Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Late Great Herbert Lom

Legendary actor Herbert Lom died today at the age of 95. He appeared in such films as The Ladykillers (1955), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), and the  "Pink Panther" movies.

Herbert Lom was born in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic). Sources vary as to whether he was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru on 9 January or 11 September in 1917. He began his acting career in the theatre. It was in 1937 that he made his film debut in Austria-Hungary in the film Zena pod krízem (1937). The following year he appeared in Bozí mlýny (1938).  In 1939 he moved to London not long before the Nazis invaded. His parents would survive the invasion and later followed him to the United Kingdom. In London he acted at the Old Vic and various other theatres. He made his film debut in the United Kingdom in 1942 in The Young Mr. Pitt (1942), playing Napoleon. In the Forties he went onto appear in such films as Secret Mission (1942), Tomorrow We Live (1943), The Dark Tower (1943), The Seventh Veil (1945), Night Boat to Dublin (1946), Dual Alibi (1948), Snowbound (1948), Good-Time Girl (1948), Brass Monkey (1948), Golden Salamander (1950), Night and the City (1950), and The Black Rose (1950).

In the Fifties Mr. Lom appeared in such films as Hell Is Sold Out (1951), Mr. Denning Drives North (1952), Whispering Smith Hits London (1952), The Ringer (1952), The Net (1953), The Love Lottery (1954) , The Ladykillers (1955--in which he played Louis), War and Peace (1956--in which he once more played Napoleon), Hell Drivers (1957), I Accuse! (1958), The Roots of Heaven (1958), No Trees in the Street (1959), North West Frontier (1959), I Aim at the Stars (1960), and Spartacus (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of  BBC Sunday-Night Theatre in 1951. In the Fifties he also appeared on the  TV shows as Afternoon Film Festival and The Errol Flynn Theatre.

In the Sixties Mr. Lom was cast in some of his best known roles. He appeared as Captain Nemo in Mysterious Island (1961), the Phantom in Hammer Films' The Phantom of the Opera (1962), and Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus in A Shot in the Dark (1964). He would repeat the role of Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the films The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976),
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), and Son of the Pink Panther (1993).  In the Sixties he also appeared in such films as Mr. Topaze (1961), El Cid (1961), Treasure of Silver Lake (1962), Return from the Ashes (1965), Our Man in Marrakesh (1966), Gambit (1966), Die Nibelungen, Teil 2 - Kriemhilds Rache (1967), Villa Rides (1968), Assignment to Kill (1968), Doppelgänger (1969), Mark of the Devil (1970), Count Dracula (1970), and Dorian Gray (1970).  On television Herbert Lom played the lead role of Dr. Roger Corder in the show The Human Jungle. He guest starred on such shows as Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the Seventies Herbert Lom appeared in such films as Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), Asylum (1972), -- And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), Ten Little Indians (1974), Charleston (1977), The Lady Vanishes (1979), and The Man with Bogart's Face (1980). He guest starred on the TV series Hawaii Five-O.  From the Eighties into the Nineties Mr. Lom appeared in such films as The Dead Zone (1983), Memed My Hawk (1984), King Solomon's Mines (1985), Master of Dragonard Hill (1987), Going Bananas (1987), Ten Little Indians (1989), Masque of the Red Death (1989), and La setta (1991). On television he appeared on the shows BBC Play of the Month, The Detectives, and Marple.

While best known in the United States for playing Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the "Pink Panther" movies, Herbert Lom was so much more than that. He was an extraordinary actor who could play an incredible variety of roles. Indeed, while many European actors who migrated to the United Kingdom or the United States found themselves typecast as exotic heavies, Herbert Lom played a number of different sorts of roles. He played Napoloen (twice), Captain Nemo, General Ibn Yusuf  (in El Cid), Abraham Van Helsing, and Simon Legree. On The Human Jungle he played psychiatrist  Roger Corder so convincingly one could almost believe he had a medical degree. Indeed, while some actors can be said to have primarily played heavies and others to have primarily played heroes, Mr. Lom seems to have played both in equal measure, and to have played both equally well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Late Great Andy Williams

Legendary crooner Andy Williams died on 25 September 2012 at the age of 84. The cause was bladder cancer.

Andy Williams was born on 3 December 1927 in Wall Lake, Iowa.  The family would later move to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in 1938 that young Andy Williams and his three older brothers (Bob, Don, and Dick) formed a singing group, The Williams Brothers. The Williams Brother performed on the radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. Later they performed on WLS in Chicago and WLW in  Cincinnati. It was in 1943 that The Williams Brothers relocated to Los Angeles, California. The Williams Brothers appeared in the films  Janie (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1944), Ladies' Man (1947), and Something in the Wind (1947). They also performed with Bing Crosby on the song "Swinging on a Star" in 1944.  From 1947 to 1951 they appeared as part of a nightclub act with Kay Thompson. Kay Thompson and The Williams Brothers would record two singles: in 1948  "Jubilee Time" and "Louisiana Purchase." Unfortunately, neither charted.  The Williams Brothers broke up as a singing group in 1951, but they would reunite each year on Andy Williams' Christmas specials starting in 1962 until well into the Nineties.

Andy Williams began his solo career in 1954, recording for RCA's Label X.  Unfortunately, his early songs did not make the charts. It was in 1954 that Andy Williams became a regular performer on Tonight (then hosted by Steve Allen) and appeared on the show until 1957. It was in 1955 that he signed with Cadence Records. The combination of appearing on Tonight and switching record labels seems to have helped Mr. Williams' career immensely. He had his first hit with "Canadian Sunset," which went to #7 on the Billboard singles chart in 1956. The following year he would have his first #1 record with "Butterfly." From 1956 through to the end of the Fifties, Andy Williams would have ten singles that reached the top Forty. In the Fifties he would also appear frequently on television. In 1957 he had his own summer series, The Andy Williams and June Valli Show. He would have two more shows in the Fifties: The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams in 1958 and another series, The Andy Williams Show, in 1959. He also appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Big Record, The Patrice Munsel Show. The Dick Clark Show, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom, The Garry Moore Show, American Bandstand, The Dinah Shore Show, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall.

The start of the Sixties would begin with Andy Williams' recording career in a bit of a lull. From 1960 to 1962 only three of his singles out of ten hit the top forty, and those that did hit the top forty barely did so. In 1961 Andy Williams switched labels again to Columbia. While the Sixties would get off to a slow start for Andy Williams, it would be his decade. In 1962 his album Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes would become the first to crack the top ten of Billboard's albums chart. Curiously, while "Moon River" would become forever identified with Andy Williams, it was never released as a single by him. In 1963 Andy Williams would have his first hit single in years, with "Can't Get Used to Losing You" going to #2 on the Billboard charts. He would go on to have eleven more top forty singles in the Sixties, including "Days of Wine and Roses," "A Fool Never Learns," "On the Street Where You Live," and      "Music to Watch Girls By." He had several albums that made the top ten on Billboard's albums chart.

Not only did Andy Williams have a successful recording career in the Sixties, but he appeared frequently on television. From 1962 to 1971 he was the host of The Andy Williams Show. His Christmas specials began airing annually in 1962 and lasted until 1993. He also appeared on the shows Tonight Starring Jack Paar, The Jack Benny Programme, Here's Hollywood, What's My Line, The Danny Kaye Show, The Danny Thomas Hour, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. Andy Williams also tried his hand acting briefly in the Sixties. He appeared in an episode of The Dick Powell Theatre and the film I'd Rather Be Rich.

By the Seventies the music charts had become dominated by rock music and other genres, leaving little room for crooners. While Andy Williams continued to record and release singles, the last one to hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100 was "Speak Softly Love (Love Theme from The Godfather)" in 1972. His last top ten hit was  "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" in 1972. He recorded seventeen albums between 1971 and 2007. Mr. Williams also continued to appear on television in the Seventies, on such shows as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Merv Griffin Show, Donnie and Marie, Top of the Pops, Dinah, Wednesday at 8, America 2-Night, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Muppet Show.

From the Eighties into the Naughts Andy Williams appeared on such shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Great Performances, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Into the Night, Vicki, Late Night with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Larry Sanders Show, As the World Turns, Tavis Smiley, and Strictly Come Dancing. In 1991 Andy Williams opened the Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri.

Andy Williams was one of the last of the crooners and definitely one of the best. He was certainly one of the most visible in the United States in the late Twentieth Century. He appeared frequently on television, not only on his own show, but quite frequently on other shows and TV specials. His Christmas specials became a holiday tradition for literally decades in the United States. In the last few decades I doubt there was many people who did not know who Andy Williams was.

If Andy Williams was a success, it was perhaps for two basic reasons. The first is that he had an incredible voice, one that could be described as "velvet." It was a voice that was not only pleasant, but one that could subtly convey emotions from amusement to anguish. The second is that he was very versatile. While identified as a crooner by most people, he could actually sing a wide array of songs. His best known song, "Moon River," was the gentle sort of American pop song one might expect a crooner to sing. "Can't Get Used to Losing You" was a somewhat humorous, broken hearted song. "Music to Watch Girls By" was very nearly rock 'n' roll, with a proto-heavy metal guitar riff featured prominently in the song. Andy Williams sang a wide array of songs in genres ranging from jazz to pop to country and did all of them well. It was that versatility when combined with his incredible voice that made Andy Williams unique.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Great Gatsby on Film--They're Always Miscasting Daisy

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favourite novels. Indeed, I think it could well be the greatest novel of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, it has yet to be translated well to motion pictures (at least any movies that survive--more on that later). The movies based upon the book have always fallen short of the novel. For me, at least, much of that reason is the fact that the part of Daisy Buchanan, the object of Jay Gatsby's obsession, has consistently been miscast. The actresses cast as Daisy not only don't look like the character from the book, but sadly they do not behave like her either. In fact, Daisy has been so badly cast in the movies based on The Great Gatsby that I have to wonder if the producers even bothered reading the book at all.

Of course, part of the problem in casting Daisy Buchanan (née Fay)  is that she is in some respects a rather mercurial character. We know that she is from a wealthy family from Louisville, Kentucky. We know from her long time friend, Jordan Baker, that Daisy was " far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville" and that "...excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolising her..." on a particular night. More men than simply Jay Gatsby were then fascinated by her. Even Nick Carraway, the novel's narrator and Daisy's second cousin once removed, seems a bit taken by Daisy's charms.  Daisy appears to be educated (as one might expect someone from an upper class, Louisville family to be), intelligent, and outgoing. Unfortunately, Daisy also appears to be rather shallow. She tends to be a flirt, apparently thriving on the attention of men. She also has a need to make an impression on others. While Daisy is an intelligent and charming woman, she is also shallow, irresponsible, fickle, selfish, and materialistic. What Daisy wants most out of life is a life of ease filled with money and luxuries. To play Daisy, then, an actress would not only have to appear intelligent and charming, but also superficial, self centred, changeable, and irresponsible, something of a balancing act that presumably would not be easy to do.

Beyond the complexities of Daisy's personality, there is also the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald gives us no detailed descriptions of his characters in The Great Gatsby. We know little more of Jay Gatsby's appearance than he has a great smile and his tastes run to expensive shirts. Of Jordan Baker we only know that she has what today we would call an "athletic build" and her hair is the colour of "an autumn leaf (by which I take it to mean she was either a honey blonde, strawberry blonde, or a redhead of some sort)." Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald lets us know a little more about Daisy Buchanan's appearance. From the descriptions of other characters, Daisy appears to have been beautiful. At one point Jordan says of Daisy that she was  "..."as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress." In a description of a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy, it is said, "Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth." When describing the first meeting between Jay Gatsby (then a young officer at Camp Taylor) and Daisy, Jordan Baker says, ""The officer looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometime, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since." Apparently Gatsby did not even notice Jordan, who was apparently not unattractive herself.

That F. Scott Fitzgerald meant for Daisy Buchanan to be beautiful may also be reckoned from the fact that two real life women who provided at least part of the basis for the character were both beautiful. The best known of the two women on whom Daisy was based was none other than Zelda Fitzgerald. It is easy to see how the legendary Mrs. Fitzgerald could provide some of the basis for the character of Daisy Buchanan. She was the daughter of an upper crust, Southern family (in her case, Montgomery, Alabama), who as a young woman craved attention and refused to conform to the delicate stereotype of Southern belles. What is more, Zelda Fitzgerald was also very intelligent and very talented. She had a lot in common with Daisy Buchanan.

The other real life woman to provide a basis for Daisy Buchanan was débutante and socialite Ginevra King. Miss King was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman and one of the "Big Four" in that city (four débutantes who were considered the most attractive and marriageable in Chicago).  F. Scott Fitzgerald was totally taken with Ginevra King, and she would provide the inspiration not only for Daisy Buchanan, but Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams" and Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise. Like Daisy, Ginevra King was both beautiful and intelligent. And just as Daisy broke Gatsby's heart by marrying someone else, so too did Ginerva King break F. Scott Fitzgerald's heart by marrying William Mitchell.

Not only do we know that Daisy is beautiful, but she is also one of the few characters whose hair colour we know. In Chapter Five there is the line, " A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek and her hand was wet with glistening drops as I took it to help her from the car" For Daisy's hair to have a blue sheen to it, it would seem likely that she was a brunette. That Daisy is dark haired is confirmed by the fact in Chapter Eight, which contains the line, "Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little, and once he kissed her dark shining hair." Daisy's hair colour would seem to be inspired by that of Ginevra King, who was dark haired, rather than Zelda Fitzgerald, who was blonde.

While F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us only a little of how Daisy looks, we know a bit more about her voice. In Chapter One, Nick writes, "...she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh" and writes of  "...her low, thrilling voice," adding "It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again." Of Daisy, Gatsby said, "Her voice is full of money." In his narration Nick agrees and elaborates on Daisy's voice, "That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.... high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl...." Much of Daisy's charm, then, lies not only in her intelligence and beauty, but in what must be a remarkably mellifluous voice.

Given the descriptions of Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and the two women upon whom she was based, it would seem that the ideal actress to play Daisy would be dark haired, possessed of a beautiful voice, and capable of playing a character who is both intelligent and charming, but also shallow, fickle, and selfish as well. Sadly, it seems as if Hollywood has fallen short in casting actresses who fit the character well, let alone exactly. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if Lois Wilson was miscast as Daisy Buchanan in the first screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby from 1926. The film has been lost and all that remains of footage from the film is a one minute long trailer.

On the surface it would appear Lois Wilson would have made a good Daisy Buchanan. She was beautiful. She was also a brunette. And, given her talent, it is quite possible that Lois Wilson played Daisy perfectly. That having been said, it is also possible that she might not have. Although she never married,  Lois Wilson's screen image was described as "the soft, marrying kind of woman." When she was selected to represent Paramount at the British Empire Exposition in 1924, she was described as "a typical example of the American girl in character, culture and beauty.'' While Daisy was undoubtedly beautiful, she was hardly "the soft, marrying kind of woman," nor was she "typical" by any stretch of the imagination. The question is then whether Lois Wilson had the talent to overcome her screen image to play a character who is ultimately self centred, changeable, and materialistic. I certainly think it is possible, but given The Great Gatsby (1926) is lost, we might never know.

While Lois Wilson may have made an ideal Daisy Buchanan, the same can hardly be said to be true of the actress cast in the role in the 1949 version. Initially Tyrone Power was set to play Jay Gatsby and he would only do the film on the condition that Gene Tierney (with whom he had already co-starred in several films) was cast as Daisy. Gene Tierney would have made the perfect Daisy Buchanan. Not only was she dark haired, but she was also one of the all time great beauties of the silver screen. Gene Tierney was also an exceedingly talented, versatile actress, who would have had no problem with the subtle nuances necessary for playing Daisy. She possessed an incredibly lovely voice, as Daisy is said to have had as well. Unfortunately, the producers decided that Gene Tierney was "too beautiful" to play Daisy. To me this shows that they either did not bother to read the book or they seriously misinterpreted the character of Daisy Buchanan! If they had read the book or read it carefully, they would have realised that it is impossible for an actress to be "too beautiful" to play Daisy. Needless to say, when Gene Tierney was not cast as Daisy, Tyrone Power did not accept the role of Jay Gatsby, which went to Alan Ladd instead (who did do quite well in the part).

Sadly, the role of Daisy Buchanan would go instead to Betty Field. Betty Field hardly looks like the Daisy Buchanan of the novel. For one thing, Betty Field was a blonde, hardly the dark haired seductress described by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For another, while Betty Field was pretty, she was not the incredible beauty that Daisy presumably was. Of course, the difference in Betty Field's appearance from the Daisy Buchanan of the novel could have easily been overcome had she given a good performance in the role, which she sadly did not. While Betty Field was an immensely talented actress, her performance as Daisy Buchanan seems far off the mark. Even though Daisy was supposed to come from an upper class, Louisville family, Betty Field's Daisy seems at times as if she should belong to a lower social class. And while Daisy Buchanan was from Louisville, Kentucky, to this Southerner's ear it sounded as if there were times Miss Field slipped into her native, Massachusetts accent--at the very least she did not sound like a Kentuckian!

Worst of all, Betty Field gave Daisy Buchanan no real depth. The charm and intelligence that Daisy displays in the novel are entirely lacking in her performance. It is perhaps for this reason that Alan Ladd and Betty Field have no chemistry whatsoever--the viewer is left wondering what Gatsby sees in Daisy! To be fair, given Betty Field's talent, I suspect that much of the blame for her poor performance may rest with the producers (who in not considering Gene Tierney perfect for the role apparently had not read the book) or director Elliott Nugent, who may have misdirected Miss Field in her performance of the role. Regardless, it would seem Betty Filed was miscast as Daisy.

Strangely enough, the actress cast as Jordan Baker in the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby was probably better suited to the role of Daisy Buchanan than Betty Field was. Dark haired Ruth Hussey was cast as Jordan Baker, the woman with hair the colour of an "autumn leaf" in the novel. Ruth Hussey was also beautiful. While not a beauty on the level of Gene Tierney (let's face it, few actresses in the history of film were), in my humble opinion she was much prettier than Betty Field. And I have little doubt that Ruth Hussey could have done a better job of playing Daisy Buchanan than Betty Field did. Ruth Hussey's particular niche in film was playing worldly, sophisticated, intelligent women. She could have then given Daisy the intelligence and depth necessary to the character, as well as the fickleness and selfishness.  Miss Hussey would have actually been a better Daisy than she was a Jordan!

As miscast as Betty Field was in the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby, it was nowhere nearly as bad as the miscasting that occurred in the 1974 adaptation of the novel. The 1974 version of The Great Gatsby originated when then head of Paramount Robert Evans bought the rights to the novel for his wife Ali McGraw, intending for her to play Daisy Buchanan. At least physically Ali McGraw could pass as the novel's version of Daisy. She was dark haired and, while not necessarily one of the great screen beauties of all time, she was quite attractive. Ali McGraw may have also had the talent to pull off the role. She received very good critical notices for Goodbye, Columbus (1969) and The Getaway (1972). Unfortunately, Miss McGraw fell in love with Steve McQueen during the shooting of The Geatway and left Robert Evans for him. This put an end to her being considered for the role of Daisy Buchanan.

With Ali McGraw out of the running for the role, it was offered to Tuesday Weld. As a blonde Miss Weld definitely did not have the same hair colour as Daisy did in the book, but otherwise she would seem to have been perfect for the role. Miss Weld was one of the most beautiful actresses of her time (perhaps of all time) and one who was very talented as well. She could have captured the complexities of Daisy Buchanan. Unfortunately, Miss Weld would turn the role down. Natalie Wood was offered the role of Daisy Buchanan. Not only was she incredibly beautiful like Tuesday Weld, but she was also a brunette like the Daisy of the novel. An experienced actress who had been in the business since childhood, Miss Wood also had the talent to play a complex character like Daisy Buchanan. Unfortunately, she had not acted in five years and so the producers asked her to take a  screen test. Natalie Wood took umbrage to this and so she did not get the part. In the end the search for Daisy Buchanan was narrowed down to five actresses:  Mia Farrow, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen, Katharine Ross and Lois Chiles.

Of these actresses Katherine Ross and Lois Chiles perhaps most resembled Daisy Buchanan in the book. Katherine Ross was dark haired and possessed a natural, sedated sort of beauty. Unfortunately, I am not sure she could have pulled off the role. In many of her roles, and particularly in her best known roles (The Graduate and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid), she seemed to be little more than window dressing. It could be that Miss Ross had the talent to play Daisy and she just never  received any particularly challenging roles early in her career, so she perhaps she would have made a good Daisy. As she wasn't cast in the role we will never know. At least as far as appearance goes, Lois Chiles may have been better suited to the role of Daisy than Katherine Ross. Lois Chiles was dark haired and incredibly beautiful like Daisy was in the novel. She also possessed an absolutely beautiful voice, one with the musical qualities attributed to Daisy's voice in the book. While Lois Chiles may have looked the most like Daisy of the actresses considered for the 1974 version, it is questionable whether she had the talent at the time to pull the role off. Curiously, she was ultimately cast as Jordan Baker (who was decidedly not a brunette in the book) and she was one of the few actors in the film to deliver a fairly solid performance, so it is possible she could have played Daisy quite well. Unfortunately, we will never know because she was not cast as Daisy Buchanan.

In the end the role of Daisy Buchanan in the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby would go to the actress perhaps least suited to the role of those considered: Mia Farrow. Like Betty Field, before her, Mia Farow was a blonde rather than a brunette. Unlike Betty Field before her, in my humble opinion Mia Farrow would not even qualify as pretty, let alone beautiful--she was passably cute at best. Of course, the fact that Mia Farrow did not look like Daisy Buchanan in the book at all need not have been a detriment had she given the role the sort of intelligence and charm that would make it convincing that men would desire her. Sadly, she did not. Indeed, Mia Farrow's interpretation of Daisy seems wholly lacking in intelligence, wit, or charm. Instead she simply seems flighty, flaky, and none too bright. What is more, Miss Farrow seems to have no chemistry whatsoever with Robert Redford (who was miscast as Jay Gatsby as well).

Even Mia Farrow's voice ruins the idea of Daisy as any man's "dream girl." While in the book Daisy has the sort of mellifluous voice that makes people pay attention, Mia Farrow's voice in the film is weak and even whiny to the point that it grates upon the ear. As to her accent, if Mia Farrow was trying to do a Southern accent, one would not know it. In the end one leaves the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby wondering what on Earth Gatsby ever saw in Daisy. Mia Farrow's Daisy comes off as annoying rather than seductive, and she does not possess the great beauty that would necessarily lead a somewhat shallow man such as Jay Gatsby to ignore her grating personality and irritating voice. While most of the cast in The Great Gatsby (1974) was miscast, Mia Farrow is the one that stands out the most. Indeed, the casting of Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby may be one of the worst cases of miscasting in the history of film.

This coming May yet another version of The Great Gatsby is set to be released, this one directed by  Baz Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge (2001) fame. And, unfortunately, it seems as if Daisy Buchanan may have been miscast again. Carey Mulligan, who has appeared in An Education (2009) and Drive (2011) has been cast as Daisy. Here it must be noted that Miss Mulligan is blonde. It would seem that once more Daisy's hair colour as described in the book has been ignored.  And while I would say Carey Mulligan is definitely pretty (particularly when her hair is longer), she is not quite the drop dead gorgeous woman I picture when reading The Great Gatsby. That having been said, Carey Mulligan may deliver a performance that overcomes the fact that she does not particularly look like Daisy Buchanan. From the trailers she seems to do well enough. In fact, unlike Betty Field and especially unlike Mia Farrow, her voice is convincingly pleasing enough to belong to the Daisy of the book. While I still think Carey Mulligan is miscast (I think Natalie Portman or Anna Kendrick would have been better choices), she could surprise me by being convincing in the part. At any rate, I am praying that we will not see a repeat of the 1949 version and especially not the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, in which one wonders why Gatsby pursued Daisy at all (and in the 1974 version why he didn't pursue Jordan instead).

Of course, the question for me and I suspect for many fans of the book is why the role of Daisy Buchanan was miscast in both the 1949 and 1974 versions, and possibly the 2013 version as well. I must confess that I have long been puzzled as to why in all but the 1926 version a blonde has been cast in the role when Daisy in the book is obviously a brunette. Indeed, whenever I have read the book the picture in my mind I have of Daisy is not Betty Field and definitely not Mia Farrow, but raven haired silent actress and classic beauty Louise Brooks. I have to wonder if the various producers of the adaptations of The Great Gatsby over the years have not seized upon the fact that Zelda Fitzgerald, who provided part of the basis for Daisy Buchanan, was blonde and so they have cast the role accordingly. Of course, this ignores the fact that in the book Daisy is described as dark haired and, for that matter, that Ginevra King, who also provided inspiration for the character, was a brunette.

While I am puzzled as to why blondes have been cast in the last three movies, I am also puzzled by the casting of women who are not necessarily great beauties in the role of Daisy. Indeed, Gene Tierney was passed over for the role by the producers of the 1949 version because they thought she was too beautiful. It seems clear to me in the novel The Great Gatsby that Daisy was not only beautiful, but the most beautiful female character in the entire book. She was the belle of Louisville who had it all--looks, intelligence, charm, and money. Given this fact, it seems impossible that an actress could be "too beautiful" to play Daisy Buchanan. It would be like saying a woman is "too beautiful" to play Cleopatra or Helen of Troy!

The sad fact is, that in my opinion, in both the 1949 version and especially the 1974 version, Jordan Brewster is actually more physically attractive than Daisy Buchanan. The fact that the women who have played Daisy in the movies have not possessed the legendary beauty necessary to the role has me more puzzled even than the fact that blondes have been cast in the part. That leaves me with two theories. The first is the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while I might not think Betty Field or Mia Farrow are great beauties, the producers may have (although I still fail to see how anyone could think Mia Farrow was prettier than Lois Chiles...).  It could then be that I am at fault here and I am judging the casting of Daisy too much by my own tastes. The second is tied to the thought on the part of the producers of the 1949 version that Gene Tierney was "too beautiful" to play Daisy. Quite simply, maybe the producers of the various versions of The Great Gatsby do not think Daisy was particularly beautiful. If this is the case, then, I have to wonder if they have ever read the novel or simply chose to ignore the novel. Not only Jay Gatsby, but Jordan Baker also describes Daisy in terms that would lead us to believe that she is quite beautiful.

Of course, here I must point out that men are drawn to women for more than their appearance. An intelligent woman with a good deal of charm can draw more men than a classic beauty who possesses no charm or intelligence whatsoever. In this case, Daisy would not have to be a great beauty to fascinate the officers of Camp Taylor. She simply needed to be intelligent, witty, and charming. The problem is that the actresses cast as Daisy Buchanan have failed to capture Daisy as a woman intelligent and charming enough to entice men. Betty Field shows a little bit of Daisy's intelligence, but not nearly enough, and she shows none of Daisy's charm. Indeed, Betty Field's Daisy seems a bit low class for a woman who was the belle of the ball in upper crust, Louisville society. Mia Farrow was even worse as Daisy Buchanan. Not only does she lack intelligence and charm, but she seems to exude the exact opposite of both. Mia Farrow's Daisy Buchanan seems so annoying and so silly that she would drive men away rather than lure them to her. Jay Gatsby would not have fallen for her, but probably would have run the other way! While I am puzzled by blondes being cast in the role and producers not considering great beauties for the role (Gene Tierney and Lois Chiles both would have seemed perfect), I am even more puzzled by the performances of Betty Field and Mia Farrow in the role. It is as if both actresses focused only on Daisy's fickleness, superficiality, and selfishness, entirely missing her intelligence and charm. Of course, in doing they gave us no reason to believe that Jay Gatsby was in love with her, let alone obsessed with her.

Whatever the reasons Daisy Buchanan has been miscast over the years, it seems to me that she most definitely has been. Indeed, I am worried at the performance Carey Mulligan will deliver in the latest version of The Great Gatsby. She might well surprise me and play Daisy precisely as she is written in the book. So far I must confess she seems convincing in the trailers I have seen (although I still don't think she looks like Daisy). If Carey Mulligan does not deliver a great performance as Daisy Buchanan, I suppose it will simply stand as one more case of the role being miscast. Sadly, in that case, fans of the novel will have to wait another 20 or 30 years for a film adaptation in which Daisy is presented as true to the novel as possible.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The 64th Annual Emmy Awards

The past many years I have not watched the Emmy Awards. The simple fact is that they are scheduled in a bad time, on Sunday night when the cable channels schedule their best shows. Given the choice between sitting through the awards ceremony and watching Hell on Wheels and Copper, I chose the latter. That having been said, I always read about the awards the next day. This time I must admit that I was a bit surprised.

Quite simply, the long winning steak of Mad Men has been broken. Now I must confess that I did not expect Mad Men to win the award for Outstanding Drama Series this year. I thought this past season was not quite as good as previous seasons and it seemed to me that other shows actually had better runs this year. That having been said, I did not expect the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy to go to Homeland. Of course, I must confess I have never seen Homeland (we do not get Showtime), so I have no idea of how good or how bad a show it may be. While I have never seen even one episode of Homeland, however, its win came as a surprise because I have heard very little about the show. I know a few people who watch it and they say it is very good, but they do not rave about the show in the way that many of my friends have past seasons of Mad Men or the current runs of Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, or Game of Thrones. Yet other people I to whom I talked today had never even heard of Homeland! Indeed, if I had placed a bet on who would win the award for Outstanding Drama Series, it would have been Breaking Bad or Boardwalk Empire.

Of course, given the fact that I was totally taken off guard by Homeland winning Outstanding Drama Series, I was also taken off guard by its other wins. I did not expect Damian Lewis to win the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series award. I honestly thought that it might go to Jon Hamm for Mad Men or perhaps Bryan Cranston for Breaking Bad. For Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series I thought Elizabeth Moss would win for Mad Men (indeed, while this season of Mad Men was not as good as the rest, Miss Moss's performance as Peggy Olson was as impressive as ever). I did not expect Claire Daines to take the award for Homeland. I do have to say that the awards in the supporting categories went as I thought they would. While I hoped Brendan Coyle would the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award for Downton Abbey, I thought Aaron Paul might win for Breaking Bad. I thought Dame Maggie Smith would win the Outstanding Supporting Actress award for Downton Abbey, for which I was very happy (Violet is my favourite character on the show).

Over all I can't say I was necessarily unhappy with the drama Emmys, although I am certainly confused. This is not the case with the Emmys in the comedy category where I am unhappy. Oh, I have no real objections to Modern Family winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award. My problem is that what are in my opinion the best comedies on television were not even nominated! Does the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honestly believe that a run of the mill sitcom like The Big Bang Theory or incredibly unfunny sitcoms like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Girls are better than Community and Parks and Recreation? I hope not! It's for the same reason that I was not happy that Jon Cryer of Two and a Half Men was even nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series award, let alone won it. Two and a Half Men is a run of the mill sitcom and one that isn't even as funny as it once was. Why wasn't Nick Offerman nominated for Parks and Recreation? Of course, Community and Parks and Recreation were snubbed in the other acting categories for comedy series as well, although at least those awards went to cast members of Modern Family.

While I was disappointed in the awards in the comedy category, I must confess I am utterly puzzled by the Miniseries or a Movie categories. Since when are Sherlock, Luther, and American Horror Story miniseries? By definition a mini-series is a television programme with a limited number of episodes. Miniseries by their very definition, then, do not have successive seasons (or in British television jargon, series). Given both Sherlock and Luther are on their second seasons and there is going to be a third season of both, I would say that they definitely are not mini-series. For that reason I am not going to complain about Game Change (a true miniseries) winning, even though I adore Sherlock and really like Luther.

Over all, then, I have to say this year's Emmys were a mixed bag for me. I was not really unhappy with the awards in the drama category, although I am a bit puzzled that Homeland won. As usual I am fairly unhappy with the comedy category--I fully expect next year that Parks and Recreation and Community still won't be nominated, but Up All Night  and Whitney will be.... I also think the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences need to change their definition of "miniseries" to the same as everyone else has. If a series has a second season, then it is not a miniseries!