My Journey through Films and Film Songs 18

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Watching English Films in 1950s #5

When I try to remember the personalities from English movies of the 1950s, I first recall, with sadness, those who left us too soon, for one reason or another.

Star Crossed Stars

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was the most popular sex symbol of the 1950s. None of her peers could match her well cultivated innocent looks, that lent her an unconscious sexuality, or her ability to steal the show even in short appearances. At a time when Hollywood actors had to sign morality agreements shunning nude imagery in public, Marilyn crossed the line by posing for nude photos for Photoplay and when a reporter asked her what she had on, she replied, "I had the radio on". Her major breakthrough came in 1953, when she starred in the murder mystery Niagara, and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. In Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955), Monroe stands on a subway grate with the air blowing up the skirt of her white dress; it became the most famous scene of her career. Incidentally, there is a similar sequence in Gene Wilder's The Woman in Red (1984) with Kelly LeBrock on the grate. Pitted against Lawrence Olivier, the best thespian of the time, in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Marilyn Monroe charmed viewers with her performance. And she left indelible impressions of her presence in Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Misfits (1961). Medical problems, combined with emotional issues resulting from her unregulated lifestyle, impelled Marilyn Monroe to take her own life at the young age of thirty-six years. The image of Marilyn Monroe with the air blowing up the skirt of her white dress from The Seven Year Itch was used as the model for a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe erected in Palm Springs California

Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift (Monty for his friends and fans), one of the most attractive men in Hollywood, made a lasting impression although he starred in only seventeen movies. Elizabeth Taylor believed that he could have been the biggest star in the world if he had done more movies. Monty earned his first Oscar nomination for his second movie, The Search and his third film, The Heiress, was with Olivia de Havilland, who won an Oscar for her performance in the movie. The ravishingly beautiful, seventeen-year-old year old Elizabeth Taylor was cast opposite Monty in director George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun, based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty and Monty's brooding romanticism captured the hearts of the youth of the time. In India, college going boys and girls were bowled over by the on-screen chemistry of the leading pair. We loved Monty in Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess and in From Here to Eternity. The gossip hungry American press eagerly waited for sparks to fly between Monty and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of A Place in the Sun. But Elizabeth Taylor’s seductive charm seemed to have no effect on Monty. Many years later, it was discovered that Monty was gay. At a time when sexual aberrations were carefully hidden in closets, revealing this information would have ended his career. Apparently, Monty confessed this to Elizabeth Taylor under pressure. Elizabeth Taylor honoured his confidence and remained a steadfast friend.

In 1953, Monty received his third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Private Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt in From Here to Eternity. In 1957, Monty was cast opposite Elizabeth Taylor once again in Raintree County. During its filming, in May 1956, Monty fell asleep while driving and crashed sustaining extensive injuries that almost destroyed his handsome features and marred his ability to work. To endure the pain, he had to rely on strong painkillers, other drugs, and alcohol. Thanks to Elizabeth Taylor, he got a role in Suddenly, Last Summer. He was also cast in The Misfits, along with Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. On the night of July 22, 1966, Montgomery Clift was found dead in his bathtub. Elizabeth Taylor could not attend his funeral as she was shooting in Europe, but she never forgot him. After his death she actively fought for LGBT rights.

James Dean

James Dean had a traumatic childhood, losing his mother at nine, abandoned by his father, befriended by a priest at eleven only to be sexually abused. He developed a moody, sulky personality when he began acting in New York, the kind of actor Nobel Laurate John Steinbeck wanted for the film adaptation of his classic novel East of Eden. James Dean became an instant star with the film and was hailed as another Marlon Brando. He acted in two more films, Giant with Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, and Rebel Without a Cause. He only got to see East of Eden as he died in a car crash before the other two had finished post-production. He was only twenty-four. James Dean was the only actor to receive two posthumous nominations for Oscar for best actor in 1955 for East of Eden, and again in 1956 for Giant. James Dean became a cult figure in later years for the young of the era, celebrated in popular culture.

James Dean had a passionate romantic relationship with Italian actress Pier Angeli. They met while she was shooting The Silver Chalice (1954) and he was shooting East of Eden (1955), on an adjoining set. She was forced to break it off, when her mother disapproved the relationship because Dean was not a Catholic. However, she seems to have continued the affair despite marriage to others right up to his death. She would later say that he was the love of her life. Pier Angeli died of an overdose of sleeping pills on 10 September 1971, at the age of thirty-nine.

Leading Ladies

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn regularly played strong-willed, sophisticated women that matched her independent, spirited personality. She holds the record of winning four Academy Awards for Best Actress, starting with her third film, Morning Glory (1933). The Philadelphia Story, (1940), in which she starred with James Stewart and Cary Grant, was a box office success and landed her a third Academy Award nomination. In the latter half of her life, she found a niche playing mature, independent, and sometimes unmarried women such as in The African Queen (1951). Hepburn received three more Academy Awards for her performances in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981).

Ingrid Bergman

Beginning her career in Swedish and German films, Ingrid Bergman began acting in American films from 1939. She was nominated six times as Best Actress for the American Academy Awards and is one of only four actresses to have won it three times. Known for her naturally luminous beauty, she starred in Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and Joan of Arc (1948), all of which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress; she won for Gaslight. She made three films with Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn (1949), and three with Roberto Rossellini, Stromboli (1950), Europa '51 and Journey to Italy (1954). She won two more Academy Awards for her roles in Anastasia (1956) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974). David O Selznick described her as the most completely conscientious actress with a fresh and pure personality.

Maureen O’Hara

Naturally blonde Maureen O’Hara was known for playing passionate but sensible heroines, mostly in adventure films. Charles Laughton first noticed her large, expressive eyes, and gauged her potential. He arranged for her to co-star with him in Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) and in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Nicknamed The Queen of Technicolor, Maureen O'Hara starred in films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Black Swan (1942), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), and in Rio Grande (1950) and The Quiet Man (1952) with John Wayne.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner was another American actress who impressed us. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in John Ford's Mogambo (1953), and for best actress for both a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for her performance in John Huston's The Night of the Iguana (1964). She was a part of the Golden Age of Hollywood. During the 1950s, Gardner was one of the era's top stars with films like Show Boat (1951), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956) and On the Beach (1959).

Eleanor Parker

Eleanor Parker was a competent actress who was nominated for three Academy Awards including for Detective Story (1951), and Interrupted Melody (1955). She was also known for her roles in Of Human Bondage (1946), Scaramouche (1952), The Naked Jungle (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Interrupted Melody (1955), Later generations will remember her as the Baroness in The Sound of Music (1965).

Glamour Girls

Esther Williams

Before she joined films, Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer who set regional and national records. She would have been a gold medallist in the Olympics if the games had not been interrupted by the Second World War. Nicknamed The Million Dollar Mermaid, she made a series of films known as "aqua musicals", which featured elaborate performances with synchronised swimming and diving. These include Bathing Beauty (1944), Ziegfield Follies (1945), On an Island with You (1948), Neptune’s Daughter, (1949), and The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth was one of the top stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. Called "The Love Goddess" by the press, she was the top pin-up girl for GIs during World War II. It is said that her Spanish father, who taught her dancing at a tender age and later partnered her on the stage, sexually abused her. She had several successful films, including Gilda (1946) and The Loves of Carmen (1948) opposite Glenn Ford, The Lady from Shanghai (1947) opposite Orson Welles, Salome (1953) with Stewart Granger, and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), based on a story by W Somerset Maugham, opposite Jose Ferrer. Rita Hayworth had several affairs with her leading men and others, and five marriages of which the most publicised, and the most traumatic, was the one with Prince Aly Khan, son of Aga Khan III, the leader of the Ismaili community. It ended in divorce when she was asked to raise her daughter as a Muslim. The affair led the Aga Khan to disown his son and name his grandson as his successor to the title of Aga Khan IV. We read about it in an article titled The Aga, the Aly and the Rita published in Life Magazine.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor. She earned notoriety for her controversial erotic romantic drama Ecstasy (1933), for which Hedy ran naked through the woods, and swam naked in a lake. She also posed for a simulated orgasm scene in which she sighed and screamed, while pins pricked her tender skin. The film was banned in USA and most European countries as it was seen as a serious breach of the moral code of the times. In an authorised biography titled Ecstasy and Me, which she disowned later, Hedy blamed the director for keeping her in the dark about the purpose of the shooting. Disobeying her Jewish parents, she married a Jewish arms dealer who was close to Hitler and Mussolini but escaped to England when she found the marriage unbearable. Discovered by Louis B Mayer of MGM, she became a film star with her performance in the romantic drama Algiers (1938). Her most successful film was the biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949).

An ingenious problem-solver, Hedy Lamarr invented practical solutions to everyday problems, like a glow-in-the-dark dog collar etc. but her major invention was frequency hopping, which she developed during World War II along with her pianist friend George Antheil, to prevent the Germans from jamming the signals of radio-controlled torpedoes fired at German submarines. It was done with the help of a physicist from the California Institute of Technology. The U.S. Navy did not use the invention in World War II but deployed it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In modern times, frequency hopping is an essential component of communications, including for Bluetooth and WiFi. Since the patent was in her Austrian name, Hedwig Kiesler Mackay, engineers using the technology did not connect the patent with Hedy Lamarr until she was in her 80s. She finally got an award for her contribution in the 1990s.

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More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

Top | Cinema

Views: 531      Comments: 1

Comment Wow, sir ji! You have introduced the world unseen by me. Some names are known to me. I am not sure if I had seen many films of the era. My intro was in late 1960s or early 1970s.Thank you so much for sharing invaluable info sir.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
05-May-2024 20:12 PM

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