Action!

Carl Voss was a born leader — when he left the Army after World War I, he went on to command Maori warriors, Roman footsoldiers, and revolutionary Americans.

Voss was leader of the “Military Picture Players,” a group of up to 2,112 former servicemen who fought one another in Hollywood battle scenes. He drilled his soldiers as infantry, cavalry, and artillerymen and ensured that their appearance was authentic whether they were playing Germans, Hessians, Chinese, Senegalese, Czechs, or Crusaders. And he was good at it: Between The Big Parade (1925) and Four Sons (1940), Voss’s troops clashed in 232 engagements without a serious casualty.

So it was ironic that red tape finally killed them. The Screen Actors Guild ruled that Voss was essentially an extra and could not direct its members — a curious judgment, as by that time he’d become arguably one of the most versatile commanders in screen history.

Trouble Along the Way

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Dean_in_East_of_Eden_trailer_2.jpg

In September 1955, James Dean met Alec Guinness outside an Italian restaurant in Hollywood. He introduced himself and showed Guinness his brand-new Porsche 550 Spyder. “The sports car looked sinister to me,” Guinness wrote in his autobiography:

Exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean’s kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognize as my own, ‘Please, never get in it.’ I looked at my watch. ‘It is now ten o’clock, Friday the 23rd of September, 1955. If you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week.’

Dean laughed. One week later he collided head-on with a Ford coupe outside Cholame, Calif. He was pronounced dead 6 days and 20 hours after Guinness’ prediction.

Feature Set

Short film titles, from Patrick Robertson’s Film Facts (2001):

  • A (Japanese, 1999)
  • E (British, 1993)
  • F (Japanese, 1998)
  • G (British/German, 1974)
  • H (Spanish, 1997)
  • I (Swedish, 1966)
  • K (Hungarian, 1989)
  • M (German, 1931)
  • Q (French/Italian/Belgian, 1974)
  • W (Filipino, 1985)
  • X (Korean, 1982)
  • Y (Colombian, 1992)
  • Z (French/Italian, 1968)
  • $ (U.S., 1972)

Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 film π concerns a mathematician who seeks patterns in strings of numbers.

Its running time is 1:23:45.

Big Love

This is the first screen kiss, shared in 1896 by May Irwin and John C. Rice in a scene from the play The Widow Jones.

Accustomed to stage dramas, many viewers were shocked at the closeup. “Neither participant is physically attractive,” wrote reviewer John Sloan, “and the spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other’s lips was hard to bear. When only life-size it was pronounced beastly. But that was nothing to the present sight. Magnified to Gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting.”

Only 30 years later, John Barrymore would bestow 127 kisses on Mary Astor and Estelle Taylor in Don Juan.

Short Subjects

Unusual movie titles listed by Patrick Robertson in Film Facts (2001):

  • Telephone Girl, Typist Girl or Why I Became a Christian (Indian, 1925)
  • In My Time Boys Didn’t Use Hair Cream (Argentine, 1937)
  • The Film That Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (U.S., 1968)
  • How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired (Canadian/French, 1988)
  • No Thanks, Coffee Makes Me Nervous (Italian, c. 1981)
  • Recharge Grandmothers Exactly! (Czech, 1984)
  • Beautiful Lady Without Neck (South Korea, 1966)
  • Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title (U.S., 1965)

For “most preposterous movie title ever conceived,” David McGillivray in Films and Filming nominates Betta, Betta in the Wall, Who’s the Fattest Fish of All (U.S., 1969) and She Ee Clit Soak (U.S., 1971).

See Light Reading.

An Arm and a Leg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BenTurpinBeachGals.jpg

Body parts insured by Lloyd’s of London:

  • Betty Grable’s legs ($250,000)
  • Jimmy Durante’s nose ($140,000)
  • Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes ($1 million)
  • Fred Astaire’s feet ($650,000)
  • Bruce Springsteen’s voice ($7 million)
  • Keith Richards’ hand (£1 million)
  • Michael Flatley’s legs (£25 million)

Silent-film comedian Ben Turpin, above, even insured his eyes against uncrossing.

Bent Lines

Slips of the tongue are often made on the stage, even by the most prominent actors and actresses. Mrs. Langtry at one performance said to her stage lover, ‘Let us retire and seek a nosey cook.’

An actor at the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester, turned ‘Stand back, my lord, and let the coffin pass’ into, ‘Stand back, my lord, and let the parson cough.’ …

A well-known actor who has often been applauded by New York theater-goers, in one of his speeches intended to say, ‘Royal bold Caesar,’ but forgot himself in his excitement and said, ‘Boiled rolled Caesar, I present thee with my sword.’

— John De Morgan, In Lighter Vein, 1907