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Q #7: Dear Mr. Picture Show Man:
Could you provide some background information for the 1953 movie "The Moon is Blue", and tell me about the career of its beautiful leading actress?
A: “The Moon Is Blue” is quite an important film in the history of motion pictures. The original story for the film was based on a Broadway comedy which ran for over two years despite being describe by critics as “humorous but lacking in substance”. In the autumn of 1952 Otto Preminger and the play's author, F. Hugh Herbert, formed a small film production company with “The Moon Is Blue” as their sole asset. They asked David Niven, whose career had slumped, to play the cynical David Slater, and selected an unknown actress, Maggie McNamara, from the play's Chicago stage company for the role of Patty O’Neill. (We believe Maggie is the beautiful actress to which you are referring.)
After the film version of “The Moon Is Blue” was completed, it was sent to Joe Breen for the Motion Picture Production Code’s Seal of Approval. Instead, the Production Code director responded with a terse note that denied certification because of the film’s “unacceptably light attitude toward seduction, illicit sex, chastity and virginity”. Although films without the Production Code’s seal could be released during this period, many movie theaters, including most of those in major markets, would not show them and it was very difficult for these films to make money. Even though the Catholic Legion of Decency also condemned the movie, “The Moon Is Blue” opened in carefully selected downtown theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. Preminger promoted the film as a direct challenge to the Production Code, and many in the movie industry applauded his courage. By the first week in July, 1953, three theater chains that controlled 2,400 theaters announced that they would play the movie. Their endorsement virtually guaranteed the success of “The Moon Is Blue” and, at the same time, dimmed the future of the Production Code Administration. By the autumn of 1953 the film had been on Variety’s top ten list for sixteen consecutive weeks. (You can read more about this film, and the period in which it was released, by going to our “Timeline" section and clicking on the decade 1950-1960. You might also want to read the book “The Dame in the Kimono”, by Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, which discusses Hollywood censorship and The Production Code.)
Maggie McNamara was born on June 18, 1928, and died in 1978. She studied drama and dance for three years before making her Broadway debut in 1951. She later replaced Barbara Bel Geddes in the stage production of “The Moon Is Blue” and became an instant film star when she repeated that role on the screen. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for her first screen appearance, and quickly signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, she only appeared in three more movies: “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954), “Prince of Players” (1955), and “The Cardinal” (1963). By the mid–1960s she had disappeared from both the screen and the stage, and she ended up making her living as a secretary. In 1978 she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills, a suicide note at her side. The police report said she had a history of mental illness.
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Q #8: Dear Mr. Picture Show Man:
Who was the first child movie star, the first female producer, and the first homosexual actor?
A: Child actors have been a cinematic staple since the beginning of the motion picture industry. Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, for example, began their film careers when they were teenagers, and their youth and childlike innocence was emphasized in their starring vehicles. Among the countless child actors during the silent–film era were Baby Peggy, Madge Evans, and the future director Henry Hathaway. But the first true child star was Jackie Coogan, who burst into stardom as Charlie Chaplin's young charge in "The Kid" (1921). Coogan was seven years old when "The Kid" was released.
The first woman movie producer was Alice Guy Blanché (also known as Alice Guy), who was born in Paris in 1873 and died in 1968. She became a secretary for the Gaumont Film Company in 1896, but when
the firm switched from the manufacture of cameras to the production of films later that year, Mademoiselle Guy became one of its pioneer directors while still in her early twenties. She married Herbert Blanché in 1907, and came with him to the U.S. when he set up a branch for Gaumont's products in Cleveland. Soon after, they moved to New York where, in 1910, Alice formed her own production company, Solax, through which she produced and directed numerous films. Before long she moved her small studio in Flushing, NY, to larger quarters in Fort Lee, NJ, where her company prospered for several years.
Probably the most famous woman director/producer of the silent–era was Lois Weber (1882–1939). Beginning as an actress, she turned to directing in 1913 and became one of the highest paid directors – man or woman – of her time. Weber specialized in social topics, and her films were critically acclaimed financial successes that created huge controversies around the country. In 1917 she formed her own
studio, Lois Weber Productions, so that she could exercise complete control over her films, and an excellent copy of her film "The Blot", which she produced and directed, is available on DVD. The DVD comes with an informative commentary track which provides a great deal of background on Lois Weber. For additional information, consult the books "Lois Weber: The Director Who Lost Her Way in History" by Anthony Slide, "Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema", by Alison McMahan, and "An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films 1895–1930", by Denise Lowe.
According to Vito Ruso's landmark study "The Celluloid Closet", the first gay film was Richard Oswald's "Anders als die Anderen / Different from the Others", which was presented in Berlin in 1919. Although this film, starring one of Germany's most famous actors, Conrad Veidt, was the first film to present a positive viewpoint on gay liberation, from the earliest days of the motion picture industry almost all representations of homosexuality were deemed to be shocking. By 1930 the Production Code banned the depiction of homosexuality in any form. Because of this, the sexual orientation of actors in the early days of Hollywood was not widely revealed or publicly discussed, although such silent era stars as Ramon Novarro (1899–1968) and Alla Nazimova (1879–1945) were known to be either homosexual or bisexual. According to William J. Mann's out–of–print book "Wisecracker", the first openly gay Hollywood star was William "Billy" Haines (1900–1973). Haines' film career spanned the years 1922 to 1934, and he was one of M–G–M's biggest stars in the late 1920s. (For more information, consult the books: "The Celluloid Closet" by Vito Russo, "The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood" by Diana McLellan, "Behind the Screen: How Gays & Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910–1969" by William J. Mann, and "Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall" by Richard Barrios. There is also a very good documentary available on DVD called "The Celluloid Closet (Special Edition)" that came out in 1996.)
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Q #9: Dear Mr. Picture Show Man:
Who was the first actor to be filmed doing a death scene, and when was the film made?
A: The very first death scene we can find on record was filmed by Thomas Edison's production company between May 10–19, 1895. The 50 foot film, made to be shown in Edison's Kinetoscope, showed a scene from David Henderson's Burlesque that recreated an episode from "Trilby", the 1894 novel by George du Maurier. In the scene, Svengali hypnotizes Trilby and the Laird, and then falls dead across a table. It is described in the Edison catalogue as "very funny". Unfortunately, the catalogue entry does not list the cast, although it is possible that David Henderson played Svengali.
The first death scene where we can positively identify the actor was shot by Edison's production company three months later on August 28, 1895. The film was called "The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots", and it is described as a "realistic reproduction of this famous historical scene". Mary was played by Robert Thomae, and the film may have been the first to use stop–motion substitution to show the decapitation of Mary. Just before the beheading took place the camera stopped and the actor (Robert Thomae) was replaced by a dummy. Then the filming resumed. When the two takes were spliced together it appeared to be one continuous shot.
The first real execution that was filmed was "The Hanging of William Carr". It was produced and filmed by Frederick Guth on December 17, 1897. Shot in Liberty, Missouri, it showed the execution of William Carr (a farm laborer convicted of killing his three–year–old daughter) by Sheriff J.H. Hymer.
The British publication "Total Film Magazine" provided an article on the "50 Greatest Movie Deaths" in their July, 2004, issue. Their list was based on a non–scientific poll taken from interviews with film critics. The earliest film to make the list was Erich Von Stroheim's 1924 movie "Greed". In the climactic death scene between the film's two main characters, McTeague and Marcus, McTeague finally overpowers Marcus and blindly strikes with a revolver and clubs his one–time friend to death. On the ground, Marcus lies still and bloody beneath the blows, but not before he found the strength to handcuff their wrists together. McTeague feels a tug on his left wrist and realizes that he is now locked to the corpse he just killed, stranded without water in the middle of the desert.
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Q #10: Dear Mr. Picture Show Man:
How many feature films have been produced worldwide since the first feature film was made?
A: We've actually received this question, or variations of it, a number of times. The first source for our answer is the book "Film Facts" by Patrick Robertson (formerly published as "The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats"). "Film Facts" has an informative chart that lists the total output of feature film production country–by–country, year–by–year, from 1906–1999. Unfortunately, the chart does not include any "totals" (so we'll give you those totals), and the source of the chart is not given.
First, an explanation of these totals and some definitions. A "feature film" is defined as a film of an hour or more in length, and includes co–productions and feature–length documentaries. Television movies are excluded unless they have had a theatrical release. Production is attributed to the country in which the production company is registered. The figures shown are for the number of new pictures released, not the number of pictures produced (many produced pictures are not released immediately). Also, for a number of the countries the figures for some years are not available, so all totals should be considered general "ballpark" figures, not definitive totals.
The first feature film (as defined above) was an Australian film titled "The Story of the Kelly Gang", which premiered on December 24, 1906. Australia was the only country in the world to have established regular production of feature–length films prior to 1911.
Total Feature Films Released From 1906 thru 1999
Russia / USSR
Our source for the number of films produced from 2000 through 2003 is the Australian Film Commission (click on their name to see their published chart), who used the British research journal "Screen Digest" as their source.
Total Feature Films Produced From 2000 thru 2003
Although these charts indicate that the total number of feature–length films released worldwide from 1906 through 2003 is 226,349, it should be noted that not all countries and territories are listed. According to "Screen Digest", the actual number of feature–length films released worldwide from 1906 to 2003 is 240,931, and that total increased to 249,845 by the end of 2005.
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Q #11: Dear Picture Show Man:
When was the first film score released to the general public on a record, and what was it?
A: The first complete film score to be issued on disc, actually a 78 rpm vinyl record, was also the first full symphonic score to be used in a sound film, according to the book "Film Facts" by Patrick Robertson. It was Max Steiner's film score for RKO's "The Bird of Paradise", released in 1932. Formerly, producers of movies that were not actually musicals had been unwilling to have music coming from an unidentified source, on the premise that audiences would be confused by hearing music where there was no visible orchestra. (Film musicals, however, didn't seem to have a problem with inserting an orchastral score under any song, no matter where it was taking place. An early example of music occasionally coming from no identifiable source would be the 1929 movie musical "The Broadway Melody".) Because of this attitude, early non–musical sound films tended to confine the incidental background score to the front and end credits, or to passages of the action where the music could be clearly seen to emanate from a radio, gramophone, piano, etc. There is no evidence that audiences were confused by Steiner's score, however, and once he had established the symphonic score as integral to a dramatic film the souce was never questioned. Max Steiner went on to compose the film scores for many great movies, including "Gone With the Wind" (1939), "Now, Voyager" (1942), "Casablanca" (1943), "The Big Sleep" (1946), "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), and "A Summer Place" (1959) to name but a few. Along the way he won 3 Academy Awards and was nominated for 15 other Oscars.
Here is some bonus information related to this question. The first record of a song from a movie was "Mother O' Mine" from the movie "The Jazz Singer" (1927). It was sung by Al Jolson and released on the Brunswick label on October 6, 1927. The first song specifically composed for a motion picture was "Mother I Still Have You", written by Louis Silvers and sung by Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer" (1927). The first hit song from a movie was "Sonny Boy", also an Al Jolson number, from the 1928 movie "The Singing Fool". It was conposed by Al Jolson, Bud DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson. Within nine months of the film's release the sales of "Sonny Boy" records had reached 2 million, while sheet music sales had reached 125 million. This was the first record ever to sell over a million copies.
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