Summer Reading

With the unofficial start of summer less than two weeks away, it’s a good time to take a look at some of what’s out there to read while you are at the beach, pool or at home with your air conditioning turned up high.  Here are some books that are on my list to read this summer.

spenserI have been a big admirer of Robert B. Parker’s sparse style for many years. Since his  death Ace Atkins has primarily taken over writing his Spenser series, and doing it with the same sharp dialogue and flavor as the master. Little White Lies is the latest. 

SinceJust published, Dennis Lehane’s latest has been getting rave reviews. I have to admit, I have not read any of Lehane’s earlier books, however from what I have read, Since We Fell, is a bit different from his previous endeavors. That’s fine with me, since I am coming to him with fresh eyes.

jacksonShirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin came out in September of last year. It’s been on my read list since I read the many positive reviews. The book made both the New York Times and Washington Post notable picks for 2016.

Wrong Side  Late

 

I have been reading, and listening to Michael Connelly a lot lately. Watching Amazon’s fantastic Bosch series sparked my interest to dig into Connelly’s backlog of work. Not one disappointing read yet.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch novel (published 11/16) which I still have not read. Coming in July is The Late Show with  a new character, Renee Ballard, a once on the rise detective, now stuck on the night shift.

Forever JuneIn June, Hard Case Crime will publish legendary crime novelist, Donald Westlake’s Forever and a Death. The backstory on this never before released work is fascinating. About twenty years ago, the producers of the James Bond films hired Westlake to write a story treatment for a new Bond film. The treatment was never used due to political concerns at the time with China. Westlake took the story and turned it into an original novel which was never published during his lifetime.  It’s seeing the light of day for the first time.

ExposureStuart Woods’ Stone Barrington is a guilty pleasure. Barrington is one of those characters who has it all: looks, money, beautiful women and influential friends. He also manages to get himself in plenty of trouble, but not before buying another house, he has at least five, and bedding just about every woman he meets. The books have varied in quality lately, but are light fun reads.

HighCasa

Three film related books on my shelf that sound like absorbing reads are Glenn Frankel’s High Noon: Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic and Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca. Being an admirer of both films, these books are making me salivate. You can read a review I wrote on High Noon here.

IMG_4817.JPGLast but not least on the film front is Dan Van Neste’s new biography of Ricardo Cortez which is a must read.

HemingwayHemingway’s Cats – This book  came out in 2015, but it only recently came to my attention while I was doing some research about authors and cats for a future post I am looking to write. The macho Hemingway love animals and had a special affection for cats.  Throughout his life, from childhood to his suicidal end, the author had cats in his life. Author Carlene Brennan chronicles the felines in Hemingway’s life in words and photos.

Bette, Joan and Baby Jane

Whatever-Happened-to-Baby-Jane-3-e1347980142212The new FX TV series Feud: Bette and Joan is a delightful and darkly funny look back at the notable and long lasting hostility between Hollywood Queens, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. How accurate the show is and who was at fault is all beside the point. The show is wonderfully acted, bitchy, and overall entertaining. Susan Sarandon, as Davis, and Jessica Lange as Crawford lead the cast, but the supporting cast of Alfred Molina (director Robert Aldrich) , Judy Davis (Hedda Hopper), Stanley Tucci (Jack Warner), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Olivia de Havilland) and Kathy Bates (Joan Blondell) are all superbly played.

There is a strong irony in the casting of two older actresses, Sarandon (70) playing Davis then 54, and Lange (66) playing Crawford then 56. Joe Baltake of The Passionate Moviegoer, takes an interesting look at the sexism that existed, and yes still does, in Hollywood back then that proclaimed women in their fifties were too old and no longer relevant. Click on The Passionate Moviegoer to read.

I originally wrote about Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? back in 2010 on my Twenty Four Frames Blog. With the show in the middle of its run, I thought I would reprint the original here with just a few minor modifications.

whatever-happened-baby-jane1Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a dark tragedy examining the underbelly of Hollywood in the tradition of films like Sunset Blvd or Day of the Locust wrapped up in a psychopathic thriller/horror film which it is generally lumped in with so often. Here are the outcasts, the losers, the has-beens and never was still clinging on to the hope that a chance of a comeback is in the making. It is also a story of sibling rivalry, jealousy, resentment and love all rolled up into a gothic nightmare that unravels into insanity and death.

The film brings together two icons of the Golden Age of Film, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the queens of MGM and Warner Brothers respectively, in their only big screen appearance together. Like the film itself, how the pairing of these two legends coming together is filled with drama, rivalry, and jealousy.

whatever-happened-baby-jane11How the two stars and the director came together is a demonstration of egos, vanity and maybe time playing tricks with the truth. Director Robert Aldrich claims he first had the idea of bringing these two stars together after reading the Henry Farrell novel while in Italy filming “Sodom and Gomorrah.”  He soon after acquired the rights to the book. Crawford’s version goes that she told Aldrich she wanted to work with him again (They previously did Autumn Leaves) and also wanted to work with Bette Davis. She went to see Davis, who was appearing on Broadway in Tennessee Williams The Night of the Iguana, and after the show went backstage to offer congratulations, also telling Bette about the idea of the two of them working together. Davis, on the other hand, originally stated she read the novel a few years earlier and wanted Hitchcock to direct, but he was already committed to other projects. She later recanted this statement, finally claiming Joan’s version was closer to the truth. Then there is the version told by Bill Frye, producer of the TV show Thriller who states he discovered the novel while doing research for the show. Realizing it was too intricate for a half hour show he gave copies to Davis and Olivia DeHavilland with a mention that Ida Lupino would direct. The project was turned down by Universal head Lew Wasserman who did not want to work with Davis. Where and how the actual order of events happened is anyone’s guess, however, after looking at multiple biographies of the two actresses and interviews with Aldrich, it seems reasonable that the truth is buried somewhere between the Crawford and Aldrich versions (on the DVD it is said Aldrich initiated the project). The result was these two volatile stars whose professional and personal lives clashed agreed to make this film.

The story begins in 1917 and Baby Jane Hudson is a big vaudeville stage star, singing her crowd-pleasing song “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy Whose Address is Heaven Above.” Offstage sweet Jane is an obnoxious spoiled brat who wants things her way because she is the one bringing in the money! When shortly after, Sister Blanche gets yelled at by their father, though she did nothing wrong, mother tells Blanche that someday she will be a big star and she wants her to be kinder to Baby Jane and father than they have been to her. Grimacing, Blanche swears she won’t forget!

joan_crawford_in_whatever_happened_to_baby_jane_trailerAs the years go by Blanche becomes a major 1930’s movie star supporting Jane’s fading career by having a stipulation in her studio contract that for every film she makes Jane gets to make a film too. A mysterious car accident involving the two sisters leaves Blanche wheelchair bound.

It is now the present time (1962), and the two sisters live together in a gothic mansion on the outskirts of Hollywood with crazy Janie taking care of her invalid sister. When Blanche decides she wants a fuller life she elects to sell the house and plans to commit Jane to a home. Learning of her plans, Jane seeks revenge by terrorizing Blanche; cutting her off from the outside world. Jane also makes a feeble attempt to revive her own career by hiring obese out of work mama’s boy  Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono), a composer, to help her musically with her comeback.

Bette Davis gives an appropriately over the top vicious performance as the mentality deteriorating Jane. Alcoholic, prone to fits of raging jealousy,  dressing as if she were still ten years old, applying too much makeup, a deliriously hideous caricature of her former child star self. Davis would continue to apply more and more makeup to her face making herself more repulsive as the film progressed.

Davis who loved to give high energy performances takes full advantage of her role here. Crawford, on the other hand, gives a subtle low key controlled performance of a self-sacrificing woman, a role type she knew so well (Mildred Pierce), held helplessly hostage, in dire need of rescue from her out of control sister.

whatever22The casting of Davis and Crawford brought their real life conflict to the screen. Sure other older actresses could have played the two roles, but none would have supplied the natural tension that existed between these two women; Davis the high wired actress and Crawford the ultimate movie star. Nor would they deliver the personas that these two legends cultivated over the years. On the set, each in their own way antagonized and criticized one another. They were malicious and derogatory toward each other; both looking to collect allies and find devious ways to anger the other.

On the set, Aldrich had to contend with Crawford the MOVIE STAR and Davis the ACTRESS. Davis would get into her part of a raging maniacal out of control bitch, while Crawford ever thinking of her image would attempt to slow the pace down. In 1988, author Shaun Considine interviewed Baby Jane screenwriter Lukas Heller who said, “Crawford never reacted to anything, she sat in her wheelchair or bed waiting for her close-ups. As the camera got closer, she would widen those enormous eyes of hers. She considered that acting.”  It was not all vanity for Crawford, she actually lost weight during the production to give herself a more gaunt look, though various sources have recorded how her breasts size actually changed all the time including the beach scene where she dies at the end.

Still, Aldrich states in an interview with Charles Higham in The Celluloid Muse that both ladies were profession during the shoot. He says, “The two stars didn’t fight at all on Baby Jane. I think it is proper to say that they really detested each other, but they behaved absolutely perfectly.”    They may have, but according to various biographies, there were many snide remarks and some questionable actions by both.  When Crawford wasn’t feeling well one day, she asked if they could take a break and Davis replied, “after all these years I thought we’d all be troupers.” Davis also accused Joan to others of spiking her Pepsi. As for Crawford, one story has it that in one of the final scenes Davis had to lift Crawford out of bed and carry her across the room. Davis had back problems and asked Joan not to make herself dead weight. After the one long scene, Davis screamed out in pain while Joan, looking a bit heavier nonchalantly walked off the set to her dressing room.  It is said Crawford added weights under her costume. Crawford refutes this story. Both actresses knew that the publicity of a feud between them was, if nothing else, good for the film.  Before working together, the two were probably professional rivals and not really personally feuding. By the end of the film, the two really hated each other.

whatever-lc1Davis was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for the obvious, showy role of Jane while Crawford did not get a nod for her more restrained but equally effective role as Blanche. Far be it from me to make excuses for the Academy, but the Best Actress category for 1962 was a jammed pack group filled with superb performances. Along with Davis, there were Lee Remick for The Day of Wine and Roses, Katherine Hepburn for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Geraldine Page for Sweet Bird of Youth and Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker. Still, Crawford’s performance was extremely effective and deserved some recognition, and she was not about to let her lack of a nomination stop her from outshining Davis on the night of the ceremony.

Bette Davis was positive she was going to win, adding a third statue to the two she already had. Crawford meanwhile had called all the other nominees mentioning to them that she would be available, on the chance they could not attend the gala, to accept the Oscar on their behalf. As it turned out, Anne Bancroft was unable to attend. When it was time to announce the Best Actress award, Davis was about to receive not one but two shocks. Anne Bancroft was announced the winner and accepting the award for her would be Joan Crawford! Crawford slid by Davis mumbling excuse me and walked up to receive the award basking in the limelight and attention. In Witney Stine’s book I’d Love to Kiss You…Conversations with Bette Davis, Davis says, “She pushed me aside backstage, and the triumphant look she gave me as she pranced around out on the stage, I’ll never forget…” She then adds, “She carted that Oscar around for a long time on her Pepsi tour, before she finally gave it to Bancroft.” Charlotte Chandler in her Joan Crawford biography, Not The Girl Next Door plays down the Oscar event calling Joan’s arranging to receive Bancroft’s Oscar, “a constructive approach.”

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a surprisingly violent and gruesome film for two Golden Age stars to have appeared in back in those days. Many people were upset watching Davis as Jane serve Crawford a rat on a plate (from what I have read Crawford was not aware the rodent would be on the plate), and seeing her kick Crawford in the stomach while she lies helplessly on the floor. In another scene, she drags poor Joan across the floor, and then just before Bette plunges a hammer into Elvira (Maidie Norman) the maid’s head, we find Joan gagged, and her hands bound hanging in bed. This wasn’t some teenage slasher flick starring unknown kids; this was Davis and Crawford, Hollywood royalty.

There are two notable supporting characters in the film, Edwin Flagg, played wonderfully by Victor Buono, in his film debut. Aldrich saw Buono in an episode of the TV series The Untouchables which impressed him greatly and signed him on.  Buono received an Oscar nomination for his role. As Elvira the maid, Maidie Norman is a sympathetic soul who would not put up with Jane’s crap and became a victim of a violent death for her concern.

The film was the biggest financial shocker to come out since Psycho, just two years earlier, quickly earning back it approximate $1M budget. Speaking of the Hitchcock masterpiece, coincidently enough, the Hudson sisters’ next door neighbor is named Mrs. Bates. This Mrs. Bates though did not have a son named Norman, she had a daughter who was played by B.D. Merrill, Bette Davis’ real life daughter who would years later write her own tell-all book about mom. While the film is a classy thriller, Aldrich missed some opportunities to make this film more intense than it already is. For example, when Jane leaves the house and Blanche makes her way down stairs to reach a working telephone, the cross editing lacks any build up failing to register as much tension as a more effective editing style would have accomplished. On the other hand, there is some nice editing work in the sequence where Jane is kicking and stomping on poor Blanche. You can feel the pain of the swift kicks though you never really see any of the kicks make contact. Like the shower sequence in “Psycho” where you never see the knife enter the body but swear you do.

Davis went on a personal appearance tour when the film opened nationally in November. Apparently, Crawford was supposed to have joined in but backed out just before the tour was scheduled to begin. At one theater a fan yelled out, “where’s your sister?” Davis responded, ‘She’s dead on the beach” getting a big laugh.

Davis, Crawford, and Aldrich reteamed again for Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte however, deep filtered conflict, hatred, jealousy and illness pushed the production into turmoil. After weeks of production, Crawford was out and replaced by Olivia De Havilland. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was the beginning of a subgenre in horror films starring older actresses of the Golden Age, reviving their careers, at least temporarily, by appearing in these thrillers. In addition to Bette Davis (The Nanny, The Anniversary, Dead Ringer, Burnt Offerings) and Joan Crawford (Strait-Jacket, I Saw What You Did, Berserk, Trog) there was Olivia DeHavilland again in Lady in a Cage, Barbara Stanwyck in The Night Walker and a late entry, What’s The Matter With Helen? starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters.

 

References:

Bette and Joan – Shaun Considine

The Celluloid Muse – Charles Higham

Joan Crawford:  Hollywood Martyr – David Brett

This ‘n’ That – Bette Davis

More Than A Woman – James Spada

Dark Victory – Ed Sikov

Conversations With Bette Davis – Witney Stine

Not The Girl Next Door – Charlotte Chandler

 

Gene Palma: The Street Musician of Taxi Driver

gene-palma-street-musician-1971-CW-001Anyone who has seen Martin Scorsese’s 1976 neo-noir classic, Taxi Driver, will remember the short scene with Street Musician Gene Palma. It’s one of those little bits that remain with you long after the film ends. Palma’s slickly combed shellac like black hair and red makeup made him a unique figure on the streets of New York back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Palma would flip his drumsticks banging out his music on drums, vending machines or anything else that was available in the Times Square area. Palma’s big dream in life was not only to play like Gene Krupa, he wanted to be Gene Krupa.

Some years back I posted on my Twenty Four Frames Blog, a photograph I took of Palma one afternoon while photo hunting on the streets of New York. Though with only one photo and a couple of written lines from me, the post has become one of my most popular, engaging and informative with many people posting their own memories of Gene. The comments by various contributors were most informative and told part of the drummer’s story of which little is known. I felt the comments deserved more exposure, so I  thought I would incorporate some of them here, giving credit where credit is due.

Palma’s film career was short. After Taxi Driver he appeared in the John Ritter starring Hero at Large for which he was paid $30. He received  $172.50 for Taxi Driver. According to IMDB he had a small part as himself in the documentary  Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography.

 In a February 1981 article from the Lakeland Ledger, Palma said, he plays in the street five days a week and could make a living do that. In the winter, he needed to find other work. It was too cold for him to do his tricks with the sticks.  I have posted the Lakeland article here so you can read it direct instead of me rehashing it. My thank to Shawntok for providing the original link to the article.

Gene DePalma (1 of 1)Below are some of the many interesting comments that were left on my original post. They fill in a few holes in the life.

Again with the memories. I feel like Forest Gump when I read your New York based posts. I used to see Gene in Times Square often back in the ’80s. During that same period, I worked at a coffee shop on 6th Avenue and 57th Street called Miss Brooks and Gene came there often; really nice guy, but that hair smelled like hell. – Michael A. Gonzales – Writer

I moved to NYC in June of 1970 and began working in a small ad agency on the top of 580 5th Aveune (47th street). I was previously an amateur drummer and played some R&R in college, etc, and was the biggest Gene Krupa freak on earth (saw him perform live twice before his young death at 64 in 1973). The ad agencies in those days had dozens of deliveries back and forth from “stat” houses (long before computers). Stats were hi quality b&w copies of existing artwork needed to make new ads. Our office was on the top floor of the building and shortly after I began the job, several times a week I found myself riding the elevator with a curious delivery man from one of the stat houses. He would hold those large flat rigid stat envelopes in two hands, and endlessly play the most astounding cadences with his finger tips, right there in the elevator on the backs of those envelopes. Over and over again I was blown away, crippled by what I heard, since I actually recognized dozens of his riffs. Krupa, Belson, Hampton, Rich, you name the drummer, he was right there keeping up with them. In the two years I had that job (1970-72), I must have ridden in the elevator 40-50 times with this mystical man who never said one word to anyone, never made any eye contact and was totally oblivious to the effect he was having on the people who stood with him in those elevator cabs. Imagine how astounded I was four years later when completely out of nowhere, that wonderful guy miraculously appeared on screen as I sat idly watching Scorsese’s epic Taxi Driver! So yes, I can testify that for at least a couple years, Gene Palma delivered stats to New York ad agencies, but all the while his entire being was simultaneously consumed with breathtaking drum cadences. Bravo to Scorsese for bringing this wonderful personality a little immortality on the big screen. – Michael Adams

I remember seeing gene back in the early 80s when I use to cut out of school and go to TS . When I first saw gene he scared the daylights out of me. I found an article on Gene Palma in the LEDGER dating back to February 12th 1981. A reporter spotted gene in Atlantic City and interviewed him. I don’t have the link but if you google ” Gene Palma wants to be Gene Krupa ” I guarantee you will find it – Gary

Last time I saw Gene was in 2002-2003. He was living in a special adult home on 8th ave in Chelsea next to a Burito place called Blue Moon Cafe. I had numerous conversations with Gene over a period of 8 years. Nice man. Good drummer. Liked pastrami. Ate the middle out of pastries. Carried a small suitcase with a pressed suit and shoes inside along with coloring books given to him by Jehova’s witnesses. – Paul Corrigan

I met Gene in the Early 90’s while living in Chelsea. I would see him walking around the neighborhood with his leather jacket and briefcase, head tilted down. I always wanted to photograph him and would say hello when I could. One day he invited me up to his apartment in ’95…I have a half of a contact sheet in the archives somewhere. He was always a kind fellow and a charismatic guy. We took a few photos that day.

btw Mr/ Fisher ‘s photo is exceptional, thank you for sharing that. I am so happy this post exists as well, I was too thinking about Gene and wondering is he is still around. – Robert Adam Mayer – Photographer

Used to work in orange Julius while attending BMCC in 1972 or 73, the one on 7th ave. and 47th, later on 42nd street, that was some experience in gritty Times Square, lemme tell ya. I saw Gene several times around that area, I was a young immigrant, utterly fascinated by this character playing the drums on anything. I was floored when I saw him in taxi driver, then I would see him on the streets, more people around him after the movie came out. That hair, jet black, tinted, seemingly, by a gallon of dye. To me, he is the background music while I remember the TS of that time. – Joe

Does anyone remember a short film involving Gene that ran on Public Access channels in the mid to late 1980s? It chronicled a couple of young people who took an interest of Gene and tried to get him off the streets and into some assisted living program (unsuccessfully I might add.)    – Michael

Saw Gene in June ’77, after having watched Taxi Driver six times (in the theater). Was really thrilled to see the featured drummer on a Manhattan street corner during my first visit to NYC! He had a hand-written sign saying, “as featured in the movie, Taxi Driver. My traveling companion, Ray, and I wondered about his life so we actually followed him one night during our seven day stay. – jrh1254

There are more comments and a few more links on the original post which you can find here.

My thanks to all those who commented and shared their experiences with Gene.

 

Note: If you liked this post please hit the follow button to receive all the latest.

 

 

 

Jules Dassin’s Brute Force on TCM Tonight!

brute_force-33Burt Lancaster stars in the brutally powerful prison drama, Brute Force, showing on TCM tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern time). The Jules Dassin directed film is a strong indictment of the prison system for its corruptness and failures to rehabilitate.

Along with Lancaster, the cast includes Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Ann Blyth, Howard Duff  and Yvonne DeCarlo. Set your DVR, you won’t be disappointed.

Read about Brute Force and other films including, The Grapes of Wrath, I Am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang, Ace in the Hole, The Americanization of Emily, A Face in the Crowd, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more in my e-book, LESSONS IN THE DARK. Available on Amazon. Just click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Lessons in the Dark Cover-Small-003

 

 

 

Edward Hopper and the Movies

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Hopper’s The Balcony

Edward Hopper loved the movies and he reflected that love in many of his works. When Hopper was not in the mood to paint, he would frequently binge on going to the movies where he would sometimes find inspiration. However, unlike most people, for Hopper, movie going was not a communal experience. Instead, as his work bares out, he found isolation and solitude in theaters like he did in his most famous cinema theater painting, New York Movie (permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art), which shows an usherette standing alone under a light in a side hall just off the main auditorium.

hopper_1939_new_york_movieHopper’s New York Movie

Phillip French writes in his article, From Nighthawks to the Shadows of Film Noir how Hopper influenced film and the other way around. French writes how, “German expressionism impinged on Hopper early on, during his sojourn in Paris. His 1921 etching Night Shadows looks like a storyboard sketch for a high-angle shot in a Fritz Lang movie.” I myself see Lang’s silent classic, M.

2221_hopper-night-shadowsHopper’s expressionistic like Night Shadows

Many of Hopper’s works are voyeuristic; private moments in people’s lives (A Woman in the Sun, New York Interior, Office in a Small City).  Hopper’s influence on Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in Rear Widow (1953) where James Stewart’s photographer, stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg, sits by his bay window looking out the courtyard watching all the lonely people going about their lives in their apartments. You can see Hopper’s influence again during the opening credits of Psycho (1960) as Hitchcock’s camera moves from a wide view of the city and slowly zooms in on one  window where we discover Janet Leigh and John Gavin in an afternoon tryst.

hopper-night-windows-october-art-room Hopper’s Night Windows

rear-window-_-miss-torsoHitchcock’s Rear Window

In his most famous work, Nighthawks, Hopper was inspired after reading Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers (1946), where two hitman comes to a small town diner looking to kill Burt Lancaster’s The Swede, a down and out boxer. When Universal Pictures and director Robert Siodmak turned the Hemingway story into a film, Siodmak certainly kept Hopper’s diner image in mind. Another sign of Hopper’s influence is seen in Force of Evil (1948). Screenwriter/director Abraham Polonsky, while on location in New York for his first film, took his cinematographer, George Barnes, to an exhibition of Hopper paintings and told him, that’s the way he wants the film to look.

nighthawksHopper’s Nighthawks

killers                                                       Robert Siodmak’s The Killers

Nighthawks would continue to influence filmmakers and other artists for years to come.  Director Herbert Ross used it as inspiration in his 1983 musical, Pennies from Heaven as did Todd Hayes in Far from Heaven (2002). Tom Waits third album, and his first live album, Nighthawks at the Diner, with a cover design by Cal Schenkel, was influenced by Hopper.  In 1984, artist Gottfried Helnwein did a pop version of Nighthawks called Boulevard of Broken Dreams replacing the everyday patrons in Hopper’s painting with pop icons James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The guy behind the counter is Elvis. Later Green Day used Helnwein’s title and created one of their best known songs.

dreams

Edward Hopper was not a sociable man. He seems to have had little interest in communicating with or meeting people. Much of his art can be seen as the work of a man who lives within himself.

 

 

 

 

I Am a Fugitive on TCM

img_1107The classic pre-code prison drama, “I Am A Fugitive From A  Chain Gang” will be showing on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:15AM eastern time. Be sure to set your DVR.

You can read more about it in my  e-book “Lessons in the Dark.” Available on Amazon.com. Click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Life: A Film about James Dean and Dennis Stock (2015)

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James Dean and Dennis Stock

One of the most iconic images of James Dean shows the actor walking right down the middle of the Times Square crossroads. It’s raining. He’s wearing an overcoat, his collar is turned up, he’s hunched over and a cigarette is dangling from his mouth. The photograph was taken by Dennis Stock in 1955. At the time, both Dean and Stock were still relatively unknown in the respective careers. Dean would soon explode onto the screen in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. As quickly as he became a star, it would be extinguished after his fatal car crash in September 1955. The star died, but an iconic legend was born.

dennis-stock-james-dean
Photo by Dennis Stock

I accidently found this film while browsing through a local library earlier this week. I was unfamiliar with it, in truth, I never heard of it before. What caught my eye was the DVD’s cover image that loosely reflects the famous shot of James Dean walking down the middle of Times Square. Only in this version there is another guy with him with a 35mm camera around his neck, and unlike the more casually dressed Dean, wears a conservative white shirt and tie. Life, (the title as you will learn has a double meaning) it turned out  was the story of the unusual short friendship between James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock. I had to watch this!

lifefilmposterFor a short period in 1954-55, Dennis Stock would photograph James Dean in Hollywood, New York and in Dean’s hometown in Indiana. In Life, directed by Anton Corbijn, we follow this short lived friendship between a still unknown actor and a ambitious photographer, still looking for his own big break.  Stock works for the Magnum Agency and convinces his boss that this young nobody of an actor is going to be the next big thing as soon as his first film, East of Eden, is released. Stock wants his bosses to convince Life magazine to do the story.

Corbijn is definitely suitable for the subject matter considering his previous life as a rock photographer. Dean is played nicely by Dane DeHann who more through mannerisms and speech than through physical looks captures Dean’s essence. Stock is played by Robert Pattinson. He’s a bit quirky and his personal life is a mess. Married young, he’s divorced with a young boy who he hardly sees. When he does see the boy, it’s uncomfortable. While Stock works for Magnum, his career is not going in the direction he wants.  He wants to be an artist and have an exhibit instead of photographing the latest movie premiere.

Each in their own way are fish out of water. They meet at a party in Hollywood given by director Nicholas Ray who is considering Dean for his new film Rebel Without a Cause.  Stock is there on one of his routine assignments. They begin an uneasy friendship. Stock comes to see Dean as someone special and on the rise. He convinces his bosses at Magnum, Dean would make a great subject for a photo essay for Life magazine. The assignment is approved, but Dean turns out to be a relentlessly elusive subject to tie down for a shoot. During the course of their short friendship, Stock followed Dean from Hollywood to New York and even back to his hometown farm in Indiana. In the course of this short time, Dennis Stock creates a series of portraits of the artist as a young rebel. Many of the photos shot during this period turned out to be some of most intimate moments of Dean we ever get to see, especially the images of his life back in Indiana.

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Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson as James Dean and Dennis Stock

Like James Dean, Corbijn’s film is all about mood and not action. To some it may seem like it meanders, but I felt that it fits the zigzagging mood of the two lead characters. Dean wants to be a star yet he fights the Hollywood system. Stock wants to be a photographic artist, but seems tied down by money worries and opportunity.  The two men eventually go their own ways when Dean heads back to Hollywood to begin filming Rebel Without a Cause and later Giant, both released posthumously and kicking off Dean’s legendary status.

Ben Kingsley plays a thug like Jack Warner and almost steals the film from its two lead actors. In one scene, Warner, after Dean ridiculed a Warner Brothers film during an interview, warns the young actor he better stay in line or he will be quickly dumped.

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Ben Kingsley as Jack Warner impatiently waiting for James Dean to show up at the New York premiere of East of Eden.

After Dean went back to Hollywood, Dennis Stock remained in New York and focused his work on the city’s Jazz Scene. Over the next few years, he photographed artists like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and Miles Davis among others. Most were not performance photos, but more personal and atmospheric moments that he captured. Stock liked to stay quietly in the background capturing those private moments when his subjects were unguarded.  The best of his Jazz work were compiled into a book called, Jazz Street, published in 1962.  Over the course of his long career, Dennis Stock turned his camera on many subjects including the youth revolution of the late 60’s including hippie communes in New Mexico and California. Later in life he did a lot of nature and landscape photography.  One thing that always remained consistent was that Dennis Stock always photographed what he wanted.  At the University of Texas where he once addressed a roomful of photojournalism students Stock said, “I’ve never taken an assignment, I’ve always photographed what I wanted to be photographing, and then worried about selling the pictures or doing something with them afterwards. I’ve always shot for myself, and when you’re shooting what you’re interested in shooting, you’re always going to be happy.”

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Miles Davis by Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock was born in 1928. A native New Yorker, he was raised in The Bronx and grew up during the Great Depression. At the age of 17, he left home and joined the Navy. After his discharge, Stock apprenticed under photographer Gjon Mili between the years 1947 and 1951. He also worked closely with W. Eugene Smith. Stock first gained recognition after he was one of ten winners in a Life magazine photography contest. Some of his fellow winners at the time included Ruth Orkin, Robert Frank and Elliot Erwitt. Heady company. This was soon followed by a position with Magnum. During his early Hollywood days, Stock photographed stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and many others. Like his photos of James Dean, the photos were generally intimate, behind the scenes and unguarded moments. In 1955, his James Dean photo essay was published in Life just a short period before the actor’s death.

Over the years, there were more books published, exhibits, lectures and photographs. Always photographs. Dennis Stock died in 2010 at the age of 81. As the film, Life, suggest, Stock’s personal life was messy. He was married several times; his last wife was author Susan Richards. At the time of his death, he had three children, a grandson and five great grandchildren.

A posthumously released documentary on Stock called, Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock made the film festival circuit in 2011. In was directed by Hanna Sawka Hamaguchi and narrated by Stock prior to his death.  The film seems to be sadly only available to academic institutions and resources at exorbitant prices.

 

Sources:

Sharpio, T. Rees, Dennis Stock, 81; Magnum Photographer Shot Iconic Moments, Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2010

Dunlap, David W. Dennis Stock, Photographer of Intimate Portraits, Dies at 81, New York Times, Jan, 15, 2010

A Small Sampling of Photographs by Dennis Stock

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Musician Bill Crow crossing Times Square
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On the backlot of 20th Century Fox during the filming of Planet of the Apes
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James Dean and unknown friend
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Venice Beach, CA. Rock Concert – 1968
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Miles Davis ‘Milestone’ album cover
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James Dean and his young cousin Marcus

 

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Morning Bath 1969 (Hippie Commune)

 

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James Dean