Barbara Hale, William Hopper & Raymond Burr in Perry Mason
Fans of the Perry Mason TV series will no doubt remember William Hopper, son of gossip columnist Hedda, who played Perry’s assistant Paul Drake. During World War Two he served as a frogman with the US Navy’s Team Ten Underwater Demolition. Their job was to sneak ashore on Japanese-held islands, determine the best path for landing craft to reach the beach, then blast a clear pathway through the coral using 80 lbs of dynamite apiece strapped to their backs. Team Ten was ear-marked for the expected invasion of the Japanese home islands. Fortunately for them, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to that.
Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (1934)
As punishment for his affair with Joan Crawford, MGM loaned out Clark Gable to poverty row studio Columbia for a minor film called It Happened One Night (1934). Ironically, it would win him his only Academy Award. (Some punishment. By completing the ‘Oscars Grand Slam’ (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay), this picture elevated Columbia out of ‘poverty row’ and into the major league. Only three actors were nominated that year for Best Actor and it is generally believed that, had he been nominated, Charles Laughton would have won easily for his portrayal of the tyrannical father in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Claudette Colbert only agreed to make It Happened One Night because director Frank Capra promised to pay her double her normal $25,000 salary if she could complete the picture inside four weeks, which she managed to do. She, too, won the Oscar.
Daisy Devoe was the private secretary (and one time friend) of twenties super star Clara Bow, until Clara was compelled to dismiss her. In 1931, Daisy was charged with 37 counts of grand theft against her former employer. At her trial she admitted taking $35,000 of Clara’s money for her own use, explaining that her employer had given her permission to spend whatever was needed to run the household. Daisy, however, took that a step further. She bought herself a fur coat and withdrew $22,000 from Clara’s account, then secreted it elsewhere.
Daisy DeVoe with Clara and her dog Duke
For reasons known only to the judge, telegrams from some of Clara’s beaus were produced in court and read out aloud. Of course, they had nothing to do with the theft charges facing Daisy, but their exposure titillated the crowded courtroom. Clara’s love of playing poker six nights a week, her spending of around $350,000 over just 20 months, plus her drinking habits, were all made public despite having nothing to do with Daisy’s light fingers. When asked why she took the $22,000, Daisy blamed Clara, issuing the following lame explanation: ‘It was her fault’, she wailed. ‘If she had paid attention to business I wouldn’t have taken a dime from her because she would have known about everything. She put me in a position to take everything I wanted. Of course, I didn’t blame her.’ In the end, the jury found daisy not guilty on 34 of the charges, but guilty of purchasing a fur coat with Clara’s money and falsely telling Clara the money was going to pay her income tax bill. Daisy sobbed loudly as the verdict was being read and, unbelievably, members of the jury sobbed along with her! She recovered enough to suddenly jump to her feet and shout: ‘If they were going to convict me at all, why didn’t they convict me of everything? I’m just as guilty on all counts as I am on one.’ Clara was emotionally wrought by the trial and its revelations about her private life. In fact, she spent time undergoing psychiatric evaluation (including electric shock treatment), before retiring from film altogether. Daisy was released from prison in April 1933. When asked what her time inside was like, she gaily replied, ‘I had a ball.’ An oddball to the end.
The 1984 feature The Bounty, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, was the fifth movie to focus on the famous mutiny on The Bounty of April 1789. It was the only one (so far) that was not totally biased in favour of Fletcher Christian. In reality, Lieutenant William Bligh was not the heartless beast portrayed in the first four versions, and Christian was anything but the ‘hero’ of the day. After all, it was on Christian’s orders that Bligh and 18 members of the crew were set adrift in the ship’s cutter, an action that can justifiably be interpreted as attempted mass murder. Only Bligh’s extraordinary seamanship in sailing the boat 3,000 miles to Timor thwarted Christian’s intentions. If there was a ‘hero’ in all of this – it was Bligh, not Christian. This picture attempts to tell a more balanced version of the truth although, unfortunately, it does not really go far enough.
Michael Kidd & his Oscar 1997
MGM considered the delightful Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) to be a B-feature only. The studio was pinning its hopes on Brigadoon and Rose Marie, both of which would be released that same year, so the budget for ‘Seven Brides’ was seriously slashed and painted backdrops (very obvious) were used instead of location shots. Audiences fell in love with the cheaper production and were unimpressed by neither Brigadoon nor Rose Marie. Much of the credit for ‘Seven Brides’ should go to choreographer Michael Kidd. The same man who gave us Fred Astaire and Cyd Charrisse gliding through their romantic ‘Dancing in the Dark’ number in The Band Wagon (1953), also came up with the robust barnstorming dance in ‘Seven Brides’, generally considered to be the highlight of the picture.
Jay Sebring & Sharon Tate
Robert Evans was a slick-looking young actor in the fifties, not unlike George Hamilton (tan and all), who made a handful of films, but knew his thespian limitations and decided to do something else in the movie business. He purchased a property called ‘The Detective’ and used it to wangle a three picture producing deal with 20th Century Fox. Later, as production chief at Paramount, he shepherded Love Story (1970), The Godfather (1972) and Chinatown (1974) to huge successes and became a very rich man almost overnight. Along the way he married eight women, among them actresses Ali MacGraw, Camilla Sparv and Catherine Oxenberg, and bedded some of Hollywood’s most desirable beauties; Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Barbara Carrera and Margaux Hemingway, to name but a few of them. Sharon Tate invited him to her home for dinner the night she and her guests were butchered by the Manson Gang in 1969. Luckily for Evans he had to decline, so she called hairdresser Jay Sebring instead. He accepted and paid with his life. Today, Evans is approaching 90 years of age and resides at his luxurious Beverly Hills estate, ‘Woodland’; the former home of screen legend Greta Garbo.