Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ten Years Ago.....

I spent all of 2001 working on the documentary "Joan Crawford:  The Ultimate Movie Star" .  I'm still very proud to have been associated with this project.  Commissioned by Turner Classic Movies, Producer/Writer/Director Peter Fitzgerald turned in a balanced and compelling look at Crawford that was the first to re-examine Crawford's legacy in the wake of the devastation done to it by that adopted daughter.

As Associate Producer on the show, much of my year was spent combing through the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library (which holds a massive MGM collection), and the Warner Bros. Archives at USC, for photos and ephemera.  We used over 1000 stills in the movie!  I was also present at all of the taped 'talking head' interviews for general coordination purposes.  My favorite interview subjects were:  Judy Geeson, Betsy Palmer, and Vincent Sherman.  My least favorite:  Christina Crawford  (4 1/2 hours of tape and you couldn't get that woman to say one nice thing about her mother, whom she referred to as either "my adoptive mother" or "Crawford", sheesh let it go already!)

Truck Driver in a blonde wig.

Without a doubt the most bizarre day was the interview with silent screen star Anita Page.  I was waiting outside the rental sound stage on the lookout for her on one of those hot, still, smoggy LA days when, 25 mins. after the scheduled arrival time, a beat up 10 year old silver Chevy Caprice came careening around the corner and screeched to a halt.  Then, in a well rehearsed, oft-performed kind of chinese fire drill, three sycophants sprung into action, produced a wheel chair from the trunk, and loaded a shrunken, bent fossil of a being into it.  She had about three hairs on her head and was wearing sweats, slippers, those scary old-people-wrap-around-cataract-sunglasses, and the placid, vacant look of the feeble minded.

Once inside the soundstage, they never stopped for introductions, they just whizzed her through and back to the dressing rooms area, yelling lighting instructions over their shoulders and saying they would bring "Miss Page" out when she was ready.  Two hours later:

We were informed that her mind had "slipped a bit recently" and that she was experiencing "not a good day".  I suppose that's one way to look at it.  What I saw was an elderly woman who should have been let alone in comfort with medical supervision instead of painted, plastered and trotted out like some Sunset Blvd./Baby Jane circus pony.  The poor thing had no purchase on reality.  But just after they hoisted her up in her interview chair the strangest thing happened that still brings chills at the thought.  From some cellular memory, very slowly she shifted in the chair and tilted her face up and back, straight into the key light, and smiled.

Her mind had become a many-holed whack-a-mole game with random thoughts popping up here and there.  As sad as it was, a good deal of money from our humble budget had been dedicated for the day, and for the next few hours Peter valiantly trudged forward to get the few lucid sentences that we wound up using.  Anita seemed to actually enjoy herself and the attention she was getting there in the lights.

When it was over and they were leaving, her "people" said that if we could use her in any other interviews or heard of any suitable acting jobs to let them know.   Miss Page was available.

Anita & Me having an unfortunate hair moment.


normadesmond said...

what a wonderful post. and the photos! scott thompson forgive me, but christina IS scott thompson in a wig.

and that anita chose to pull out her fetching, "open mouth, tongue moving closer" pose with you is...well...i hope this ones over the mantel bubbalah. it's a humdinger.

look at all that hair...show off.

Rob said...

"Truck Driver in a blonde wig."
Oh, the places I'll take that phrase...
And re "an unfortunate hair moment":
I can only assume you're referring to the unfortunate Ms. Page (screw Mae Murray, Anita HAS to have been the inspiration for Sunset BLVD) because you look like British Pop Royalty in that picture!
Felix, I honestly remember how excited I was to hear about the new TCM documentary about Joan. And although I was (just a bit) disappointed that the pig was even interviewed at all, there was so much new/rare footage and information and fun interviews (most especially Betsy Palmer!) that I was in a good mood for days after I watched it!
And can I just say: Ten YEARS?! My, the time just flies by, don't it..?
And Norma,with all respect--Buddy Love would NEVER look that ungainly, chunky and malevolent; surprised at you, dear.
---------------------------------And incidentally Felix, the WV for this comment is (no shit)"ingeste". Make of that what you will.

savannah said...

great piece of writing, sugar! i wonder if movie stars like her caused a generational memory about how to pose in front of a camera. i see miss daisy and her peers do the very same thing when a simple point & shoot is turned their way. *sigh* but you? OMG, you looked gorgeous! xoxoxoxo

normadesmond said...

buddy love: the nutty professor

buddy cole: scott thompson

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

LOOK AT YOU! Sweetie, it was the times. We have to get you another one of these gigs, though.

Stephen said...

Terrific post & amazing rememberence. I am afraid that I resemble the unfortunate Miss Paige.

You have a tiny shout out on a post on my spot yesterday..

Best Wishes from Portland.

Michael Strangeways said...

Well, to be fair, Christina Crawford WAS physically and emotionally abused by an alcoholic mother. I think most victims of child abuse don't have a ton of nice things to say about their abusers...then again, most victims of child abuse don't get to write best selling books about their experience and appear on documentaries about their mother either...

Anonymous said...

OK, I have to chime in and tell y'all how wonderful Philip Merson was on the Crawford documentary, and what a plusser he was to the project. He soaked up the whole thing like a marvelous, amused sponge and turned all of this history into a tour, which I will soon be taking if the Gods smile upon me. Yundy!

- Peter Fitzgerald