Last week's column on Loretta Young’s first television series, accompanied by a mini-biography of her career, brought some unexpected responses from a number of readers, both in emails sent directly to me and at least one comment attached to the column online.
These readers chided me for not mentioning Young’s “love child” with Clark Gable, which has been well documented elsewhere, including a book written by the daughter in question.
One emailer called my story a “whitewash” and came across as very angry, taking me to task for suggesting Young was a model of integrity. But it should be noted that my references in the first few paragraphs to Young’s integrity referred to her movies and TV programs, particularly late in her career and solely with regard to her work.
The column was essentially a DVD review, and since Young was born in Salt Lake City and this box set celebrated the late star’s 100th birthday, I felt compelled to include a brief biography.
But I didn’t go into her private life at all, except as her childhood years relate to her movie career. Should I also have included her marriages and her feuds with studio heads and her charity work? It was not meant to be comprehensive and certainly the space allotted to a newspaper column doesn’t allow for that anyway.
Bringing up Young’s illegitimate daughter would have shifted focus and derailed the column’s intent. At the risk of sounding defensive, longtime readers should recognize that I have never indulged in Hollywood gossip or celebrities’ personal lives. My job is to evaluate their work. And I really don’t care about the rest.
Celebrity worship has reached some sort of off-the-rails level of obsession in this day and age of the electronic-information explosion. To young people, suggesting that anything is TMI may seem out of touch, but to my mind there’s way too much information out there about everyone.
Unless it seems relevant to the movies they make, I don’t see the point. And by the way, if we are going to avoid movies and TV shows made by people whose values seem at odds with our own, we might as well throw out our TVs and burn down all the movie theaters.
In the case of Loretta Young, watching episodes of her show and examining the films she made after gaining some control over the material tells me that whatever troubles she may have had in her personal life, modern moviemakers could learn something from the integrity there’s that word again that she demonstrated in her work. And I see no reason to apologize for that.
The Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, the mother ship of awards shows. And the best thing that can be said about the annual Oscarcast is that it marks the end of this season’s interminable string of events designed to tell self-centered millionaires how wonderful they are. Trust me, they know.
But the Oscars do bring up all kinds of trends and trivia worth noting, and this year the most obvious is that Anne Hathaway’s apparent lock for best supporting actress has its roots in the contest’s history. Eschewing glamour to go all dowdy as a prostitute and then dying an ignominious death onscreen is a sure-fire Oscar strategy.
In fact, it’s the go-to standard for the best actress and best supporting actress categories. A little research uncovered no less than a dozen actresses who won their trophies for playing ladies of the evening. Many more were nominated and didn’t win, of course, but dressing down and dying on camera certainly gives extra weight to Hathaway’s front-runner status.
The 12 that I spotted are Janet Gaynor (“Street Angel,” 1928), Helen Hayes (“The Sin of Madelon Claudet,” 1931), Anne Baxter (“The Razor’s Edge,” 1946), Susan Hayward (“I Want to Live!” 1958), Jo Van Fleet (“East of Eden,” 1955), Elizabeth Taylor (“Butterfield 8,” 1960), Jane Fonda (“Klute,” 1971), Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite,” 1995), Kim Basinger (“L.A. Confidential,” 1997) and Charlize Theron (“Monster,” 2003). Plus two actresses who were stereotyped as very chaste characters both in their early films and later in TV series: Donna Reed (“From Here to Eternity,” 1953) and Shirley Jones (“Elmer Gantry,” 1960).
Movies based on the best-selling novels of Nicholas Sparks won’t be winning any awards — except where it counts, at the box office. And that, of course, explains why there is a Sparks motion-picture cottage industry, a la Stephen King and John Grisham.
“Safe Haven” is the eighth Sparks novel-to-movie, after “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Dear John,” “The Last Song” and “The Lucky One.”
And it’s the first to have his name in the opening credits three times, as the author of the source material, as a producer and with the up-front label: “Nicholas Sparks Productions.” And since “Safe Haven” opened big, giving “A Good Day to Die Hard” a run for its money from Valentine’s Day through Presidents Day, there will most certainly be more Sparks books in development.
There is a formula to the author's stories. Each is bathed liberally in thick sentimentality, and at least every other story has a widow or widower with children, an aged parent who is infirm or ill, a pivotal character with a secret, letters or notes that figure prominently, and in every one that has been filmed so far, a significant character dies.
In fact, it’s been a joke between my wife and me for a few years now that when Sparks’ name turns up in a trailer, we say aloud, “Wonder who dies in this one.”
But “Safe Haven,” to my knowledge, marks the first time Sparks appears to have lifted his plot from another famous (22-year-old) film derived from a novel: “Sleeping With the Enemy.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Did anyone else notice that “Zero Dark Thirty” says up front it’s based on a true story but at the end it also has the usual disclaimer that says any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental? Hmmm.
And why is there a choreographer listed in the credits of “Les Miserables” when this particular musical has no dancing?
If you’re a Cecil B. DeMille fan, you may have wondered why “Samson & Delilah” has never been on DVD. Me too. But here it comes. Sixty-three years after its initial release, the biblical tale that served as a dry run for DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” is headed for its disc debut.
Victor Mature plays strongman Samson and Hedy Lamarr sizzles as Delilah, with Angela Lansbury and George Sanders in support. The film has reportedly received a major digital cleansing so that the Technicolor cinematography is stunning. Date of release: March 12.