Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Tasteful Taste from Tallyho, Tallulah!

Talk about your "Grand Slam Breakfast"!

Special for you, my beloved blog readers, here's a small taste of Tallyho Tallulah. My contract forbids me excerpting more than 1000 words, so here are 1000 words from Chapter 12, "Midsummer Madness." Enjoy. For the other 79,000 words, you'll have to buy the book.

Cheers darlings

Thursday’s rehearsal was to be the first rehearsal off-book.

For various reasons, they weren’t beginning the session at the top of the play, but rather were beginning at scene 12, where Baby Jane serves her sister a roasted rat for dinner.

Monica took a seat in the wheelchair, but immediately sprang back out of it.

“What is this rat doing here?” She shrieked, pointing to the prop rat on her chair’s seat.

“Trying to plump itself back up after being squished by your petit-sometime-in-the-future ass, I imagine,” said Tallulah, retrieving the prop and putting it under the cover of the serving dish she would be carrying in on a tray. “I wondered where I’d left this. Hey, Cyril, isn’t there some sort of law against cruelty to fake animals?”

“There’s a law against cruelty to actresses,” Monica snarled.

Tallulah laughed and said, “Yes, and you’re the exception that proves the rule.”

“Places, please. Take it from Baby Jane’s entrance,” said Cyril, “Tallulah, are you ready to do it without script?”

“Absolutely. Unlike some of us,” she shot Monica a look, “I am a professional.”

“Then start the scene please. Very quiet everyone.”

Tallulah entered carrying the dinner tray, set it beside the lunch tray, lifted the cover off the lunch plate, saw the fake dead parakeet, snorted, and covered the plate again. Then she picked up the lunch tray and headed for the door. Monica spoke, “Did you have a nice drive?”

Tallulah bowed her head forward and said, “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing dear,” said Monica, “I was thinking. It’s ever so long since we had a nice talk. You know, a real talk about the future and everything. Jane, I don’t want you to have to worry about the house. We’ll still be together, even after I sell it.”

Tallulah bowed her head again and said, “Blanche, you’re not going to sell this house. Daddy bought this house, and he bought it for me.”

“Head up, Tallulah,” said Cyril.

 “You’re wrong, Jane. I bought this house, with money from the studio.”

Tallulah bowed her head again, “Oh, you’re a liar. Baby Jane Hudson made the money that paid for this house, that’s who.”

“Head up please, Tallulah,” snapped Cyril.

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” said Monica.

“I do too. These are the right lines, aren’t they Cyril?” said Tallulah.

“That was Monica’s line,” said Cyril.

“Oh, right. I forgot she knows some of her lines.”

“Monica, again please.”

Monica said, “You don’t know what you’re saying, Jane.”

Tallulah set the tray down, bent her head forward, stared at it, and said, “Blanche, you aren’t ever going to sell this house.” Then she lifted the cover off the plate with the parakeet, and stared into the inside of the cover, adding, “And you aren’t ever going to leave it, either.” Tallulah did the dramatic point-at-Blanche gesture she had been doing at this spot, only now, since she was holding the silver plate cover, she misjudged the difference, and smacked Monica in the forehead with it.

“Tallulah,” asked Cyril, “Why are you holding that dish cover?”

Monica, holding one hand to her bashed forehead, snatched the cover from Tallulah and held it out, “Because she’s got this page of her script taped to the inside!”

Sure enough, there was a page of Tallulah’s script on the inside. The previous page was taped to the tray, beside the plate.

Cyril sighed. He had directed fifteen-year-olds in plays, but it hadn’t prepared him for these two.

“Let’s go on, shall we please?”

Tallulah crossed to the window as Monica said, “Jane, do you remember when I had my accident?”

Tallulah stared out the window and said, “You promised you would never talk about that again.”

Cyril said, “Tallulah, I think it will work better if you look back at Blanche on that line, as you were doing before.”

“No, it won’t,” she replied.

“Yes, it will. Do it again, and this time, look at Blanche when you say your line.”

“But I won’t be able to see my lines taped to the back drop.”

“Just do the scene from memory,” Cyril was so annoyed, his fake British accent was disappearing.

Monica again said, “Jane, do you remember when I had my accident?”

Tallulah turned to her, stared for a moment, and then bellowed out, “Line?”

Iris, holding the script near Cyril, read out, “You promised you would never talk about that again.”

Tallulah said, “You promised...line?”

Iris said, “You promised you would never talk about that again.”

Tallulah said, “You promised you promised you would never talk about that again.”

“No,” said Iris, “just ‘you promised’ once.”

“No,” said Tallulah, “just you promised once.”

“Stop!” yelled Cyril, “Tallulah, your line is ‘You promised you would never talk about that again.’ Okay?”

“I’m fine. Let’s do it.”

Monica once more said, “Jane, do you remember when I had my accident?”

Tallulah stared at her and said, “You...line?”

Iris inhaled deeply and read, “You promised you would never talk about that again.”

Tallulah stared at Monica and said, “What she said.”

“Just go on please, before I die!” said Cyril.

Monica said, “I know I did, but after all these years, I’m still in this chair. And it’s your fault. You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.”

Tallulah gave Jane’s evil smirk and said, “Line?”

Iris read out, “But you are, Blanche. You are in that chair.”

Tallulah said, “But you...line?”

“But you are, Blanche. You are in that chair.”

“But you are...line?”

“Blanche. You are in that chair.”


“You are in that chair..”


“Are in that chair.”


“In that chair.”


“That chair.”




Monica said, “Maybe it would be easier if you just taped your script to my face.”

Tallulah replied, “It certainly would be, and you’d look better, too.”

“Why you drunken, unprofessional bitch!”

“Ladies!” called out Cyril, “Let’s just skip the scene for now, and try the musical number it ends with. Butch, music please.”

Butch Miller began playing Phil’s Irving Berlin-knock-off melody and Tallulah and Monica began singing together:

Sisters, Sisters,

There were never such malicious sisters.

Tallulah launched into her solo line: “Thought my sister Blanche was looking way too fat. That’s why I made her lunch a rat. Line?”

 Cyril looked to Heaven, but there was no help for him there.

Rat Krispies?


Tallyho Tallulah, my new memoir, is now out and available. Just click on the book cover over on the right side column, and you can order the paperback edition. The eBook edition will be out shortly.

Enjoy! Cheers darlings!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Many Men Smoke...

...but Fu Manchu.
It was 100 years ago, in 1912, that Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, writing under the pen name Sax Rohmer, first created the notorious fictional supervillain Dr. Fu Manchu in a serialized short story titled The Zayat Kiss, which was then, in 1913, incorporated into the first Fu novel, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. Rohmer published 12 more Fu novels between 1913 and 1959 (skipping the World War II years, when his publisher refused them because China was our ally against the Japanese). A collection of Rohmer's Fu short stories, The Wrath of Fu Manchu, was later published posthumously.

Little Dougie read this copy of this silly book way back in 1966.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the stories are outrageously racist. It's not just that Fu is portrayed as the personification of "The Yellow Peril," it's that smug, pompous, we're-British-and-we-save-the-world attitude that infests all the "heroes" in the stories. These are books that think The British Empire was a GOOD thing! 

Sax Rohmer. "Sax" ain't nothing but "sex" misspelled. Don't expect him to receive posthumous honors from China any time soon.

As "literature," Sax Rohmer inhabits a middle ground between Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ian Fleming. Tarzan was also created in 1912, and if you think the Tarzan stories are less racist than the Fu Manchu stories, then you haven't read Burroughs. I read Tarzan of the Apes, published as a magazine serial in 1912 and as a novel in 1914, and it's hard to pick out the worst racism in it: the attitude towards the black natives of Africa, all of whom are inferior to the white guy in the loin cloth, or the incredibly bad dialogue given to Jane's black maid ("Fo' de good Lawd's sake, ain' ah daid?")? Well, for my money, the nadir of its racial attitudes comes in this passage. Tarzan has just killed the black man who killed his ape mother, and then he ponders whether or not to eat his kill:
"Hmmm. That guy sure look tasty. Too bad Tarzan actually English lord who has been bred only to eat lower classes."

"Did men eat men? Alas, he did not know. Why, then, this hesitancy? ... He did not understand. All he knew was that he could not eat the flesh of this black man, and thus hereditary instinct, ages old, usurped the functions of his untaught mind and saved him from transgressing a worldwide law of whose very existence he was ignorant."
- Tarzan of the Apes, Chapter IX, "Man And Man," by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

"Me Tarzan. Me no eat guys. Only Jane. Also, me give myself this swell jungle haircut."

Yes, though no one has ever told Tarzan that cannibalism is frowned on civilized society, and though the only other humans he has ever seen he watched eat their enemies, nonetheless, as the son of "civilized," WHITE English folk, he had an instinctual revulsion against cannibalism, lacking in his black neighbors.

Bullshit! THAT, my darlings, is really invidious racism. Here's a much more realistic, sensible passage on man's "instincts" regarding cannibalism from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. In this passage, "Duke" has expressed to Jubal Harshaw his disgust at Valentine Michael Smith's oft-expressed belief that one should eat one's loved ones after they die, to make them part of you always.

"This is instinct!"

"'Instinct,' dreck!"

"But it is. I didn't get any 'trainng at my mother's knee' not to be a cannibal. Hell, I didn't need it; I've always known it was a sin - a nasty one. Why the mere thought of it makes my stomach do a flip-flop. It's a basic instinct."

Jubal groaned. "Duke, how could you learn so much about machinery and never learn anything about how you yourself tick? That nausea you feel - that's not an instinct; that's a conditioned reflex. Your mother didn't have to say to you, 'Mustn't eat your playmates, dear; that's not nice,' because you soaked it up from our whole culture - and so did I. Jokes about cannibals and missionaries, cartoons, fairy tales, horror stories, endless little things. But it has nothing to do with instinct. Shucks, son, it couldn't possibly be instinct ... because cannibalism is historically one of the most widespread of human customs, extending through every branch of the human race. Your ancestors, my ancestors, everybody."

"Your ancestors maybe. Don't bring mine into it."

"Um, Duke, didn't you tell me you had some Indian blood?"

"Huh? Yeah. An eighth. In the army they used to call me 'Chief.' What of it? I'm not ashamed of it, I'm proud of it."

"No reason to be ashamed - nor proud, either, for that matter. But, while both of us certainly have cannibals in our family trees, chances are that you are a good many generations closer to cannibals than I am because..."

"Why, you bald-headed old .."

"Simmer down. You were going to listen, remember? Ritual cannibalism was a widespread custom among aboriginal American cultures. But don't take my word for it; look it up. ... Even if both of us were Simon-pure North European stock, certified by the American Kennel Club (a silly notion, since the amount of casual bastardy among humans is far in excess of that ever admitted) - but even if we were, such ancestry would merely tell us which cannibals we are descended from... because every branch of the human race, without any exception, has practiced cannibalism in the course of its history. Duke, it's silly to talk about a practice being 'against instinct' when hundreds of millions of human beings have followed that practice."
- Stranger in a Strange Land, Chapter xiii, by Robert Heinlein.

This book, a paperback with this cover, changed Little Dougie's life, altering what he thought about most everything, way back in 1965.

Take that, Edgar Rice Burroughs! ("Casual bastardy among humans"? Heinlein really could have cut "among humans". We're the only species that has the concept of "bastardy." There's no such thing as a bastard animal. "I don't want those puppies! That bitch isn't married! Those puppies are BASTARDS! Bad dogs, BAD!")

Burroughs, and a little later Robert E. Howard , author of the Conan the Barbarian books, and Lester Dent's Doc Savage: The Man of Shredded Shirts, also came from the pulps, where good writing took a back seat to selling action-filled fantasy adventures to teenage boys. I have to give Sax Rohmer this: his prose holds up even if his plots don't. I find Edgar Rice Burroughs almost unreadable. Rohmer's plain straight-forward prose is clear and highly readable. And unlike Tarzan, Conan and Doc Savage, Fu Manchu managed to keep his shirt on, or rather his gorgeously brocaded robes.

"I'm Doc Savage, and I also used to be Tarzan on TV. This is as much of a shirt as I've ever worn."
That Ian Fleming was heavily influenced by Sax Rohmer is unmissable. Hello? Doctor No? Fleming was frank that there was a good deal of Dr. Fu Manchu in Dr. No. But Fleming's James Bond novels, though still action-adventure thrillers best enjoyed by teenage boys, are several steps above pulp novels, almost respectable. The racism, though not absent from the Bond novels (The racism in the novel of Live and Let Die will curdle your blood in the wrong ways), is toned way down from Rohmer's level, with considerably less white supremacy underlying them, though he added the elements of snobbery and sexism that still rankles the reader. The Bond novels are really well written, and remain zippy fast entertaining reads.

Carry On, Doctor No.
In turn, Rohmer's books were heavily influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. (Though literarily, Doyle is enormously superior to any of the other authors discussed here. And Sherlock Holmes did not come out of the pulps.) The first three books are narrated by "Dr. Petrie," sidekick to the intrepid Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Fu's perpetual enemy in every book. That Smith and Petrie are fairly blatant rip-offs of Holmes and Watson is unmistakable, though Smith, a Scotland Yard Inspector, is just the sort of pompous blunderer that Holmes had contempt for. And in 13 novels, he never manages to bring Fu to justice. To be fair, Fu holds him captive about 30 or 40 times and yet never succeeds in killing him either. Fu is one of those bad guys who never just shoots someone when he can lock them in a torture device that will kill them slowly over weeks, always giving them ample time to escape.

All Fu has to do is pull the trigger and Nayland Smith is dead and Fu conquers the world. So does he? No. "I have a better idea," Fu says before setting in motion a slow death for Smith that gave him plenty of time to A) Get free, B) Be rescued, or C) the "fiendish device" fucks up. Result? 4 chapters later, Fu is defeated and Smith triumphs once again.
Just shoot him, you master-idiot!
The first three Fu Manchu novels are really just short magazine serials strung together, and are too episodic and disjointed to work well as novels, plus Fu himself comes "onstage" too seldom. With the fourth book, Daughter of Fu Manchu, Rohmer began writing actual novels, with one, book-length plot, and the books got better. Also in that book, he introduced the character of Fah Lo Suee, Fu's kinky, ambitious, equally-evil daughter. In the books, she begins as her father's assistant/sidekick, and becomes his rival for head of Fu's organization, the Si-Fan, so Fu finally kills his own daughter, then, still later in the series, resurrects her as a zombie. Unlike Fu, though Fah has been played by white women, Luana Walters in Drums of Fu Manchu (Luana also played Lara, Superman's Kryptonian mother in the Kirk Alyn serial Superman, making Fu Manchu Superman's grandfather. There's a thought to give one pause.) and Myrna Loy in Mask of Fu Manchu, she has been played by Chinese actresses also, Anna May Wong in the Warner Oland series, and Tsai Chin in the Christopher Lee films. In her memoirs, Tsai is less-than-proud of her Fu Manchu films, but a paycheck for a working actress is a paycheck.

Fah Lo Suee shares my appreciation of a well-set-up young hunk. Here Myrna Loy as Fah lusts openly for the iron-jawed hero, having gotten wildly turned on by his flogging. Fah is heavily into Sadistic kinky rough sex.

Fu has been a radio show, comic books, everything but a Broadway musical, but I'm a movie type of movie star, and I want to discuss Fu on film.

This comic book adaptation of the fifth, and most-famous, Fu novel appears in this excerpt to follow the novel a lot closer than the movie did.
Fu Manchu first faced movie cameras in a 1923 British silent serial, The Mystery of Fu Manchu. The mystery is why not the slightest attempt was made to make Harry Agar Lyons look even REMOTELY Asian.

"Noel Coward? Nonsense, old bean, I'm a sinister Chinese mastermind. Cor blimey, I'm dashedly Asian. Pip, pip  and all that Chinese rot."

I've not seen this film, in fact, it may not even still exit, but who could resist this? Oh. You too?

"Dash it all, I was about to conquer the Empire, I mean the world, but it's tea time."

However, I have seen the trilogy of Fu films starring Swedish actor Warner Oland, who later achieved greater fame as Charlie Chan: 1929's The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, 1930's The Return of Fu Manchu and 1931's Daughter of the Dragon. Here is the physical description of Fu Manchu found in the first novel: "Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect. . . . Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man." Ah yes. That's Warner Oland, except for the parts of him between his hair and his toes.

The Fiendish Fjords of Fu Manchu

The films run rather far afield from Rohmer's books. Fu begins the Paramount movie series as a wise and noble doctor in China whose wife and children (Except for an unacknowledged grown daughter who doesn't show up until the third movie) are killed in the Boxer Rebellion. Fu inaccurately blames a Colonel Petrie and vows vengeance on the Petrie family, vowing to wipe them all out. In the books, Fu is always out for world conquest. In these films, his sights are set only on private vengeance against one particular family, and he's blundered, for they are not the ones who killed his family in the first place. The Fu of the novels was a genius who would have gotten to the truth about who killed his kids, and also would not have wasted time and energy on "vengeance" anyway. (He never kills enemies for vengeance in the books, only to further his plans of conquest. And his word is his bond. Fu NEVER breaks a promise or a vow. Oddly enough for a master-criminal, he can be trusted.)

The three Oland films form a true trilogy, telling one long story with a genuine conclusion in film three. Fu dies halfway through the third picture, and his now-acknowledged daughter, played by Anna May Wong, ineptly tries to finish Daddy's work but fails, of course. The most interesting aspect of these three pictures are the talent. The first two are directed and co-written by Rowland V. Lee, who went on to direct Son Of Frankenstein. Nayland Smith is played by O.P. Higgie who is best remembered as the blind man who teaches the the monster to talk and smoke in Bride of Frankenstein. Dr. Petrie is played by Neil Hamilton, whom we all remember as Commissioner Gordon on the 1960s Batman TV show. The heroine who is mentally enslaved by Fu is the great actress Jean Arthur. (Jean later faced another Fu. In 1950 she played Peter Pan on Broadway opposite Boris Karloff as Captain Hook.) In the third film, we find Bramwell Fletcher, who two years later went mad and died laughing when he saw Boris Karloff revive from 3000 years of being dead in The Mummy. The imperiled heroine is Francis Dade just weeks before she played Lucy, Count Dracula's first major victim in the Lugosi Dracula. And the stalwart hero is played by an actual Asian. And not just any Asian; it's the great Japanese actor Sussue Hayakawa, very young and way too talented for the dreck he's required to say in this film.

Warner Oland as the elderly Fu Manchu tries to prevent Sessue Hayakawa from ever meeting Akira Kurasawa.

Less than a year after the last Warner Oland Fu Manchu movie came out of Paramount Studios, MGM released the craziest and best Fu Manchu movie ever, The Mask of Fu Manchu, with Boris Karloff.

In his first shot in the movie, Boris Karloff enjoys a refreshing beverage. Probably his "Elixer Vitae."

This is one deranged movie. MGM lavished their usual big budget on the picture, so instead of skulking about caves and Limehouse opium dens (Though the picture does depict a Chinese opium den in one sequence. But here's the MGM touch, it's the only opium den on earth with a floor show! Like I said: one seriously deranged movie), here Fu Manchu is in residence in a lavish Chinese/art deco palace somewhere in Manchuria. Or is that Fu Manchuria? That shot above is Boris's first shot in the picture, and believe me, you're intended to laugh.

No wonder Myrna Loy hated making this movie. Boris Karloff got all the best gowns.

Although the second Oland film has the same title as the second Fu novel, the storylines are wholly different. The novel The Mask of Fu Manchu came out at the beginning of 1932 and MGM snapped up the rights. Their movie actually bears some SLIGHT resemblance to the book's plot. (MGM's ads emphasized that this was a very different Fu Manchu than Paramount's. They weren't kidding.) They exchange an Islamic prophet, El Mokenna in the novel, with the more-widely known Genghis Kahn. Oddly enough, they take two characters from the book, Sir Lionel Barton (who is an insufferable blowhard in the novel) and another archaeologist named Von Berg and reverse their fates. In the book, Von Berg is killed in chapter one. In the movie, as played by tubby Jean Hersholt, Von Berg is still alive and well when the film concludes (after a close call in "The Room of the Slender Fingers"). Sir Lionel Barton in the movie gets tortured, maimed and killed. Not only is he not killed in the book, but in fact, he's in several of the novels. Had MGM decided to do a longer series, that could have been a problem, but after their less-remembered sequel, Fu Manchu's Blessed Event in which I play Fu's white mistress who gives him a son, MGM was through with Fu.

My Fu Manchu movie. AS recorded in My Lush Life, it was during the making of this movie that Boris Karloff became my 5th husband.

Omitted from the movie was Fu's youth serum. Although Fu's age is never nailed down in the books, apparently he was just over 70 in the first one, which sets his birth around 1840. So by the time of Mask in 1932, the character was in his early 90s, which is a pretty advanced age at which to conquer the world. Realizing that he'd written himself into a corner, Rohmer in Mask had Fu inventing what he called his "Elixir Vitae," a serum that restored his youth. Handy, and later books could then revolve around his need for the drug.

Fu offers his daughter sexually to Sir Lionel Barton in exchange for information. I'm not joking.
Sir Lionel however, is too pompous and British to take the offer.

Mask of Fu Manchu is hilariously over-the-top silly, intentionally hilarious. Boris, in his first speaking role since becoming a star in Frankenstein, is clearly enjoying the hell out of the role. His Fu is gleefully Sadistic. He plays practical jokes on his victims WHILE he's torturing them! Myrna Loy's Fah Lo Suee (A role she loathed. She begged to be taken off the movie. Nope.) is a raving sadist and nymphomaniac who works herself up into a literal frenzy watching muscle boy get whipped, screaming "FASTER! FASTER!" at the floggers!

Who is Fu's decorator? I WANT this chair!

And the sex! This is MGM just months before Production Code enforcement set in. A year later they could not have made this movie. Fu offers to let Lionel Barton screw his daughter for information. Fah Lo Suee paws over the hunky hero (Cowboy star and ex-football star Charles Starret), drooling with lust, and Boris has many lines of dialogue indicating that his daughter's "usual" sexual tastes eventually leave her men not merely spent, but dead. At a banquet we see Fu's associates literally drooling over Myrna, and Fu makes it explicitly clear that one of his aims is to encourage his followers to rape all the white women they want.

The poster boy for anti-Asian stereotypes.

I read a letter of complaint sent to MGM over the movie by an organization of Asian-Americans complaining that Boris's Fu, along with being a racist stereotype, was also an "ugly homosexual." Ugly? Hey. I married him a year later, no matter what the Karloff Family says. But "homosexual" had me puzzled. Fu is never gay in the novels. But then I took another look at the movie. Boris's personal staff consists almost entirely of beefy, muscular black men who stand around dressed for Sumo wrestling, and he spends as much time gratuitously pawing the hero's muscles as his daughter does, keeping him dressed only in what looks like a large diaper.

Boris Karloff and Charles Starrett "Fu" around, while a very large naked black guy watches.

Yup. Gay.

But being gay doesn't make you a bad person, let alone a criminal mastermind; repeatedly trying to conquer the world, murdering and torturing folks to do so, does. The writers of that letter, in complaining of the bigotry in Mask of Fu Manchu accidentally revealed their OWN bigotry, only this time against gay men, at least, "ugly" Chinese gay men.

The serum in the hypodermic needle will make naked boy Fu's willing slave. Yup, gay.
If Starrett had worn this outfit in his westerns, I might have seen them.

But it's the racism that runs riot. When MGM released the movie on VHS a few years back, they tried "fixing" it by cutting out some of Karloff's climactic speeches, such as his exhorting his army of minions to "Kill the white man and take his women!" but ignored the xenophobic, paternalistic white superiority, like at the end of the movie when, for "comic" relief, Lewis Stone as Nayland Smith asks a Chinese ship's cook who is seemingly retarded (He's played by the same actor who played the ship's cook in King Kong, only with snaggle teeth) if he, like Fu Manchu, is a doctor of medicine or philosophy and the deeply mentally challenged man replies, while GIGGLING :"I no tink so." "I congratulate you," replies Smith, who likes his Chinese men mentally retarded. It's grossly offensive, the more so because it's the movie's hero, and we're supposed to laugh with him. For a movie villain to spout racist hate is one thing, but for the hero to spout equally appallingly bigoted racist blather and we're supposed to find it cute, well THAT is disgusting.

This isn't Boris, it's a Fu Manchu "action figure". The perfect toy for the xenophobic child.
"Be the first kid on your block to kill the white man and take his women!"
After Karloff, Fu had a few years off, returning in 1940 in a 15 chapter Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu.

"Look into my ridiculously made-up eyes. I am not German; I am Chinese."
The slogan at the top, "The masterpiece of suspense," rather abuses the term "masterpiece."

Now there is a novel titled Drums of Fu  Manchu, but all Republic took from the novel was the title. Just as well. The novel has Fu trying to prevent World War II by replacing world leaders (Fictionalized versions of Hitler and Mussolini) with doubles who are his slaves. 1940 was the wrong year to have a Chinese supervillain "saving" us from Hitler. So the serial simply re-adapted the plot of Mask, even down to changing El Mokenna to Genghis Kahn once again. He and Nayland Smith spend 15 chapters (Over 4 hours) chasing each other around, with over half of it taking place in California. (The novel is set in "Persia" and Egypt.) And when they finally get to "China," it looks suspiciously like Chatsworth. It is generally held by fans of serials to be one of the absolute best serials Republic ever made. As movie serials go, it is pretty good, but that's a very low bar. Most serials were crap. Ever seen either of the two Batman serials from the 1940s? I've seen both. They are beyond Godawful.

"Hi! Aren't I scary?"

This time Fu is played by German-born Henry Brandon, a gay actor (The DVD says he was "a confirmed bachelor." Yes he was.) who played Acacius, the guy who ran the nudist prep school in Auntie Mame, and who played Barnaby in Laurel & Hardy's Babes in Toyland. And Dwight Frye is in it. You get to see Renfield in a fist fight with Fu's dacoits!

This is the cover of the excellent DVD you can buy of this serial. Fu began in magazine serials, and was always well-suited to the serialized form.
And I swear to Dog, the musical score is credited to Cy Feuer! Yes, THAT Cy Feuer! (Cy fails to mention scoring Drums of Fu Manchu in his memoir, where he wastes so much time blathering on about Guys and Dolls and that Pulitzer Prize for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, as though his Fu Manchu Republic serial was somehow NOT the highlight of his career.)

This excellent book contains not one refernce to Drums of Fu Manchu! Honest! Can you believe it? Cy's idea of dealing with an archfiend was producing a show that starred Rudy Vallee. (Really, the stuff on Vallee's famously gigantic ego are hilarious!)

Here is Henry's Fu with Luana Walters as his daughter:

Once again, Fu gets the prettiest frocks to wear.
Do their ages not seem sufficiently separated for them to play father-daughter? Well, Luana was younger than Brandon - by a full six weeks! Actually, like the character of Fu Manchu, both Henry and Luana were born in 1912, so all 3 turned 100 this year. They make me feel so young. I remember when I turned 100, I think.

Here an unusually hunky Fu Manchu takes a snake bath in one of his comic book incarnations. How like Fu to bathe with serpents. And what does a supervillain need with nipples anyway?
Lots of different McGuffin's in Drums of Fu Manchu. The primary one was the "Sceptre of Genghis Kahn," but my favorite was "The Kardac Segment" What is a Kardac Segment? It's the thing he's holding in this next picture.

"You see, Western Fools? This is a Kardac Segment. Feel pretty stupid now, don't you? Next I will kill you, and take your women, and their Kardac Segments!"

Although a huge success as movie serials of the 30s and 40s went, Pearl Harbor scotched any plans for a sequel. Suddenly the "Yellow Peril" was Japan and China was our ally. The state department literally asked Republic not to do any more Fu Manchus.

Why not just get Oliver Hardy to play the role? This is Glen Gordon in the 1950s TV series.
So no Fu for around 15 or 16 years until the mid-1950s, when a short-lived (13 episodes) TV series, The Adventures of Fu Manchu aired on American TV, with a guy named Glen Gordon as Fu. Although readily available on DVD, I haven't seen this series. It can't possibly be any good. I mean who wants a fat, American Fu Manchu?

"Glen may be terrible casting, but I stoutly maintain that I am the worst Fu Manchu!"
Fu was gone for a decade until 1965, when The Face of Fu Manchu was released. What a shame that Sax Rohmer didn't live quite long enough to see it. Starring Sir Christopher Lee as Fu (Once again, Lee was playing a former Karloff role. At the time, Lee and Karloff were next door neighbors in London. What a scary block that was!) The first color Fu, a nicely mounted, ever-so-faintly tongue-in-cheek period piece (It's set in the 1920s). The story was an original, but it was a convincingly Rohmerian plot, and Lee's Fu was possibly the closest ever to the Fu of the books.

The New Fu! (Well, new for 1965.)
Little Dougie saw it in high school and enjoyed it. It sparked a revival of the novels in little Pyramid Books paperback reprints that Dougie was reading in high school, and it sparked 4 sequels, albeit progressively cheaper and shoddier.

Somehow, The 13 Fiancees of Fu Manchu seems a very funny title to me.

The second was Brides of Fu Manchu. Now there was a novel titled The Bride of Fu Manchu. This was NOT a movie of that book.
This DVD was just released last month.

I rather liked the third, Vengeance of Fu Manchu. It borrowed some of the plot of the novel Drums of Fu Manchu, with Fu preparing human duplicates, only not of world leaders, but rather of high-level policemen, starting of course with Nayland Smith, and his goal was not world domination, just revenge, a motive beneath the Fu of the books. Of particular ludicrousness in this picture was the casting of a German actor as a gangster from Texas. He wears a ten-gallon cowboy hat, and even speaks with a Texas accent for a few words in a couple early scenes, but mostly his German accent dominates his ridiculous performance.

Now this is a scary-looking Fu Manchu.
After that Lee made the most-obscure Fu movie of all, Fu Manchu's White Slave Sale, co-starring my old friend, Guy Thanatos. You can read all about it in Guy's autobiography, co-written with Little Dougie, My Gruesome Life, when it comes out next year.

Of the remaining two Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies, there is little to say. They were directed by Jess Franco, and are unwatchably boring. I mean it, really, really boring. Really, really, really boring.

By the end of the series, they were getting protests, and when CBS broadcast Brides of Fu Manchu in the early 1970s, they were met with Asian-American protests. Fu was dead, or almost dead. And given how he ended up in movies, it might have been better if he were dead.
Peter Sellers disgraces himself, and even manages somehow to disgrace Fu Manchu, in this cinematic turd of a movie.
1980's The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu is a movie even worse than its title. In his biography of Peter Sellers, Roger Lewis goes into detail about why this movie tanked in every conceivable way, but it all boiled down to: Peter Sellers was crazy, mean, self-destructive, toxic to those around him, and did everything he could, which was a lot, to sabotage the movie and himself. It was Sellers's last movie and Fu Manchu's last movie (It's almost inconceivable in our PC time that Fu Manchu will ever be revived in movie form again.)

Sellers indulged his usual penchant for playing multiple characters by playing both Fu and Nayland Smith (When shooting Dr. Strangelove with Sellers, Stanley Kubrick said of him: "He's three actors for the price of four."), only his talent was so eroded by then that you mostly differentiated the characters based on the make-up and costumes. The plot dealt with a now-very ancient Fu running dry of his Elixir Vitae and in danger of dying of incredibly old age, but the movie was abominable on every level, Believe me, this movie is so bad, it makes the final two Christopher Lee Fu movies look like Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind. This movie is atrocious. A number of fine talents, including Sid Cesar and Dame Helen Mirrin, embarrass themselves by appearing in this Godforsaken turkey.

There's no Fu like an old Fu, but there will be no new Fus, unless of course, there are.

Cheers darlings.

"The world shall hear from me again."
Ah no, Fu, it won't.

[PS. By Halloween, you will be able to purchase my new book, Tallyho, Tallulah! Keep checking back here for ordering information. Happy Halloween indeed!]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

That Was Cinerama

Little Dougie dragged me out last week to the Arclight Cinerama Dome where we saw the 60th Anniversary revival of This is Cinerama, actually projected with the three projectors. (The Cinerama Dome, prior to about 10 years ago, had never run a true Cinerama film, It opened just as it became obsolete. For the 50th Anniversary Cinerama festival 10 years ago, the theater had to be retrofitted to be actually able to project true, three-panel Cinerama.)

I never got this logo. Wouldn't a better logo have been more like this:

This at least gives an idea of the screen.

Cinerama was basically three strips of film, three projectors, three images linking up as well as they can, which isn't very, projected on a HUGE screen with a deep, 146 degree curved screen. It is not, and never was, intended to be seen "flat".

Note that the individual images are basically vertical images, unlike normal 35mm photography.
Put together, it looks like this:

Please remain seated until this movie comes to a complete halt, which it will once the black & white choir comes on.

So that, allegedly, you get an effect like this:

Or you could just go to an amusement park and ride a roller coaster.

The process is explained by this handy diagram:

It made for killer travelogues, but that was about it. In This is Cinerama, they show portions of a performance of Aida at La Scala shot by a static camera that just sits there while the opera sequence, devoid of context, bores you. Simple videos of opera stage performances are more interesting visually. Even worse is when it just sits and watches a choir at a distance sing a cut-down version of The Hallelujah Chorus. Talk about boring! Watching a bullfight, even at a distance and only for only 2 and a half minutes is still revolting. "Hey, let's torture and murder a bull for 'entertainment'!" In another scene, the camera sits and watches the Vienna Boy's Choir sing The Blue Danube Waltz. Who knew it had lyrics? The boys look sweet and sing like angels (and the youngest of them still surviving is over 70) but Stanley Kubrick put The Blue Danube on a Cinerama screen with more impact in 1968, and only needed one strip of film to manage it. Also be warned, one of the segments in the first half depicts a "Gathering of the Klans" in Edinburgh (Where Little Dougie's Family originated) which features a LOT of bagpipe "music," - in stereo yet. As the late, great Wally Boag used to say: "The Irish invented the bagpipes and gave them to the Scots, who still haven't gotten the joke yet."

Here's how it looked at the end of the run if you were color blind.

The second act was a considerable improvement. We see a spectacular aquacade which seems to be impossible to see from any other vantage point but the camera. The live Florida audience seems to be MILES away.

Where would an audience be to see this - and HOW?

WHERE would the live audience be?

I'm serious. Just where the HELL would the live audience be?
The film's finale is the one part that remains well worth seeing, a 30 minute aerial travelogue of America, shot from a B-52 piloted by a daredevil master-flier named Paul Mantz, and produced by Merian C. Cooper, the man behind King Kong and my own 1935 film, HER! The man was very right-wing, but his patriotism found a near-perfect, non-jingoistic expression in this spectacular view of how America looked in 1952.

A lake in 1952.

Lower Manhattan in New York still looks pretty much like this, though it looked quite different for a while.

Lowell Thomas kept repeating that we were "Seeing America as no one ever saw it before!" Well this is Midwestern farmland, and I can assure you that the ONLY way I've ever seen it is like this, from a plane flying over it. They call it "Flyoverland" for very good reasons.
It's hard to say what was odder about this demo film of cutting-edge film technology of 1952. Was it the way they billed The Mormon Tabernacle Choir as "The Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir," as though they (Cooper and Thomas) were afraid that using the word "Mormon" would keep audiences away? Little Dougie's grandmother was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and not ONCE did she ever tell anyone: "I was in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir." (This is Cinerama was the highest-grossing movie of 1952 AND 1953. Do you really think the word "Mormon" would have made it a failure?)

Mormons singing.
They sing nicely. It's voting where they have their heads up their asses.

Was it Lowell Thomas introducing a Catholic choir and Catholic alter boys as: "something with which you are all familiar," as though everyone that will ever see this movie is a Catholic (Catholics who all loathe Mormons, like being Catholic was somehow better than being Mormon)? Was it the lingering "scenic" shot of the biggest strip mine on earth, a disgusting copper mine in Utah, as Thomas tells us this horror is beautiful, magnificent, and awesome instead of obscene and revolting?

No, I think the weirdest moment was Lowell Thomas informing us in no uncertain terms that we were beholding the majesty which is Bridal Veil Falls while we were clearly looking at Yosemite Falls. It's not like MILLIONS of people don't know the difference between these two great natural wonders which are, certainly, less than a mile apart. And they've only had 60 years to fix that GLARING error.

NOT "Bridal Veil Falls"!

NOT "Yosemite Falls"!
(Both pictures taken by Little Dougie.)

The film opens with Lowell Thomas, a smarmy newsman of the day who seems to find himself clever. Here's an example of his "wit" from the first scene in the movie, when, in normal 35mm and black & white, he lectures us on the history of trying to record movement in pictures. He shows a cave painting from 20,000 years ago that depicts a boar: "He wanted the animal to be in motion, so he added eight legs. [Pause, smarmy smirk from Thomas, then with backhanded thumb-pointing adds:] "Eight legs." You know, Lowell, if you are utterly unable to come up with an amusing observation, try hiring writers. He runs most of The Great Train Robbery with snarky non-comments: "Violence! Action! More violence!" He runs bits of The Sheik with more smug commentary. About the time it gets so irritating that you're ready to walk out they switch on the Cinerama effect and you're off on that Coney Island Rollercoaster, but you've waited a full 16 minutes for the gasbag to shut up and show us Cinerama.

Lowell Thomas in Cinerama talks fatuously. To the right of Michaelangelo's painting of God giving Life to Adam (In the close-up of this painting in the film, Adam's genitalia is just below the camera frame. What a coincidence!) you can see the boar with 8 legs. Here Lowell is NOT singing "Mammy".

Mike Todd produced most of the first half of the film. (which may explain why someone thought we wanted to see 10 minutes of an opera shot by a static camera sitting there watching folks march past in "colorful" outfits) Todd was eventually let go (He had a unique talent for pissing off anyone who got near him) and was replaced with Merian C. Cooper, who was a true film maker whatever his politics. Todd went on to co-create Todd-AO, a frankly-better one-panel huge screen format closer to today's Imax. For his first Todd-AO movie he shot Around the World in 80 Days, which won the Oscar for Best Picture for 1956. Around the World gets bad-mouthed a lot today as an undeserving Best Picture Oscar winner, as though it were as lousy as DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, when in fact, it's a perfectly lovely comedy-adventure that follows the book fairly well, and certainly shows you the world. That film also begins with a lecture, this time on travel and the shrinking world, delivered by Edward R. Morrow, a somewhat more respectable newsman than Thomas, in color but still in a standard 35mm frame, so Todd can again pull the stunt of having the screen grow when the process actually begins, never mind that the first ten minutes of the film could be wholly cut and lose nothing.

When the Intermission ends (The Intermission is announced by a graphic showing two floating cigarettes with their smoke trails spelling out the word "Intermission," thus cutely encouraging you to go smoke yourself up some cancer. Ah, the 1950s. Man, "The Greatest Generation" was stupid), you hear Lowell Thomas yelling at you "QUIET! QUIET! QUIET!" As I said to the person seated next to me whom I was trying to answer a question for: "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. The movie is being very rude." Mind you, the house lights are still up, the curtains are still closed, the projectors are not turned on, but Lowell Thomas is screaming "QUIET!" at us. And he's doing this to introduce another Cinerama innovation, which he calls "Stereophonic Sound." Write that term down. You'll hear about Stereophonic Sound again someday, I'm sure. (Lowell and Cinerama would have you believe that this is the first-ever movie in stereo, as though Fantasia and "Fantasound" never happened.)

Don't take my word for it. Check out the DVD. He screams at us on it as well.

Now, at long last, you can see This is Cinerama the way it was intended to be seen: on your iPad while you're riding a bus!
The DVD uses a process called "Smilebox" to approximate the effect of the deeply-curved screen, and does a good job of it.

For ten years they made Cinerama films, and each did quite well indeed, but then a team of men at Cinerama, one of them Little Dougie's Uncle Mack Lunt, developed Ultra-Panavision, which allowed the entire size and curve of the Cinerama screen to be filled up with only a single panel. With the release, by and "in" Cinerama of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Cinerama became obsolete overnight.

The thing is, how many travelogues can you make? After ten years, there wasn't much left. They tried making fictional story films in the process, but it was ill-suited for acting and drama. Here's a close-up of Debbie Reynolds and Thelma Ritter in How the West Was Won, the last-ever movie shot in 3-panel Cinerama:

Who really wanted to see Thelma Ritter that big?
Look at that: they barely take up one-third of the image. Let's say you did a Super close-up of Debbie Reynolds, one where her face spread across all 3 panels; you'd get the "seams" down her eyes. It would look awful, not to mention the sharp points it would give her head, since there are three focal points instead of just one. And if you placed an actor in panel 1 talking to an actor in panel 3, they had to look past each other in order to appear to be looking at each other. It was highly confusing to act, to direct, to shoot.

And of course, if you weren't seated in the center of the theater, you ran the risk of Jimmy Stewart looking like this:

Jimmy Stewart, like practically everyone who worked on this movie, leaned heavily to the right.
The first attempt to do a fiction movie in Cinerama was George Pal's The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, not George's best work.

Actually, it's The Deadly Dull World of the Brothers Grimm, with lovely fairy tales.
 Although the three fairy tales full of special effects are charming and delightful like most of George's best work, the main storyline, an endless tale of the Brothers risking their jobs and romances to write fairy tales, is just terminally boring. It was a movie with something to bore the whole family. Soon George was putting his great talent to use on a worthier project, his wonderful 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.

The second and final Cinerama fiction film was How The West Was Won. Although no one's nominee for "Great Screenplay," the sprawling epic saga of the Prescott and Rawlings families over about 40 years is entertaining and dramatizes major developments in America's 19th Century history in a series of spectacular set pieces. The Civil War, the central American event of the 19th Century, gets short shrift, but then, Gone With the Wind had already been made, but the river rapids scene, the much-greater train robbery, and especially the amazing, jaw-dropping sequence when the Iroquois stampede a herd of bison across the train building site are incredible, make fantastic use of Cinerama, and more than make-up for the plodding plots, for trying to pass off Gregory Peck as a charming gambler-rogue, trying to pass off John Wayne as a human being (A specific one: General Sherman), and for Russ Tamblyn's pretty embarrassing performance.

Russ Tamblyn holds a unique position in Cinerama history: he's the only actor in both of the Cinerama 3-panel fiction movies, playing a prince with Harry Potter's invisibility cloak in Brothers Grimm quite charmingly, and playing a demented Confederate deserter who tries to assassinate General Grant. (Oh, the suspense: Will Russ Tamblyn kill General Grant years before he became president? Well, no, he doesn't.)

Buddy Hackett, Jim Backus, and Terry Thomas all appeared in Brothers Grimm and then went on to appear in the first non-Cinerama Cinerama film, the aforementioned Mad World.

But the form was out-of-date and dead in 1963. When How the West Was Won ended, so did Cinerama. Never mind that, these days, every third release is in Imax, a vastly superior system. These days even My Dinner With André would be in Imax and 3-D. ("Now you can actually TASTE the food André eats!")

And how Cinerama was lost.
But at least the name lives on to do further service at one of its former theaters.

That's entertainment!
("Ladies, bring your husbands!" Yeah, do that.)
Cheers darlings.