Stone Monuments & Rocks in Trump’s Head

DATELINE: Trump Version of Disneyland

Mt. Rushmore or Less!

The so-called Garden of Monuments proposed by Trump will be nothing less than an ode to Hollywood versions of American heroes. A close look at Trump’s selection of heroes features a good number of 1950s TV icons—from Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, to a plethora of Walt Disney depictions.

 

We suspect in Trump’s rock head, the faces of Boone and Crockett will belong to Fess Parker.

You may have noticed war hero Audie Murphy on this list, but not war hero Alvin York. York’s movie came too soon for Trump, but you can count on the fact that when Lou Gehrig is included, he will look like Gary Cooper.

Oh, in a show of good faith and black face, Trump includes the ubiquitous Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harriet Tubman (she’s good enough for the $2 bill but not the $20).  We expect there will be a lot of Confederate money tossed about: though he does not mention Jeff Davis or Robert E. Lee, they will have a spot in Trump’s American heritage.

 

You can put the monument park next to one of his golf courses, thereby raking in more money to the Trump Organization.

You should include George Patton (in the likeness of George C. Scott), but forget Ike. For that matter, you should include the movie star president, Ronald Reagan, but forget the Democrats like FDR or JFK. Not invited.

 

We expect there will be a spot on Trump’s Rushmore for Nixon.

 

You can find Wilbur Wright on this list, but no Neil Armstrong.

 

You can find a few foreigners like Columbus, but don’t look for any Native Americans like Sitting Bull. The only bull here is Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.

Dangerous Edge: Greene for Danger

DATELINE:  Literary Marvel

Greene  The Other Shade of Greene

Before Graham Greene was known as a Native American actor and movie star, he was one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  Oh, they were different people with the same name.

British writer Greene joined Hemingway as a character as vivid as his heroes of fiction. Like them, he was a converted Roman Catholic with severe doubts and moral lapses. He was, like them, often a writer and journalist, and he shared a background as a spy with many of his literary heroes. He was not a nice man.

And he loved to write movie reviews. Well, he wasn’t all bad.

As a cinematic novelist, his works often reached the screen with great influence: from This Gun for Hire, The Third Man,  Power and Glory, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt, and on and on.

He seemed always to visit a far-off location right before it blew up into an international crisis spot: from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam.

As a boy, his father was the headmaster of their school—and all his classmates regarded him as a spy for the old man. The notion stuck.

He was notoriously promiscuous and a womanizer, as well as an inveterate traveler. He was virulently anti-American for the most part—and loathed the movies that messed up his message (Quiet American Audie Murphy comes to mind, which can be seen in the book Audie Murphy in Vietnam by William Russo).

He defended notorious Communist Kim Philby, the Brit spy, and one of his closest friends. He accepted honors from the Soviet Union, but not from the Nobel Prize committee. No wonder the FBI and CIA kept him under surveillance.

Greene was also a suicidal manic-depressive most of the time, though he lived until his 80s and finally came to realize his mission was to write. He believed his work ultimately was his life and his identity. He was not far wrong.

The documentary about his life, Dangerous Edge, even features people like John LeCarre, his likely successor in literature, and the film uses many clips from the famous movies. He used to call his less serious work “entertainments,” but it all ended up as serious and entertaining.

Beware, My Lovely, or the Man Shows Up

DATELINE: TV Beats the Movie!

audie Frightening Audie!

You have to love an old movie that uses a comma for direct address, as in Beware, My Lovely.

You might think this was a detective movie—but it is about a psycho who has come to torment the resident of a rooming house. In this RKO special of 1952, it’s Ida Lupino as a landlady running a boarding house after World War I in 1918—and her unpleasant visitor is Robert Ryan as Howard, a certified early version of Norman Bates.

Tall and menacing, we wondered how Miss Lupino, still young and attractive, could not be a bit threatened by this actor who made creepy and brutish villains one of his specialty. The film is based on a stage play by Mel Dinelli, which struck a chord with us. We wrote about it in a biography of Audie Murphy called Audie in Vietnam!

In fact, we realized that we saw this play done live on television by Audie Murphy and Thelma Ritter in 1960! It’s still available for those who look hard. Now that was quite a feat: Audie Murphy, the boyish war hero turned cowboy star, played against type.  He was so innocent-looking, the Norman Bates element was horrifying in a year before Hitchcock released Psycho.

Thelma Ritter was a marvelous old character actress who could play tough or vulnerable, but seemed a helpless victim. And, her little dog is not entirely happy with the handyman who shows up to torment her. Murphy draws upon some inner demons in one of his best performances.

The movie featured about 25 minutes of pre-story development that the TV special eliminated. Of course, to see Robert Ryan apparently black out and murder someone in the first minute of the movie put a different spin on the story.

Beware, My Lovely is not bad—but we think better performances were given by Audie and Thelma a few years after this film bombed. The Man with Murphy’s Howard the psycho is available on YouTube for free.

Brandon DeWilde: Gone 45 Years Ago

DATELINE: Memories

Audie with Brandon DeWilde

Audie Murphy with Brandon on set of Night Passage

Forty-five years is a long time, no matter how old you are.

It is especially long when you think that young actor Brandon DeWilde died on a road in Denver that many years ago. He’s buried in East Farmingdale, New York.

Brandon is likely remembered as the little boy in the movie Shane who cried, “Come back, Shane, come back!” as the mysterious gunman kept on riding his horse into the clouds.

Our personal favorite movie with Brandon was Hud, though when he stood up to father figure John Wayne, his costar for In Harm’s Way, he gave another interesting performance. Challenging the man playing your father is not an easy trick when it’s the Duke.

Julie Harris starred on Broadway in 1950 and in the movie version of Member of the Wedding, largely forgotten nowadays, with Brandon as her little friend. She once told us in an interview that their bare feet would be so dirty after a stage performance of pretending to be outdoors in the Old South. For years afterward, he would greet her by announcing his feet were clean. She remembered him fondly as her costar on stage and in film.

Who didn’t adore Brandon?

He glowed in every performance, not like so many insipid child actors.

Brandon was such a scene stealer that, when he costarred with dangerous war hero Audie Murphy in Night Passage, he was knocked on his keester by Audie, wearing a black hat and black leather vest for this bad guy role, in one scene. Yes, it was in the script.

You could put Brandon up against Warren Beatty and Paul Newman—and he matched their intensity.

DeWilde is now a trivia piece of history for many movie fans. But his demise so long ago was a shock when it happened. He rode off into the clouds, leaving us to cry out, “Come back, Brandon. Come back.”

Alas, he can only do it in his marvelous movie roles.

 

 

 

Alternative History of Hollywood Murder!

DATELINE: New movie book challenges true story!

One of the more interesting, great untold stories about Hollywood concerns the murder on location when John Wayne was filming The Alamo in 1959.

Most books on Wayne assiduously avoid the topic, but Wayne’s progtege, actress LeJean Ethridge, was given a larger role in the picture by Duke Wayne—and one of her roommates, a man named Chester Harvey Smith, stabbed her to death.

Wayne testified at a hasty hearing—and the subject was buried almost as fast as the unfortunate actress. Chester Smith was given a 30-year sentence—and the story was allegedly over.

Now comes an alternative history book called MURDER AT THE ALAMO, which pulls no punches with its speculative look at what may have precipitated the controversies around the movie.

Wayne apparently lost control of his film—and nearly lost his personal fortune. Casting problems and egotistic costars dogged Duke. It’s no wonder he had John Ford come to the rescue to film scenes and give the star a break. It was too much to star and to direct under such pressures.

The book looks at how a rival star seemed to exacerbate Wayne’s troubles. We can’t tell where the truth ends and fictional speculation begins. And, if you can’t tell, perhaps the difference no longer matters after 50+ years.

The story is told in press releases, news reports from minor newspapers, and gossip columnists. And, there is a who’s who of appearances of notable figures to weigh in on the controversy.

A fascinating tale, this re-telling of tragedy and movie history compels the reader to wonder why the killer was let out of prison 4 years later with a large stipend of money that he parlayed into a radio network empire.

Now available on Amazon.com for ebook and soon as paperback by 1960s gossip columnist Dam Chewy.