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Thursday, June 16, 2011

HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES

The ability of actors, musicians, and directors to instill laughter or pathos into an audience is fascinating. As a kid I used to cry when Lassie was in trouble as I was oblivious to the fact that everything turns out all right in a Lassie film.

It’s the fantasy of Hollywood at work. One of my favorite scenes in “Casablanca” is where Rick and Sam are standing in the rain at the train station waiting for Ilsa, and Rick reads her rain stained Dear John letter. I can picture Michael Curtiz calling “Cut!” five minutes later and everyone heading down a sunny street to the Warner’s commissary for lunch. There may be a lot of tear jerking emotion in scenes like the train station but in reality, films are a business with schedules and deadlines.

HUMPHREY BOGART AND DOOLEY WILSON IN "CASABLANCA"

An imagination is a necessity at the movies. How else could Western heroes shoot twenty rounds out of a six shooter without reloading? How could the Cavalry arrive just in time to save the fort? How could Bob Steele at 5’ 5” in height beat up all those big guys?

How about the age fantasies? Would Leslie Caron really fall for Fred Astaire in “Daddy Long Legs” with Fred being 32 years older and looking like Charlie McCarthy? Even a good looking Gene Kelly was still 20 years older than Caron in “An American in Paris”. Another classic mismatch was Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina” where Bogie was 30 years older than Audrey. It’s one of my favorite films but my imagination was working overtime on that age difference.

It doesn’t seem fair that leading men got to play romantic roles into their 50s and 60s while the ladies were losing starring roles at 40 or younger. Men were still considered “handsome” or “distinguished”. Women were “getting older.” Welcome to Hollywood!

One of my favorite female character actors was Rosemary DeCamp. Rosemary always looked older than she was and in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” she played Jimmy Cagney’s mother in spite of being eleven years younger than Cagney! Jesse Royce Landis played Cary Grant’s mother in “North by Northwest” even though she was three months younger than Cary. Where else but Hollywood?

These examples go on forever and are fun to talk about. That’s what makes Hollywood fantasies so much fun because isn’t it the perception rather than the reality of motion pictures that we like? When Rick tells Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, we all sigh. When Depression audiences laughed at screwball comedy, the movies were doing their job by giving those people a couple hours of happiness before they had to face the harsh realities of the real world.

A little backstage artificiality isn’t going to do any harm; it’s just part of the fantasy that we know and love about Hollywood.

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