1930s Film, Star Profiles

Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)

Image result for stella dallas imdb

Barbara Stanwyck is known for many roles: from her Pre-Code days up until her part in the popular 1960s Western television show The Big Valley, she could do it all.

There’s a role of hers which I feel is often overlooked and totally underrated: the titular character in Stella Dallas (1937).

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Stella Dallas is the story of a young lady named Stella Martin, who’s in love with a formerly wealthy factory mill owner named Stephen Dallas (John Boles). She’s of lower class status but desperately dreams of upper class living.

The film is set in post-World War I Massachusetts. Stephen is in mourning: his father has committed suicide after losing his fortune. After falling out of high society, Stephen aims to regain his fortune and then marry his fiancee. But when news comes of his fiancee marrying another man, Stephen and Stella marry.

Once they’re married, Stella quickly falls into a bad pattern. She loves to socialize and meet high society people, but she often goes overboard. Embarrassed by her behavior, Stephen pleads with Stella to return to her more humble roots and become more refined. Within the first year of their marriage, she gives birth to a daughter named Laurel. Immediately after returning from the hospital–baby in arms–Stella begs Stephen to let her go to a party. He refuses to let her go, but she argues and finally gets her way.

We see the years progress through Laurel’s growth. Once she becomes a young lady, we see actress Anne Shirley enter the picture. Shirley did a great job portraying the Dallas’ daughter. By the time she appears onscreen, we see Stella and Stephen’s marriage dissolving. Eventually the split becomes permanent. Laurel lives with her mother and visits her father on occasion. She loves both of them; however, her relationship with Stella becomes a bit strained once she begins socializing with her peers in her teenage years. She befriends kids in more refined circles and falls in love with a young man who comes from a wealthy family. Adding to the pressure, Stella’s behavior is becoming more and more vulgar, causing Laurel to push her mother into the shadows.

To put a further strain on the situation, Stephen runs into his ex-fiancee, who has a family. They quickly become reacquainted and fall in love all over again. And the story goes on, and the tears begin to fall.


Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times but she never won one in her long and successful screen career. Stella Dallas was the first role that she was nominated for an Oscar. Luise Rainer took the Oscar home that year for her role in The Good Earth (1937).

Stanwyck’s role in this film is a little reminiscent of some of her roles in the early ’30s. She was one of the queens of the Pre-Code era. Stanwyck often played nitty gritty characters in her early Hollywood days.

As shown in the clip below, Stella tries her best to raise her daughter but she doesn’t always make great decisions. Her husband disapproves of the company she keeps, seeing them as a rowdy crowd. She’s so natural in her performance:

As the movie progresses, Stella seems to get zanier by the minute. I think that’s mostly due to the fact that we – the audience – are seeing her through the eyes of a growing Laurel. Laurel is surrounded by friends from “respectable” families and feels a great deal of pressure from that. She loves her mother so much, but she decides to make some tough decisions that hurt them both.

Throughout it all, Stella actually does grow. She remains “different” in her ways, but she makes a tough realization and a noble decision by the end of the film. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I highly recommend watching it to find out what I mean.

Don’t watch this scene if you don’t want the end of the film spoiled. If you do want to watch it and you’ve never seen it before, I will now allow Ms. Barbara Stanwyck to rip your heart out:

 

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Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Celebrating Ruby Keeler: “Gold Diggers of 1933” ☆

August 19, 2016: Ruby Keeler Day for TCM’S Summer Under the Stars

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(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

1933 was an amazing year for Hollywood…. It was an especially amazing year for a young lady named Ruby Keeler. Today, the name Ruby Keeler is a name that is nearly forgotten, save for classic film fans-particularly those who are hardcore fans of 1930s Warner Bros. musicals. Ruby found herself a film star when she appeared in not one, but three, major Hollywood musicals that year: 42nd StreetFootlight Parade, and…

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Ruby Keeler portrayed Polly Parker in Gold Diggers of 1933, which was Ruby’s second film; it was released just two months after her star-making debut in 42nd Street. Gold Diggers of 1933 was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and the musical numbers were created and directed by one of my personal favorite icons of classic film, Busby Berkeley.

Polly is the true ingenue of the film. From the get-go, we are introduced to Polly and her friends: Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (played hilariously by Aline MacMahon), and Fay (Ginger Rogers).

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Top to Bottom: Polly (Ruby Keeler), Carol (Joan Blondell), and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)

Carol is a torch singer, Trixie is a comedienne, and Fay is the beauty who is wicked sassy and often rivals the other girls; they bicker a lot. Polly (Ruby Keeler) finds herself falling in love with the boy next door, an aspiring songwriter and singer who often croons to her from his piano across from their window. Letting Trixie know that she’s smitten, Trixie reminds her that she’s only known Brad (Dick Powell) for two weeks, but Polly insists that two weeks is more than enough to fall in love with someone. Is this a true notion? Make the decision for yourself:

They are all showgirls on the stage, but they find themselves out of work by way of the Great Depression. After the opening number “We’re In the Money”, we see the show that they are rigorously rehearsing for is being closed. After accepting unemployment and no foreseeable future of success, the girls quickly find out from Fay that Barney Hopkins, the producer of the show they were supposed to be in, has a new show that he’s going to be producing.

Hopkins pays a visit to the girls at their apartment and brings great hope and then disappointment to them, as he announces that he has a great idea for a new show but no means of money in order to produce it. Brad suddenly jumps up and promises that he’ll supply the $15,000 to fund his play but he refuses to perform in it, which sends up a red flag for the girls and Hopkins. They believe Brad is fooling them about the $15,000, which leaves Polly especially upset. They can’t figure him out and become skeptical of his intentions.

The next day, Brad pulls through and supplies the money -in cash – much to everyone’s relief.

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(courtesy of movpins.com)

The show goes forward, but the girls are still skeptical about him. Why won’t he appear in the show when he is clearly more talented than its male lead? They put pieces together and come to the conclusion that he must be a criminal and that he is trying to keep his name and face out of the public eye. However, the truth is that Brad is the son of a millionaire. The rest of his family rejects the idea of his interest in being in the theater business, believing that it is a cheap and dishonorable profession to pursue.

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Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon) find reason to believe that Brad is a criminal in hiding.  (photo courtesy of movpins.com)

However, when the male lead hurts himself right before the curtain opens on opening night, Brad is forced to go on in his place, as he’s the only one who can perform the part. He receives notice from the public and critics and lands on the next day’s newspaper. He and Polly also enter into a romantic relationship and the rest of the girls come around to liking him.

Here are a couple of clips from Polly and Brad’s first musical number together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the whole number, so here are two great fragments:

Enter Brad’s family: They find out what he’s up to and decide to visit him immediately in order to stop his involvement in the theater and with a “cheap chorus girl”. Brad’s brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William, always a welcome face in Pre Code films) and the family lawyer Fanuel H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee, hilarious as always) make the trip to find and reform Brad.

Well, instead of finding Brad or Polly, they first come into contact with Carol (Joan Blondell) and believe that she is Polly. Trixie (Aline MacMahon) is with her and without having to say a word to each other, they both decide to play a little prank on the men who believe that “Polly” is a trampy chorus girl who can just be sent away with money. Realizing that these rich men are trying to tell off the wrong girl, they make it a game and become comedic gold diggers, seducing them in a turn of total irony.

Once Polly (Ruby Keeler) learns about the trick, she plays along and pretends to be Carol. Along the way, she proves that she is a nice and respectable girl, leading J. Lawrence Bradford to believe that his brother should instead fall in love with her. Hmm.

I leave the plot there, though. For those who may have not watched it yet (and have read up until this point), I don’t want to give it all away!

If you haven’t watched Gold Diggers of 1933, you really need to. The musical numbers are phenomenal, the story is hilarious and engaging, the cast is amazing, and our Star of the Day, Ruby Keeler, is irresistibly adorable.


Now, Ruby Keeler’s dancing style is totally her own. While many people find her to be a not-so-great dancer who looks at her feet way too much, I find her style to be quirky and fun. Sure, compared to Eleanor Powell, she wasn’t quick and as coordinated, but she was so cute. I think her clunky style is really cool. She was a buck dancer, meaning that her style was much different from the style of most dancers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She meant to be clunky and it was more about rhythm and moving the lower part of the body.

Ruby even once said, “It’s really amazing. I couldn’t act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn’t the greatest tap dancer in the world, either.” She also said, “I was all personality and no talent.” Ruby, girl, I think you had talent. You were such an important figure during those years of The Great Depression. You were a bright face in a time of total unrest.

Here’s a nice tribute that was made for Ruby using clips from several of the musicals she appeared in during the 1930s:

If you have Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and have a Twitter account, I recommend joining the #TCMParty crowd on Friday, August 19th at 6:00 PM (EST) as Gold Diggers of 1933 will be airing then. The live-tweeting is always especially fun during Pre-Code Busby Berkeley musicals. Happy watching!


This post is a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. Click here to read the other entries for each Star of the Day.

1930s Film

The William Wellman Blogathon: “A Star is Born” (1937)

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Rural North Dakota, 1937: Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress, much to her family’s dismay. Her Grandmother (May Robson) is the only one in the family who supports her ambition. And she’s vocal about it. Right from the get-go, she defends Esther after her other family members tease her and she literally convinces Esther to take the train to Hollywood immediately.

So, off she goes to Tinseltown. It’s a wonderland filled with sun and, well, movies. Esther wastes no time.

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She finds a hotel and immediately goes in search of a career in the film business. She heads over to the Central Casting Corporation to figure out how to become a film extra. She’s greeted with a grim reality: Work in Hollywood is tough to find. The Central Casting clerk (portrayed by Peggy Wood, who would go on to play the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music) tells Esther: “You know what your chances are? One in a hundred thousand.”, to which Esther retorts, “But maybe I’m that one.” Soon after, she meets a lovable guy named Danny McGuire (Andy Devine) who just so happens to be an assistant film director. They hit it off and become fast friends. Danny gets Esther a gig as a waitress at a Hollywood party.

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Norman “turns up” at the party.

Esther and the audience soon meet the illustrious but troubled movie star Norman Maine (Fredric March). Esther first spots Norman at the Hollywood Bowl, who drunkenly attended a show with his insufferable girlfriend. Anyway, back to the party: Norman’s eyes practically light up at the sight of Esther. After pulling one of his usual drunken stunts, Norman plans on getting drunk at the party right away. But his attention soon turns completely to Esther. He helps her put dishes away in the kitchen but after one dish breaks, he basically says, “Screw it”, knocks the rest of the dishes onto the floor, and leads Esther outside to ditch the party. I’m not sure what happens after the party (I’m not sure anything does), but Norman drops her off at the hotel and decides he’s going to help get Esther a job as an actress.   astarisbornscreencap9

The next morning rolls around and Esther finds herself in a major Hollywood studio doing a screen test with the one and only Norman Maine. Nervous and innocent, Norman calms her fears and tells her she’s going to be great. The studio loves her. Esther signs a contract and becomes Vicki Lester, the rising star of Hollywood. Her first motion picture sees her co-starring with Norman. We see the dark side of Norman start to appear more prominently at this point. People are starting to notice Vicki Lester, but they’re starting to forget about Norman Maine. astarisbornscreencap14

We also see love blossoming. But is love enough to save Norman Maine from a declining career in movies? You’ve got to watch to find out.

Fredric March and Janet Gaynor are fantastic as an onscreen couple. Although both of them give great performances, I think March makes the biggest impact in the film. His performance is fascinating; much subtler (IMO) than James Mason’s Norman Maine in the 1954 remake. On a side note, I think Mason does a great job, as well. I just think Fredric March is even better in the role. astarisbornscreencap15

Since A Star is Born is in the public domain, you can find a handful of prints on YouTube, so it won’t cost you a thing to watch it. If you can’t already tell, I highly recommend watching it.

Special thanks to Now Voyaging for hosting this blogathon and congrats on hosting her first ever blogathon!

1930s Film, Star Profiles

Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers as Anti-Damsels in “Stage Door” (1937)

The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers lead an extraordinary ensemble cast in Stage Door (1937). The film was directed by Gregory La Cava, whose most famous and beloved film is the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, released one year before this film. Some of Hepburn’s and Rogers’ co-stars include Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller (who, by the way, was 14 years old. To the studio, she was 18), Gail Patrick, Adolphe Menjou, and Andrea Leeds.

.A group of hopeful young ladies live in a boarding house called the Footlights Club, a boarding house which has historically housed women who are aspiring actresses. Many of the ladies who live there are struggling to find a job. From the start, we–the members of the audience–are shown a fairly realistic portrait of show business.

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courtesy of doctormacro.com

Despite the hardships faced by these ladies, there’s a high level of energy contained within the house. Most of the time they just bicker with each other, but it’s really fun to watch. The script is so witty. And the cast is near perfection. Just to give you a glimpse, here’s the opening scene of the film:

Enter Terry Randall. Terry (Katharine Hepburn), unlike the other girls, comes from a very wealthy family. Acting is her passion. When she enters the Footlights Club, she has never even set foot on a stage. And her family is not so keen on seeing her chase this dream. So, there’s that. But Terry is a strong-willed girl and she’s determined to see what she can make of herself: she’s ready to face

Terry (Hepburn) and Jean (Rogers) face off from the beginning as new roommates. (courtesy of doctormacro.com)
Terry (Hepburn) and Jean (Rogers) face off from the beginning as new roommates.
(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

success and she’s ready to face failure. She just wants to figure it all out. She pays her rent and takes a room at the Footlights Club. And, to her luck, she’s rooming with none other than Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers), the cattiest woman in the house. After exchanging a few cracks with each other, Terry settles in for the long haul.

Having watched this film for a second time, I decided that the rocky friendship of Terry and Jean merits its own little post. Each lady is an ‘anti-damsel’ in her own way. Jean may be a bit hot headed and a total smart aleck, but she’s got a heart of gold underneath all of her tough talk. Terry turns out to be the perfect roommate for Jean because she balances her out well. She’s more of the calm, logical type but she can sure hold her own.

No matter how much they may fight and squabble, they do a great job of looking after each other’s well-being. By the end of the film, both young ladies face personal successes, failures, and a boardinghouse tragedy which rocks each and every girl in the Footlights Club.

I think it’s safe to say that each and every lady of the Footlights Club is an anti-damsel. But Jean and Terry, through their rough beginnings, make the strongest transformation of all. By the end of the film, their lives are changed forever.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) airs the film every so often, so be on the lookout. If you haven’t seen this one yet, I highly recommend it.

This post is included in the Anti-Damsel Blogathon hosted by moviessilently.com. Be sure to check out the other posts included in this Blogathon.