Doris Day at the peak of her beauty and talent
The real Ruth Etting with her ‘benefactor’ Martin Snyder
Love Me or Leave Me (1955) is one of the very best musical biopics ever made, thanks to superb performances from Doris Day and James Cagney, coupled with Daniel Fuchs’ Oscar-winning writing. Liberties were certainly taken with the truth, however, especially with the character of torch singer Ruth Etting (played by Day). In reality, she was a vulgar, kept woman who clawed herself up from the seamier side of Chicago with the help of gangster Martin Snyder (Cagney). Much of his mal-treatment of her was cut from the picture by the censors, in particular the scene following her Ziegfeld Follies success in which he attacked, stripped and raped her! Neither Snyder nor Etting was happy with the way they were portrayed in the film. The squeaky clean Ruth we see in the picture evidently annoyed her. In 1938, after their divorce, Snyder was found guilty of the attempted murder of her new husband, accompanist Myrl Alderman. Somehow, Snyder managed to get released on appeal within a year.
Marion Davies & Clark Gable in Cain & Mabel (1936)
Marion Davies’ penultimate film, Cain and Mabel (1936), was shot at Warner Bros after she had moved there from MGM. She even managed to get the studio to ‘borrow’ Clark Gable from MGM to be her leading man. The picture actually made money although ‘creative accounting’ at Warners suggested it was a flop. Temperatures hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside the sound stage and dancers dropped like flies during the shoot until Marion had tons of ice brought in and placed in front of airplane propellers running at top speed. A $35,000 carousel was built for the picture and, at the conclusion of filming, she had it moved to her beach house at Santa Monica.
The 1937 feature film Waikiki Wedding went on to win an Academy Award for Best Song. The tune was the now all but forgotten ‘Sweet Leilani’, a Harry Owens number sang by Bing Crosby in the film. It is scarcely believable that this spud-ordinary song would knock off George and Ira Gershwin’s timeless classic, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, (from the film Shall We Dance), but it did. Even ‘Blue Hawaii’, which was also sung by Crosby in Waikiki Wedding, became infinitely better known after Elvis Presley sang it in the 1961 film of the same name.
Columbia boss Harry Cohn wanted to replace newcomer William Holden in the 1939 boxing picture Golden Boy, but Barbara Stanwyck convinced the studio to stick with him. If not for her efforts his career might never have gotten off the ground. Holden never forgot her kindness and remained grateful for the rest of his life. Every year, on the anniversary of the first day of shooting, he sent her flowers. In 1978 they were co-presenters at the Oscars and he took the opportunity to publicly thank her before the entire world. Four years later she was awarded an Honorary Academy Award. It was just four months after Holden had died in a hotel room. ‘He always wished that I would get an Oscar’, she said in her emotional acceptance speech, ‘and so, tonight, my Golden Boy, you got your wish!’
The famous 1779 Dido & Elizabeth painting by David Martin
The delightful Belle (2013) is a somewhat embellished tale of a young mulatto woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, who was born to a British sea captain named Sir John Lindsay in 1761. He had rescued her mother from a Spanish vessel and took the child to his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and entrusted him with raising her. A famous painting of Dido and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, once thought to have been done by German artist Johann Zoffany in 1778, has since been proven, on the BBC TV’s series Fake or Fortune, to be the work of Scottish artist David Martin. It was completed around 1779 when Dido was 18 and now hangs in the private drawing room of Lord and Lady Mansfield at Scone Palace. It was this extraordinary piece that inspired the making of Belle. Gugu Mbatha- Raw plays the title role and Tom Wilkinson portrays her guardian Lord Mansfield.
The movie Foreign Correspondent (1940) takes place from August 19 to September 5, 1939. Shooting was completed on May 29, 1940. By then World War Two was in full swing. Germans actually enjoyed the picture when it was released in 1940, but were nevertheless unimpressed by the ending tacked onto it by writer Ben Hecht. They claimed his concluding words gave the erroneous impression that Germany was attacking Great Britain when, as everyone knew, it was Great Britain that had declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 after rejecting offers of peace from Adolf Hitler! This movie, along with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), The Mortal Storm (1940) and A Yank in the R.A.F (1941), clearly demonstrated a pro-Britain stance by American studios, even though the USA was not yet in the war.
Gary Oldman & Winona Ryder – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman did not get along at all when they played lovers in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 feature Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The two had been friendly during rehearsals, but when they came back from a break in scheduling they seemed to hate each other. No indication has been given (by either of them) as to what had happened to change their relationship. There is a scene in the picture in which Mina (Winona) meets Dracula (Oldman) for the first time on a London street. The actress was struggling to project the facial response Coppola was after, so the director had Oldman secrete a zucchini behind his back as she crossed the street towards him. At the appropriate moment, when Winona first looked at him, Oldman held it in front of his groin, eliciting the reaction the director was looking for from his leading lady.
In the original book The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, the heroine Dorothy Gale is only five years old. In the 1939 film version she is supposed to be 12 years old, although she is played by 16 year-old Judy Garland. When it came time to cast Dorothy in the 1978 African-American version of the story, the monumental flop The Wiz, superstar Diana Ross lobbied vigorously for the role. She was successful, despite being thirty-three years of age, because she guaranteed she could land Michael Jackson for the role of the Scarecrow, and it was that guarantee that secured her the part. Director John Badham objected to her casting as Dorothy and was fired. Sidney Lumet came on board as director and her character was changed from Dorothy to that of a 24 year-old kindergarten teacher, not that it made much difference to the result. The movie bombed miserably.