Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy birthday, Jacques Tourneur!

Today’s individual in the TDOY birthday spotlight is a director whom I’ve often mentioned on the blog but maybe not as effusively as I should. Jacques Tourneur was born on this date one hundred-and-six years ago in Paris, France, and chose to follow in his father’s footsteps—papa being Maurice Tourneur, a film director who’s never really received his proper due because a great many of his works have been lost to neglect and the ravages of time (I caught Tourneur pere’s The Poor Little Rich Girl with Mary Pickford on TCM the other evening—what an extraordinary and imaginative film!).

Jacques started his film career while he was still matriculating in high school, getting work as both a script clerk and extra. When his father returned to France in 1925, Tourneur started getting work as an editor and director; his first directorial assignment was on a French film short, Tout ca ne vaut pas l’amour, in 1931. His work in France attracted the attention of Hollywood, and in 1934 he moved back to America to work at M-G-M as a second unit director and also helming some of the studio’s short subjects. His first feature at M-G-M was They All Come Out in 1939 but after being dropped by the studio two years later, he accepted a job at R-K-O with producer Val Lewton, whom he had met on the set of A Tale of Two Cities in 1935. Lewton, the legendary producer who’d been given the greenlight to do a series of low-budget horror films at R-K-O, had Tourneur direct the first three films to come out of his unit: Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man.

His work with Lewton cemented his reputation, and from that point on Jacques was put in charge of higher profile projects at the studio, notably Out of the Past and Berlin Express. By the 1950s Tourneur had gone the independent route—something that may not have been such a good idea in retrospect. In his zeal to direct Stars in My Crown (1950), a truly outstanding drama starring TDOY fave Joel McCrea, Jacques agreed to work for scale …but because of this, studios were convinced that he’d become a “hack” and he had difficulty finding prestige pictures on which to work. Tourneur eventually drifted into television, though not without completing one more outstanding film classic: 1958’s Curse of the Demon, a movie that I often refer to as “the greatest film Val Lewton never made.” Tourneur retired in the mid 1960s and returned to his native country, where he passed away in 1977 in Bergerac, Dordogne.

Also, special birthday shout-outs to my esteemed blogging compadre Kate Gabrielle at Silents and Talkies and my cousin Kathy, whose age will be revealed unless she deposits a princely sum in my back account by the end of the day. (I’m joking, of course. Monday at the latest.) As for the rest of those individuals celebrating a birthday today:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) – Social activist, abolitionist and suffragist

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) – French sculptor whose most famous work was that statue that Dobie Gillis was always parked in front of

Edward Ellis (1870-1952) – Stage and screen character great who’s the answer to the movie trivia question “Who played the Thin Man in the 1934 film of the same name?”

Bert Williams (1874-1922) – Legendary vaudeville comedian and Ziegfeld Follies headliner who had to perform in blackface due to the unenlightened nature of the times…despite the fact that he himself was black

Griff Barnett (1884-1958) – Stage, screen and television character actor who turns up in tons of serials and B-westerns

Jack Oakie (1903-1978) – Stage, screen and television entertainer whose movies include Million Dollar Legs, The Great Dictator, Thieves’ Highway and Lover Come Back

James “Shamus” Culhane (1908-1996) – Veteran animator who boasts the distinction of having worked on all of the first four Walt Disney animated feature films

Richard Ney (1916-2004) – Stage, screen and television actor whose best-known vehicles include Mrs. Miniver and The Late George Apley

Liam Dunn (1916-1976) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known as the preacher in Blazing Saddles and the guy who gets kicked in the hoo-hoos in Young Frankenstein

Jo Stafford (1917-2008) – Female vocalist who first achieved fame with Tommy Dorsey’s band (and as a member of The Pied Pipers) and then later struck out on her own, with great success

Joseph Coors (1917-2003) – Coors brewery president and Ronald Reagan crony who founded the Heritage Foundation with his fellow right-wing dinks Paul Weyrich and Edwin Feulner

Ray Kellogg (1919-1981) – Unsung character actor whose specialty in films and on TV was playing cops and other authority figures

Sunset Carson (1920-1990) – Popular B-western cowpoke of the 1940s

Richard Quine (1920-1989) – Motion picture director (who also acted in movies and on stage and radio) whose oeuvre includes My Sister Eileen, The Solid Gold Cadillac and Bell Book and Candle

William Lanteau (1922-1993) – Veteran character great whose roles include Available Jones in Li’l Abner and townsperson Chester Wanamaker on TV’s Newhart

Kim Hunter (1922-2002) – Academy Award-winning actress whose films include The Seventh Victim, A Streetcar Named Desire, Deadline – U.S.A. and the first three Planet of the Apes movies

Ernie Anderson (1923-1997) – Ghoulardi

Grace Kelly (1929-1982) – Academy Award-winning actress whose film and television career was set aside after she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956

Tommy McFarland (1930-1982) – Spanky’s brother

Bob Crewe (1931- ) – Rock ‘n’ roll record producer, singer and songwriter known for composing music to watch girls by and for overseeing many of the Four Seasons’ hits

Mary Louise Wilson (1932- ) – Stage, screen and television character actress whom I always remember as neighbor Ginny Wrobliki (she didn’t last long) on TV’s One Day at a Time

Charles Manson (1934- ) – Richard Pryor once observed that as long as folks were drinking Folger’s coffee this cat would never get paroled

Mort Shuman (1936-1991) – Singer-songwriter who, along with partner Doc Pomus, wrote some of the best damn rock ‘n’ roll you’ve ever heard

Mills Lane (1936- ) – Judge, boxing referee, television personality and one of Savannah, GA’s favorite sons…let’s get it on!

Ina Balin (1937-1990) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include From the Terrace, The Comancheros, The Patsy and The Projectionist

Ruby Nash Curtis (1939- ) – Front woman for the Romantics

Wallace Shawn (1943- ) – The stage, screen and television character great turns sixty-seven today…inconceivable!

Valerie Leon (1943- ) – Smokin’ hot British actress who stars in one of my favorite Hammer Studio horror films, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

Brian Hyland (1943- ) – Singer-songwriter and television documentary producer

Al Michaels (1944- ) – Former ABC Monday Night Football sportscaster now working at NBC

Booker T. Jones (1944- ) One-time Mar-Key and front man for the M.G.’s

Neil Young (1945- ) – Now that you can collect Medicare…keep on rockin’ in the free world

Patrice Laconte (1947- ) – French motion picture director whose oeuvre includes Monsieur Hire and The Hairdresser’s Husband

Barbara Fairchild (1950- ) – Former country music singer-songwriter who now sings gospel and AC Christian material

Rhonda Shear (1954- ) – Bimbo comedienne who used to make me chuckle when she hosted USA’s Up All Night

Megan Mullaly (1958- ) – TDOY actress fave best known as the riotous Karen Walker on the TV sitcom Will & Grace

Vincent Irizarry (1959- ) – Is there a soap opera this guy hasn’t been on?

Naomi Wolf (1962- ) – Author, activist and political consultant

Nadia Comaneci (1961- ) – Olympic winning gymnast who had a song named after her

Tonya Harding (1970- ) – Non-Olympic winning ice skater and celebrity freakshow who’s always on that TruTV program to which my father is slavishly devoted

Anne Hathaway (1982- ) – Stage, screen and television actress who, at least in the movies I’ve seen her in, always plays the same damn part

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Brent McKee said...

I was prepared to make a case about Anne Hathaway playing different roles rather than "the same damn part" in all of her films. The gap between "The Princess Diaries" and "The Devil Wears Prada" vs "Havoc" and "Brokeback Mountain" is pretty significant (because of the nudity if nothing else). The problem is that she seems to have settled into the safe romantic comedy route. Personally I think she should alternate between the pithy dramatic roles and the romcom stuff.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I was prepared to make a case about Anne Hathaway playing different roles

Well, you've pretty much made your case -- I've seen three out of the four films you mentioned, so I'm probably not getting the "full Hathaway" (though that's why I qualified it by slipping in "of the films I've seen"). I suppose when you get down to the meat of it, I just felt like saying some cranky about her.

Stacia said...

I'm still upset that I didn't watch all of "Poor Little Rich Girl." When will someone invent a way to record two channels at once when you have a cable box? WHEN?!