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Take Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke and Shirley MacLaine, put them all together in one film, and ask yourself what could possibly go wrong?  Answer: NOTHING!  Nothing is wrong with this film at all!

MacLaine is Louisa May Foster, a rich widow who is sent to see a psychiatrist after trying to give the IRS $200 million.  She tells him all about the four very different men she married (and the one she turned down), all of whom died and left her a fortune.  The stories of each of her marriages, to Edgar Hopper (Van Dyke), Larry Flint (Newman), Rod Anderson (Mitchum) and Pinky Benson (Kelly), as well as her first engagement to Leonard Crawley (Dean Martin), who she turns down in favour of Hopper, are told in flashback, with Louisa imagining each one as a film in a different genre.  Gradually each marriage turns from blissfully happy to sad – for Louisa anyway – as she encourages her husbands to chase their dreams, only to wish they hadn’t done so.

Despite the fact that the film describes four marriages gone wrong and four deaths, it is unquestionably a comedy, as it’s opening sequence makes perfectly clear, showing Louisa descending a pink staircase, wearing a pink dress, ahead of a pink coffin in an entirely pink house.

The story is light and fluffy, and my goodness, how lucky was Shirley MacLaine to be romanced by Martin, Newman, Mitchum and Kelly?!  I can only imagine that she was the envy of many viewers when this film came out!  She looks beautiful herself, and also does a rather lovely song and dance number with Gene Kelly, which was a joy to watch.

It looks sumptuous too, with MacLaine wearing a series of increasingly outlandish outfits, and lots of colour throughout.  There are lots of truly funny moments, and I burst out laughing several times, even having to rewind the film occasionally because my laughter made me miss a few lines.

Packed with gorgeous stars, and with a frothy, funny storyline, this film has shot straight into my list of top ten favourite movies, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good comedy.

Year of release: 1964

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs

Writers: Gwen Davis, Betty Comden, Adolph Green

Main cast: Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Robert Cummings

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In 1960, Jay Bernstein came to Hollywood, hoping to make his fortune.  He had no idea what he was going to do, and no idea how he was going to do it.  But he did have determination, confidence and the ability to work as hard as it took.  With guts and grit, he became a publicist to many stars, including Farrah Fawcett and her then husband Lee Majors, and The Rat Pack.  He later branched out into managing stars, and producing, directing and writing for movies and television.  This book is his memoir of his long career in Hollywood, with the highs and lows, triumphs and let-downs, and of course, what life was like with such icons of the day.

I enjoyed the book a lot.  Bernstein is an engaging and very witty narrator; he’s also very frank, not only about the people who he worked with, but also about himself, being more than willing to admit when he made mistakes and bad decisions.  He also pulls no punches when it comes to his opinions on others (Frank Sinatra does NOT come out of this book well!!)

The book concentrates mainly on Bernstein’s work for Farrah Fawcett (the story of her rise to stardom, thanks to the hard work of Bernstein, is fascinating), Suzanne Somers, The Rat Pack, and Stacey Keach on the Mike Hammer television productions (based on Mickey Spillane’s books about Hammer).  Sadly, Jay Bernstein passed away while the book was being written, and a note at the end points out that there were far more stories he wanted to share, but his death meant that they are not in the book.

For anyone who is interested in movies or television, and the truth behind the glamorous facade of the industry, this book is enjoyable, easy to read, eye-opening and funny.  I highly recommend it!

(For more information about Jay Bernstein, please click here.)

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This book is a gossipy, lurid, but always readable account of the rise and fall of the Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.  It charts how they came together in the first place (the name Rat Pack was given to them by Lauren Bacall, the wife of Humphrey Bogart, who Sinatra regarded as a hero), talks about their glory years when they seemed to rule the entertainment world from Las Vegas, and then the inevitable fall into, variously, drug abuse, alcoholism, bankruptcy and depression, leaving behind them a trail of broken marriages, broken hearts and more.

The book is not a biography of any of the Rat Pack members – their childhoods and very early careers are barely touched upon – and shouldn’t be read as such.  Instead, it covers the most successful and most volatile parts of their various careers, including such things as Sinatra’s involvement with the Mob, and the Kennedys (and both together at some stages).  Sinatra is the main focus of the book, with the others seeming to orbit around him – with the exception of Dean Martin, who, it seems fairly apparent, would kowtow to nobody.

Actually, despite the author’s obvious and understandable love for Sinatra’s singing, Frank does not come out of this account very well.  He is shown to be domineering and paranoid, unpredicatable – apt to change his mood in a moment – and a womaniser, who had little respect for anybody other than those he feared.  Dean Martin came out of it a little better – at least he was his own man.  Sammy Davis Jr was probably the most interesting of all of the Rat Pack members, for me anyhow.  The racism and abuse he had to deal with was shocking – while hotel and casino managers were happy to have him perform and entertain a crowd, they certainly were not about to let him mingle with that same crowd.  The section about the eventual desegregation in Vegas was illuminating and very interesting.  Sammy also seemed to be out of his depth in the Rat Pack – detested by white people because of the colour of his skin, and detested by black people for being friends with white men like Sinatra and Martin, he was caught between a rock and a hard place.  Peter Lawford came across as a sad character – born to looks, charm and charisma, Frank spat him out after he believed that Peter had double crossed him, and it’s sad to see how such a beautiful man as Lawford ended up sinking into a haze of drugs and alcohol, which cost him his life.  Joey Bishop was possibly the most enigmatic of the group – seemingly able to rib Frank without fear of reprisals, and remaining his own man as far as possible within the confines of such a group.

The Kennedys feature in the book – Frank was an ardent admirer of the family, and an overt campaigner for JFK when Kennedy was running for the democratic presidential nomination, and then the president.  The family as a whole do not come over well(!)  Also covered extensively was Frank’s connection with various gangsters – who were happy to use him, but clearly had little respect for him.

It was nice to read about a time when Las Vegas was a genuinely cool, sexy and glamorous place to be, unlike the commercial money making machine which it is these days; what a place it would have been to visit at the time!

The slang used in the book emulates the period covered, with mention of broads, dames and swells routinely peppered throughout the book.  This may annoy some viewers, but I actually enjoyed it a lot.  Overall I very much enjoyed the book, and it has whetted my apetite to find out more about the various Rat Pack members.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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