In Gloria Swanson’s most engaging autobiography Swanson on Swanson (1980), she describes—in typically grand Swanson style—the industry response to the first big screening of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd.  In this case, judging by the quality and enduring power of the film, one imagines her recollections may actually have been more factual than hyperbolic. Indeed, in the pantheon of Hollywood films about Hollywood, there are very few as trenchantly observed and emotionally lacerating as Sunset Blvd.  There is no question that taking the now-iconic role of Norma Desmond was a brave move for the silent screen star who hadn’t had much cultural presence since the beginning of the sound era twenty years before.  Here is what the star had to say about that screening, probably the moment she realized that the personal and professional risks she’d taken were about to pay exceedingly high dividends:

Norma Desmond staircase

The evening of the first big screening in Hollywood, Louis B. Mayer had a dinner party for about twenty people.  From there we went to the Paramount screening room, where the audience of three hundred people seemed to include everyone in motion pictures.  I caught a glimpse of Mickey Neilan as we walked to our seats, and someone told me Mary Pickford was there.  These affairs are known for being morbidly restrained, devoid of the slightest overt reaction, but that night the whole audience stood up an cheered.  People clustered around me, and I had trouble moving up the aisle.  Barbara Stanwyck fell on her knees and kissed the hem of my skirt.  I could read in all their eyes a single message of elation: If she can do it, why should we be terrified?  She’s shown us that it can be done!

“Where’s Mary?” I asked.

“She can’t show herself, Gloria,” someone said.  “She’s overcome.  We all are.”

Silent Screen group, old

Silent Screen royalty, circa 1955, back row, left to right: Richard Barthelmess, Maurice Chevalier, Ramon Novarro. Front row, left to right: Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor

More Gloria Swanson:

Gloria Swanson Standing in the Rubble—“that’s what’s playin’ at the Roxy!”

Eating With the Stars: Gloria Swanson’s Potassium Broth

After Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen, 1925

You may also enjoy:

10 Forgotten Stars of The Hollywood Walk of Fame

Behind the Scenes at MGM’s 1974 Premiere of  That’s Entertainment!

The Truth Comes Out! The Sexual Secrets of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s “Gentleman Hustler” Revealed!

I absolutely adore Marilyn Monroe, but I don’t write about her much because with so much out there, I honestly feel I have very little to add to the conversation.  I do, however, love to share what other people have said about her, especially her peers.  To wit: legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff had a particularly powerful experience with Marilyn Monroe while photographing The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).  As was his practice with many of his stars, Cardiff took still photos of the Monroe before filming began as a test (the shot below is also the cover of his memoir Magic Hour, published in 1996).  Here is one of his most powerful and romantic passages about collaborating with Marilyn Monroe wherein you sense the great intimacy that exists between artist and subject.  Though their relationship was, evidently, chaste, he clearly loved her and had great insight into her completely unique relationship with a camera.   They seem to have shared a truly emotional connection, and I found it fascinating.

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Jack Cardiff

Monroe photographed by Jack Cardiff, 1956

“All the stars I photographed had some kind of facial flaw which a badly placed light would disclose, or emphasize, and Marilyn was no exception—although she was as near-perfect as any cameraman could wish for.  She had a classically sound bone structure; her cornflower-blue eyes were the right distance apart, and her full mouth was perfectly formed.  But I had to be careful about her nose, so delightfully retroussé, for, if the key light was too low, a blob would show up on the tip.  She actually mentions this in the film, saying to Larry’s [Olivier] paean: ‘You skipped my nose, because you noticed the bump on the end.’  Marilyn’s face was, in fact, so flawless that, were it a painting, it would be criticized as too perfect.  Bacon said: ‘There is no beauty which has not some strangeness in its proportions.’  Luckily, the almost too-perfect proportions of Marilyn’s face came magically alive the moment she breathed, and her face became a bemusing paradox: that of an innocent sex siren.”


Marilyn Monroe and Jack Cardiff

Cardiff and Monroe on the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl”

Jack Cardiff (1914 – 2009) was one of the all-time great cinematographers, with credits like Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The Prince and the Showgirl, and The African Queen, to name just a few of his classic films. Directing credits include the highly regarded Sons and Lovers (1960) and The Liquidator (1965). Interestingly, Cardiff’s career spanned nearly the entire history of cinema: he made his debut as an actor in a silent film called My Son, My Son in 1918 and worked well into his 90s—he was the cinematographer on Rambo: First Blood Part II—quite a run. His completely engaging autobiography, Magic Hour, was published in 1996 by Faber and Faber and is highly recommended, filled with terrific movie stories and self-effacing humor.


More Marilyn Monroe:

Quote of the Day: Constance Bennett on Marilyn Monroe

Quote of the Day: Judy Holliday on Marilyn Monroe



Though it may strike you as something less than shocking coming from an analog, Fosse-loving gay guy like me, I’ve never cared much for reggae music.  Doesn’t everyone like reggae?  I like the idea of reggae, but even though I know I’m supposed to think it’s awesome, frankly it just puts me to sleep with its repetitious, musically static directives to relax and enjoy life—the musical antithesis of living in neurotic New York City.  Perhaps I’m just too high-strung to appreciate its charms, but even when I used to smoke pot I got impatient waiting for chord changes that never came, or anything resembling an engaging vocal performance. Maybe that’s why I decided to create the first Gay Man’s Comprehensive Guide to Reggae Music.  Though some may feel I am trading in stereotypes, my position on reggae is an honest reflection of my taste.  I suppose anyone who uses criteria like a “vocal performance” when assessing a record, song, or entire genre of music, is constitutionally disinclined to like reggae very much.

That said, I do actually like a reggae beat, especially in the hands of someone who isn’t specifically a reggae artist, like the Police or Stevie Wonder; artists who can take the buoyant spirit of the island music and build an actual song around it. I realize to some people this is practically heresy, but one of the few compensating factors of maturing is that you truly stop giving a shit about impressing anyone with how cool you are.  I firmly believe that this guide will enliven the proceedings when reggae is unavoidable, and help my similarly cautious brethren to save a little time.

Gay Man’s Comprehensive Guide to Reggae (in 1100 words)

Cher fingernails

Cher, photographed by Bill King, 1975.

1.  Cher

This is exactly how not cool I was/am: my first exposure to any iteration of the genre was when Cher covered Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” on her 1975 album Stars. How ya like me now? Though hipsters and purists are certainly snorting with derision, I stand by Cher’s album, primarily on the basis of its album cover, which was and remains the quintessence of 1970s glamour. As a kid I spent untold dozens of hours listening to the record and staring at its graphics, wishing I could somehow transport myself out of suburban New Jersey and into Cher’s eyelashes. (Years later when I worked with her, I told her about my obsession with this spectacular photograph by Bill King and we talked at length about how many hours it took to braid the Christmas lights through her tresses.) If I hadn’t been born gay, staring at this picture of Cher for so many years could have conceivably made me gay.

 [After the jump, the rest of my very short list of reggae essentials]