Like: Natalie Wood (1961)

August 5, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

The problem with dying under mysterious circumstances is that often people forget how you lived.

Natalie Wood is not regarded as one of our great actresses. In some ways I understand this as when compared to the heavy weights (Hepburn, Kelly, Monroe, etc) she just wasn’t quite on that level… but in another way, this makes no sense whatsoever. That’s because Natalie Wood was in some damn good movies.

We constantly think about how hr life was cut short, but in reality her career bridged three decades. She was a child star, a teen star, and finally an Adult Star (not that kind of adult, get your mind out of the gutter). And she made absolutely classic films at every stage. Seriously, why does no one talk about her more? She was in five bonafide classics: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET(1947) [she was the young girl!] REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) [opposite Dean in his defining film] THE SEARCHERS (1956) [Ford’s best film!]. WEST SIDE STORY(1961) [She was Maria for god’s sake!]  SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS(1961) [her sultry performance was lauded across the board and began the last stage of her glory years]. From there she took what she did in … IN THE GRASS and used that persona to string together some really good performances: GYPSY(1962) LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER(1963) INSIDE DAISY CLOVER(1965) THE PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED(1966) All great work.

You could make a joke that she was one of the first stars who “had talent, but an even more talented agent” and I can’t exactly argue with her luck. She was cast in movies that transcended generations. These are seminal movies that are still with us. I can remember seeing WEST SIDE STORY as a kid and then being shocked when I sat down to watch it a theater for film school. The cinematography in that film was off the charts good. Revolutionary even. But still, she was good. She got these parts for a reason. Perhaps Sydney Pollack said it best: “When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress.” The whole key being when she’s right for the part but isn’t that everyone. We get so few true chameleons in our movie stars (streep, day lewis, etc) that you have to recognize the ability of someone who merely “casts well.” Believe me, it’s a talent.

So here’s to Natalie Wood. Who cares how she died?

She’s a part of three decades of movie history and an integral part of some of the best films of all time.

That’s reason enough to care.

By the way, welcome to the 60’s.


Like: Ava Gardner (1946)

April 6, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

After a little bit of a diversion it’s time to get back to the mission statement.

Ava Gardner. Of all the people on this list, the “it’s not just who but when” convention applies to her the most. When would you have liked to meet Ava? The Sinatra days? The Howard Hughes days? On the set of MOGAMBO(1953)? On the set of EARTHQUAKE(1974)? There really are a litany of distinct times in her life and all of them feel so terribly different.

First off, I have to confess that I’m not really an “Ava Gardner Guy.”  I have seen a good deal of her films and have read a good deal about her life,  but  no singular thing has stuck with me in a sense of affection. But that’s not supposed to happen, right?  Everyone seems/seemed to be enamored with Ava. She was considered to be “simply darling” and the crush of every red-blooded male. Hell, Frank Sinatra always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and never got over his relationship with her. Sinatra!

… I don’t get it.

Yes, she’s unquestionably beautiful (but in many ways, no more so than many others I’ve covered in this series), but that’s not the issue. The problem is that I have no idea who Ava Gardner really is and  everything about her seems to be a contradiction.

For example, most of the descriptions of Ava sort of fall back on the banal adjectives we throw around with classic movie stars (and yes, I’m guilty of using many of them in this series. I have no way of defending that), and all the implications of the specific details seem to negate each other: Some considered her the model of grace. Some talked about how she drank and smoked like a fish. Some characterize her as a shameless flirt. Some say she wouldn’t give you the time of day. Some say she was kind to all.  Some say she was stuck up. Some said she was obsessed with her own image.  Some say she despised her fame and sought to avoid it. Some say she was distrustful of men.  Some talked about how she liked to hang out with the boys and apparently had the filthiest mouth you ever heard.

If you accept all of it at face value, she sounds like the most interesting person in the world. “Who is the real Ava Gardner? I must know!” and so forth.

Let’s go to some quotes (off IMDB. Not the most dependable, but I’m going with the ease of access here).

E.g.: “I have only one rule in acting — trust the director and give him heart and soul.” vs. “I can’t bear to face a camera. But I never brought anything to this business and I have no respect for acting. Maybe if I had learned something it would be different. But I never did anything to be proud of.” And later, “Although no one believes me, I have always been a country girl and still have a country girl’s values.” then “Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.

Granted, context and timing is everything and even though I’m making unfair side by side comparisons, you can see a point to it; a contradictory identity reveals itself. A lot of the problem is due to the fact that in later life Ava became extremely embittered by her Hollywood experience and resentful that her MGM contract forced her to star in mostly crap moves. She removed the filter and talked candidly in those later years, but by all accounts she was happy to engage in the fruits of stardom at the actual time.  In those later years she insisted that she hated and had no use for the spotlight but ALWAYS found herself in a string of relationships with the most famous of the famous: Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, you name it. Plus, a whole bunch of rumored of the record trysts with many, many famous men. She was even a queen of tabloid fodder (which would make anyone bitter really). I’ve always thought she had a lot in common with Angelina Jolie, who concurrently seems to have a love/hate relationship with her own fame. What’s apt is I have the same exact indifference to Jolie that I have to Gardner.

So who was Ava Gardner really? My educated guess is that she was a bit of a front runner. When the chips were down she was happy to be candid and had a certain knack for straight talking with a sense of humor. Even when there was genuine stuff behind her Hollywood appraisal you get the sense it might be more bitter than actual observation. And I realize this makes me seem like a judgmental jerk. Lord knows she had plenty of reason to be bitter and a lot of folks treated her pretty darn lousy. But I don’t think she handled the life of a movie star all that well. Maybe sometimes she could keep up the veneer, but sometimes let it get of her too.

In some ways she acknowledged it herself “Maybe I just didn’t have the temperament for stardom,” but the clear problem with that is that definitely Ava Gardner was  born to be a star. She just looked like a movie star. She had this wonderful sultry voice. She could hit all the right notes in scene and pose around a room with the best of them. And so many people loved her. Who knows? Maybe all those gentleman suitors and fans liked the contradiction. Maybe they wanted to go down the rabbit hole and meet the know the real Ava Gardner. I’m just not really sure there was one. I think she had a reactionary personality, in the sense that so much of her personality depended on the context of her given situation. Still, she was such a figure of the era that I HAVE to include her in this series. It’s just when I watch her performances I just so someone so… disinterested.

So that’s why I’m going with meeting Ava Gardner just after the release of THE KILLERS(1946).

It launched her career and she could have perhaps been at her most optimistic. I’m not saying I’d inherently like Optimistic Ava better, but it’s certainly the one I’d be more curious to meet.  This is all a silly projection of course so who knows? But I like the movie and I think they use her well in it (it also has this hilarious habit of dressing down all the female characters in these shlubby clothes and then dressing Ava up in some of the more reveal garb that 1946 would allow).

… And maybe it’s even more lame that that and I picked THE KILLERS because  it’s where she looks the prettiest.

I’m not really sure. It just feels like the right time. I have my doubts, but who wouldn’t have liked to meet Ava Gardner? And honestly If I got to meet Sinatra too I’d pick that era in a millesecond.

So goes our last lady of the 1940s. Next week, get ready for the 50’s.