The Misfits and the End of an Era

"Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dyin's as natural as livin'. The man who's too afraid to die is too afraid to live." Clark Gable in The Misfits

Another public apology, this time to the marvelous Shadowplay blog– a longtime Pictorial favorite. I agreed to participate in their recent The Late Films Blogathon: a week long look at the final films of directors, actors and writers. A fascinating concept and I was psyched to participate and… absolutely bollocked it up. More than a week overdue, here’s my entry. Major apologies to Shadowplay– one of the best damn blogs on the web.

By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs.  On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

So if you’ve not seen The Misfits, it is a semi-romantic drama revolving around a curious love quadrangle: Aging cowboy (Gable) falls for a beautiful but damaged divorcee (Monroe) and the two set up, uh, housekeeping in a cottage in the Nevada desert belonging to Gable’s friend (Eli Wallach) who also happens to have the hots for Monroe, but she seems to be more emotionally attached to their punch-drunk friend Perce (Clift). It’s an odd structure, perhaps due to the fact that there isn’t any, as Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study as a Western romance.

It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful. In The Misfits, Marilyn is not acting. She is Marilyn– exposed and naked and shivering in the scalding Nevada sun. There is a moment towards the end of the film when Monroe accompanies Gable, Wallach and Clift to go “mustang’n” as they call it (roping up herds of wild mustang), where Marilyn erupts in a way that is, to this day, unsettling. The emotionally fragile Monroe, who has been horrified by the ferocity required in Gable and Wallach’s trade, finally has a meltdown. She is a white dot in the Nevada desert, screaming “MURDERERS” with blood-curdling tremor. Clift, the one emotional connection she has in the film, senses she’s right and, usurping Gable’s leadership, sets them free.

Monroe hated the moment.” He could have written me anything, and he comes up with this. If that’s what he thinks of me, then I’m not for him and he’s not for me.”

The emotional instability and frustrated relationships on the screen absolutely mirror what was going on behind the scenes.

By the time filming began in the High Sierras, the Miller/Monroe marriage was over. The two weren’t on speaking terms, although for sake of keeping up appearances, they shared a suite on location. But the cast and crew on this hellish shoot found themselves inadvertently herded off like the mustangs, into separate camps: Camp Miller and Camp Monroe.

Monroe, never the easiest actress to work with, had by this time become so addicted to pills that it was almost impossible for her to work. She suffered from acute insomnia, taking up to four Nembutals a night, and still could not sleep. As result of her insomnia, and a drug-induced state of paranoia, Monroe caused extreme delays in shooting, shutting down production entirely on three separate occasions.

Marilyn on set (copyright Magnum photos)

Clift too had reached a crisis point in both his professional and personal life and, being an insomniac like Monroe, was similarly dependent on pills. His alcoholism had earned him a high-risk reputation that made the Misfits crew apprehensive. Producer Frank Taylor was kept on 24-hour call should Monroe or Clift have … an emergency.  “Monroe and Clift were psychic twins,” said Taylor. “They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.”

There in the midst of Monroe’s endless delays, Miller’s frantic rewrites, Huston’s laissez-faire directorial approach (he seemed more interested in the gambling casinos than anything else), and Clift’s drug problem, Clark Gable labored to remain a true professional.

In the film, Gable’s character is a Cowboy forced to face the fact that (to steal from Margaret Mitchell) his civilization is one that has gone with the wind. The same was true of Gable himself, on the Misfits set.

Gable was, after all, The King of Hollywood: a veteran of screen who had weathered personal tragedies and career highs and lows with resounding resilience. Gable was a pro from the Studios System era when actors were, beneath all the glamour, 9-5 blue collar workers: they were up at 5am, were expected to show up on time, know their lines, and the directors were to get the job done on time and on budget. And so, the 59 year old, now looking older than his years, found himself on a set more or less rooted in chaos. The troubled shoot’s endless delays plagued Gable, who would retreat in the off hours to work on his new car and race it around the desert. As Gable became increasingly dissatisfied with the project, he began to drank heavily. (To say that Gable held his liquor better than his costars is quite an understatement.)

Gable was also unnerved by the acting approach of his costars: Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines. And still Gable tried his best not to complain, and more importantly, remain sympathetic to everyone, especially Monroe and Clift.

From Warren Harris’ Gable biography:  “Monroe finally tottered out in stiletto heels and a low cut white dress, marched straight over to Gable and apologized for the delay. Gable put his arms around her and said, You’re not late honey,” and took her by the hand and led her to a quiet corner for a private chat. Whatever Gable told her made her giggle and then laugh out loud. From then on they had a cordial working relationship.”

The King & Queen of Hollywood

One of the few times Gable did throw something of a fit (and for good reason) occurred only after having been pushed to the limit by Clift, whose scenes often required many retakes. Clift was ad-libbing with Gable in a scene and took to playfully punching Gable in the arm. Gable had arthritis. After repeatedly telling Clift to stop (which only made the at times mischievous Clift do it more) Gable lost it and, in the middle of the take, bellowed “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, CUT THAT OUT!”

Clift burst into tears.

Shooting stopped.

One can only imagine the look of disbelief on Gable’s face as he turned to the crew and shouted “What in the fuck is the world coming to!”

Only weeks later, on November 6 1960, Gable suffered a massive heart attack and, ten days later, the King of Hollywood was dead.

Gable’s refreshingly honest self effacing personality, manifest from the earliest days of his stardom, proved true even in death with his request of a closed casket. “I don’t want a bunch of strangers staring down at my wrinkles and fat belly when I’m dead.” This straightforward quality mirrors an interview from the glory days of the 1930s: “I don’t believe I’m king of anything. I’m not much of an actor… I’m no Adonis, and I’m as American as the telephone poles I used to climb to make a living. [Men] see me broke, in trouble, scared… they see me making love to Harlow or Colbert and they say if he can do it, I can do it, and figure it’ll be fun to go home and  make love to their wives.”

As is often the habit, Hollywood was eager to point blame on a premature death. Monroe’s behavior was such a stress on Gable it gave him a heart attack. Huston not using a double for Gable gave him a heart attack.

Gable and the end of an era...

Kay Gable’s now famous remarks to Louella Parsons are more or less the reason for this.

“It wasn’t the physical exertion that killed him, it was the horrible tension, that eternal waiting, waiting, waiting. He waited around forever, for everybody. He’d get so angry that he’d just go ahead and do anything to keep occupied. That’s why he did those awful horse scenes where they dragged him on his stomach. He had a stand-in and a stuntman, but he did most of it himself. I told him ‘your’e crazy’ but he wouldn’t listen.”

From John Huston’s autobiography: “One of the myths attached to ‘The Misfits’ was that Clark Gable died of a heart attack because of over-exertion on this film. This is utter nonsense. Toward the end of the picture there was a contest between Clark and the stallion the cowboys had captured. It looked like rough work, and it was, but it was the stunt men who were thrown around, not Clark.”

NOT a stunt double.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Monroe did not attend Gable’s funeral (although Miller did), although it is reported she cried for two days straight after hearing the shocking news.

One year and nine months later, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Beverly Hills home.

Upon learning of Monroe’s death, which shook Clift greatly, he was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

Clift would make two more films after The Misfits: Huston’s Freud and Raoul Levy’s The Defector: the first a mistake from start to finish ensuring Clift’s inability to work anywhere in Hollywood and leading to the last film, a European spy flick filmed on the Continent. Like Gable, Clift would die of a heart attack before its release.

The eerie lyrcisism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: “Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.”

Film Fashion Frenzy: Cinema Fashion Shops of the 1930s

This post is in conjunction with today’s Fashion in Film Blogathon behing hosted by the lovely Angela at The Hollywood Revue!

Carole Lombard, 1937,

Scene: Main Street, USA. 1937. Boy and girl at the local theatre watching the new Carole Lombard comedy Nothing Sacred. Lots of laughter, lots of coddling. The sight of Lombard in a voluminous yet slinky black dress catches both of their attentions. The Boy: “My god,” he thinks, “look at those [insert female euphemism of choice].”  The Girl:  My god,” she thinks, “look at that dress!”

She wants it.

She needs it.

She is instantly convinced that owning it will make her fella think her [euphemisms] are every bit as noteworthy as Lombard’s.

And Hollywood, that eager opportunist, was ready to oblige.

Enter, stage left, a start-up by New York entrepreneur Bernard Waldman called Cinema Shops– a nationwide chain of retail outlets dedicated to bringing big-screen fashion to small town shops.

From the book Movies and Mass Culture by John Belston:

“In 1930, Waldman played the role of fashion middle-man for all major studios except Warner Bros. (Warners, always a loner, established its own Studio Styles stores in 1934). By the mid-1930s Waldman’s system genrally operated as follows: sketches and/or photographs of styles to be worn by specific actresses in specific films were sent from the studios to the bureau. The staff first evaluated these styles and calculated new trends. They then contracted with manufacturers to have the
styles produced in time for the film’s release. They next secured advertising
photos and other materials that would be sent to retail shops.”

By the late 1930s, motion pictures were the most powerful influential means of communication the world had ever known. Itsexponential effects were, as of yet still incalculable, but its tremors deeply felt on an international scale.

An MGM short subject from 1940 entitled Hollywood: Style Center of the World does a succinct succint job of capturing this movement at its zenith. Before descending into an MGM parade of studio propaganda, it captures the very spirit of this fascinating—and never to be repeated—time in popular culture.

Sweet little Mary gets a telephone call from her beau in uniform, Joe. He’s in town and wants a night out. But …

Mary needs a dress. So she drags Papa into the city and they both pause in front of the town’s Cinema Shop.

From Movies and Mass Culture: “Waldman’s concern also established the best known chain of fashion shops, Cinema Fashions.  Macy’s contracted for the first of these shops in 1930 and remained a leader in the Hollywood fashion field. By 1934 tehre were 298 oficial Cinema Fashions shops (only one permitted in each city).”

Mary sees …

Mary remembers …

Mary buys it. (Or rather, Papa does.)

Driving home its point is a montage of middle America fields of grain, waving against the superimposed image of a smartly dressed young lady. Now a country girl, the narrator assures, is every bit as fashionable as her Big City sisters.

And who do they have to thank? Hollywood.

For Hollywood is a factory town just like any other– be it Detroit or Milwaukee. Only the skilled laboreres in this town happen to be writers, musicians, actors and …artists.

Like this one.

Dilligently working with conte crayon and tablet to furnish the natural wonders of his studios’ latest find.

Oh yeah. And his name just so happens to be Adrian:

The inumerable movie fan magazines of the day seized upon this trend and made monthly fashion editorials (featuring, of course, screen starlets) a mainstay fixture. As the MGM short concludes, we get glimpses of factories working overtime to reproduce the fashions created by the black ink and pastel color of Adrian… his canvas creations becoming celluloid dreams-come-true as seen below:

Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Again, from Movies and Mass Culture: “The sale of these fashions was tremendously aided by the release of photos to newspapers, major magazines and dozens of fan magazines. … In monthly issues of each of these magazine, millions of readers saw Bette Davis, Joan Crawford in a series of roles unique to this period: as mannequins modeling clothes, furs, hats and accessories that they would wear in forthcoming films…”

Photoplay magazine introduced “Hollywood Fashions,” was Photoplay magazines effort into the cinema fashion foray. Photoplay’s by then routine fashion sprea featured styles identical to those being distributed that month to Photoplay’s “Hollywood fashions” outlets nationwide. Advertised under banners such as “Now at Modest Prices: Styles of the Stars!”

A Cinema Fashions Shop

The Screen Book magazine shots below illustrate the cinema fashion frenzy, with Anne Sheridan and Priscilla Lane modelling their latest film frocks:

Ann Sheridan

Pinched in the Astor Bar: Frank Sinatra

Ol

So once in awhile, Ol’ Blue Eyes gets under my skin and, ring-a-ding-ding, he absolutely ends up doing it his way and there’s nothing I can do-be-do-be-do about it.
The Wee Small Hours and No One Cares have been regulars on my semi-new turntable– pieces of art that positively thrive in the acoustic-friendly, teensy confines of my studio. (One of the small perks to overpriced, undersized Hollywood living.)

Frankie, by many accounts, may have been an insufferable pain in the arse… but I’m perfectly willing to go out of my way to understand those foibles (God knows I’m an insufferable pain in the arse on many an occasion…!) the minute that rich baritone hits the scratching vinyl. After all, who are we if we are not all flawed?

Prior to his Academy Award winning role in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, Sinatra’s career had become a total write-off. From bobby-soxer idol to matinee movie star, Sinatra surrendered it all to face scandal head-on by marrying the woman of his dreams in 1951, Ava Gardner. The press had not been kind. Nor had his fans been loyal.

In between Frankie’s rejuvenating venture as a vocal artist with In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and his poignantly beautiful Where Are You? (1957), Sinatra’s resurrected career as popular recording artist and movie star benefited from this little MGM musical, 1956’s High Society.

The Pictorial could write volumes on Frankie but for the time being, I happen to love this delightful moment of unbridled frivolity in which, it is quite obvious, Frankie is having an absolute ball. The demons were still around the corner, chasing him as they always had and always would be, but it’s marvelous to see Frankie bring his A-Game in charming fraternal intoxication with Bing Crosby in High Society.

Just watch and let Frankie pinch YOU in the Asss-tor Bar:

p.s.: Frankie’s duet with Celeste Holm is likewise delightful:

Charlie Chaplin’s Studio: Then And Now

Charlie Chaplin, 1918. Autochrome photograph taken outside his as-yet-unfinished Studio on La Brea Avenue, Hollywood. I live exactly three blocks north from that studio's edge. The red brick of his studio, the deep blue of the sky and the quiet slope of the Hollywood hills remain exactly today as they were then ... oh how cruel time can be.

Every morning I pass Charlie Chaplin’s studio. And I hate myself for letting it have become routine. When I first moved to Hollywood five years ago, it was reverent Holy Ground. And, oh, it still is! When I remember it’s there, that is. Rushing to work with a head full of figures and deadlines succeeded in, momentarily, dulling its wonder.

Well. Penance is being paid for such disrespect.

These Autochrome photographs were taken during the construction of Charlie’s studio empire. The studio is still there, fully functional and quite unchanged these past 85 years since its dedication.

In a city where history is so easily and readily disposable, it is quite a testament indeed that the Tramp has so truly triumphed against time.

Chaplin on his studio backlot, 1918. Deep in production for A DOG'S LIFE .

Charlie on the backlot, in costume for A DOG'S LIFE-- the precursor to his groundbreaking classic THE KID.

Terrific autochorome shot of Charlie out front of the studio steps.

The Jim Henson Company is the reverent tenant occupying the Chaplin Studio today. Pictured here: Their absolutely charming homage: Kermit the Frog as the Little Tramp

The Chaplin Studio-front, 1922

Kermit the Tramp -- the Chaplin Studios today.

Looking north on La Brea Ave, 1918

Looking north on La Brea Avenue... 21st Century.

Charlie had a swimming pool at the north end of his studio. Here he is smiling (far left) while his moviestar best friend Douglas Fairbanks takes a dip. What's depressing about this shot is that the pool is now a parking lot for a Ross Dress for Less.

.

Charlie Chaplin's Studio: Then And Now

Charlie Chaplin, 1918. Autochrome photograph taken outside his as-yet-unfinished Studio on La Brea Avenue, Hollywood. I live exactly three blocks north from that studio's edge. The red brick of his studio, the deep blue of the sky and the quiet slope of the Hollywood hills remain exactly today as they were then ... oh how cruel time can be.

Every morning I pass Charlie Chaplin’s studio. And I hate myself for letting it have become routine. When I first moved to Hollywood five years ago, it was reverent Holy Ground. And, oh, it still is! When I remember it’s there, that is. Rushing to work with a head full of figures and deadlines succeeded in, momentarily, dulling its wonder.

Well. Penance is being paid for such disrespect.

These Autochrome photographs were taken during the construction of Charlie’s studio empire. The studio is still there, fully functional and quite unchanged these past 85 years since its dedication.

In a city where history is so easily and readily disposable, it is quite a testament indeed that the Tramp has so truly triumphed against time.

Chaplin on his studio backlot, 1918. Deep in production for A DOG'S LIFE .

Charlie on the backlot, in costume for A DOG'S LIFE-- the precursor to his groundbreaking classic THE KID.

Terrific autochorome shot of Charlie out front of the studio steps.

The Jim Henson Company is the reverent tenant occupying the Chaplin Studio today. Pictured here: Their absolutely charming homage: Kermit the Frog as the Little Tramp

The Chaplin Studio-front, 1922

Kermit the Tramp -- the Chaplin Studios today.

Looking north on La Brea Ave, 1918

Looking north on La Brea Avenue... 21st Century.

Charlie had a swimming pool at the north end of his studio. Here he is smiling (far left) while his moviestar best friend Douglas Fairbanks takes a dip. What's depressing about this shot is that the pool is now a parking lot for a Ross Dress for Less.

.

We've Been Liebstered! (I didn't know what it meant either…)

The Liebster AwardThe Kitty Packard Pictorial has been Liebstered! C’est a dire, we’ve been presented with the “Liebster Blog” award from one of our favorite fellow film fanatics, The Lady Eve Sidwich, the cinemaven behind The Lady Eve’s Reel Life. Take a sampling of her recent posts and you’ll see exactly why this blog stands so well out of the crowd. From a profile of legendary art director Lyle Wheeler, to a portrait of early Hollywood playground Catalina Island to serious critical analysis of rarely seen screen gems, Eve’s Reel Life is  at once intelligent and academic, yet wonderfully entertaining.

Thank you so much Eve for singling us out– MWAH!

RULES:

There are always rules, but the rules are actually the real fun of these web awards since they allow you the opportunity to recognize fellow bloggers who, let’s be honest, the spotlight should always be on. In this case, I am to choose five.

To the five blogs mentioned below, the rules dictate you link back to the Pictorial, and pick five other blogs on who to give the award…

1. SHADOWPLAY. David Cairns is a genius. And I mean that quite literally, without the least bit of hyperbole. This guy really is the genuine article. By following his blog, you’re liable to bounce from a D.W. Griffith melodrama to 70s Blaxploitation to  modern effects epics and back again, unified by a singular, uncompromising wit that makes this blog, well … genius. (I defy you NOT love a post about KING KONG entitled “The Skull Island Follies of 1933”)

2. SILENT VOLUME. Chris Edwards’ Toronto-based Silent Volume is so much more than just another blog.   Edwards cuts through the crap, calls a spade a spade, and his encyclopedic knowledge of  silent film, as well as his keen sense of politics, make his posts opinionated but fair.  He writes with energy and relevance– bearing truth to his blog’s motto: this medium is not dead. With  Edwards around, silent film is not only  alive– it is full of life.

3. VIV AND LARRY. London-based blogger Kendra has created one of the most decadent, swoon-worthy blogs on the internet, bar none. An ever-evolving love sonnet to the classical patron saints of 20th Century theatre, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Viv and Larry is more than just eye-popping gorgeousness. Respectful, insightful and at times even provocative, Viv and Larry is the Savoy Hotel of fan tributes.

4. HOLLYWOOD REVUE. Angela’s Hollywood Revue slogan is “Where We’re Always Ready for Our Close Up” and that’s just what she specializes in: insightful profiles of favorite Hollywood faces and films big and small. The reason to get up close and personal with Angela at her blog this month is her day-by-day coverage of Turner Classic Movie’s Summer Under the Stars festival. We are now midway through August and she is still going strong, producing solid feature film reviews on a daily basis.

5. DEAR OLD HOLLYWOOD. Robbie’s blog is a real treasure. In many ways, Robbie is a cinema archaeologist. Since 2009, he has been exhaustively documenting Southern California filming locations of many of movies great and small—classic and even, well … not so classic. But more than that, the ever-inquisitive Robbie takes us to former stars homes, watering holes and haunts. In my opinion, he does more to make old Hollywood a tangible reality than any other blog around.

We’ve Been Liebstered! (I didn’t know what it meant either…)

The Liebster AwardThe Kitty Packard Pictorial has been Liebstered! C’est a dire, we’ve been presented with the “Liebster Blog” award from one of our favorite fellow film fanatics, The Lady Eve Sidwich, the cinemaven behind The Lady Eve’s Reel Life. Take a sampling of her recent posts and you’ll see exactly why this blog stands so well out of the crowd. From a profile of legendary art director Lyle Wheeler, to a portrait of early Hollywood playground Catalina Island to serious critical analysis of rarely seen screen gems, Eve’s Reel Life is  at once intelligent and academic, yet wonderfully entertaining.

Thank you so much Eve for singling us out– MWAH!

RULES:

There are always rules, but the rules are actually the real fun of these web awards since they allow you the opportunity to recognize fellow bloggers who, let’s be honest, the spotlight should always be on. In this case, I am to choose five.

To the five blogs mentioned below, the rules dictate you link back to the Pictorial, and pick five other blogs on who to give the award…

1. SHADOWPLAY. David Cairns is a genius. And I mean that quite literally, without the least bit of hyperbole. This guy really is the genuine article. By following his blog, you’re liable to bounce from a D.W. Griffith melodrama to 70s Blaxploitation to  modern effects epics and back again, unified by a singular, uncompromising wit that makes this blog, well … genius. (I defy you NOT love a post about KING KONG entitled “The Skull Island Follies of 1933”)

2. SILENT VOLUME. Chris Edwards’ Toronto-based Silent Volume is so much more than just another blog.   Edwards cuts through the crap, calls a spade a spade, and his encyclopedic knowledge of  silent film, as well as his keen sense of politics, make his posts opinionated but fair.  He writes with energy and relevance– bearing truth to his blog’s motto: this medium is not dead. With  Edwards around, silent film is not only  alive– it is full of life.

3. VIV AND LARRY. London-based blogger Kendra has created one of the most decadent, swoon-worthy blogs on the internet, bar none. An ever-evolving love sonnet to the classical patron saints of 20th Century theatre, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Viv and Larry is more than just eye-popping gorgeousness. Respectful, insightful and at times even provocative, Viv and Larry is the Savoy Hotel of fan tributes.

4. HOLLYWOOD REVUE. Angela’s Hollywood Revue slogan is “Where We’re Always Ready for Our Close Up” and that’s just what she specializes in: insightful profiles of favorite Hollywood faces and films big and small. The reason to get up close and personal with Angela at her blog this month is her day-by-day coverage of Turner Classic Movie’s Summer Under the Stars festival. We are now midway through August and she is still going strong, producing solid feature film reviews on a daily basis.

5. DEAR OLD HOLLYWOOD. Robbie’s blog is a real treasure. In many ways, Robbie is a cinema archaeologist. Since 2009, he has been exhaustively documenting Southern California filming locations of many of movies great and small—classic and even, well … not so classic. But more than that, the ever-inquisitive Robbie takes us to former stars homes, watering holes and haunts. In my opinion, he does more to make old Hollywood a tangible reality than any other blog around.