ANNA’S TRIBUTE TO JEAN HARLOW

A tribute to the wonderful Jean Harlow, gone way too soon (1911-1937).

ANNA’S TRIBUTE TO BURT LANCASTER

Growing up in the slum of East Harlem in one of only a few Irish families in a predominantly Italian neighborhood, young Burt Lancaster was a sensitive boy who was both a rascally street kid while also being extremely bookish, spending entire days in the library. Known around the neighborhood for his beautiful singing voice, he and his father could often be found singing on the steps outside their house on Saturday nights.

Acting found him early, and he made his stage debut in a neighborhood community center, which got him a lot of attention. When the founders of a new theater company came to his house to offer him a place in their school, he climbed out the window and hid on the fire escape, trying to escape his fate, worried that people would laugh at him for being a “sissy”.

Until his calling caught up with him, he was many things—based on his athletic prowess, he got a scholarship at New York University, until he eventually dropped out and ran away to the circus with his best friend, with whom he formed an acrobatic act. In between seasons, he worked at a fair in Coney Island, as a singing waiter, even posed nude for gay magazines when money got tight.

When he arrived in Hollywood after serving in the army during WW2, he was already in his 30s, and he quickly made it his bitch—he made it pretty clear it wasn’t gonna be the other way around. Highly intelligent and intensely independent, he struggled with authority, which sometimes labeled him “difficult”. On the other hand, he was often praised for his professionalism, and he had an extremely generous and loyal side.

A true lover of film, he co-founded Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, one of the first independent production companies, which brought fourth such beloved films as Marty and Sweet Smell of Success. All his life, he fought for the underdog and stood up for minorities—a value his mother instilled in him when she wasn’t beating the living daylights out of him. It is probably that complexity that made him such a fascinating actor and that enabled such a lasting career—from Noir to adventure, from war to romance, from costume drama to Western, he was believable in every role.

Me, I respond to his intensity, his passion, his great sensuality, the vulnerable eyes behind a stoic mask—and that he always gave it his all and kept challenging himself until his health didn't allow it anymore. Last but not least I admire his physical beauty, his panther-like movements, the extraordinary grace of his strong body. Burt Lancaster was one of my first crushes when I got into Classic film, and I doubt that it will ever fade. So it was about time to pay tribute to this actor who brought me so many hours of joy. Working with material from over 50 movies from the 1940s to the 1980s, it took me a whole year to complete it, but here it is now.

THE COMPLETE ASTAIRE COLLECTION
A visual love letter to Fred Astaire

For two years I have worked on a Fred Astaire project that I finally finished today. I call it The Complete Astaire Collection, a tribute video I put together from clips from every single dance number he did for the big screen between 1933 and 1968, and they’re presented in chronological order. The music is provided by Astaire’s second biggest fan and friend Michael Jackson.

After an almost 30-year-career on the stage, Fred Astaire made his film debut with Dancing Lady in 1933, introduced by Clark Gable and dancing his first routine with Joan Crawford, who took a cast off a broken ankle for a day just so she could dance with him. Watch him as he dances his way through the decades, in top hat and tails, with rolled-up sleeves and an old tie around his waist, or that one time he wore blue denim jeans. Dancing over chairs and tables, gliding over the ceiling or skidding around on his knees, on top of a roof or under a gazebo in the rain, dancing as a sailor or a soldier, a shoemaker or a king, a fake Russian or a guardian angel, incorporating his talents as a drummer and golfer, chewing gum or with a cigarette dangling from his lips, dancing with his own shadow or surrounded by firecrackers, on ships and in barns, in toy stores and fun houses, in the woods and at the gym, on roller-skates or in cowboy boots, in numbers that are romantic and elegant or comedic and eccentric, but always inspired and innovative, in a manner that was neither tap nor ballroom nor ballet, but distinctly his own ‘outlaw’ style, as he liked to describe it. Movements that look completely effortless and spontaneous when in truth there wasn’t a single move that he made that wasn’t written down in his notebook and planned with the precision of an engineer (often at 4 o'clock in the morning), and rehearsed with the tireless drive of a perfectionist to the point of bleeding feet and sweaty tears.

When working on a film, he prepared for months, often working sixteen hours a day and never eating during rehearsals. ‘Moaning Minnie’ was his nickname given by his sister, because he was constantly worried about his work. Full of self-loathing and insecurity, he was his own worst critic. “He was a very worried man”, remembered one of his leading ladies. You wouldn’t know it when you watch him dance—like all great artists, he was transformed when he did what he was meant to do. When he dances he seems so carefree he’s barely touching the ground, unless of course he’s ‘beating the floor to a pulp’, with an intensity and a deeply masculine anger that is rarely talked about. People prefer to call him ‘debonair’, quite possibly his least favorite word and one he never identified with.

Another thing he hated was sentimentality and repetition. Ever the innovator, he never looked back, refused to talk about the past and had a keen interest in new technologies and sought to incorporate them in his choreographies. Already as a teenager he had ideas how dance should be filmed—ideas that have endured and still inspire filmmakers today. Many people don’t know that Astaire was the director of most of his dances on film.

His final years weren’t particularly happy—ironically he began struggling with his balance and couldn’t turn his head to the left anymore or he’d get really dizzy, but he could look back on an extraordinary career that spanned almost 80 years—one of the longest careers in show business. There’s a reason why it lasted that long, and why he will never be forgotten. To me he’s the greatest artist of the 20th century (Buster Keaton being a close second), a man of generous spirit, boundless creative energy and limitless inner strength, a man who brought and still brings healing and joy to millions of people around the world, and who can pick you up with just his smile. More than anything, Astaire was a hypnotist, and his true genius was not so much his technical brilliance but his ability to feel profound joy and letting you in on it. All of this can be seen in my tribute.

Watch him dance alone and with his many partners, some of them dancers, some not, and how he held them in his arms in the way only he could—so loose and yet so completely in charge, with his big hand almost entirely covering the small of their backs. Several of his dancing partners have said that all he had to do was to put his hand on your back, and you knew just what to do and where to go—he was that good at leading. They compared it to telepathy. His musical career ended with Finian’s Rainbow in 1968, the first major film by director Francis Ford Coppola, who later admitted that the film wouldn’t have been such a flop if he had listened more to Astaire.

(If you’re not in the US, you can also watch the video on YouTube, or via my Google Drive which also allows you to download the file. I recommend these two options over Vimeo, since I had to compress the video there a bit.)

Clips from West Side Story to "A Night Like This" by The Cure.

My tribute to Fred Astaire's work with the lovely Rita Hayworth, and the two movies they made together, You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942).

 

After five years of watching almost exclusively classic movies it's time to look back and celebrate some of the actors and actresses who have brought me so much joy. 


CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD DANCE COMPILATION

A tribute to dancing in Classic Hollywood films, a mix of spontaneous random dancing and outtakes from musical numbers.

Featuring: Cary Grant, Joel McCrea, Lucille Ball, Fatty Arbuckle, Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Shirley Booth, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown, Gloria Grahame, Judy Garland, Donald O'Connor, Buster Keaton, Vera-Ellen, Fred Astaire, Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Ruby Keeler, Tommy Rall, Gene Kelly, Dorothy Malone, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russell, Vera Zorina, The Nicholas Brothers, Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Julie Andrews, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Tyrone Power, Jean Peters, Horst Buchholz, Jean Arthur, Bill Robinson, Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Elizabeth Taylor, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Paul Newman, Bob Fosse, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan and others.

 

ANNA'S TRIBUTE TO TYRONE POWER
A tribute to a damn fine actor and one of my biggest cinematic crushes, Tyrone Power.


CLASSIC MOVIE KISSES (& ALMOST KISSES)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Jane Wyatt, Ronald Colman, Mary Duncan, Charles Farrell, Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Fred MacMurray, Carole Lombard, Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor, Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Jimmy Stewart, Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando, Janet Leigh, Van Heflin, Cary Grant, Julie Harris, James Dean, Kim Hunter, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Bremer, Ronald Colman, Henry Fonda, John Gilbert, Jean Arthur, Toby Wing, Patricia Neal, Kathryn McGuire, Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Virginia Huston, Robert Mitchum, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Shelley Winters, Margaret Leahy, Georgia Hale, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Jane Wyman, Mildred Davis, Harold Lloyd.

 

BIRD OF SORROW / A Tribute to Ronald Colman

Ronald Colman (1891-1958) was a major star during the silent era as well as in the 30s and 40s, a terrific actor and a beautiful man who was equally suited for comedy and drama. Although popular among classic film lovers he is generally quite forgotten. This tribute is my little contribution to keeping his memory alive.

FOR THE SUMMER / A Tribute to The Swimmer

This is a tribute to one of my favorite movies; 'The Swimmer' from 1968, starring Burt Lancaster, directed by Frank Perry.


FREDDIE DOING HIS THING / A Tribute to Fred Astaire

I’ve tried to show him the way I see him—wild and gentle, playful and eccentric, casual and relaxed, charismatic and spirited, often with a boyish smile, always with style. Most of all I hope to have captured his genius, and the happiness he’s brought into my life.