Women of History: Jeanette MacDonald

Author’s Note:  This was originally meant for two weeks ago but I had trouble writing it.  I’m still not very happy with the outcome, but it is complete.  I may revisit Jeanette in the future and rewrite this better.

In the United States, we celebrate our Independence Day on July 4th.  This month’s theme is going to be American women of history.    While Canada also celebrates Canada Day in the month of July, I’ll be doing Canadian women of history another month.

Our first WHO is Jeanette MacDonald.  Jeanette MacDonald is an American Actress from the 1930s.  About a decade ago, my grandmother and I, who liked to watch old classic films together, started watching operettas, in particular the ones done by Jeanette and her frequent Co-star Nelson Eddy.  We collected movies, stills and other things relating to Jeanette and Nelson.

Jeannette Anna MacDonald was born on June 18th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The year of her birth is somewhat of a mystery as different records say different things.  According to a baptismal record, the year of her birth was in 1903.  However, later in life Jeanette would change her name (dropping an n), and her year of birth (Saying it was 1907).  Even her gravestone lists the 1907 date, and her widower, Gene Raymond, would continue to insist it was 1907.  However, several sources now list the 1903 date as accurate. Continue reading

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Women of History: Katy Jurado

Authors Note: I apologize for any horrible Spanish used.  Most of my translations are either US Titles provided on IMDB or use of Google Translate as my Spanish is rusty.

Since it is May, and May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) is tomorrow we are going to have a theme of Mexican (or Mexican-American) Women of History for this month. Our first woman featured is Katy Jurado. Katy was a Mexican actress who eventually had a Hollywood career. Continue reading

Women of History: Hedy Lamarr

One of the people I wanted to write about when I started this essay series was a classic film star named Hedy Lamarr.  In fact I had to check to make sure I hadn’t written about her before.  ​

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria.  She was born into a jewish family, but was raised as a Catholic by her mother Gertrud.  Her mother was from Budapest and her father was Ukrainian, but she grew up in Austria in the years following the first World War.  She was an only child, adored by her parents, although her mother tried to be stricter to balance things out.  Her father inspired an interest in learning how things worked, while her mother inspired her artistic side, which focused on Acting rather than musician as her mother had been.

Early on, Hedy decided that acting was a career she was interested in, and worked purposely to get it.  She worked as a script girl (forging school absence slips so she could get the job), and small background parts before getting her big break in a 1933 film Ecstasy.  The film was controversial in the US, but seen as artistic in Europe.  For Hedy, it was a disillusionment of the shine of an acting career.  She had been only 18, and was tricked by the director and other crew members into close up nude scenes.

For awhile she considered not continuing, but the film got recognition and other roles were presented to her, and it had always been her dream to be an actress.  She continued to do stage work, which brought her to the attention of Friedrich Mandl, an Austrian arms merchant.  He was quite wealthy and charming and won Hedy over.

Hedy married Mandl on August 10, 1933.   He was 33 to her 18.  She found herself often attending parties and business meetings with her husband, who took to being overly protective and prefered to keep her at his side.  He had strong ties with the fascist government of Italy, as well as the Nazi government of Hitler.  Hitler and Mussolini would even attend parties thrown in the couple’s own home.

While acting remained her career, it was during this time that Hedy was introduced to applied sciences.  She would listen and learn during the business meetings and parties, her interest in how things work developed into learning as she listened to the others speak about weapons and the science that went into the development.

However, in 1937, Hedy decided she had enough.  She did not appreciate a life as a trophy wife for Mandl, and had become disillusioned with her own country.  She left her husband and Austria behind and fled to Paris.

It was in Paris that her life would change.  While she was there, she met MGM Studios head LB Mayer.  Mayer was impressed with her acting, and convinced her to join MGM, although with a stage name.  Hedy was no longer Hedy Kiesler – She became Hedy Lemarr.

Her first film in the United States was Algiers in 1938 opposite Charles Boyer.  She won over crowds with her talent and her beauty.  Unfortunately this also made it hard for her to get a variety of roles.

She was called the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in the World’, and her roles often relied on that reputation. She became the inspiration for Snow White and Catwoman because of her beauty. It did however leave Hedy bored, as her roles often came with little challenge to the actress type-casted into the role of the stunning foreign woman.  When not on set, she was able to focus her intellect on her hobbies-including inventing.

Hedy had no formal education when it came to inventing, just what she had learned from observing her first husband’s business meetings and what she had later taught herself.  However, she had caught the bug for inventing.  Some were flops – like a tablet that would make a glass of water into a carbonated beverage.  In the end it wasn’t much different then Alka-seltzer.

However, some of them were successful, and even well-known.  During the second war, Hedy had heard about issues that the military was having torpedo frequencies being interrupted by the enemy and sending their missiles off course. She already knew that her husband and other arms dealers supplying the Axis had been developing ways to jam the frequencies before she left Austria. She decided to work on the problem, and got her friend George Antheil, a music composer, to help her.  The two of them had been friends for several years and shared a strong need to help out the war effort.  Antheil was a composer, and was known for experimenting with different instruments and mechanical devices to create sound.  It was through the use of a piano roll that the two developed the idea for spread spectrum radio.   The idea was that sending out a signal that would ‘hop’ across several frequencies – known to the sender and receiver – would prevent someone from turning on the same frequency and jamming the signal from reaching its target.  They called this  “Secret Communications System.”​

They were successful, and patented their designs in August of 1942.  At the time, however, the importance of this invention was unknown.  Technology made it hard to implement and it was ignored or put on the back burner.  In fact, George Antheil, who died in 1959, would not live to see it in action.

However over the next few decades technology started to catch up with Hedy & George’s idea.  In the 1960s, the military had taken the idea and developed a version to use in their ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, twenty years after Hedy & George had patented the idea.  The full impact of spread spectrum radio would not be felt till a few more decades past and the internet started to grow.  It allowed for faster internet connections, and was the underlying work on which GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi were based on.

So you can thank Hedy Lamarr for many of the communications technology that we use every day, such as cellphones, the GPS in our car, using Bluetooth to talk handless through our phones or vehicles, and being able to have mobile internet available to tablets, laptops and phones without the need to have wires dragging behind us.

Hedy’s contribution to science and communication technology was not really recognized until the late nineties, when she received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award in 1997 for her invention.  SHe was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, four years after her death.

In her personal life, Hedy found more obstacles than success at times.  She would marry five more times, have three children, and even write her own memoir.  But she would also deal with increasing agoraphobia, discord with her children (in particular her eldest), and public scandals.  At one point she was rumored to have an addiction to prescription pills as well.  THe various depths of her problems depend on the source of the information. Hedy herself was a very private person, and even admitted later in life to not writing a truthful memoir.

Hedy died on January 19, 2000 at the age of 85.  She had lived long enough to see herself become a “classic film star” and see her invention finally be put to real use.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Hedy Lamarr 

Biography.com: Hedy Lamarr 

Women Inventors: Hedy Lamarr

The Official Hedy Lamarr Website

Anna Couey: How “The Bad Boy Of Music” And “The Most Beautiful
Girl In The World” Catalyzed A Wireless Revolution–In 1941
  (1997)

Women in STEM: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr: Inventor of Frequency Hopping

Orlando Sentinel: Court to Weigh Plea of Lamarr’s estranged son

Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy the Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world – Richard Rhodes (via Google Books)

Vanity Fair: How Inventive “Genius” Hedy Lamarr Became a Hollywood Tragedy

Smithsonian:  Team Hollywood’s Secret Weapons System

The Marketplace: The Story of Hedy Lamarr

The Atlantic: Celebrity Invention: Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communications System

 

To read more in this series, see the Master list

Remakes & Reboots and Film Fatigue

Yesterday I stumbled upon the reality that the movie Overboard is being remade.  Now, I was never a huge fan of the film, it was okay and I’d watch it if it happened to be on.  I have friends who are much bigger fans.  But I always figured it was one of those movies that had been left alone.  Till Yesterday.

It made me wonder at what point does a movie get to ‘remakable’ status?  Is there a time limit?  A quality level?  Perhaps nothing at all (and I’m starting to think this is the reality.)

They made the first Spiderman movie with Toby McGuire in it in 2002.  Since then, they have made 2 sequels, rebooted it, made a sequel to that one and rebooted it again.  All in 16 years.  At least with the latest guy, its because the ownership changed hands therefore contracts were different.

But seriously.  16 years, 6 movies (8 if you include Captian America: Civil War and the upcoming Avengers movie), 3 actors.  That is roughly a new Spiderman movie every 2-3 years and only a few are actually connected to each other.  Toby McQuire came out with one in 2002. 2004, and 2007.  Andrew Garfield got 2012 and 2014.  Tom Holland got 2017 (with 2016 (CA:CW) and 2018 (Avengers: Infinty Wars) as honorable mentions).

Seems a lot.  (Although I wish Tom Holland luck with the role.  He seems like a sweetheart.)

It makes the Star Trek reboot look like they took way too long (almost 50 years).

Of course there is Star Wars, creatively sourced as a continuation rather than a reboot.  They are using the same basic plots so I find the last series to be generally less impressive than the other two (yes, I’m a freak who loves the Prequels.  Not as much as the original trilogy, but I do love them).  I don’t want to watch The Original Trilogy with Anakin 2.0

The Mummy was recently remade, though I did not see this version due to an aversion of all things Tom Cruise.  Plus the Brendan Fraser Trio was a big part of my middle school years.  I don’t want to ruin them with whatever this new one is.  Which doesn’t appear to be anything like the 1932 original, or the Fraser 1999 remake.  So I’m not sure if it’s so much a remake as its “Hey, we got the rights to this film franchise and a budget, want to film?” type deal.

There are times I adore remakes.  It just seems that recently the board has been pretty flooded with remakes and reboots and sequels. And some of them run pretty close together.  I can understand a remake/reboot if enough time as passed (King Kong, Godzilla and Star Trek for example).  Book adaptations happen all time (Look up the many many many versions of Pride and Prejudice.  I did once.  I think there were thirty some at the time).  I just don’t get why I’m getting remakes/reboots of films that have been released since I was in high school.  Sure, its been over a decade but barely and still within memory.

At the very least a decade should be the minimum amount of time unless the movie was awful (ex. The Incredible Hulk movies.  We don’t talk about the Incredible Hulk movies).

I remember reading somewhere that someone had boiled down the general narratives of the world to about 6 storylines.  And that everything basically followed one of them.  But there are a million ways to be creative with a prompt.  Just look at any writing group and ask them their responses to a prompt.  You are bound to get a bunch of variety even with the same building blocks.

So I don’t think its a hard task to find something out there that is creative, even if its something old.  At least something not made in the last decade.  At the rate we are going, The day I turn 40, Harry Potter will be releasing its remake of A Deathly Hallows.

That being said…I’m probably going to be watching the new Overboard.  If only because the fact they genderswapped it sounds intriguing.

I believe I wrote about this before, but it was just a recent rant in my mind that needed to come out.  What are your thoughts on the matter?

In Memoriam: Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds is one of the actresses that always seemed to be there.  On one hand I knew her as Carrie Fisher’s mom, but I also knew her as a classic film actress.  I haven’t seen too many of her films, but her name being on the list was always a point in the favor of the film for me.

Besides the films, a friend and I had been writing various stories together and had come up with this character named Mama Todd.  Debbie Reynolds was our face for the character.

My favorite Debbie Reynolds movie was a bio-pic called ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’, where she played the titular character. Molly Brown is most known for surviving the Titanic.  Its actually one of my favorite classic films.

The Trailer:

Another favorite,and probably more well known, is of course Singin’ in the Rain where she plays Kathy, a singer who plays the voice of an actress when the movie is slated to become a talkie rather than a silent.

Of course the most known scene:

Another movie I recently saw of hers that I found hilarious was These Old Broads, and worth it for this scene:

 

Balalaika (1939)

Well, I missed one day out of the year already, but I’m going to just shrug that one up.  Its the holiday weekend, I can give myself a break.  Besides of all the things to worry about, posting on this blog is not going to be one of them.  But enough about that, lets go on to today’s actual post subject.

For this post, I decided I wanted to talk about one of my favorite classic films.  Balalaika is a 1939 musical based on stage musical produced a few years earlier.  It stars Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey.  It also has some notable character actors in the background including Charles Ruggles (The Grandfather in Parent Trap) and Frank Morgan (better known as the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz).

The plot of the movie is an interesting alternative history of Russia.  Instead of the Romanovs, the royal family of Russia is the Karagins, but that doesn’t mean the people of Russia are any less likely to try and rebel.  Eddy plays the Prince, Peter Karagin who falls in love with a singer he hears at the Balalaika, a club in St. Petersburg.  He disguises himself as a student to romance Lydia Marakova, who is secretly a revolutionary along with her father (a  music professor) and brother (a pianist).  They do the local work of the Party from their home where Professor Marakov also teaches music.

Peter manages to fool Lydia and her family into believing he’s just a music student by singing a great rendition of The Volga Boatman, a Russian folksong.

 

Suitably impressed, Lydia decides to give Peter “Teranda” a chance.  He in turn decides to use his princely influence to get her a interview with the head of the Russian Opera. The two fall in love but things of course don’t go as planned.

Lydia’s brother turns out to be a hothead who is not willing to just wait for the right moment, and goes to hold a revolt in town.  Unfortunately he is killed when the Cossack (led by Peter) come to break up the crowd.  This leads her father to agree to be part of an assassination plot of General Kargin, Peter’s father.  I’m guessing Peter is probably a son of a younger son, thus not actually high on the line of succession as they both make it out of this movie alive, and we all know what happened to the Romanovs

While Paval Marakov can’t do it in the end, a family friend does shoot the General.  This of course ends Lydia & Peter’s relationship.  For one, Lydia is arrested at her debut at the Opera for participation in the General’s not-so-fatal shooting.  Also, Peter is off to war.

Things don’t go so well for our pair as the movie continues.  There is a revoltion in Russia which makes Peter and many of his aristocratic friends (and fellow Cossacks) flee to Paris where they now live much less effluent lives.  Lydia, freed from prison by Peter as one of his last acts before going off to war, finds herself struggling to keep a job.

The movie ends with them all joining together for a New Years day party years after the war.  Peter’s former valet Nicki and his wife Marsha (who was Lydia’s maid when she sang at the original club) have opened a Russian themed club called the Balalaika and have decided to serve the Aristocracy of Russia one more time as many of them have become their close friends.

They both watch sorrowfully as Peter continues to be heartbroken, and they worry about Lydia who has disappeared for awhile.  However they both end up at the Club that night, and through some careful scheming, Marsha and Nicki get the two lovebirds together while singing a New Years wish to a mirror, and thus reuniting them for a happy New Year.

Its a good movie, in my opinion and one of my favorites of Nelson Eddy.  Its full of great songs.  I wish I could find a video of Nelson Eddy singing Silent Night in German with the German troops as the two sides hold a truce for Christmas.

The only regret I have is since this was never a book (to my knowledge) we don’t really get to see what happened with Peter & Lydia during the years they were apart.  It also doesn’t really give you a good idea of the passing of time.  Just that you get the feeling years have passed.

If you are in the mood for a classic musical or for operettas, I suggest watching this movie.  It has wonderful singing and a good love story.