Tag Archives: carole lombard

What is This Thing Called Audrey?

Yesterday was Audrey Hepburn’s 81st birthday.

I’ve spent the past year and half thinking about Audrey, trying to figure out why and how this gawky, awkward introvert could go from actress to star to international icon in the space of a few short months. Was it pure luck and timing? Was it sheer force of will? Or was it something else, something bigger?

When Roman Holiday was released in 1953, designer/photographer Cecil Beaton was first to lay a finger on it. He wrote,

She had, if you like, her prototypes in France – Damia, Edith Piaf, or Juliet Greco. But it took the rubble of Belgium, an English accent, and an American success to launch the striking personality that best exemplifies our new Zeitgeist.

Nobody ever looked like her before World War II: it is doubtful if anybody ever did, unless it be those wild children of the French Revolution who stride in the foreground of romantic canvases. Yet we recognize the rightness of this appearance in relation to our historical needs. And the proof is that thousands of imitations have appeared. The woods are full of emaciated young ladies with rat-nibbled hair and moon-pale faces.

Well put. But who exactly is responsible for “the rightness of this appearance”? For beyond being simply Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn was “Audrey Hepburn,” a synthetic amalgamation of looks, style, behavior, marketing, media, and the characters she played. Like everything else in Hollywood – like Marilyn Monroe and Singin’ in the Rain – she was a construction, fortified by the gifted men and women of Paramount, the writers, directors, cameramen, production executives, public relations people, and (quite memorably) costume designers. One designer in particular.

Edith Head.

Outside of the stars, Ms. Head was arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood. By 1953, she had been nominated for the Oscar eight times and had won five. (And the category had only been approved in 1949.) Even still, they said she wasn’t a great designer, at least not like Givenchy or any of the great Parisian couturiers. Maybe she wasn’t, but as the confessor to the biggest stars in Hollywood, Edith Head had all she needed. She didn’t just hold their measurements, she held their secrets.

And she had her favorites. Grace Kelly: to Edith, she was what a woman should look like. But lanky, breastless, big-eyed Audrey Hepburn looked nothing like Grace Kelly. Nor did she resemble Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, or any of the other feminine ideals Edith had known so well. Audrey was something else entirely.

But what was that something else? And how did the events of October 2, 1960, the first day the cameras turned on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, change the course of Audrey’s life, and the lives of young women across America, forever? It took a whole book to figure out why, and I haven’t thought of Holly Golightly, Truman Capote, Edith Head, or Audrey in quite the same way since.

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The Passion of Anna

File this one under Good Ideas from Uninspired Executives. Anna Faris has been cast in the Private Benjamin remake.

I think I’m catching on. Hollywood is now a place wherein new talent is eschewed for new versions of old talent (ie Anna Faris is not Anna Faris, she is the new Goldie Hawn.) If new talent happens to slip onto the screen in Big Hollywood, it means someone was not doing their job, or they were looking the other way at the wrong moment. Originality, these days, is an aberration, someone’s mistake.

So while I’m excited at the prospect of Anna Faris becoming the next Goldie Hawn, I’m concerned that Faris, a comedienne of appreciable gifts, will be drawn into a kind of surrogate career, like Madeline, the Kim Novak character from Vertigo, who was possessed by Carlotta Valdez. But who was she really? Jimmy Stewart never knew.

Faris deserves her own persona. Though she shares with Goldie an affinity for easygoing sexiness, she has a tomboyishness, an up-for-anything quality that brings to mind Carole Lombard at her almost-best. If only Faris’s scripts were up to her potential, I’m certain she could one day turn out a performance as full and witty as Lombard’s masterpiece, Maria Tura in To Be or Not To Be, but in the meantime, relegated to the world of middling material and unappreciative executives, the actress will continue to produce, with industrial reliability, her particular brand of rock-solid comedy. But she’s capable of more.

I can already feel myself falling into the studio trap of identifying one actress through the work of another, which is I why I want to look at Faris in double counterpoint, from the perspectives of both Goldie and Lombard. First, a distinction: for all of her airy cuteness, Goldie Hawn is a naturalist at heart. She’s really messy underneath her composure (which is really what Private Benjamin is all about), and though she tries to put on airs, to keep it together, what she craves is simplicity. Among other things, it comes from having a terrific smile, a wailing whine, and sometimes even anger. She wants to be real; that’s what I mean by naturalist. It made her an ideal star for 80s anti-yuppie comedies, reverse Cinderella stories like Overboard (which, by the way, they’re remaking with Jennifer Lopez).

Lombard, on the other hand, is not a naturalist, she’s a fantasist, and as we see in her best roles, she better than anyone mastered the hair-brained antics of a genuine screwball. If she had to flip, slip, fall, she was best off doing them all at once, and then starting from the top and doing them all again. The more elaborate her actions the better. It made her an ideal star for 30s escapist comedies, which gave reality a good run for its money. Back then, more was merrier.

Our gal Anna combines them both. But we still don’t know who she is really. Why we don’t is due to her youth, and the movies they put her in. Scary MovieThe House Bunny, and Observe and Report – these pictures have given us glimpses at Faris’s potential, at the great comedienne to come, but they don’t give her the opportunity to showcase her unique talent, whatever that may be. And I know it’s in there. It’s going to take time, both for her to mature and Hollywood to grow up, but when it comes out – as it did, just a little, briefly in Lost in Translation – I think we’re all going to be very impressed.

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Hawks on Lombard

Bogdanovich: The scene [from Twentieth Century] in the train compartment with Lombard trying to kick Barrymore looks particularly impromptu.

Hawks: That was the first scene we shot in the picture. Lombard had never done that kind of comedy before, but I cast her because I’d seen her at a party with a couple of drinks in her and she was hilarious and uninhibited and just what the part needed. When she came on the set, though, she was emoting all over the place – she was trying very hard and it was just dreadful. Barrymore was very patient and we tried it a few times and she was just so stilted and stiff. Then I said to her, “Come on, let’s take a walk,” and we went outside and I asked her how much money she was getting for the picture. She told me and I said, “What would you say if I told you you earned your whole salary this morning and didn’t have to act anymore?” And she was stunned. So I said, “Now forget about the scene. What would you do if someone said such and such to you?” And she said, “I’d kick him in the balls.” And I said, “Well, he said something like that to you – why don’t you kick him?” She said, “Are you kidding?” And I said, “No.” So we went back on the set and I gave her sometime to think it over, and then we tried that scene and we did one take and that was it. And when I said, “Print,” Barrymore yelled out. “That was fabulous!” And she burst into tears and ran off the set. Well, she never began a picture after that without sending me a telegram that said, “I’m gonna start kicking him.”