Friday, January 4, 2019

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

(This post is part of the "The Year After Year Blogathon" hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog)

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) remains one of Judy Garland's most popular films. In fact, it was the highest grossing movie she ever made, raking in even more money than The Wizard of Oz (1939). What is more, it was well received upon its initial release. It was nominated for the Oscars for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Colour; Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture; and Best Music, Song (for "The Trolley Song"). In the American Film Institute's list of Greatest Movie Musicals it was ranked 10th, although I have no doubt there are those who would rank it higher.

Meet Me in St. Louis was based on the novel of the same title by Sally Benson. The novel itself originated as a series of eight vignettes based on Miss Benson's experiences growing up in St. Louis in 1903 and 1904. The vignettes were published in The New Yorker from June 14 1941 to May 23 1942 under the title 5135 Kensington (the title coming from the address of her family's home in St. Louis, 5135 Kensington Avenue). Sally Benson added four new stories to the original eight vignettes to create the book Meet Me in St. Louis, with each story representing a month from 1903 to 1904. MGM bought the film rights to Meet Me in St. Louis in January 1942, before the book was even published later in the year.

Initially Arthur Freed, head of MGM's musical unit, hired Sally Benson herself to write the screenplay for Meet Me in St. Louis. Ultimately, Mr. Freed was disappointed with Miss Benson's work, so that in the end it would be Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe who would write the screenplay for the film. Mr. Brecher had written the screenplays for the Marx Brothers' films At the Circus (1939) and Go West (1940), and the screenplay for Shadow of the Thin Man (1941). Fred F. Finklehoffe had written the play Brother Rat and the screenplay for the musical Strike Up the Band (1940). 

Although Meet Me in St. Louis is now one of Judy Garland's most popular films, when she was cast she was not particularly eager to appear in the movie. Miss Garland had just appeared in her first adult role in the film Presenting Lily Mars (1943). In Meet Me in St. Louis, the 21 year-old Miss Garland would be playing 17 year-old Esther Smith, yet another juvenile role. Director Vincente Minnelli tried to convince Judy Garland that the film was perfect for her, to no avail. She then went over his head to Louis B. Mayer himself. Initially Mr. Mayer took Miss Garland's side. Fortunately, Arthur Freed was able to convince Louis B. Mayer that Judy Garland should star in Meet Me in St. Louis. While Miss Garland relented, the filming of Meet Me in St. Louis would not be particularly easy.

Indeed, Judy Garland would miss sixteen days during the shooting of Meet Me in St. Louis, calling in due to an ear infection, having a tooth pulled, a sinus condition, swollen eyes, and the common cold, among other reasons. Joan Carroll, who played Esther's sister Agnes, had to have her appendix removed was and out for two weeks. Mary Astor missed three weeks due to sinusitis. Margaret O'Brien was out thirteen days due to hayfever and influenza, among other things. Meet Me in St. Louis had been budgeted at $1.708 million, but due to much of the cast missing several days, it finally came in at $1.885 million.

While Meet Me in St. Louis proved more expensive to make than originally thought, in the end it proved to be worth it. It proved to be MGM's highest grossing film in 1944 and the fourth highest grossing film of the year. It not only went over well with audiences, but with critics as well. As mentioned earlier, it also earned four Oscar nominations. 

Meet Me in St. Louis portrays a year in the life of the Smith family from the summer of 1903 to the summer of 1904. The movie is notable for having little in the way of a plot, structured as a series of vignettes taking place throughout the year. In the summer the Smiths hold a house party. At Halloween young Tootie engages in various bits of mischief. On Christmas Eve is the neighbourhood's annual Christmas ball. Of course, featured during these vignettes are various songs, including "The Boy Next Door" (in summer), "The Trolley Song" (in summer), and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (at Christmas), among others. Both "The Trolley Song" and particularly "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" would become standards.

Much of what is enjoyable about Meet Me in St. Louis is that it acts as a look at a bygone time. At the summer house party, Tootie performs a cakewalk, a custom still practised in some small towns but now largely forgotten in larger cities. During Halloween the neighbourhood children go about throwing flour on people, a custom so long forgotten that the whole thing probably seems a bit alien to modern day viewers. There are trolleys, old fashioned telephones, horse drawn carriages, and various other things that probably seem novel to the modern viewer. Meet Me in St. Louis does a fairly good job of capturing life in St. Louis in 1903 and 1904.

Of course, because of the Christmas sequence and the iconic song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" there are many who think of Meet Me in St. Louis as a Christmas movie. While Meet Me in St. Louis is one of my all time favourite movies (which is why I chose it for this blogathon), I have never seen it as a Christmas movie myself. I have never timed the sequences, but I suspect the Halloween sequence (my favourite in the movie) is actually longer than the Christmas sequence! That having been said, I don't think of it as a Halloween movie either.

Aside from iconic songs and a fairly strong script, Meet Me in St. Louis benefits from an excellent cast. Judy Garland gives one of her best performances in the film, as does Margaret O'Brien. Mary Aston is excellent as the matriarch of the Smith family, Anna, as is Harry Davenport as Grandpa. The cast included some actors who would soon be famous of their own accord, including June Lockhart and Hugh Marlowe. 

If Meet Me in St. Louis remains one of Judy Garland's most popular movies, it is perhaps because it is such a good movie all around. It features a strong cast with a strong script that has plenty of humour and a number of classic songs. Judy Garland was initially resistant to appearing in the movie, but audiences have probably been thankful ever since that she did. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Announcing the 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

I am announcing A Shroud of Thoughts' fifth annual "Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon". The first four years were fairly successful, so I am looking forward to another year's worth of good blog posts. For those unfamiliar with the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, it is a blogathon in which bloggers write entries about their favourite episodes of their favourite classic television shows. This year it will take place March 22, 23, and 24.

Here are the ground rules:

1. Posts in the blogathon must be about an episode from a scripted drama. Episodes of reality shows, talk shows, game shows, and variety shows are ineligible. That having been said, posts can be on episodes from any genre of scripted dramas: animated shows, anthology shows, detective shows, police procedurals, science fiction shows, situation comedies, and so on. I also have to say that episodes can be from scripted dramas that aired at any time of day. They don't have to be from prime time alone. If one wanted to write about his or her favourite episode from his or her favourite Saturday morning cartoon or daytime soap opera, one could.

2. Because this blogathon is dedicated to classic television and I think a classic is something that must have stood the test of time, episodes must be from shows that are at least 25 years old. That means one cannot write posts on episodes from shows that debuted after 1994 (nothing from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, let alone Blackish). Now here I want to point out that the episode itself does not have to be 25 years old, only the show on which it aired. Law & Order debuted in 1990 and ran until 2010, so that its final season aired after 1994. Because Law & Order is over 25 years old, however, one could still write about an episode that aired in the 2009-2010 season.

3. Given my love of British television, it should come as no surprise that posts do not have to be about episodes from American shows alone. Posts can be about episodes from any show from any country as long as the show is a scripted drama and debuted over 25 years ago. If you want to write about your favourite episode of The Saint, The Little Hobo, Jaianto Robo, or Escrava Isaura, you can.

4.  I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from The Twilight Zone, someone else could still write about another Twilight Zone episode.

5. In keeping with ground rule no. 4, I am asking that if you participated in the past years' blogathons that you write about a different episode from what you did the past years. That having been said, you could write about an episode from the same show.  If you wrote about the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" last year, then you could write about the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" this year.

6. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between March 22, March 23, or March 24 2018.

7. On March 22 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page. If you want you can use one of the graphics below or make your own!

If you want to participate in the Favourite Television Show Episode Blogathon, you can simply comment below or you can get a hold of me either on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at gmail.com.

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come March 22 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon.

A Shroud of Thoughts: ER, "Night Shift"

Caftan Woman: Gunsmoke, "The Guitar"

Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and more: Moonlighting, "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: The Big Valley, "Earthquake"

Crítica Retrô: The Flintstones, "The Monster from the Tar Pits"

Moon in Gemini: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Chuckles Bites the Dust"

Coffee, Classics, & Craziness: The Fugitive, "Nightmare at Northoak"

Hamlette's Soliloquy: Maverick, "A Shady Deal at Sunny Acres"

John V's Eclectic Avenue: The Outer Limits, "The Bellero Shield"

Pop Culture Reverie: Poirot, "After the Funeral"

The Midnite Drive-In: Batman, "Hot Off the Griddle/The Cat and the Fiddle"

The Stop Button: Studio 57, "Young Couples Only"

Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian: The Twilight Zone, "Time Enough At Last"
                                                                      The Honeymooners, "TV or Not TV"
                                                                      The Honeymooners, "A Matter of Record"
                                                                      WKRP in Cincinnati, "Turkey's Away"

Pale Writer: Sharpe, "Sharpe's Revenge"

Below are some graphics you can use for the blogathon (or you can always make your own)!


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year 2019

At least for me, 2018 turned out to be an absolutely horrible year, and I am glad to see it go. I am then looking forward to 2019, a lot less happy than I was at the start of 2018. Regardless, it is a custom here to post classic pinups at certain holidays and New Year's Day is no different. Here then are this New Year's pinups.

First up is the lovely Nancy Carroll, who is having a ball on New Year's!

Next up is Piper Laurie, who waited by the clock for the New Year to arrive.

Here is Barbara Eden greeting 1963!

Joan Vohs apparently attended a New Year's masquerade.

Cyd Charisse greeting the NewYear!

And last is Ann Miller posing in front of a clock at the stroke of midnight!
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Worst Year of My Life

Vanessa in this year's TCM Remembers
2018 was literally the worst year of my life. Oh, it started out well enough. Okay, a lot of my friends seemed to be suffering from a variety of health problems through the year, but the year was pleasant enough and I actually enjoyed myself a good deal through much of it. Sadly, on August 30 2018 my beloved Vanessa Marquez died. It was the worst day of my life. And 2018, which up to that point had not been too bad of a year, became the worst year of my life.

Those who are close to me know all too well the impact Vanessa's death has had on me. I slept very little for the whole month of September and cried every single day of that month. Even now certain songs ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in particular), certain movies (I plan to watch The Apartment tonight and for the first time in my life I am dreading it), and nearly any reference to her death will result in prolonged crying for me. The first time I saw this year's TCM Remembers, I cried for a whole half hour.

The fact is for me Vanessa was not simply a dear friend. She was the only woman I have ever truly loved. I am still hopelessly, desperately in love with her, and I know that I always will be. Vanessa and I were very, very close. We interacted with each other every single day, whether through social media, texts, or phone calls. We knew secrets about each other that no one else knows. She was both my best friend and the love of my life. Complicating my grief is the way in which she died, and I am still feeling more anger than I ever have in my life. I feel as if the woman I love was taken from me due to utter incompetence, unprofessional conduct, criminal irresponsibility, and perhaps even malice. I would be pleased if everyone boycotted the city of South Pasadena, California until they hold those responsible for Vanessa's death accountable. Here I want to stress that Vanessa was not suffering from mental problems, she was not suicidal, and she never expressed a desire to harm herself. Any claim that she did suffer from mental problems is an outright lie. Anyway, even though I have lost my parents, all of my aunts and uncles, several cousins, and even my best friend before Vanessa, I have never grieved over anyone as much as I have her.

Of course, here I must point out that I am not the only one who is grieving over Vanessa. She had a number of close friends who are going through the same thing I am right now. She was very much loved in the Turner Classic Movies fan community. And though it was easy to forget given how down-to-earth and unassuming she was, Vanessa was a well-known, well-loved actress with a number of fans around the world. She played Ana Delgaldo in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988), Melanie in the cult film Twenty Bucks (1993), and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, among many other roles. While some outlets are not including her in their end-of-the-year In Memoriams, I have to suspect that Vanessa may have been better loved than some of the ones they have included.

Although it might seem that way to me sometimes, I am aware that there were other celebrities who died this year besides Vanessa, many of who had a huge impact on my life. What set 2018 apart from other years for me with regard to celebrity deaths is that this year, aside from my Vanessa, it was the deaths of various creators who had the most impact on me. Among these was writer Harlan Ellison. I first encountered his works as a child and I have remained one of his fans ever since. Only a few writers have had the impact on me that Mr. Ellison did. Like most comic book fans (and a good number of other people as well), Stan Lee has always had an influence on my life. While I have always been partial to DC Comics, I read Marvel Comics growing up as well. With others Stan co-created some of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. Of course, Stan was not the only major figure who had worked at Marvel to die this year. Steve Ditko also died. Mr. Ditko may be best known for co-creating Spider-Man with Stan Lee, but he also created or co-created  The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Question, and Shade the Changing Man. Among the deaths to have the most impact on me this year was Mort Walker, the cartoonist who created and wrote the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois. Mr. Walker was a native Missourian and well-loved here. There is even a statue of Beetle Bailey at the University of Missouri in Columbia!

With regards to film and television, we lost some talented directors this year. Penny Marshall may always be best known as Laverne on Laverne and Shirley, but she directed some of the best films of the past thirty years, including Awakenings (1990) and A League of Their Own (1992). Nicholas Roeg was another talented director who died this year. He directed such films as Don't Look Now (1973) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and many others. Among other creators who died this year were Hugh Wilson (the creator of WKRP in Cincinnati), Neil Simon (the legendary playwright who wrote Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and many others), Steven Bochco (the creator of Hill Street Blues and many other classic TV shows), William Goldman (the legendary novelist and screenwriter responsible for everything from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Princess Bride), legendary movie titles designer Pablo Ferro, and television writer John D. F. Black.

Of course, a number of actors and performers died this year. Jerry Van Dyke may have always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dick Van Dyke, but he was very much a talent on his own. Dorothy Malone was a very talented actress who played a number of well-known roles (including the sexiest character in The Big Sleep). For many Peter Wyngarde will always be remembered as Jason King and as the Honourable John Cleverly Cartney in the Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone", but he also appeared in a number of other remarkable roles. Nanette Fabray was a multi-talent whose career spanned Broadway, film, and television. Harry Anderson considered himself a magician first, but he will probably always be best known for Night Court. Ken Berry had the distinction of starring in the hit TV shows F Troop, Mayberry R.F.D., and Mama's Family, in addition to appearing in a number of other shows. Like Ken Berry, Bill Daily appeared in multiple hit shows, in his case  I Dream of Jeannie and The Bob Newhart Show. James Karen was a remarkable actor and a close friend of Buster Keaton who delighted classic film buffs with his stories. A list of the actors and performers who died this year would be a very long one, and I haven't the time to go into detail on all of them, but among them were: Bradford Dillman, John Mahoney, John Gavin, Emma Chambers, David Ogden Stiers, Chuck McCann, Joseph Campanella, Margot Kidder, Clint Walker, Allyn Ann McLerie, Mary Carlisle, Eunice Grayson, Tab Hunter, Burt Reynolds, Fenella Fielding, Sondra Locke, and Donald Moffat.

A number of important people from the field of music also died this year. I have no doubt that the biggest name in music to die this year was Aretha Franklin. Perhaps no other singer to die this year had the impact she did. In fact, she was among the biggest celebrities to die this year as well. Ray Thomas, who was the flautist for rock band The Moody Blues, also died this year. The Moody Blues number among the most influential rock bands of all time, and they have always been a personal favourite of mine. Geoff Emerick, who was the engineer on many of The Beatles' albums, died from a heart attack this year. I was saddened by Mr. Emerick's death not simply because he was the engineer on some of my favourite albums by my favourite band of all time, but because I had interacted with him from time to time on social media. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Many others in the field of music died this year including big band singer Vic Damone, Dick Williams (who was a member of the singing group The Williams Brothers), legendary jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Buzzcoks lead singer and guitarist Pete Shelley, country singer and multi-instrumentalist Roy Clark, Jefferson Airplane co-founder Marty Balin, Elvis Presely's drummer D. J. Fontana, and "Fast" Eddie Clarke, guitarist in the bands Fastway and Motörhead.

As for looking back at the movies this year, it seems to that it was not a particularly good year. Once more it seems as if Hollywood is content to release a number of sequels. Now many of these sequels were quite good, but it would be nice if they could come up with several films based on original ideas for a change. Television this year seemed even more drab than the films released this year. There is not one new show that debuted on the networks this season in which I was interested. More and more the particularly interesting shows seem to be debuting on streaming services. As to music, well, I stopped paying attention earlier in the decade when rock songs stopped appearing in the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100....

As to A Shroud of Thoughts, I once more hosted two successful blogathons: the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March and the Rule Britannia blogathon in August. I also took part in several blogathons this year, including the What a Character! blogathon (one of my favourites). Sadly, 2018 will be the year with the second fewest posts on A Shroud of Thoughts, for obvious reasons. The year with the fewest posts is 2011 when my best friend before Vanessa, Brian, died. I think the only reason this year has more posts is because Brian died in June, while Vanessa died in August. A Shroud of Thoughts will turn 15 this coming June 4, and it will be a bittersweet for me given there is someone I really wished would have lived to see it.

Ultimately I cannot say that I am sad to see 2018 go, although I cannot say I am particularly looking forward to 2019. For me it will be a year of trying to put my life back together. I have no doubt that I can accomplish that task, but at the same time I also know that I will never again be as happy as I was in the years preceding August 30 2018. 2018 changed my life forever, and I know it was not for the better.