Jack the Tailor of Beverly Hills

 DATELINE: You Are What You Call Yourself!

 Clothes Make the Man!

Upon first coming across a one-hour documentary on a fashion store in Beverly Hills, we thought it was one of those vanity documentaries, produced by its subject. Jack Taylor was a 90-year old high fashion artist from old Hollywood days.

The film is a tad old, with Taylor gone in 2016 and his main supporter, Mike Douglas, a decade before that. Yet, we are always eager to catch up on our past misgivings.

Jack Taylor hardly needs publicity, and business is dying out as his A-list celebrity patrons pass away. He would soon follow and take an era with him. He was the man who tailored all those magnificent suits worn by Cary Grant from the 1930s till his death. Grant would order a dozen suits at time.

We wondered if there were any celebs who’d go on camera for a commercial appearance—and there were plenty of men: Mike Douglas, Hal Linden, swore by Jack Taylor. Monty Hall wore a different outfit every show on Let’s Make a Deal, all created by Taylor.

He made clothes for Elvis, Sinatra, Charles Bronson, and so many men. He was not easy either. He would tell them not to eat or put on weight. His suits were meant to show them off at their best shape. His most obstreperous client was Jackie Gleason who needed 3 sizes, because of his weight changes over weeks and months.

Taylor would tell them to eat only half the plate at the restaurant. He did not do alterations, or sew the suits. He has a 60-year tailor for that: he has worked for Taylor for sixty years. He’s in his 80s. But both lament there are no tailors any longer.

We are looking at the extinction of men’s fashion. There was no endangered species list: men’s suits and ties were dinosaurs when the political landscape changed its pants.

Clothes for men nowadays are off the rack at best, and China imports at worst. Jack Taylor knows his world of well-dressed men is fading away. He thinks the 1940s were the last gasp, but the war killed it at that point. And, the 1970s turned into a fashion death knell for men’s clothing with jeans and t-shirts as the extent of wardrobe.

We never expected to be fascinated at expensive clothes, being a recluse who never makes public appearances. However, celebrities still know a good suit is essential, but they are going to have a hard time finding anyone to replace jack Taylor.

  Mae West: Dirty Blonde

DATELINE: Way Ahead of the Curve!

 Mae in Lion’s Mouth!

When PBS Masters finally recognizes Mae 100 years after her astounding Broadway run, you know she is still years ahead of the rest of society. How did this woman whose first plays were called “garbage,” or “lewd” or worse, manage to transcend Sexand The Dragto become a sotto vocecomic?

She was hardly a dirty blonde, but she was stunning to behold.

Her first play about a sex worker resulted in a week-long jail sentence that became the best publicity stunt New Yorkers ever saw. Her second play, she scoured the drag queen bars of the 1920s to find 60 gay men and women to do her ground-breaking shocker about homosexuality!

It took her thinking about why few women attended her plays (she wrote, directed, and starred). So, she came up with Diamond Lil, in hour-glass dresses, fancy lingerie, and big hats: add a few off-hand jokes, and she was Mae West forever.

You could say she saved Paramount Studios with her astute performances: she was in charge of everything and made $1 more than the highest paid executive. She insisted on black performers with billing in her movies, and she gave Duke Ellington his first Hollywood exposure!

Mae hated negativity—and she liked to be in control. Slowly she evolved into a real version of her creative version. She was forty and overweight when she made her first movie, and she was run out of Hollywood by censors. By the 1950s, she was considered a man in drag herself–and she was ripe for parody everywhere.

In the 1970s in her 80s, she made a comeback as a sex symbol, a shocking parody that was hilarious inSextette  and Myra Breckinridge. With her half-baked singing, shimmy, and snide overcurrent delivery, she was a striking original.

 

 

 

Thomas Crown: An Affair Not to Remember?

DATELINE: What Should Have Been?

 Stand-in graveyard?

In 1968, one of the ultra-cool movies that was meant to be an antidote to the growing counter-culture of long-hair and hippies, was Norman Jewison’s stylish caper film. Sexy cool, with dune buggy rides on Crane’s beach in Ipswich and rooftop brunch on a patio in the South End of Boston, this was your ultimate sophistication.

The Thomas Crown Affairwas meant to be a vehicle showing off a Brahmin Bostonian outsmarting a beautiful insurance agent at his hobby of “crime.”

It has all the looks of a film back in the late 1960s when Alfred Hitchcock wanted to drag Grace Kelly out of retirement with the promise of another Cary Grant co-star vehicle. It’sTo Catch a Thief in reverse. However, nothing panned out. The film settles for second-best.

Hitchcock also had Tippi Hedren under contract—and so they could not even bring her on as the beautiful insurance agent. Yet, Faye Dunaway is clearly wearing the designer outfits and living the life of a millionaire investigator meant for Grace or Tippi. She tangles with a guy in a Brooks Brothers suit who pretends to be a millionaire executive, but looks like a motorcyclist in posh dress.

No doubt that Steve McQueen looks dashing, but we never believed for a second that he could play polo or chess. Not only that, the film looks like it was supposed to play out in London, but they had to settle for Boston. McQueen reportedly could not master a Boston accent and gave up half-way through the film.

It’s the ultimate double-cross thriller that Hitch loved to do, but Jewison throws in modern elements like split-screen moments (all pointless) and Noel Harrison (not Rex) sings “Windmills of Your Mind.” It seems even Dusty Springfield turned them down.

The climax of the movie takes place at Cambridge City Cemetery, a stand-in for ritzy and prestigious Mount Auburn Cemetery across the street, no doubt. We were a tad shocked to see filming near my mother’s recent burial site back then, not far from her grandmother.

Some films you may remember for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Whose Favorite Wife?

 DATELINE: Cary Grant & Reel History

twototango Cary & Randy.

Let’s dig into the vault of RKO movies from 1940 and pull out a plum. Yep, it’s Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife, directed by Garson Kanin.

We presume this was quite the sophisticated, if not racy, comedy of its era. And, it does have a few eyebrow lifting moments!

Grant is a Harvard lawyer whose wife was presumed drowned on a voyage to a South Sea island. He is about to remarry when she shows up with more wackiness than you’d usually find in an I Love Lucy episode.

It’s all rather slow for the first half of the movie. Actually it only comes to life when Grant discovers that his wife (known as Eve) spent seven years alone on an island with her Adam. It turns out that Adam is acrobatic hunk Randolph Scott.

Rumors about the two stars were in high fettle even back in those days—and the interplay between them is priceless. If you like in-jokes, this one lets everyone in on it. A passerby finds Grant ogling Randy and mopping his brow in distress when a middle-aged woman asks him if that is Johnny Tarzan Weissmuller.

Grant notes he wishes he were.

Once again Cary is caught modeling women’s clothing by a psychiatrist with a knowing smile. It’s all a great misunderstanding, of course. It’s Enoch Arden by ways of Shakespeare and writer Leo McCarey.

As sophisticated comedy, this has more subtext than anyone ever suspected. It may not be a great Grant film, but it belongs in the canon, but the powder puff is never quite dry as screwball comedy or comedy of manners.

Scotty’s Secret History of Hollywood

DATELINE: Bowers’ Bow Wow WOW

Cary & Randy

Scotty Bowers wrote a closet-emptying autobiography a few years ago about his career as a gay procurer to the Hollywood elite. Men and women, and the only one left out is Lassie, though he admits to sex with animals too.

He counted Cecil Beaton and Dr. Kinsey as his friends and clients. He offered service for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and he confirms dozens of names of those long-suspected of secret sex lives.

A World War II vet and farm boy, he settled in Hollywood in 1945, glamourous and amorous land of fantasies. He worked in a service station with all pumps flowing. His Richfield gas was really Rich Field Gay, and they all drove over to have their engines inspected by his stable of mechanics.

Once Walter Pidgeon recommended him, he was on his way.

Your litany of stars and their peccadilloes is not totally surprising: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, and then the off-camera boys, like George Cukor and Cecil Beaton.

Names are dropped in between a smorgasbord of outed dead stars like Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson.

A few moralists dispute his integrity for outing people with his kiss and tell book, now movie, but as he points out, it is homophobic to think everyday biography is beyond revelation.

If anything, we were impressed that neither the vice squad of Los Angeles, nor STDs, ever caught up with the culprits. Well, no one is telling about that. His Edenic world came crashing down with age and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Now 90, he is spry and in denial about his age, his situation, and his hoarding. He is independently wealthy from beneficiaries and investments. He did not need the money to do this tell-all.

 

 

 

Run, Don’t Walk from this Movie!

DATELINE:  Cary Grant Finale

Cary Finale  Bad, Not Good

After watching the inimitable Cary Grant’s life in his own words in a brilliant documentary, it was time to look at his last film performance, one we had missed all these years.

In 1966, silver-haired and dapper, looking no different than he had for a decade, Cary was growing disenchanted with playing a leading man opposite young women, much younger women.

So, he took a page out of an old co-star’s catalogue of film roles. In Monkey Business, he worked with oldster Charles Coburn, who played for two decades the curmudgeon old man to great delight.

Grant found a film script for The More the Merrier that Coburn had brought to the screen in the mid-1940s. It was about an old reprobate who was forced to share an apartment with a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter because of a housing shortage.

Update twenty years later, and Cary played a British baronet in Tokyo for the Olympics too early and without a place to stay. For reasons ridiculous, he ends ups forcing his way into beautiful Samantha Eggar’s small flat.

If living with ‘gramps’ was meant to be full of generational embarrassments, this film misfired badly. It was not gramps, but attractive and youthful Cary Grant. He was no Charles Coburn. Try as he might, Cary could not pull off a curmudgeon, only a curdled performance.

It is disappointing and pathetic—and perhaps gave him full convincing that it was time to walk away from movies.

Hitchcock tried to give him a few good roles in the 1960s, but Cary was done with appearing as the star, either in comedy or drama.

It’s a sad state to see a great star floundering with his wonderful manner in a bad script, miscast, and poorly directed.

Run as fast as you can from Walk, Don’t Run. It’s terrible.

 

 

What Becomes Legendary Cary Grant

DATELINE:  Transforming Archie Leach

Cary

With permission and cooperation of his daughter Jennifer, we discover Cary Grant took many home movies of his life off-screen—and wrote an autobiography never published.

These are the basis for an extraordinary documentary called Becoming Cary Grant. Indeed, Archie Leach became movie star Cary in a titanic demonstration of willpower. To go from a poor, abandoned child in Bristol, England, to the world’s epitome of a debonair, charming superstar was not an accident of fate.

Yet, fate played a hideous joke on Cary. At age 11, his mother simply disappeared—and his father went off to marry another woman and raise a new family. Archie Leach was sent to a grandparent. Lonely and confused, he discovered vaudeville where people were happy, had fun, cared and performed on stage. He joined instantly, settling in New York at age 18 to become a dashing stage actor.

Later he went to Hollywood where a test led to something akin to instant stardom. Around that time he learned his mother had spent 20 years in an English lunatic asylum. He rescued her from that fate—and became Cary Grant almost simultaneously.

Interestingly, he chose his darker film roles as autobiographical commentary. He let directors like Hitchcock, George Cukor, and Henry Hawks, transform him into something remarkable: a man for all seasons. He could play cold-hearted cads or epicene nerds with equal likeability.

Jonathan Pryce reads Cary’s own words over many film clips that have new insight to his real issues. Grant was neither English, nor American, in his tone. He appealed to both men and women, and he was always well-mannered and self-deprecating. No wonder he remains the camera’s favorite leading man.

Whatever Cary’s personal troubles, he worked hard at becoming a better person and happier in his personal work and life. The documentary exudes with his hypnotic personality, his magnetic appeal. No matter what problems beset him, he gave the world something special.

 

 

Tip-Toppie Topper

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Topper

We jumped into our Hot Tub Time Machine and transported ourselves back to 1937 to put on a mindset to watch the classic ghost movie, Topper.

Thorne Smith’s novel has actually been compared to The Great Gatsby because the 1920s glamour couple (Cary Grant, Constance Bennett) seems to have stepped out of a Long Island party as the notorious George and Marian Kerby. They also seem ill-fated drivers. The original plan was to have W.C. Fields and Jean Harlow play the fun-loving Kerbys. What a movie that would have been!!!

Alas, the young couple is overplayed as self-indulgent, willful and spoiled rich folk by Grant and Bennett. They are neither witty, nor particularly likeable. If you expected this to be a set-up to how they act after they are turned into car crash dead people, you will not see Dead People.

Actor Roland Young is a surprisingly nimble and youthful old banker, adept at physical comedy, playing benighted Cosmo Topper. The Kerbys have their money at his bank and seem to bedevil him in life and want to be guardian angels in death.

Their amazing white Buick roadster (we presume it is white in a black and white world) actually crashes three times into the same spot during the movie, qualifying as a death car. Were the ghosts trying to transport old Toppie to the next plane?

Compared to the fancy special effects you’d encounter today in a residual haunt, the Kerbys are saving “ectoplasm,” as Marian reveals. However, they appear alive and kicking in many scenes.

Billie Burke is perfect as Topper’s wife with her confidante butler, Alan Mowbry.

The movie spawned a sequel, but neither Constance Bennett, nor Cary Grant, were around for that one. They said their goodbyes and went on to better scripts.

This film too often feels like dead weight to be a light-hearted comedy. Yet, by today’s standards, it is worth 90 minutes of your time.

 

 

Dapper Oldster Charles Coburn’s Great Films

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

 Image

Charles Coburn with Monroe and Grant

After success in The Devil and Miss Jones in 1941, two unlikely actors found themselves paired up again.

Charles Coburn came to acting at age 60 and continued to play salacious millionaires and dotty grandfathers for the next twenty years. He chased Marilyn Monroe around in two movies and took all the comedic roles that Charles Laughton couldn’t play.

Jean Arthur was a nasal and twangy leading lady that seemed to go against the grain of glamour queens. In this film she does one scene with a mouthful of toothpaste. Her last major role was as the love interest of Alan Ladd in Shane.

But during World War II, the two actors seemed a most romantic couple, playing off each other as only May and December can. They usually had better chemistry than the leading men Arthur faced (Robert Cummings, Joel MacRae).

In The More the Merrier, a George Stevens film, the set piece is Jean Arthur’s apartment in Washington, D.C., when accommodations were hard to find. She takes in an old millionaire who subleases to a good-looking inventor (MacRae). He wants to play matchmaker, but he may be the best boon companion for Miss Arthur. They are a charming team.

Their shared flat is tiny enough with paper-thin walls to make for a curiously sophisticated arrangement for the pre-war crowd.

Coburn provides enough winks and nods, as well as pratfalls, to win his place as the pinup boy for the senior set. Seventy years later, he still dresses up the image of growing old.

The movie was later remade (Walk, Don’t Run) as Cary Grant’s last film (playing Charles Coburn, no less). Grant studied Coburn and  both costarred with Marilyn in Monkey Business.

You can never get enough of a good thing.