May 16th is Classic Movie Day although every day is Classic Movie Day around here. This post is part of the celebration Blogathon hosted by ClassicFilmTVCafe.com. We are tasked with sharing our five favorite stars and explaining what we like about them.
There are so many classic movie stars whom I love that it is very hard to pick five. Here are the ones I have chosen for this momentous occasion.
Cary Grant is the epitome of a suave, debonair gentleman. It is said that he is the basis for James Bond’s style.
Cary was a very versatile actor as he could easily take on war dramas like playing Captain Cassidy, who’s crew of submariners are ordered into Tokyo Bay on a secret mission in Destination Tokyo; to mysteries, like To Catch a Thief, in which he plays a reformed criminal accused of a robbery he didn’t commit; to comedies, like Walter Burns in the fast-talking witty remake of The Front Page, His Girl Friday. He gives a heart-breaking performance in Penny Serenade for which he received one of his two Academy Award nominations. Incredibly, he never won a competitive Oscar. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970 for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.
Katharine Hepburn is, in my opinion, THE grand lady of Hollywood.
She got her big break into screen acting when an RKO Radio Pictures talent scout spotted her in a Broadway performance and offered her an audition for a role starring opposite John Barrymore in the 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement.
A Bill of Divorcement became a hit, and RKO offered Hepburn a lucrative long-term contract to make films for the studio. Hepburn won the first of her four Academy Awards just a year later, for her performance in Morning Glory, opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Adolphe Menjou. Soon after, her performance as Jo in the hit big-screen adaptation of the beloved novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott won her great acclaim, and Hepburn became known throughout the world as a as a formidable onscreen presence with a fierce intelligence, which in the era of ditsy women was refreshing.
She also appeared in a handful of flops, and producers began to label her “box-office poison.” Sensing trouble, Hepburn ended her contract at RKO and returned to the stage.
Back on Broadway, Hepburn appeared as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, winning huge acclaim. Playwright Philip Barry had written the role specifically with Hepburn in mind, and critics and audiences went wild over the production. Hepburn bought the motion picture rights to the story and headed back to Hollywood, where she sold them to MGM on the condition that she would star in the film. With this move, she single-highhandedly regenerated her film career and her appeal. The 1940 film earned multiple Academy Award nominations.
Hepburn’s next life-changing move was the beginning of her enduring onscreen and off screen relationship with the actor Spencer Tracy. Woman of the Year (1942), the first of nine films the duo would make together, was a huge smash. Tracy and Hepburn shared a palpable, electric chemistry on the screen and off it.
While he started in horror films with The Invisible Man (1933) because they wanted a unique voice of the mostly unseen character, by the 1940s, Rains had risen to perhaps unique stature: a supporting actor who had achieved A-list stardom — almost in a category by himself.
His 40 films during that period ranged from subtle comedy to psychological drama with a bit of horror revisited. He was the firm but thoroughly sympathetic Dr. Jaquith in Now, Voyager (1942) and the smoothly sardonic Capt. Louis Renault, perhaps his best known role, in Casablanca (1942). He was the surreptitiously nervous and malignant Alex Sebastian in Notorious (1946) and the egotistical and domineering conductor Alexander Hollenius in Deception (1946). He was the disfigured Phantom of the Opera (1943) as well. He played opposite the challenging Bette Davis in three movies through the decade and came out her equal in acting virtuosity.
He was nominated four times for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar — but never won.
Since I grew up in the age of television before cable, I don’t remember the first time I became aware of Bette Davis. I did know who she was when she was part of the all-star cast of the Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile (1979) and Kim Carnes’ “Betty Davis Eyes” was released in 1981. Although at that point I can’t say that I had seen any of her movies.
I like her because she portrayed many strong-willed, even unlikable, women who defied society’s rules.
Davis was nominated for 12 Best Actress Academy Awards and won only two.
A number of critical and box-office successes followed: She plays a heiress coming to terms with mortal illness in Dark Victory , and a woman who suffers a nervous breakdown because of an oppressive mother before being freed by the love of a man she meets on a cruise in the drama Now, Voyager;
In 1950, Davis gave one of her most indelible performances in the show-business drama All About Eve, starring as Margo Channing, a theater actress who fends off the insecurities of approaching middle age and the scheming of a manipulative protégé with sarcastic wit and more than a few cocktails.
My current favorite Bette Davis film is the horror movie and camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), in which she co-starred with Joan Crawford as a former child star caring for her disabled sister. I guess I have gotten over my fear of horror movies, prior to the 1970’s any way.
I first saw Joan Blondell on television, as Lottie on Here Come the Brides (1968). My mother mentioned that she was in movies. Back in the pre-cable television days it was not as easy to find classic movies as it today. I am not sure I even saw a movie with her until Turner Classic Movies launched in the 1990’s.
Little did I know that she conquered motion pictures, vaudeville, Broadway, summer stock, television, and radio.
She was starring with James Cagney on Broadway in “Penny Arcade” when Warner Brothers decided to film the play as Sinners’ Holiday (1930). Both Cagney and Joan were given the leads, and the film was a success. While Warner Brothers made Cagney a star, Joan never rose to that level. Whether in gangster movies or musicals, her performances were good enough for second leads, but not first lead, according to the studio.
Throughout the 1930s, she made a career playing gold-diggers and happy-go-lucky girlfriends. With her casual sex appeal, distinctive cello voice, megawatt smile, luminous saucer eyes, and flawless timing, she came into widespread fame in Warner Bros. musicals and comedies of the 1930s, including Blonde Crazy, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade.
By the 50s, Joan would garner an Academy Award nomination for The Blue Veil (1951), but her biggest career successes would be on the stage, including a musical version of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” In 1957, Joan would again appear on the screen as a drunk in Lizzie (1957) and as mature companion to Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).
If you are new to classic movies, I hope that these five stars will help you expand your classic movie knowledge.