Today, August 30, 2013, is the 42nd anniversary of my first trip to a 42nd Street movie theater (on August 30, 1971). I’ve amassed quite a bit of material related to that trip, so it seemed like a good opportunity to commemorate it. I’ve managed to re-watch both films seen on that trip and I’ve been in touch with both friends who accompanied me that day. The film that drew us was SHAFT, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree as a black private eye with an office in Times Square, an apartment in Greenwich Village, and a client in Harlem, locations that marked three of the major centers of street life in New York in the early 1970s. The second feature chosen to play with it was, oddly enough, a low-budget black-and-white science fiction film made in 1956 called IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, a title that had already played on television regularly by this point. The film was directed by Roger Corman and the stars were Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef. I suspect it was Van Cleef’s presence in the cast that gave it some cachet, since Van Cleef had become popular among 42nd Street audiences thanks to the steady stream of Italian westerns he’d made after reviving his career with appearances in two of the movies making up Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Van Cleef’s name was prominently displayed on the theater marquee as this shot from the time shows:
The theater was the Lyric, situated in the middle of a row of six theaters on the north side of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the famous “Deuce” of New York legend. SHAFT had opened in New York on July 2 at the DeMille Theater on Broadway and 47th Street, but I don’t know at what point in its run it started playing at the Lyric. The marquee in that picture says “Held Over 4th Big Week,” but I couldn’t say whether that was in July, August or September.
When I began my research into Asian stars appearing in TV westerns (see my entry of Jan. 8, 2013), it took me a while to get to Anna May Wong because I didn’t associate her with TV appearances in the 1950s and ’60s the way I did with a younger generation of Asian actresses such as Lisa Lu, Nobu McCarthy, Nancy Kwan, France Nuyen, and Miyoshi Umeki. But eventually I did and I was happy to learn that she’d appeared in an episode of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” that was called “China Mary” and aired on March 15, 1960. Since the Encore Western Channel runs this series, I hoped it was only a matter of time before I could see it, so I checked the listings every day to see what episodes they would run and after a year or so of waiting, it came on this past Monday, August 19. Luckily, I had the day off and was able to watch it and take screen grabs, as well as record it.
Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, Anna May Wong as China Mary
Rhonda Fleming turns 90 today, August 10, 2013. It gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to someone who is still, happily, with us. Fleming acted regularly from 1943 to 1980, with one more credit in 1990. She was one of the Technicolor Queens of the 1950s, along with two other redheads, Maureen O’Hara and Arlene Dahl (both of whom are also still with us, as of this writing), and she acted in a great run of westerns, crime dramas, globetrotting adventure films, swashbucklers, comedies, and film noir. She was a particular favorite of the Paramount-based Pine-Thomas production team—William H. Pine and William C. Thomas, collectively known as the Dollar Bills because of their skill at squeezing the most production value out of a dollar—and starred in several of their adventure films set in third world countries, with such titles as CROSSWINDS, HONG KONG, TROPIC ZONE, and JIVARO. (O’Hara and Dahl also worked for Pine-Thomas, but not as often as Fleming.) Her co-star in three of these films was Ronald Reagan. She’s particularly good in the Universal costume adventure, YANKEE PASHA (1954), in which she played Yankee pioneer Jeff Chandler’s New England girlfriend who gets kidnapped while on her way to France by Barbary Pirates and sold into Lee J. Cobb’s harem in Tripoli, ca. 1805, and has a catfight with her fellow harem girl, Mamie Van Doren(!). She even co-stars with Dahl in the James M. Cain adaptation, SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1955), giving us two redheaded divas for the price of one, a film I wrote about here on May 28, 2012, on the occasion of the centennial of the film’s male lead, John Payne.
Turner Classic Movies was running A MAJORITY OF ONE (1961) earlier today and I just happened to come across it in the middle. In the film, Alec Guinness, under heavy makeup, plays a widowed Japanese man who has a relationship with a middle-aged American Jewish woman played by Rosalind Russell.
In the scene I stumbled on, there was a genuine Japanese-American actor playing Guinness’s Japanese-speaking son. He was none other than George Takei, as seen in this still:
Takei, of course, went on to play Sulu, the helmsman on board the U.S. Starship Enterprise, on the original “Star Trek” TV series, as well as six subsquent Star Trek movies.
Guinness, of course, went on to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, the famed Jedi Knight in STAR WARS (1977).
So who else knew that Sulu was the son of Obi-Wan Kenobi?