Z is for Zsa Zsa Gabor #AtoZChallenge

I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house. ~ Zsa Zsa Gabor

Born Sari Gabor on February 6, 1917, in Budapest, Hungary, Zsa Zsa has been a celebrity and socialite for decades mostly for being herself. She’s acted in films with Fred Allen, José Ferrer and Orson Welles. Her television resume includes Gilligan’s Island, Batman, The Love Boat and countless talk show appearances.

Zsa Zsa (Sari) Gabor was the middle daughter of Vilmos Gabor, a soldier, and Jolie Gabor, the heiress to a European jewelry business. Gabor and her two sisters, Eva and Magda, lived a life of luxury, which included a staff of servants, extensive vacations and stints at expensive boarding schools. Sari started referring to herself as “Zsa Zsa” during childhood.

At the age of 13, Gabor was sent to Switzerland to attend boarding school. While finishing her studies at Madame Subilia’s, Gabor was discovered by the famous operatic tenor Richard Tauber, who invited the teenager to sing the soubrette in his new operetta Der singende Traum, or The Singing Dream. After spending three months at the Vienna Acting Academy, Gabor made her stage debut. In 1936, Gabor was crowned Miss Hungary, though she was later disqualified as she’d fibbed about her true age. In 1937, she married her first husband, 35-year-old Turkish government official Burhan Asaf Belge, to whom she proposed. In celebration of the engagement, Gabor’s parents gave their daughter a 10-karat diamond, among other lavish gifts.

Gabor’s marriage began to deteriorate and by 1941 Gabor and her husband agreed to go their separate ways. That same year, Gabor’s parents also began the process of divorce. Gabor and her mother decided to head to the U.S. to join Eva, who was already living in the country with her new husband. Zsa Zsa applied for an official divorce shortly after she was on American soil.

Not long after her arrival in the U.S., Gabor met hotel magnate and recent bachelor Conrad Hilton. The couple began flirting at an upscale club and, according to Gabor, the millionaire offered Zsa Zsa $20,000 to go with him to Florida that night. She refused. Four months later, on April 10, 1942, the two married. They had one child together, daughter Francesca. According to Gabor’s 1991 autobiography One Lifetime Is Not Enough, her pregnancy resulted from rape by then-husband Conrad Hilton. She was the only Gabor sister to have a child.

Zsa Zsa’s good looks and charm landed her a film career in Hollywood, and in 1952 she made her big-screen début in Lovely to Look At. That same year, she also had a part in We’re Not Married! with Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen, and a starring role in Moulin Rouge with José Ferrer. Gabor later appeared in Death of a Scoundrel (1956) and had a small role in Orson Welles’ classic Touch of Evil (1958).

Over the years Gabor worked in television as well, making guest appearances on such shows as The Life of Riley, Playhouse 90, Matinee Theatre, Burke’s Law, Gilligan’s Island and Batman. Vivacious and humorous, Gabor was also a popular guest on talk shows and celebrity game shows.

What audiences seemed most interested in, however, was Zsa Zsa’s personal life. To many, she appeared as an icon of European glamour, luxury and self-indulgence. Often portrayed as a wily seductress, she frequently appeared on television as an alluring, witty and sometimes challenging guest who had a habit of calling nearly everyone “darling.” But as a vivacious and dramatic personality, Gabor quickly became tabloid fodder, more famous for her marriages and conspicuous wealth than for her acting abilities.
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Y is for Yvonne De Carlo #AtoZChallenge

Born on September 1, 1922 in Point Grey (now Vancouver), British Columbia, Canada, as Margaret Yvonne Middleton, Yvonne De Carlo was Moses’ wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, but is better known for playing the matriarch on TV’s The Munsters.

She was the sole child born to Marie Middleton, who was only 17 when her husband deserted her and their daughter. Marie supported Yvonne’s decision to drop out of high school and pursue a career as an entertainer. In order to ease her family’s financial troubles, Yvonne spent most of her teens performing in nightclubs and on stage. Needing a new name to go with her budding career, she used her mother’s maiden name, and was then billed as Yvonne De Carlo.

De Carlo and her mother sought greater opportunities in the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California in 1940. A year later, the ambitious actress caught the attention of Paramount Studios, who signed her to a weekly contract. Like many newcomers, she found herself in some minor, sometimes uncredited, movie roles.

She obtained her breakthrough role in Salome, Where She Danced (1945). The film was forgettable, but De Carlo’s performance as an exotic dancer turned spy earned her the recognition she sought. Similar seductive roles followed in the Song of Scheherazade and Slave Girl (both 1947). De Carlo’s projects during the ’40s bolstered her visibility, but at the same time, limited her roles to that of a sultry screen vixen in films such as Criss Cross (1949) and The Captain’s Paradise (1953). The year 1956 defined a turning point in De Carlo’s career when she was cast in Cecil B. DeMille’s landmark production of The Ten Commandments. De Carlo’s performance as Moses’ wife Sephora, opposite Hollywood icons Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, marked a place for her in films. Her next project paired her with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in the flat costume epic Band of Angels (1957).

In the early 1960s, De Carlo starred in a string of B-features, which inspired little interest in audiences. With the demise of her film career, the struggling actress transitioned to television. In 1964 she was chosen to play ghoulish mom Lily Munster, the wife of Herman Munster, in the CBS sitcom The Munsters (1964–1966). Her portrayal of Lily Munster in the horror-spoof sitcom marked her television début and introduced her to a whole new generation of audiences.

In the early 1970s, the middle-aged actress found renewed success in the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Follies (1971). Eventually, she settled into a routine of lowbrow comedy—Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)—and horror films, such as Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977),Silent Scream (1980) and Vultures (1983).

De Carlo continued to appear in occasional films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including a guest appearance in the 1995 television movie Here Come the Munsters. In 1987, she published an autobiography, titled Yvonne.

In 1955, De Carlo married Hollywood stuntman, Robert Morgan, who lost his leg while filming How the West Was Won (1963). The couple had two sons, Bruce and Michael, before they divorced in the mid-1970s. De Carlo died of heart failure on January 8, 2007 at age 84.

X is for Xavier Cugat #AtoZChallenge

My thanks to whomever it was (sorry I have such a bad memory) that tipped me to Xavier Cugat for my ‘X’ post. Though I had heard his name and probably some of his music, it would never have occurred to me to use a musician in my theme. When you/I think of Hollywood, the inclination is to think of actors and actresses or movies, not the music that comes with them. And it turns out that Xavier Cugat was not only a talented musician, but a caricature artist as well.Dining at Melvyn's - X Cugat art

“I like women-all women…. Also, there is my temperament. I am Latin. I excite. For me, this is life.” ~ Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat, in full Francisco De Asis Javier Cugat Mingall De Brue Y Deulofeo, was born on January 1, 1900, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain.

Cugat was two years old when his father moved the family to Havana, Cuba. Two years later, a neighbor and violin maker gave the boy a 1/4-sized violin as a Christmas present. Cugat’s exceptional talents were soon evident, as he developed into a musical prodigy. He played professionally when he was just nine years old, and at age twelve he became first violinist for the Teatro Nacional Symphonic Orchestra. While performing with the Metropolitan Opera Company in Havana, Cugat met Tenor Enrico Caruso and accompanied him on a world tour at the age of fifteen.

Cugat was taught how to draw caricatures and the young man hoped to use this skill to improve his prospects and went to work for the Los Angeles Times. While he had considerable talent as an artist he soon grew tired of the situation and quit the next year to form a seven-piece dance band, The Gigolos. Also joining Cugat on the bandstand was his wife-to-be Carmen Castillo as lead singer. The year was 1928 and Latin music was not yet popular. However, the band landed a gig playing during intermissions at the famed Coconut Grove in Los Angeles.

In the late 1920s, as sound began to be used in films, Cugat put together a tango band that had some success in early short musical films. By the early 1930s, he began appearing with his group in feature films. His first notable appearance occurred in 1942, in the Columbia production You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, and Adolphe Menjou. Most of his subsequent movies were made at MGM studios, including Week-End at the Waldorf (1945),Holiday in Mexico (1948), A Date with Judy (1948), Luxury Liner (1948), and the Esther Williams musicals Bathing Beauty (1944), This Time for Keeps (1947), On an Island with You (1948), and Neptune’s Daughter(1949). Cugat’s caricatures were often featured in his films.

The job that served as Cugat’s springboard to fame was at the new Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. The bandleader made a modest start there in 1933, but was soon ensconced in the hotel’s “Cugat Room.” He the Waldorf-Astoria’s highest-paid bandleader, making $7,000 a week plus a cut of the cover charge take. For 16 years, Cugat helmed the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s orchestra, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years. One of his trademark gestures was to hold a chihuahua while he waved his baton with the other arm. In 1934, Cugat’s band played a three-hour network radio program on Saturday nights. Continue reading

W is for Mae West #AtoZChallenge

I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing. ~ Mae West

Born Mary Jane “Mae” West on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, New York, Mae West hit her Hollywood stride in her late 30s, when she might have been considered in her “advanced years” for playing sexy harlots, but her persona and physical beauty overcame any doubt. The blunt sexuality of her films aroused the wrath and moral indignation of several groups, but this sexuality is what she is remembered for today.

Known for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York City before moving to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress, and writer in the motion picture industry. For her contributions to American cinema, the American Film Institute named West 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.

One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems, including censorship. When her cinematic career ended, she continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, and on radio and television, and to record rock and roll albums. Asked about the various efforts to impede her career, West replied: “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”

West was five when she first entertained a crowd at a church social, and she started appearing in amateur shows at the age of seven. She often won prizes at local talent contests. She began performing professionally in vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company in 1907 at the age of 14. When work was slow, which it often was for many performers in Vaudeville, she would go on the burlesque circuit playing before a predominantly male working-class audience, where she thrived and honed her performance skills.

Her first appearance in a Broadway show was in a 1911 revue A La Broadway. The show folded after eight performances, but at age 18, West was singled out and discovered by the New York Times. She got her big break in 1918 in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime. As more parts came her way, West began to shape her characters, often rewriting dialogue or character descriptions to better suit her persona. She eventually began writing her own plays. Continue reading

V is for Vincent Price #AtoZChallenge

Despite Vincent Price being irrevocably regarded as one of the most iconic and beloved horror movie actors in the world, he actually got his start as a dramatic actor. His tall, lanky frame and distinctive voice lent themselves nicely to character parts. He appeared on stage, television, radio, and in over one hundred films. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures, and one for television. His career spanned many genres, including film noir, drama, horror, mystery, thriller, and comedy.

The “Master of Menace” was born on May 27, 1911, and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of four children born to an upper-middle-class family. Price was educated in private schools, studied art history and English at Yale University, and then traveled to England to pursue the fine arts at University of London.

As any fan of classic horror movies knows, the name Vincent Price is synonymous with elegance, humor, and charm. Throughout his over 60-year movie and TV career, Price established himself as one of the most popular actors–beloved by both his fans and his peers.

Price’s remarkable career began on Broadway opposite Helen Hayes and ended in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands with Johnny Depp. One of Price’s most famous early roles was in the film noir classic Laura (1944) which was directed by Otto Preminger and also starred Gene Tierney.

Price delved into disturbing territory with the 3D hit House of Wax (1953), in which he plays a deranged and disfigured artist who makes wax sculptures using real people. In the 1960s, he appeared in a number of Roger Corman’s low-budget scare-fests. He also starred in several film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, including The Masque of the Red Death and The Tell-Tale Heart.

Part of Price’s appeal as a villain was the humor he could inject into those sinister roles. His distinctive voice also contributed to his ability to create tension in films. He spoke in rich, deep tones, which sometimes had an eerie and unsettling quality. Price thought nothing of his famous speech patterns. “To me, I sound like everybody else in Missouri. I think I sound like Harry Truman,” he once said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Price enjoyed success in many arenas outside of cinema; he made many television appearances, ranging from The Brady Bunch to Batman to The Muppets. In the 1980s, he hosted the PBS series Mystery. His voice added the ominous air to Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller video in an opening monologue.

A lifelong art aficionado, Price wrote several books on his passion. A popular lecturer on art, Price also donated some of his art collection to establish the Vincent Price Gallery at East Los Angeles College. Also a devoted gourmet, Price co-wrote several cookbooks.

About the same time Price was filming Edward Scissorhands, he discovered that he had lung cancer. He died of the disease on October 25, 1993, at his Los Angeles home.

U is for Unforgettable Scenes #AtoZChallenge

Nothing fancy, nothing new, just a few unforgettable movie scenes for you.

This scene from The Wizard of Oz almost wasn’t included because it was thought to be too slow for the pace of the movie.

The following two are my favorite scenes from Gone With the Wind.

Janet Leigh refused to use a shower after filming this scene from Psycho.

Last, but not least, scenes from my two favorite Christmas films, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m such a purist on these two films that I refuse to watch a colorized version or remake.


T is for Television’s Impact on Hollywood #AtoZChallenge


“I do not believe that television can be stopped. Someday, it will undoubtedly have a future so stupendous that we cannot even foresee its possibilities.” ~ Producer David O. Selznick after attending a demonstration of the technology in 1937.

Vintage 1940s Television Set

The film and broadcasting industries have been intrinsically bound together since the 1920s when the major studios started investigating how to best take advantage of the coming technology. A few of the major studios had grand plans to control television through the ownership of distribution outlets, both individual stations and networks.

Contracts negotiated by studios and independent producers began to contain clauses governing television rights. Indeed, television played a central role in Walt Disney’s decision in 1936 not to renew his distribution contract with United Artists. When United Artists refused to grant Disney the television rights to his feature films, he abandoned the company and signed with RKO—a decision that paid huge dividends for the producer in years to come.

American television made its long-awaited public début in April 1939, when NBC launched regular service with its coverage of the opening ceremonies of the New York World’s Fair. From the time of this inaugural telecast until World War II forced the suspension of consumer electronics manufacturing in 1942, Americans saw a flurry of activity surrounding television.

During the war, the major studios still assumed that they would be competitive in the television industry. Recognizing that commercial television would be launched almost immediately after the end of the war, the studios jockeyed for a place in television. However, the studios were also aware that conditions in the movie industry—a new round of antitrust litigation, an uncertain international market, and a rise in independent production—would necessitate changes in the studio system.

Following the war, the major studios continued to lay the groundwork for the eventual role of television in the studio system. Faced with a pending antitrust ruling that threatened to disrupt the movie industry, the studios had an unusually strong incentive for exploring opportunities for diversification. Warner Bros. and Paramount were the most aggressive studios attempting to diversify into television.

In spite of their clear designs on the television business, most of the major studios found themselves in the late 1940s with no real connections to the new medium and no incentive to forge ahead. The major studios were thwarted from gaining control of distribution, so it was independent producers who began to integrate television into the movie industry. However, the full-scale integration of television in Hollywood would not occur until the 1950s, when the major studios themselves would begin to produce for television.

In a burst of shortsightedness, many film studios put clauses into actors’ contracts forbidding them to appear on TV  —  even to promote their own films. However, the studios soon found that instead of being an enemy, television represented an important new market for their films. With the arrival of general audience TV, Hollywood had a new, seemingly insatiable, market for their old films. During the early days of TV they dug out old black and white films and sold them to TV. When color TV arrived, the studios again went into their film vaults and offered supplies of color films.

Television was gaining momentum rapidly. Those who could get access to television were choosing the stay-at-home form of entertainment over going to the movies, which required the effort of leaving the home. The movie industry was losing money fast and needed a way to generate some sort of profit. Studios decided to begin selling off parts of their film libraries to generate money. Now people didn’t have to go to the theater to see movies; they could watch them in the comfort of their home. One film studio alone could supply television with a staggering amount of material from their older movies.

Television in the 1950s became a life-preserver for film stars who had faded from the limelight. As the medium grew, so did the interest of former film stars in coming to television. Perhaps the most practical reason for former Hollywood movies stars to come to television was that these former stars needed to work. A symbiotic relationship formed between actors who needed to work and an industry that needed legitimizing. Just as early film borrowed from the theater in order to be taken seriously, television borrowed from the silver screen to be legitimized. Television even drew the interests of John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart. Bogart may have even gone on to star on television if not for his untimely death.