Tag Archives: Hollywood

The Black Country roots of a Hollywood screen legend

By Calvin Palmer

Mention West Bromwich and I think of an amorphous town in the industrial region of England known as the Black Country. If asked to name its famous personalities I would list people associated with the town’s football club, West Bromwich Albion. Players such as Ronnie Allen – who attended my old school, Hanley High School; Jeff Astle; Tony Brown; Bryan Robson; Laurie Cunningham; and Cyrille Regis spring readily to mind.

Comedian and TV presenter Frank Skinner also hails from West Bromwich, as does Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.

That used to sum up West Bromwich for me.

But through watching the Turner Classic Movie channel in recent months, I have since learned that West Bromwich was the hometown of one of Hollywood’s top actresses in the 1930s, as well as realizing the enormous presence British actors had in the golden age of Hollywood.

Watching many of the old Hollywood films, I will often detect an English accent in one or more of the players and, when the film has ended, I Google the title and search out their biographies.

Watching The Prisoner of Zenda last night, I detected an English accent in the actress Madeleine Carroll, playing the role of Princess Flavia opposite Ronald Colman.

Madeleine Carroll. Picture courtesy of allstarpics.net.

Sure enough, a Google search revealed she was English, born and raised in West Bromwich. She later attended the University of Birmingham where she gained a Bachelor of Arts in French.

She made her screen debut in the British film The Guns of Loos (1928) and went on to feature in several silent films. She regularly appeared on the London stage and in 1933 British Film Weekly named her as the Best Actress of the Year.

Carroll was chosen by director Alfred Hitchcock to play opposite Robert Donat in The 39 Steps (1935) and the film launched her into international stardom. She was offered a deal by Paramount Pictures and went on to star with Gary Cooper in The General Died At Dawn (1936) and opposite Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

The Prisoner of Zenda is a good example of the strong British presence in Hollywood films of that era. Of the seven major roles, four are played by English actors – Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, C Aubrey Smith and David Niven.

Carroll starred in Blockade (1938) opposite Henry Fonda and then teamed up with Fred McMurray in three light comedies in 1939. She appeared opposite Gary Cooper again in the 1940 film Northwest Mounted Police and starred with Douglas Fairbanks Jr in Safari the same year.

In October 1940, Carroll’s sister, Guigette, was killed during a German air raid on London. The death had a profound effect on her and she began to devote more of her time to the war effort and less to film making. Her last film during the war years was with Bob Hope in My Favorite Blonde (1942).

Carroll secured a release from her contract with Paramount and became a nurse with the Red Cross and served in a field hospital in Italy in 1944.

After the war, she became involved in humanitarian relief to war ravaged Europe, especially work involving children. She eventually resumed making movies although not as prolifically as before. Her final film appearance came in Otto Preminger’s The Fan (1949.)

In an interview some years later she said: “Movies? Just say I got out when the going was good.”

Although she became a U.S. Citizen in 1943, Carroll spent her retirement in Europe, first France and then later Spain, where she died in 1987, aged 81.

Her career of 43 films is celebrated in the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star at 6707 Hollywood Blvd. In 2006, to commemorate the centenary of her birth, a monument was erected in Town Square, West Bromwich, as well as plaques at the two houses she grew up in.

Who would have thought the south Staffordshire town had such a famous daughter?

For more information go to Madeleine Carroll.

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Filed under Cinema, Europe, Movies, United Kingdom, World War Two

What’s so lucky about seeing a film?

By Calvin Palmer

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered his congratulations to British successes at last night’s Oscars award ceremony.

Slumdog Millionaire claimed eight Oscars at the Kodak Theater, Los Angeles, and in doing so joined a select band.

Only seven other films, including Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in 1983, have won eight or more awards in the 81-year history of the Oscars.

The haul by Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire surpassed that of Shakespeare in Love, which won seven awards in 1999 and was the last British film to achieve such domination at an Oscars award ceremony.

Add Kate Winselt’s award for Best Actress and it was quite a night for the British.

Prime Minister Brown hailed the British successes. He said: “I would like to congratulate Danny Boyle and all those who worked on Slumdog Millionaire on winning an incredible eight Academy Awards. I was lucky enough to see the film myself and understand how it has captured the imagination of people all over the world. Its success is truly well-deserved.

“Slumdog Millionaire’s triumph, together with Kate Winslet winning Best Actress, is a fantastic achievement for the British film industry which is now leading the world in film.”

What is so lucky about going to see a film? Or did Brown mean he was lucky in that he got to see it for free?

Luck does not enter into going to the cinema.

With a live artistic event there can be a certain amount of luck in witnessing a captivating performance, a performance so sublime that it may never reach those heights of perfection ever again. But a film remains the exactly the same performance after performance.

The quality of viewing may change when seated next to someone with a large tub of popcorn or a bag of wrapped sweets, but that does not influence the performances on the screen, just the enjoyment of them.

When it comes to luck and Gordon Brown, given that he has all the leadership qualities of a dead sheep — thanks to Denis Healey for that analogy — he is lucky to be the British Prime Minister. 

As to the British film industry leading the world of film, what other world could it be leading, if indeed it is?

It is perhaps more accurate to say that the British film industry is capable of producing quality that, from time to time, captures the imagination of the world’s cinema audiences but the leader is, and always will be, Hollywood.

[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]

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South takes on the north in dispute over access to Beverly Park

By Calvin Palmer

Hollywood stars and celebrities are locked in a legal battle over who has access to a gated road.  Like battles of old, there is a north and south divide.  In this case, it is residents of North Beverly Park versus those of South Beverly Park.  And just like in the past, it is the south that fired the first shot.
 
In May, residents of South Beverly Park, among them Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and movie producer Richard Zanuck, sued the North Beverly Park residents, people such as Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Reba McEntire, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Bonds and media moguls Haim Saban and Sumner Redstone.
 
The dispute started when the 64-home North Beverly Park Homeowners Association began restricting access to a road that residents of the 16-home South Beverly Park community had been freely using for two decades.
 
Under the new arrangement, the southern residents could continue to enter through the northern gates at Mulholland Drive but contractors, nannies and gardeners had to take a seven-mile detour.
 
This exclusive neighborhood comprises mansions in Tuscan, French chateau, Spanish and modern styles, set on lots varying in size from one acre to 3.5 acres.  Of the handful of houses on the market, the cheapest is $14 million, the most expensive is $50 million.
 
Brian Adler, who helped develop the sister communities beginning in the mid-1980s, said the concept of having guards and gates was intended to make Beverly Park stand out from the other three top Westside neighborhoods, Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air.
 
For more than 20 years, residents of the dual communities have enjoyed neighborly relations.  All residents of South Beverly Park, their relatives, friends and “business invitees” had access to their homes from the north.
 
In March 2006, the North Beverly Park homeowners sent a demand to the south asking for $121,000 year to pay toward the cost of maintaining the roads, gates and security.
 
Southern residents rejected the demand.  The legal letters flew back and forth eventually culminating in demand for $128,000 by the north.
 
In May 2007, northern residents informed the south that their relatives, staff, vendors and guests would no longer be allowed to enter the northern neighborhood’s gates at Summitridge and Mulholland drives.
 
Southern residents complained that such a restriction could lead to the denial of access to a fiancée, grandparent or domestic partner.  In addition, construction vehicles would not be able to gain access to South Beverly Park because they could not navigate the steep narrow streets above Sunset Boulevard.
 
The south argues that the conditions, covenants and restrictions for both the south and north developments made clear that residents of both communities were to have free and full access through the north gates; a provision that represented “a valuable property right” for each South Beverly Park homeowner.
 
The south claims the restriction has diminished the value of properties in South Beverly Part, as well as inconveniencing relatives, friends and others.
 
Attorneys –Steven Goldberg for the south and Jeffrey Huron for the north – are expected to make their closing arguments on Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court before Judge Norman P. Tarle.
 
Irena Medavoy, wife of movie producer Mike Medavoy, and resident of the north said “We don’t know who is coming in.”
 
She added that requiring payment from southern residents was only fair, given that she and her neighbors in the north pay a few thousand dollars a month for security.
 
“We are going to have to add extra security,” she said.  “You have to stop them, know who is coming through.  We videotape them.  Then you have the patrol cars.  It’s like Mossad security here.”
 
Whatever the outcome in this case, one thing is certain – attorneys Goldberg and Huron will be laughing all the way to the bank.  And then there will be the appeal and they will laugh some more.
 
[Based on a report in the Los Angeles Times.]

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