Stephen Schaefer’s Hollywood & Mine – Boston Herald

There’s no Tribeca or Cannes film festivals, among the many, many filmworld cancellations.  While checking a reference in the handy resource book ‘The Academy Awards: The Complete History of Oscar’ by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002), I read a section for each year called Unmentionables that’s stocked with gossipy, little-known facts.

Among the surprising tidbits:  Adolf Hitler, a fan, actually copied Charlie Chaplin’s moustache. Previously he had a handlebar.  Years later when a retired Chaplin rejected John Huston’s offer to star in ‘The Bible’ (’66), Huston himself played Noah with his ark.

We know Joseph P. Kennedy famously went to Hollywood in the 1920s to invest – and lost his shirt so to speak.  His paramour was the great Gloria Swanson, who reigned among the era’s top stars and would gain further screen immortality as mad silent screen queen Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard.’  Kennedy and Swanson combusted over money. Their production of ‘Queen Kelly’ (starring, of course, Swanson) went wildly over budget.

Gloria Swanson and Walter Byron in “Queen Kelly.”

What was surprising – and who could have found this ‘fact’? – was to read that the lovebirds were supposedly interrupted on the Kennedy yacht by number two son John F. Kennedy. Who was allegedly so shocked he leapt overboard and was rescued by the crew.  Just think of the Freudian complications there for the future president.

Dudley Nichols won the 1935 Best Screenplay Oscar for the IRA classic ‘The Informer’ (it also won Victor McLaglen Best Actor). He made history by refusing it, the first winner to do so on political grounds.

Jane Fonda, also politically active, attended Vassar, which back when was a women’s only college with stringent rules. For daily tea in the Rose Parlor, white gloves and pearls were required. Fonda was chastised for daring to sit down without them. Rumor had it that the future superstar quickly returned – wearing the gloves, pearls and nothing else.

File under: Everyone’s a critic.  Everyone knows legendary boxer Jake La Motta was played by Robert De Niro in ‘Raging Bull,’ an Oscar winning performance. Jake’s brother Joseph was vividly portrayed (in an Oscar-nominated performance) by Joe Pesci. But the real-life sibling took serious offense. So serious he sued the producers for $1.5 million for an ‘unflattering’ portrait. Isn’t that the nerve — they make you cinematically immortal and you …. complain?

Q: What do these classic movies – Michael Moore’s ‘Roger and Me,’ Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ – have in common?

A: All three were completely ignored for Best Picture nominations.

Finally, how many Oscar speeches have been made into a movie?  Just one (so far).  After Tom Hanks accepted his Best Actor Oscar for ‘Philadelphia,’ breaking a Hollywood taboo by playing a dying gay man with AIDS, he thanked his gay high-school drama teacher Rawley Farnsworth, outing him nationally (Hanks had contacted Farnsworth first to get the OK).

Actor Tom Hanks poses in front of a replica of the Oscar award before the 66th Annual Academy Awards Nominee’s Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., March 8, 1994. Hanks is nominated for best actor for “Philadelphia.” (AP Photo/Lois Bernstein)

The media sensation that followed prompted screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s closet comedy ‘In & Out’ (’97) where a superstar (Matt Dillon) wins an Oscar for playing a gay soldier and accepts by outing his (very closeted) high school drama teacher (Kevin Kline) back in Indiana.  The movie was also notable for Tom Selleck’s gleeful playing a of lusty out and proud Hollywood reporter.



TEA LEONI RULES     Hillary Clinton never made it but Tea Leoni rose through five seasons of ‘Madame Secretary: The Final Season’ (CBSDVD, 10 episodes, 3 discs, Paramount, Not Rated) to be America’s female Commander in Chief.  You can watch Elizabeth McCord’s ascension from Secretary of State to the Oval office with ‘Madame Secretary: The Complete Series’ (CBSDVD,  6 seasons, 120 episodes, 33 discs, Paramount, Not Rated).

Tea Leoni stars as Elizabeth McCord, Secretary of State, on MADAM SECRETARY

The hit series was notable for its presentation of a complex capable woman whose day may involved defusing a terrorist threat, seeing her kid off to college and hosting diplomatic events while her husband, CIA agent Henry (Tim Daly who transitioned from a pretend relationship to the real deal during the course of the show) shares her burdens.  Surprisingly Henry was a theology professor before he became First Gentleman. For Leoni, ‘Madame Secretary’ represents pretty much everything she might hope for from weekly television – continually provocative events and plotting, an emotionally accessible character, a leading role in what ranks as Smart TV.  There are over 4 hours of bonus material with the ‘Complete Series.’  The featurettes: ‘The Making of ‘Madame Secretary: Season One,’ ‘Madame Secretary at the Political Playbook Lunch,’ ‘Politics Unveiled: A Look at the Second Year’ and ‘A Tour of the Oval Office.’  Commentaries are here on select episodes, along with deleted/extended scenes, a photo gallery and ‘Season Two Guest Stars.’

THESE ANDROIDS FEEL PERHAPS TOO MUCH     Intriguing, sexy, disturbing and fairly unique, the British sci-fi hit ‘Humans: Complete Collection’ (Blu-ray, 24 episodes, 6 discs, Acorn, Not Rated) is here in its uncut UK Blu-ray edition.  In a slightly futuristic world, androids known as Synths that look and act just like us are household helpers, nannies.  They can be so beautiful they serve as erotic playmates.  What happens when they malfunction?  Are they perpetually compliant?  How attached should a human be to his or her Synth?  As each season passes, events drastically change the dynamic. Synths are given the right to consciousness, their own free will – seriously complicating their relationships with humans. By Series 3 the Synths find themselves in a world that fears and, yes, hates them.  This English version is based on the Swedish sci-fi series ‘Real Humans.’  The UK cast is led by Gemma Chan (who broke out in movies with ‘Crazy Rich Asians’), Katherine Parkinson and Tom Goodman-Hill.  Guest stars: Oscar winner William Hurt, ‘Matrix’ icon Carrie-Anne Moss and ‘Black Panther’ discovery Letitia Wright.  Over 2½ hours of bonus material.

BLAKE IS CERTAINLY LIVELY    From the distinguished producers of the James Bond 007 franchise comes ‘The Rhythm Section’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, Paramount, R), an exotic action adventure with a female agent center-stage that never quite coheres.  It’s a classic saga of someone beaten down and fighting to get back up with Blake Lively (‘The Shallows’) transforming from the walking dead mourner of her family tragedy to a ferocious, incredibly well-trained assassin courtesy of Jude Law’s ex-M16 operative.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Blake Lively in a scene from “The Rhythm Section.” (Jose Haro/Paramount Pictures via AP)

As a thrill ride in international espionage with attendant double crosses and revelations ‘Section’ offers compelling car chases, lovely settings and in Stephanie, a heroine whose journey we follow intimately step by step.  The bonus content offers deleted/extended scenes and featurettes that detail Stephanie’s physical and emotional transformations, behind the scenes on the extended Tangier car chase as well as the stunts and fight sequences.


LUCKY LIZ   Elizabeth Taylor’s superior stardom began in the mid-1940s when she spectacularly grew from the movies’ most beautiful little girl into a voluptuous ingenue and then a masterful leading lady. It was a natural progression that happened, so to speak, right before the world’s eyes.  Taylor peaked with a series of Oscar-nominated roles in the late ‘50s that culminated in a defining turn in the 1966 hit ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ which brought her a second Best Actress Oscar.

Elizabeth Taylor, left, in the role of Martha, and Richard Burton, in the role of George, are shown in a scene from the 1966 movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in which George is about the strike Martha. Both were nominated for an Oscar. (AP Photo)

Soon after, she made the distinctly odd, British-brewed 1968 ‘Secret Ceremony’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) (a brand new HD Master) where she was cast as Leonora, an aging prostitute (Taylor was all of 36!) who strikes up a friendship with a child-like woman (Mia Farrow, then 23) who reminds her of her long-dead daughter.  Surprise!  Farrow’s Cenci sees in Leonora her mother who is also dead.  Add Robert Mitchum’s lecherous stepfather and you have something seriously peculiar.

American Actress Mia Farrow wears a 30 inch long real hair wig after having it fitted by Alexandre of Paris, at Elstree Studios, England, on March 14, 1968. Mia will wear the wig for her role in the new movie ‘Secret Ceremony’ in which she stars with Elizabeth Taylo. (AP Photo/Staff/Bob Dear)

Joseph Losey, a blacklisted American director in the McCarthy era, had become a transplant in the UK where he worked continuously. ‘Ceremony’ was his first collaboration with Taylor – the following year they did ‘Boom!’ an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ troubled play ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.’ Reportedly Universal Pictures clipped moments from ‘Ceremony’ that emphasized a lesbian relationship between the two women.  Among Losey’s best known films: ‘The Boy with Green Hair,’ ‘Servant,’ ‘The Go-Between’ with Julie Christie and the very Sixties comic strip ‘Modesty Blaise.’ For ‘Ceremony’ there’s an audio commentary as well.


FAR EASTERN WESTERN     Among the emblematic male stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, two towered: Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, icons both of an all-American masculinity.  They were regular guys who could laugh, romance or fight.

Film director Cecil B. DeMille talks with actor Gary Cooper during the filming of “The Plainsman” in 1936. Behind Cooper with gun in hand is Porter Hall. (AP Photo)

Cooper’s 1935 ‘The Lives of a Bengal Lancer’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) in a Brand New 4K Master rates among his best from this era. It’s set when the British Raj ruled as British officers guard India’s all-important Khyber Pass against rebellious Bengali natives. It’s adventure on an epic scale, nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  (Today its colonial politics would, naturally, be questioned.)  With the magnificent action director Henry Hathaway (‘The House on 92nd Street,’ ‘Rawhide,’ ‘True Grit’) in charge, ‘Bengal Lancer’ romantically views the bonds among the 41st Bengal Lancers, led by Cooper’s Lt. Alan McGregor and the Sandhurst-educated blue-blood Lt. John Forsythe (Franchot Tone).  When inexperienced newbie Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell) arrives, they learn he’s the commander’s son. Naturally Donald has what was then (and still are) Daddy Issues. As a local warlord plots to steal an ammunition shipment, the newbie is easily seduced, kidnapped and held for ransom.  Dad will not bargain for his son’s life. So McGregor and Forsythe disobey orders, steal into the Khan’s fortress, only to also be captured.  Honor, redemption, reconciliation ensue.  The kind of influential hit that spawned a series of ‘exotic’ manly adventures (‘Gunga Din,’ ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’), McGregor led Cooper to similar roles in ‘Beau Geste,’ ‘North West Mounted Police’ and ‘Distant Drums.’  Audio commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller (NOT the Eddy Muller of the Film Noir Foundation).


KATE THE GREAT    Everyone knows of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s special relationship, reflected in the nine films they made together.  Perhaps a more artistically important partnership was Hepburn’s with director George Cukor which began with her Best Actress Oscar-winning 1932 debut ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ and continued until 1979 with a TV version of ‘The Corn is Green.’ 

Away from the cameras, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy relax between scenes of “Adam’s Rib” in Hollywood, Calif. on September 20, 1949. (AP Photo)

Their other collaborations: ‘Little Women’ in 1933, ‘Holiday,’ the notorious cross dressing ‘Sylvia Scarlett,’ Hepburn’s  triumphant comeback with ‘The Philadelphia Story,’ ‘Keeper of the Flame,’ ‘Adam’s Rib,’ ‘Pat and Mike,’ and this late-career triumph for both, the 1975 TV movie ‘Love Among the Ruins’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) with Hepburn opposite Laurence Olivier.  In a Brand New 2K Master ‘Love’ looks crisply detailed the way it should be.  Set in Victorian London, ‘Love Among the Ruins’ has Hepburn, a widow, in a breach of promise lawsuit with her younger lover. Olivier is the barrister she hires, an ex-lover of 40 years ago – only comically and frustratingly she never ever not for a teeny minute acknowledges their past history. Lavished with critical raves and rapturous ratings, ‘Love Among the Ruins’ won six Emmys, including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director. The bonus: Film historian Stephen Vogg’s audio commentary.


EMIL WHO?    There are 3 inescapable facts about Emil Jannings (1884-1950).  First, although Swiss born he ranks among Germany’s early 20th century world-class actors and remains best-known for falling prey to Marlene Dietrich’s erotic lures in Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic ‘The Blue Angel.’ Second, Jannings (pronounced Yawn-ings) won the first Best Actor Oscar for two 1927-28 silent pictures, von Sternberg’s ‘The Last Command’ and the now-lost ‘The Way of All Flesh.’  He was at the train station leaving Hollywood for good when he won. Third, Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 until defeat in 1945 and Jannings became the Nazis’ biggest star. It was F.W. Murnau who was responsible for Jannings’ Hollywood career, launching him internationally with the 1924 international hit ‘The Last Laugh.’  Murnau had first become a name director with his 1922 Dracula movie ‘Nosferatu.’  He came to Hollywood in 1926; his ‘Sunrise’ still ranks as one of the silent era’s greatest. Before Murnau settled in Hollywood there was Jannings in ‘Last Laugh’ and then, the now beautifully restored 1925 ‘F.W. Murnau’s Tartuffe’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated).  Based on the classic Moliere comedy ‘Tartuffe’ finds a faithful wife failing to convince her foolish spouse their house guest Tartuffe (Jannings) is actually a lecherous hypocrite.  Murnau added a framing device to the period tale with a housekeeper scheming to poison her elderly master and win control of his estate. Both the 70-minute German version and the 64-minute American are on the ‘Tartuffe’ Blu-ray.  Each version has a different score. The German version offers a new score by Robert Israel while the US is by Giuseppe Becce.  Film historian Troy Howarth offers an audio commentary.

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