Sunday, December 17, 2017

Connie Gilchrist - A Hard-Working Woman

Some character actors have such larger-than-life personalities that they literally seem to step out of the screen and walk among you. To me, Connie Gilchrist has always been that type of an actress. She is instantly recognizable and, even for the briefest uncredited appearance, she would give it her all....never making herself conspicuous, however. The mark of a truly great character actor is their ability to blend into the story and yet be natural and unobtrusive. 

Connie Gilchrist's specialty was portraying strong working-class women, often domestics with a New York or Irish accent. Gilchrist's thick Brooklyn accent was not a part of her act but her birthright. Rose Constance Gilchrist was born on February 2, 1901, in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Martha Daniels, was a stage actress and so Connie decided to follow in her footsteps, making her stage debut at the age of 16 in London. She toured with a repertory company throughout France and then appeared in various US stage companies before she made her Broadway debut in 1935. It was in 1940 that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios offered her a ten-year contract and she then found constant work playing in such classics as A Woman's Face ( 1941 ), Johnny Eager ( 1941 ), Tortilla Flat ( 1942 ), Presenting Lily Mars ( 1943 ),  The Thin Man Goes Home ( 1945 ) and The Hucksters ( 1947 ). 

If that classic jig "The Irish Washerwoman" was based on a true-life woman, Gilchrist would have played her. You could also easily picture her walking the streets of Dublin peddling cockles and mussels. She had a loud voice and a big personality to match. Onscreen, Gilchrist was often seen with her shirtsleeves rolled up washing dishes or scrubbing a floor. She portrayed domestics in such films as The Valley of Decision ( 1945 ), Good News ( 1947 ), Big City ( 1948 ), and Luxury Liner ( 1948 ). 
No matter how tough the work she never despaired over it....neither was she ever ashamed of her position. Gilchrist always portrayed honest women who kept their heads held high. If she happened to be poor and had to scrub floors for a living, then she would set to the task with two strong hands and not complain - nor would she put up with hearing complaints from anyone else! Her motto could be: you simply do your best in life and never waste time wishing circumstances were different. 
Her characters were always level-headed and resourceful, very often spunky. She liked playing women who were troopers. When Sister Mary ( Claudette Colbert ) begins to lose hope in proving the innocence of Valerie Carnes ( Ann Blyth ) in Thunder on the Hill ( 1951 ), it is Sister Josephine ( Gilchrist ), one of the nuns who toils in the convent kitchen, who renews Sister Mary's faith. 

Gilchrist's characters made themselves at home wherever they happened to be. If she played a maid then the household that hired her would soon find that they gained a new member of the family. In Junior Miss ( 1945 ), she was memorable as Hilda, the apartment maid who helped to raise Harry Grave's two rambunctious daughters. Gilchrist had a special knack with children ( in real-life she had a daughter who became an actress, too ) and in many ways she was like Louise Beavers, playing huggable "mammies" who knew how to give a youngster a good scolding when needed. 
Sometimes Gilchrist made a departure from her usual characters and would portray slovenly women who enjoyed sticking their nose in a bottle of whiskey. In these situations, she had no shame in donning fuzzy slippers, a threadbare night robe, and messing up her hair to make herself look like a sleazy landlord or housewife. 

Gilchrist made occasional appearances in westerns, playing Hominy in the James Stewart classic The Far Country ( 1954 ), and later, on television, in The Adventures of Jim Bowie ( 1957 ) and The Restless Gun ( 1958 ), but her Brooklyn accent made her unsuitable for too many western roles, even though she had the face of a tough western woman. Instead, she enjoyed a recurring role in The Adventures of Long John Silver ( 1956 ) as Purity Pinker, a tavern owner who is intent on wedding Captain Long John. 
She returned to films in the late 1950s playing in Auntie Mame ( as Mame's maid Norah Muldoon ) and Some Came Running and, in the 1960s, interspersed constant television work ( Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Our Man Higgins, The Twilight Zone ) with film appearances in Walt Disney comedies ( The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, The Monkey's Uncle ). Gilchrist retired from acting in 1969 and settled down in New Mexico where she passed away at the age of 84 on March 3, 1985. 

Today, Connie Gilchrist is best remembered for portraying Linda Darnell's wise-cracking mother in A Letter to Three Wives ( 1949 ), a role that captured just about all the qualities that I love best in Gilchrist: her tough-talking mannerisms, her down-to-earth practicality, her maternal care, and her positive outlook. She was a tough but lovable broad. 

This post is our contribution to the What a Character! Blogathon being hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Paula's Cinema Club, and Outspoken and Freckled. Be sure to check out the main roster of posts because there are a lot of great profiles on some fabulous character actors of the 1930s-1970s! 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Henry Stephenson - A Lovable Old Gent

Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club have once again teamed up to host the fabulous What a Character! Blogathon giving us film fans a chance to gush about those unsung heroes of the silver screen - character actors. What would classics such as Gone with the Wind be without the likes of Thomas Mitchell or Hattie McDaniel? What would It's a Wonderful Life be like without character actors Beulah Bondi, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, or Samuel S. Hinds? It is the character actors who give a film that extra special touch, and recognizing these same actors appearing in similar parts in various films gives the audience a feeling of familiarity, making them all seem like dear old friends. 

Henry Stephenson is an especially lovable character actor. This kindly gentleman graced the stages of London and New York and the silver screen for nearly thirty years, often portraying genial men of distinction. His presence lent a touch of class to every film he appeared in. He played opposite Errol Flynn in five films at Warner Brothers, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox studios kept Stephenson especially busy in historic period productions throughout the 1930s and 1940s. 

Henry Stephenson Garroway was born on April 16, 1871, in Granada ( British West Indies ) and was educated in England, where he also played rugby... but not professionally like that other famous British character actor C. Aubrey Smith. He made his Broadway debut around the turn of the century in "A Message from Mars" and, with the advent of motion pictures, Stephenson ventured into the new medium in 1917. Unfortunately, like many character actors, he did not make a name for himself until he settled into supporting roles, both on stage and in film. 

At MGM and RKO, Stephenson found his niche portraying both imposing and benevolent gentlemen in such classics as Red-Headed Woman ( 1932 ), A Bill of Divorcement ( 1932 ), Cynara ( 1932 ), What Every Woman Knows ( 1934 ), The Night is Young ( 1935 ) and Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1936 ). One of his most well-remembered films during this period was the classic Little Women ( 1933 ) starring Katharine Hepburn. Stephenson portrayed dear old Mr. Laurence, the March girls' neighbor, who although having a face that "may frighten some people, his eyes are kind and I like him!". C. Aubrey Smith would later portray Mr. Laurence in the 1949 MGM remake. 

In 1935, Stephenson appeared opposite Errol Flynn as Lord Willoughby in the classic swashbuckler Captain Blood. He would also perform with Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade ( 1936 ), The Prince and the Pauper ( 1937 ), and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex ( 1939 ) portraying either lords or dukes. Stephenson simply had that regal bearing that befitted one born of royal blood. He was a count in Conquest ( 1937 ), Marie Antionette ( 1938 ), and Suez ( 1938 ), and in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Spring Parade ( 1940 ) he was promoted to an emperor, none other than Emperor Franz Joseph. 

Stephenson and Katharine Hepburn in Little Women ( 1933 ) 
But it was tender-hearted paternal roles that suited Henry Stephenson best. In the 20th Century Fox musical Down Argentine Way, Stephenson played Don Diego Quintana, a proud Argentinian who learned to quench the fire of an old family rivalry to see his son ( Don Ameche ) happily wed. Although he often portrayed wealthy and illustrious gentlemen, his characters were rarely arrogant, and never ever villainous. Quite the contrary. It was Sir Ronald Ramsgate ( Stephenson ) who enlisted the aid of the great Sherlock Holmes to protect the crown jewels in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ( 1939 ), and it was Mr. Brownlow who helps rescue little Oliver from the clutches of Fagin in Oliver Twist ( 1948 ). 

When World War II broke out in 1939, Stephenson found himself cast as military men in a number of morale-boosting films. Once again, he played men who had to carry responsibility and make judicial decisions that would impact a great many lives. He was General Cathaway in the romantic This Above All ( 1942 ), Colonel Blimpton in the B-film mystery Halfway to Shanghai ( 1942 ), and General Hetherton in The Hour Before the Dawn ( 1944 ). Stephenson was also memorable as General Fitzgerald in the enchanting Enchantment ( 1948 ) where he portrayed the sympathetic father who adopts the young orphan Lark ( Gigi Perreau ) to raise as his own. 

Stephenson with Dolores Costello, Freddie Bartholomew, and Una O'Connor in Little Lord Fauntleroy ( 1936 ) 
Stephenson's last film was made just a year later in Challenge to Lassie, the final installment of the popular Lassie film series. He would make a handful of television appearances before retiring. Stephenson passed away at the age of 85 in 1956. He was survived by his daughter and his wife of many years, Ann Shoemaker, who was herself an excellent character actress ( Alice Adams, Stella Dallas, My Favorite Wife ). 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

TCM Big Screen Classics 2018

TCM and Fanthom have teamed up for another year-long celebration of classic film with their Big Screen Classics which will be screened in theaters across the nation. This year, they have a few particularly juicy titles mixed in with some questionable "classics" in their line-up of films : 

January: The Treasure of Sierra Madre ( 1948 ) Jan. 14, 16
February: The Philadelphia Story ( 1940 ) Feb. 18, 21
March: Vertigo ( 1958 ) Mar. 18, 21
April: Grease ( 1978 ) Apr. 8, 11
May: Sunset Boulevard ( 1950 ) May 13, 16
June: The Producers ( 1967 ) June 3, 6
July: Big ( 1988 ) July 15, 18
August: The Big Lebowski ( 1998 ) Aug. 5, 8
August: South Pacific ( 1958 ) Aug. 26, 29
September: Rebel Without a Cause ( 1955 ) Sep. 23, 26
October: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ( 1939 ) Oct. 14, 17
November: Die Hard ( 1988 ) Nov. 11, 14
December: White Christmas ( 1954 ) Dec. 9, 12

For more information, check out Fanthom's website:  TCM Big Screen Classics - Fanthom Events. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nugget Reviews - 24

Alas, there be no golden nuggets among this batch of films, but some of these movies are mighty entertaining nonetheless. 

Can't Help Singing ( 1944 )  14k 

A senator's daughter joins a wagon train en route to California in the hopes of meeting up with the lieutenant she wants to marry. On the way, she falls in love with a card shark. Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, Akim Tamiroff, Leonid Kinskey, Ray Collins, David Bruce. Universal Pictures. Directed by Frank Ryan.

After making thirteen black-and-white films, the powers-that-be at Universal Studios decided to showcase their number one box-office attraction, Winnipeg's Sweetheart, in her first Technicolor production Can't Help Singing. The film was a great success combining light-hearted comedy and romance with beautiful western locales and some lovely tunes by Jerome Kern ( which were nominated for two Oscars ). A slew of wonderful character actors also appear, including Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey, who do a great bit of schtick involving Durbin's trunk. 


How to Frame a Figg ( 1971 ) 14k

A city accountant gets framed by crooked politicians in a $50,000 swindle and must use the new accounting computer, L.E.O, to help him prove his innocence. Don Knotts, Frank Welker, Joe Flynn, Edward Andrews, Elaine Joyce. Universal Pictures. Directed by Alan Rafkin.

Don Knotts is fun to watch in every movie he made. How to Frame a Figg isn't as memorable as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or The Reluctant Astronaut but it has its moments...many of them highly amusing. This was the last of a series of comedies that Knotts made for Universal Pictures. Later, he would team up with Tim Conway in such Disney classics as The Apple Dumpling Gang and Hot Lead, Cold Feet. Incidentally, while Frank Welker was great as Hollis' friend Prentiss, Tim Conway would have been an even better addition to the film. 


The Man from the Alamo ( 1953 ) 14k.

John Stroud is branded a coward when he leaves the scene of the Alamo to check on his and the other soldiers' families back at their ranches in Ox Bow, but he later gets a chance to prove his courage when he protects a wagon train being attacked by a gang of outlaws. Glenn Ford, Julie Adams, Chill Wills, Victor Jory, Hugh O'Brien. Universal Pictures. Directed by Budd Boetticher. 

Throughout the 1950s, Budd Boetticher directed a number of low-budget westerns starring Randolph Scott. The Man from the Alamo could have easily been a Scott western, but instead, it stars the delightful Glenn Ford as the downcast soldier Stroud who is branded a coward. Julie Adams, one of the busiest Western stars of the era, didn't get much of a romantic part in this movie but adds a feminine touch to a very masculine film. Little Marc Cavell is also adorable as Stroud's only friend, Carlos. Overall, it's an entertaining but not very memorable western. 


The Unholy Intruders aka Hinter Klostermauern ( 1952 ) 14k.

A middle-aged man returns home from the war and, unable to find lodging for his girlfriend and child, he moves them into an abandoned convent. When the nuns return to occupy it again, he refuses to leave and his presence proves to be a thorn to the nuns. Olga Tschechowa, Philip Dorn, Katharina Mayberg, Dorothea Wieck. Delta-Venus. Directed by Harald Reinl.

Thomas and Kathrin are two protagonists that you instantly want to hate, and it is very difficult for a film to hold the attention of its audience with the presence of anti-heroes. Yet, as Thomas ( Philip Dorn ) is just about to go from bad to worse, he has a change of heart and his redemption becomes the drawing feature of the film. Olga Tschechowa, that legend of the silent era, plays the prioress in this movie with such conviction. At one time Olga was accused of being a Russian agent in Nazi Germany. She obviously knows how to play many parts well! 


Anne of Windy Poplars ( 1940 ) 14k

Anne Shirley takes up her first position as vice-principal in the town of Windy Poplars but finds she must first win over hostile faculty and feuding citizens before she receives a welcome. Anne Shirley, James Ellison, Slim Summerville, Henry Travers, Louise Campbell. RKO Pictures. Directed by Jack Hively. 

Six years passed before RKO decided to film a sequel to Anne of Green Gables ( 1934 ) which was based on L.M. Montgomery's book series of the same name. Anne Shirley, who portrayed Anne Shirley in the original film, returns to her namesake role, this time playing an older and more mature schoolteacher. The film trots along at a gentle pace and, while it isn't anything special, there are a number of good scenes, especially those involving character actors Slim Summerville and Henry Travers. Poor Anne sure has to put up with a lot of curmudgeons in Windy Poplars, but with her gentle ways she naturally wins them over by the end of the film....and gains a daughter too. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

From the Archives : Pillow Talk ( 1959 )

Doris Day offers Tony Randall some candy during a break in between filming scenes from Pillow Talk ( 1959 ) in this "candid" publicity photo. This was the first of three films Day and Randall would make together.

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Olivia Hussey in Japan

In 1968, the adorable English-Argentinian born actress Olivia Hussey was chosen from among 500 actresses to play Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet after Zeffirelli had spotted her in a theater production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" two years earlier. This role launched her into instant international stardom but, unfortunately, it also triggered a bad case of agoraphobia which took her several years to recover from. 

Instead of taking medication for this condition, she treated herself with meditation. What not too many people know is that Hussey always had an appreciation for the Orient; their way of life, their music, and especially their practice of meditation. 

In 1978, Olivia Hussey traveled to Japan for a promotional tour/pleasure trip. Hussey was quite a sensation in the land of the midnight sun, and in many ways, her delicate facial features resembled those of one born Eurasian. While she was there she filmed a promotional spot for a cosmetics commercial. Hussey speaks a few words in Japanese and then addresses the audience in a slow and respectable tone of English. 

Shortly after this trip, Olivia Hussey married one of Japan's most famous singing stars, Akira Fuse ( her first husband was Dean Paul Martin ). Fuse traveled quite a bit doing concerts and, while they never performed together, Hussey did make a tea commercial with him in the mid-1980s. 

Hussey and Fuse bore a son, Maximilian, and then divorced in 1989. Whether she resided in Japan while they were married is uncertain, but judging from the commercial she seemed to be right at home there. 
This entry is a part of our latest series entitled "Did You Know?".....sometimes we just feel like sharing interesting fragments of television and movie history and now we have a place to do just that. If you have a hot tip that you would like us to share on Silver Scenes, drop us a line!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In This House of Brede ( 1975 )

"There is only one special friend here in this house for any of us. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment."

In 1975, Diana Rigg starred in the two-hour GE Theater production In This House of Brede as widow Philippa, a successful middle-aged London businesswoman who leaves "the world" to enter Brede Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, as a cloistered nun. 

This CBS television movie was loosely based on author Rumer Godden's engrossing masterpiece of the same name which was published in 1969. Both the novel and the film span a ten-year period and focus on Philippa's growth from a cold bitter woman to a compassionate and loving nun. 

When we first meet Philippa she is stern-faced, independent, and not particularly likable. She comes to Brede for the wrong reasons. She comes seeking a refuge from her past, "a place where God would be all and there would be no need of ever saying 'I love you' to another human being again". And then Joanna arrives. This sweet young novice makes Philippa realize just how deeply she longs for the love of the daughter that was taken from her years before. 

Philippa thought she could leave the memory of her daughter's death behind her but Sister Joanna's presence serves as a living symbol of the event. At first, she despises the girl for that reason but as her hatred transforms into love she comes to see Joanna as a gift from God ( the Biblical meaning of the name Joanna )....until Sister Agnes informs the abbess of their affection for each other. Special friendships within the community were frowned upon by the order. Philippa then realizes she must break away from Joanna. 

"It is such a bother loving always suffers in the end" 
In Godden's novel, Philippa was just one part of a rich complex tapestry that centered around the true heart of the novel - Brede itself. It is a beautiful novel that contains stories within stories, all of which unfold randomly, slowly revealing personalities and messages of wisdom. 

An accurate transcription to film of such a narrative would have resulted in an immense production - but it would have made a fabulous mini-series. Instead, to condense the story to its two-hour time frame, screenwriter James Costigan eliminated many of the characters and shifted the focus on Philippa's struggle to overcome her grief; rewriting the story to accommodate this. The resulting script had its good and bad points. While Costigan managed in part to capture the essence of the book, certain scenes were overly sentimental and the behavior of some of the nuns seemed improbable. 

In the novel, one of the more prominent characters was Sister Cecily, an angelically beautiful postulant that quickly becomes a favorite with Abbess Catherine and Dame Maura, the precentrix. Costigan eliminated the character of Dame Maura and cleverly transformed the bond she shares with Sister Cecily into a mother-daughter relationship between Dame Philippa and Sister Cecily, whom he renamed Joanna....which so happens to have been the name of Philippa's deceased daughter. As New York Times critic John J. O'Connor described this reworking, "It's a trifle too pat, considerably more calculating and less interesting. That much understood, In this House of Brede still emerges as inspired television." 
Indeed, it is an excellent production, and it is one of those rare films that saves its best moments for the final quarter. Cinematographer Christopher Challis ( Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ) beautifully photographed it, and the cast and crew traveled to the small village of Millstreet in County Cork, Ireland to film scenes amidst the authentic background of Drishane Convent, an impressive structure that serves a majestic purpose. This building becomes as much a part of the film as any of the characters. 

Dame Diana Rigg, who, for her part, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress ( Juliet Mills won for QB VII that year ), enacted the spiritual growth of Dame Philippa with great conviction. 
In This House of Brede also benefited from top-notch performances from Judi Bowkers as Sister Joanna, Denis Quilley as Philippa's former lover Sir Richard, and Nicholas Clay. Gwen Watford ( Cleopatra, Taste the Blood of Dracula ) perfectly captured the strong yet gentle and understanding nature of Abbess Catherine, while veteran English actress Pamela Brown ( I Know Where I'm Going, Lust for Life ) was an ideal Dame Agnes, intelligent but with a dangerously suspicious mind. 

"Whenever things seem too much for you, go down to the bottom of the garden and turn, and look back up here at Brede riding against the sky like a great proud ship. And think of all of us within - your sisters. Think of those who were here a hundred years ago and those who will be here a hundred years from now: this long unbroken line of care and companionship."
Click here to view In This House of Brede on Youtube. 
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