Monday, September 27, 2010

I'll have to remember to stop saying this

According to a search I just did, the phrase "as I recall" has appeared in "Murphy's Craw" about 17 times in the last two and a half years.

The woman who loved Hopalong Cassidy

During the summer I bought a DVD that featured three of the films made by George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Although I much admire Burns and Allen, my main reason for buying the DVD was “Six of a Kind,” a 1934 film from Paramount that also featured W.C. Fields and Charlie Ruggles and was directed by the legendary Leo McCarey.

After watching and enjoying “Six of a Kind” (which is perhaps most notable for the scene in which a sheriff portrayed by Fields plays a game of pool while recounting the story of how he became known as, um, “Honest John”), I consulted the indispensable Internet Movie Database to look up some of the film’s other, lesser-known actors.

A character named Goldie – the girlfriend of an embezzler – was played by someone named Grace Bradley. I looked up her bio and found that I had indeed seen her before.

And she turned up again earlier this month in “The Gilded Lily,” a 1935 Paramount film I wrote about earlier this month.

Grace Bradley died last week. Her married name was Grace Boyd.

I’d first seen her some years ago while I was flipping channels, killing time before going out somewhere.

I stumbled upon an Encore Westerns documentary titled “Hopalong Cassidy: Public Hero #1.”

Hopalong Cassidy was a big deal back in the 1950s, when I was growing up, though I don’t believe I’d ever seen a Hopalong Cassidy movie. But what the heck, I thought, this is as good a way as any to kill some time.

Turned out I was right, to put it mildly.

The documentary, narrated by Dennis Weaver, told the story of William Boyd, who played Cassidy. In the 1920s Boyd had been a big star, and off screen he was at least somewhat of a playboy with a taste for the high life.

Then his career went off course, through no fault of his own: An actor with the same name had gotten into some well-publicized trouble, and the confusion caused by this coincidence all but killed Boyd’s career.

He was eventually able to pick up the pieces when he got the part of Cassidy, and he also decided to clean up his personal life, too.

Eventually he met a young actress who’d had a crush on him ever since she was a 12-year-old moviegoer who’d seen him on the screen. According to The Orange County Register, he proposed three days after their first date, and they were together until he died in 1972.

That woman was, of course, Grace Bradley.

Boyd played Cassidy in a slew of movies, then took a big financial risk and bought the rights to the character so he could make his own movies. When TV came in, he cashed in big time.

The image of Boyd as Hoppy appeared on a lot of products – but it’s said that Boyd was very careful about which products he endorsed. For although he and Grace never had any children of their own, he felt a responsibility toward Hoppy’s fans.

I especially remember Grace because of her appearance in the documentary. She must have been at least in her late eighties.

The main reason I remember her and that documentary, and one of the reasons I highly recommend it if Encore Westerns ever repeats it, is one sequence in which she recalls the first time she and Boyd ever dated. In recounting this, she suddenly tears up.

I defy anyone to watch that sequence without getting teary-eyed along with her.

And although I still feel no great compulsion to seek out any Hopalong Cassidy movies, I can’t help wishing I’d known Grace and Bill, two classy people who lived an exemplary life of quiet dignity, unblemished by scandal or sanctimony.

If that isn't a winning scenario, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kevin McCarthy and Harold Gould, RIP

It hasn't been a good week for character actors -- or for those of us who really appreciate them.

When I was growing up, Kevin McCarthy was seemingly everywhere -- movies and particularly TV. He's apparently best known for his role in the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," but I remember him primarily for two "Twilight Zone" roles.

In the original series, he played the title role in "Long Live Walter Jameson" -- a history professor who's lectures are particularly vivid because he literally knows whereof he lectures: He's literally been around for centuries. It was one of the show's better episodes, but though I don't want to play down the quality of the script (by Charles Beaumont), it probably would have been only half as good without McCarthy.

Many years later, I saw "Twilight Zone: The Movie" when it came out. Yes, that's the one where Vic Morrow and two children were killed during the filming of the scene, and I remember feeling maybe a little creepy, and even maybe a little complicit, in going to the movie.

As I recall, the film as a whole didn't have that much to recommend it except for Joe Dante's remake of "It's a Good Life," the story about the kid (originally played by the quintessential kid actor of my generation, Billy Mumy) who could "wish away" things -- and people -- he didn't like.

In Dante's hands, the material became an exaggerated, creepy comedy, material in which character actors (people for whom Dante obviously has much respect) could have a field day, especially William "Patty Duke's Father" Schallert and McCarthy, who played the most hilariously scared-to-death geezer in the history of films. McCarthy later said he based his portrayal on another fine character actor, Frank Morgan....

I suppose Harold Gould was best-known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern's father, but he was another guy who was everywhere on TV in the 1960s and 1970s. Movies, too.

He appeared in my town one weekend within the last few years, touring with a comedy about older people and Viagra. I'm sorry I didn't see it -- or, rather, I'm sorry I didn't see him.

Two movie memories of him:

In "Harper," he plays a sheriff who is hassling the title character, a detective played by Paul Newman. (It's faithfully based by William Goldman on "The Moving Target," Ross Macdonald's first Lew Archer novel.)

Gould's sheriff says, "I don't want to get ugly!"

"You ARE ugly!" Harper says.

In a sadly much less well known movie, "The Big Bus," a satire of disaster films, he plays a scientist. As I recall (I only saw this movie once, on TV; I've never seen it on video), there's an explosion, which leaves him lying on the floor of a parking lot. A phone happens to be next to him.

The phone rings.

He picks it up and cheerfully answers: "Parking lot!"