Archives for category: Entertainment

What was the last song to which you listened in your car? Music and cars seem to go hand in hand. I remember very well growing up excited at the thought of driving a car not to get from point A to point B but because the driver controlled the airwaves or cassette choice. I’ve watched cars’ stereo systems transition over the years from radio to cassette players to CD players to the present array of systems including satellite radio and iPod links. I’ve listened to all sorts of music in the car over the years. I started out listening to the music of whomever was driving the car. Thanks to this, I heard a variety of music. When my grandfather took me for long drives, I listened to big band music. When my dad controlled the wheel, Hotel California or a Clapton tune would inevitably hit the airwaves. My mother was fond of cassette compilations featuring Barbra Streisand and Roberta Flack. Inevitably my music tastes are rather eclectic. U2’s “A Beautiful Day” will follow Doris Day’s “Pillow Talk.” Muse will follow Louis Armstrong which, to me, is great.
I’ve been more lenient, however, about sharing the radio system in the car with my offspring. Before I had children, I daydreamed that I would expose them to all sorts of music, but I especially daydreamed that they would listen to sonatas and symphonies, Beethoven and Bach. I was excited at the thought of little minds being exposed to masters such as Mozart and Haydn. Just because I don’t listen to operas (with the exception of Carmina Burana) isn’t a reason for my children to not listen to Carmen and other classic operas. That daydream flew out the window faster than a drag car at a track. When Kath was little, my wonderful hubby and I listened to the Winnie the Pooh soundtrack over and over and over again. We also sang the lyrics to the Winnie the Pooh soundtrack over and over and over again. My daydream turned into a nightmare that Kath would be in high school and still only listening to the same cassette over and over and over.
Kath is now a teenager. The 14 year old Kath is quite a contrast to little 2 year old Kath. She actually has Vivaldi on her iPod touch and has listened to The Four Seasons. Alternative rock is her love and passion, however. She has confounded teachers who expect teenagers to only know the likes of One Direction and Justin Bieber. Her favorite artists are Nirvana and Death Cab for Cutie. She was devastated last week when it was announced that Ben Gibbard was going to release a solo album. She likes to plug her iPod touch into the car’s system when I drive her places and it is just the two of us. My rule is I get to veto when it plays “I Will Follow You” by Death Cab for Cutie as that is one of the most depressing songs ever.
More often than not, it is not just the two of us as I am the mother of four. When MJ came along, I braced myself for another round of kid’s music on our car’s radio system. Children always do their best to surprise you. MJ has never really cared for kid’s music. With MJ, we were fortunate. When he was two, he heard Louis Armstrong. We now own a variety of wonderful Louis Armstrong CDs as he loved to listen to “It’s a Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly.” Now he likes to listen to U2 and The Script.
So my musical tastes were appeased for a while and sanity ruled inside the car. I like alternative rock so I would happily turn on the alternative station and listen to U2, Train and Mumford and Sons in the car. Then came the twins, Cupcake and Chunk. Each child is different from one another and my little fraternal twins are no exception to that cliche. Cupcake presently loves a cassette of Bear in the Big Blue House music. Chunk likes a Veggie Tales CD. For a while, they would acquiesce and agree to listen to one and then the other. Then each would scream to listen to his or her favorite. Now one will scream for Bear and the other will scream to listen to “Mommy music.” Now it is Chunk who will let me listen to my radio station while Cupcake insists on Bear and Bear alone. Thanks to Kath, I know Cupcake will not be listening to Bear when she is in high school, but I do wonder what type of music they will both like. When we aren’t in the car, Cupcake dances to music coming out of my radio. She especially liked the Pretenders. This gives me a great deal of hope for her musical future and mine.

Many people don’t like to watch black and white movies for different reasons: not enough time, movies feel dated, or not enough action. The movie star I’ve chosen to highlight this week made many movies, but one of his black and white movies is so absolutely wonderful, it should be on everybody’s must see list. There’s a movie by a director/writer named Preston Sturges that makes time seem like it’s standing still, has quite a bit of action, and doesn’t feel dated. It’s a marvelous movie called Sullivan’s Travels and it stars my movie star of the week: Joel McCrea.
Joel McCrea is another actor whom my generation (I’m GenX) seems to have forgotten. Some movie critics often labelled his acting as wooden, but I think his natural likeability shined through and made up for that. Have you ever seen The Palm Beach Story, Foreign Correspondent and Sullivan’s Travels? Why not? These are three awesome movies, all starring Joel McCrea.
The Palm Beach Story is another favorite of mine, although the scenes involving African-American actors are definitely dated. Even so, this hilarious farce is worth watching. It starts as Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) is preparing to leave her husband, Tom (Joel McCrea). Prospective new renters are being shown their apartment, including the Wienie King who asks Gerry if she eats his product. When she apologizes for not having consumed his hot dogs, he tells her that’s a good thing, she’ll live longer. Tom tries to talk Gerry (Tom and Jerry anyone) out of leaving, but she is determined to find a rich second husband. Little does she know, she meets one of the richest men in the world when she runs into John D. Hackensacker III who records ever amount of money he spends down to the dime in a little notepad. Gerry becomes convinced that if she divorces Tom to marry John, John will pay for Tom’s experiments and she’ll be happy by the wife of a multimillionaire. When Gerry and John arrive in Palm Beach, Tom arrives at the same time to find Gerry which he does in the arms of John. Gerry lies and tells John that Tom is her brother. John’s sister played superbly by Mary Astor instantly falls for him and tries to shoo Toto, a man who is after her money. Gerry is all set to divorce Tom when a zipper plays a key role in undermining her plans. Joel McCrea, playing the leading man who has his head in the clouds dreaming up impossible inventions, is perfect here because he makes you believe that when the chips are down, he would put his inventions on the back burner to make sure the love of his life returns home to him, but it still has to be her choice. The opening and closing montages, though, make the movie and are truly funny as you are unsure throughout the whole movie who ended up with whom, but you know the answer by the end.
Preston Sturges and Joel McCrea made a great director-actor team, one that had its best pairing in the classic Sullivan’s Travels. Joel plays director John L. Sullivan, known for his light, fluffy films. He desperately wants to be the director chosen to bring O Brother, Where Art Thou? to the big screen. The movie execs grill him in one of the all time funniest scenes in motion pictures. He decides the only way to land directing rights is to embark on a series of adventures disguised as a hobo. Along the way he meets Veronica Lake who becomes convinced that he can’t make his journey alone without her. He needs her. Even though he is married, she falls in love with him. He does leave without her and ends up being arrested. At this point due to a tramp stealing his shoes, everyone in Hollywood becomes convinced that John L. Sullivan has died. When faced with the prospect of doing hard time in a prison camp and no one believing that he is in fact John L. Sullivan, he admits to being the murderer of John L. Sullivan. In a classic montage a la Sturges, Veronica Lake’s character jumps with glee and runs to the movie exec’s offices with the news that Sullivan is in fact alive right as Sullivan’s wife bops her new husband in the head with the newspaper.
Joel McCrea makes the perfect Sullivan. Believable with intelligence and a genuine desire to achieve higher cinematic goals, McCrea transforms on screen as Sullivan, the director aching to do dramatic masterpieces with a little sex in them to a human being who realizes the importance of laughter.
Foreign Correspondent show how much McCrea can do in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Once again, his simple approach adds believability to the role.
Another of my all time favorites also highlights his tremendous ability. He, Jean Arthur, and Charles Coburn all shine in The More the Merrier. Once again, if you haven’t seen this gem, I strongly encourage you to watch this movie directed by George Stevens. Connie (Jean Arthur) advertises half of her apartment for rent in a Washington D.C. plagued by wartime room shortages. She fully intends to rent half of her apartment to a female and is perplexed when Mr. Dingle (Charles Coburn) shows up asking to sublet half. Against her better judgment and cohering to his borrowed motto, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”, Connie agrees to this temporary solution only to find Mr. Dingle thereafter has sublet half of his half to a very attractive Joe Carter (Joel McCrea). Romantic entanglements ensue between Joe and Connie who tells Joe upfront of her relationship with a Mr. Pendergast. But Joel McCrea weaves his magic and you totally believe Connie would fall in love with him in that short of a time period.
Joel McCrea had a long movie career as he continued to make movies well into the 1960s, with many of those movies Westerns. But when he acted as the American everyman in movies such as Sullivan’s Travels, The More the Merrier, Foreign Correspondent, and The Palm Beach Story, he brought such an air of handsome likeability to his roles that you could not help but liking him and his movies.

It’s Wednesday night which means it is time for my weekly homage to classic movies and classic movie stars.
My first pick was Cary Grant. My second pick was Irene Dunne. This week’s pick is (drum roll, please) Joseph Cotten.
Joseph who? If you are thinking that, please put some of his movies on your Netflix queue or your Amazon wishlist or whatever way you watch movies. Joseph Cotten is largely forgotten today and unrightly so. This actor had a voice that was memorable, rich and deep. A friend of mine once told me his wife loved the way James Mason could deliver a film line. One of my favorite voices to grace the annals of recorded film history has got to be Joseph Cotten. His Virginia drawl added nuance and meaning to his film characterizations.
His range of roles is truly remarkable especially in light of the fact that he acted during Hollywood’s Golden Age in a studio dominated era. While my favorite actor (Cary Grant) was not allowed to portray a murderer and had roles changed to befit his status as a leading man, Joseph Cotten was given ample opportunity to play a diverse group of men onscreen. Who else could play Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt and Brian Cameron in Gaslight? His voice and his acting made you believe he could be anything onscreen.
Joseph Cotten first gained notice on the screen by appearing in a little film of which a couple of people have heard. Actually I think many people have heard of Citizen Kane, but I think many Gen Xers have only heard of the film and not seen it. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a strong feeling I’m not. He played Jed Leland to Orson Welles’s Kane. While Cotten is primarily remembered for this film, it was only the beginning of a long and industrious film career, one that had many more facets and characterizations.
His characterization of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt is brilliant. If you have never seen this Alfred Hitchcock gem, I strongly recommend it. When people are asked what their favorite Hitchcock film is, some will say Vertigo, some will say Notorious, many will say Psycho, some will say The Birds, still others will say The Trouble with Harry and so on. One of my all time favorite Hitchcock movies is Shadow of a Doubt. This marvelous movie shows the world of young Charlie who is slightly depressed that nothing exciting ever happens in her world. Life is the same boring experience, day after day after day. That perspective changes when a telegram arrives saying that her Uncle Charlie for whom she is named is coming to visit her family. Life is exciting again. She is thrilled when her favorite uncle comes to town, but she begins to wonder whether he could be the Black Widow murderer featured so prevalently in the news and who is the target of a nationwide manhunt. Is her beloved Uncle Charlie who is staying under her roof an actual murderer? Could he really have married women for their money and then killed them? For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it is riveting.
The same actor who plays Uncle Charley plays a detective in Gsslight, the film for which Ingrid Bergman won her first Best Actress Oscar. I love Gaslight. Everytime this movie comes on television, I always find myself turning it on, especially if it is near the end. In this movie, Ingrid Bergman plays Paula, a young bride whose aunt was murdered years earlier. Her groom is debonair Gregory Anton played by Charles Boyer. Slowly Paula begins to question her sanity after a series of events unfold in her life including her losing one of her most prized possessions. Is she going mad or is someone driving her mad? Once again, if you haven’t seen this movie, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but Joseph Cotten plays a pivotal role in helping Paula figure out the question of her sanity. By the way, this movie is also worth watching for the film debut of one of television and movies’ treasures, Angela Lansbury, who makes a remarkable debut as a young Cockney maid.
Joseph Cotten also had a role in Since You Went Away, a wartime movie starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and Shirley Temple. All I have to write about his character here is that if Claudette’s character was able to resist him, then her never shown husband must have been quite extraordinary.
He played a romantic lead in The Farmer’s Daughter which won for Loretta Young her only Best Actress Oscar. That alone tells you that he was a good actor because his leading ladies kept getting nominated or winning Oscars. I love The Farmer’s Daughter as well. This feel good movie shows the rise of a working girl (Loretta Young played a maid, this is a movie the whole family can watch. I highly recommend this movie for families, in fact) from a maid to an elected politician.
Love Letters, Portrait of Jennie, The Third Man, and Duel in the Sun are just a sample of his other films. Wow, what a collection. All of these movies are still worth watching today. Although I watch Duel in the Sun while laughing at some of the onscreen antics which back then were considered scandalous, I still love watching the scene where Gregory Peck sings “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”.
Two more notes to ponder about Joseph Cotten’s career and life, One is that he starred on Broadway with Katharine Hepburn in the play The Philadelphia Story. He played C. K. Dexter Haven, the role later immortalized by Cary Grant in the 1940 movie version of the play. I would have loved to have seen this play. Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Cotten and Van Heflin all performing in a live version of one of my favorite movies. While I love Cary Grant, I do wonder what magic Joseph Cotten as Haven weaved every night romancing Tracy Lord onstage. The second is that in his later life, Joseph Cotten lost his voice as a result of illness, but he retained a sense of humor as evidenced in his autobiography, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.
This remarkable actor had a range I still don’t see in many leading men today. From his roles as Jed Leland to Uncle Charlie to Brian Cameron to Holly Martins, he proved himself a versatile leading man. Give his work a first or second glance. You’ll be glad you did.