I’m taking a break from my Japan Journal in order to pay tribute to Glenn Ford, who would have turned 100 today, May 1, 2016. He was a movie star who may not have created as lasting a film legacy as many of his contemporaries, but still had a remarkable 54-year career in Hollywood. He died ten years ago, in 2006, at the age of 90. He had a pretty good 20-year run as a top-ranked studio movie star from the late 1940s to the late ’60s before turning to television and character work, which he did steadily up to 1981, working intermittently after that until his final screen and TV work in 1991, closing out a career that had begun in 1937. He’s probably best-remembered by film buffs today for three films: GILDA (1946), in which he played opposite a sultry, satin-clad Rita Hayworth; the film noir cop thriller, THE BIG HEAT (1953), directed by Fritz Lang; and the western 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), directed by Delmer Daves, in which he served as the film’s antagonist, one of the few times he played an outlaw in his career.
Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 today, December 12, 2015. He died at the age of 82 in 1998. For at least the last 55 years of his life, he was an iconic figure in American show business, starting out in the early 1940s as a “crooner” who sang popular tunes with big bands for audiences of wildly enthused teenage girls known as “bobby-soxers.” He starred in film musicals, but branched out in his 30s to dramatic roles (MIRACLE OF THE BELLS) and, after a career slump in the early 1950s, made a remarkable comeback in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, playing the role of Maggio, a defiant, ill-fated young soldier in the days before Pearl Harbor, and winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, launching a film career with renewed vigor that turned him into one of the biggest movie stars in the country in the 1950s and ’60s. During all this time, he made a series of best-selling record albums and cemented his reputation as one of the finest American singers of the 20th century, continually challenging himself and trying new things. His private life kept the gossip columns busy as his love life went through ups and downs and he became renowned for wild antics with a group of show biz buddies known as the Rat Pack, who hung out with him, performed with him and made movies with him. Long after he phased out his movie career, he continued making Top Ten recordings and performing live all over the country and the world.
Edmond O’Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) would have turned 100 today. I’ve seen him in 39 movies and a handful of TV episodes. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) and was nominated in the same category for SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964). He acted in Hollywood for 35 years (1939-1974), becoming one of America’s most distinguished character actors, but also having a nice run as a leading man for close to a decade following World War II. He played in a lot of westerns and crime movies during this period and those are the films of his that interest me the most.
Orson Welles would have turned 100 today, May 6, 2015. Last night I re-watched ORSON WELLES: THE ONE-MAN BAND, a 1995 documentary which shows Oja Kodar (Welles’ companion for the last 20-odd years of his life) going through film footage Welles left in numerous film cans (mostly 35mm) in storage over the years and sharing bits and pieces of it with us. While there’s little in the way of a potential masterpiece excerpted in it (other than, perhaps, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, his famous late unfinished project, and an arty made-for-TV short version of “Merchant of Venice”), it’s fun watching Welles in a variety of eras and boasting a variety of looks, mainly having fun with the camera. He loved filmmaking and liked to shoot wherever he went. As Kodar shows us, he carried a case with an editing console and another one with various cameras and filmmaking tools wherever he went. If you love Welles, you should see this film because there’s a lot of Welles in it, in all sorts of modes, and Kodar’s love and devotion to him are quite evident throughout.
Richard Widmark would have turned 100 this coming Friday, December 26, 2014. He died only six years ago on March 24, 2008, at the age of 93, having outlived 95% of his co-stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner and Doris Day are among the few who have outlived him and are still with us. Lauren Bacall outlived him by six years.) Widmark had a solid career as a leading man in Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1970s before turning to character parts (and the occasional TV movie lead) in the 1970s to early ’90s. His last movie role was in TRUE COLORS (1991) and his last TV role was the male lead in COLD SASSY TREE (1989).
Tyrone Power would have turned 100 today, May 5, 2014. He was the quintessential studio-created movie star and worked primarily for 20th Century Fox for nearly his entire film career, starting at the studio in 1936 and making his last film for them in 1957. He was a star from his third Fox movie, LLOYD’S OF LONDON (1936), on. His last two films were THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957), done for Fox, and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), for UA. He was working on another film, SOLOMON AND SHEBA, when he died of a heart attack on November 15, 1958 after a grueling swordfight scene on location in Spain. He was 44 years old.
George Reeves would have turned 100 today, January 5, 2014. He’s most famous, of course, for playing Superman on the TV series, “Adventures of Superman,” which ran original shows from 1952 to 1958, for a total of 104 half-hour episodes, half of which were in black-and-white and half of which were filmed in color. These shows ran in syndication for decades afterward and are showing somewhere in the world right now as I write this. I watched the show on TV as a child and was a devoted fan. When I learned to read, I began reading Superman comics also, but my first exposure to the character was via the TV show. Reeves died on June 16, 1959, after the show had finished its sixth season. My siblings and I had begun watching the show well before then. I don’t remember hearing reports of Reeves’ death at the time, which came not long before my sixth birthday. At some point a neighbor girl from the apartment next door told me that the actor who played Superman thought he was really Superman and died when he jumped off a building thinking he could fly. I’m not sure when I learned the official story—that he’d gone upstairs during a party at his home and shot himself in the head. In recent decades, that account has been disputed by investigators who believe he was murdered. I read a book about it once that argued the latter point, but I have to confess I need more information before I can find this theory convincing.