Diary of a Lost Girl


Diary of a Lost Girl, the second of Georg Wilhelm Pabst's productive collaborations with Louise Brooks, is a potent and gorgeously stylized depiction of an innocent young woman's destruction at the hands of the not-so-innocent. Brooks plays Thymian, a beautiful and sheltered pharmacist's daughter whose dawning realization about the cruel ways of the world coincides with the loss of the security of her family. The opening of the film enacts a lurid symbolic struggle between innocence and sin, naïveté and knowledge. Brooks' Thymian, dressed all in white on the occasion of her confirmation, her eyes wide beneath the iconic ridge of her dark bangs, looks around her with a complete lack of guile, sweetly accepting presents from family and friends, glowing with courtesy and grace.

She seems entirely unaware of all the sexually charged glances being exchanged all around her: the exaggerated leer of her father's assistant Meinert (Fritz Rasp) who all but licks his lips and bulges his eyes like a cartoon wolf when he looks at her; her father's (Josef Rovensky) sexual liaisons with one maid after another; her aunt's (Vera Pawlowa) grim knowledge of these constant affairs; the knowing glances and raised eyebrows of the party guests when they see the new maid Meta (Franziska Kinz), who brazenly stares at her employer with an invitingly wicked smile that openly suggests that the cycle is going to start again. Everyone but Thymian seems to know exactly what's going on, but she is blissfully unaware of the sexual drama surrounding her.

In her pure white confirmation dress, a band of flowers wrapped around her head, she's a vision of innocence so pure and unstained that the mere realization that sin and sexual predation exist in her household produces a fainting spell, confining her to bed as though she's taken ill. She sees the corpse of her beloved maid — who'd committed suicide after being abandoned by Thymian's father — then runs up the stairs in a daze, sees her father with his arm already around the new maid, both of them staring at the camera in a frozen pose, a sly smile on the face of the new maid in contrast to the serene blankness of the dead girl downstairs, and in one fluid motion Thymian swoons to the floor, overcome by the taint of impurity infiltrating her home.


This is only the beginning of Thymian's suffering, as Meinert takes advantage of her vulnerability and rapes her. Pabst freezes the frame at the moment when the creepy druggist lowers Thymian's limp form into bed, and then immediately cuts to a baby carriage being taken out of Thymian's room, months later, carrying the fruit of that forceful union. Thymian's family casts her out, and she's sent to a reformatory, which she soon escapes with her friend Erika (Edith Meinhard), only to fall into a life of prostitution. The man she believes is going to save her, the disgraced and disinherited Count Osdorff (André Roanne), is actually a lazy and pathetic outcast who settles easily into a life of comfort at the brothel with Thymian and Erika. Pabst, though, doesn't portray the brothel as an entirely unpleasant life; the girls have fun and like each other, and Thymian certainly seems happier and better off there than she was under the care of the strict Christian moralists at the reformatory.

The reformatory is run by a stern mistress (Valeska Gert) whose usually stony face betrays an expression of ecstatic joy when whipping the girls through a frenzied gymnastics routine, and a bald-headed, looming movie monster giant (Andrews Engelmann) who first pops comically into the frame by standing up in front of a sign listing the many things that are "verboten" in this dismal place. This cartoonish giant delights in punishing the girls, grabbing them with a clawed hand at the scruff of their neck as though picking up a disobedient puppy, and his leering sadism is both creepy and hysterical — particularly when he runs a confiscated tube of lipstick across his own mouth, grinning impishly, then uses it to write a reminder to punish the girl he'd taken it from, a note signed with a heart to indicate his sadistic love of punishment.

Lesbian eroticism is another obvious subtext here, especially in the reformatory, where most of the girls have clipped, close-cropped boyish haircuts, and Erika introduces herself to Thymian by surreptitiously touching the new girl's leg with her foot and winking at her, echoing Meinert's leering winks. At bedtime, as Pabst pans down the line of girls getting ready for bed, two girls sit in the same bunk, giggling, and fall back into bed together. The scene where the matron tries to seize Thymian's diary is also loaded with suggestive intimacy, with the stern woman grabbing at Erika's bare legs, looking up at the two girls sitting in the top bunk, grasping at them with clawed hands. Later, when Thymian visits Erika at the brothel where she's staying, Pabst emphasizes the brothel's madame putting an intimate hand on the bare back of one of her girls — the gesture is repeated when the madame pushes Thymian together with a male client to dance — and then has Erika kneel before Thymian, taking off her shoes and undressing her, unbuttoning her demure reformatory blouse with its high collar to expose a V of flesh at her neck.


The film is steeped in this kind of sexual suggestiveness. Thymian's downfall has everything to do with sex and money, and sex and money come to be linked in very intimate ways for her. After her first night at the brothel, after she's spent the night with a man — swooning in his arms so that her limp form very much recalls her unconsciousness during Meinert's exploitation of her — the madame hands her an envelope of cash and makes it clear that it's from the man. Only then does the very naïve Thymian realize what's happened, and she recoils from the cash, which Pabst nevertheless emphasizes in a closeup. Much later, when her father dies and she receives an inheritance from Meinert for buying out the pharmacy, the camera glances from the pile of cash to Meinert's smug, cartoonishly grinning face, making it seem as though this too is a transaction, a belated payment for that long ago night when he'd taken her to bed.

It's not all grim tragedy here, though, and there's some limited comedy relief along the way. Among the humorous scenes is a very strange sequence where a goofy guy with a billy-goat beard (a possible anti-Semitic caricature) comes to see Thymian for "dance lessons," and she leads him in a bizarre calisthenic workout inspired by her reformatory exercise drills, while holding a drum protectively/suggestively over her crotch and beating it with a mallet in the way the reformatory mistress had done. The sexual symbolism is especially naked here, but those undercurrents are everywhere in this film.

The plot unravels a bit towards the end with a predictable tonal shift towards an optimistic, redemptive conclusion, seemingly foisted upon Pabst by censors eager to end on a positive note after all this barely coded sex. Even here, though, Pabst's emotional poetry shines through. The film is never less than beautiful, its style fluid and expressionist while also remaining grounded in social realism. And Brooks is just magnificent, with a beautiful and vibrant face that was perfectly suited to the silent cinema. When she smiles, the screen glows, and when she's suffering her eyes seem to contain unimaginable depths of feeling, often assisted by Pabst's very sympathetic photography of her, as in the stunning shot where she stares out a rain-streaked window, the raindrops on the glass standing in for her tears.

Posted in Cinema

Magnificent Obsession


Douglas Sirk was a master of the lurid Hollywood melodrama, transcending often outrageous and contrived material with the sheer force of the emotion and the visual rigor that he invested in these stories. In films like All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, Sirk found profundity and great beauty in what would have been trash in the hands of others. In Magnificent Obsession, a forerunner to the Jane Wyman/Rock Hudson pairing of All That Heaven Allows, not even Sirk can truly transcend what must be one of the worst plots and the worst screenplays in Hollywood history, a ridiculous pile-up of contrivances and silly plot twists in the service of a saccharine Christian-themed drama. It's a clunky and deeply strange film, and its absurd narrative prevents it from ever really being great, though Sirk's mise en scène and keen eye for painting in Technicolor elevate it at least to the level of a campy, emotionally intense tearjerker.

The story concerns the redemption of the callow playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson), who gets a wake-up call when his boating accident indirectly causes the death of a prominent, well-loved local doctor because an important piece of medical equipment was being used to treat Bob when the doctor had a heart attack. Bob falls in love with the doctor's widow Helen (Jane Wyman), but his clumsy attempts to pursue her — using a bastardized version of the philosophy of Christian charity practiced by her husband, and taught to Bob by the husband's friend Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger) — only results in further tragedy, when an accident leaves Helen blind. It's soapy in the extreme, particularly when Bob dedicates his life to medicine, becoming a doctor and using his wealth and his knowledge in an attempt to cure Helen's blindness even as he courts the blind woman (who apparently doesn't recognize his voice) under the laughable assumed name of Robby Robinson. Once one starts trying to pick apart the plot, it's difficult to stop, so it's best to just let it be, to try to overlook the unending cavalcade of absurdities and foolishness and sudden emotional reversals, to focus instead on the undeniably rapturous power of Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty's images, which are as always some of the finest examples of Technicolor extravagance.

Sirk makes this insane plot come alive with the sensuous power of his images. Resonating with the theme of literal and metaphorical blindness, Sirk continually bathes the characters in alternating blocks of light and shadow, draping the film in darkness. Walking across a room, they step into the light for a moment and are then swallowed up again in darkness, the shadows falling across faces and erasing features into black silhouettes in the night. For all his obvious love of bright, pastel colors, Sirk seems equally at home in inky blackness, stretching shadows across the frame so that the characters are perpetually shuttling back and forth between seeing and unseeing, between flashes of light and dark pools in which nothing can be seen. When Helen visits Switzerland for a barrage of tests with some famed eye surgeons, her face is totally profiled in shadow until the doctor pans a small light across her face, highlighting each of her eyes in turn, creating a tiny circle of light, a pinprick reflected in her shining eye.


This approach reaches its apex with the scene where Bob takes Helen out for a romantic evening. The whole sequence is draped in these kinds of shadows, simultaneously creating a sumptuously romantic mood and suggesting a visual analogue for Helen's blindness, the darkness all around them shading their faces, hiding them from one another. As they dance together, they twirl and their faces are alternately shaded and lit up, passing in and out of the shadows with each turn. Sirk's aesthetic has a meticulousness that works against the raw, oversized emotions of his material. At one point, Helen, blind, picks her way across a darkened room, carefully feeling for obstacles and making her way slowly through the shadow-strewn room, until she comes to a balcony where her extended hand knocks a potted plant off the ledge. The camera follows the plant's fall down to the street below, where it shatters with a loud crack, triggering Helen's breakdown at precisely that instant, as though a starter's pistol had been fired.

In another scene, when Bob is about to perform the climactic surgery that will inevitably restore Helen's sight and redeem him from his careless and wasteful past, he hesitates until he looks up to the viewing gallery, where he sees Randolph, this film's kindly incarnation of God, looking down on them with a benevolent smile, the operating table and the doctors around it reflected in the glass around Randolph. He then steps away, satisfied that Bob will perform this task, and Sirk holds the shot of the now-empty viewing gallery, the operating room still reflected in it, visually communicating that God has done his work of inspiration, and the rest of the task must be left to the hands of man.

The film is rich in this kind of loaded visual symbolism. Sirk often transcends the frankly stupid plot with the sheer emotional power of his images, which crackle with vitality and feeling even when the twists and turns of the script barely make a bit of sense. But, even though Sirk often worked with such lousy material, and routinely transformed it into masterpieces, here, for whatever reason, he can't quite perform that miracle. The result is a film that's as visually beautiful as one would expect, and often seething with raw and over-the-top emotion, but never comes together on the multiple levels that characterize Sirk's best work.

Posted in Cinema

Under Capricorn


Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn is one of the director's more divisive films, but it certainly doesn't deserve its unflattering reputation. This lavish period melodrama, set in 1800s Australia, might be deliberately paced, but it's as emotionally, psychologically and formally complex as any of the director's best work. The core of the film is a twisted three-way relationship that develops between the wealthy ex-convict Sam (Joseph Cotten), his disturbed, alcoholic wife Hattie (Ingrid Bergman), and Charles (Michael Wilding), who had known Hattie as a boy in Ireland and claims to Sam that he can awaken Hattie from her self-destructive, near-insane mental state. Indeed, the charming Charles is able to shake Hattie out of her stasis and mental collapse, but he also preys on her, seducing her away from her husband even as he cures her. Sam watches this situation unfold, glowering and brooding, under the watchful eye of his maid Milly (Margaret Leighton), who obviously desires Sam and resents his wife. There's a dark history here that slowly, patiently unfurls, but the emphasis throughout is not really on narrative, past or present, but on the churning, potent emotions of the protagonists and the engulfing visual style that Hitchcock springs like a trap around the characters.

Hitchcock made this film immediately after the long-take formal experiment of Rope, and he applies a similar aesthetic here, albeit not quite as rigorously. This was Hitchcock's only collaboration with Powell/Pressburger cinematographer Jack Cardiff, whose sumptuous use of color and glossy, unreal aesthetic is a perfect complement to Hitchcock, and especially to the particular qualities of this lush period drama. Using the unbroken take style of Rope, Hitchcock and Cardiff hold shots for minutes at a time, the camera unmoored, drifting around the rooms of Sam's palatial home, its gentle movements subtly but definitively defining the relationships between the characters. Who's in the frame and who's not means everything in this film, particularly in terms of the central love triangle, as Charles' friendship with and seduction of Hattie increasingly pushes her own husband out of the picture, shunting him off to the side.

In the first scene where Charles and Hattie meet, she wanders, drunk and dazed, into one of her husband's dinner parties and sits down at the head of the table. Charles holds her chair for her and then sits next to her, leaving his own spot at the table. Once Charles sits down by Hattie's side, it's as though there's no longer anyone else at the table; Hitchcock maintains a two-shot of them as she reminiscences about the past, occasionally glancing across the table, presumably at her unseen husband, but Hitchcock doesn't cut away, doesn't show the reaction of the others to this immediate intimacy, doesn't show anyone else or have anyone else even talk again until Hattie stands up and the camera tracks to follow her, past the others at the table, as Charles walks her to the staircase leading back to her room.


Later, when Hattie dictates a letter to Charles' sister, Hitchcock again keeps the camera on the two of them, Sam forgotten outside the frame, until the camera begins tracking away from Charles and Hattie, past her husband's now abandoned place setting, through the empty room, finally finding Sam, walking away, his back to the camera, in the hallway, as the image fades to black. It's as though, when Charles and Hattie are together, everything else fades away, forgotten, the triangle becoming a two-shot, the room emptying off-camera. Hitchcock and Cardiff have a way of shooting the scenes between Hattie and Charles so that even if someone's standing right next to them, it feels like they're all alone.

In a subsequent scene, Milly, who'd been fired, returns while Charles and Hattie go out to the ball together, again leaving Sam behind. Hitchcock holds a very long and mostly static take as the maid chatters away, delivering her passive-aggressive patter about Hattie, her voice full of gossipy insinuation. The frame slowly constricts and expands as Sam wanders in and out of view, sometimes glowering in the background, sometimes strolling towards the camera, his face dark. All the while, Milly's barely disguised bile dominates the soundtrack, and she remains the visual center of the shot, but it's Sam's darkening expression and stalking walk that actually serve as the scene's viscerally felt focus even when he's peripheral or outside the frame altogether. Only at the very end of the scene, the end of the shot, does Sam finally step forward into the foreground of the frame, and Milly's voice fades away, his anger finally blotting out her words.

There's another fantastic long take when Hattie tells the story of her past with Sam. The camera maintains a medium distance as she paces around the room, and the camera glides with her, often with Charles' head in the foreground of the frame, placing the spectator in his position as he listens to her. She often resists facing him, though, showing the camera her profile more than her full face, which makes the sudden closeup, when she confesses to shooting her brother, all the more startling: the camera suddenly floats upwards and presses in at precisely the moment when she steps forward and leans into the shot, nearly facing the camera for her confessional moment. It's especially striking because immediately afterward she returns to avoiding this direct, forward-facing manner, turning her profile to the camera or turning away altogether, looking up, down, anywhere but straight-on.


This patient, elegant style pays off especially well in the final act, when all the long-bubbling resentments and conflicted emotions come to the surface in an eerie, dreamlike climax. Hattie, returning to her drunken hysteria after a series of dramatic twists and turns, sinks back into her isolation, terrified of the horrifying things she imagines seeing around her room. As Sam tucks Hattie in and comforts her, there's a long, rumbling roll of thunder that sounds like a blown-out speaker, and it continues to roar throughout the nightmarish scenes in which Hattie discovers a ghoulish shrunken head in her bed and collapses, with Hitchcock suggesting the passage of time afterwards with a gorgeous image of a rain-streaked window superimposed over the unconscious woman's face. This whole sequence is haunting and gorgeous, with every detail heightened: the single beaded tear glistening on Hattie's cheek, the tracking shot along the rough terrain of the pillowcase and bedsheets, the continued rolling of the thunder, the sinister tinkling of Milly's keys as she creeps around the room, the light glinting off the poisoned glass that's so resonant of other sinister drinks in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

It's a dream, a nightmare, and the subsequent scenes in which the plot begins reversing gears to move inexorably towards a happy resolution have the feeling of waking up from a dream, finally shaking off the narcotized slumber that afflicted these characters and kept them trapped in a recurring cycle of self-destruction and recrimination. Under Capricorn is a stylish and beautiful movie, its aesthetic seductive and hypnotic, with a psychological complexity that makes it enthralling throughout.

Posted in Cinema

“The Death Challenge” – Quincy, M.E. – 1979


“The Death Challenge” brings together Ann Blyth and Don Ameche as a show-biz couple on whom the glare of the spotlight is focused after a long period of being ignored—but they also attract the attention of the police and our intrepid medical examiner, Quincy, played by Jack Klugman, when a stunt goes terribly wrong.
It’s the first of two episodes of the TV program Quincy, M.E. on which Ann Blyth appeared.  We’ll discuss the second one next week.  One of the sublime joys of episodic television in the 1970s and 1980s, for lovers of classic films at least, is that a huge roster of players from Hollywood’s heyday took their final curtain calls as guests on these shows.  
 “The Death Challenge,” from season 4 of the series, was broadcast March 24, 1979.  In the seventies, Ann played only one other role on television, a guest appearance on another detective show, Switch, starring Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert as an ex-conman and an ex-cop, respectively, joining forces.  Sharon Gless, who later starred in her own cop series Cagney and Lacey, played their girl Friday.  The episode was called “Mistresses, Murderers, and Millions,” broadcast December 23, 1975.  I haven’t seen this episode yet, but I hope to in the months ahead, and if so, I’ll include a more detailed discussion of Ann’s role on this show in the book next year.

Both Switch and Quincy, M.E. were Universal television productions, filmed on the Universal lot.  It gave Ann a chance to return to her old studio.  A 1976 interview shares her perspective on returning after first entering those gates in 1943:

“It was a beautiful place then, full of lawns, trees, and cottages.  I thought of it as sort of a college campus.  Now it’s huge, busy, and full of modern buildings.  They bulldozed the old schoolhouse eight or nine years ago.”

Ann isn’t sentimental about the studio.  She’s a clear-eyed pragmatist.
Ann had spent the better part of the 1970s on stage in musical theatre, as we discussed in this previous post, but when a reporter asked her if she would like to do another musical film, she responded, “I would rather have a good dramatic role instead.”  At the time of this 1976 interview, she had hoped to star in a “Movie of the Week” for TV, “although admitting it has been difficult to come up with a good story.”
The “Movie of the Week” never happened, but the decade ended with a gig on Quincy, M.E., where she was reunited with star Jack Klugman, who had earlier guest appeared with her on the TV show Name of the Game in 1969,which we discussed in this previous post.

Ann Blyth, throughout her film career, was starred with some of the greats of Hollywood’s leading men, including Charles Boyer, Frederic March, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, William Powell…and we can see by the list that most of the leading men were much older than she.  “The Death Challenge” gives her one more opportunity to star with a handsome, and older, leading man, Don Ameche.

Mr. Ameche is in fine form here, trim and fit at 70 years old to Ann’s 50 years old in this pairing.  They are a longtime couple devoted to each other.  He is a former magician, and one of the delights of this show brings us to some real-life Los Angeles locations—here the Magic Castle on Franklin Street, a private club and fraternal organization for magicians.  The other is the TAV Celebrity Theater on Vine Street, where the Merv Griffin Show used to be filmed.

Ameche, no longer a headliner, is reduced to being a kind of maître d' in the restaurant of The Magic Castle.  He is as dapper as ever in his evening clothes.  Ann works at the front desk, and together they manage as best they can, with their glory days behind them.
As the episode begins, Ameche appears on television introducing a new young magician—his protégé—performing the dangerous stunt known as The Death Challenge.  The protégé is tied up, locked in a chest, and submerged in a tank of water.  He is supposed to escape before he dies.

He doesn’t.  He dies.


Jack Klugman soon has a new corpse in his autopsy room and he suspects, guess what, that the drowning wasn’t accidental.  The protégé was murdered.
Our suspects include Bobbi Jordan, who is good in this episode as the not-so-bereaved widow.  She was abused by her no-good budding magician husband, and she has a new relationship with the stage manager, played by Martin Kove, who leaves his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, just so we don’t forget it’s the 1970s and he’s macho.  The not-so-bereaved widow had assisted her husband with the stunt on stage, and later actually attempts to step into his shoes and perform the stunt herself—hoping to take some of the glory and all of the money.

Martin Kove could have bumped him off, hating him and wanting his wife.  Then, too, we have the down-and-out, but dignified couple Don Ameche and Ann Blyth.  Don, a former student of the great Houdini, taught the protégé everything he knew, but then was cut out of the act and humiliated.  Ameche, furious, threatened him.  I love Don Ameche in this role.  Listen to that wonderful speaking voice, so measured and well modulated.  I wish newscasters would speak that way instead talking too fast, too loud, and too much as they do.  They might be worth listening to if they spoke well.
Ann stays in the wings during the act, adoring her husband, concerned and yet, enigmatic.  There is an archness, a fey expression of wonder on her face, a mask of heavy makeup and insecurity behind the pose of serenity.  We are compelled to look for cracks in the brittle brave façade.

Or Rufus, the surly growling co-worker at The Magic Castle?  Or Ron Masak as the smarmy TV host who’ll do anything for ratings, whose insurance rates must be sky high with so many accidents on his show.  Dependable Mr. Masak is like the Lou Gehrig of TV, he’s been on everything.

 The horrified studio audience reaction three times during three different performances of this dangerous stunt makes me wonder if they just had the same people move to different seats, or if they bothered with costume changes?

Toward the end of the episode, our Don Ameche steps into the tank himself to prove he can still do it.  A nice scene where, in his dressing room before the act, Mr. Ameche sits before the well-lighted mirror while Ann lovingly touches up his stage makeup.  She proudly fastens his magician’s cape on him.  She is dressed in the gown she wore when they were presented to the queen on a long-ago English tour.  They have kept their figures even if their faces are lined.  They are young again even while entering their golden years, the magic of love creating a double image for us as they share the promising kiss of devotion of a bride and groom before he heads for the stage.

Jack Klugman figures out who the murderer is, of course, being very clever about math and chemicals and stuff.  I normally don’t give away the endings on mysteries, but I’m going to this time.  After the break of lines below, I’m going to talk about the ending, so if you are allergic to spoilers, run away now.

Ready?  Here we go…

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Okay.  If you’re still here, the guilty person is….

I’m not going to explain the whys and wherefores, I’ll leave that to you to watch the episode, but there’s a final scene, where, confronted by Quincy and the detectives who come to arrest her husband for the crime, she breaks down and admits she did it.  She couldn’t stand seeing her adored Don Ameche treated so shabbily and just wanted to see him be the star one last time.  Tears flood her eyes in an instant, she sobs uncontrollably, and we are reminded, who may not have seen her in recent years on stage and remember only her film roles of long ago, how deep she dives in character to bring up emotions on that still lovely face, and uses her whole lithe body to purge them.
For somebody who was tagged with a good girl image that, in some respects I think hamstringed her career (despite, as we’ve discussed before, her several “bad girl” roles), one must smile at the thought that Ann, presented with this script must have relished being the murderer.  ("Hurray!  I get to bump somebody off!  Where do I sign?”)

Ameche is natural and understated, quietly commands every scene he’s in, and it’s no wonder his film career revived for a brief, if glowing, few years in the 1980s.  The younger cast members seem ersatz, unfinished and underdeveloped compared to these two finely polished actors.

Come back next Thursday when we discuss Ann Blyth’s second appearance on Quincy, M.E., from 1983, where several friends and colleagues—all played by stars from Hollywood’s heyday—are trapped in a snowbound cabin.  Also present are Quincy and his new bride.  And a murderer.

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Milwaukee Journal, January 27, 2976, syndicated article by Vernon Scott, p. G1.


Springfield (Mass.) Daily News, September 1, 1976, article by Sam Hoffman, p. 25.

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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.


Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.
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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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 HELP!!!!!!!!!!
Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.
Posted in Old Movie Blog

“The Death Challenge” – Quincy, M.E. – 1979


“The Death Challenge” brings together Ann Blyth and Don Ameche as a show-biz couple on whom the glare of the spotlight is focused after a long period of being ignored—but they also attract the attention of the police and our intrepid medical examiner, Quincy, played by Jack Klugman, when a stunt goes terribly wrong.
It’s the first of two episodes of the TV program Quincy, M.E. on which Ann Blyth appeared.  We’ll discuss the second one next week.  One of the sublime joys of episodic television in the 1970s and 1980s, for lovers of classic films at least, is that a huge roster of players from Hollywood’s heyday took their final curtain calls as guests on these shows.  
 “The Death Challenge,” from season 4 of the series, was broadcast March 24, 1979.  In the seventies, Ann played only one other role on television, a guest appearance on another detective show, Switch, starring Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert as an ex-conman and an ex-cop, respectively, joining forces.  Sharon Gless, who later starred in her own cop series Cagney and Lacey, played their girl Friday.  The episode was called “Mistresses, Murderers, and Millions,” broadcast December 23, 1975.  I haven’t seen this episode yet, but I hope to in the months ahead, and if so, I’ll include a more detailed discussion of Ann’s role on this show in the book next year.

Both Switch and Quincy, M.E. were Universal television productions, filmed on the Universal lot.  It gave Ann a chance to return to her old studio.  A 1976 interview shares her perspective on returning after first entering those gates in 1943:

“It was a beautiful place then, full of lawns, trees, and cottages.  I thought of it as sort of a college campus.  Now it’s huge, busy, and full of modern buildings.  They bulldozed the old schoolhouse eight or nine years ago.”

Ann isn’t sentimental about the studio.  She’s a clear-eyed pragmatist.
Ann had spent the better part of the 1970s on stage in musical theatre, as we discussed in this previous post, but when a reporter asked her if she would like to do another musical film, she responded, “I would rather have a good dramatic role instead.”  At the time of this 1976 interview, she had hoped to star in a “Movie of the Week” for TV, “although admitting it has been difficult to come up with a good story.”
The “Movie of the Week” never happened, but the decade ended with a gig on Quincy, M.E., where she was reunited with star Jack Klugman, who had earlier guest appeared with her on the TV show Name of the Game in 1969,which we discussed in this previous post.

Ann Blyth, throughout her film career, was starred with some of the greats of Hollywood’s leading men, including Charles Boyer, Frederic March, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, William Powell…and we can see by the list that most of the leading men were much older than she.  “The Death Challenge” gives her one more opportunity to star with a handsome, and older, leading man, Don Ameche.

Mr. Ameche is in fine form here, trim and fit at 70 years old to Ann’s 50 years old in this pairing.  They are a longtime couple devoted to each other.  He is a former magician, and one of the delights of this show brings us to some real-life Los Angeles locations—here the Magic Castle on Franklin Street, a private club and fraternal organization for magicians.  The other is the TAV Celebrity Theater on Vine Street, where the Merv Griffin Show used to be filmed.

Ameche, no longer a headliner, is reduced to being a kind of maître d' in the restaurant of The Magic Castle.  He is as dapper as ever in his evening clothes.  Ann works at the front desk, and together they manage as best they can, with their glory days behind them.
As the episode begins, Ameche appears on television introducing a new young magician—his protégé—performing the dangerous stunt known as The Death Challenge.  The protégé is tied up, locked in a chest, and submerged in a tank of water.  He is supposed to escape before he dies.

He doesn’t.  He dies.


Jack Klugman soon has a new corpse in his autopsy room and he suspects, guess what, that the drowning wasn’t accidental.  The protégé was murdered.
Our suspects include Bobbi Jordan, who is good in this episode as the not-so-bereaved widow.  She was abused by her no-good budding magician husband, and she has a new relationship with the stage manager, played by Martin Kove, who leaves his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, just so we don’t forget it’s the 1970s and he’s macho.  The not-so-bereaved widow had assisted her husband with the stunt on stage, and later actually attempts to step into his shoes and perform the stunt herself—hoping to take some of the glory and all of the money.

Martin Kove could have bumped him off, hating him and wanting his wife.  Then, too, we have the down-and-out, but dignified couple Don Ameche and Ann Blyth.  Don, a former student of the great Houdini, taught the protégé everything he knew, but then was cut out of the act and humiliated.  Ameche, furious, threatened him.  I love Don Ameche in this role.  Listen to that wonderful speaking voice, so measured and well modulated.  I wish newscasters would speak that way instead talking too fast, too loud, and too much as they do.  They might be worth listening to if they spoke well.
Ann stays in the wings during the act, adoring her husband, concerned and yet, enigmatic.  There is an archness, a fey expression of wonder on her face, a mask of heavy makeup and insecurity behind the pose of serenity.  We are compelled to look for cracks in the brittle brave façade.

Or Rufus, the surly growling co-worker at The Magic Castle?  Or Ron Masak as the smarmy TV host who’ll do anything for ratings, whose insurance rates must be sky high with so many accidents on his show.  Dependable Mr. Masak is like the Lou Gehrig of TV, he’s been on everything.

 The horrified studio audience reaction three times during three different performances of this dangerous stunt makes me wonder if they just had the same people move to different seats, or if they bothered with costume changes?

Toward the end of the episode, our Don Ameche steps into the tank himself to prove he can still do it.  A nice scene where, in his dressing room before the act, Mr. Ameche sits before the well-lighted mirror while Ann lovingly touches up his stage makeup.  She proudly fastens his magician’s cape on him.  She is dressed in the gown she wore when they were presented to the queen on a long-ago English tour.  They have kept their figures even if their faces are lined.  They are young again even while entering their golden years, the magic of love creating a double image for us as they share the promising kiss of devotion of a bride and groom before he heads for the stage.

Jack Klugman figures out who the murderer is, of course, being very clever about math and chemicals and stuff.  I normally don’t give away the endings on mysteries, but I’m going to this time.  After the break of lines below, I’m going to talk about the ending, so if you are allergic to spoilers, run away now.

Ready?  Here we go…

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Okay.  If you’re still here, the guilty person is….

I’m not going to explain the whys and wherefores, I’ll leave that to you to watch the episode, but there’s a final scene, where, confronted by Quincy and the detectives who come to arrest her husband for the crime, she breaks down and admits she did it.  She couldn’t stand seeing her adored Don Ameche treated so shabbily and just wanted to see him be the star one last time.  Tears flood her eyes in an instant, she sobs uncontrollably, and we are reminded, who may not have seen her in recent years on stage and remember only her film roles of long ago, how deep she dives in character to bring up emotions on that still lovely face, and uses her whole lithe body to purge them.
For somebody who was tagged with a good girl image that, in some respects I think hamstringed her career (despite, as we’ve discussed before, her several “bad girl” roles), one must smile at the thought that Ann, presented with this script must have relished being the murderer.  ("Hurray!  I get to bump somebody off!  Where do I sign?”)

Ameche is natural and understated, quietly commands every scene he’s in, and it’s no wonder his film career revived for a brief, if glowing, few years in the 1980s.  The younger cast members seem ersatz, unfinished and underdeveloped compared to these two finely polished actors.

Come back next Thursday when we discuss Ann Blyth’s second appearance on Quincy, M.E., from 1983, where several friends and colleagues—all played by stars from Hollywood’s heyday—are trapped in a snowbound cabin.  Also present are Quincy and his new bride.  And a murderer.

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Milwaukee Journal, January 27, 2976, syndicated article by Vernon Scott, p. G1.


Springfield (Mass.) Daily News, September 1, 1976, article by Sam Hoffman, p. 25.

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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.


Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.
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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

***************************

TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
 HELP!!!!!!!!!!
Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.
Posted in Old Movie Blog

Katie Did It – 1951 – A Lost Movie, An Overlooked Career

Katie Did It (1951) has become an elusive sort of “holy grail” quest for me during this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  I left this spot open towards the end of the year figuring I would have either the movie to discuss, or else have a metaphor for reason the bulk of Ann Blyth’s career is largely forgotten and that she is looked upon by those who do recall her work fondly as an “underrated actress.”

Ann plays Katherine Standish, a prudish small-town New England librarian.  Mark Stevens plays a big-city commercial artist who comes to town, causing scandal when he paints Ann in a provocative pose for an advertising campaign.  Directed by Frederick de Cordova, this comedy also features Craig Stevens and Cecil Kellaway.

There are no reviews on the IDMb website, only the sound of crickets.  Critic Leonard Maltin, as posted on the TCM page for this movie, says:

“Ann Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.”

Not much to go on, but “perkier than usual” might seem to indicate that Mr. Maltin has actually seen the film himself.  I wonder.  Even the mighty TCM website (on which I confess, like the IDMb website, I have found disappointing errors from time to time) is otherwise silent on this unaccountably obscure film.

In the timeline of Ann’s movie career, Katie Did It is sandwiched between two big hits: the drama Our Very Own (1950) which we discussed here, and the musical, The Great Caruso (1951), which we discussed here.  It seems to have been obscured by them both.

We do have, however, a brief glimpse into the filming of this movie from an article that discussed Ann’s “first day jitters” at the start of a film.

“Everything is fine until the minute I walk on the set for my first shot,” Miss Blyth said, “Then my knees sort of buckle, sweat trickles out on my forehead and my tongue seems to stick to the roof of my mouth…Yet I feel somehow that if I didn’t feel that way, something would be wrong.”

“At the very beginning, Freddie (director Frederick de Cordova) suddenly switched scenes on me,” she said, “Instead of doing the sequence I came prepared for, he announced we’d shoot an entirely different scene.”

It made her so busy learning new lines and shuffling into another costume, that Ann didn’t have time to remember to be jittery.

“Then he told me that this was a deliberate attempt to put me at ease—after we’d made the scene.  I was rather cross about it at first, until I made the discovery that I’d breezed through the almost-unrehearsed sequence with no trouble at all.”

The movie was never released on DVD or VHS, and to my knowledge, has not been shown on TCM, but I hope someone will correct me.  Failing this, I’m hoping that the film may exist in a private collection or somebody’s warehouse or attic in 16mm form.  If so, I’d be interested in buying it.

No film yet, but the metaphor?  I would hesitate to hang Ann Blyth’s current reputation among many to be an underrated or even unremembered actress just over one “lost” film, not when there are so many other movies to give ample evidence of her being a very gifted actress.  But there is something else niggling in her legacy to classic film buffs.

Here I quote from my discussion on my pal John Hayes’ blog Robert Frost’s Banjo a couple months ago:

Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.

This woman had been the flavor of the month all through the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, on enough magazine covers to choke a horse, and as famous in her day as any young star could be.  Today, she is nowhere to be seen in that kitschy souvenir shop universe where classic film fans can easily snag T-shirts and coffee cups and posters of Clark Gable and The Three Stooges, Mae West and Betty Boop, and, of course, the ever-exploitable Marilyn Monroe.   

Where was Ann Blyth?  She never retired from performing.  She had, unlike most other stars of that era, performed in all media from radio to TV to stage, and was successful in all of them.    Far, far more talented than any other 1950s glamour girl, yet she is not as well known today among younger classic film fans.  I wanted to know why.

Not that I am calling for Ann Blyth key chains and Veda Pierce car mats, but if many have forgotten her reputation as one of the best actresses of her generation—and she was clearly regarded as such by her peers and the industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s—then we have also forgotten about her name and face in popular culture as a star.  This lofty place was undeniably due to her exquisite beauty, for the only thing more prized in Hollywood than talent is being photogenic.  

I would compare Ann’s introspective, working from the inside-out skill as an interpretive actress similar to two other actresses slightly older than she: Teresa Wright and Dorothy McGuire, who both conveyed a soulful depth to their characters.  Neither of those two tremendously talented, and very serious actresses, who cared more for their art than for stardom, could reach the power (or were offered the opportunity) of Ann’s evil Veda Pierce, her venial coquetry of Regina Hubbard, or her sleazy-cum-brokenhearted and ultimately reformed characters she played in Swell Guy and A Woman’s Vengeance.  And neither of them sang.  Ann was a most valuable player. 


Also, unlike those two ladies, Ann actually was as much a “star” as a dedicated actress, who, despite pursuing her purposeful private life with unruffled determination, still seemed to enjoy being a movie star and attending industry functions, cooperative with the publicity department and whatever the studio asked of her.  You can rub elbows with her on the TCM Classic Cruise in two weeks.

She never shirked autograph hounds, but patiently tackled every slip of paper that was shoved in front of her, leaving that bold, elegant signature that, like her beliefs, her manners, and her sense of responsibility, never wavered. 

But, though we might dispense with souvenir kitsch, we also are left a surprisingly scant discography.  Music is a marketable product that lifts the soul and does not just collect dust.  This woman was a beautiful singer, with a trained voice, but where are all the albums?  Celebrities who could sing cranked them out, and those who could not sing still unaccountably found themselves with record deals.  To my knowledge, Ann had made few records.  I have read of her intention to make albums, particularly a collection of Irish songs, and including at least one with her brother-in-law, Dennis Day.  Do they exist?

At the 32nd Academy Awards held on April 4, 1960, Ann Blyth accepted the Oscar® for Documentary Short Subject won by Bert Haanstra for Glass (which I’ve never seen, but even so, I can’t believe it beat out Donald in Mathmagicland, which we covered here.  No really, I’m serious.  Really.  Stop laughing.)

Mitzi Gaynor handed the statue to Ann, and for a moment, Ann Blyth fans, and perhaps even herself, had a fleeting and thrilling vision of the formerly nominated actress (in the Best Supporting category for Mildred Pierce) to finally get her due.  But Ann herself slapped down that daydream and remarked, though clearly excited to be holding the award, “Gee, I guess this is the closest I’ll ever be to getting one.”

Many superb actors and actresses finished their careers without an Oscar®, but we film buffs remember, most defiantly, who they are.  (This clip from the award ceremony is currently on YouTube here.  Scroll to 18:00.)

Surely, being overlooked, or even unknown today, doesn’t all boil down to a film career that lasted only 13 years?  Grace Kelly’s career was even shorter.  Audrey Hepburn’s film appearances stretched over more decades, but she made less films.  Though both were Oscar® winners, deservedly so for those winning roles, neither enjoyed the range of roles, or displayed the acting range of Ann Blyth; neither possessed her powerful lyric soprano (both gamely tried musicals, but had weak, if pleasant, singing voices); and neither, despite their obvious radiant beauty, were more beautiful.  But they had long ago reached icon status and stayed there.

Both gave up films—for long periods or forever—and abandoned Hollywood for Europe.  Ann never walked away from her career, she only modified it to her personal tastes and her family’s needs.  (And her home, for decades, remained in North Hollywood, only a few miles from the studios.)

Is her forgotten status due, perhaps, to a combination of circumstances unique to Hollywood—that because the quiet stability of her private life did not make headlines she therefore couldn’t be exploited for profit, because the bulk of her films are hardly, if ever, shown today, and because, unlike those tragic stars who died young, or younger, she outlived all her co-stars?

Had she done more television, she might have regained recognition among younger audiences. (For instance, like Angela Lansbury, who without Murder She Wrote might be known only to classic film buffs and theatre fans, but not have household name recognition in the U.S. and around the world.) Still, though her staunch fans might mourn her lack of icon status, I doubt Ann would.  Truly, she got the best of the bargain in a rich and rewarding private life—long and happy marriage, five children, ten grandchildren, life-long friends in and out of the entertainment industry, charitable work—and satisfying career in proportions she could deal with, and never expressed regret. 

Have a look at the two videos below at the wedding of the year where the movie star becomes a bride.

The wedding and reception footage begins in this second video at 1:38. Before that we have a glimpse of Stanwyck on location.  This shutterbug really got around.

We have a few more TV appearances to discuss the rest of this month, and then a few more films to round out the series in the coming weeks that demonstrate a variety of genres: a western, a war picture, a bio-pic, musicals…and a look at her “third act” career—as a singer in concerts and nightclubs.

Come back next week to 1979, when Ann and fellow Hollywood star Don Ameche come under scrutiny in a murder only Jack Klugman can solve in an episode of Quincy, M.E.


My thanks to the gang at the Classic Movie Blog Association for voting this Year of Ann Blyth series as the Best Movie Series for 2014.  Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in all categories.
And congratulations to the three winners of my recent Goodreads Giveaway, who will each receive a paperback copy of my book on classic films: Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century.

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CriticalPast.com
Hartford Courant, July 9, 1950, Part II, page 15, syndicated UP article.

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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.


Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.
****************************

 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

***************************

TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
 HELP!!!!!!!!!!
Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 


***************************

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.
Posted in Old Movie Blog