MONKEY BUSINESS


The Winged Monkeys in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz served at the pleasure of the Wicked Witch of the West and terrorized Dorothy and her companions, and thousands of small children watching the big screen throughout the country. My youngest daughter was one of those children. Many years later I purchased a pair of bronze candle holders in the shape of flying monkeys, and I am not allowed to use them when she is around.

I think for children the goblinlike Flying Monkeys. squealing servants of the Wicked Witch are the stuff of nightmares. For the most part the monkeys were not played by the same small actors as the munchkins. Only a few of the more athletic midgets were asked to don the monkey make-up and costumes fitted with battery-powered wings. The wings were motorized so they would flap while the monkeys were airborne.

Veteran Hollywood midget stuntman Harry Monty was one of the actors who played both a Munchkin and a Flying Monkey. Those who played the brown flying chimps mostly were too tall to play a Munchkin.

They had a harness around them and strung them up on wires. Then they would swoop down. One terrifying moment was when a Flying Monkey swooped down and grabbed Toto, Dorothy’s little dog. They were to be paid $20 for swooping, but there was a misunderstanding about the number of swoops were to be paid. The director assumed it was per day, and kept telling monkeys to keep swooping, while the Flying Monkeys thought it was $20 per swoop. To get the matter settled the monkeys went on strike. It must have been quite a picture– twelve monkeys sitting on chairs with their arms folded and legs crossed arguing with the director over money. As soon as it was settled they were back in the air on black cables which were invisible during the filming.

The rest of the illusion was created by dangling little rubber, painted monkeys about eight inches in length. These molded figurines–complete with foamlike wings and a pipe cleaner for a tail–were suspended on wires, much as the actor/monkeys were, and flown along at the same time to create the illusion of a large army of evil beasts. In 1996 one of the decaying, rock-hard rubber monkeys was auctioned off, fetching $3,000.

After more than fifty years, the slim steel tracks that were built and and installed in the reinforced rafters of MGM Sound Stage 29 are still there, high above the floor as a haunting reminder of Oz’s monkeyshines.

Excerpt from The Munchkins of Oz, by Stephen Cox

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EVERY WOMAN HAS ONE


Throughout history the ubiquitous female breast has been exposed, exploited and envied. From the under dressed native women in the Polynesian islands to actress Jane Russell, for whom Howard Hughes is said to have designed a bra, the breast is a subject of interest. Those who do’t have them, want them. Those who have them, want them bigger.

Olivia de Haviland, star of “Gone With the Wind”, while living in France for a time, wrote a humorous book, “Every Frenchman Has One”. I read her book with interest because a cousin now lives in the house de Haviand resided in during the filming of “Gone With the Wind”.

Apparently the difference between the French and the American view of the bosom can be summed up this way: the American philosophy is of the Bosom Rampant, while the French subscribe to the principle “The Bust Trussed.”

This attitude became clear to her, expressed in the world of couture. She was faithful to the House of Dior as it went through a series of three head designers. She found it a question as to which one tried the hardest to flatten her bosom. Not permanently, just under a dress.

She wrote “The whole thing started at my first fitting on my first Dior dress. There I was standing in the fitting room, half undressed, in merely my stockings, my slip and my bust, and the next moment I was fully clothed and bustless. At first I couldn’t think where I’d gone to. Then I was struck rigid by the idea that some sort of instantaneous and lasting transformation had occurred and that I’d suddenly lost forever what is every girl’s pride. Springing out of my paralysis and into action, I looked frantically down m,y decollete to see what had happened to me. Fortunately I was still there, both of me. But bound and gagged. By a framework of net and bone. The dress’s basic foundation.

“You mustn’t think, here, that I have one of those overexuberant superstructures that really needs lashing to the decks to keep it from going overboard. No, no not at all. It is, rather the sort that you might call appropriate, quite becoming, so it’s been said. Neat but not gaudy. But try as I may, I have never been able to convince the French that the American way is better, and they have always won the War of Containment.

“Of course, I know just as well as you do, that back home in the States, if a girl’s got a delicate, elfin 32, she has no chance but to commit suicide. If she has a tender, swelling 34, she can however, enter a nunnery. If hers is a warm and promising 36, there’s hope. On the other hand, with a cummbersome 40, Hollywood is bound to find her. And with anything over 42, national adulation is assured.”

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“But I must say I do look darn well dressed. And I’m beginning to accept the French notion that a girl’s bust is really more important when she’s got her clothes off tan when she’s got them on.’

AMERICAN POMPEII


It’s wonderful how one idea can lead to another even greater idea. The human brain is remarkable in its ability to shift gears without actually stripping the original intention.

The young George Lucas, had lost the confidence of the movie studio after the cool reception of his first movie. For inspiration he looked to an Italian movie about four teenagers from a small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do.

Tempting as this might be, the 29 year old was also dreaming about making a new Flash Gordon” movie. He thought about how great it would be to see Flash Gordon on the big screen in full living color. It had been filmed in black and white several times.

As a young child the Flash Gordon game was a favorite. Since I was the only girl in my neighborhood, I was relegated to being Dale Arden with the ice-cream cone chest, when I really wanted to be Flash Gordon.

One night Lucas and his friend producer Gary Kurtz were at a diner and talking randomly about how the science fiction movies hadn’t really been enjoyable since Forbidden Planet” in 1955. They all seemed to have gone to genre horror movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon” or alien invasions. They both decided that none of that was fun any more the way “Flash Gordon” and Buck Rogers” had been.

Lucas made a trip to New York in 1971 to visit King Features to inquire about the film right to “Flash Gordon”. The King executives were thinking about the film rights too and mentioned the Italian director Frederico Fellini who was also a known Flash Gordon fan. Lucas knew he could not compete with Fellini at this point in his career.

As in so many creative right turns, this set off a lightbulb in Lucas’s brain, and he began dwelling on the vague notion he had had for years of making something even better than Flash Gordon. If he couldn’t do Flash Gordon he would just invent his own.

American Graffiti
George Lucas on set of American Graffiti in 1973

In the meantime though, Lucas needed a way to make a more bankable movie in order to pay for a movie about space flight. If Fellini was to take Flash Gordon” maybe he could take something from Fellini—for instance, the idea behind the movie I Vitelloni, about the four teenagers in the small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do. What if you followed a bunch of guys on the cusp of leaving a small town, and follow them through one night of cruising—a ritual that had died out in the last decade?

Lucas would set his version in the summer of 1962, the moment everything changed for him at the ago of 18, and end it with a car crash. Set in a small town much like his own boyhood Modesto, California, it had flavors of autobiography.

He came up with a semi-Italian title: American Graffiti. It sounded odd to contemporary ears. The Italian word had not yet gained common currency. New York subway trains were about a year away from spray-painted signatures. Lucas hadn’t intended that debased usage of the word in any case; he meant the word invented at Pompeii in 1851 that means nostalgic etchings. He wanted to record the legacy of a lost decade: an American Pompeii, frozen in time forever.

Lucas’s encapsulation of space journeys were still to come.

AUDREY THE IMPECCABLE


audrey hepburn

One by one, the whole family disappeared leaving me alone with my pineapple and the remote control. My youngest daughter asked “Who comes to Maui to watch TV?” Not too surprising from Dr. Advice, but I expected better from her.

We may not have had any popcorn, which you are supposed to have in order to enjoy a movie, but there was plenty of fresh pineapple, and a papaya still left on the kitchen counter after dinner, and the prospect of Audrey Hepburn on the TV screen. Though we usually trundle off to bed by 9 p.m., Audrey would not appear until 10, and I didn’t intend to miss “Charade” starring her and Cary Grant, who you may remember was no slouch in the looks department.

They ran some preliminary shots of Audrey’s previous movies, and my oldest daughter joined me, she is very well-versed in movie trivia, from living in Southern California where it all happens. Those not in the know, say “It’s all so L.A.”! When the “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” short shot came on, she said she heard that Truman Capote really intended the novel of the same name to be about the life of a wild, beautiful young man in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. Because of the anti-homosexual bias of the times, though, he had to create a woman as the main character. I know that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly. Do you think some authors write a book with certain people in mind in case it gets picked up as a movie?

In the old Hollywood days, everyone smoked and drank martini’s, and the only one who never got into trouble for being drunk was William Powell as “The Thin Man”. The cops who pulled him over on the bridge (I forget which bridge) simply wished him a good day and sent him on his way still holding his martini. The gorgeous girls of Hollywood, sported fabulous clothes, had hair which never looked like they just got out of bed, gazed soulfully at their leading man, were never pictured in the kitchen fixing dinner, or scrubbing their bathrooms. Why wouldn’t we all want to be them? New York was impossibly glamorous and chic–and so was Audrey Hepburn, effortlessly stylish, charming and graceful. Just as she was in her private life.

-Charade-(DVD)-Comedy-(1963)-Run-Time 113-Minutes-~-Starring -Cary-Grant,-Audrey-Hepburn,-Walter-Matthau,-James-Coburn,-George-Kennedy-~-Directed-by -Stanley-Donen

By the time the feature movie started, both daughters and a ten year old great-granddaughter were curled up on the couches with me, ready to watch Cary, for perhaps the second or even third time, rescue Audrey from George Kennedy, the bad guy. Dr. Advice was snoring away in the other room.

NOTABLE & QUOTABLE


220px-John_Wayne_-_still_portrait From Charles Glass’s review of Scott Eyman’s book “John Wayne: The Life and Legend” in the July 26 Spectator:

I was a John Wayne fan before I worked as his driver, first in 1967-68 as an after-school job and again full time in the summer when I finished university four years later. It may be that no man is a hero to his valet, but Wayne was one to this driver….

In addition to being a fine actor, Wayne was a very nice guy. Eyman quotes a college friend: “He could have been a great football player, but he never wanted to hurt anybody.” Tom Kane, story editor at Wayne’s production company, Batjac, told me that he and Wayne saw the actor Alan Ladd, who stood only 5’6″ to Wayne’s 6’3 1/4″, walking towards them. Wayne hid to avoid embarrassing Ladd in front of his fans. I witnessed a similar occasion at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1972, when Cesar Romero was signing autographs. The fans looked at Wayne and forgot all about Romero, deprived of his audience, said without enthusiasm, “Hi, Duke.” Wayne praised Romero and made sure the ladies knew the old Latin lover was still a big star.

Eyman relates an encounter between Carl Foreman, director of High Noon, whom Wayne and other right-wingers had helped to blacklist in the 1950’s, and Wayne in a Los Angeles restaurant years afterwards: “The two men looked at each other, then quickly embraced as if they were old friends.’ Foreman explained to his mystified English wife, ‘He was a patriot. I was a patriot. He didn’t do it to hurt me.’

Whenever I was walking to the car with Wayne in some part of Los Angeles, people would stop him for autographs. He was happy to sign. Older men would say “Mr. Wayne, I joined the marines because of you.’ He would lean back as if a punch were about to follow, and the veterans would laugh.

Eyman quotes the actor Robert Walker, Jr.: ‘John Wayne? I had the pleasure and honour of working with him.’ I am happy to do the same.

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SO YOU WANT TO BE A COWBOY?


home on the range
“Home On The Range” oil painting

The lure of the Old West remained strong through the 20th century for small boys strutting around in chaps and oversize cowboy hats. Annie Oakley made it possible for little girls to join in the games as well, reining in the spirited outlaws and slapping them into the make-believe jail until their mothers called them in to eat dinner.

Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and all the other great cowboy stars of the silver screen in the 30’s and 40’s were roll models for these make-believe cowboys and girls. Saturday afternoon double feature movies were filled with kids dreaming of a Wild West they never knew. The horses played a big part in the Western fascination. Until Roy’s museum closed forever in Branson. MO in 2009, his great golden palomino Trigger, Dale’s horse Buttermilk, and their Wonder Dog Bullet, all products of the taxidermist’s art, were big attractions.

horses Matt

The TV Westerns otherwise known as horse operas of the 50’s and ’60’s were a phenomenon, with 26 Western shows playing in the same period. Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassiday, The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, the Cartwright family in Bonanza, Maverick starring James Garner, Gunsmoke, and who can forget Rawhide, with a young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Gates? These are but a small number of shows still playing on the smaller channels.

Willie Nelson’s song “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” about explains the life of a cowboy. “They’re never at home and they’re always alone”. They’re a different breed. They love animals, and a horse is part of their anatomy and their family. They don’t mind mucking out stables, shoeing, planting and baling hay, working in rain or hot sun, it’s all part of who he is.

I once told an teenage boy that no one could be a cowboy forever, but I was wrong. Sometimes the draw of the rodeo circuit and the love of what they do is worth the long hours, broken bones and time away from home.

matt roping
My eldest grandson on the right who proves that you CAN be a cowboy forever and also balance it with a successful business life during the week.

We all have a second life filled with things we love to do; perhaps it’s travel, ball games, camping, fishing, and golfing; it all sounds romantic. But some people want to be a cowboy.

WRANGLER 1ST CLASS


My definition of “wrangler” was of a person who took care of horses, or of a new pair of blue jeans. That was until I met Jules Sylvester, a 6’6″ animal trainer and herpetologist who works in both movies and television. Since then I have found that movies who have any animal have wranglers to train and handle them during the filming.

Some of the films that have used his expertise are Jurassic Park, Casino Royale, Something About Mary, the chimpanzees in Project X, the snakes in the pit in Indiana Jones, and Out of Africa where he trotted along in front of the lions.

jules 2

Born in Devon in 1950, Jules and his family moved to Kenya where he began catching snakes when he was l6 years old. He served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War in 1973-74. Today he owns Reptile Rentals which provides a variety of animals for films, photo shoots and commercials. “Vermin wranglers is what we are” he says in his soft British accent. “Everything nobody likes, we’ve got it.” Asked once how he trained snakes, he laughed and said “You can’t make a snake do anything they don’t want to. They’re not that smart and I’m not that clever. This is more like reptile management.”

Jules and his delightful wife, Sue, who came from Zimbabwe as a small child, are friends of my daughter and her family. They married in 1987, and I was privileged to paint their wedding portrait.

075 Mr. and Mrs. Jules Sylvester watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

After visiting Jules’s snake collection a number of years ago, one grandson, now a wildlife biologist, and a young friend armed with a homemade snare, went snake hunting in the hills behind their home in Southern California. When our son-in-law came home for lunch, he found stretched on the fence a six foot rattlesnake skin and meat of the critter roasting away on the barbeque with plates and napkins waiting on the table. His advice to the boys “Get that mess cleaned up before your mother comes home.”

brady snake