Lucille Ball Would Have Been Perfect in a Non-Musical Remake of “AUNTIE MAME”

Lucille Ball as the lovable character “MAME.”

Lucille Ball, they say, was terribly miscast in the title role of the movie MAME.  It’s been uttered so many times you’d think it was a universal truth.  “Lucy was too old.”  “Lucy couldn’t sing.”  “Angela Lansbury played it better on Broadway.”  I could  recite the list of reasons why they say she shouldn’t have done it the way she did it in my sleep.

And yet…

If you take away the distracting, and ridiculous, soft-focus shots they used to film her close-ups, which the movie could well have done without,  and if the singing numbers had been dubbed, what would you have?  The lady’s acting in the role of irrepressible, unconventional “Mame Dennis” can hardly be faulted.  She nails every scene, and not as a “Lucy Ricardo” type, either.  If I hadn’t grown up on “I Love Lucy” reruns, I never even would have guessed this part was played by the same actress.

Take the scene where she’s fired from the department store.  She’s tried on the roller skates to demonstrate them for her handsome customer, “Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside.”  She gets fired from the job.  She can’t get out of the skates because she’s knotted the laces.

What does Mame do?  Well, first let’s look at what she ought to do, what anyone else in her position back then would have done.  After all, it’s a scene set in 1929, she’s broke, the world is a different, stuffier place, and to be a lady accidentally on skates out in public in a store is supposed to be mightily embarrassing.  Yet watch the scene.  The character holds herself up high, as if being stuck in those skates is an honor, not a disaster.  She makes it look deliberate, a matter of pride, yet it’s all subtly done.

I imitated her stance for years, after seeing this movie as a child, whenever I got myself into a bit of a jam.  If life gives you lemons, stand tall, even if you’re five foot one, like me, and make some lemonade, folks.  Wherever you are, Lucy, thank you so much for that scene!

I only wish that Lucy had tried to make a remake of AUNTIE MAME, the non-musical movie version of the same basic story that was made in the 1950’s and starred Rosalind Russell.  Yes, Lucy in the musical was a mistake, but if she had starred in AUNTIE MAME, sans the unnecessary gauzy close-ups and songs, I think she’d have been remembered well for it, and rather than going down in motion picture history as something of a bad joke, it would be remembered as a good movie.

And let me add this: I hate it that Lucy took abuse for this movie!  Her version was the very first one I saw of this story, so Lucy was “my Mame.”  The joy and love and fun of this movie gave me a whole new perspective – and even got me through several godawful years at a terrible, abusive school.  Wherever you are, I say, BRAVA, Lucy!  Just wish I could have told you in person.

 

Stunning in every outfit: Lucy as MAME.

What an Exhibit: Costumes from the Movie CHICAGO! Song Clips, Too:

Surprise, surprise! Me standing in front of the very costumes worn by Richard Gere (the red suit) and Queen Latifah (the gold dress) in my favorite movie, CHICAGO!

Surprise, surprise! Me standing in front of the very costumes worn by Richard Gere (the red suit) and Queen Latifah (the gold dress) in my favorite movie, CHICAGO!

On Sunday I went, for the very first time, to the Museum of the Moving Image at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, one of the first movie studies in the world.  They were having a screening of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and since I love that movie, I couldn’t resist.  I was with a friend who had, incredibly, never seen it, which made the whole idea of watching it in the museum’s gigantic screening room even more fun.  It’s the story of a wild and crazy chase to find stolen loot.

I had to refrain from doing my imitation of Jimmy Durante saying, “There’s this big double-ya, see?  There’s this big double-ya,” until after the movie was over, so as not to spoil it for my friend, which wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.  Meanwhile, we got there early enough to eat lunch at a cantina and then see the exhibits in the museum before the show started.

Well, I got one of the most pleasant surprises ever!  One of my favorite movies of all time is Chicago with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah.  Know how much I loved it?  I saw it 27 times!  It was playing across the street from my old job.  I would go from work to the theater, eat a hot dog and a soda for dinner, and watch Chicago regularly on my way home.  Without even trying, I have that whole movie memorized from start to finish, as a result.  I think arguably the best musical number in motion picture history is “All That Jazz.”  That said, there’s no such thing as a number in Chicago that isn’t wonderful, including “Razzle Dazzle” and “When You’re Good To Mama.”  Kander and Ebb outdid themselves with their fine and tuneful score.  I’ve also occasionally, whenever attitude is called for, put on the same air of boldness combined with insouciance as Catherine Zeta-Jones exhibited during the “Hot Honey Rag.”  It’s especially effective to bring to mind whenever you have to give some “worthy recipient” the cold shoulder – trust me there, tee hee!

I adore that movie on more levels than there is room for here.  Four out of the five main characters are completely, totally, 100% full of bullshit, and not only that, but they’re proud of it, which makes the movie more true to life than most others!

Getting back to the museum, at the costume exhibit, a suit trimmed with men’s sequins and a gold gown drew my eye.  The rest of me followed, like a magnet.  Both of those costumes looked like they were from the 1920s, my favorite era, and also looked familiar…well, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the signs saying they were worn in Chicago by Richard Gere and Queen Latifah!

Of course they’re familiar!  I saw the movie 27 times!

How could I resist taking that happy selfie in front of them?

Watch Richard Gere giving them the old “Razzle Dazzle” here:

Queen Latifah in the gold gown sings “When You’re Good to Mama” here:

Catherine Zeta-Jones struts her stuff in “All That Jazz” here:

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger perform “The Hot Honey Rag” here.  If you ever need to snub somebody, just think of Catherine’s ‘tude in this one!

Oh, and last but certainly not least, here’s the trailer from It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Enjoy!

 

 

Florine Stettheimer: Cathedrals of Broadway

"Cathedrals of Broadway" by artist Florine Stettheimer.  Wow!

“Cathedrals of Broadway” by artist Florine Stettheimer. Wow!

It drew my eye from clear across the room.

The room in question happened to be one of the exhibit halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I visited on Sunday to take a friend’s lecture tour.  As it was nearing an end, I saw this painting and had to take a closer look.

What caught my attention was the word ROXY.  The Roxy was a New York City theater.  It was owned by a man named Roxy Rothafel.  He was involved in the story of Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc as having been the impresario who, allegedly, offered to send Dainty June for acting lessons, which could only have happened over her mother Rose Hovick’s dead body.   In the musical GYPSY, he was called “Mr. T. T. Grantziger.”

So I couldn’t resist checking out the painting to see it up close, and to see if the image of the man in the middle was Roxy himself.

It wasn’t.  It was Jimmy Walker, the dapper Mayor of New York back in the 1920’s.  A member of my family, Ruth Knight, used to tell me stories of having grown up next door to him.  She would watch him leave the house every evening, dressed for a night on the town.  There’s movement all over the canvas.

The painting is fabulous.  It’s the whole shebang of Broadway in a nutshell.  Look at it and you can see the music, the dances, the lights, the stars, the audience members…and the mayor who loved it all, too.

Rothafel also built Radio City Music Hall.  He’s said to haunt it on opening nights.  Members of audiences with the “second sight” have even reported “sightings” of him, accompanied by a starlet.  Truth being stranger than fiction, I couldn’t make anything like this up if I tried!

Artist Florine Stettheimer

Artist Florine Stettheimer

Another cool NYC painting by the same artist, SPRING SALE AT BENDEL'S.  That was a department store.

Another cool and energetic NYC painting by the same artist, SPRING SALE AT BENDEL’S. That was a department store.

Who Was the Real June Havoc?

Proof of the pudding: Baby June appearing onstage with her sister, Louise, later known as Gypsy Rose Lee.

Proof of the pudding: Baby June appearing onstage with her sister, Louise, later known as Gypsy Rose Lee.

I can’t help it.  I continue to be fascinated, if at the same time put off, by the strange, and bogus, tales told by “Baby June,” June Havoc.

I first wondered about June’s stories when I was just a teen reading her first memoir, Early Havoc.  There’s a harrowing scene in that book of many eerie vignettes where the man June runs away to marry claims her mother, Rose, attempted to shoot him at a police station rather than let him take her daughter.  He was saved by the alleged safety catch of Rose’s gun, we are told.  Rose is allowed to walk out of the police station, in Kansas, yet, in 1928, after committing an attempted murder, and in front of several cops.

Even as a teenager, I felt this story did not ring true.  If the police allowed this scenario to happen, I always thought, then I’m the Queen of Romania.

When researching June mother, Rose Hovick, for my book Mama Rose’s Turn, I found out that this story was, indeed, a whopper.  I have the documentation from Kansas to prove it.  It’s not the only one, either.  Almost everything that June said, when fact-checked, turned out to be a blatant lie.

What I don’t understand about these “June tales” is why.

She had an “out” for the Kansas gun story, at least.  She recounted it second-hand one as she’d heard from her husband.  (She claims she was hiding out in a whorehouse while he was almost being killed by her mother in front of the cops, if you can believe it.)  Yet she didn’t have any excuses for other things she told her unsuspecting, trusting public, a quick sampling of which includes:

-She took several actions to stop the Broadway musical production, GYPSY, yet later claimed up down and sideways that she “never did anything to prevent it”;

-She made up lurid stories about how several relatives died;

-She labeled a successful relative with a decent career “a wastrel;”

-She said she and her sister never appeared onstage as children in her act, yet I’ve got two photos of them on stages, together, right here in this blog post; and there’s more.  A lot more.

Some stars’ lives may have been an open book, but June’s actual life remains hidden behind one untrue story after another.

Her more strident fans are none too pleased about the things I have uncovered, to put it mildly.  A friend said the fans would rather rail at me than face the fact they were played for gullible fools by their idol, which I believe is exactly what has several of them in an uproar.  They’d rather blame the messenger.  Good thing they weren’t around during the Holy Roman Empire.  One, who had worked with June but was primarily a June-sychophant, even contacted my publisher, hoping to get me in trouble, which didn’t work.  I have documentation.  The sychophant didn’t.

Still, I cannot help but wonder who this woman, known variously as Ellen June Hovick, Baby June, Dainty June, and June Havoc, actually was.  What kind of woman was June?  What motivated her?  Why would anyone tell such voluminous collections of outright lies?  Might there have been a real reason for so much obfuscation, or was it all just a dramatic woman’s fluke?

At first I wondered if a ghostwriter or agent had pushed her to do so in her memoirs, but it wasn’t just in writing that these confabulations were presented to the public, it was verbally in June’s interviews, too.  She even lied to the New York Times.  The content of the false stories is disturbing, too, as the intent of so many of them seems to be strictly to vilify.  What, exactly, was wrong with her?  In broadcasts, she always sounded stilted and a smidgen”off” to me, but this surpasses merely a little.  The more information I found was not true, the more I couldn’t help but wonder whether she was suffering from an extremely serious level of psychopathology.

I had heard June’s personal papers were going to be donated to a college in Massachusetts and looked forward to going there to see what, if anything, might possibly be gleaned from them,  but as far as I’ve been able to tell, they never arrived at the library where they were going to be housed.

Instead, I recently learned, after June, followed by her assistant, died, a lot of her personal belongings wound up sold to whoever wanted to buy them – at a Connecticut garage sale.  They’d been found in a storage locker.  What an unfortunate ending to the story of the magical child who once enthralled Jazz Age vaudeville audiences all over the country, so long ago.

Louise Hovick (Gypsy) and June onstage in Vaudeville.  Why did June deny it ever happened?

Another shot of Louise Hovick (Gypsy) and June onstage in Vaudeville. Why did June deny it ever happened?

pinocchio_shrugging_his_shoulders_disney_poster-raf6f309480d14efcbdcfe335c9091388_aisfx_400

Potential Authors: If You’ve Got the Dream, Have the Guts!

 

Peter Davison, Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver strut their stuff in the UK production of GYPSY.

Peter Davison, Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver strut their stuff in the UK production of GYPSY.  What a surprise I got when the CD arrived!

If you’re thinking about writing a book on something that fascinates you, and if you’re hesitating, have I got a story for you!

As I’ve said before, I had a fabulous time researching Rose Thompson Hovick, the real woman portrayed – though 75% fictitiously – in the Broadway musical GYPSY.

What I may not have previously mentioned was the amount of seemingly endless hard work that had to be put into it, first the two and a half years of research, then, when that was done, the Friday nights through the early hours of Monday mornings that I’d spend writing, sometimes on days so beautiful it wasn’t easy to stay inside the house.  I always let myself out for breakfast and dinner breaks along with a few short walks around my neighborhood during those “writing marathon” weekends.  “Eyes on the prize,” I’d tell myself.  I’d also sing the little Randy Newman song, “Almost There,” and get right back to work.  I had wanted to uncover the real story of Rose, from the time I first heard that GYPSY, while a spectacular show and a favorite, wasn’t an entirely accurate depiction of Gypsy Rose Lee’s family, and never once thought of not completing the project.  The show is great, yet the true story of Rose needed to get out there, too.

I had also loved the score of the show, by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, from the first time I heard it at the age of twelve.  I was growing up in a particularly stultifying suburb.  “Some People,” a character song sung by Rose about how much disdain she had for the life of those who never get anywhere and the fact that, “Some people can thrive and bloom, living life in the living room,” became my anthem, especially when I heard the hysterical lyrics at the end:

“Some people sit on their butts,

Got the dream, yeah!  But not the guts…”

A few weeks ago, when I heard that there was a new CD recording of GYPSY by the 2015 London cast, I wanted very much to hear it and ordered it from Amazon UK.  Imelda Staunton is starring in England as Rose.  The initial UK Chichester production had contacted me for information and photos with regard to their souvenir programme, which they’d later sent me.  It had since moved to the London West End stage, and I was very excited about the new CD.

It arrived about a week ago.  I didn’t really get the chance to listen to all of it (except “Some People”), or download it onto the iPod, until last night.  I went home from work, put on the CD, and took a look at the liner notes, wanting to see the cast pictures.  Those notes contained some very familiar content, and then I got a big surprise at the end.  The author of the notes “gratefully acknowledges Carolyn Quinn’s book MAMA ROSE’S TURN as an important source for this essay.”

How often does anybody order a CD they simply can’t wait to hear – and then find themselves to be one of the sources of the back story described within it? 

The moral of the story is this.  If there’s a book inside you that you want to write, by all means go for it!  Don’t just have the dream – have the guts!  This happened to me, and this latest development came when I wasn’t even expecting it.  I’ve also had several book signings, appeared on PBS television, and hear from people from all over the world who are just as interested in Rose as I always was.  If it happened to me, guess what?  It can happen to you, too!  Keep at it, and like Admiral Farragut said, “Don’t give up the ship!”

If you’re going to London, check out the show.   Speaking of ships, where’s the Queen Mary?  I’m thinking of possibly going to London to see GYPSY myself.  Bravo to the London cast!  Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

Carole Lombard: Full Movies!

Carole Lombard, whose spirit never dies.  BRAVA!

Carole Lombard, whose star never fades. BRAVA, Carole!

Here’s a treat for all of the Carole Lombard fans out there – and I know there are quite a lot of you.  The most popular posts on my blog are always the ones that mention the incomparable Carole.  Not bad for a lady who was born in 1906 and died in 1942!

Stories of Carole enchanted me when I first heard of her as a teen.  She was discovered at age 12 when her next-door neighbor saw her playing in the street.  Her real name was Jane Alice Peters, a perfectly pretty name, if you ask me, but one that didn’t have enough “glamour” in those days for Hollywood.  She consulted a numerologist and changed it to Carole Lombard.

So I went on YouTube and ran a search to see if there were any full Carole Lombard movies available for viewing online.  There are – in fact, it turns out that there are full Carole Lombard movies over there in abundance!  This, I have a feeling, will make quite a lot of people’s day.  Take your pick and by all means enjoy!

The Campus Carmen (1929) – Rare Silent Mack Sennett Comedy:

High Voltage (1929) with William Boyd:

The Racketeer (1929) with Robert Armstrong:

My Man Godfrey (1936) with William Powell, her first husband:

Nothing Sacred (1937) with Frederic March:

Swing High, Swing Low (1937) with Fred MacMurray:

Made for Each Other (1939) with James Stewart:

 

Interview on TALK OF THE TOWN

Annie Weiss, Me and Lisa Dascoli on TALK OF THE TOWN!

Annie Weiss, Me and Lisa Dascoli on TALK OF THE TOWN!

Ta-da!  Here I am in a fun interview about MAMA ROSE’S TURN with Annie Weiss and Lisa Dascoli on the radio show TALK OF THE TOWN.  Also on the show is Richard Skipper:

http://broadbandboxoffice.com/talk-town-nov-2014/