Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Matinée

OK, it's Saturday.  As a kid growing up in Glenside, PA, I would walk to the Keswick Theatre every Saturday for the 50 cent matinée.  It didn't really matter what the feature was, it was always fun.

The Keswick was originally built for vaudeville and burlesque shows.  It is a large place, seating about 1,350, as per their web site.  There is no balcony, but the restrooms are in an upstairs lounge area.  It was quite an ornate place before it was modernized.  I only have memories of it with a drop ceiling, which hid the beautiful (but water damaged) plaster work.  The walls in the auditorium had fabric over the old walls, and huge, star shaped lights.  Everything was dark red in color.  Maybe they are working to bring back the original splendor.  There is nothing as thrilling as a completely restored old theater.

I understand that the original dressing rooms were downstairs, under the large stage.  There was plenty of room above the stage to fly canvas backdrops and curtains for the live shows, but a perforated aluminum screen was put downstage (to the front) when they added air conditioning and turned it into a movie house.  The air conditioning unit and the speaker system was then located on the stage, behind the screen.  That was the end of live shows.

One of my most memorable movies at the Keswick was Alfred Hitchcock's thriller, The Birds.  It was 1963, so I was thirteen.  I remember being so scared that I watched the movie from the aisle in the back of the theater, behind a glass partition!  I have The Birds on DVD, and it just isn't as scary now!

I took a look at IMDB and noticed that Doodles Weaver was cast as a fisherman in The Birds.  He had a very recognizable voice, and when he was with Spike Jones' Orchestra, he was everyone's favorite.  They show that he had 132 acting parts (movies and TV) in his career.  Fifteen of them were in 1944 alone!  It would be fun to put together all the movies and shows of one of these prolific bit part actors and watch them over the course of a year.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Who's in Gone with the Wind?

I wish that movie wasn't sooooo looooong!  Life at my house seems to be more active than I need it to be!  Every time we sit down to watch Gone with the Wind, I am able to get thru the first DVD, then it is bed time.  That has happened twice now.  As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry for the first DVD again!

Now, think about the talent that was assembled for this movie.  Not just the leads, or even the supporting cast.  There were hundreds of bit actors and extras.  I could probably say that I was one of the Confederate soldiers lying in the hospital scene and nobody could prove otherwise.  (I wasn't.)

Take a look at the cast listed on IMDB.  I found George Reeves listed as one of Scarlett's beaus, Stuart Tarleton.  I know he had one of the first lines of dialog in the film, even before Scarlett opened her mouth with "Fiddle-dee-dee."  If I get to the second DVD, I'll look for him again.  When Reeves later played Superman on TV, I was watching! 

Other notables in small roles in GwtW; Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, who was Jack Benney's servant on TV; Yakima Canutt, one of the greatest western stunt men in the movies; Charles Middleton had an extra part, just a year before he became Emperor Ming (the Merciless) on Flash Gordon.  I also found (and this is a stretch of my knowledge) Ann Bupp had an uncredited role.  Try to follow this...Ann's brother was Tom Bupp.  Tom played the store clerk in W. C. Field's great comedy, It's a Gift, and had a great part with Baby Leroy.  I love that movie.

It's fun to study how these films come together, and what is happening in the lives of the actors, great and small.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sons of the Desert

This is the first time I have tried creating a blog.  I guess the movie Julie and Julia started me thinking about it.  It is amazing how movies can influence your life...without you even realizing it.  I am finding this experience to be uplifting...and rather creative.  I use Google Chrome normally, but now I am on Internet Explorer because Chrome is causing some problems on my home computer.  The blue screen is a definite creative mood changer!

Right around the time I was thinking about getting married (the first time) I met some friends of my (now) ex-wife.  (BTW, my new wife is absolutely wonderful, and she is learning about these old movies, having a great time!  If you want to get married, start with your second wife.)  These friends were involved with The Sons of the Desert, an organization dedicated to Laurel and Hardy.  I started going to meetings and made more friends in the group.  Again, an experience like that really adds to your knowledge of movies.  Not just the movies and actors, but the entire process-sets, music, effects, editing-it is all fascinating.

The SOD would meet every month and we would watch movies (usually 16mm) and have drinks and pretzels.  Every year was the banquet and we would invite guests who were in some way involved with movies, preferably Laurel and Hardy movies.  I met many stars and spouses of stars over the years.  As I continue the blog, I will mention them and look over some pics I have, perhaps to post.  If this blog catches on, it may be going for a while, so I won't make the posts too long!

One experience I will never forget was early in the Keswick Theatre's re-birth as a performing arts center.  The local chapter of the SOD was invited to show some L&H movies at the theatre.  A feature was secured in 35mm, and they used their newly renovated projectors for that, but we also wanted to show some two-reelers, which we only had on 16mm.  I was able to rent two Graflex 16mm xenon arc-lamp projectors with the appropriate lenses to fill the screen in that huge 1300 person auditorium.  That was wonderful, being in the booth in the theater where I basically grew up.

Our bit actor today is...Grady Sutton!  Another long and distinguished career, spanning 1925 to 1979 with 228 credits on IMDB.  From silent films to rock and roll!  Grady was born in 1906 and lived until 1995.  I spoke with him once, but only on the phone.  My friend in the SOD received a call from him at his house, and Grady was at his home in California.  He was a very gracious man as I told him about the joy his movies had brought me.  Who can forget him in WC Field's The Bank Dick?  His wonderful Tennessee voice will ring in my memory forever.  Thank you, Grady, wherever you are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More about me...and Billy Gilbert

As I was saying...when I became an adult and had to go to work, I found myself selling cameras and photographic equipment.  This added to my understanding of the process of making movies.  I was later able to attend many Photo Marketing Assoc. trade shows and once went to Photokina in Cologne, Germany, the largest photo trade show in the world.

During that time, my friends included a projectionist named Ray.  That was in the early '70's, before theater owners figured out how to multiplex theaters and show 24 movies in one location.  The booth had two projectors and the operator had to changeover from one to the other when each reel of film ran out.  That's why older movies have those flashing white circles every once in a while, to tell the projectionist when to click the changeover shutter.  If you see one while watching an old movie on TV, count to ten and then you will see the second one.

They added a second theater, then more and more.  Since one projectionist couldn't handle more than one film, they came up with platters, where the entire movie is spliced together and laid flat, pulling the film from the center of one platter, then thru the projector, and finally wrapping it onto a second platter.  Now one projectionist could run all the films in a theater, being there only if a problem arose, like a broken film.  Eventually the theaters eliminated projectionists altogether and you now have manager/operators.  My friend's union was not happy!

Ray was a great guy.  He retired and moved down south somewhere and I have lost touch.  But we saw a lot of films for free, thanks to Ray.  More about me tomorrow.

Now for the bit actor of the day.  How's your memory?  What do you think of Billy Gilbert?  He lived from 1894 to 1971.  IMDB credits him with 222 appearances from 1929 until 1962.  That's a career.  Did you know he was paid an additional amount if he was required to sneeze in a part?  Actually, he did at least part of the voice of Sneezy in Disney's 1937 hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  He had another good role as the bartender in the Jimmy Stewart film, Destry Rides Again.  I became familiar with Gilbert during my long membership in The Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy organization.  He appeared in the only film L&H made that won an Academy Award, a short called The Music Box  Let's talk about that next time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A bit about me

This is only my second post to the blog, so here is some info about me.  I figure I will get this out of the way, since there are no followers on the blog yet.  If people are interested, they should be able to go back and find these early posts.

I was born in 1950.  Movies were quite sophisticated by then, with great movies like Sunset Boulevard, Cinderella, Born Yesterday, All About Eve, Winchester '73 (one of my favorites, with a bit part by Rock Hudson as Young Bull, a Native American!), and the film noir classic DOA.  These movies all had class.  They had intricate plots and great stars, as well as wonderful supporting roles and bit parts.  Of course, I was too young to know them first hand.

By the time I was able to follow the story of a simple movie, my parents would take the family to the theater.  Our local theater was The Keswick in Glenside, PA.  The building was designed by the same architect who designed the Philadelphia Art Museum.  When it eventually went out of business, it was saved from demolition by a community of people who turned it into a performing arts center.

About once a year, we would drive to New York for a show at Radio City Music Hall.  It was quite a treat to view North by Northwest at RCMH!  Plus, I loved the theater organ.

Back in the '50s, it was still safe for a young guy to walk to the movies every Saturday by himself, so of course, I did.  The Keswick had a Saturday matinee for 50 cents that included several cartoons, a two reel comedy (usually Laurel and Hardy or the Three Stooges), and then a feature.  Quite a bargain.

Things change as you grow up, and by my teen years model railroads and British cars took over my interests, but I always tried to get to the movies.  The Keswick was getting run down, but with a car, the new multi-plex theaters were plentiful and easy to get to.

Tomorrow I will tell you about my projectionist friend, and more about me.  For now, I hope you find this blog.  I have submitted the URL to Google for listing.  So far nothing comes up when you search.

All my best,


Monday, May 10, 2010

New blog about great bit part actors

Let's start a blog about all the bit part actors and the movies they made great! I will try to put in my two pence, and I hope others will find the site and continue the discussion. I would like to focus on classic movies including silent films, but I know that it may stray into newer arrivals...and that is all OK.

It may be hard to separate bit actors from stars, so let's keep it wide open. Think about people like Jack Albertson, who had a very important bit part in his third film, Miracle on 34th St. As you (hopefully) remember, he played the postal sorter who had the idea to empty all the dead letter storage by sending to the courthouse, all the mail addressed to Santa. In a very small part, he saved Kris Kringle from being committed to an institution. No bit actor, he!

My hope is that this will be informational, intelligent, bring back some memories, and most of all, be fun. I will share my knowledge and experiences with the few stars, and bit actors and actresses I have met, and I invite you to do the same.

If you have met a star (we'll call bit actors and extras "Stars" as well) please post. If you have had an interesting movie experience, please post. Blog about your interests and your favorite bit stars.

Let's see how this goes. ENJOY!