MGM

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In Retrospect: Ruby Dandridge

Published August 15, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

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While Dorothy Dandridge is recognized as one of the tragic goddesses of celluloid history, she was not the only accomplished performer in her family.

Ruby and DorothyDorothy’s mother Ruby was a highly regarded character actress, in her own right. Beginning her career as a dancer in the classic King Kong, Dandridge eventually became known for providing accomplished persona work in such mainstream MGM films as Saratoga Trunk and The Clock. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, she was also a common fixture on a variety of television shows.

Unfortunately, like many of her contemporaries, Dandridge spent the majority of her career acting out the over the top antics of frazzled domestics or appearing as helpful shop keepers to such prominently billed performers as Ingrid Bergman and Judy Garland. Ruby Dandrige

Personally, the little information that is available about her online highlights her as woman obsessed with her career who had little time for Dorothy and her siblings. Instead, she left the bulk of the child rearing duties to her romantic partner, Geneva Williams. Williams was noted for treating her inherited offspring harshly while relentlessly training them for careers in show business.

Thus, as we crawl our way into more progressive times, it may be natural for one to wonder if Dandridge’s maternal instincts might have been more on cue if she actually was allowed to fully bloom as a performer and not have to stare down racism at every turn. While pondering this, we can also appreciate the professional glow and earnest determination she brought to the opportunities that she was given whenever she appears, magically young and full of life, on our late-night nostalgia strewn television screens.

Ruby Dandridge performing

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When Legends Meet: Bela Lugosi and Greta Garbo

Published July 29, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Bela and Greta

As the pandemic rages on, sometimes the smallest pleasures can produce the biggest thrills. For example, the recently reopened Chicago Public Library has been an oasis for me, allowing me to check out a variety of classic films from the ’30s and ’40s, the celluloid eras that bring me the most joy, as of late.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to find 1939’s Ninotchka, the film that gave the usually regal Greta Garbo a chance to let loose and convulse with laughter due to the smart joys of the irreplaceable Billy Wilder’s script.

Layered with an expected sense of sly, often infectious humor, this classic film’s biggest surprise for me wound up being the presence of horror legend Bela Lugosi. Playing the commanding officer of Garbo’s loyal Russian ambassador, the two share a very fun scene towards the film’s end, resulting in a magical moment for those who are fans of all kinds of cinema. Showing that he was capable of subtle theatrics and able to stretch his skills far beyond the mysterious creatures and mad scientists that he was usually asked to play, Lugosi, in particular, shines here with a sense of authority and truth.

Admirers of his work (and of Garbo’s undiminished power) may do well to track this gem down. Its a sure way to ease those lingering stay-at-home blues for an hour or two.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Hopelessly Devoted To: Marilyn Maxwell

Published May 16, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Marilyn Maxwell

Whether mocking the heroics of action cinema in 1956’s Forever Darling or reacting perfectly to the antics of comic Red Skeleton as the two explored a haunted house on his long running variety show, Marilyn Maxwell was always on the mark. One of those eclectically zaftig blondes that never got the attention she deserved despite her multiple talents, Maxwell has probably been best known, and then only to aggressive cinephiles, as the agreeable accomplice to such legends as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Skeleton.

Marilyn Maxwell Swing FeverBeginning her career as a beautiful background artist, often cast as supple showgirls, in such MGM epics as Presenting Lily Mars and Du Barry Was a Lady (which featured both Ball and Skeleton), Maxwell eventually graduated to leading roles in such silly efforts as The Show Off (again with Skeleton) and The Lemon Drop Kid (with Hope). Her first major role as entertainer Ginger Gray in 1943’s Swing Fever even had a bit of a genre connotation as it revolved around the ridiculous exploits of a band leader cursed with an evil eye.

Skilled as a singer and dancer, Maxwell was also a hit in USO shows for the troops during WWII and the Korean War. Apparently, she was a hit with Rock Hudson as well and, thusly, has been sporadically entering the news again as Hudson’s public profile blossoms due to Ryan Murphy’s recently released Hollywood series. Apparently, after initially being set up as one of the gay actor’s beards, the two quickly grew close and even contemplated marriage. Some reports even claim that their relationship may have gone past the friendship stage. Marilyn Maxwell and Rock Hudson 2

But more than anything, Maxwell, who died at the very young age of 50 due to heart problems, deserves to be remembered for her magnetic performances and joyful spirit. She was definitely one of kind. In fact, one can even imagine her spirit sprinkling out into the starlight, creating glittery energy and hopeful wanderlust for all those weary small-town kids living only for their future dreams.

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Marilyn Haunted Red

Maxwell haunted house hunting with Red

Book Review: Always, Lana

Published February 16, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Always-Lana

Its the 16th of February. Candy hearts are half off at the Dollar Tree and the hint of consumerist love still drenches the air. Thus Always, Lana may be the perfect late weekend read. Written by Taylor Pero, a bisexual back-up singer who catered to both Lana Turner’s business and boudoir needs for 10 years, this slim tome details the latter day diva glazed romantic and professional antics of one of MGM’s comeliest stars.

Lana PersecutionHistorically, I was first introduced to this book as a soap opera obsessed 14 year old. At the time, Lana was appearing on Falcon Crest and her character’s onscreen combativeness with Jane Wyman’s matriarchal lead fueled my love for show business. Thus, I asked for a bio on Turner for Christmas that year. With unknowing prescience, this was the volume that my parents picked out for me. (Of course, it very well may have been the only option available at the tiny Zayres book department in Jamestown, NY.) While I found myself both intrigued and repelled by Pero’s sexual exploits, its tales of Turner’s adventures on the summer stock circuit and infrequent film projects have remained as wispy, silver smoked memories in my consciousness over the decades since.

Revisiting the memoir this Valentine’s week, Pero’s economic exploitiveness here actually reads with a sense of sympathy and understanding for the star that he devoted himself to. Her eternal tardiness, precise self focus and obsession with her appearance are explained as being a product of a studio system that prized beauty and self deception over emotional and spiritual growth. The author also nicely details Turner’s humor and her ability to deal with the multiple disappointments that life brought down upon her shoulders. Lana Turner Persecution aka Terror of Sheba

Nicely, one disenchantment that is given prime focus here is Persecution (AKA The Terror of Sheba), the one true Gothic Horror (in the Baby Jane tradition) that Turner appeared in. This project is usually given little import in other treatments of her filmography, but with Always, Lana it gets almost a full chapter. The author chronicles everything from the year long inception of the project to the shimmering star’s on set battles to the aborted reactions to this much troubled film upon its official release.

As with similar writings, this is a quick read and may be worth exploring for genre fans for this particular aspect alone.


Horror Hall of Fame:

Turner was a glimmering presence in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (and she always spoke fondly of co-stars Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman for instilling her with a sense of professional confidence). She also gave breakdowns a groovy, psychedelic glow in the 1969 cult classic The Big Cube.


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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Anita Ellis

Published April 22, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

Anita Ellis

Providing the ‘40s singing voice for everyone from MGM’s Vera Ellen to the stunning Rita Haworth, the versatile Anita Ellis earned her terror pedigree by having her vocals included in the 1964 horror cheese fest The Flesh Eaters. The sister of Larry Kert, the gay actor-singer who found acclaim in the original stage production of West Side Story, Ellis eventually courted success as a jazz singer in her latter day career – even though a particularly vicious form of stage fright often robbed her of her voice.

Still, her talent and skill will forever reverberate in numbers such as this.

Meanwhile, a more complete biography of this magnificent performer is available at https://www.oldies.com/artist-biography/Anita-Ellis.html.

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Hopelessly Devoted to: Ann Robinson

Published April 19, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

Ann Bad

Best known for her strong portrayal of Dr. Sylvia Van Buren in the 1954 science fiction classic War of the Worlds, Ann Robinson also proved her versatility in a series of roles in noir films and female focused thrillers.

One of her bigger roles was as Nancy in The Glass Wall. As the protective girlfriend of a musician needing a break, she radiates with proud concern. Meanwhile, as the wealthy, flirtatious Lucille Grellett (with Charlton Heston, above) in Bad for Each Other, she shows another side of her talents – a strong sex appeal and a talent for comedy. Her capriciousness also resonates magnificently on an episode of the original Perry Mason, as well. Here, as the spoiled daughter of a wealthy businessman she tries her best to charm her military husband into a number of suspect deals.

Ann Julie 1Referred to as “99 minutes crammed with suspense” by John Douglas Eames in The MGM Story, 1956’s Julie found Robinson co-starring, side by side, with the magnificent Doris Day. As Day’s co-stewardess (left and below), Robinson acts with appropriate surprise as the plane she is assigned to risks crashing unless Day is able to fly it to safety. More of a resilient victim here than some of her more manipulative assignments, Robinson proves she had the versatility and presence to be a major star. It is every celluloid buff’s loss that she wasn’t.

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Horror Mash-Up: Fay Wray and Farley Granger

Published March 23, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

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As with many superstars, Mary Astor and Constance Bennett among them, King Kong’s expressive Fay Wray found herself playing mothers of grown daughters onscreen far too soon. Nicely, Wray finds plenty of moments to bring a sense of charm and joy to her Mrs. Gordon Kimbell – no first name given!!! – in the 1953 MGM musical Small Town Girl.

Mothering musical sensation Jane Powell as she romances Farley Granger’s society playboy (while simultaneously wrangling her way through the rest of her loved one’s strong personalities), Wray is able to show moments of exasperated tenderness over her brood’s foibles and eccentricities while providing evidence that she is the force that keeps her family on the right track. Small Farley

Terror celebrants, meanwhile, will be pleased to see Wray, whose other horror credits include Doctor X and Mystery in the Wax Museum, share a scene or two with Granger. Granger, who proves here that he was one of the most striking presences in the Golden Age of Hollywood, is well known for his work in Hitchcock’s homoerotic masterpieces, Rope and Strangers on a Train. Besides that amazing contribution to the legacy of dark cinema, this eclectic specimen appeared in a variety of Giallo enterprises (So Sweet, So Dead, Something Creeping in the Dark, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?) and enlivened the beloved 1981 slasher The Prowler, which is highlighted by Tom Savini’s gruesome effects work.

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Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Nina Mae McKinney

Published March 3, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

nina mae mckinney 3

Best known to old school horror and jungle movie fans for playing the revenge fueled Isabelle in 1939’s The Devil’s Daughter, the glorious Nina Mae McKinney was originally supposed to be MGM’s first black female superstar. Despite a glorious debut in King Vidor’s Hallelujah, the prejudice of the time cancelled out McKinney’s obvious appeal. The five year contract with Hollywood’s glossiest studio only led to a few loan out roles and an opportunity to provide the singing voice for Jean Harlow in the musical melodrama Reckless. Nina Devils Daughter 1

 

Thankfully, McKinney’s contribution to that picture is not lost to time.

 

McKinney, who died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in 1967, has been, thankfully, regaled by cinematic historians like Donald Bogle. But one still wishes that her potential could have truly been met. A role playing Harlow’s rival, instead of one behind the scenes, would have truly been a breathtaking addition to her legacy.

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Myrna Dell

Published February 23, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

 

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She was one of the beautiful background players in MGM’s Ziegfeld Girl. She also, famously, wound up on the shaky side of George Brent’s murderous rage in the classy Gothic horror The Spiral Staircase.

But the stunning Myrna Dell was perhaps best known for playing a series of sassy ladies in television westerns and adventure shows. A prime example of her sharp talent occurred on an episode of Jungle Jim opposite Johnny Weissmuller. As Mickey Worth, a hardened carnival owner, she proved her mettle by taking the character from ruthless business woman to sentimental society dame.Myrna Dell Jungle Jim

Nicely, Skip Lowe conducted an amazing and informative interview with Dell in 1990. Those who appreciate the favors of old Hollywood and the dynamic women that populated it, will find much to adore here.

This charming conversation also proves that Dell, who passed away in 2011, is truly deserving of rediscovery…a unsung heroine of not just horror films but cinema, in general.

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Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: June Allyson

Published January 13, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

june allyson

June Allyson was the girl that every G.I. wanted to marry. Her sweet presence provided a happy glow to many 1940’s musical-romances. But ever a true performer, her roles in the ‘70s showed a darker depth. She found the emotional heart of a vengeful bisexual in the Giallo style murder mystery They Only Kill Their Masters, giving the film’s final moments an understated punch. The television film The Curse of the Black Widow provided a bit more of the fun side of horror with Allyson’s Olga getting the sticky end of an old family curse.

But even in supernatural circumstances, this Golden Age icon was always accessible. Anyone with an ounce of humanity and self doubt could definitely relate to Allyson’s sorrowful take on Just Imagine from Good News, one of her most popular projects.

Allyson, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, is forever (and rightly) being celebrated at http://www.juneallyson.com/.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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