Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder: Film Fiction Draws From Raw Reality

Anatomy of a Murder: the adult story and language broke down censorship barriers in 1959. Classic graphics are by Saul Bass.
Anatomy of a Murder is a 1959 classic courtroom movie that was once for adults only. The story, based on the ‘58 best-selling novel, is drawn from a real murder trial, written by the actual defense lawyer. Today, Anatomy would be a reality show or a Lifetime movie.

Jimmy Stewart pulling client Lee Remick out of the Mount Shasta bar.
The actual murder occurred in July 31, 1952. Coleman Peterson was the real life killer and Maurice Chenoweth was the actual bar owner victim. The murder was over the accused rape of Peterson’s wife by the barkeep. In the book and movie, they were fictionalized as Frederick Manion and Barney Quill.

The following words were used on screen for the first time in Anatomy of a Murder: Panties. Slut. Bitch. Sperm. Penetration. Rape. Contraceptive. The line that jolts me out of ‘50s movie melodrama in Anatomy is when Manion, quoted about his wife, that upon release, he’d “kick that bitch from here to kingdom come.”

Otto Preminger, the controversial director, broke down boundaries in language and subject matter. In films like The Moon is Blue, the word “virgin” was used for the first time, or heroin addiction was depicted in The Man with the Golden Arm. After Anatomy, Preminger hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo for Exodus and gave him a screenwriter credit.

Creepy Ben Gazzara as the creepy murder defendant.
The “irresistible impulse” insanity defense for this Michigan murder case had not used since 1886. Bada bing! Like the movie, the real murderer was found guilty by reason of insanity, examined by a psychiatrist two days after the verdict, declared sane, and divorced his wife shortly after.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker wrote under the pen name Robert Traver, and in wrote about himself as Paul Biegler in Anatomy of a Murder. Got all that?

Up in Upper Michigan: Thunder Bay, as Jimmy Stewart pulls up to the town where the murder took place.
Anatomy of a Murder was the first movie filmed entirely on location, in Upper Michigan—Ishpeming, Marquette, Michigamme, and Big Bay—where the actual murder took place. Not only were local exteriors used, Preminger even used Voelker’s Ishpeming house for the home of the lawyer’s fictionalized self—played by Jimmy Stewart.

The real lawyer's Ishpeming house was used as Stewart's home in the film.
Anatomy of a Murder’s judge is not only the real deal, but Joseph N. Welch was the man who shut down Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his Army hearings: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Anatomy’s movie jurors are also some of the murder case’s actual jurors.

Lana Turner: "Otto wants me to clothes!"
Lana Turner was cast first as Laura Manion, but backed out a month before filming. Lana as hotsy-totsy Laura might have been a turn-on. But Preminger wanted the army wife character to be dressed from department stores; Turner wanted her anatomy dressed by a favorite designer. The director stood his ground; Lana walked. Instead of playing gritty Laura Manion, Lana played glamorous actress Lora Meredith, in the super-soap Imitation of Life!

Lee Remick, 14 years younger than Lana, replaced her. Remick was also later asked to replace Marilyn Monroe when she was fired from Something’s Got to Give. Marilyn’s co-star, Dean Martin, said no to substitutes. When Monroe died suddenly, the movie was totally re-cast.

Lee Remick, who replaced Lana, wasn't worried about her anatomy!
Anatomy of a Murder made Lee Remick a star as the sensual Laura. Remick is empathetic and appealing as the erotic enigma: Was she or wasn’t she raped? Was she adulterous or just fun-loving? Or both?! Anatomy also proved that reptilian Ben Gazzara made a better villain than leading man! It’s hard to believe that Ben originated the role of dreamy Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway.

The Detroit, Michigan premiere of "Anatomy of a Murder."
Jimmy Stewart at the piano with Duke Ellington.
Anatomy of a Murder gave Jimmy Stewart his last Oscar nomination as the small-town lawyer and George C. Scott his first, as the sly prosecuting attorney.

George C. Scott was born in Detroit, where the world premiere of Anatomy of a Murder was held. Ishpeming’s Butler Theater hosted the Upper Michigan premiere.

Anatomy of a Murder’s poster and opening credits are some of designer Saul Bass’ most memorable. Anatomy was also noteworthy as Duke Ellington’s first film score.

Anatomy of a Murder: Out on Blu-Ray.
Anatomy of a Murder came out on Blu-ray for Criterion in 2012, complete with lots of bonus features. This movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes, but despite its deliberate pace, Anatomy is an adult, gripping courtroom cinema case. The engrossing story and great ensemble cast—Stewart, Remick, Gazzara, Scott, Welch, along with Eve Arden, Arthur O’Connell, Murray Hamilton (the mayor in Jaws), Kathryn Grant (Bing Crosby’s wife), and Duke Ellington as Pie-Eye—make this a fine example of classic movie-making entering the era of modern-day film-making.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dog Day Afternoon: Ferocious as the Day it was Unleashed

Robbers as folk heroes are not a new phenomenon. The Robin Hood mentality goes back to the Old West, or Bonnie and Clyde during the Depression era. In 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny and Sal are heroes for the cynical Vietnam/Watergate era.

This media event took place in August, 1972. The movie was released three years later.
The story of the real bank robbery appeared in Life magazine as The Boys in the Bank. The article’s title was a play on a recent groundbreaking gay film called The Boys in the Band. The pun refers to the so-called brains of the bank heist, John Wojtowicz, called Sonny in the film. He is gay and is holding up the bank, in part, to finance a sex-change operation for his partner, Leon. The other robber’s real name is used, Salvatore Naturale. “Sal” is mostly silent, but said to be trigger-happy.
R., the real robber; L., Pacino as "Sonny."
L., Sidney Lumet always worked fast; he came in
3 weeks ahead of schedule with 'Dog Day Afternoon!'
They want better lives, lots of money, and a plane out of the country. Don’t we all! This pipe dream goes disastrously wrong from the start. What should have been a quick hold-up turns into a chaotic stand-off, which becomes a media circus, and ends in tragedy.

Lumet, a life-long New Yorker, makes this film a melancholy valentine to the Big Apple. Dog Day Afternoon captures ‘70s New York City in full urban decay. Though the film is set during August of ’72, by the time the film was made, Vietnam and Watergate continued to drag on, adding another layer of malaise to the urban blight.

The director wanted the “truth is stranger than fiction” story to avoid turning into a freak show, but also not whitewash the film. Lumet didn’t want to add invented elements to the script, but considered Dog Day Afternoon a dramatic piece, not a documentary. “The truth could only help us up to a point,” said Lumet, believing the film had to work as a drama. “After that, it’s under the same obligation as any artificially created piece…It is not the truth.”

Same-sex marriage and transgender identity, at the forefront of today’s gay issues, but so ahead of its time in 1975, is handled matter-of-factly here. Pacino and Lumet were concerned about how audiences would react to the revelation of Sonny’s current romantic partner. They didn’t want Sonny’s sexual identity to be played for laughs or turn audiences against the gay characters.

Though Penelope Allen was terrific as the mouthy teller, it was Pacino who got to taunt the cops with "Attica! Attica!"
Every dog has its day, or in this movie, every character wants their day in the sun. From Sonny down to the preening pizza delivery boy, everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame that New Yorker Andy Warhol once predicted. The raucous crowds who are the robbers’ audience are a warm-up for today’s reality TV. The fickle crowd first cheers the robbers on, then turns unruly when they learn Sonny is gay, only to have gay protesters arrive, showing their support. This mentality goes all the way back to the Romans, giving their thumbs up or down! If this event happened in 2016, everyone would have their cell phones out, capturing it all on video.

Lumet didn’t cast his actors for colorful personalities, he wanted reality. This was the director’s goal for the entire film. He believed that the outlandish story of the bungled bank robbery by such misfit amateurs could easily become a cartoon.

Sidney Lumet’s take was that the makers of the film or audiences did not know the real people. So Lumet looked for actors who were unaffected and real, and that the action of the story would give them extra dimension. By Lumet’s design, many of the actors had worked together before, adding to the familiarity that the bank staff and police squad would respectively have with each other. Like Mike Nichols, Lumet loved to rehearse his actors, uncommon in film. And with Dog Day, Lumet held three weeks of rehearsal instead of his usual two. The director wanted everyone on the same playing field, from star Al Pacino, down to the actor playing the pizza boy.

Pacino's Sonny dictates his will, acknowledging both wives, when the characters and audiences find out the robber is gay.
Pacino is at his most soulful and most powerful, as Sonny. Realizing how intense the part would be, Pacino initially turned it down, just coming off the demanding The Godfather: Part II shoot. If it wasn’t for Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I believe Al Pacino would have won the Oscar for Dog Day Afternoon. I think this role shows off Pacino at the peak of his powers, before he became the blowhard hambone of Scarface and Scent of a Woman. This was Pacino’s ‘70s career pinnacle. After this came a series of over-the-top duds to end the decade: Bobby Deerfield, …and justice for all.—and the infamous Cruising.

John Cazale as Sal, another memorable role in a short career.
Chris Sarandon made his film debut as transgender Leon. After his screen test, Lumet asked him to be “a little bit less Blanche DuBois and a little more Queens housewife.” Sarandon got an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

John Cazale offers superb support as sad-sack Sal; Penelope Allen is wonderful as Sylvia, the tough head teller. Cazale was one of Pacino’s best friends and Allen and her husband took Pacino in when he left home to become an actor—that’s why the rapport feels so real! Charles Durning has one of his best early roles as the cop who has to deal with chaotic Sonny. James Broderick, Lance Hendrickson, Carol Kane, and a fine ensemble of character actors make you believe you’re watching the real deal.

Chris Sarandon in his first film as Leon, Sonny's current lover.
Sidney Lumet was cooking on all burners with Dog Day Afternoon. Seeking as much realism as possible, Lumet opted for naturalistic lighting, with no color palette for sets and costumes. He even encouraged much of the cast to wear their own clothes.

Lumet did not want a Hollywood musical score to intrude on the film’s reality, either. The music is incidental—actually, accidental. Editor Dede Allen used the Elton John song, Amoreena, from 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection, as filler for the film’s establishing shots. Lumet liked it so much, that he kept the tune in the movie.

Pacino as Sonny, watching his heist go from bad to worse. Great juxtaposition of characters here.
The director works so skillfully on such a large scale, with the bank staff inside, the growing crowds on the street, flanked by police squads, all escalating to the getaway finale. It’s mind-boggling when you think that Sidney Lumet’s first feature was 12 Angry Men, with the action consisting mostly of jurors, trapped in a room together!

Lance Hendrickson as an FBI agent not to be trusted.
If you want to see a film that captures a city and an era, you can hardly do better than Dog Day Afternoon. Thanks to Sidney Lumet seeking raw realism, and with the spontaneous combustion from the cast, Dog Day feels as current as the day it was released.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jacqueline Susann & Grace Metalious: Women Writers in the 'Mad Men' Era

The press called Grace Metalious "Pandora in Blue Jeans."
Try to imagine what it was like to be a woman writer in mid-century America—especially a hugely successful writer. Here’s two takes on the fame game, by the most successful female writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, respectively.
Does that make Jacqueline Susann
"Pulp Fiction in Pucci?"
Grace Metalious, whose novel, Peyton Place, sold 12 million copies yet was synonymous with smut, said: “If I’m a lousy writer, then a hell of a lot of people got lousy tastes.”
And Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls, which eventually sold over 30 million copies, was dismissed as a self-promoter rather than a real writer, believed: “If the book is not there, you cannot make it a hit.”
Both novels, in their time, riled up critics and clergy alike, and were dismissed as illiterate and filth. Readers devoured the juicy Peyton and Dolls, ripping through the page-turning stories, searching for “the good parts.”
At the time, few reviewers or readers considered Peyton Place or Valley of the Dolls great writing. Harold Robbins, the male counterpart to Jacqueline Susann, was always panned—but with Susann and Metalious, the criticism became personal. Subjectivity aside, the books are now conceded as good storytelling, with strong female characters acting on their desires.

The Skinny on Scandal Books
"Peyton Place" came out September, 1956
"Dolls" was published February of 1966.
Masterfully written or not, both novels had memorable opening lines. Metalious even makes the weather in Peyton Place sound sexy! She begins: “Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.” 
Susann starts her showbiz saga with a chilling and campy cautionary poem. An excerpt:
“You've got to climb to the top of Mount Everest
to reach the Valley of the Dolls.

It's a brutal climb to reach that peak,
which so few have seen.
You never knew what was really up there,
but the last thing you expected to find
was the Valley of the Dolls.
You stand there, waiting for
the rush of exhilaration
you thought you’d feel—but
it doesn't come.”

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Peyton Place scrutinizes the slimy secrets of the small towns—under a fictionalized title guise—where the author had restlessly lived as the wife of a school teacher. Metalious wasn’t speaking for the New Hampshire Visitor’s Bureau with this famous quote about their quaint burgs: “To a tourist, these towns look as peaceful as a postcard picture. But if you go beneath that picture, it’s like turning over a rock with your foot.”
Grace, looking for inspiration?
Sure, Peyton Place found alcoholism, prejudice, rape, incest, premarital sex, abortion, illegitimate children, mistresses, and murder under those rocks. However, Metalious goes beyond skin deep sensation. The author creates a full-bodied, fully-dimensional look at the lives of small town people. Peyton Place still resonates.
Valley of the Dolls is all big city heartbreak. Dolls dishes on three young women on Broadway and later, in Hollywood. These showbiz dolls find success, but alas, not happiness. As sales-oriented as Susann seemed, she fought for her Dolls’ unhappily ever after: “I’m not going to put a happy fucking ending on this book. That’s not the way life works for these people.”
With Dolls, Susann knew how to create the sizzle. Her showbiz dolls make their arduous climb to the top, with a few stops along the way for illicit affairs, pills, booze, the funny farm, abortions—not to mention discreetly described oral and anal sex. But Jackie cooks up an authentic showbiz story that’s meaty and still matters in our scandal-driven media.
In both books, Metalious and Susann write female characters that might make mistakes or endure setbacks, but are ultimately in charge of their destinies.
Peyton Place is equated with the buttoned-down 1950s, while Valley of the Dolls is synonymous with the swingin’‘60s. Despite the fact that both books mostly take place during the World War II era, they are really a mirror to the era in which they were published.

Beginnings to Best-Sellers
The name Grace Metalious may be forgotten, but Peyton Place is remembered—and still a catch phrase for small town scandal and gossip. Metalious spent her twenties as a housewife before pouring her frustration into her first novel. By August of ’55, the Metalious family well had been dry for nine weeks and they were living on lettuce and tomato sandwiches, washed down with powdered milk. When Metalious finally got the call saying Peyton Place had sold, a stunned Grace forgot to ask for how much!
Jacqueline Susann was an aging starlet and socialite, who felt restless merely on the arm of her publicist husband. Encouraged by friends, Susann wrote a short book about the adventures of her poodle, Every Night, Josephine!, which sat in publisher limbo. “Time is life” was one of Susann’s favorite sayings. Christmas Eve of 1962 was Jackie’s time to face the facts of her life: she had breast cancer, needed a mastectomy, and got a warning that it would likely reoccur. Jackie claimed to make a deal with God: “Give me ten years and a bestseller and I will die a happy woman.” Jacqueline Susann was 44 at the time.
Susann, with her dark good looks and over-the-top style, and Metalious, a plump housewife who wore plaid shirts, rolled-up jeans, and no makeup, appeared to be polar opposites. Despite outward appearances, both women fought uphill battles to be taken seriously and validate their self-worth.
Grace and Jackie were both married at 19. At first, they looked up to the men they married. Despite ups and downs, Jackie and publicist Irving Mansfield made a great team; Grace and schoolteacher George Metalious had a typical marriage—a hot honeymoon that became warmed up leftovers. The ironic twist was that sexy Susann’s wedding night was a disaster, with Irving fumbling over virginal Jackie, while the small town Metalious’ were sexually compatible. Grace commented that the only time they were completely happy was in bed. Gradually, both women flaunted convention by having affairs, and an increasing reliance on substances—drink for Grace and “dolls” for Jackie—to get through the rough spots.
"Who says I look like a truckdriver in drag?!"
Susann was strongly influenced in life and writing by her charismatic yet distant father. Metalious had it worse, an unloving mother, which hung over her search for happiness. Yet, this gave Grace her drive to prove herself as a writer. Also, Jackie was a promiscuous charmer like her artist father, and Grace became a neurotic spendthrift like her mother.
Small town Grace dreamed of a better life, and planned to accomplish this through writing. She often locked the kids out to write, and they’d go to neighbors and friends to play. Friends and family had mixed feelings about Metalious’ ambitions. Laurie Wilkens, a local newspaper person who became Grace’s best friend, helped with feedback during the writing process. Wilkens said of the fledgling writer: “It did not take me long to realize that Grace Metalious was an extraordinary woman of brilliant intellect.”
But more often, Grace heard the classic complaint to conform from husband George:  “Why can’t you be like everyone else?”
Both women’s pregnancies were problematic. Susann’s one pregnancy produced a severely autistic son. Jackie and Irving were crushed. Their boy, Guy, was unable to live at home, and eventually institutionalized. Jackie was haunted by the outcome and it drove her even more to succeed. For Grace, childbearing was dangerous and finally forbidden. Grace was filled with self-pity after her tubes were tied, but her doctor said that after three dangerous pregnancies, he wouldn’t attend a fourth. George Metalious, who pointed out they couldn’t even support the children they had, also insisted the procedure be done. Grace lamented that she no longer felt like a woman: “Even an alley cat can produce her own kind, but you can’t.” Metalious turned to writing as a source for productivity.
EVERYONE read "Peyton Place" in the '50s!
Metalious grew up in New Hampshire, in various stifling small towns, but it provided her with a wealth of material. Grace got her most notorious story from Laurie Wilkens. A farm girl from Gilmanton had killed her father, after years of raping her, and buried the body in a pig pen. This became a Peyton Place subplot, one that locals later criticized Metalious bitterly for writing.
Jackie had cut her teeth as a model and actress in NYC during the late ‘30s and through the WWII years. Much of this experience is the basis for Valley of the Dolls. And Jackie’s told out of school tales were about thinly-disguised show biz legends like pill-popping Judy Garland and Broadway’s tough broad, Ethel Merman. Critics and columnists alike called Jackie’s roman á clef style tacky—though they kept writing about her!
Ironically, protagonist Allison McKenzie goes off to seek her fortune in New York City at the end of Peyton Place, much like Susann’s main character, Anne Welles, does at the beginning of Valley of the Dolls.

Making the Cut
 “I thought about it twenty-four hours a day for a year,” said Metalious of Peyton Place. “I wrote ten hours a day for two and a half months.”
"Honey, what are you writing about?" George and Grace Metalious.
Jackie Susann wrote Valley of the Dolls in a year and a half, writing seven hours each day. Susann’s story of pill popping in showbiz circles wasn’t made up; she and her friends used “dolls” to go to sleep, get up, and get on with life, and sparkle for decades.
While Jackie always had P.R. spouse Irving to sing her praises, Grace’s reporter pal Wilkens announced in the Laconia Evening Bulletin that “NY publisher House Signs Gilmanton Mother for Three Novels.”
Peyton Place was turned down by 17 publishers before Julian Messner, Inc., a small publisher, picked it up and made a fortune, much like niche publisher Bernard Geis Associates, who cleaned up with Valley of the Dolls.
Both books required varying degrees of strong editing, but publishers for Peyton and Dolls felt that they had bestsellers on their hands. Jackie’s required a much more—restructuring, rewriting, and massive cutting; editing Grace was mainly for repetition or superfluous material. Susann, with her healthy ego, took the massive revision in stride; insecure Metalious was oversensitive to every change or cut. At Messner’s, editor Leona Nevler’s cuts were hardly severe, but Grace had the classic author’s reaction. “My rage and hurt were getting worse every minute,” she told Laurie Wilkens.
Metalious ended up working with Kitty Messner directly, who said she “needed Mama’s hand.” An interesting choice of words, when one considers Grace’s withholding mother. Rumors that Messner had taken a hot mess of a novel and shaped it into a saleable product was not true—Kitty called it “a product of genius.”
Don Preston, editor of Valley of the Dolls, had urged Bernard Geis to pass on Susann’s showbiz opus: “90 percent of what appears is listening outside dressing room doors.”
Susann’s hubby Irving put a P.R. spin on this talent: “My Jackie has a photographic ear.”
When working on a novel, Jackie wrote 7 hours every day.
The Geis editors hated the title Valley of the Dolls, fearing that it would be mistaken for children’s book. Jackie was adamant that it stay—she knew instinctively that it was a catchy title. Wisely, Grace took Messner’s ad agency’s advice and changed her book’s title. The poetic The Tree and the Blossom became a more to-the-point Peyton Place.

Rich and Famous
Leona Nevler, the editor who discovered Peyton Place, saw the unedited manuscript for Valley of the Dolls when she was negotiating paperback rights: “Editorial help is one thing, but I really think Don Preston did a thorough line re-write of the book.”
Like some quarters dissing Dolls as a total re-write by Preston, some townspeople claimed that Metalious’ pal Laurie Wilkens actually wrote Peyton Place, because Grace was uneducated, erratic, and drunk. Wilkens vehemently responded that she never changed a word: “Here was a real novel, written by a gifted person.”
Grace glumly signing copies of "Peyton Place."
National reviewers praised Grace’s writing, but always with a preface to Peyton Place’s sexy side. “When authoress Metalious is not all flustered by sex, she captures a real sense of the temper, texture, and tensions in the social anatomy of a small town,” wrote Time’s reviewer.
One reviewer compared Metalious to such male writers as Sherwood Anderson, Edmund Wilson, John O’Hara, and Sinclair Lewis, who made careers from turning over the rocks of small town life.
However, what sold the novel—and humiliated Grace—was the notoriety Peyton Place received from outraged clergy, women’s groups, local libraries and bookstores that banned the book, withering small town reviews, and livid locals. This pulpy publicity is what drove the promotion of Peyton Place—and pigeonholed Grace Metalious from then on as a writer. No Peyton Place reviewers at the time caught on to the subversive nature of the book, questioning the feminine mystique attitude of the time. All they saw was a smutty book written by…shock…a wife…and a mother! Grace was ahead of her time, yet unable to deal with being that messenger.
On Night Beat with Mike Wallace, Metalious appeared while Jacqueline Susann was working on the show as a spokesperson. Grace was six years younger and Jackie’s personality was eons more worldly. Susann was fascinated by Peyton Place’s publicity and sales. And here was this frumpy woman awkwardly trying to promote it—Jackie imagined what she could do!
Susann was also was sympathetic to Metalious, who was taking a beating for writing about hot stuff that was okay for the boys to pen. Mike Wallace called Metalious’ book “basic and carnal” to her face and Grace, cowed, could only make the lame comeback: “You did, huh?”
The best reviews Jackie got for her book were like columnist Earl Wilson dubbing Valley of the Dolls “steamy!”Time called Dolls the “dirty book of the month.” Even Gloria Steinem reviewed the book, saying Dolls “is for the reader who has put away comic books, but isn’t yet ready for editorials in The Daily News.” One critic quipped that Jackie typed on cash register keys. Gore Vidal took the snark one step further, saying Susann “doesn’t write, she types.”
Critics felt Jackie's true talent was self-promotion. Above:wowing the Teamsters!
The reviews for Dolls were dismal, but the sales were dazzling. Still, Susann felt compelled to compose a rebuttal, My Book Is Not Dirty. It was not published at the time, but here’s the gist of her gripe with critics: “So many people seem unable to differentiate between the words shocking and dirty. Truth is often shocking. It is not dirty. Life is shocking at times ... it is not dirty.”
Grace and Jackie’s fantasies of life as a famous writer had a similar, more pristine ring. Metalious told an interviewer: “I was an author with a contract which said so, I had a French agent, and a lady publisher. I was in ‘21.’ I had arrived.”
Susann told a friend her goal: “I want to walk into ‘21’ and I want everyone to turn and say, ‘That’s Jacqueline Susann, the author.’”
 “Being number one on the bestseller list, that was the review she wanted,” said publisher and film producer David Brown about Jackie. Brown said that Susann knew the tradeoff would be that everyone would put down her commercial success. And unlike Grace Metalious, Jackie would not be at a loss for a witty comeback.
Susann appeared on David Frost’s show in June, 1969, with a “surprise guest,” acidic critic John Simon—who went straight for Jackie’s jugular.
“Do you really believe you are writing art or are you just writing trash to make a lot of money?” accused Simon, sticking his finger in Susann’s face.
Imitating Simon’s middle-European accent, Jackie jibed: “I haff heard of Neil Simon und Simple Simon, but vat Simon are you?”
And that was just the beginning—the low point came when Simon spat out that he would rather “watch dogs fornicate” than read Susann. That same night, Tonight Show guest Truman Capote commented to host Johnny Carson that Jacqueline Susann “looked like a truck driver in drag…a born transvestite.” Jackie was ubiquitous!
Maybe Jackie should have invoked Dolls bombshell Jennifer’s famous line: “You know how bitchy fags can be.” Instead, when Jackie visited Johnny’s late night show a few months later, Carson asked her what she “thought of Truman.” Susann slyly quipped: “I think history will prove he was one of the best presidents we’ve had.”

Hollywood Endings
Metalious foolishly signed away all rights to "Peyton Place."
Above, with producer Jerry Wald, who made the deal. 
Susann received $180,000 for screen rights to Valley of the Dolls, a paltry payoff considering it was a decade after Metalious got $250K for Peyton Place. Both women were especially unhappy at forfeiting sequel rights to Twentieth Century Fox as part of the deal. Finally, Susann and Metalious hated that happy endings were tacked on to the film versions of their well-known books.
The best-sellers were immediately made into top-grossing movies, both coming out a year after the book releases. The director for both films, a decade apart, was Mark Robson. In each case, the greatest task for the director and his screenwriters was to “clean up” the scandalous stories for the silver screen. This was Hollywood hypocrisy at its best: Let’s buy a salacious book, turn it into a whitewashed movie, and promote it as shocking!
The film version of "Peyton Place" received 9 Oscar nominations and won zero.
Barbara Parkins, Sharon Tate, & Patty Duke: 20th Century Fox "Dolls."
With Peyton Place, that formula worked. The critics condescendingly praised the “classy” screen version of Peyton Place as a vast improvement over the “dirty” book. Yet a few critics at the time called the adaptation sanitized or antiseptic. The truth falls somewhere in the middle: Peyton Place was run through the Hollywood Hayes Code whitewash cycle, though it managed to keep key events intact. There was no way in 1957 that the movie could have depicted the book’s dirt intact, so criticism on that score is a cheap shot. Valley of the Dolls however, was rightly panned, critics saying it was even worse than book. Whereas Peyton Place the movie kept the characters empathy and depth, the film version of Valley of the Dolls reduced the book’s characters to caricatures.

Famous Versus Infamous
When the photo of Grace Metalious curled up in jeans at a typewriter was published, it was instantly iconic, and she was dubbed “Pandora in Blue Jeans.” A decade later, Jacqueline Susann created her trademark look, promoting pulp fiction in Pucci.
Metalious did not fare well with the success of—or criticism—directed at Peyton Place. A love-hate attitude ensued for the last eight years of her life. She divorced, remarried, and re-divorced George Metalious—and married and divorced another man, in between! She spent lavishly, but it brought her no joy. Her drinking escalated. Grace was ill-equipped to deal with the media or book critics. She felt alienated by local townspeople, who in turn felt betrayed by Peyton Place. Metalious resented being thought of only as the housewife who spilled the beans on her neighbors, and not as a real writer. Grace’s downfall has been oversimplified two ways: the small town girl taken in by city slickers in the book and movie biz; or, as in Valley of the Dolls, the “it’s lonely at the top” sad ending. There’s some truth to both clichés, but Grace’s lack of emotional stability eroded her fame and innate talent. A writer who interviewed her toward the end of her life said he found it jarring to see a 30-something woman with the maturity of a high-strung 13-year-old.
Susann relished every minute of her success. True, Jackie could be hurt by harsh reviews and pundits, especially as she became more and more famous…and rich! It bothered her especially when male writers like Capote, Mailer, or Vidal needled her, feeling that sexism came into play. Women writers got in their digs, like Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron. Even Diane Arbus, who specialized in grotesques, got in the act, photographing over-tanned Jackie and Irving cuddling on an easy chair in their swimsuits.
Irving and Jackie posing for the infamous Diane Arbus pic!
Around show business her entire adult life, Susann knew how the game was played, and tried not to take it personally. But Metalious suffered from publicity fallout that Susann didn’t have to face. Grace managed to finish two more novels that proved her talented, but she wasted her physical and emotional energy on drinking and drama. For the last five years of her life, Metalious drank a fifth a day. Grace Metalious died of alcoholism at 39 in 1964. Jacqueline Susann knew that time was not on her side, and made the most of the remaining 12 years of her life. Jackie wrote three #1 best-sellers and became an international celebrity before dying of cancer at 56, in 1974.

After Story
Valley of the Dolls sold more copies, owing to the decade-long onslaught of self-publicizing Susann, unlike self-conscious and self-destructive Metalious. Regarding Susann’s follow-up novel, The Love Machine, Michael Korda recalled: “The book would have sold 100 thousand in hard back, maybe, without the promotion. That’s a healthy figure, but it sold four times that because of Jackie’s personal impact.”
Mia Farrow: "Maybe I'll make headlines someday!"
However, Peyton Place enjoyed a long shelf life, from two hit movies, a daytime serial version, and especially the ‘60s TV reboot: 5 years, airing 2 to 3 times a week, totaling over 500 episodes. The show made stars of Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal, and lots of money for ABC and 20th Century Fox—and not a dime for the estate of Grace Metalious. By contrast, Valley of the Dolls was the only hit film from Susann novels. Dolls, trashed at the time, gradually became a camp classic, ála Mommie Dearest. A television series was announced in 2012, only to be reminded by Jacqueline Susann’s estate that Fox failed to exercise its right of first refusal. Somewhere, Jackie and Grace had a heavenly chuckle over that payback to 20th Century Fox.
The film versions certainly helped keep the books and their authors alive in the public’s memory. Despite their similar journeys, the following answers regarding their legacy speak volumes about the core difference between the two women.
When asked by an interviewer if her mega-seller Peyton Place would be remembered in 25 years, Grace Metalious replied, “I doubt it very much…oh heavens, no.”

Controversial even in death, some locals did not want
Grace Metalious buried in Gilmanton.
When asked about the lasting impact of her books, Jacqueline Susann answered, whether with bravado or genuine self-confidence: “I think I’ll be remembered as the voice of the 1960s, Andy Warhol, The Beatles, and me…”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand Bring Back Memories in 'The Way We Were'

Redford & Streisand were the dream team romantic duo of '73.
Ever re-watch a movie from your youth to see if it still lives up to your memory? I watched The Way We Were for the first time since the Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford epic romance came to our small town Upper Michigan theatre in late 1973. I went with my sister, who thought Redford was a dreamboat. I thought he was just okay, but he was enjoying a run of popular pictures that we went to see: Jeremiah Johnson, The Sting, The Great Gatsby, and The Great Waldo Pepper. The Way We Were still holds up—so well, that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t gotten the bright idea to remake the romantic saga. If you live long enough, every favorite movie or TV show of your youth will be recycled! Still, it was a surprise to find that Robert Redford turned 80 on August 18, 2016.

The tagline of  "The Way We Were" summed up the studio's point of view!
The Way We Were was one of the first “nostalgic” films of the ‘70s, covering the Streisand-Redford couple from mid-‘30s college life to mid-‘50s Hollywood and New York. Streisand shines as activist Katie, who grates on people’s nerves as much as Redford’s cool school hero Hubbell charms them. These two opposites definitely attract. When they talk about great chemistry in movies, The Way We Were should be used as a textbook example. Funny girl Streisand freely admitted to having a crush on Redford, who handled it with typical class—which worked for the movie’s dynamic. The rapport between Streisand and Redford gives this film its enduring strength.

Redford's bellbottoms made it in the scene!
And so did Streisand's nails and Redford's '70s hair!
Streisand signed first and Redford was everyone’s first choice for Hubbell. Redford turned the role down repeatedly, as he felt Hubbell was a weak character. As much as I respect Redford, he has a history declining great parts that were outside the leading man box: Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Benjamin in The Graduate, and Guy in Rosemary’s Baby. Even with Sydney Pollack, his favorite director and friend, on board, Redford held out. Pollack had to wear Redford down before he finally agreed. Redford said over the years that Hubbell felt one-dimensional, with no flaws to play off of. The reality was, that as filming progressed, Redford’s character became more sympathetic, which infuriated screenwriter Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original story. Still, this is one of Redford’s best performances, as the college jock turned writer. In a cut scene, Hubbell tells Katie about being sent to classroom to classroom as a child, with a note from a teacher, and he soon becomes the teachers’ pet. When he looked at the notes, it read, “Did you ever see such a smile?”

This has also been Robert Redford’s dilemma. Redford was one of the first stars to shy away from his good looks, yet falling back on them as needed. In The Way We Were, Redford is at his blond best and flashes that toothy smile, whether in uniform, sweaters, or swimwear. Yet, Redford, never an over-actor, is subtle in showing his discomfort with Streisand’s character constantly prodding him to do the right thing.

The Red Scare and Blacklist-era scenes were trimmed in favor of romance.
Streisand is perfect in the role of Katie Morosky, probably because Laurents wrote it with her in mind. Though Katie’s heart is in the right place, Streisand isn’t afraid to be unlikeable when Katie gets on her soapbox and browbeats those around her. A college Communist, Katie’s past comes back to haunt her when Hubbell goes to Hollywood as a screenwriter. The Red Scare soon sweeps Hollywood, and their friends and colleagues are facing the infamous blacklist. In one of the film’s best scenes, Katie and Hubbell have it out after facing an angry crowd in Washington. Hubbell is pragmatic, predicting that the controversy will ultimately prove pointless, with everything going back to the status quo. Katie accuses him of ducking the issue, saying, “People are their principles!” Hubbell responds by sending glasses flying from a table. This is a telling scene, with Redford and Streisand respectively standing in for Pollack, who wanted to cut it, and Laurents, who fought to keep it in.

Director Sydney Pollack with stars Streisand and Redford, in a '70s moment.
The Way We Were is a fine romance and to a point, a compelling drama. The filming was problematic because the romance and drama soon competed for storytelling and screen time. According to Laurents, Pollack favored Redford and the romance, whereas Laurents and Streisand favored the film’s political drama. Pollack was under pressure from Columbia Pictures to deliver a hit movie, given such a stellar star pairing. Pollack says that there were two previews for The Way We Were, one with cuts to political content, and one without. He claimed that the version with the focus on romance and cutting the politics was the preview audiences preferred.

Streisand as Katie, after a '40s glam makeover.
Robert Redford, rockin' the man in uniform look!
Still, the flaw that keeps The Way We Were from film classic status is its choppy continuity. A sweet scene that was cut is when Katie drives by a college activist rally after leaving a blacklisted friend’s house. She literally sees her past self and realizes that she doesn’t fit in with the conformist Hollywood crowd. But the worst cuts are with Katie and Hubbell, who overcome huge differences to stay together, yet appear to break up over sex with an ex on Hubbell’s part, which comes out of nowhere. One was a great scene where Katie clears the air by saying Hubbell’s career can’t afford a politically subversive wife. And since Katie won’t name names, she makes the final break between them. Pollack concedes that not only Laurents, but also Redford and Streisand were unhappy with the cuts, feeling it softened the picture. Not to mention the film’s flow, since The Way We Were suddenly goes from the couple’s domestic woes in Malibu to the closing scene years later, where Katie runs into Hubbell on the streets of New York City.

Watching Sydney Pollack interviewed as to why he made such cuts lessened my admiration for him as a director. Like Mike Nichols and Sidney Lumet, Pollack started in acting and became a director who was great with actors and chose smart material. But Pollack didn’t have the guts to tell the studio to trust the film’s integrity. In a way, Pollack rationalizations mirror Hubbell’s. Nichols fought similar battles on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. And Lumet was a director of such strength and social conscience that no studio would even think of telling him to delete controversial material. Maybe that’s why despite classy crowd-pleasers like Tootsie and Out of Africa, there isn’t a culture-changing Network or The Graduate on Pollack’s resume.

Bittersweet farewell: Streisand came up with the recurring bit of her brushing away Redford's blonde bangs.
Still, how about that ending? Katie is back to where she started, taking it to the streets with her activism, and Hubbell, now with a blond, silent wife. The movie ends with Hubbell and Katie having a private moment, acknowledging their paths will not pass again, except perhaps by chance. Streisand and Redford play this scene beautifully, and then the famous theme song swells up. I remember a lot of tissues coming out back in 1973!

Funny how some of Hollywood’s greatest love stories have such sad endings: Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage not worth a damn in Gone with the Wind, Montgomery Clift gets the electric chair instead of Liz Taylor in A Place in the Sun, and Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s beach romance is all washed up by the end of From Here to Eternity.

Redford was 37 when he played a college boy
 in the opening of "The Way We Were." So the meter
was already running on the sequel possibility.
For years after, there was much talk of a sequel to The Way We Were. Eventually, too much time had passed for a feasible film follow-up to Katie and Hubbell’s love story. The talk had been so on-going that when Barbra presented Redford with a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2002, he said to her onstage, “I guess this is the sequel, huh, Babs?”

About a decade later, Oprah Winfrey reunited Streisand and Redford for an interview. Redford put it best when asked about the continued interest in a sequel to The Way We Were: “I just felt certain things should be left alone, and this was one of them.”

Bonus: Deleted scenes from The Way We Were: