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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

HOT SPOTS in CA: The Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum

In the old west you had to be "in it to win it." Could you stand days on end 
in this cramped space?

Marlene Dietrich is most remembered for her seductive roles in top and tails, but the German vixen was also a surprising hit in Westerns. Her most popularly remembered role is that of Frenchy in Destry Rides Again, but she also starred in The Spoilers and Rancho Notorious. Her co-star in The Spoilers just so happens to be last month's L.A. La star, John Wayne. So, in honor of both, here is further tribute to the Western via the delightful and very informative Autry National Center. Giddy up!

~     ~     ~

Located in the seemingly infinite space of Griffith Park, this gem is housed right across the parking lot from the Los Angeles Zoo. Inside, there are both permanent displays that commemorate the very harrowing, inspiring, and sometimes violent roots of our nation's past and westward movement-- as well as the manifestation of this history in our cinematic past-- and temporary, rotating displays that showcase different artists, craftsman, etc, which are evidence of our still adherent yet evolving culture from these early days. The museum itself is named for Hollywood's favorite singing cowboy, Gene Autry, but gunslingers aren't the only faction of our culture that are examined: the American Indian, women, Chinese immigrants, Mexicans, etc. are all showcased, and the interrelations between these many peoples are thoroughly investigated.

Gene greets his guests.

The navigation of the fairly large building begins, as always, at the beginning. The front entrance is encased in a courtyard, smack in the center of which is a sculpture commemorating Mr. Autry. Behind him is a movie theater, which occasionally plays, of course, Westerns or other educational programs, and across from this is a small eatery. Attached to the main building is the gift shop, in which one can purchase anything from the usual cheesy knick-knack, to old movie posters, to American Indian crafts like the "secret box"-- which is a very intricately detailed and beautifully designed box that an unskilled person will have an incredible amount of trouble opening. Luckily, this wasn't my first rodeo. (BTW, if you're interested, I particularly like Heartwood Creations, which can be found here).

Alberto Valdes's "Christmas Child."

The inner sanctum is divided into an upstairs and a down. The upper left is dedicated to two rotating displays. When I attended last, I was fortunate enough to be able to view "Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation," which obviously honors the "Chicano" artists in our nation's history. All of the portraits and sculptures were very vivid in their perspective of Mexican-American life, from the beauty of to the struggle of the Mexican immigrant. The greatest surprise to me was my introduction to the artist Alberto Valdes whose provocative paintings were composed of such vibrant colors that they literally seemed to glow. His palette and use of shapes produce the most amazing emotional effects and equally stimulate the eye and mind. A few of his pictures were very specific in the images that they were trying to relate, while others were more intricate and subjective-- surreal but not bizarre. Forgive me, I'm not an art major, so I don't know the correct terms. In layman's terms, they were pretty and pretty cool.

Just a few strands of entwined grass. No biggie.

The next showroom possessed a collection of American Indian basketry. I know what you're thinking: "Baskets... Riveting." Well, it kind of was. In the center of the room was a large circular map of the entire country, and the locations of different tribes were delineated by examples of their particular weaving "style." It was a truly interesting thing to see how the different techniques and artistic penchants varied based on the separate tribes and their regions. As for the baskets themselves, which came in all shaped and sizes, these things were intricate! There were some jaw-dropping videos playing that showed modern weavers at work, and to say that their fingers are nimble is an understatement. I'm still not at all certain how they are able to make all of those delicious little patterns with the wicker and sweetgrass and whatnot, but my lack of awareness did not hamper my aesthetic enjoyment.

The gang's all here: Hollywood's favorite cowboys decorate
the downstairs wall in a jaw-dropping mural.

Moving downstairs, I was immediately hit in the face with an exquisite mural depicting early man's emergence in the west transitioning to the cowboy movie star. The portrait is literally a panorama of visual history. It begins with the hey-day of the American Indian, moves to the collision of natives and white settlers, and ends with movie and television stars like Gary Cooper, Tom Mix, and William S. Hart. It was at this point that I realized non-flash photography was allowed and all of the covert pics that I had been taking were unnecessary. I thought I was being stealthy; turns out no one cared. After taking some shots of the astounding painting, I turned directly behind me and ventured to the outdoor exhibit that tried to bring to life the physical environment and vegetation of the old west. A small space composed of a mini-waterfall and pond, there really wasn't much to look at, but a couple of kids were having a heck of a time "sifting for gold" at an educational exhibit.

One of many reasons I am proud to be a (modern) American-
better medical care.

Thus I re-entered and began my investigation of the historical portion of the museum. This turned out to be my favorite part. I have been to history museums before, but it has admittedly been awhile, so perhaps that is why I was so enthralled with all of the archaeology, or maybe it was the specificity of the subject matter that I found so fascinating. In any case, what I was about to witness was a thorough, moving, and surprising tribute to America's early expansion. The bottom level is divided into three portions: Opportunity, Community, and The Cowboy. I started in "Opportunity," and found myself looking at typical odds and ends of civilian life now made atypical due to their antiquated state. I was most impressed with an early medical kit, perhaps because I have two family members in the dental profession, and I found myself grabbing my jaw and thanking God that medical science has progressed. Much of this section was dedicated to the story of early militia or lawmen, and several compartments honored their efforts toward the establishment of order in the Wild West-- not an easy task as people continued to make their move into the unknown and ungoverned territory. Old uniforms, still in incredible condition, were showcased, as well as weaponry. Other items typically found on the long stage rides-- remember this is pre-locomotive-- were also on display, including luggage, toiletries, and an old coach in toto. Looking at the size of the thing, I was at once impressed by how much larger it was than I had imagined and also was in awe of the fact that, despite this, it still seemed far too small for so many people to be packed inside for such long travels. Our forefathers and mothers were certainly patient.

The integration of the American Indian into typical eastern ways was not 
smooth nor welcome. But here is an example of such 
assimilation-- native law adapts to "foreign" 
government to protect their own.

In the next section, I came across examples of every day life in the West. The most intriguing portion was dedicated to dissecting all of the different factions and how they operated independently from and also in relation to each other. Racism was an issue that certainly came to the forefront, and it was amazing to see even in these early days how many different religions and ethnicities co-existed and at the same time sought their own individual spaces from each other. Mormons, Chinese Immigrants, African American, Italians... You name it. in these early days, birds of a feather flocked together to produce some sort of stability amidst the chaos that came, not just from the danger and suspicion of the nature around them nor from the Native Americans observing them with equal puzzlement and frustration, but from each other. The color of one's skin, the religion he practiced, or the nation from which he had come, became defining factors that tied him to his own people and divided him from all others. As this co-mingling slowly merged into a (slightly) more civilized combination of communities, prejudice gave way to abundance. But along with the daily laundry and cooking, there too was need for fun, which is why the saloon room was one of the highlights of the exhibit for me. With an actual bar complete with ancient liquor bottles and beer advertisements, poker tables, and a roulette wheel, I could almost smell the tobacco. If there is one thing that brings all mankind together, it's liquor.

Can ya' smell the whiskey?

The final portion was completely dedicated to the life of the cowboy. In addition to a display depicting the famous shoot-out at the OK Corral featuring Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, there too was a Colt gallery with some of the most amazing pistols I have ever seen: jewelry for men. Further down, several displays replicated the daily life and toil of the authentic American cowboy, and it was nowhere near as glamorous as the movies portray it, lemme tell ya'. These men worked hard, sweated, fought steers, tangled with barbed wire, and drove cattle across the country, not so much in the name of progress or money-- excluding of course the cattle baron-- but to survive. For the authentic cowboy, the lifestyle possessed no glamour and little respite. It was simply a job-- a way to make a living. Strange how the memory of these pioneers has evolved into perhaps the most romanticized piece of American mythology. However, our continuing appreciation is a good thing. Without these fellows of spur and saddle putting down roots, we wouldn't be sittin' so pretty in our ivory towers, now would we?

A couple of the prize Colts on display. Purty ain't they?

Which brings me to the final portion of the museum: "Imagination." This section was dedicated entirely to the cowboy as a cultural icon and the way he has manifested himself in several mediums, including music, television, and-- of course-- movies. From the silent heroes, to the rhinestone cowboys, to the singin' Gene Autry, every brand of Western celebrity was investigated. Movie buffs will be pleased to see costumes from some of their favorite films as worn by their favorite performers, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Betty Hutton. Because the Western genre has become somewhat buried in present cinema, it was nice to see so much of it revived for public viewing, and the true impact that it has had on this country and its descendants was blatantly identified. Perhaps because this is a history that only we as Americans possess, do we cherish it so greatly. Of course, the power of the cowboy and the Western has drifted into other countries and affected other filmmakers and other film goers, but it is a past that is undeniably in our bones and a part of our souls. There is no cowboy but the American cowboy, which is perhaps why the stars of the silver screen who adorned their heads with ten gallon hats remain some of the most revered in the history of film.

The costumes of Duke and Kate from Rooster Cogburn.

My voyage of the museum over for the time being, I reluctantly departed. As I drove through the winding roads of Griffith Park in the luxury of my Mazda, I found myself grateful for the fruits I had been gifted after a hard won progression of others' labors. But too, I found myself envious of a rugged life of sweat and determination-- a life earned every day by the mere cost of living it. Though the history that I encountered at the Autry Museum is, indeed, history, I don't feel that what I witnessed there is dead. I think every American and every man, woman, and child who ever has or ever will come to American shores for a better life, possesses within him the same inexplicable need to carve out a niche for himself in an open space wherein he can toil, battle, and finally thrive as the keeper of his own destiny. With crowded cities and cement everywhere, it is hard to see the forest without the trees, but our personal adventures of stakes and claims continue. The Wild West, therefore, will always grow and expand within us, for we carry it in our hearts.

A few of Chuck Connors's belongings.

Griffith Park
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027-1462
T: 323.667.2000
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Closed on Mondays.
$10 for Adults.
$6 Seniors and Students
$4 Children 3-12 years-old
Free for Children under 3.
Free Parking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MENTAL MONTAGE: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Marlene, as an extreme personality- here in Blonde Venus-- 
was practically begging to be caricatured.

The struggle for fame and celebrity in Hollywood is a continual one. Even when someone has a few films under his belt and has a somewhat familiar face, the work that goes into maintaining his star status and position is more difficult than the public can ever imagine. Therefore, it naturally follows that no celeb is ever comfortable on his pedestal, which at any moment may topple. If he takes a break to blink, his moment may be over forever. From the outside, it looks easy, but to the one swimming upstream, it is impossible to ever utter the words, "I made it!" There is one tell-tale sign, however, to intimate that one has evolved past the cluster of "working actors" to the realm of bona fide "star," or perhaps even to the land of "legend." If you're popular enough to be mocked, heavily referenced, or flat-out imitated, you may have finally surmounted the curve. Today's stars can look forward to a lambast on "SNL" or "South Park," but before the days of television, there were only movies. Here are some stars who were big enough to be [mocked] in pictures.

The most obvious example is the hilarious haranguing of this month's muse, Marlene Dietrich, by one of the Queens of Comedy, Madeline Kahn, in Blazing Saddles (left). Mel Brooks's lampoon of the Western genre was derived from many classic films, including Dodge City, but the reference to Destry Rides Again never becomes more obvious than when Madeline takes the stage as Lili Von Schtupp. "Lili," one assumes, is a reference to one of Marlene's classic songs, "Lili Marleen" and "Schtupp" to... well, that's one Yiddish word everyone understands, I think. Madeline's every mannerism as Lili is clearly taken from the assertively sexual "Frenchy" that Marlene portrayed in Destry, and Madeline's impression of Marlene's accented speech is too humorously exaggerated and aped: "Oh, a wed wose..." Nothing is so spectacular as her rendition of the original song, "I'm So Tired." Her comedic expertise makes the performance more than a hammy imitation, it is genius. With Gene Wilder's so-quick-you'll-miss-it gun draw and Cleavon Little's confident and sly portrayal of the west's first black sheriff, there are few moments for one to draw breaths between laughs during the film, but it is Madeline's Marlene that takes the cake. As Marlene was still alive when the film was released, one wonders at her reaction, if she even saw it. Another screen beauty, Hedy Lamarr, gets a "shout out" as well, since Harvey Korman's character is named "Hedley Lamar." However, Hedy was not flattered, and sued Mel Brooks for what she considered to be the gross use of her name.

Another great parody comes via Carole Lombard in The Princess Comes Across. This screwball comedy is a mish-mash of mystery, murder, and maritime love. Carole portrays actress wannabe Wanda Nash who, in order to conceal her identity, pretends to be a Swedish princess (Olga) on her cruise to America, resulting in a lengthy, pitch-perfect send up of none other than Greta Garbo. From the moment Carole appears as Olga, beautiful, glamorous, and aloof, there is no question as to whom she is imitating. Her distant, irritated poise and uber-European accent-- "Dis is verry annoying..."-- draws an instant comparison to the eternal, gorgeous hermit who only wanted to "be alone." Of course, Carole is at her best when the mask comes off and her abrupt Brooklyn character has time to rant and fuss about the stress of maintaining her hidden identity and dealing with all those dead bodies that keep piling up on deck. A romance too ensues between Olga/Wanda and bandleader King Mantell, portrayed by a constant Carole co-star, (there's an alliteration for ya'), Fred MacMurray. Greta's very anti-social, dramatic, enigmatic, and slightly egotistical persona made her an easy person to duplicate, but through Carole's comedic expertise the likeness is exquisite (see right). With that special Carole stamp, we have a character who is part elegant and part kooky. For one great Hollywood screen goddess to portray another is superb, and the divide between the easy-going, deviant manner of Carole versus the otherworldy iciness of Garbo is both clear and divine.

In the film Monkey Business, Groucho, Chico, Zeppo, and Harpo Marx all used their singing skills and slight physical resemblance to Maurice Chevalier to comic effect. On yet another seafaring voyage, the four brothers are stow-aways (see left) who cause the usual amount of Marxian chaos and girl-chasing on their way to America. Groucho woos Thelma Todd, Zeppo befriends a pretty passenger, and Harpo and Chico step in as the vessel's very under-qualified barbers, all while evading capture and the anger of one very miffed gangster. After they make it across the Atlantic, they are left in a quandary: without passports, they will  be unable to disembark. Luckily, they swipe an ID from a passenger who coincidentally happens to be the Maurice Chevalier. One by one, they take turns offering the passport to the authorities, who of course doubt their identity. Forced to prove themselves as the French crooner and Lothario, they each sing the Chevalier classic, "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," only to be denied access to American soil for their very poor impersonations. Ironically, the deliberately mute Harpo comes closest to victory, as he lip syncs the verses to a recording strapped on his back, but a slight malfunction botches his liberation as well. However, as in all things Marx, all's well that ends crazily, and hats off to Maurice for the honorary mention.

A very direct homage was paid to everyone's favorite ghoul, Boris Karloff (right), as well. "Arsenic and Old Lace" was a play penned by Joseph Kesselring in the early '40s. The plot revolved around two lovable old ladies who perform the benevolent service of murdering old, lonely men past their prime-- somewhat akin to the way the Eskimos set their elder community members adrift, or so I've heard. Their plot is discovered by their nephew, Mortimer, who is in the midst of possible matrimony. As if the shock of blood on his sweet aunties' hands isn't enough, he too has to combat an uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, and his brother Jonathan, another murdering criminal, who returns home with a new face to hide his identity. Unfortunately, the doctor who performed the plastic surgery was intoxicated during the operation, and Jonathan came out looking like... Boris Karloff. Of all the horrifying faces to be trapped with! Audiences totally responded to the joke, which obviously runs throughout the entire play. Of course, the real clincher was that Boris Karloff was playing the role of Jonathan himself! Sadly, for various contractual reasons, Boris was unable to participate in the film version of 1944, which starred Cary Grant as Mortimer and the capable Raymond Massey stepping in as the facially mutated Jonathan. Since the play and the film made Boris even more immortal than he already was, I suppose he had the last laugh.

Sometimes, in the quest for stardom, one starlet makes it over another by a hair. This was definitely the case with Veronica Lake, whose iconic 'do (left) made her a sensation in her own day and keeps her a legend in ours. Ronni's hair was her "thing," just like Marlene was known for her gams and Jimmy Durante was known for his schnoz. Articles were written about her mop's hygienic upkeep and daily grooming regimen, public service announcements for safety were made with her hair used as a prop, and countless jokes were made at her expense. Possessing a good sense of humor, Ronni took the jests in kind. After all, they only helped to boost her appeal. If it took her mane to keep her in the mainstream, then so be it. Yet another reference to her famous tresses was made in Billy Wilder's first directorial effort, The Major and the Minor. Ginger Rogers, in yet another case of hidden identity, runs into trouble when she cannot afford an adult train ticket, which causes her to pose as an adolescent for cheaper fare. Unfortunately, she gets mixed up with, and sexually attracted to, fellow traveler Ray Milland while in disguise and winds up at his military academy still portraying a precocious pre-teen. Forced to attend a junior dance, she encounters a room full of young women who "all think they're Veronica Lake": cue camera pan to a row of seated girls with their faces half-covered in hair. It is a priceless guffaw that is typical of Wilder's comedies. Not only was it a fantastic gag at the time, but this small, hilarious reference also places it firmly in its timeline when modern viewers watch it today.

Speaking of sexpots... Marilyn Monroe topped them all (right). Her star power would be exemplified ad nauseum during her life, as it continues to be in her death, but interestingly it too was brought to life via Jack Lemmon. The two had worked together in the film Some Like It Hot, and while the consummately professional Jack was a little put off by Marilyn's at times erratic behavior, he could not deny her inexplicable charisma and warmth, which in the end gave him a soft spot for her. A year later, now as one of Billy Wilder's favorite actors, Jack was given the leading role in The Apartment opposite Shirley MacLaine. Acclaimed for its comedy and sympathy, it in a way reunited Jack with his conflicted friend when one particular scene pays homage to Marilyn-- although, since Billy too worked with Marilyn, this was a way of professionally tipping his hat to her screen power despite their post-Hot feud. Early in the film, Jack's C.C. Baxter is called by work colleague Joe Dobisch (Ray Walston), who is in a frenzy, because he just picked up a girl and has nowhere to take her for a sexual rendezvous. Since Baxter's apartment has become the go-to for cheating spouses, Joe asks for the use of his digs. When Baxter begs off so he can rest, Joe becomes adamant. The girl, he insists, is exceptional: "She looks like Marilyn Monroe!" With that, how can Baxter refuse? He gives up his room so that his work superior can live out every man's fantasy-- or at least as close as a guy like him will ever get. "Marilyn" and "Monroe" were apparantly the secret passwords.

Marilyn co-operated in another public celeb kudos earlier in her career when she starred in How to Marry a Millionaire, however Lauren Bacall rightfully maintains the bulk of the credit. The movie, of course, is about three lovely but struggling young women (Lauren, Marilyn, and Betty Grable) who are Hell-bent and determined to marry well to rich men. In the film, Lauren befriends the elder but always gentlemanly William Powell, who resists her advances due to their May-December age gap, yet later decides to court her in earnest (see left). In doing so, the other two gals question Lauren's choice-- he is old after all. But, Lauren rebuffs their quips by making an example of all of the handsome older men in the world: "I've always liked older men. Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill. Look at that old fellow what's-his-name in The African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him!" In this case, the crack wasn't just business, it was personal, for in real life Lauren was already married to Queen star Humphrey Bogart-- her senior by nearly 25 years. One imagines he found the cinematic joke hilarious and, of course, appreciated the extra publicity.

Lauren Bacall enjoys a day off with her "old man."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Marlene Dietrich was well aware of the effect her sexual wiles had
 on men, and she fully took advantage... especially
when the world was in danger.

One of Marlene Dietrich's more public romances was the one she had with the handsome Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (left). The two would have a lengthy affair following the death of Marlene's previous lover, John Gilbert. If Doug wasn't intimidated enough by Marlene's continuing devotion to this lost love, he would too have to combat the existence of her still living husband, Rudi Sieber, whom she nonchalantly introduced to him at dinner one night. His attraction and affection for Marlene made him stick around, despite her antics, which were not in keeping with typical feminine standards nor accepted gender roles. In truth, he loved her "modern" ways as much as her warmth. Anyway, he had to get used to her methods fast since she took the reigns at their first meeting. Doug recalled being completely spellbound by Marlene's beauty and lack of vanity, becoming determined to possess her. After escorting her home and trying to figure a suave way to make his move, he came to realize that he was the one being seduced: he thanked her for the nightcap, and she escorted him to her bedroom. Their affair was not always so simple. In order to keep the press hounds at bay, Doug often had to find creative ways to escape from his lover's room without raising suspicion. While both were in London, Marlene was staying at Claridge's. After one particular night of passion, Doug decided-- in order to avoid detection and to protect his lover's honor-- that he should shimmy down the fire escape instead of using the door. In doing so, he tied his coat tails behind his back and slid down... landing right in front of a young "bobby" officer. Luckily, being famous has its advantages. The officer gave Doug a knowing smile and asked, "Rehearsing for your next film, Mr. Fairbanks?" Doug replied with a befuddled affirmative and hailed a cab. Luckily, he was able to get Marlene a room below his own bungalow soon after to avoid such intricate escapes... and embarrassments.

While Doug was intoxicated by Marlene as a lover, he was also smitten with her strength and gumption. She left him astounded on separate occasions when she announced her plans to, in one way or another, prevent world disaster by using her abilities of sexual seduction. When she learned that Edward VIII of England was about to abdicate his throne for Wallis Simpson, she became deeply grieved. She was determined to stop her royal friend from making such an error. She told Doug that she was going straight to the Palace to seduce Edward in order to show him that there were better women to be had than the "homely" girl he had set his sights on. She felt sure that this act of diplomacy would be better for everyone-- England needed him! Not knowing what to do, Doug watched as his lover prepared herself for a night of sexual warfare. Unfortunately, her primping took too long, and by the time she arrived at the palace, Edward was not at home. He married Wallis, and the rest is history. Marlene was not deterred in her international shenanigans (see determined pose, right). With the Nazis rising in power, and war creeping closer, she became increasingly agitated at the United States' refusal to act. So, she let Doug in on another plan. Before Marlene gained American citizenship and publicly declared her disdain for the current German political tide, Hitler wanted her back in her native land making movies for their agenda. Marlene wanted to play the secret agent and agree to come home-- with the stipulation that she be able to meet with Hitler "in private." The context of the meeting was understood. She then planned to assassinate the maniacal leader herself! Fearful for his beloved when he realized her seriousness, Doug pointed out the danger of such an attempt, but Marlene said she wasn't afraid to die. He then pointed out that she would be searched, and any weapons she had on her person would be removed before she could see the dictator. She then declared that she would enter naked if she had to. He finally pointed out that even if she succeeded, it would put the lives of her mother Josefine and sister Liesel in jeopardy, as they still lived in Nazi occupied Germany. This finally changed her mind. But, imagine how different history could have been if she had followed through...

Rudolph Valentino was equally renowned for his effect upon the opposite sex. His mere presence instigated women of all ages to go into a frenzy. He had longed in his youth for fame and prosperity, but as he aged, he came to realize that such privileges also came with a price: like privacy... or the ability to exit a building without being mobbed. Fan attention seemed to reach a fever pitch when he and wife Natacha Rambova started taking their dancing tour across the country (left). On a hiatus of sorts from film while he battled the studios for better roles, better pay, and creative freedom, he and Natacha decided to tango their way through the United States. Needless to say, there was mayhem. Tickets were in high demand for their shows, and in addition, throngs of fans methodically cased whatever ballroom or hotel Rudy was performing or staying in. While coming or going to events, Rudy and Natacha were often stampeded and occasionally had to find special exit routes on rooftops to avoid annihilation. From Arizona to Kentucky, they were woman-handled, and their ears were defiled with the cries of screaming females. He underwent one surprising event after another, including the time one ravenous fan tore her way through his dressing tent to catch a glimpse of his perfect form. Rudy may have been frightened at certain times, but he was always as gracious as possible to his fans. Mostly, he was concerned for every one's safety. While performing in Vancouver, BC, one particular female fan become so overcome by the sight of Rudy, that she fainted. The building manager moved her out of the way so she wasn't trampled and deposited her in Rudy's dressing room where Natacha tried to revive her. After finishing a routine, Rudy entered in all his dashing, costumed glory to check the status of the patient. At that moment, the stunned girl opened her eyes, finding herself face to face with her idol, the Rudolph Valentino. Her eyes bulged, she sighed, and with that she fainted dead away. Again. No news on whether she ever recovered.

Yes, movie acting can be treacherous. But just as hazardous as the public trappings of fame is the danger of human absence... at least in one case. In 1913, Lon Chaney was just carving out a career for himself in the movies. After several months in Los Angeles in extra roles, prop jobs, and bit parts, he struck up enough of a reputation with Allan Dwan to start getting regular gigs in the director's films. He was far from famous, but his face was becoming more familiar, and he was definitely bulking up his resume. So it was that Lon joined the rest of Allan's usual troupe (including Pauline Bush and Murdock MacQuarrie) when they traipsed off to Mt. Lowe to begin filming Bloodhounds of the North. Things were rocky from the beginning, with bad weather and torrential rains that kept the cast and crew isolated and indoors. Allan solved the problem by having the cast and crew rehearse not only for Bloodhounds but for his other upcoming features. Once the mud finally dried, Lon-- who had always loved the mountains-- ventured out with fellow actor Arthur Rosson to breathe a deep sigh of relief in the fresh air. Unfortunately, as familiar as he was with the Colorado peaks, Lon was unfamiliar with Californian terrain, and he and Arthur got good and lost. As day turned to night, and the air grew chilly, the two men must have wondered if they would ever find their way out of the canyons. Thankfully, a search party had been sent to find the adventurous twosome. The sight of approaching friends and rescuers must have been a sight for sore eyes after hours of desolation. After all they mayhem, and with his cast in tact, Allan managed to churn out not only Bloodhounds but also Richelieu and Honor of the Mounted in five days. Lon had a part in all of them and kept much closer company with his comrades for the remainder of filming. (Lon plays the aggressor in another wild landscape with William S. Hart in Riddle Gawne, right. This film in 1919, after years of struggle, would help tip Lon over the edge in popularity before The Miracle Man solidified his fame).

James Cagney: actor, dancer... poet??? Yes, indeed. A tough guy on screen, James had a much more artistic bent in his private life. In addition to enjoying the relaxation that painting brought him, he too was a veritable wordsmith. Years spent with his nose buried in books had equipped him with quite the vocabulary and an ability for melodic recitations. He carried a notebook with him that he often scribbled in, doing the random couplet, limerick, or verse. His areas of lyrical expertise ranged from agricultural appreciation, social preponderance, and aesthetic enjoyment-- Joan Blondell was flattered to hear an original Cagney penned in honor of what he described as her perfect caboose. Occasionally, the poems were comical. Jim had a sudden burst of inspiration when riding in the car one day with his wife, Willie. The two came to a red light, and Jim noticed friend and constant co-star Humphrey Bogart sitting in his own car coming from the opposite direction... picking his nose. Bogie picking a boogey? It was too much for Jim to resist. The next day when Bogie came to work, he found the following verse on his dressing table: "In this silly town of ours,/ one sees odd primps and poses,/ but movie stars in fancy cars/ shouldn't pick their famous noses." Jim received no reply. Not every artist is appreciated in his time. (The duo stand left in The Roaring Twenties).

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Is it true that "the song remains the same" if played to a different tune? You decide whether The Way We Were can still outdo What Might Have Been:

Marlene and John Gilbert take on the town.

Marlene Dietrich is remembered in cinematic history as being a stone cold... fox. Yet, off screen, her character was much softer and more maternal than any of her performances could have relayed. She would only play a mother once, in Blonde Venus, despite the fact that "mom" was her favorite role in her personal life. Her natural inclination to nurture soon enough drew her to none other than fallen angel John Gilbert. When Lewis Milestone alerted her over dinner that his neighbor, the handsome Jack, was out of work, melancholy, and just doors away, Marlene-- who strongly adhered to the "no man left behind" mentality-- marched up to his house and announced, "John Gilbert, I have come to save you." The stunned heartthrob made no dispute. In addition to enjoying a romantic affair, Marlene also vowed to kick-start Jack's stalled career by insisting that he be cast opposite her in Knight without Armour. It would have been something to see these two lovers together on screen. Sadly, Jack passed away on Jan. 9, 1936 before production was started, so Greta Garbo maintains the reputation of his greatest screen lover (both on and off). Marlene was devastated at Jack's passing and lit votive candles beneath his picture in memory for several months afterward. Yet, she did not hold it against the debonair Robert Donat when he later took on the role of A.J. Fothergill in Knight. In fact, Marlene turned her mother instincts on him as well. When he became ill, production threatened to have him replaced. Again, Marlene stepped in and insisted that the film be postponed until its leading man was better, or else she too would walk. The brass took the bait, and after the grateful Robert recuperated, Marlene toasted his return.

Robert Donat plays Marlene's Knight without Armour,
 though in life she was the hero.

Despite her brazen, business savvy ways, Marlene too hit some rough patches. In these times, she was resilient enough to take care of herself, but it was always nice when a helping hand was extended in her direction. Such was the case when it came time to cast Destry Rides Again (left). At this time, Marlene was suffering a dip in popularity, having just been labeled as box-office poison alongside soul sisters Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford. While she still remained adored by fans, love wasn't money, and she needed a great role to re-establish her box-office clout and fill her always dwindling bank account. Luckily, Joe Pasternak had had his eye on her since her silent film and stage days in Germany. He lobbied for her in Destry, despite the fact that the studio wanted Paulette Goddard. Fortune was on Marlene's side, because Paulette turned out to be "unavailable." Marlene got the role, and her "come back" resulted in a box-office sensation-- one of the many films to make 1939 the eternal year of movies. Befittingly, Marlene and Paulette never really got along, especially after Paulette married Marlene's good friend, writer Erich Maria Remarque. Marlene saw him little after the nuptials, but while Paulette may have gotten her pal, Marlene got her career back.

Paulette Goddard could definitely pull off the femme fatale,
but she was no match for Marlene.

George Burns had been acting in movies for over 45 years by the time he was cast in The Sunshine Boys. Co-starring Walter Matthau (together right), this film was a precursor to the aging frenemy films that Walter and Jack Lemmon would make later, such as Grumpy Old Men. In Sunshine, the two heroes are old-- and I do mean old-- show business partners, whose days in vaudeville made them stars in their own time but leave them forgotten in present day. However, an opportunity to earn some bookoo bucks and regain former glory comes when they are offered a performance on a television special. The reunion is an unwelcome one, as the two curmudgeons can't stand each other. Chaos ensues.  The brilliant comic sparring of George and Walter made the film a surprising hit for a world continually described as youth-centric. George with his dry, crotchety delivery, even won an Academy Award for his performance-- a first for a man of 80. This was a very moving moment in his life, particularly since he was not even slated to star in the film originally. In the beginning, his good friend, the much beloved Jack Benny, was to play Al Lewis, but sadly Benny was in poor health and could not accept the project. After making some initial screen tests with Walter, Benny backed out to rest and hopefully recuperate. Always a gentleman, he recommended his friend George for his abandoned role, which George of course accepted. Not long after, Benny passed away. Thus, when George accepted his long-awaited Oscar, he accepted it not only for himself, but on behalf of his dear, departed friend, without whom he never would have embraced the long-awaited statuette.

George Burns and Jack Benny make beautiful music together.

The Thin Man is a perfect example of the little movie that could. Based upon the mystery novel by Dashiell Hammett, it was given a modest budget by MGM and was ranked during production as a simple B-feature. Always up to the challenge, director W.S. Van Dyke was able to churn out the comedy classic in the allotted two weeks, but even more impressive than his economy was his casting palette. The dynamite combo of William Powell and Myrna Loy as the playfully bickering Nick and Nora Charles (left) remains one for the ages. Though the two had performed together before, in Manhattan Melodrama, their chemistry reached true perfection once they started pulling punches amidst the hilarity of murder and marital discord. Their onscreen relationship was amplified by their offscreen friendship, and a mutual trust and affection would bring theaters-goers their first glimpse of a modern marriage: oozing sarcasm, often drunken, and forever in love. The pairing too became a triple threat when dog Skippy was added to the mix as Asta, who would become yet another beloved dog performer in the ranks of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. But this hysterical family was almost broken up when William became ill with cancer, which took him off the screen for a year and put a wrench in Thin Man sequels. Because MGM didn't want to lose money on wasted time, they considered replacing William in the continuing series with another actor. Both Melvyn Douglas and Reginald Gardner were considered. Luckily, the studio didn't follow through. The magic of Nick and Nora couldn't be duplicated by anyone other than Bill and Myrn'. After William recuperated, he returned to his favorite cinematic wife with their reign through six Thin Man films never interrupted.

Keep your paws off: this trio's built to last.

Some Like It Hot has been hailed by many as the greatest comedy of all time, which is ironic considering that behind the scenes there was nothing but drama. Most of this centered around the forever conflicted and perpetually late Marilyn Monroe (right), but even Billy Wilder admitted that all the pain was worth it when he saw the rushes. The great comic teaming of handsome cad Tony Curtis and the devilishly absurd Jack Lemmon perfected the onscreen chemistry, and smaller character roles were filled out synchronously by George Raft and Joe E. Brown. It turned out to be a motley match made in Heaven. Who could imagine a better outcome? It is fortunate for continuing audience members that Billy Wilder did not go with his original casting idea for Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne: Danny Kaye and Bob Hope. Some like it not. While definitely superb in the funny department, this duo would not have delivered the same edge nor the necessary sexuality that made the film such a hit. The more youthful albeit worldly interpretations of Tony and Jack definitely turned up the heat in the script. Billy soon latched onto Jack Lemmon after seeing some of the upcoming actor's work, and after Tony campaigned for the role of Joe and proved his acting ability in Sweet Smell of Success, he too was put in heels. Yet, even then, the pairing was in jeopardy. Billy knew he needed a star to bring in an audience, so when Frank Sinatra considered edging in on the role of Jerry/Daphne, the production was put on hold. Thankfully, the macho Sinatra decided that his image wouldn't survive a picture in which he dressed in drag, and the role was gladly handed back to Jack. As for the role of Sugar Kane, originally Mitzi Gaynor was slated to be the one "runnin' wild" with her ukulele, but having "Marilyn Monroe" on the marquee was a better guarantee for revenue. Marilyn had her reservations about playing another dumb blonde, but despite their experience together on The Seven Year Itch, Billy talked her into it. One of Hollywood's finest directors, he was able to maintain control of his haywire film, even with the infamous Black Bart (Paula Strasberg) lurking around set, though handling Marilyn the woman was a chore no one could accomplish. Nonetheless, the film was a sensation, and Marilyn won the Golden Globe for her endearing performance. Thank movie Heaven!

As fate would have it: apparently Sinatra had the pipes,
but lacked the stems. Tony and Jack rocked stilettos
 and made it work.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

STAR OF THE MONTH: Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich is one of those incredibly annoying people who makes everything look easy. From her flawless appearance and sense of fashion, to her unparalleled career on the silver screen and on the stage, to her tireless efforts and ceaseless energy, to the inexplicable way she could attract the opposite sex (or her own), the woman always seemed to get what she wanted. But, "seem" is the key word here. While fans may be hypnotized by her infectious persona and sultry sensuality, there was much work that went behind the make-up. The dignified, impenetrable force of Dietrich's strength-- the core of her integrity-- is the true source of her allure, and why her camera-beloved face remains as well-known and worshipped today as it did during her Hollywood reign. With Marlene, we are always "falling in love again." We can't help it.

Marlene Dietrich

Marie Magdalene Dietrich, nicknamed "Leni," was born in Schoneberg, Germany just outside Berlin on December 27, 1901. From the beginning, it was clear that the child was special, if only because of her exceptional beauty, which every passer-by seemed to comment on. But there was something else to Leni. She was not studious and obedient like her elder sister "Liesel". While she did adhere to her parents' rules and learned early about responsibility and cleanliness, there was too a bit of mischief brewing within that was just waiting to erupt. Leni never connected with her father, Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, who was an imperial officer, but rather watched him curiously from afar. She bonded more with her mother, Josefine Felsing-- of the clockmaker family-- from whom she learned a love of cooking. One piece of education that Leni did not grasp was this concept of "gender roles." Her mother's need to keep up the household and her undeterred respect for her husband-- despite his philandering and slow decent from public dignity-- was at once embraced and refused by her youngest daughter. Leni could accept the duty but shirked the lack of freedom. After her father died-- probably from syphilis, though the girls were told it was from a heart attack-- Leni was parted even more from her understanding of male authority. She never completely learned to open herself up emotionally to any man. There was always a distance, a misconception, and a space she needed to live in to feel safe. She was eternally conflicted. Her need to adhere and rebel would be forever ingrained in her subconscious. 

While sister Liesel excelled at school and went on to become a teacher, Marlene-- as Leni was now more glamorously calling herself-- was not so inclined. She received good marks, but had no use for education outside of violin lessons and French class, which she loved. When her favorite French teacher was forced to leave the country when WWI commenced, Marlene had her first taste of war, her first taste of the prejudice it brings, and her first taste of poverty. Her single mother worked hard to keep her girls clothed and fed, but eating potatoes and turnips day after day was unbearable, though as a well-behaved child, Marlene knew never to complain, even when every one in town's skin started turning yellow from the forced diet. Marlene insisted that her skin alone maintained its glorious, porcelain glow-- already she was building a legend for herself. The lack of dairy products also led an older Marlene to believe that the continuous bone breaks she suffered were due to her poor childhood nourishment and lack of calcium. She would never forget these days: not for their want nor for her mother's courage in pulling them all through. Thankfully, Josefine was able to attract the attention of a new husband, another army officer, Lt. Eduard von Losch, who gave the new family firmer legs to stand on and plenty of money to survive. He would too die early, leaving Marlene fatherless yet again, but he did not leave his grieving widow destitute, thank heavens.

A young Marlene in her Weimar years.

As a teen, Marlene decided that she was going to be an artist: a musician. She studied music in Weimar, however, she suffered a tendon inflammation in her wrist that brought her dreams of playing the violin to an end. Her next idea was to become an actress. When she wasn't accepted at the Max Reinhardt Drama School, Josefine must have breathed a sigh of relief, but that wasn't going to stop her Leni. Unlike Liesel, Marlene liked attention. Despite her mother's protestations that she should be more ladylike and demure, Marlene could not deny that she enjoyed capturing male glances and dressing a bit more colorfully. Her ability to put clothes together came from her grandmother, who passed on her own talent for fashion composition. Living in a country that was bereft of the majority of its men only instigated Marlene further in her independence. Weimar women learned to fend for themselves: and Marlene was not going to give that up when the boys came home. She enjoyed engaging in romances with them, though. Her intense sexual passions were born early, and she honestly penned her attraction to both sexes in her diary. While she may have been nursing a crush on screen hero Henny Porten, it would be Rudolf Seiber aka "Rudi" who earned her love and loyalty. After doing some modeling, scoring some small roles in plays and silent films-- such as her debut, The Little Napoleon-- Marlene met her soul mate when auditioning for an extra job on Tragedy of Love. With so many beautiful girls in attendance, she nearly went unnoticed until Rudi caught a glimpse of her bright, green gloves. He cast her in the small role of Lucie, wherein she stole the show-- with her monocle an boa-- and Rudi's heart.

After the duo was married on May 17, 1923, Marlene quickly became pregnant with their first and only child. She took to mothering like a duck to water, and at first thought of giving up the stage to nurture her little Maria. This is symptomatic of much in Marlene's character-- there was always a divide between her natural sense of duty to the ideals of her mother and her own desires. Needless to say, the state of domestic bliss did not remain entrancing. Submission was never in the cards for Marlene, particularly to a man. Thus began one of the most unconventional families in Hollywood history. Marlene and Rudi's physical relationship came to an end, though they remained husband and wife until his dying day. Their mutual love and respect remained, they were best friends, but Marlene needed her freedom, and Rudi was forced to give it to her. While both enjoyed sexual relationships outside the marriage, with Rudi taking in his permanent mistress, dancer Tamara Matul, and Marlene accruing a great number of her own lovers, it seems that it was the absence of sex with each other that was the saving grace of their marriage. They were friends, business partners, and parents. Maria thus grew up with three parents, including Tami, and whatever random "Uncle" or "Aunt" Marlene brought around. While Marlene continued pursuing her career, taking roles on stage and in films-- most of which she would refuse to remember in her later years-- Rudi supported her decision and acted as a business advisor to her. Yet, it would be another man who would truly advance her career.

Marlene eclipses the man who won the first Academy Award for Best Actor, 
Emil Jannings, in the film that made her a star: The Blue Angel.

Josef von Sternberg was commissioned to make Germany's first talking picture in 1929, quite the compliment. The Jewish filmmaker from Vienna actually came to Berlin from the United States, where he had been working and building up experience from the editing room to finally the director's chair. While not initially ecstatic about being re-teamed with the ornery Emil Jannings for The Blue Angel-- having worked with him previously on his Academy Award winning performance in The Last Command-- Josef could not turn down this career coup. Finding the girl to portray the desirous and dangerous Lola Lola from the Heinrich Mann novel Professor Unrat (The End of a Tyrant) was another problem all together. With many actresses coming at him for the plum role, Josef was dissatisfied with all of them. Then he happened to catch a glimpse of Marlene on stage in "Two Bow Ties," ironically when sizing up co-star Hans Albers. He would indeed cast matinee idol Hans in the film, but it was a surprise when he called Marlene in for a screen test. She was so certain that she had no chance, due to the disinterest Josef had shown her in their past meeting, that she came to set unprepared and without costume. Her indifference and outright antipathy worked to her benefit, because Josef was completely fascinated with her. Her devious and sensual quality came through in her test wherein she sang, "You're the Cream in My Coffee." Her attitude, allure, and ability to speak fluent English (which was needed, as they would be filming two versions of the film for universal release), in addition to her legs, won her the coveted role. She became a sensation in Germany overnight, though the United States would not catch a glimpse of Lola Lola until after Marlene made her first American film. 

Marlene grabs America's attention, and Gary Cooper's, in Morocco.

The Paramount scouts came calling, after it became apparent that Marlene-- an unknown-- had stolen the film from the incomparable Emil Jannings. She and Josef were brought to Hollywood, and she was forced to temporarily leave Rudi and Maria behind. She was put to work on Morocco opposite Gary Cooper where she strolled on camera in a top and tails and sent shock waves through the nation. Audiences loved it: her beauty, her ambivalence, her modernity. Women started wearing trousers and copying Marlene's in-control swagger. The English version of The Blue Angel soon debuted in the US, and shortly thereafter the German version was re-released to rave reviews. Marlene was a star, and a star of her own variety. At first, she was pegged as the German answer to Greta Garbo. No, no. She was "Dietrich," and there was no other. Morocco would earn her her first and only Oscar nomination, and she would continue teaming with Josef von Sternberg on the films that would establish her early Hollywood identity. Josef was hard on her, demanding, insulting, tyrannical, but-- at least at first-- Marlene did not argue or stand up to him. She could not deny the results. She studied the way she was lighted and perfected her makeup to give her the soft and ethereal beauty that wonderfully contrasted the morally questionable characters she portrayed. She was both beauty and the beast; unable to be trusted but unable to be resisted. Androgynous, mysterious, warm, yet detached. From Morocco to Blonde Venus, to The Shanghai Express, to The Devil is a Woman... while Josef's films were often lacking in interesting plot, they were rich in scenery. His mise en scene, frame compositions, and the beauty with which he filmed his favorite actress made his movies aphrodisiacs to a hungry, salivating public. They too made Marlene Dietrich a star.

However, in time, Marlene outgrew Josef and his controlling tantrums. She had learned all she needed to know and could control her image without him. Josef returned mistakenly to Europe, and Marlene remained in America. However, despite her savvy business sense, she had sticky fingers, and often spent money she didn't have on herself and family, basically becoming the breadwinner after Rudi, Tami, and Maria joined her in the U.S. This forced her hand, and she had to accept less than stellar roles in films that weakened her appeal and reputation. Yet, she stuck with it, even after she was labeled box-office poison. The faith of Joe Pasternak brought her back to the limelight in Destry Rides Again, and she reached the closest she would come to acting genius when friend Billy Wilder cast her in Witness for the Prosecution. Through it all, whether her films were flops or not, she maintained audience loyalty, and her public appearances brought out crowds in droves. Her bed was never cold either, and her list of lovers allegedly included everyone from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, John Wayne, Mercedes de Acosta, Jimmy Stewart, and Jean Gabin-- the only man who came close to stealing her from Rudi. To her lovers and friends, she was part vixen and part mother hen, cooking her mother's favorite recipes for those she took a liking to and making her special soup for anyone who seemed ill. She too had a knack for re-arranging closets. Her crews loved her, for despite her growing fame and her need to control her own lighting and wardrobe, she was friendly and accommodating. She was a pro who came to set knowing her lines and ready to work with the team. When she felt one of her co-stars or someone on crew was being mistreated, she would simply walk off until things were set right.

Marlene entertains the boys during WWII. She considered it one of the most 
enriching and important acts of her life.

This heroic part of her nature is her most compelling feature. Though her acting is something to behold-- at times brilliant, at times hammily overdone-- it is not her film work so much as her persona that makes her a lasting fascination. Marlene time and again lent her strength to those in need, to those weaker than herself, or to those who did not possess her same go-get-it attitude. While men like Ernest Hemingway and Noel Coward were drawn to her beauty and intellect, they were enveloped by her warmth, which was far-reaching. She made a direct point to try to save the life of John Gilbert after his career had plummeted, and in addition to being a guiding force that reunited him with his daughter, a grateful Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, she too took him out in public and tried to get him working again. It was a valiant effort sadly failed. She would mourn his passing deeply but remained a caring mother figure to Leatrice. Most noteworthy are her efforts during the war. Marlene was vocal from the beginning that her home country was being enveloped by madness, and she forsook her homeland to become a grateful American citizen. She pressured America to get invested in WWII before anyone would admit such horrors could touch us, and after we did, she became one of the soldiers' favorite entertainers. She would generally enter on stage by slipping one of her famous legs through the curtain, then use her musical talents to sing a wartime favorite, such as "Lili Marleen," or play the musical saw. She went uncomplainingly without her usual glamour to bring peace to men fighting a battle she found all too familiar to that of her youth. When she traveled in a one woman show in her later years, many of these boys returned to see her back stage and thank her for what she had done.

Marlene stuns Tyrone Power with her stems in Witness for the Prosecution.

Whatever personal pains or torments Marlene possessed, she always kept hidden behind her exquisite mask of professionalism and personality. As she aged, the softness of her beauty gave way to a hardened look-- the result of pulling her skin back beneath her wig-- that turned her into somewhat of a caricature of her former self, yet a still beloved one. After scoring in Stage Fright, A Foreign Affair, and Judgment at Nuremberg-- for which she had to give the painful "we did not know" speech that she did not agree with-- Marlene slowly faded from the silver screen. She embraced the stage of her youth, touring with Burt Bacharach or playing to packed houses in Las Vegas. However, despite the fact that she defied her own age, she could not escape it. Repeated falls and broken bones, which she always ignored in order to continue the show, caught up with her. A dependence on pain pills and alcohol too took their toll. After her husband Rudi died, Marlene became further despondent, especially as her always loving but complicated relationship with her daughter suffered. She ended her days alone, hiding from the world, and bedridden, too ashamed to show the world that the beauty they had so long counted on had faded. Friends like Billy Wilder or Doug Fairbanks, Jr. would try to call and cheer her only to be met with a fake French accent insisting that she wasn't there. Marlene had always insisted that she would die young. She would live to be 90, passing away on May 6, 1992. She wanted to be buried in her beloved Paris and, always conscientious, wanted to be placed in a cemetery next to a nice restaurant, so her visitors would have somewhere to eat. She was instead sent home to lie near her mother Josefine in Berlin. Her homecoming was warmly welcomed by locals, some of whom during the war years had shunned her and had even spat at her when she returned post WWII to perform. Time had healed those wounds; she re-emerged as an international hero. After spending a life away from her native soil, Marlene was finally home.

Quintessential Dietrich: taken while filming Seven Sinners.

Marlene's last screen appearance was in Just a Gigolo, an error in judgement perhaps, but a necessary one considering the spending habits that had left her a bit destitute. She demanded to appear with a veil covering her face to mute her age. She was reluctant, nervous about appearing on camera in less than her usual top form. Members of the crew were surprised at first to see the frail, 75-year-old woman exiting her dressing room-- they had spent their lives worshipping a much more vibrant Marlene on the screen. But, as always, she did not disappoint. After taking one look at herself in a full length mirror, Dietrich emerged. Her confidence and poise in tact, she went to set and belted her heart out one last time for the cameras, leaving not a dry eye in the male-packed house. That was Marlene, and that is the Marlene we still see. She refused to ever disappoint her audiences, but doing so required her to forever meld with the image of a tempting, unattainable siren. Never a great "actress," she still leaves us in awe. Never a great singer, she still lures us to dangerous yet inviting waters. Josefine once called her, "my little soldier." So she was. So she remains.