MOVIE TRIVIA – PT122                                       edited              May 02 2019


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Red Buttons in The Longest Day (1962)

Red Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1919. He got his name from a combination of his red hair and the uniform he wore as a singing bellhop at Dinty Moore’s Tavern in the Bronx. Having commenced his show business career singing on street corners as a boy, by the age of 16 he was part of a burlesque comedy act with partner Robert Alda, the future father of Alan Alda of M.A.S.H. fame. War service followed and by 1952 he had his own TV show. A Supporting Actor Oscar for Sayonara (1957) propelled him into the big time and he never looked back. Fans of The Longest Day (1962) will recall him playing the paratrooper hanging from the bell-tower in the St. Mere-Eglise sequence. He died in 2006 at the age of 87.

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For those readers who did not have the misfortune to grow up during the depths of the Great Depression in California, (and I am in that category), it is probably difficult to grasp how vicious and cut-throat was the relationship between the opposing factions – banks and large farming corporations on one side, and the unions and the desperate, unemployed men and their champions, (such as writer John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath), on the other. Steinbeck’s best-selling novel was not even carried in the municipal library of his home-town of Salinas and, when Fox made a film of it, the Associated Farmers of California called for a boycott of all 20th Century Fox films. Death-threats were also made against him. The pro-union stance taken by the writer and the movie’s director John Ford, was enough to get both men investigated by Congress, during the McCarthy ‘Red Scare’ era, for alleged pro-Communist leanings.

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The Hays Office was certainly a force to be reckoned with during the Second World War, but this did not deter some studios, (in this case Warner Brothers), from tackling controversial material anyway. Dr Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) was one such film. It attracted the ire of various community groups who felt that the subject of syphilis was not one that merited a movie treatment. Dr Paul Ehrlich, you see, was the gentleman who developed Salvarsan 606, a cure for syphilis and the most prescribed drug in the world until penicillin came along in the 1940s. However, he was also Jewish, a fact that Warners skirted around, unwilling to antagonise the lucrative German market in 1939. The picture was nominated for an Academy Award for its original screenplay, but lost out to Preston Sturges and The Great McGinty.

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Lucille Ball & husband Desi Arnaz

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The Untouchables (1959-63)

Desi Arnaz, husband of TV superstar Lucille Ball, was executive producer of Desilu Productions, the company that produced the smash TV hit series The Untouchables (1959). High-ranking members of the Chicago Mafia family were furious at the portrayal of Italians in general and the Mafia in particular in the series, and actually ordered a gangland ‘hit’ on Arnaz! Several hitmen hid in trees and shrubs outside his home one night, intent on assassinating him when he drove into his driveway. Fortunately for Desi, he did not return home that night. Cooler heads prevailed over the next day or two and the contract was recalled. He was a very lucky man. Even his boyhood friendship with Sonny Capone (Al’s son) would not have saved him, had the ‘hit’ not been cancelled.

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Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) starred Susan Hayward. The film is based on the real life relationship that existed between Bing Crosby and his wife, former songstress Dixie Lee. Evidently, when Bing became the biggest thing since sliced bread, completely over-shadowing his wife’s career, she took her new role as merely the wife of Bing Crosby very badly and hit the booze. Hayward’s portrayal of an alcoholic earned her the first of her five Oscar nominations. Co-star Marsha Hunt, however, did not enjoy working with the picture’s star. ‘Miss Susan Hayward never talked to her co-workers when waiting for a take’, she remembered. ‘She took no interest in the rest of us. It was extremely strange – as if we did not exist.’

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Patrice & Errol 1950 publicity shot

Errol Flynn met bespectacled redhead Patrice Wymore at a tea party a few months prior to them making Rocky Mountain together in 1950. He rather unkindly described her to friends as: ‘No great shakes in the looks or upholstery department.’ Nevertheless, he soon announced that he and Patrice would marry. ‘It was the glasses that did it’, he quipped. But first he had to break off his engagement to a Romanian princess. He had his housekeeper do that with a phone call. Errol was 41, but looking considerably older and worse for wear, when he wed Patrice. She was 24 and deeply in love. They would produce a daughter (Arnella) in 1953 and spend much of their time in Jamaica where Errol raised cattle and grew coconuts. Unfortunately, he continued his philandering, boozing and drug use. He and Patrice had separated by the rime he died in 1959 at the age of 50.

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Lovely Luise Rainer 1938

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Robert Taylor in the 30s

Dual-Oscar winner Luise Rainer was a deep thinker, a lady who always felt there were better things to do in life than make movies. ‘To do a film’, she explained, ‘is like having a baby. You labour, you labour, you labour, and then you have it. And then it grows up and it grows away from you. But to be proud of giving birth to a baby…proud? No, every cow can do that.’ She once found herself seated next to Hollywood heart-throb Robert Taylor at a studio function. Endeavouring to engage him in conversation, she asked him a question related to his ambitions in life: ‘What are your ideas’, she enquired. ‘What do you want to do?’ Bob was not the sharpest pencil in the box, but she was still staggered by his reply. ‘He wanted to have ten good suits to wear, elegant suits of all kinds; that was his idea’, she recalled. ‘I practically fell under the table.’ Taylor was notorious for giving a whole new meaning to the word ‘shallow’. The man was a pretty face devoid of substance, as his appearance before the HUAC would soon make abundantly clear to everyone.

1 Comment

  1. Playhouse 90 the anthology TV series did an episode called “The Comedian”on February 14,1957.
    It is a compelling and dramatic piece based upon the novel by Ernest Lehman and the teleplay by the amazing Rod Serling.

    We watch comic Sammy Hogarth(Mickey Rooney in a bravura performance)as he rehearses for his weekly TV comedy show.
    Sammy is massively egotistical,difficult,nasty,manipulative & glories in exercising his power over others.

    Rumors were that Sammy was based upon Milton Berle & his 50s TV show.

    Writer Kliph Nesterhouse believes it follows the career of Red Buttons who also had a weekly TV show back then. There were bloodbaths almost weekly with the staff & cast as Red got carried away with his popularity & fame.

    Television and film has made much out of Elliot Ness and his Untouchables. Closer examination reveals that they were exalted beyond what they were but it made great publicity.
    No one questions their dedication or bravery. However,lots of fiction got mixed in with the true story in books and late with the TV show & film by Brian Depalma.

    If Errol Flynn had really taken good care of himself I believe that he would have made an excellent James Bond.
    True,had he lived beyond 1959 he would have been in his early fifties when the 007 films came along in the 60s.
    Still,when I see the physical condition that Tom Cruise is in now at his age and the stunts he performs in his Mission:Impossible movies it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Flynn could have done the same thing.

    Alas,we know he let his addictions destroy Robin Hood.

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