Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hairway to Heaven

Last Halloween, I did a post about scary hair. At that time, it was suggested I do a post about good hair, too. Today, I'm going to celebrate a certain style of hair that was popular from about 1964 to 1968 or '69. It's my favorite type of hair although I know that many readers will consider it every bit as scary as the looks I featured in the Halloween posting! This isn't the only kind of hair I like, of course, but its the type that makes my eyes pop and captures my attention the most. I'm talking about the tall, stacked to the rafters up 'dos, most of the time achieved with the use of attached pieces.

To backcomb for just a second, though, first. I'll say that my fascination with hair in the movies probably began when I saw The Three Musketeers (1973) in theaters at the age of six. I fell in love with Raquel Welch's headful (wig full) of auburn ringlets. Then there were the instances in which it was configured into a different look, with most of it formed into a high bun with braids and ringlets around it.

At the lavish masquerade ball at the finale of the movie, Welch (playing dressmaker to the Queen) isn't permitted to wear one of the ornate silver-themed gowns, but she's in her own lovely dress and now has pearls woven into her hair, which is both up and partly down. She and the evil Faye Dunaway have a stand-off/fight scene that branded my baby eyes forever and left me a lifelong fan of catfights, but that's for another post. Anyway, this early glimpse of big hair (something that was not particularly popular in the early '70s when flat, flowing and free was more “in”) instilled in me an affection for hairstyles that go up and up and up (and, as Lana would have continued, “nobody's going to pull me down!”)

The '50s had the teased and tormented beehives, but that's not exactly what I'm referring to here. I'm focusing more on the towers of curled hair that were in vogue for a while. These tall-haired looks probably got their start in those Italian sword and sandal muscle epics that usually featured a female or two from the classic period with Grecian goddess-like concoctions only now paired with ultra-heavy eye makeup and lashes. When Miss Elizabeth Taylor (goodnight, my beautiful love!) starred in Cleopatra in 1963, she was given a couple of heavy-duty hairdos and brought that major league eye makeup to a whole new plateau.

As early as 1961, however, Audrey Hepburn had displayed a pretty significant up 'do in Breakfast at Tiffany's. The upwardly mobile style helped elongate her already lanky figure and showcase her famous swan-like neck. The race was on as stylists worked to create more and more elaborate, ceiling-scraping looks.

One of the chief demonstrators of the sizeable, vertically-reaching bun or coiffured pony of curls was German actress Elke Sommer. In 1963's The Prize (opposite delectable Paul Newman, shown at left), she sported this look, a style she would continue to utilize in various formations for quite a while before ultimately opting for a shorter, almost Dorothy Hamel cut in the early to mid '70s.

In the film Taylor made after Cleopatra (but that was released prior, due to the endless issues with the epic, much of which continued in the editing room), The V.I.P.s, Taylor showed off a bun that was fairly tall, too. The era was about to start in which it was seemingly impossible to limit just how high one's hair could climb. Ladies of varying ages and types, in pictures set in the present or period, were going to spend several years in this exercise and I couldn't be more grateful for it!

Marnie, released in 1964, had its star Tippi Hedren decked out in a bun that rode up the back of her head and featured little curly accents along the way. A rather simply designed and cut evening gown took a back seat to the hairdo, creating a memorable effect overall. Sadly, thanks to a dispute with director Alfred Hitchcock, who practically owned her (via contract) at the time, she would scarcely be seen on screen again for a couple of more years.

That same year, the Oscar-winning film My Fair Lady featured Cockney ragamuffin Audrey Hepburn being transformed into an elegant lady by linguistics professor Rex Harrison. Though set in the past, her hairstyle during the big reveal was inspired more by the trend towards height, height and more height. This one set an altitude standard that other gals could mostly only aspire to.

One person that year who came close, if not exceeding Audrey, in hair height was Shirley MacLaine in What a Way to Go! The film, intended to star Marilyn Monroe prior to her untimely death, concerned a woman who keeps marrying for love, but who ends up, time and again, widowed and with more wealth than she can handle. A plethora of name-brand male costars played her husbands along the way.

One segment of the deliberately spoofy film had Robert Mitchum and her arriving at and hobnobbing with guests at a party in which every time she turned the corner, she was in yet another eye popping costume with heaven-bound hair to match. Never very big on MacLaine's signature pixie cut (or the latter modified shag), this is probably my favorite film of hers in terms of how she looks.

I know I am always droning on about Joan Crawford and how she didn't get to make Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but here I go again. I worship Joan and this look was my very favorite on her. There are just as many people who dislike Joan with her hair stacked up as there are people who like it, but, for whatever reason, I love it and wish she could have looked this way in a completed film.

How to Murder Your Wife, released in 1965, starred Jack Lemmon as a man who wakes up wed to the stripper who'd performed at the previous night's party. Virna Lisi, as the stripper, emerged from a giant cake wearing only “frosting” as her costume and showing off some voluminous blonde hair.

Television followed suit, of course, and the series Star Trek had the license to get coiffures as big, tall and creative as they pleased since the series was set in the future. Sometimes they were really “out there” in terms of color and/or arrangement (Yeoman Janice Rand's basket weave comes to mind), but usually they were embellished versions of what was becoming increasingly popular. Thus, a few of the styles shown in this montage could've been seen at any fancy party during the mid-1960s as well. As a kid I loved Trek, not just for the amazing hair, but for its vividly colorful costumes, dramatic makeup and (in some episodes) gossamer guest star clothing.

Having exited Charlotte the year before, Joan Crawford stepped before the cameras again in 1965 to do a glorified cameo (albeit with top-billing!) in I Saw What You Did, the story of two mischievous teen girls who make prank calls and soon come to regret it! As an amorous neighbor of John Ireland, Joan wears her hair piled high (though, perhaps, not quite as flatteringly as in the Charlotte pics) and possesses a necklace that Gloria Stuart would have needed help in tossing over the side of the Titanic!

When the 1939 classic western Stagecoach was remade in 1966, Sydney Guilaroff opted to gussy up Ann-Margret's saloon girl character (played in the original by Claire Trevor) with hair for days. The top was pinned up and the back was long, long, long. After the initial scenes in the barroom, for the long haul in the title vehicle, her hair was decidedly less extravagant looking. She was immortalized in her initial look, though, by famed illustrator Norman Rockwell, who did portraits of the cast for the movie's poster as well as the credit sequence.

Elke Sommer was back in '66's The Oscar to show off more of her, by now, signature hairstyles, but the really big hair in that movie belonged to Merle Oberon, making a brief appearance as the Best Actor presenter at the film's faux-Academy Awards ceremony. Having been off screen for a couple of years, this was her chance to get her feet wet before a movie camera again.

The experience was enough to encourage her to sign on for Hotel, in 1967, which was a multi-character drama about the ins, outs, ups and downs of a major New Orleans establishment. Playing the wife of Duke Michael Rennie, she pulled out all the glamour stops and was decked out in showy costumes, dripping with dazzling jewelry and occasionally wearing a tower of hair that, at times, felt as if it was threatening to topple her over! Naturally, I completely loved it.

Miss Taylor was back at it again in 1967, this time meaning business, when she hosted a party for husband Marlon Brando's fellow army officers in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Her character's long, raven hair was wadded and stacked up, accessorized with a prominent bow. It was this look she had going when she discovered that Brando had mistreated her beloved horse and went after him vigorously with a riding crop!

Underworld favorite Senta Berger (just one of the ladies in this post who has a tribute to her here elsewhere, others including Tippi Hedren, Merle Oberon and Joan Crawford) had been displaying pretty up 'dos in some of her period dramas/musicals, but in 1967 she did The Ambushers with Dean Martin. She has a seduction scene with him that features a flowy, colorful negligee, gigantic earrings and a hefty hairstyle that guarantees her a place in my heart for all time.

Valley of the Dolls could capture most interested parties' attention for its clothes and hair creations alone, apart from all the other gifts it offers (such as howling dialogue, backbiting bitchery and ear-bending musical numbers.) What Patty Duke didn't possess in physical height, she occasionally made up for in hair height, topping herself off with an inches-adding 'do just in time for her tangle with Susan Hayward (the one in which she memorably snatches Susan's wig off!)

In 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway played a game of cat and mouse with each other as well as a memorably symbolic game of chess. For that scene, Miss Dunaway had a pretty large attachment, a twist that added volume to the back of her head. Another brief bit, shown in long shot, had Faye strolling down an avenue with Steve, her hair mounted high on her head.

The far lesser known police drama Madigan, which starred Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, is a high-hair touchstone. Sheree North has a role in the film and shows off a respectably full head of manipulated hair. She's nothing, though, compared to Widmark's wife, lovely Inger Stevens, who sports a neck-straining appendage of glamorously arranged curls! This is my kind of lady. Ha!

Mayerling, a 1968 remake of a 1936 film, is another Hall of Famer when it comes to big ol' hair. The story of the tormented and ill-fated love affair between Austrian Archduke Rudolf (Omar Sharif) and his young love Catherine Deneuve, she is, naturally, exceedingly lovely and occasionally depicts some moderately tall hair. However, Sharif's mother, The Empress Elizabeth, has what I consider the ne plus ultra of cinematic hair. The real life lady, affectionately known to her subjects as “Sisi,” truly did have enviable long hair that she loved showing off, but it's doubtful that it reached quite the level that Sydney Guilaroff brings to the proceedings here. Ava Gardner's studio-trained elegance helps make it all seem far more natural than it ought to be (and look how slim and trim she is here, a mere six years prior to Earthquake.)

Now, when one thinks about serious big hair, Dolly Parton is hard to beat, but Priscilla Presley was no slouch in the early days with Elvis! She claims to have transformed herself this way so dramatically because she knew that this was the look he preferred his girls to have. (I guess he and I have more in common than I thought, that is if we're referring to her look on the left and not so much the one on the right, taken, by the way, when she was just a teenager! Love those crazy painted eyes.)

And, yes, big hair could sometimes be taken too far. This is not one of the towers I've referred to, for unless the woman fell to the ground, and maybe not even then, I'm not going to complain. I just think Miss Marjorie Lord, from the 1966 Bob Hope film Boy Did I Get A Wrong Number, doesn't look too hot with all this hair going on. It's a moment where less would have been more.

Of all the skyscraping looks I've remarked upon today (and there are probably a lot I have overlooked. What are your faves?), the one that dazzled me the absolute most wasn't shown in a movie. It was on an episode of the lavish TV series Hollywood Palace, a weekly program devoted to music, comedy routines, unusual talent and even dramatic readings. On the episode in question, host Engelbert Humperdinck welcomed the charming, talented and very beautiful Miss Nancy Ames to sing a medley, two songs on her own followed by a couple more with him in duet. He's lucky he escaped with his head as they moved around to the choreography!

I have never seen hair like this, before or since, that wasn't meant to be intentionally comic. I love it, though! It doesn't hurt that Ames was a particularly lovely girl to begin with. Look at those eyes... Somehow or another, she pulls off this hysterical, gravity-defying look and with one click on, she became a heroine (a “hairoine?”) in The Underworld. Now an event planner (if I remember right, down in Texas), I tried to get in contact with her to profess my newfound adoration, but got no response. After having seen her perform admirably on Password and then having caught her in this doozy of an appearance, I have to forgive her for ignoring me, the sting of it aside, because she is just that fabulous and shouldn't have to make time for li'l ol' me.


Now, I get a lot of visitors here, but there is one devoted diver who seems more in tune with my tastes (is that the right word for my campy, tacky outlook?!) than any other and that is Topaz. In the comments section below, he reminded me of one lovely lady who was left out of this tribute and that just won't do!

1967's Casino Royale, a really off the hook and disjointed spoof of James Bond films, featured sultry German actress Ursula Andress as one of several sexy and glamorous females involved in the convoluted "story." More than earning her place in this line-up, she is statuesque, regal and shows off some to-die-for heavenly hair, headed both north and south, framing her high-cheekboned face beautifully. Thanks, T, for the friendly reminder, which led me to create a few shots of Miss Andress to share with everyone!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh What a Character! Part Two: May I Offer You a Walker?

Next up in our tribute to those performers who most often lent support to others rather than having the spotlight shown on them, we hail the sarcastic, wrinkle-browed, pintsized Miss Nancy Walker. Born Anna Myrtle Smoyer in Philadelphia in 1922, her father was a busy and famous Vaudevillian dancer and comic. Dewey Barto was part of a comedy team known as Barto and Mann, the hook being that Barto was a mere 4'11” (andrarely stood up straight during performances) while George Mann was a towering 6'6”! Not all of their routines were gender-bending like this one (and this was a rehearsal shot, not the final costuming/hair/makeup), but you can see how such an act would have made Depression-era audiences chuckle! As Nancy's mother died when she was was a child and her younger sister just an infant, the two girls got a whirlwind education of the ins and outs of life on the stage. In her own words, they were raised “in a trunk.” Nancy “grew” to the same exact height that her father had possessed, 4'11.”

At the age of nineteen, Walker made her Broadway debut in Best Foot Forward. The famous producer-director George Abbott was so taken with her that he expanded her bit part into a featured role, allowing her to stand out amidst a ginormous cast. Choreographed by no less than Gene Kelly, the diminutive hoofer with a comic face pleased audiences as well as those in charge. The show ran from late 1941 to 1942 and when a film version was prepared in 1943, she, along with costar June Allyson, was retained, allowing her to make her movie debut at the most magical of studios, MGM.

She was swiftly put to comic use in the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musical Girl Crazy. The next year she appeared in Broadway Rhythm, sharing a scene with famed comic actor Joe E. Brown and singing a duet with Ben Blue called “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.”

Her small stature and unconventional looks limited her viability as a studio property. Not content to while away her time in Hollywood with a featured role here and there, she returned to New York City and landed the showy, scene-stealing, mildly risque part of Hildy in On the Town, a zesty Comden & Green musical. Her song, “I Can Cook, Too,” was a highlight of the show, which lasted for a healthy run. (When this was filmed in 1949, Betty Garrett was given the part.) She continued to work on Broadway in a string of shows. In 1948, Walker married fellow actor Gar Moore, though their wedded bliss didn't even last a year. Also in 1948, during Look, Ma, I'm Dancin', she developed a vocal issue and had to seek professional help. Her younger sister took over the role when she had to leave the show. She was looked after by voice coach David Craig, with whom she continued to train. In time, the two fell in love and married in 1951, staying married until her death and having a daughter, Miranda, in 1953.

After more stage performances, including a stint with Pal Joey, Walker returned to Hollywood to appear in Lucky Me, a Bob Cumming-Doris Day musical, in which she, Day, Eddie Foy Jr. and Phil Silvers played performers stuck working in a Miami hotel due to financial difficulties. Ever the hoofer, she danced proficiently in several scenes. (This, incidentally, was the first musical ever shot in Cinemascope.)

After this it was back to The Big Apple for more work on Broadway and occasional acting gigs on television. She poked fun at some showtunes having to do with the opposite sex in an album of songs called "I Hate Men" (the title track coming from Kiss Me Kate, of course.) By the way, this album cover has been noted as one of the all-time worst, but I don't see the problem. I think it's amusing and colorful. She appeared in a music revue called Phoenix '55 which secured her a Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Musical, a feat she repeated in 1960 when she and Phil Silvers did Do Re Mi.

This period of her life was a strenuous one for, even though she remained employable as a stage actress, she struggled with the limitations of her size and the hampering that that size (and her type, that of a Bronx Jew) had on her career development. She entered counseling in order to work on this anxiety. She did no filmed work, on TV or in movies, at all from 1960 to 1970. In 1971, she was added to the cast of a faltering Family Affair, but it was cancelled after just six of her episodes had been shot.

There was a bit of light peeking out on the horizon, however. In 1970, she had done a guest spot on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Mary's best pal Rhoda's caustic mother. In time, this one-shot role would lead her to far greener pastures. Her first film in nearly two decades came in 1972 when she appeared in the Women's Lib-oriented Stand Up and Be Counted. She began to win parts on episodes of Love, American Style as well as guest roles on Medical Center and The Partridge Family. What's more, her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show became an annual event. She worked on the show four times in all.

Then, in 1971, she was cast as Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James' dry, wise-cracking housekeeper Mildred on the seriocomic mystery show McMillan & Wife. The show (which only aired every couple of weeks as part of a rotating line-up on The Sunday NBC Mystery Movie) lasted in this format until 1976 when both Saint James and Walker left it. Then it was renamed McMillan for one final season (during which Martha Raye became the new housekeeper.) Her sardonic, world-weary character was a perfect counter balance to the stars of the show. She was nominated for an Emmy three times for her role in this.

Meanwhile, she not only made sporadic TV show appearances and the odd role in a feature film, but also came on board when Rhoda was spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Walker had proven so popular as her hilariously critical mother that she was added to the series as a semi-regular. Thus, she became one of the few people to appear concurrently on two successful series at the same time in completely different parts. She received four Emmy nominations for Rhoda and one year was nominated for both Rhoda and McMillan & Wife in the comedic and dramatic categories!

As if that weren't enough, she had also signed on as the commercial spokeswoman for Bounty paper towels. As Rosie, the diner waitress, she became an instantly recognizable personality, constantly wiping up her customer's spills with Bounty, “the quicker picker-upper.” Walker would portray Rosie in national commercials from 1970 to 1990! Once considered difficult to cast because of her looks and height, she now found herself so busy she could hardly keep up!

1976 brought a small part as the housekeeper in the ensemble spoof Murder By Death, in which stars such as Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith and others portrayed take-offs on various famous sleuths from literature and the movies. She was also one of many old time stars to pop up in the film Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, a sort of comedic love letter to classic Hollywood where a dog (based on Rin Tin Tin) became a major film star.

Having left McMillan & Wife due to the lure of an ABC contract, she set about filming her own TV show. The Nancy Walker Show had her starring as a talent agent with a strict ex-naval husband (William Daniels) and a dim, hypochondriac daughter (played by Beverly Archer, who would later find success as Iola on Mama's Family and Sgt. Bricker on Major Dad.) The Norman Lear-produced show also featured one of TV's first regular gay roles, that of Ken Olfson as one of Walker's clients, who also lived with her. (That's him with the glasses in this publicity shot.)

The show didn't last past the tenth episode and since Walker's contract stipulated that if her series failed, she could be placed in another one right away, she was rushed into a show that Garry Marshall was planning called Blansky's Beauties. She would portray the snarky den mother to a passel of Las Vegas showgirls. In a truly bizarre means of introduction, Marshall wrote Walker's character into an episode of his hit show Happy Days as Tom Bosley's cousin, then spun the show off from that. Trouble was, Happy Days was set in the late 1950s while Blansky's Beauties was set in then-present day 1977! To further complicate things, Eddie Mekka played a younger cousin to a character he was still playing on the (also 1950s-set) Laverne & Shirley! This sort of thing continued when Happy Days' Roz Kelly guest-starred as Pinky Tuscadero, apparently not having aged in twenty years. In any case, it failed to catch on, being cancelled after thirteen episodes were shot, giving Walker the very rare distinction of having appeared in two failed sitcoms in a single network TV season!

Like Paul Lynde, she was one of those people who worked best as a supporting player who comes in to drop some wisecracks, steal a scene or two and then disappears for a bit. All was not lost, though, because she then headed back to Rhoda, where she continued to appear until its cancellation in 1978 (despite a ratings boost that occurred when Walker came back.) She also played a female version of God in the TV-movie Human Feelings. Since 1973, Walker had been dabbling in television directing, having done two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and now four episodes of Rhoda. She also did two episodes of a short-lived sitcom called 13 Queens Boulevard. Somehow these eight half-hour episodes led to her being given the reins of an upcoming feature film, one that would live on forever in infamy due to the tackiness and idiocy dripping from every single frame!

Yes, Miss Nancy Walker was the directorial hand behind Can't Stop the Music, the musical extravaganza concerning the formation of The Village People, a collection of gay “types” (cowboy, biker, construction worker, etc...) who, for a time, were the hottest thing ever, mostly due to their hit song “YMCA” as well as “In the Navy” and “Macho Man.” The pseudo-biographical story attempted to downplay the homosexuality of the group (that is, as much as it could be!) by inserting a buxom Valerie Perrine into the mix and avoiding any outright mentions of man on man love. However, the visuals (containing scantily clad men in clinging clothes or Speedos and other provocative get-ups) made it all too clear who the audience for this story really was.

Budgeted at $20 million, half of that went into staging all sorts of lavish premieres across the U.S. and Europe. However, the film was greeted with such derision (and disco had officially been declared dead not long before that in a memorable public record-burning ceremony) that it made only a limping $2 million back. It, along with Xanadu, inspired John Wilson to create The Golden Raspberry Awards (The Razzies) and Music “won” Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. Walker was nominated for but “lost” Worst Director.

Following this public humiliation, she did some appearances on The Love Boat, Trapper John, M.D. and Crazy Like a Fox and also directed several episodes of the sitcom Alice. In 1987, she made two appearances on the hit show The Golden Girls as Estelle Getty's estranged sister Angela. The caustic, diminutive Walker (in a gray wig, a rare departure from her signature red hair) made a sterling bookend to the equally short and snappy Getty. It was a stroke of casting genius and she was given her eighth, and last, Emmy nomination for the role.

Now in her mid-sixties, Walker continued to work steadily, appearing on yet another short-lived show, Mama's Boy, with Bruce Weitz (of Hill St. Blues fame) as her son and later True Colors. This last show centered on an inter-racial marriage, with Walker on hand as a disapproving relative of the Caucasian wife (Stephanie Faracy.) It was during this series, in 1992, that Walker, who had been battling lung cancer, died on March 25th. She was sixty-nine years old. Her widower, David Craig, died in 1998 at seventy-five, also from lung cancer, and their daughter passed away in 2000 at the all-too-early age of forty-seven.

The unusual, but unusually gifted, Nancy Walker found a way to play to her strengths in spite of any potential weaknesses and brought loads of laughter to several generations of fans. We like to think that she helped pave the way for other ladies who didn't fit into a certain mold to have a career in the business.