WHEN STARS WERE STARS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s Academy Awards weekend and the buzz is on about the contenders. Who’ll win, who should win, who’s been snubbed, who’ll be wearing what, etc ad nauseam. It used to be an exciting period for me as a life long movie lover. Not any more!

We haven’t seen any of the nominated films this year. I can only judge by word of mouth. I know “La La Land” is everyone’s favorite, with 14 nominations. It’s a hot ticket with Hollywood heavyweights because it pays tribute to the golden age of movies. We should go see it.

Yet, therein lies the rub.

I grew up watching movies from the golden age. Almost all the legends were live and working. I read fan magazines about John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and other iconic figures. Stuff about their home life and upcoming projects. Lux Radio Theater carried adaptations of film hits featuring the likes of Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Myrna Loy. Billboards featured Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Clark Gable.

New kids on the Hollywood block included Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Sid Caesar made fun of Brando’s method school mumbling on his “Show of Shows” skits. Grownups snickered at Brando, saying “his kind” would never replace greats like Ronald Coleman and Leslie Howard.

My parents refused to buy me the motorcycle jacket and cap Brando wore in “The Wild One”. Geez, they were so cool and I desperately wanted to look cool. I copied John Wayne’s laconic walk and measured speech pattern. It made me feel 6-inches taller.

Movie stars were truly larger than life in those days. You didn’t see them often. Guest appearances on radio and television were special. I recall watching one Oscar telecast. It might have been 1953. The black and white images sparkled with shots of stars in the audience. Everywhere the camera turned, there were famous faces. It was wonderful to see “old” stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Lillian Gish and Mae West. There were the veterans like Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Fredric March, to name a few.

I got a kick when they focused on the newer, more “hip” stars like  Newman, Dean, Brando, Poitier, James Garner, Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron.  My jeans stiffened when I saw closeups of Mamie Van Doren, Edie Williams and Rhonda Fleming. Lordy! Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas did a song and dance act that stole the show. The applause was long and deafening. The smiles from Kirk and Burt could’ve lit up a dozen cities. Bob Hope was funny as usual, joking about being snubbed by Oscar. It never occurred to me that someone other than Bob Hope could host the Academy Awards show.

Mom, my frequent movie date, smiled widely as she watched the stars. I think she was recalling her youth. I might’ve noticed a tinge of sadness but it was fleeting.

All those images are filed away in my sense memory this Oscar awards weekend. I don’t know many of the stars. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are now veterans.

Dare I mention that so many of the “new” celebrities all look alike? My wife says it’s all about plastic surgery. Yet there are plenty of serious  stars. The Streeps, Washingtons, Berrys. The new old timers — Pacino and DeNiro. They’re no younger than we are. Some are older. They aren’t getting big roles, either.

So, rather than disparage the youngest group of stars, I shall simply admit time has left me in the dust.

How did this happen?

46 thoughts on “WHEN STARS WERE STARS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

  1. We were talking about this the other day…the cult of celebrity seems to have killed the mystique of the movie stars of my youth. I won’t disparage the younger actors as I know very few of them for their work, only what hits the headlines about their private lives… and that I won’t read. But the glamour has gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, we’re kindred spirits!!

      As I write, we’re watching “Inherit The Wind” again. The Tracy-March courtroom exchanges are the stuff of legend.
      Earlier, I watched “The Searchers” which I think is the best western ever with John Wayne’s finest performance.

      It’s probably unfair to compare today’s stars with those legends of yesteryear.

      But the thrill is gone for me.

      Like

  2. It’s not just Garry thinking “they all look alike.” They really all DO look alike, at least the pretty ones. There are the blondes and brunettes and now we have dark-skinned young men and women and THEY look alike, too. I understand the reason why they do it because there’s a “type” in Hollywood and everyone wan’t to be “that type.” We watch the late night shows and when they get done with the stuff about news and that mess, out come the stars.

    I look at them, I look at Garry. I say “Who’s THAT?”

    Sometimes, he knows, but as often as not, he has no idea who they are either.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lets not overlook the staff of our local news broadcasts.., it’s a fashion show of young, good looking people.., and they all look alike. Not one of them exhibits the quiet dignity of a Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Chet Huntley or John Camron Swayze. None of these guys were particularly good looking, at least not in the hormone stirring way the (young) public now expects. They looked like us.., normal every day folks.., kind of in the “You look familiar, but I can’t quite place you” sense. Those newscasters of the past were stars, as well, in their own right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pity you didn’t make it down to see us. La La Land is a decent movie. But is it a throwback to the great musicals of the past? Uhhhhh … sort of. The problem was that in the old days every actor and actress could sing and dance. Even ones that usually didn’t. Cagney, Cable, Douglas, Jimmy Stewart. You learned it in basic acting boot camp. Today we have talented Broadway stars who can perform, but no real Hollywood stars. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great actors and decent singers and dancers. The director and choreographer knew this and did a very good job playing to their abilities. So they sort of danced and sort of singed. My problem was not with the movie, just the sad lack of song and dance talent today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “and sort of singed.” I think that’s “sang” Tommy, but for some, I’m sure it WAS “singed”? I dunno about you but I always tended to watch the supporting actors more that the stars. Geez! I saw a clip the other day with Buddy Ebson dancing and always wanted to see Walter Mathau dance 🙂 Singin’ and dancin’ was a prerequisite for applying for stage and movie work, part of the resume so to speak. So I was usually surprised when some stars, I never associated with those skills, would bust out in song and dance. Cagney was one my first surprises followed closely by George Raft. After these guys nothing rattled me, although, wait as I did, The Duke never broke out in a tap routine (correct me if I’m wrong) that I know of.

      Liked by 1 person

          • Mary Lynne, there’s a nice exchange in “The Comancheros” (61/Fox) between MON-soor Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) and Texas Ranger Captain Jake Cutter (Duke Wayne). It’s about truth and integrity.

            Regret “They are just words. Who cares?”. Cutter: “MON-soor, you must’ve had a poor upbringing. Words are what men live by.”

            Like

    • Pancho, I’m also sorry we didn’t make it down for our “special” viewing of the nominated films. We will have to wait til they’re on cable. I’m looking forward to “Hidden Figures” and “Fences” among other touted films.

      That Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas song and dance number, I mentioned, epitomized the fun and magic of the glory days. There’s also David Niven’s classic line when a streaker stole the live spotlight one year.

      Like

  4. If I watch the Oscars, I know I will be sad to see few of the older stars there. Jack will not be in the front row, but maybe next year. He is announced as the star in a new movie that sounds right for him, Toni Erdmann (German title).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rich, I remember one year we saw Jennifer Jones in an Oscars’ audience shot. Sad. I erased it from my sense memory. She died a few months later. Then, a more recent show caught Mickey Rooney in the audience, wrapped in an overcoat and looking angry.

    Bittersweet because these were glimpses of legends at the end of their lives.

    Like

  6. Well, Garry, you certainly have a better memory than me. The movies and stars have changed, just as society has. It’s all catering to the young with younger actors and sfx and recycling and…, and…. I still prefer the older movies but whenever I share with Lynn- who was very sheltered as a child- she doesn’t get it. She feels a film like Laura is absurd and hates the set up and dialogue in Some Like It Hot. So I just go into my den and watch the classics alone. We do enjoy foreign films together, though. Much slower paced and great character driven plots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emilio, if you haven’t caught on yet, I am a life long, avid lover of classic (old) movies. As a kid, I use to micro study the credits. That gave me an appreciation of character actors, directors, music scorers,etc.

      I have a distinct preference for older movies.30’s and 40’s, 50’sand 60’s. I think my passion probably faded by the end of the 70’s although I continued going to the movies til the end of the 90’s. In 2000, we moved from Boston to rural Uxbridge, Massachusetts. We have very little in the way of culture in our valley. Just an observation, not a criticism.

      It’s probably coincidence but the new century coincided with the loss of most of the remaining legends from old Hollywood. I recall the sadness when Paul Newman died. Ironically, he was one of the “new stars” when I was growing up. I’d spent a day with Newman in Boston and felt I knew him a little. So, his passing felt a bit personal to me.

      My lucky times spent with legends like Cagney, Mitchum, Peck, Heston, K. Hepburn, Sinatra and others have left me with a sense of loss beyond my affection for old movies. It’s like a loss of friends.

      When i watch some of these familiar films, I also recall those times spent with stars who regaled me with stories about old Hollywood.

      We watched “Casablanca” again last night before going to bed. Years ago, I met Julius Epstein (Uncle of Theo Epstein, GM of the Chicago Cubs and former miracle man with the Boston Red Sox). Julius Epstein and his brother, Phillip, wrote the “Casablanca” script. Julius spent an afternoon, over drinks of course, spinning stories about the crazy and turbulent shoot of “Casablanca”. How they got that masterpiece is a miracle in itself.

      “Laura” is one of my favorite films. I watch it a LOT!! I used to play its haunting theme back in my radio days.
      Vincent Price shared some stories about the “Laura” shoot during a Boston visit in the 70’s. His take on Otto Preminger was hilarious.

      Emilio, I have drifted. Sorry. I tend to get off track when talking about old movies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s fine with me, Garry. I skirted the industry all my life, growing up in Southern California and going to school with kids of actors and future Actors. After college I worked as a film editor for almost 30 years on documentaries and then commercials. I used to go to the movies every week. My record is 5 films in one weekend- double bills Friday and Saturday and one more film on Sunday. But lately its rare that I’ll go. Just happy to have Netflix.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t have stories like you do, I’m sure. Nor a memory like yours, either. My stories are more like anecdotes. No interviews or long discussions. Except one of my best friends in school was John Ritter. And I also dated Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) in high school.

            Like

  7. At one time, the stars were the attraction. People went to a John Wayne movie to see John Wayne. People went to a Humphrey Bogart movie to see Humphrey Bogart. I don’t think people do that anymore.

    Like

    • I think people still go to see some stars. A few. The big ones. There aren’t nearly as many now as there were when we were growing up and I suspect there will be even fewer as time marches on. Movies aren’t as big as they were. We’re watching the Oscars and it couldn’t be more obvious, even thought Kimmel is a good host.

      Like

  8. I’ve been de-crying the lack of REAL Stars these day … for a LONG time. It is so blatantly obvious when you watch the old movies. Many of the old Stars had some Class.too. Look at the scruffy bunch of losers plying the trade these days!!
    The Star mills of the old studios found, trained and developed talent. NO losers allowed. It really worked. It was a craft. Nowadays I don’t know where they find these people, but … most of them couldn’t hold a candle to Gregory Peck or dozens of other Stars of the Golden Era.
    It’s a shame.

    Like

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s