A Note of Welcome to "Tales From Hollywood & Vine"
Malvin Wald (1917-2008), was a truly gifted screenwriter. He was also the father of one of my oldest friends, Alan, whom I've mentioned in The K.F. Stone Weekly over the years. Mal was also part of a screen dynasty: his older brother Jerry (1911-1962) was both a screen writer ("Brother Rat," "They Drive By Night," "Peyton Place") and producer ("The Man Who Came to Dinner," "Key Largo," "Johnny Belinda," "Mildred Pierce.") Jerry has long been cited as the real-life inspiration for the character "Sammy Glick" in the 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? written by Bud Schulberg. (Schulberg's novel, by the way, is generally considered to be the greatest Hollywood novel of all time, bar none.
Alan and I spent a lifetime sitting next to one another in school (we sat in alphabetic order), were lab partners in chem class, and had the pleasure of playing hippy extras in Clint Eastwood's 1967 film Coogan's Bluff. (In the photo to the left, Alan's the bearded fellow just under the upraised arm; I'm the black-headed kid in the serape with his back to the camera. In another scene, I was dressed as Sgt. Pepper.) A half-century later, Alan is still making a living as an extra. Although few people outside of Hollywood can identify his father, Malvin, just about everyone knows the most famous line of his most famous screenplay (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award): "There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them." This new blog, Tales From Hollywood & Vine, is, in a way, an homage to Malvin . . . for indeed, there are "Eight million stories coming from Hollywood & Vine, the crossroads of the film world." For those of us who are collectively known as "Hollywood Brats," a lot of these stories are well known; we heard them at breakfast, lunch and dinner; many of them dealt with our neighbors, our friends' parents, our own parents . . . with people whom we went to school, shul, swimming lessons, or the barber shop . . .
For as long as I can remember, Hollywood - both the real town and the generic term - have been a focal part of my life. Dad, a Baltimore native who studied business at the University of Richmond, first hit Hollywood not too long after movies began to talk, intent on becoming the next Cary Grant or William Powell. (Ironically, in their latter years, Dad and Mr. Grant could easily have passed for white-haired identical twins!) Back in the '30s, Dad had several things going for him: he was head-turningly handsome, well-spoken and was a tailor's delight. The one thing he lacked was acting talent. As the old Hollywood saw goes "He couldn't act, but he sure knew how to behave." Despite never becoming an actor, the movie industry did eventually provide him with a good living; he wound up working for more than a half-century as a stock broker/investment advisor to a lot of Hollywood folks who otherwise would have spent every dime (and then some) they ever made. Without him and the men and women of his brokerage firm, they probably would have spent their latter years living on scraps.
Mom, on the other hand, came out to Hollywood having already spent a few years on stage in her native Chicago. She had - and still has - a sort of Roselyn Russell "Auntie Mame" personality. (That's mom in the mirror, with the legendary actress Lillian Gish looking over her shoulder at the left.) At the time the picture was taken - early 1941 - mom was appearing in the then-popular musical "Knickerbocker Holiday" at the Goodman Theatre, while Miss Gish, who learned the art of film from the legendary D.W. Griffith, was in the midst of a record-breaking 66-week run of "Life With Father" at the Blackstone. Shortly after her play closed, Mom left for Hollywood, where she met Dad at a party thrown by her cousin Mitzie in Beverly Hills. They married in 1943 and would remain married until dad's passing in 2002. Throughout their nearly 60-year marriage, Mom would occasionally return to the stage (notably in a revival of Arthur Laurents' "The Birdcage"), appear on radio, and keep her hand in the biz. Today, she is as active and beautiful as ever. (n.b.: Sorry for the bad quality of the photo of her and Miss Gish, but it is more than 75 years old. The picture of her below, taken some 70 years later, shows her still looking like a star.
Having been born in Hollywood and raised both in and around the movie industry, we (me and my "slightly-older-sister" Erica [Riki]) kind of took it for granted that being an actor, writer, director or musician was what everybody did. Our neighborhood was filled with people in the industry. Lots of our friends' parents were in film or television, and we went to school with a lot of future actors and musicians. As an added bonus, a lot of these folks were on my paper route. I well remember delivering the Greet Sheet (yes, the front page was actually light green!) to the likes of Milburn Stone ("Doc" on Gunsmoke), Bill Williams and his wife Barbara Hale ("Kit Carson" and "Della Street"), Jack Elam (one of filmdom's great bad guys), and Hershel Bernardi, to name but a few. The kids included the young Bobby Redford (who would wash his car shirtless in the front yard), Tom Selleck (a great basketball player in high school), William Katt (the son of "Kit Carson" and "Della Street" who would go on to star as "The Greatest American Hero" and "Paul Drake"), brothers Barry and Stanley Livingston ("My Three Sons") Jo Ann Harris and legendary composer Tom Scott. We even had a dog star in our neighborhood: "Paloma," a white standard French Poodle who was famous in the 1950s and '60s for being dyed different colors for various films. I best remember her playing Jane Mansfield's hand-dyed pooch (with whom she took a bath) in the 1957 comedy "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" In between films, when Palooma's owners, the Yortis's, let her fur grow out, Paloma would revert to being just another neighborhood dog; while in the midst of a shoot, however, she became a bit of a canine snob. Ah, such memories!
In a life filled to overflowing with serious subjects and serious activities - medical research protocols, university lectures, political speechwriting, weekly political essays and sermons - writing about Hollywood is as pleasurable and utterly intoxicating as indulging in a carafe of vintage wine and tray of canapés at the end of a long day. I have long been looking forward to creating this blog; my film students have long been prodding me to put the stories I tell on paper . . . or in this case into HTML.
Without question, film is the most collaborative of all art forms. And without a doubt, it is art - although art largely in the service of profit. (Originally, the term "movies" referred to all those nameless people who appeared on the screen, because they "moved.") Every "flicker," "galloping ghost-type, "film" or "motion picture" relies on the skills, the expertise and quirks of hundreds of people in order to create something the public will want to see. By and large, these creative people - actors, writers, directors, editors, composers, musicians, set-designers, make-up artists, carpenters, electricians, caterers, etc. are rarely your average drink of water; they are, generally speaking, a bit unconventional than average, to put it mildly. Hollywood - both the place and the Platonic absolute - is akin to a steamer-trunk of tales to be told. It is my intention to post perhaps two articles a month dealing with Hollywood trivia, a "behind-the-scenes" look at the making of well-known films, a bit of Hollywood history, a personal insight into a star who was just a neighbor, or gossip known mostly - if not exclusively - to Hollywood Brats like Alan Wald and yours truly. I hope you will enjoy reading these bi-weekly pieces nearly as much as I will no doubt enjoy writing them.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone