Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Inspired by Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth

Two Hollywood actresses who gave some of their best screen performances for the same studio, Columbia Pictures.  Both were a couple of Hollywood's top movie stars.  They were Jean Arthur, star of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, THE MORE THE MERRIER and THE TALK OF THE TOWN...
...and dancer/actress Rita Hayworth, star of COVER GIRL with Gene Kelly, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER and YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH with Fred Astaire, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT, THE LOVES OF CARMEN and GILDA.
When I was a little boy growing up in South Central L.A., both women were still working.  My passion for film began when I was in grade school.  During that time, I heard an afternoon movie host on our local NBC affiliate talk about Jean Arthur.  She was the star of the local afternoon movie.  Tom Frandsen, the KNBC host, mentioned that he always loved her voice.  My mother was in the living room and smiled.  I asked her about Jean Arthur's voice.  Mom continued smiling and said, "It was just different."  Arthur was in movies made during the silent film era.  One is Buster Keaton's SEVEN CHANCES (1925).  Ten years later, when movies were talking, her warm and slightly husky voice became one of the most recognizable in Hollywood films.  She retired from movie-making after SHANE (1953) even though, for years, she kept getting offers.  Ida Lupino did the role Jean Arthur reportedly turned down in 1972's JUNIOR BONNER.  But, she did star on a CBS sitcom that only lasted one season.  I begged my parents to let me stay up and see it because I wanted to experience her voice.  A long time later, when I was a grown-up, would I realize why my parents were so dumbstruck that their little boy wanted to stay up and see a woman who was a movie star when they were teenagers.  I fell in love with her voice and personality as half of the mother and son lawyer team on THE JEAN ARTHUR SHOW.  Brought to you by Jell-O in 1966.
In the early 1970s, my love of classic films was still growing.  Merv Griffin had coaxed the shy star to be a guest on his show. I was lucky enough to see it.  He showed a clip of Jean Arthur and James Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. It was a serious scene.  At the close of it, Arthur commented to Griffin that the political message of Capra's movie was still relevant.
That was a light bulb over-the-head moment for me.  Jean Arthur was specifically referring to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a hot news story of the day.  Nixon was still in office.  Arthur's remark made me realize that classic films, like classic literature we studied in school, could be studied and could still have social significance that could appeal to a younger generation as I was at the time.  They were more than fodder for movie trivia contests.  I was determined to interview people who made films from that Golden Age and make their old work appeal to a new audience through the work I did as an interviewer and writer.  Jean Arthur made me unashamed to go further into my young love for classic films.  She inspired me to give it a purpose.
As for Rita Hayworth, she'd been interviewed in the Calendar section for a Sunday edition of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.  Calendar was the arts and entertainment section.  In that interview, I got more of an awareness of Hayworth's Latino roots.  In her early films, she was credited as Rita Cansino with her real Spanish surname.  By 1939, her last name was changed to a more Anglo one.  In the newspaper interview, she mentioned that she'd love to follow Lauren Bacall playing Margo in APPLAUSE, the Broadway musical version of ALL ABOUT EVE, and she'd love to do a movie based on work by Lorca.  She'd been reading Lorca.  I was unaware of poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.  So...I went to our nearest library in the neighborhood and asked the librarian to help me learn something about him.

Something like that makes a librarian's day worthwhile.  Especially in South Central L.A.

Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth worked together in one film -- Howard Hawks' 1939 classic, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.  Their leading man was Cary Grant.  Not only did they share a movie and a leading man, they both celebrated birthdays on October 17th.
Yes, Rita Hayworth was gorgeous and she was called Hollywood's "Love Goddess."                      
But don't ever forget that, when it came to dance, she could really pick 'em up and lay 'em down.  Here she is as a Broadway chorus dancer in rehearsals with her choreographer boss played by Fred Astaire in 1941's YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH.  Music by Cole Porter.




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