November 2005:

Welcome to the newest addition to my website. Patience, dear visitor, and bit by bit (via evolution AND planned intelligence) soon here shall appear a compendium of interesting tidbits, a veritable potpourri of fascinating observations, festooned with unusual photos, art work and other visuals, bedecked with musings, ditties and fantasmagoria of a very intra and extra-personal nature that will defy categorization and astound the unwary.

This page will also include my responses to the events of the day. Transcendence is called for during these woeful and unbecoming times. And I look forward to your comments and input.


In the meantime, for up-to-date analyses on the state of the world, I invite you to visit the website linked below. The Diaries of Miss Arieff, American "expooptriate" extraordinaire, cannot be equalled.

In 1995 when the Internet was very young, I was hired to write a column for "FilmZone" an early movie website (voted the Best Movie Website of 1995 by Entertainment Weekly magazine). Here are some of my articles:



As 1995 fades into history, the year will be remembered as the official 100th anniversary of the first public presentation of motion pictures. To be precise, it was on December 28, 1895 that the first projected motion pictures were displayed to a paying audience -- at the Grand Café in Paris. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences recently honored the event by recreating the Paris café at its Beverly Hills headquarters -- and presenting the original films shown 100 years ago. The American Film Institute will create a new attraction at Florida's Walt Disney World commemorating 100 years of American filmmaking. In Britain, the celebrations will begin next March with Cinema 100.

Ironically, 1995 is also the year in which the NEA ceased funding for the preservation of our U.S. film heritage, which amounts to a shortfall of $700,000 per annum. The U.S. Government says the studios themselves must save their own films and not rely on public funding. At the same time, the British Film Institute has also experienced the loss of grants. Fortunately, the studios are taking more and more responsibility for preserving their heritage, plunging into their vaults to discover and restore lost treasures and then releasing them to the public via videotape and laser disc.

Turner Entertainment Company, which owns the rights to the entire MGM library, the pre-1950 Warner Bros. films and the entire RKO Radio Pictures library has been restoring its films since 1986 (not to mention colorizing a lot of them). Sony, with a 3,000 film library, has created partnerships with film archives and have already restored "Lawrence of Arabia", "On the Waterfront", "The Wild One" and Capra's 1931 "The Miracle Woman." Columbia Tri-Star launched a line of restored classics with its Studio Heritage Collection. Paramount has built storage and restoration facilities for its 800-plus film library, most post-1948. Warner Bros. has several thousand films (post-1950) for which they have built a high-security refrigerated building to archive their films; restoration projects are under way.

Studios are creating liaisons with archivists at UCLA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. And many video distributors, such as Kit Parker Films, Kino Video, Video Yesteryear and even the Smithsonian Institute are releasing lost classics. Never before have so many "relix" become available for the general viewing public.

In 1990, Martin Scorsese along with Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Redford, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and Sydney Pollack formed the Film Foundation dedicated to film preservation -- just in time, too, because it has been discovered that not only are the ancient silent films and early talkies in need of saving, but such comparatively recent films as "Star Wars", "Taxi Driver" "The Last Picture Show" and "Easy Rider" are also fading away.

It has long been known that nitrate film (used up to 1950) deteriorates alarmingly; restoration during the past 20 years has involved transferring the negative to acetate stock, however, it is now apparent that this "safety" film also decomposes much more quickly than expected. New digital technologies are the answer, as Disney's brilliant 1993 restoration of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" proved. Other recent examples include "My Fair Lady" [at a cost of $600,000], "Doctor Zhivago," Buñuel's "Belle de Jour" and Renoir's "The Golden Coach." "RELIX" will keep you abreast of the latest restoration projects as well as information on new technologies, funding issues and film festivals (such as cable's AMC Film Preservation Festivals and Italy's Pordenone Festival).

"RELIX" will also provide information regarding the newest discovery of lost films. For example, last year the Australian National Film and Sound Archive donated more than 1,600 lost U.S. films, many dating from before 1900. A few years ago, the Dutch Filmmuseum discovered early Disney "Alice in Cartoonland" shorts (combining live action and animation) from the early 1920s thought to have been lost forever. In 1988, perhaps the first feature film, made in 1896 by French pioneer Georges Méliès, was rescued and restored by the New Zealand Film Archive. The British Film Institute launched a "Missing Believed Lost" campaign in 1993 and new discoveries are turning up all the time.

"RELIX" will also provide reviews of the newly restored classics as they are released on video and laser disc and on whatever new technologies that are sure to evolve. We are truly living during exciting times, when the past really does come alive.

Craig David Calman
December 1995

Craig David Calman

There is a series of old Relix available on videocassette presented by MGM/UA Home Video and Turner Home Entertainment called "Forbidden Hollywood." These films, hosted by Leonard Maltin, include a number of the risque, racy and scintillating movies turned out by Hollywood from the beginning of the talkies until the moral watchdogs of the nation imposed censorship restrictions (known as the Hays Code) in 1934 to make sure that the rough and dangerous edges of sex, corruption and moral turpitude flooding the screens during that Prohibition era were smoothed away to present a more cheery, palatable, never-never land of wholesome entertainment which is what Hollywood is remembered for during its subsequent "Golden Age."

Ideally, the "Forbidden Hollywood" series should have been hosted by a rough edged personality like Jack Nicholson, who would have felt instantly at home in the cynical wisecracking world of the early '30s. As it is, it's somewhat hard to take a soft and fuzzy PG-13 guy like Leonard Maltin completely seriously when he talks about these sexy no-holds-barred films. But then again, maybe that's part of this series' charm.

Nevertheless, to devoted Relix lovers, "Forbidden Hollywood" offers lots of fascinating viewing. The definitive examples of these films came from Warner Bros.; they have a snappy style, a crackle and they move with a pace that never lets up. The often complex stories are told in record time -- quite a few of these films run just a little over an hour. It's enough.

This was the era when such consummate stars as James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable first burst onto the scene to blaze forever in the Hollywood firmament (as they used to say). And there were also plenty of talented stars who are unjustly forgotten today, such as Warren William, Ann Dvorak and May Robson -- actors who really knew how to act. And what great character actors! With talents like Ruth Donnelly, Allen Jenkins, Una Merkel and Lewis Stone lighting up the screen, there was literally never a dull moment. The talented screenwriters included Anita Loos, John Monk Saunders and Preston Sturges before he became a director.

Over at MGM the movies were a little more refined, starring Lionel and John Barrymore, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer, but that studio also churned out some real hard-edged gems. And in 1932 MGM signed Jean Harlow, perhaps the sexiest floozy of all time. Paramount had Marlene Dietrich who engaged in plenty of sophisticated whoring and enjoyed parading around in male drag, and of course, Mae West, whose shameless obsessions over sexual pleasures became the catalyst responsible for the implementation of the Hays Code as an "antidote to screen amorality," especially after Night After Night (1932), She Done Him Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel (1933).

Petty larceny, promiscuity, drug addiction and chicanery of all sorts -- anything to make a buck -- these were the themes of Pre-Code Hollywood. It alarmed the moralists, the lawmakers and orthodox religious organizations, and these salacious matters were formally put under wraps in Hollywood in 1934, a code of censorship not to be lifted by the U.S. movie industry for some three decades.

Titles to check out, after you've seen the more famous films of the era like Public Enemy, Little Caesar, Scarface and All Quiet On the Western Front include: Night Nurse (1931) starring Barbara Stanwyck as a girl desperate for a job during the Depression, a decent kid in a tough world, with a pal like Joan Blondell to show her the ropes in the treacherous world of the medical profession. James Cagney's series of films after he became a star in "Public Enemy" are great fun and include such jewels as Blonde Crazy (1931), Taxi! (1932) Picture Snatcher (1932) and Hard To Handle (1933).

If you get off on the tango of ruthless big business dealings, nothing will give you greater pleasure than viewing the supremely self-confident Warren William as an egomaniacal master architect in Skyscraper Souls (1932) and as a despotic department store executive in Employees' Entrance (1933). After watching Mr. William in action, one may not be way off the mark in considering his characters as role models for certain heartless politicians and high rolling tycoons who exist to this day (and who shall remain nameless).

You want sexy? Check out Red-Headed Woman (1932). An unscrupulous low-class bimbo of a secretary has but one goal: to seduce the handsome, upright young boss (married, of course) and then to climb to the top of the social ladder (and she doesn't care if her panties show in the process) with his father's elderly business rival. Jean Harlow is superb and so is the entire cast in this witty, delightful movie. Ms. Harlow plays another tramp in Red Dust (1932) set in the steamy jungles of a rubber plantation, with Clark Gable and Mary Astor rounding out the eternal triangle. This is one geometrical-lustful configuration that really sizzles!




Not a small part of the fascination of watching old films is having the opportunity to see favorite performers in unexpected roles, to discover new (old) talents for the first time and to follow the careers of long lived veterans. From the perspective of 60 years later, the "Forbidden Hollywood" video series provides ample experiences of this type.

Ever hear of Ann Dvorak? All you have to do is see The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) and Three on a Match (1932) and you'll be in awe. A beautiful woman with a honey warm voice, she is a tragedienne who could as easily have played Shakespearean roles as appear in these tawdry tales of big city vice. She brings a quality of heartbreak which is rare. At her peak in the '30s, Ann Dvorak's career seems to have ended in 1951; she died in 1979.

Ruth Donnelly has to be one of the funniest character actresses ever, especially in Hard to Handle (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). She often played overworked secretaries trying to stay sane under the punishing demands of her lunatic bosses, most notably in Blessed Event (1932). Lee Tracy plays her boss in that one: of all the obnoxious sleaze bag newspaper reporters ever to have appeared on the silver screen, his must take the prize.

Lee Tracy's vocal delivery can be described as nasally adenoidal and he plays an egomaniacal, manic machine-gun mouthed weasel -- which is typical of most of his roles. Incredibly, Mr. Tracy starred in a number of films in this era: at his most revolting (if that is possible) in Bombshell (1933) starring Jean Harlow, a movie called "the wittiest satire on Hollywood" by one reputable critic and given ***½ by Leonard Maltin; but Mr. Tracy's character is so unlikable, so irritating, so despicable, I wouldn't be surprised if you were ready to throw rotten anchovies at your TV screen whenever he appears.

Richard Barthelmess was a beautiful young male star of silent films. He first appeared on the screen in 1916 and quickly rose to the top. His career flourished throughout the '20s and he made the transition to talkies with ease. Though he no longer retained the youthful image that made him a star, and possessed of a strangely lugubrious way about him, Barthelmess appeared in several of the most fascinating movies of the early talkie period: The Dawn Patrol (1930), The Last Flight (1931), Heroes For Sale (1933) and Massacre (1934). These were serious films with serious themes and he was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood at that time, earning $8,500 a week.

Walter Huston was the father of director John Huston. He went from Broadway directly to Hollywood and the talkies made him a star. He was the villain in the classic western The Virginian (1929) and he played Abraham Lincoln (1930) in D.W. Griffith's film. Three years later he played another U.S. President (fictional) in Gabriel Over the White House. It is fascinating to see during this Election year: a crooked politician who becomes President and then (via the supernatural inspiration of the angel Gabriel?) becomes morally transformed. The problems of the Depression are quite vividly expressed in this film, and so are other social ills of the early '30s in other Walter Huston films such as The Criminal Code, The Beast of the City, The Wet Parade, Night Court and American Madness. Walter Huston was without a doubt one of the finest actors to appear on the screen. His career remained strong right up until his unexpected death (at a vigorous 66) in 1950.

Lewis Stone was also a fine, mature actor, though unlike Walter Huston, he was almost always "in support." Though occasionally given co-starring roles, he was considered, along with Lionel Barrymore, "The Grand Old Man of Character Actors" at MGM. His image was set in the '20s: a dapper, sophisticated older gentleman of the highest social rank; he was most often sugar daddy or embittered husband to a youthful Greta Garbo. In 1929 when he was 50 he played older, so that for the next quarter century of his film career he was always the mature Lewis Stone. He was superb with dialogue and had an understated dry wit.

He is memorable as the facially scarred World War I veteran in Grand Hotel (1932): "People coming, people going, but nothing ever happens..." he cynically observes while spending endless idle hours in the lobby of the great hotel where, of course, everything is happening -- though usually behind closed doors.
In Bureau of Missing Persons (1933) he is the head of that police department. Presenting a sweeping panorama of lost souls in the big city, this is a film not to be missed, especially as it contains a spirited performance by an incredibly youthful, slender and lovely Bette Davis. Mr. Stone plays his part with a sense of compassion, strength of character and understanding of human foibles that is most admirable.

Since Lewis Stone usually played noble gentlemen, efficient businessmen, understanding fathers and sober level-headed judges (as he so memorably portrayed in the Hardy family series), it is quite a surprise to see him playing a coward, which he does with great sensitivity, in the otherwise rather silly China Seas (1935). His character does redeem his reputation before the picture fades, and that's a big consolation. Lewis Stone continued to work at MGM until his death in 1953.

Then there is Ms. Ruth Chatterton, the original "Madame X." Her figure was not exactly girlish and she looked every minute her 40 years when she starred in a series of early talkies, however, she was voted "Finest Actress on the Screen" by readers of "Movie Fan" magazine in 1931 and called a greater actress than Garbo by more than one critic, though her career, like that of Richard Barthelmess, had faded away by the end of the '30s. In Female (1933) she plays a powerful owner of an automobile factory who selects her lovers from amongst her vast corp of employees. "A long time ago I decided to travel the same open road men travel, so I treat men exactly the way they've always treated women," she declares, forty years before Women's Lib. On one wall of her ultra-chic executive suite there is the mounted head of a two-horned rhinoceros. A male, no doubt.

Craig David Calman
February 1996


Dear Heart

Newly released on video from Warner Bros. is Dear Heart (1964) a simple, sweet love story directed by Delbert Mann and starring Glenn Ford, Geraldine Page and Angela Lansbury. Delbert Mann was the perfect director for this tale about a middle aged spinster (Page) who at last finds true love; his first feature film was also about an unlikely prospect in the romance department -- Marty (1955), also set in New York City, an ugly butcher's search for a girlfriend.

And who could more perfectly portray the "Dear Heart" of the title than Geraldine Page? An actress in the truest sense of the word, she was an artist able to completely transform herself into any role she played -- and she played every type of character imaginable throughout a long career.

A native of Missouri, Ms. Page gained fame Off Broadway in the early '50s for such plays as "Summer and Smoke" and "Yerma" and then "Midsummer" made her a star on Broadway. She was immediately invited to Hollywood and co-starred in the Technicolor western Hondo (1954) with John Wayne for which she was promptly nominated for an Academy Award. Wayne told her he would star her in every other film he made, however, it quickly became apparent to him that Ms. Page was not simply a midwestern farm girl turned film star, but a serious New York actress studying with the likes of Uta Hagen and willing to appear in plays of questionable political affiliations (this being the McCarthy era). Ms. Page was not invited back to Hollywood for seven years.

Summer and Smoke (1961) was her next film, a faithful adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play; a tale of Eros smoldering within a Southern spinster's bosom. Ms. Page was again nominated for an Academy Award. Immediately thereafter came a second Tennessee William adaptation: Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). Here is a classic example of an actor's transformation: Ms. Page portrays Alexandra Del Lago, glamorous Hollywood movie star. Boozing, smoking hash and alternately loving and bickering with her disreputable road companion (Paul Newman), Ms. Page is unforgettable and garnered yet another Academy Award nomination (she earned a total of eight nominations and one win during her career).

Then it was back to being a spinster -- this time with a fixation on her brother (the late Dean Martin) in the intriguing Toys in the Attic (1963) from Lillian Hellman's play. This was another serious drama of misguided love, with the heartbreaking ending showing poor Ms. Page sobbing her heart out on the staircase of her childhood home.

Therefore it is a relief to find her in a film with as happy a resolution as that in Dear Heart. Glenn Ford also plays very sensitively in this film. There is the ambiguity and uncertainty poignantly expressed in this budding love affair. However, it is often a noisy film, set in a busy hotel with a lot of carousing conventioneers, and this may be detracting; then there's the character of a blonde bimbo who sells greeting cards in the lobby who should have been played by Marilyn Monroe (had she lived) or at least Jane Mansfield, and it would have been nice if the film were in color, but aside from these flaws, there are two delicate performances by the leads and a fun appearance by Angela Lansbury playing a character unlike any other she's done. And the film does leave one with a smile on one's face -- and in one's heart.

Geraldine Page always touches me that way. Through her craft she was able to convey the reality of subconscious longings, desires and regrets lying just below the surface of everyday life, and she also had a great sense of humor. She was able to tap into that well of passion and emotion and spirituality and express these realities with her every movement and inflection. With regards to passion, Geraldine Page was also able to plumb the depths of human depravity -- in Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) she plays a murderess of fascinating psychological complexity. In The Beguiled (1971) with Clint Eastwood, she plays a Civil War director of an all girl's school with a massive sadistic streak. In Nasty Habits (1977) she is a nun who schemes, lights up cigarettes and swears like a corrupt Teamster. In The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) she is a chain smoking, boozing widow with a heart of burnished steel.

On the brighter side, she could be the dear little recluse whose greatest joy is making Christmas cakes in Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory (TV)(1966); a beautifully gowned, class-conscious dunce in The Happiest Millionaire (1967); a daffy society lady in Pete 'n' Tillie (1972); a pathetically fragile woman falling apart as her marriage fails in Woody Allen's Interiors (1978); a wise and sophisticated novelist dying of cancer in I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can (1982) and of course, the tragic country lady who had been torn from her land and after pining away in the big city escapes to see her homeland one more time in A Trip To Bountiful (1985) for which she finally won an Academy Award.

In June of 1987 Geraldine Page was playing Madame Arcati, a spiritualist, in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" on Broadway when she suddenly died between performances at the age of 63.

In the early '60s, author James Baldwin watched Geraldine Page rehearse for the Broadway production of "Sweet Bird of Youth" and wrote the following reflection: "Acting is (for me, anyway) one of the most mysterious of all the arts -- mysterious because the instrument, the actor himself, without changing at all, undergoes such inexplicable transformations before one's eyes. I think that this sustained and steady tension between the real and the make-believe is healthy for the soul; it forces one to examine reality again....[Geraldine Page's acting] is a small light brought into a vast darkness -- but a small light, considering, especially, what everyone is searching for, may be quite enough. As for the light which Gerry holds, may it burn long." Via film and video, it will.

Craig David Calman
April 1, 1996


It Started in '96

"When the hall was darkened last night a buzzing and roaring were heard in the turret, and an unusually bright light fell upon the screen. Then came into view two precious blonde young persons of the variety stage in pink and blue dresses, doing the umbrella dance with commendable celerity. Their motions were all clearly defined. When they vanished, a view of an angry surf breaking over a sandy beach near a stone pier amazed the spectators....
"So enthusiastic was the appreciation of the crowd long before the extraordinary exhibition was finished that vociferous cheering was heard. There were loud calls for Mr. Edison but he made no response."

Thus is chronicled in "The New York Times" the very first public screening to a paying audience of motion pictures in the United States, on April 23, 1896 at Koster & Bial's Music Hall in New York City. It may be that Thomas Edison made no response to the cheering throng because deep down he knew that he was not the individual solely responsible for the invention of projected motion pictures -- dozens of inventors and scientists in the U.S., England, France and Germany had spent years perfecting the technology, including Thomas Armat, the Brothers Skladanowsky, the Brothers Lumière and William Friese-Greene; but Edison was the one who got most of the credit.

For fascinating (and sometimes boring) viewing of those first years of motion pictures, Kino On Video has released a five volume series of videocassettes entitled The Movies Begin. Over 120 early films from 1894 to 1914 are presented. Volume I is "The Great Train Robbery and other Primary Works." Aside from Edwin S. Porter's landmark 1903 narrative film, most of this volume consists of everyday scenes captured by the motion picture camera: a train ride through the Colorado mountains (1903), a trip around Manhattan (1903), San Francisco after the earthquake (1906), Moscow in winter (1908), etc. Also included is a documentary on dogs working as cart pullers, sheep herders, etc. There's a comic bit of a hugely fat woman in her boudoir entitled Airy Fairy Lillian Tries on Her New Corset.

Volume II, "The European Pioneers," features 40 works from the earliest filmmakers such as R.W. Paul, a scientific instrument maker who made Britain's first film projector in 1896. He utilized stop motion cinematography and ran film in reverse to show a collapsing wall right itself up again. He also anticipated Buster Keaton by 23 years in his 1901 short The Country and the Cinematograph, showing a man watching a movie screen in which the screen becomes part of his reality. R.W. Paul also played with the screen's parameters, having a fight between two men occur below the screen with the combatants' clothing flying up from below. James A. Williamson's Stop, Thief! (1901) must be the great-grandaddy of all chase films. Clever trick cinematography is especially noteworthy in The Motorist (1906). George Albert Smith was another innovative pioneer who utilized the close up long before it became a common aspect of film vocabulary.

Volume III is "Experimentation and Discovery" and includes delightful films from the Pathé Freres' Peeping Tom (1901) and Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (1906), Edwin S. Porter's The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906) and the hilarious The Fatal Sneeze (1907); it also contains lengthy and dreary scenes inside a biscuit factory and the tedious, quite unglamorous work in a coal mine.

Volume IV is "The Magic of Méliès." George Méliès was perhaps the greatest of the pioneer filmmakers. Although he basically just set up the camera in one spot and filmed with no editing, his innovation lay in the content presented on the screen: fabulous fantasy and comedy beautifully executed via imaginative costuming, set design, special effects such as dissolves, fade ins, superimpositions, stop motion, precise choreography and well timed action.

George Méliès (1861-1938) started out as a cartoonist and then stage magician: these skills are very evident in every film he made (around 500, from 1896 to 1912). The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has restored and presented a wonderful sample of his work; there is also a documentary about the magical filmmaker in this volume.

Volume V: "Comedy, Spectacle and New Horizons" includes a number of intriguing entries, such as a 1908 sampling of French comedian Max Linder (Charlie Chaplin's acknowledged inspiration), cartoonist Windsor McCay drawing his famous Illustrated Pictures in 1911 (with an uncredited John Bunny, a jolly, fat and ugly comedian who made a popular series of one-reelers with the dour, scrawny and equally ugly Flora Finch before his death in 1915); Nero and the Fall of Rome (1909) with a cast of dozens strutting around in togas; and the very first Keystone Cops film, Bangville Police (1913) with Mabel Normand. Also to be viewed is The Making of An American Citizen by Alice Guy-Blaché showing Ivan, a brutish Russian immigrant who treats his wife like an animal but who is taught by Americans to treat her as an equal.

I mentioned Ms. Guy-Blaché in a recent article describing recent video releases from the Smithsonian Institute, identifying her as one of the very first women filmmakers, and I have been asked by curious readers to tell more about her. With pleasure.

According to film historian Ephraim Katz, Ms. Guy-Blaché was the first woman filmmaker. She was born in France in 1873 and directed her first film in 1896, La Fée aux Choux, for the Gaumont Film Company. In 1910 she moved to the United States and formed her own company, Solax. She pulled out of independent production in 1917 and returned to France. At the age of 80 she was granted the Legion of Honor by the French government. As Ms. Guy-Blaché lived to be 95, she might have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. Imagine what this film pioneer of 1896 experienced throughout a lifetime of movies!

Following Ms. Guy-Blaché as a woman pioneer in filmmaking was Lois Weber (1882-1939) who began directing for Universal in 1913 along with her husband Phillips Smalley (1875-1939). Her last credit is listed as White Heat (1934)(not to be confused with James Cagney's 1949 film of the same title).

So in this year of 1996 we are celebrating four centennial milestones in cinema: (1) the first motion pictures projected for a paying public in the U.S.; (2) R.W. Paul's first movie projector for Great Britain; (3) George Méliès begins his remarkable series of fantasy films; and (4) the first woman filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blaché, begins her career. Let's hope the second hundred years of movies bring at least as many new innovations and imaginative filmmakers as the first hundred.

Craig David Calman
May 1, 1996

Au Revoir, Claudette!

One of the most beloved of Hollywood's superstars passed away recently at the age of 92, she of the apple cheeks and throaty voice, "clever, witty and typically Parisian," as one critic described her, the highest wage earner of the U.S. in 1940, a star from her first talkie in 1929 to her last television performance almost 60 years later, French-born, American-maid, Claudette Colbert.

Few actresses could handle dialogue so brilliantly and so effortlessly as Ms. Claudette Colbert; she possessed a smooth blend of sophisticated intelligence, a warm heart and a generosity of spirit. She was the embodiment of elegance and good taste yet she was no prude: she loved a good time and in her early roles she was often amoral (Manslaughter [1930]) if not downright pagan (Sign of the Cross [1932]). She conveyed her wholesome enjoyment of life with a smile, a twinkle in the eyes, a crinkle of her cute little nose and a purr in her voice. In every performance one can sense her thorough and unwavering self-confidence -- she was monumentally fearless when confronted with the challenges and obstacles which dominated her films. Yet Claudette Colbert could collapse into a torrent of tears when heartbroken and she could yield, if not melt like pure country farm butter, when kissed by a true love.

When Claudette Colbert first appeared on the screen in the 1920s she looked the epitome of the roaring flapper. With her round baby face, big brown eyes and short skirts tightly outlining her slinky, sexy body, she could have been the human model for Betty Boop. It was her surprisingly deep, melodious and mature voice that revealed her to be no "Boop Oop A Doop" nitwit.

Her maturity was there from the very beginning in her first talkies of 1929, The Hole in the Wall and The Lady Lies, filmed at the Paramount Studios in New York while she was appearing on Broadway. She and her co-stars Edward G. Robinson and Walter Huston were immediately swept off to Hollywood, and the rest is history. Claudette Colbert then proved to be a lovely singer as revealed in two very early musicals with Maurice Chevalier, The Big Pond (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) but for some reason, that avenue was not pursued.

These rare early talkies are available from that fabulous video store specializing in such rarities, Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, located in North Hollywood, California. Through special arrangement, Saturday Matinee members (the lucky dogs!) can be "loaned" (when renting other titles) videos of rarely seen movies that have not yet been released to the general public.

In The Sign of the Cross, Cecil B. DeMille's 1932 epic of Nero's Rome, Ms. Colbert slips perfectly into pagan Empress Poppaea and became world famous for the scene in which she bathes in a pool of goat's milk. She so impressed that DeMille cast her in the title role of Cleopatra (1934) where she easily survived some rather scathing reviews (i.e., "She's a cross between a lady of the evening and a rough soubrette in a country melodrama" -- "Variety.") She took her revenge by winning the Academy Award that same year as the unforgettable runaway heiress in the supremely delightful and perennially popular It Happened One Night.

Ms. Colbert's acting kept getting better and better and throughout the '30s and into the '40s she was an astute judge of material, appearing in a great many of the best movies of that fabulous era of moviemaking. MCA Universal has released the Claudette Colbert Collection which includes Sign of the Cross and Cleopatra as well as Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) co-starring Gary Cooper, and Midnight (1939) with Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor, etc. -- which may just be the most perfect Hollywood comedy of the '30s, with a dazzling script, flawless direction and masterful playing by all concerned.

Another 1939 gem (of a rougher polish) is It's A Wonderful World co-starring James Stewart. It's a not-quite-mad enuf madcap caper directed by W.S. Van Dyke II who was at his best with exotic melodramatic adventures and intrigues. So Proudly We Hail! (1944) is also in the Colbert Collection, a tribute to the American Red Cross nurses during World War II produced and directed by Mark Sandrich. Shown on AMC all the time is The Palm Beach Story (1942) which is sort of a spin-off of (the more perfect) Midnight.

The visually impressive Drums Along the Mohawk is available from Key Video. This pioneer epic was rousingly directed by John Ford and is one of the great Technicolor features of 1939 (along with Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex). "Drums" is full of pleasure -- and pain. It is worth seeing for the scenery and cinematography alone, but it also contains the spirited performances of Ms. Colbert, Henry Fonda and a masterpiece of character acting displayed by Miss Edna May Oliver (she deserved an Oscar). "Drums" is full of scenes of birth and death and struggle. However, it presents a completely one-sided view of the Native American/White settler conflict. (Guess which side -- not a single colonist dances with wolves.)

Social comedy was really Claudette's forte, although during her career she had appeared in all sorts of movies, from stark crime melodramas like The Hole in the Wall (1929) in which she played an ex-con kidnapper, "problem" pictures like Private Worlds (1935) as a psychiatrist in a mental hospital and war stories like the realistic Three Came Home (1950) as an American prisoner of war confined with her small son to a Japanese concentration camp, matching wits with Sessue Hayakawa.

Somewhere in the late '40s the glitter faded. (How could it go on unabated? That would have defied the laws of physics, I suppose.) Ms. Colbert moved to Europe and appeared in a couple of French films. She returned to Hollywood in the mid '50s for Texas Lady, which, aside from her elegant and low keyed performance, wasn't much of a movie; she then returned to Broadway -- where she had first been discovered in the '20s -- and made a resounding success there for a number of seasons.

Amazingly, Claudette Colbert was to appear in only one other movie: Parrish (1961) available from Warner Bros. Home Video. She plays teenage heart throb Troy Donahue's well bred and deeply caring mother. The setting is a 1961 Connecticut tobacco farm and she is, as always, sensible, worldly and ready for love. Her scenes with Karl Malden are especially moving. Ms. Colbert appeared in no other movies although she lived for another 35 years and one wonders why she was absent from the big screen, as she often stated to the press that she wanted to work. Perhaps it was because Claudette Colbert could never have followed the path of other women super stars of the '30s and '40s who prolonged their careers by appearing in horror films. Anyway, she was fabulously wealthy and the type of role she played so well had become passé in the turbulent '60s.

Ms. Colbert retired to Barbados where she remained remarkably robust and beautiful. She returned to the Broadway stage several times in the '70s and '80s and was always warmly welcomed. She appeared before the cameras one last time for the television mini series, "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles" in 1986. David Shipman (a great gentlemanly English film historian who passed away this April, much too soon) wrote of the 83-year-old star's final acting turn: "Stylish, chic and ever youthful, using all her 60 years' experience by cleverly underplaying, it was a performance to make the armchair viewer want to stand up and cheer."

Perhaps more than any other star of her time, Claudette Colbert was the healthiest: there were only two types of women she could never play: out and out bitches and mad women. Among her sterling portrayals of women at their best are the super efficient executive secretary in She Married Her Boss (1935), the dedicated and gentle psychiatrist in Private Worlds, the inspiring school teacher in Remember the Day (1940), the ideal wife and mother in Since You Went Away (1944) and the fearless newspaper publisher in Texas Lady (1955).

In all these films she exhibited remarkable strength of character, implacable sense of right and wrong, brilliant diplomatic skills and a deep concern for the under dog. She was, in the final analysis, an unwavering defender of justice, and it is self evident through the long decades that Claudette Colbert possessed all the qualities which would have made her nothing less than a superb U.S. President.

Imagine her cute face up there on Mount Rushmore! If they ever plan to put another physiognomy in stone alongside such American giants as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, I for one hereby nominate Claudette Colbert! So what if she was born in France? She emigrated to the U.S. at the age of six and from then on has confirmed that there has not been another individual to so perfectly represent the great ideals of the American dream, Golden Age style.

Au, revoir, Claudette! The world's 92 year love affair with you continues!

Craig David Calman
August 15, 1996





With my Irish Setter pup Patches when we were both young.


My magnificent home from age 12 through graduating high school. Built in 1919 by Henry Lippitt (1886-1974) whose father was U.S. Senator from Rhode Island and whose uncle and grandfather were both Governors of Rhode Island in the 19th century. This home was designed by famed architect William Templeton Johnston. I went from riches to rags following what I call the American Hollowcaust.


Huck Finn with glasses enjoying the pond in a summer long ago.


Yearbook photo 1970


A wonderful gift given to me in 2004 by Jayne Moynihan - an original oil painting by my childhood art teacher Loretta Metzger McLeod (1913-1997) who held wonderful drawing and painting classes at the Spanish Village, Balboa Park, San Diego where I went virtually every Saturday from 1966 to 1971 and the summer of '72.


The 1925 Hollywood apt. rumored to have been built by Ramon Novarro. My dear friend Don Higdon lived here from 1975 till his death in 1993. I lived here when I arrived in Hollywood from the late '80s to 1992. My neighbors in this building included Channing Hanson, brother of the famous musician/singer Beck who would perform at parties here as a shy teenager. I remember saying to him once, "Beck, you're really talented. I'm sure you'll go far!" Little did I know.


From 1992 to 1995 I lived at Birdhead Manor, quaintly tucked away in the woods in North Hollywood and where I barely survived the '94 Northridge Earthquake.


My next home in North Hollywood from early 1995 to late 2000. My black cat Lunchbucket (1991-2003) is on the lawn. I loved this home as I had lemon and fig trees outside my door and I grew vegetables and planted numerous trees which within five years were towering above the house. I also had a cool neighbor Rick Corrie who lived in the guest house across the way.

Patches when he was 77 dog years and me, all growed up yet a long time ago.





Is this aroma wafting before us from festering garbage or simmering dish?

Is this bright painting hanging before us a new masterpiece or the slop of a fish?

Is this cigar a supremo? Is this bonne fille 'de la creme?' Are these macaronies extremo?

Go to the experts. Ask them.


Are these nice people drinking before us genteely tippling or thoroughly pissed?

Are these sweet light notes soaring before us only for Muzak or worthy of Liszt?

Dare we be seen in this sector? Will the Big Bomb blow us up? Should I become a defector?

Only the experts 'fess up.


Is this assassin cringing before us mad as a hatter or fit for the block?

Are these grand phrases flowing before us inspired from on high or a lot of old crock?

Is this cigar a supremo? Is this bonne fille 'de la creme?' Are these macaronies extremo?

Go to the experts. Ask them.


Is this old forest greening before us pristine and priceless or should it be burned?

Is this old language languishing 'fore us ready for Babel or should it be learned?

Dare we be seen in this sector? Will the Big Bomb blow us up? Should I become a defector?

Only the experts are stumped.


Is this great leader leading before us the savior of nations or should he be bumped?

Is this great doctrine doctring before us fair, just and holy and will it be dumped?

Is this cigar a supremo? Should this old doctrine be dumped? Are these macaronies extremo?

Only the experts are stumped.


-Written 1982



Old Sonny gave the swabby a fiver and wished him good luck and good sail. Then he strolled around the corner and stepped on a rusty old nail.

"Me luck idn't wid me," he said with a groan. "I gave it along with me fiver to Limey O'Keefe" he said through his teefe as he pulled out the nail in short order.

So he hopped to the pub for a quick one, just something to moisten his craw. As he downed his third creme de Burma he caught a sight of old Ma.

"Ma Guzzle!" he cried with a song in his heart. "I'm pleased as a peacock to see ya! Come sit by me side and warm up me hide and tell me, how goes it my dee-ah?"

Ma Guzzle, she looked up at Sonny and gaped with a come-hither leer. Cuz Ma Guzzle she hadn't seen Sonny in many-a many-a year:

Since that day he set sail on the salty sea brine, since that day they began the great Battle of Rhine, Since that day all were humming "The Carpet Sublime." (She hadn't seen Sonny in ages of time.)

Ma Guzzle, to Sonny she sidled. She gave him a look in the eyne. She gaped and she gawked as to him she walked, bringing her bottle of wine.

"Sonny Me Boy," she said with a scowl, "I've grown Rubenesque but I'm still on the prowl. I spend all me days here in Pickle's Canteen till I've lost all me buttons and rotted me spleen. Till me woolens is mothy and me 'air 'as gone green, till me one joy in life is the backroom latrine. So Sonny Me Boy, it's just like a dream to see you once more here in Pickle's Canteen."

"I stepped on a nail," said Sonny Me Boy. "I stepped on a nail 'round the cornah. But that's over and done -- it's time for some fun!" And he hugged her and kissed her with lustah.

Now they've been together some 45 days; they've been together the while. And they've laughed and they've sang and they've danced to Coltrane and they've honeymooned twice up the Nile.



Amy O'Day was a stripper, a kitty from Avenuue B. Whenever she strolled by the river, the tugboats would head out to sea.

Barbie McTeal was a blaster. She fixed broken walls with her sand. In romance she truly was master, and she only charged ten bucks a stand.

Christie Babu was a cooker. She worked at Pink Pup's Bar And Grill. She whipped up a mean Stew de Oyster always served with a happy time pill.

In love and work they were satisfied: these three ladies, they never were blue. Only one thing remained to be gratified: each craved a pretty tattoo.

So one night the three ladies united: Miss O'Day, McTeel and Babu took a stroll, turned the corner and discovered Ye Mariners' Parlor Tattoo.

On her thigh Miss O'Day put a cherry. On her ear Miss McTeel put a fish. On her piggy-wig big Miss Babu put a fig; now each has the tattoo she did wish.



She dressed her old goat in a doublet and flew him to Port Au Dauphin. They drove to the Commissar's quarters and demanded a thimble of jam.

The Commissar couldn't be bothered: he was busy with strawberry pies. So they tied up his arms with some seaweed and escaped in a clever disguise.

Now no one would know them from Adam for she purpled her hair with a rinse and she twisted Goat's beard into ringlets and no one has spotted them since.

But I know for a fact as I stand here today that the lady is "extant" as sages would say. And Goat is still with her, of that I am sure, for a little bird told me, a sparrow named Myrrh.

Now Myrrh is a gossip, a ne'er-do-well. But Myrrh never lies -- his soul's pure as a bell. Though once in a while (like quarter to nine) he'll flitter and bramble and guzzle his wine.

And once in a while (when no one is looking) when hedgehogs are hedging and cats are in twine, when cockatoos doodle and pineapples pine, Mr. Myrrh will go winging from fence post to mine.

From Cedar Park Playground to Hickory Dole. From Sissyphus Junction to Jupiter's Hole. From Appletown Manor to Hollywood Bowl. From car lots to sand lots to hotplates and gall. From kippers and herring to Rasputin's Mall. From rivers and slippers and apricot-stew, from livers and drifters to call-out-the-crew, from snappers and rappers and petticoat paint, from diapers and flippers to rain-on-my-gate.

And I know for a fact as grannys do dote, as bumble bees bumble and gloat-fish do gloat, that the lady is "extant" -- and so is her goat.



"Is it day or night?" the Black boy asked through the vinyl of his hood.

"Is it day or night?" the scared boy asked from the depths of the subway tombs

from the depths of his vinyl hood

from the depths of his quivering soul

from the depths of his mangled veins

"Is it day or night?" he asked.



Stern Black lady

Dressed all in black

Black dress, black coat,

Black sunglasses too.

Her face is stern, her jaw is set

No longer will she permit regret.



A daffy dame, no teeth no more

But that's okay -- "dentures are a bore!"

For garbage-sifting requires nothing more than good eyesight and a prayer.



What about that character staring at me from the window's pane? A reflection of that guy -- it's a bit obscure.

He looks a bit tired 'round his prominent eyes. He looks a little silly 'round his kindly little mouth. His hair is short right now. He has no beard -- he shaves every day. Though he'd rather not, I think.

He's always looking, always thinking thinking thinking

And dreaming.

He daydreams.

And remembers.

And imagines.

And dreams.

And yearns.


Oh -- and he wears the same kind of cheap blue vinyl winter coat as does the scared Black boy who doesn't know whether it's day or night.



"The Last Summer Night On Ludlow Street"

I see gargoyles as night descends

Velvet musk-blue

Their windows glow yellow and the chintzy bouncy curtain spots do too

It's Manhattan's midsummer's eve

And a wall of Ice couldn't relieve the suffocated Latin Wail

Here in Gargoyle Ghetto it's only in mind's I that I see clearly what those old Puerto Ricans try to remember, what the young Puerto Ricans have only seen as painted images on abandoned walls --





burros on a river-cross

hacking trees -- it's a world I know and I'm off!

but here -- here!

rubble decay rust and shadows

the murder-flaming plume

the eagles glint darkly, stalking the nightly crawl

bottles puddles drunks brick

Gargoyle musk and velvet blue

The windows glow yellow and the chintzy bouncy curtain spots do too.

-August 9, 1984


"1986 SUNSET"

As the sun sets over the American Empire we tremble.

Lost souls into the woods do ramble.

Weary peasants, loaded with pots, do trundle

In the distance, archangels grumble.

Bumblebees bumble, turnipseeds tumble

Even R. Reagan is starting to crumble

Lift up your knees, partings are humble.

Try me no more with that ham and his cronies. Bake 'em for Christmas all smothered in honies.

Show me once more how the gypsies do gamble with life everlasting, with gods in a jamble

Beckon ME now to that life everlasting

Let's kick up our heels and make love after fasting

Bend me in knots

Clean up the loo

Tell me what's phony and tell me what's true

Dry all my tears

Quell all my fears

Prove that to trust shall not fade with the years

Flirt with the mad elves who sacrifice daily

Along with the mudlark trip ever gaily

Sing me the song that to Poe was so dear

Never darken my door unless you bring beer

Quote me some Nietzche, Rimbaud and Voltaire,

Then lay me amongst the downy white grass

And sing me a hymn as you turn on the gas

Laugh with me, Mary and Jacob and Joseph

Drown in my tears that drink up the most of

the glow of my soul that beckons the starlight

Beckons the starlight to fill up the hole.

Where shall I stay and where shall I go?

Yes, we are survivors and we have a duty

To life, love, to family,

To justice, to beauty

Bear me along, hawks that do soar

High over Eden

Crossing her shore

Orient Point leads far out to sea

Remember your childhood, it's my holy decree

Remember your childhood -- and remember me.


December 5, 1986


Some of my very favorite four-footed friends



The runt of the litter my parents gave me at the age of 12 grew to be a large, handsome, always happy friend who was an enthusiastic fellow hiker through the hills and canyons of my youth.



A novel could be written about the adventures and misadventures of this amazing pal of mine who hopped into my car one day in 1991 and stayed with me for more than 12 years. Lunchbucket survived the L.A. Riots (she was shot in the back by a BB gun) several earthquakes, including the big one in '94. What a survivor! One day in 2003 she disappeared forever and I later learned she found herself cornered by three coyotes. Two would never have defeated her.


I almost stepped on a tiny abandoned kitten while hiking in Griffith Park so naturally I had to bring Raspy home, for he hypnotized me with his Rasputin-like stare. I had just acquired Lunchbucket a couple of weeks before and after some hissing they became fast friends for years. Raspy was the Huck Finn of cats and very affectionate.


The beautiful mysterious Sylvester just appeared one day and stayed, I think to keep company with Lunchbucket and Raspy. My French neighbors became very attached to this photogenic being and so Sylvester decided to adopt them. Au revoir, mon ami!


Woodrow Woodstock Wilson

My friend Sheila bought a little puppy for me on my birthday while we were in Woodstock, NY. Little did I know the pup would grow to be as big as a small horse! I raised Woodrow as best I could in the Lower East Side. He saved my life twice from muggers during late night walks and won a heroic battle against a spike-studded pitt bull that a Rican gang member sic'd on him. Eventually I took Woodrow on a glorious tour. We trotted along Georgia beaches, paraded through the French Quarter, traversed the entire state of Texas and then visited picturesque villages in Mexico. Unfortunately I had to leave Woodrow behind on a ranch in Mexico and I hope he realizes I never wanted to part company with such a wonderful friend. My prayer is that Woodrow has sired a new breed of cream labs that are populating the villages and ranches throughout Mexico.



The elegant and regal Snow-Cat, my current owner, a semi wild feline who befriended Lunchbucket when we moved to a new home in late 2000. It was interesting seeing an all-black cat friendly and hanging out with an all-white one. Lunchbucket became a victim of coyotes in 2003. Three years later I found Snow-Cat lying on the ground, the victim of a racoon attack, according to the vet to whom I rushed her. She recuperated at my home and since that time is a wild thing no longer but a thoroughly domesticated lover of hearth and home, knowing very few racoons will ever intrude inside a human dwelling. In October 2008 a young lady of 27-years told me that Snow-Cat was once known as "Snuggles" a kitten she had gotten when she was 12. Therefore, Snow-Cat, Snuggles or Snow Ball, another name given her, was born in 1993 and turned 17 years old in 2010. She shows no signs of being this old, and indeed often plays like a kitten.








Hodge Podge