombard's flight left Indianapolis at four A.M., Friday, January 6, 1942. Flying time to Los Angeles was seventeen hours; with time changes the expected arrival at the Burbank airport was six P.M. on Friday. Most of the passengers were members of the Army Ferrying Command. When they made a scheduled Stop in Albuquerque, they found nine officers waiting with military orders enabling them to bump any civilian or Ferrying Command pilots off the plane. But Lombard argued that having just sold two million dollars' worth of war bonds, she must have some "rank." She could be very charming and amusing in this kind of situation, as anyone knows who has seen her on the screen. The Army officials gave in, permitting Lombard, her mother, and Winkler to continue on the flight. Winkler wired MGM that they would be an hour late arriving at Burbank, and the studio made arrangements to have Larry Barbier, an MGM public relations man, meet the plane.

The plane made an unscheduled stop in Las Vegas and at 6:50 P.M. proceeded west. The pilot, Wayne Williams, seemed unconcerned when he reported at 7:07 P.M. that he was slightly off course, about thirty-five miles west of Las Vegas. Eyewitnesses later reported that it was just about that time that the plane burst into flames. Some thought it happened just before the plane hit Olcott Mountain (also called Table Rock and Double U Peak); there was speculation that the absence of beacons -- blacked out for fear of Japanese air raids--was responsible for Williams's losing course. (Later investigations revealed that the pilot, who had been reprimanded several times for not following flight instructions, was taking a shortcut through a restricted area to make up for lost time.)


Barbier, waiting at Burbank, was the first to hear that there had been a plane crash. He immediately called Howard Strickling, another MGM publicity man and close friend of Gable's. Strickling told Barbier to charter a plane; then he called Gable, who immediately left for the airport with MGM executive Ralph Wheelright. Jill Winkler, Lombard's brothers Stuart and Fred Peters, and Fred's wife left for Las Vegas by car. MGM executive Eddie Mannix took a scheduled flight.

On the chartered flight to Vegas, Strickling would recall, Gable was tense "because he sensed what had happened... You knew you shouldn't talk to him. You knew not to say, "It's going to be all right," or "I'm sorry." When Gable and his group finally reached the base of the mountain, he wanted to go with the second search group, which included stretcher-bearers and medical supplies, but was persuaded to stay behind. Mannix and Wheelright went, however; years later, Mannix said Lombard was burned and headless and that Gable had been told.

Gable rode on the train that carried the bodies back to Los Angeles and then purchased three crypts at Forest Lawn cemetery, one for Carole, one for her mother, and one for himself: The Army offered to give Carole a military funeral, and the Hollywood Victory Committee wanted to build a monument honoring the first star to give her life for her country. But Gable refused both suggestions, explicitly carrying out his wife's funeral instruction.


The death of Carole Lombard was Hollywood's first wartime tragedy. Those who were close to her, like Spencer Tracy, went into deep depression; Lucille Ball said she never really lost touch with her friend, that Carole visited her in her dreams for years, often advising her on important decisions.

Gable returned to MGM and eventually completed his second film with Turner, the ironically titled Somewhere I'll Find You.  As Lombard had urged him to do, he enlisted and served in the Army Air Force.

His swagger gone, Gable resumed his Hollywood career after the war but, by all accounts, was haunted by the memory of the woman he lost. Though married twice more (to women who resembled Lombard), when he died following a heart attack in 1960, Gable was buried next to her in a mausoleum...



Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP: CHRISTOPHER LEE

Christopher Lee, the prolific actor best known for playing some of the cinema’s biggest villains in a career that spanned more than 65 years, has died at the age of 93. His family had no comment on the death when contacted by EW. The Guardian reported Lee died on Sunday due to respiratory problems and heart failure.

Born in England in 1922, Lee served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as an intelligence officer. Tall and classically handsome with a deep, richly resonant voice, Lee quickly took to acting after the war, but he didn’t find his place in the film industry until he was cast as the monster in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. The project would begin a long and fruitful relationship for Lee with the U.K. company Hammer Film Productions, best known for its series of gothic horror movies. Indeed, in 1958, he was cast as the title vampire in Dracula, a role that would become practically synonymous with Lee’s face for horror fans. Lee would revisit the infamous blood-sucker in at least eight more movies over the next 20 years.

But Dracula was far from Lee’s only iconic character. The actor played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Fu Manchu several times, as well as the rogue Rochefort in 1973’s The Three Musketeers and its 1974 sequelThe Four Musketeers. He also portrayed the villain Francisco Scaramanga in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun and the nefarious Lord Summerisle in the 1975 cult hit The Wicker Man.

“I haven’t spent my entire career playing the guy in the bad hat, although I have to say that the bad guy is frequently much more interesting than the good guy,” Lee said of his career.

Lee experienced a career renaissance in the 2000s thanks to key roles in two massive Hollywood trilogies: He played the wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings saga (and played the role again in Peter Jackson’s Rings prequel trilogy, The Hobbit), and the Sith lord Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. In 2009, Lee received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. At the time, the actor noted, “To be a legend, you’ve either got to be dead, or excessively old.”

Lee’s last major onscreen appearance came in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. He was cast alongside Uma Thurman in the forthcoming The 11th, but that film is not scheduled for release until next year. In his later years, he also expressed an interest in heavy metal, even releasing a Christmas album of songs in the genre.

“At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy,” Lee said in an interview about his musical passions last year. “I do not know how long I am going to be around, so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: HOLLYWOOD KIDS - PART TWO

Here is part two of three of our series on the offspring of Hollywood royalty...


Mary Frances Crosby, the daughter of Bing Crosby (1903-1977) and Kathyrn Crosby (born 1934)

Mary Francis today at 54

John Lahr, the son of Bert Lahr (1895-1967) and Mildred Schroeder (1907-1995)

John Lahr today at 73


Virginia Holden, the daughter of William Holden (1918-1981) and Brenda Marshall (1915-1992)

Virginia today at 77

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A DEAN MARTIN MEMORY

Today would have been Dean Martin's 98th birthday. There is not a day that goes by that I don't listen to something by Dino. I love the personal stories about Dean that is all around the internet. Here is one story I found that I thought was especially good...

I remember my family going to see Dean Martin sing at the Riveria Hotel in Las Vegas back in the 1960's. I had just turned 15, and my older brother, mom and day had taken a family vacation, driving to see Las Vegas from our house in Houston, Texas. We were lucky to get tickets (they didn't check my age) and were seated in about the middle of the place. I remember being in awe of Dean. He was so relaxed and had a voice that was the best I ever heard. The one thing I remember most of all, was that I laughed hard because Dean was so funny with jokes and one-liners. He even bantered back and forth with the audience, which endeared him closer to everyone. 

The following morning we were all eating lunch in the restaurant at the hotel, when I looked beyond where my father was seated across from me, and Dean Martin had walked in through the door. He wasn't being seated, and looked uncomfortable waiting there with another man. I didn't even tell my parents or brother, and quickly bolted up from my seat to go greet him.

He was most gracious, asking how I liked the show, after I told him I saw it. Then I told him that my family drove all the way from Texas to have a vacation, but almost didn't make it because my Dad had just lost his job the day before- but decided to take us all anyway. 

Dean asked where we were sitting, and immediately walked over to greet my family, who were flabbergasted, to say the least. After a short minute, a host from the restaurant came over and handed Mr. Martin a bag , which he said were a couple of muffin's to go. As he graciously said goodbye to my family, he asked me to follow him to the front table, which I did right away. He told the person behind the counter that the meal we were having was to be put on his tab, and then he turned to me, reached in his pocket and handed me a (what I thought was, at the time) coin.


I returned to my seat with a smile as big as the state where I came from... and no one could believe that Dean Martin himself came over and spoke to us, and even paid for our lunch!

I had forgotten all about that coin Mr. Martin gave to me, because I was so excited and I just dropped it into my shirt pocket. Later that evening, when my family was in our hotel room, packing to go home, the coin dropped out, and I picked it up. I remember shouting to my Mom that Mr. Martin also gave me a coin to keep. When I handed it to her, she froze without blinking. A few seconds later she exclaimed, "Paul! Do you know what this is?!?". Dean had given me a $1000.00 gambling token from the tables! What a blessing in disguise, since my father had lost his job, and we were going to be struggling to make ends meet for quite some time.

Now that I have grown up, and am pretty successful in my own business, I often remember the excitement, but mainly kindness, that Dean Martin has shed on me and my family in a time of need. I have chosen to follow in that incident that affected me, and two or three times a year I do the same when I see a loving family who could use the "extra" boost to help them in this world. It's a real good feeling, and one that always keeps me in line with "reality" in this very selfish world.

I am sending you my name, but I wish that you not print it. I don't want the "fame", I just wanted to relate my story. Thank you for the opportunity, and a special thanks to Dean Martin up there looking down on all of us.