Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fond Farewell: Merrill-y Rolling Along

When a person passes away at age ninety-three, one can hardly claim shock or tragedy, but it's nonetheless affecting to see yet another of one's treasured stars leave the earth. Miss Dina Merrill, who has her very own tribute here (from nearly eight years ago!), was an unspeakably elegant, tirelessly giving and surprisingly capable actress whose passing on May 22nd we mark with this additional little photo essay.
Nedenia Hutton, as a daughter of wealthy parents, could have spent her life lunching and hobnobbing with other socialites, but instead she craved work as an actress. After attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts - and adopting the stage name Dina Merrill - she debuted on Broadway in 1945.
Marriage to a fellow heir the following year led to many years as a wife and mother of three, her stage career abandoned. Still, the embers burned and in 1955 she began to get her feet wet again in television productions. By 1957, she was working in The Desk Set opposite Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and being touted as the next Grace Kelly.
Many movie roles, opposite stars such as Jerry Lewis, Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster and Glenn Ford (with whom, as seen above, she went brunette in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, 1963) followed.
The mid-'60s brought multiple appearances on the stalwart, elegant games shows of the era like To Tell the Truth, What's My Line? and Password. The glittering, but sharp, Merrill added beauty and sparkle to many a celebrity panel.
If we're being honest, the harshness of early black & white was a bit of an enemy to Merrill's tan complexion and blonde hair, bringing out a severity in her looks, but that was offset by her enthusiastic smile and array of terrific gowns and jewels. (Check that necklace in the upper right corner!)
Though she was rich enough to burn through several outfits a day and dispose of them immediately after, she was not above wearing a gown more than once, as evidenced by this purple number, which she wore on TV, but also appeared in during a public appearance on a different night.
What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth, favorites of mine and many others, did have the unfortunate aspect of pitting the celebrities against the players, making them fight to earn a quick $50.00 or so. Conversely, Password showed the celebs working hard for a contestant, striving to get them as much money for themselves as possible.
One could do much worse in the way of entertainment than watching the ebullient and sparkling Merrill play Password with a handsome man in uniform!
And every once in a while, as in this What's My Line? appearance, she went all out, ramping up the glitz to the nth degree in a way that knocks us out even now.
By this time, Merrill's twenty-year marriage was faltering. She also strove to break away from the serene, inert socialite roles that were so often handed her, yet it was always difficult for anyone to believe that she was anything but a refined woman of means.
During an episode of Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre, Merrill met Cliff Robertson and the two swiftly fell in love. They wed the day after her divorce was final (and with it went her standing in the "high society" she'd been born into.)
The Robertsons seemed like a match made in heaven and worked together frequently. Merrill relished the chance to play cornpone henchwoman Calamity Jane opposite her husband as Shame as guest villains on Batman. Together, they had one child and by 1968 Robertson was an Oscar-winning actor for Charly.
Merrill stayed busy on practically every TV series, even filling in for the departed Barbara Bain in a two-part episode of Mission: Impossible. She also returned to Broadway with shows in both the 1970s and the 1980s.
Merrill was never able to call a TV series her own, despite working on countless others. In 1984, she was thrilled to be playing a ruthless bitch in the on-the-run drama Hot Pursuit (with Kerrie Keane and Eric Pierpoint as her targets), but the show was cancelled after only a few airings.
She'd continued to film the occasional movie as well, including Robert Altman's A Wedding (1978), Sidney Lumet's Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), Anna to the Infinite Power (1983) and even the corny Caddyshack II (1988) as Robert Stack's country club wife. In 1986, a shock came when her twenty year union to Robertson came to an end.
Robert Altman utilized her again in his 1992 film The Player, as the knowing executive secretary at a movie studio, elegance still dripping from her every pore.
In 1989, she married for the third and final time to former actor Ted Hartley and the two became a glittering couple, arm-in-arm at many social and charity events. In addition to her acting work, Merrill and her husband took over RKO Studios and worked to make it a viable film-making company once more. She also served on several business and organizational boards.
When Miss Merrill died at ninety-three, her net worth was reported in some circles in excess of $5 billion. She never rested on that, forever donating time and money to various social and medical charities (while occasionally popping up in various film projects as late as 2009.) She also suffered the horror of burying two of her four children. A son died in a boating accident prior to his twenty-fourth birthday and her daughter with Robertson perished of ovarian cancer at age thirty-eight. Merrill's own demise came courtesy of dementia.
Merrill was one of the few socialites to really sustain a long-term, successful acting career.  Now fame comes to the rich when they merely play their own tacky selves to an adoring (and misguided) public. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
We will sorely miss the beguiling, tasteful and refined Miss Dina Merrill, but have countless hours of her work available to us to keep her memory with us!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Spring Clearance

Wonderful items at marked-down prices. (Can you do better than FREE?  Ha ha!) Every so often, I feel the need to place forth a variety of pictures that either don't fit a particular post or which came my way after a post with which they would go has already been done. I have previously had Winter Clearance (back in December of 2013) and Fall Clearance (in October of 2014), so now that it's May, 2017, my recent yard sale has me in the frame of mind to clear out some more photos from the archive. On we go!
We know she has her detractors, but Miss Lana Turner remains an Underworld favorite (though, strangely enough, she has yet to receive and individual tribute.) This was a gorgeous portrait (albeit with some pretty severe brows & lips!) that is one of several I want to share today.
Turner didn't get on well at all with Richard Burton during The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) and does look more than a tad tentative in this photo (though he seems pretty invested in what he's doing!) I love the movie, despite its stodgy badness, because of its disaster climax involving heavy rains, an earthquake and a dam burst.
I love this shot of Turner and her Diane (1956) costar Roger Moore. This was Turner's last role under her longstanding MGM contract and was a big flop, but it's not without its rewards (including a seething performance by Marisa Pavan.)
One of our top faves of Turner's is Love Has Many Faces (1965), in which she dons a "Million-Dollar Wardrobe" by Edith Head. This, apparently, was what a wealthy socialite wore to an Acapulco funeral service!
One of THE most elusive projects of Turner's is the highly-expensive, but extremely unsuccessful prime-time soap opera Harold Robbins' The Survivors, aired in 1969. Cancelled after 15 episodes, I've yet to see any of it. It stars, among others, Kevin McCarthy and George Hamilton (as seen here), Ralph Bellamy, Diana Muldaur and Jan-Michael Vincent!
We were saddened recently to learn of the death of glamorous and exotic-looking Israeli actress Daliah Lavi, who effectively dotted several eye-popping 1960s films.
She was a really striking model along with performing in movies like Lord Jim (1965), Ten Little Indians (1965) and The Silencers (1966) among many others.
You can read (and see!) much more about her right here.
Over the years, we've had quite a few Fun Finds that included movie star trading cards, but this one of Audrey Hepburn wasn't part of them. We like the surreal way her eyes and coloring look from the tinting and retouching.
I could never find the right place to put forth this photo spread of Joanne Woodward in fashions from the dreary, but elegant, From the Terrace (1960.) In my opinion, she never looked better in her life than she did as Paul Newman's bitchy society wife in that one.
We long ago paid tribute to Miss Dorothy Malone, but how could we not share this dazzling shot of her tan, bikini-clad body emerging from a white convertible?!
We're thoroughly captivated by this portrait of Miss Elizabeth Taylor.
This sultry pose, with its soft colors, is equally wonderful.
Nothing I could do seemed to properly repair the color on this portrait of Linda Darnell, but it was rare enough that I held onto it anyway.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the best picture that anyone ever took of Shirley Jones. Love the serene expression, glossy makeup and flattering lace!
Jones passed on her good looks to hunky son Patrick Cassidy, as evidenced by this publicity photo. What do you mean you don't remember him in Dirty Dancing (1987?) That's because this was the 1988 TV-series based on the movie, cancelled after 11 episodes. The casting of McLean Stevenson (notorious for having the most failed series of almost any actor!) ought to have been a clue to its eventual fate.
Speaking of hunks with luminous eyes, check out this shot of dreamy Chad Everett!
Most people know of my affection for Clint Walker and Hugh O'Brian, so it was fun to see them getting cozy for this publicity photo, which also features John Lupton in the foreground.
At the time, the gents were starring in the Warner Brothers TV westerns, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (O'Brien), Broken Arrow (Lupton) and Cheyenne (Walker.)
Here, O'Brian shows off his big, long gun to Walker (while the decidedly less impressive Lupton almost looks on...)
The luminous pool-like orbs of one Alain Delon (in Purple Noon, 1960.)
Wow... if being taken by the Indians (okay, fine, Native Americans) is like this, I surrender!  Jorge Rivero in Soldier Blue (1970.)
Staggeringly beautiful identical twins Dirk and Dack Rambo. Neither one lived as long as he should have, but Dirk met the soonest end at twenty-five when a drunk driver hit his car, engulfing him in flames.
Dack, one of our all-time faves, was later claimed by AIDS at age fifty-two.
Dack Rambo was brought onto Dallas in 1985 to fill the void left by departing Patrick Duffy, who looks mighty fine in this publicity still for The Man from Atlantis.
We dearly love 1930s & '40s movie idol, swashbuckling Errol Flynn and, fortunately, still have many of his movies yet to discover.
Flynn's most frequent costar (and the one with whom he shared the greatest chemistry) was Olivia de Havilland and I love this shot of them during They Died With Their Boots on (1941), the last of their big screen collaborations.
De Havilland has figured into the recent series Feud, thanks to a positively horrendous performance by Catherine Zeta Jones, an actress I usually love. Here we find Joan Crawford on the set of I Saw What You Did (1965) with visiting Cary Grant, producer William Castle and costar (and sometimes lover) John Ireland.
Though Jessica Lange brought many good things to the table, I didn't think she resembled Joan Crawford at all in looks or voice. An actress who really did have similar features to Joan and probably would have been uncanny as Joan is Gillian Anderson, but there's no way Feud was going to be made with anyone but Lange. Maybe someday Anderson could be snagged for a legitimate biopic or miniseries. She's forty-eight, which is a good median age to play the many stages of JC.
The most famous Joan Crawford impersonator was Faye Dunaway, who got trashed a bit in Feud herself (off-screen) thanks to tangling with Bette Davis, though I never thought she looked like Joan either, despite all the ballyhoo to the contrary!
Here's a fairly rare glimpse of Mommie Dearest (1981) director Frank Perry as he guides Dunaway to cinematic infamy...
I just love this recently discovered lobby card for one of my all-time favorite movies, The Towering Inferno (1974) with Paul Newman and Dunaway. She's about to go after him like the all-protein, no-bread hunk he is.
Side-winding into '70s disaster movies as we are prone to do, I give you another lobby card, this time from Airport '77 (1977), another favorite. Christopher Lee and Lee Grant thankfully never married in real life or she would have been Lee Lee! (Joan Crawford had been offered the role that ultimately went to Olivia de Havilland and would have put her with Joseph Cotten, her old momentary costar in Hush, Hush...Sweet Charlotte, 1964!)
Grant's role in Airport '77 is vaguely similar to that of Ava Gardner in Earthquake (1974) in that each lady is a boozy, shrewish wife who is second-billed, yet really only enjoys one meaty scene followed by smaller and smaller bits until fading away completely by the end. Each gal's screen time is barely a dozen minutes! (I know this because I once crazily edited their parts down into mini-movies on VHS for easy, fun camp digestion!) Look at the way Ava's wig is lying atop her own, lighter, hair in this photo!
One of the few hunks to ever take part in a '70s disaster flick was this office worker in front on the left in Earthquake (1974.) (Others include Gil Gerard in Airport '77 and Colby Chester in The Hindenburg, 1975.) This is one of my favorite moments when Lorne Greene barks to his secretary, "Barbara,take your pantyhose off, god dammit!" so that he can use them to secure people in this office chair.
It was such a delight to get to know Monica "Barbara!" Lewis through Facebook and carry on private message correspondence with the still-sharp, very active lady (who sadly passed away in 2015 at age ninety-three.) What a thrill to know that she read the pages here and felt that her producer husband would have gotten a kick out of them as well had he been with us still.
Greene earned quite a few remarks for playing the father of Ava Gardner when he was but a half-dozen years older than she. (Well, I suppose she was the one catching most of the heat as she was attempting to play - at fifty-two! - a woman whose husband still wanted children and who'd recently had an abortion... a plot-line that was blessedly and skillfully removed from the movie's final cut!)
Moving on to something else, most of you are familiar with this iconic moment from a classic movie. But do you see what I happened to see during a recent viewing?
Somehow, completely accidentally I believe, the water on the shower curtain has formed the visage of a skull near the top of "Mrs. Bates'" head in this moment from Psycho (1960!)
I don't know that either of these second and third renditions make it any clearer than the first, but I tried to zero in on it some. It has nothing to do with the performer's eyes, which are far lower in the silhouette than that anyway (and were painted white, not black, in any case!)
One of many black & white cheapie horror flicks to arrive in Psycho's wake was Shock Treatment (1964), starring Roddy McDowall, Lauren Bacall and Stuart Whitman. It was fun to find this rare color photo taken during the filming.
Of course it was also fun to find this shot of Whitman, bent over a cannon, stripped shirtless, about to be whipped in The Fiercest Heart (1961!)
Every so often, one of my faithful readers will have the generosity of spirit to suggest that I ought to be given the opportunity to take my show on the road to TCM as a program host (presumably overnight, where all the brilliantly rotten movies go to die?! LOL)
While I would find that to be a dream come true, it is, of course, a pipe dream. However, if one believes in omens or signs, take this lamp as an example. It's often present in the introductions given by host Ben Mankiewicz.
But the very same lamp is present in my living room as well, and has been since 2004!
The sole difference between them is that Ben's balls hang quite a bit lower than mine do, but such is life.  Ha ha ha!
We always enjoyed Dynasty and its series of catfights (even if our Joan Collins tended to be less than enthusiastic about performing in them.)
Thus, we were happy to find this publicity shot regarding the very first one that Linda Evans and Collins took part in, complete with the stunt coordinators. (If you see the actual fight, there are several instances in which burly, bewigged stunt-doubles take over, leading to some serious snickers along the way!)
It's only been a few weeks since I did a post about the 1968-1969 talk show of Joan Rivers' called That Show, but already in the meantime have come more interesting moments.
This installment featured the editor of Esquire magazine, an admitted anti-feminist who was recoiling at the recent women's movement. With him as a counterpoint is TV talk show legend Virginia Graham, who I love and adore!
Though Rivers and Graham picked apart many of the other guest's ideas about a woman's place, it would make today's audiences shudder to hear them state that a woman should never be President nor even, except in a few instances, become involved in politics.
What a delight it was, though, to get to see rare color footage of the ebullient Graham when she is dangerously close to being forgotten these days.
Check out Joan's super-fun go-go boots and up-do during this episode! The topic this time out was shoplifting and the male guest was there to demonstrate some of the tricks that the avid thief was then employing.
The female guest, who I must admit seemed very zoned-out and low-key to the point of hilarity, was Maureen Stapleton.
Stapleton was at the time appearing in the tour de force, three-act comedy Plaza Suite, in which she and George C. Scott played three distinctly different characters in a row. (For the movie adaptation, Walter Matthau played all three men, but Stapleton only got to play one of the ladies, the other two roles going to Barbara Harris and Lee Grant.)
Here's a front view of Joan's bouffant and a closer look at the front of her kicky little dress.
One of my very favorite eps concerned the art of stripteasing in the home! Sherry Britton, an elegant stripteaser for many years, noted for her very long (real) hair, was the expert guest. The celebrity guest was Vivian Vance.
Britton was so well-spoken and, difficult as it may be to believe, very tasteful and classy about her art. She did not advocate topless bars or full nudity. Having begun as a real stunner in the late-1930s, she kept at it through theatre and touring revues for many years afterwards.
Britton had Rivers and Vance try a bit of bump 'n grind, which, as you can guess, Rivers milked for all possible comedy. Whether it was a joke or not, I LOVED this fall on Rivers' head!
I think my days of That Show may be over as I no longer see it popping up on my DVR, but it was a fun glimpse into the wondrous world of 1968 and of the early comedic stylings of Joan Rivers.
We're going to wind up our Spring Clearance with a few shots from a movie I saw many years ago, but had nearly forgotten until it resurfaced on satellite TV. Masquerade (1988) was a romantic thriller starring Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly, but this is supporting actor Doug Savant (later of Melrose Place) cavorting in his underpants.
Savant is notable for having played an openly gay, basically normal, character on Melrose Place at a time (1992) when such occurances were few and far between. His role was kept in check, however, and wound up being rather dreary since it was a still-controversial aspect for a series regular to have. He exited the show in 1997.
Anyway, he was looking darn good here in a scene with Lowe.
Lowe and Savant have a heated confrontation that looks for a moment as if it's going to turn into a love scene!
But Lowe's character is too busying boinking not only Tilly, but another character played by Kim Cattrall.
Lowe contorts himself like a fleshy Twizzler to avoid any frontal nudity in this sequence (though freeze-framing and brightening might reveal something briefly.) He was pretty.
The End!