October 29, 2013 § 3 Comments
My new eBook contains previously unpublished writing about the actress’s life and death, as well as essays that have appeared on this blog. It also features photos and film stills from my short film, “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk,” one of which appears on the cover.
Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign is available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and other eBook sellers for $9.99.
October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
As film historian Kevin Brownlow pointed out, “The Crowd” influenced many subsequent films and their directors. Billy Wilder owes the biggest debt to Vidor, as “The Apartment” contains not only its office scenario–the huge room full of clerks especially–but exterior shots of New York skyscrapers and thronged streets. (Not to mention that the Jack Lemmon character in “The Apartment” could arguably be seen as a more responsible version of “The Crowd’s” John.) In “The Hudsucker Proxy” The Coen Brothers used many of the same visual elements, along with a John-like wide-eyed clerk played by Tim Robbins. No less a genius that Vittorio DeSica told Vidor that he based “Bicycle Thief” on “The Crowd,” and clearly he took the street and theater scenes from it. Yet despite its influence, “The Crowd” was forgotten for decades and only recently reconstructed. I hope Warner Bros. will release it on DVD soon for the larger audience it deserves.
Those who missed “The Crowd” can still catch tomorrow night’s film, Ernst Lubisch’s “The Student Prince in Old Heidleberg,” starring Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer and Jean Hersholt. Released in 1927 from MGM, “The Student Prince” was the brainchild of Irving G.Thalberg, who hired Lubisch to adapt a 1924 operetta based on the 1989 novel of the same name. Those unacquainted with “The Lubisch Touch” will see it in action here. For tickets, go to http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/index.html
October 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
Those interested in old Hollywood and/or true crime will find Dina Di Mambro’s True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders (Classichollywoodbios.com Publications) a worthy addition to their library. Although the topics–mysterious deaths, from Silent Era director William Desmond Taylor’s to Natalie Wood’s–have been explored many times before, Di Mambro’s exhaustive research and attention to detail set her book apart from the rest.
William Desmond Taylor’s murder–notoriously unsolved since 1922–provides a good example of her technique. After describing the crime scene–“once he was turned over, it was evident that he was lying in a pool of blood…shot once in the back”–Di Mambro painstakingly describes the possible suspects, as well as those who obstructed justice. The list is mind-boggling: Paramount Studios, the LAPD, the actress Mary Miles Minter and her mother Charlotte Shelby, his “sociopath” houseman Edward Sands, the actress/prostitute Margaret Gibson, his younger brother Denis Deane-Turner, a professional hit man. (No wonder the crime remains unsolved.) In sifting through the various theories, Di Mambro makes a good case for Margaret Gibson, who after changing her name to Pat Lewis twice confessed to the murder, the second time on her deathbed.
Other chapters shed new light on old crimes as well. I had always thought Thelma Todd’s death–her body was found in her car, in the garage of her Pacific Coast Highway house/restaurant–was a murder, possibly mob-related. Di Mambro makes a good case for accidental death by carbon monoxide poisoning, possibly abetted or covered up by Todd’s on-again, off-again lover, the director Roland West. As with Taylor’s murder, the case was muddied by a studio cover-up–in this case Hal Roach’s decision “that letting the matter go was in the best interest of his studio and the film industry as a whole.”
More recent cases–Natalie Wood’s, Bob Crane’s and Robert Blake”s–are not only thoroughly reviewed but updated. After a new inquest into Wood’s 1981 drowning, Di Mambro notes the actress’s death certificate was amended from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” She adds a welcome familial angle to Bob Crane’s sordid 1978 murder by noting that the 2001 biographical film “Auto Focus” sparked a fight between his two sons (from different marriages) over Crane’s portrayal. The murder of Robert Blake’s wife Bonny Lee Bakley–in which Blake was found not guilty, though he subsequently lost a civil case–contains a poignant transcript. Blake and Bakley’s teenaged daughter, adopted and raised by Blake’s older daughter Delinah, no longer has contact with her father “because Delinah thought it was better that way.”
Not being a true crime fan, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by this litany of untimely deaths, whether accidental or homicidal. Yet I enjoyed the book’s unexpected theme: that fame, however big or resilient, is no match for the Grim Reaper, whose Hollywood work is some of his grimmest. Those who relish such tales will love True Hollywood Noir.
True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders is available at http://www.amazon.com/True-Hollywood-Noir-Filmland-Mysteries/dp/0615572693
October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
Yesterday I visited the house in Barons Court where the actress Peg Entwistle lived from soon after her birth in 1908 until she immigrated to the United States with her father at the age of six. The house, # 53, is at right. Many thanks to Heath Woodward, whose forthcoming play “Goodnight September” tells Peg’s story, for taking me there.