“YOU THINK just because you made a little money that you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in laundry!”
That was Ann Blyth, in one of her many vicious confrontations with Joan Crawford, in the 1945 classic movie, Mildred Pierce. Blyth, playing Crawford’s ungrateful, murderous daughter Veda, was so awful, that she inspired another of the film’s characters, Eve Arden to quip: “Alligators have the right idea, they eat their young.” (Eve was always good for the pungent remark. In Ziegfeld Girl playing a chorine past her prime: “I’ll think I’ll retire, settle down and adopt a boy — about 21!”
• Mildred Pierce was Blyth’s fifth film and her first major movie role — she had begun, auspiciously on Broadway. She was Oscar-nominated (At that time, still a teenager, she was the youngest nominee ever.) Blyth could have been a great film noir dame, but she was also blessed with an exquisite lyric soprano, and was placed in a series of musicals, in which she played “good girls.” She was somewhat typecast, although she had a great dramatic role in 1957’s The Helen Morgan Story. And earlier, she was marvelous in the famous tearjerker, Our Very Own.
Now, at last, a book about Blyth’s long career is coming. It is titled Ann Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star, written by Jacqueline T. Lynch. This examines and analyzes how the darker, edgier aspects of Blyth’s persona were tamped down in favor of films that showcased her beauty and her singing voice. (Not that there was anything wrong with her musicals, such as Rose Marie, The Student Prince and Kismet.) The book has a lot of detail about her films, her many stage, TV and cabaret appearances. 300 photos.
•I recall seeing her back in 1992 at New York’s Rainbow & Stars. She was vocally and physically ravishing. I remember thinking maybe that famous Twilight Zone episode, in which she played an eternally youthful movie star, had some real-life credence?
Miss Blyth is still with us, still lovely. Glad she getting her due.
When I met Ann at Liza Minnelli’s star-crammed wedding in 2002, she was so charming, and spoke reverently about Joan Crawford, who she knew I knew.
•P.S. Fans of Turner Classic Movies are familiar with Ann Blyth’s tribute to Joan Crawford, who became a lifelong friend after their work on Mildred. Although Crawford, in later life, was always free with withering criticisms of stars (women) of whom she did not approve, once you won Crawford over, she was devoted. More than that, she knew what was good for her movies. Blyth almost takes Mildred Pierce away from Crawford, but Joan realized what was needed. (You won’t see or hear anything more chilling than Veda’s confession about sleeping with Mildred’s hubby: “Monty’s going to divorce you and marry me. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”)
•CAROL BURNETT became a star with her debut on Broadway in Once Upon a Mattress, a musical version of the The Princess and the Pea fairytale. Now the show, written by Jay Thompson, with music and lyrics by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer, will have a revival, I feel certain Miss Burnett will approve.
From November 22-January 3, John “Lypsinka” Epperson and Jackie Hoffman take this musical to unexpected new heights. Directed by Jack Cummings III, Mattress, will be at the Abrons Arts Center, presented by The Transport Theater Group. Call 212-564-0333.
•THE LATEST issue of The Hollywood Reporter is packed with news, as usual.
Two stories stood out, to me. One was Michael Wolff’s take on “How Brian Williams Will Save MSNBC.” As we all know, in the wake of Brian’s exaggerations, he has been replaced by highly regarded Lester Holt as the face of NBC Nightly News. So Williams has been “demoted” to become the “breaking news” guy for MSNBC.
As writer Wolff points out, the steady and still dignified presence of Williams has arrived just in time. MSNBC has gone so far to the left, and has employed so many fools (or smart people who in their arrogance and self-amusement, behave foolishly) that even some of the most liberal liberals have turned away in embarrassment. Not to mention the omnipresence of network’s much-mocked Locked Up marathons.
So, Brian Williams is the start of what might be a series of upheavals and program changes and shifts. I hope he does well because everybody deserves a second chance — and he didn’t kill anybody, for heaven’s sake! Also because I’d like to see MSNBC recover itself. With the presidential elections looming, having a reasonable liberal voice on TV is more important than ever, now.
•”TODAY’S MEN are shameless hussies!” That’s a quote from the other Hollywood Reporter story that caught my eye. Written by Merle Ginsberg, it is titled “Introducing The “Stromo!” Hollywood’s Male Stars Go Gay (ish)”
This is about the trend for straight male leading men to not care about, and even encourage, the idea that they might play in another ballpark. They pose provocatively wearing as little as the law allows, give major interviews to gay publications (The Advocate, Out) play gay roles and don’t get all bent out of shape when asked if they are gay.
Nick Jonas, Channing Tatum, James Franco, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Daniel Radcliffe, Ryan Reynolds are just a few who are on board. And why not? All actors love to be admired. Why not cash in on the lucrative gay audience? And, as writer Ginsberg points out, straight men, in general now enjoy being objectified, in the way women are — they want to be sex objects. Admired by the women they sleep with, and by the men they don’t sleep with. It’s a big tease. It’s big business. (The Magic Mike movies appeal equally to both sexes.)
There’s always been “beefcake” but the old studios put out those photos ostensibly to appeal exclusively female movie-goers–although many of the “at home” sessions with the likes of Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowell and Tab Hunter, lounging around steam rooms or poolside, were coded to alert the then-closeted gay audience. And in the 1970s and early 80s we had ambiguous, androgynous rock stars, like David Bowie, who hinted they were open to anything. Today’s well-chiseled men are brazenly putting it out there for everybody to see and fantasize over. (Although, let’s give credit where credit is due — 1981’s male-stripper TV movie For Ladies Only starring Gregory Harrison. That was the original Magic Mike.)
Anyway, metrosexual is out; “Stromo” is in.
It will be the cream of the jest if, in a few years, male actors begin to revolt against this objectification, just as many women have. “Oh, no — I’m more than that…I won’t take my shirt off…I’m not showing my ass. I am a serious actor!”
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