Old Hollywood
Cinema
1900-1979

Nostalgia is a seductive liar - George Wildman Ball
Josef Von Sternberg & Marlene Dietrich on the set of Dishonored (1931, dir. Josef Von Sternberg)
"The strongest appeal [of the film medium] to the masses was the simplest one: the formula always revolves around sex and its biological associate, violence. One bond that links all audiences is the animal in man."
-Josef Von Sternberg

Josef Von Sternberg & Marlene Dietrich on the set of Dishonored (1931, dir. Josef Von Sternberg)

"The strongest appeal [of the film medium] to the masses was the simplest one: the formula always revolves around sex and its biological associate, violence. One bond that links all audiences is the animal in man."

-Josef Von Sternberg

Anna May Wong (circa 1930s)
Her resume would be impressive enough for a Caucasian actress. It happened that Anna May Wong was Chinese, at a time when East Asians were no more likely to become Hollywood stars than someone from India or Africa. She knew, from seeing The Perils of Pauline serials with the villainous Wu Fang, or D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, about a sensitive, opium-sotted “Chink,” that Chinese were portrayed in films as notorious criminals or emotional cripples, and that, anyway, they were almost always played by white actors. Hollywood may as well have had a sign on the studio gate reading No Chinese Need Apply. But Wong did; she was merely following her dream to be a star. 
She was too young and ambitious to know it couldn’t be done. So she did it.
-excerpted from That Old Feeling: Anna May Win by Richard Corliss (TIME), a very good profile of Wong & her film career

Anna May Wong (circa 1930s)

Her resume would be impressive enough for a Caucasian actress. It happened that Anna May Wong was Chinese, at a time when East Asians were no more likely to become Hollywood stars than someone from India or Africa. She knew, from seeing The Perils of Pauline serials with the villainous Wu Fang, or D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, about a sensitive, opium-sotted “Chink,” that Chinese were portrayed in films as notorious criminals or emotional cripples, and that, anyway, they were almost always played by white actors. Hollywood may as well have had a sign on the studio gate reading No Chinese Need Apply. But Wong did; she was merely following her dream to be a star.

She was too young and ambitious to know it couldn’t be done. So she did it.

-excerpted from That Old Feeling: Anna May Win by Richard Corliss (TIME), a very good profile of Wong & her film career

“Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”
-Gary Cooper (1939)

Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”

-Gary Cooper (1939)

Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire in Top Hat (1935 dir. Mark Sandrich)

Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire in Top Hat (1935 dir. Mark Sandrich)

Wini Shaw in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935, dir. Busby Berkeley)

Wini Shaw in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935, dir. Busby Berkeley)

Wini Shaw & Dick Powell w/Dick Jurgens & his Orchestra - Lullaby of Broadway (via Gold Diggers of 1935 soundtrack)

One of the most famous Busby Berkeley numbers is actually a short film-within-a-film, which tells the story of a “Broadway Baby” who plays all night and sleeps all day. It opens with a head shot of singer Wini Shaw against a black background, then the camera pulls back and up, and Shaw’s head becomes the Big Apple, New York City. As everyone rushes off to work, Shaw returns home from her night’s carousing and goes to sleep. When she awakens, that night, we follow her and her beau (Dick Powell) from club to club, with elaborate large cast tap numbers, until she is pushed off a balcony to her death. The sequence ends with a return to Shaw’s head, as she sings the end of the song.

Sequence is viewable on youtube starting here (part II here)

Orson Welles - War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938) Transcript available here.

It’s October 30, 1938. A Sunday night. About 8 p.m. You’re sitting in your living room. Possibly in an easy chair. Maybe the lights are off and there’s a cup of tea on the table by your side. The radio dial casts a dim glow. You’re relaxed, listening to the immensely popular Chase and Sanborn Hour, starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. A few minutes pass before some joker of a singer comes on. Time to switch the dial. All you want’s the dummy.

This sounds ok, you think, settling on some music. It sounds Spanish. 15 seconds or so pass, and then…

"Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity…"

That doesn’t sound right.

You sit up in your chair a little. A few minutes later, after several more news bulletins and an interview with a Princeton astronomer, you hear the following…

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Carl Phillips again, out at the Wilmuth farm, Grovers Mill, New Jersey…I hardly know where to begin…I guess that’s the thing buried in front of me, half buried in its vast pit."

You start to get uncomfortable. A few minutes later…

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed…Someone’s crawling out of the hollow top…The whole field’s caught fire…It’s coming this way. About twenty yards to my right—"

Silence. Dead silence. This is bad. What’s going on? Have Martians invaded Earth? Can’t be, right? But it’s on the radio, and the radio doesn’t lie. Is that smoke I smell? Why is old lady Johnson screaming next door? Holy hell…

Similar scenes were repeated all over the East Coast. Listeners poured into the streets. Some headed to church. Others headed to spend their last hours on Earth with family. Wet towels served as makeshift gas masks to protect against the poison gas the radio said was headed outward from New Jersey. Many were convinced it was the end of the world.

When producer John Houseman suggested The War of the Worlds as the Mercury Theater’s Halloween eve broadcast, director and star Orson Welles laughed it off as silly and dull. Eventually, the idea surfaced to update the 1898 H.G. Wells story and split it into two. The first part would take the form of a series of musical pieces broken up by increasingly urgent news bulletins. No radio play before had toyed with the form like this, and the bulletins — at this point old hat to Americans familiar with the dire updates coming out of Europe — gave the story a sense of verisimilitude that it otherwise would have lacked. Listeners who came in late missed the opening announcement that this was a radio adaptation.

Those who stuck out the first half hour, and didn’t run gibbering out the door, would have heard the play’s second half take a more familiar dramatic path, as a survivor roams a blasted landscape, looking for any signs of human life. Following the broadcast’s end, news got to Welles of angry calls to the CBS building, and exaggerated accounts of death and mayhem in the streets of America lingered for days. “If you had read the newspapers the next day, you would have thought I was Judas Iscariot and that my life was over,” Welles would later say. Instead, The War of the Worlds made him a star.

Sylvia Sidney in City Streets (1931, dir. Rouben Mamoulian)

Sylvia Sidney in City Streets (1931, dir. Rouben Mamoulian)

The Fairies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir. William Dieterle & Max Reinhardt)
The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;
lovers to bed;
'tis almost fairy time.

The Fairies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir. William Dieterle & Max Reinhardt)

The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;

lovers to bed;

'tis almost fairy time.

Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant practice their somersault scene on the set of Holiday (1938) (via getty archives)

Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant practice their somersault scene on the set of Holiday (1938) (via getty archives)