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A night with Gilda

October 31, 2009

rita_hayworth_earlyWhen Peter saw Rita Hayworth, across a crowded room, he could do little more than stare. Though what could his stare be to the sea of stares that seemed to be on Rita at all times. Young and new in Hollywood he had little more than his looks and his fabulous accent to recommend him. But the victim in this story isn’t poor Peter, it sadly was Rita. The girl who is known most for saying “men go to bed with Gilda, and wake up with me,” was also somewhat of a drinker.

And that night at a social for the stars, Peter was the only who caught her eye. Her life was riddled with men and most of them not very nice. Mistaking her acting ability and natural sex appeal for a 24 hour drive thru diner, many men did little more than stay one night. Filled with contempt and self loathing at her need to be loved, Rita looked everywhere for it. One could say she caught him at a bad time. She met Peter after he had been wounded by Lana. He was at a point where he was looking for something, anything that could make him feel better, make him feel whole. He would not find it in Rita, for she was looking for the same thing.
She would by no means be a tragic notch in his bedpost. She would move on to more questionable relationships, and so would he.
Of course, the confidence gained by being allowed to ‘stop by’ that night after the party was all that he needed to know he was back in the game.
Amazed that Rita Hayworth doesn’t have an official site, I feel the need to point out that Rita Hayworth, later replaced by Marilyn Monroe as resident sex goddess, did much to her appearance.
Most notable, somthing I think many would have noticed, was that her hair was not naturally red. It was Black. And that she underwent many painful appointments to recede her hairline, which studio execs told her was too low on her forehead.
Peter and Rita didn’t act together in any films by the way. Just happened to hang around the same sparkly town, in all it’s twisted glamour, Hollywood.

‘A Tale of Two Laurie’s’

August 23, 2009
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      I have finally watched ‘Little Women’ 1949 version and while Rochellyn found herself ‘smitten like a kitten’ over Peter Lawford, I find I cannot stop thinking about Douglass Montgomery in the 1933 version. Both Laurie’s seemed to fit their parts well but there was just something about Douglass…

I first saw it in the 1931 version of ‘Waterloo Bridge’ with Mae Clarke. There isn’t much of a Biography about Douglass Montgomery, 17 filmography credits, where Peter has 87 credits. But like Peter I think his talents were underrated although he acted opposite some of the big names in Hollywood at the time: Katherine Hepburn, Margaret Sullavan, Joan Crawford.

I felt the 1933 version was more of an ensemble version. Where the 1949 version seemed to be all about Jo (June), however the scenes between she and Peter were exceptional…and you have two of the best ‘criers’ on film in the same movie together: June Allyson and Margaret O’Brian who once asked a director how far down her face did he want the tears to go…all the way or should she stop them half way…

The casting of Paul Lukas as the Professor I couldn’t understand…and I just couldn’t get past the choosing by Jo of Paul Lukas over Douglass Montgomery, or Rossano Brazzi over Peter Lawford what were these Jo’s thinking? I guess that is classichollywood for you the screenwriter actually followed the Author’s writing.

 

Sweet Sixteen

July 12, 2009

Elizabeth Taylor, the girl with the lavender eyes, had turned 16 in 1948, while filming the Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon film, Julia Misbehaves. Peter Lawford plays the boy in love with Elizabeths character and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. “Peter, to me” Elizabeth said, ” was the last word in sophistication, and so terribly handsome.” Everyone on the set knew she was infatuated and to make it worse was witness to a fumbled line; instead of saying ‘Oh Richie what are we going to do,’ she said ‘ Oh Peter what am I going to do.’ Of course the line was delivered after a kiss, and quickly remedied by the elimination of sound and a move to another screen shot.  Peter, too though Elizabeth “incredible” and couldn’t deny his feelings for her, but he was over 18 and that would have caused problems.

Elizabeth, though only newly 16, was eager to get married, determined to rival Jane Powell’s engagement announcement at MGM. Elizabeth’s mother too, had become quite intent upon her daughter being included in the family of Sir Sidney and Lady Lawford.  With pressure from both sides, MGM stepped in and blatently stated that anyone that touched Elizabeth would “be banned forever.”Julia_Misbehaves47602

Amazingly Peter was able to tame Elizabeth’s affection  for him. He tamed his own feelings for her by focusing on her thighs, which he believed to be a little meatier than they needed to be. Peter’s wife through the 80’s, Patricia Seeton, mentioned that Peter would try to find something negative with all the women that were off limits so as to talk himself out of it…so to speak.

Thighs aside, Peter and Elizabeth remained close friends until his death, and often sought each other out just to talk. The friendship most noteably stayed in tact because Elizabeth could boast to being one of the only woem from the time period that wasn’t able to get involved with Peter intimately. Gone are the days when the Big Brother studios like MGM and Paramount had such heavy hand over their talent. Still, with all those beautiful people running around, who could blame them for trying to tame things a bit.

‘They Only Kill Their Masters’

April 26, 2009
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232647_1010_aI first watched ‘They Only Kill Their Masters’ on my Black & White Television set. I watched it because of James Garner (Maverick), and Katherine Ross (The Graduate). As the plot unfolded I remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh…” huge MGM Classic Hollywood stars were now playing character parts: Peter Lawford, June Allyson, Ann Rutherford, Edmund O’Brien etc.

Rochellelynn had not long ago recommended watching ‘Two Sisters from Boston’. I had never heard of it. I watched it. She was right…the sparks did fly between Peter and June. When I originally watched ‘They Only Kill Their Masters’ I had been trying to figure out who did what to whom, the ending was a little shocking for me at the time…I had not guessed who the murderer was (I usually do.  However, it had been a little difficult to follow with all of the commercial breaks and I am pretty sure I missed some clues).

I watched the trailer on TCM it brought back memories of parts of the movie, Peter was still his debonair self his hair a little longer, grayer but still stylish for 1972, still the same Peter. I wish I could watch it again start to finish, not snitches and snatches, with breaks in between. Peter and June together again, only for a short screen time but it was nice seeing them together again…two of the classiest of classic hollywood screen actors.

A Man Scorned….

April 25, 2009

U725519ACMENewly single mom, Lana Turner, fresh off her divorce from Stephen Crane, was in dire need of an escort to all the Hollywood parties, and who better than our very own Peter Lawford to do the escorting?

In 1944 Peter was 21 and like most 21 year old males, infatuated with Lana Turner.

Termed the sweater girl for one reason and one reason only, and well, she did wear those little cashmere sweaters pretty well. Peter was thrilled to find Lana’s attitude on men wasn’t elitest, and he would be acceptable as a male speciman.

Now, while Peter definitely did his share of dating all the eligible and ineligible women in Hollywood, he had nothing on Lana  and one might wonder if he learned some of the tricks of the trade from Lana early on.

U724716ACMEPeter and Lana would be inseparable for eight months. She would pick him up in her jeep every morning so they could ride to the studio together. They would make the rounds to the clubs and parties, and when the evening outings were over they would go back to Lana’s house, because as Peter said, “my mother would eat alive any girl that even called at home, acting like they were all out to get their hands on her precious son.”  Peter and Lana didn’t make any movies together during their heyday at MGM, but for those eight months they did just about everything else. Peter appreciated Lana’s ‘down to earth tastes’ and they would go to the beach( Peter’s favorite activity), go horseback riding and play tennis. Peter said of Lana, ” she was the kind of woman you could call up and say, ‘come and help me bury dad- I just shot him’ and she would be there without question.” 

Peter was ready to propose to Lana when she ran off on him to Boston to meet up with Gene Krupa. It was a cold and horrid ending to a great relationship. Peter would be untouchable for a year, lose some substantial self esteem and essentially his faith in women. The once considerate Peter was replaced by a man scarred and in the words of  friend Milton Ebbins, “Peter could be cruel and heartless. It was Lana who taught him that.”

Happy Easter

April 12, 2009

In honor of the holiday……Playing on TCM Sunday, Apr 12, 2009, at 7pmeaster6a

When Charles Walters, the director of Good News, took over Easter Parade, Judy Garland was sure to put the director in his place. Skeptical, she told him, “Look buster, you’re in the big time now. You’re not doing a little college musical here. This is a big picture, an ‘A’ picture, and I ain’t no June Allyson.”

With Walters firmly in his place it would take only a few days for Judy to find herself at ease. Judy Garland and Peter Lawford were excellent together. They had a brief romance during the making of this picture, but insead of turning sour like many others for both of them, this relationship would bring them both a lifelong friendship.

Easter Parade was sure to be a hit. And then they got word that Gene Kelly broke his ankle and had to bow out of the fileaster11am.

But the gods were smiling on Peter and Judy, and Fred Astaire agreed to come out of retirement and step in.

Peter could not be more thrilled. When his parents had come over from England, en route to Los Angeles, his family stopped in New York, and Peter, already enthralled in show business at the age of eleven begged them to go to Radio City Music Hall, where Shall we Dance was playing in 1934. From that moment Peter would strive to be like Fred Astaire. He loved his humor, and he loved his style. Peter would in fact steal his own fashion sense, a huge trademark, and sophisticated elegance from none other than Fred Astaire.

With Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in the film, Easter Parade could not lose. Peter would give a strong performance and sing an unforgettable ‘A Fella with an Umbrella’ to a drenched Judy Garland. With the resounding success of Easter Parade, Peter Lawford was a part of another MGM hit, and beginning  to feel better about his acting capabilities. His rate per week was at 900 dollars when the average annual salary in the U.S was somewhere around 1300. It was 1948 and Peter could not fail.

smitten like a kitten

March 20, 2009

4quo7odmm3g57od4Peter Lawford had a habit of falling in love with beautiful women.

Famous Women, Influential Women,Married Women.  

June Allyson was in the midst of astonishing the country with her perfect marriage to Dick Powell when Peter Lawford strolled onto the MGM set of Two Sisters from Boston. Six years older than Peter and very happily married to someone else, June was off limits. Which was why Peter was more than slightly flattered when June was a little willing to accept his advances. But, in all truth, how could she be expected to resist him. I mean, really.

But, as with all amazingly beautiful love stories between the stars of old hollywood there always seemed to be some big brother of a studio ready to douse the fires of passion. June Allyson was smart, young, and very much in the public eye  in 1946. She was in her first year of marriage and wary of taking a false step. MGM played the foreboding parent; a fact she herself embraced whole heartedly in most cases, often saying she felt alone without the guidance of the studio. image

Peter was terribly drawn to her overall helplessness, and could hardly stand to be away from her. This head over heels love would put Peter in many a heartbreaking situation throughout his life. Peter and June would steal time at the studio when they could, careful to not let too many see them. She appeared at the parties that he frequented and vice versa. Peter  had a friend that allowed him use of the house for his married women friends he would bring around, and needless to say, June probably felt like she was living for the first time.

MGM had gotten wind of some hushed mumblings going on about the pair and quick to dispell rumors, began making rules. June was to be in New York for a period of time and MGM threatened to cut Peter’s contract if he went anywhere near the Big Apple. In old hollywood those studio contracts were something precious and threats were not taken lightly. Poor Peter would find himself continuously warned by MGM on the account of many a young woman.

With filming on Two Sisters from Boston coming to a close the relationship between June and Peter was abruptly halted. June Allyson went back to being the charming housewife all America adored and Peter Lawford went back to being Peter Lawford. Peter was very in love with June and found it very difficult to give her up. According to friends there always seemed to be a bitterness surrounding the subject of June,after the relationship ended. Peter, heartbroken, quickly discovered how easy it was for love to turn into hate. He had grown up insecure, and had felt slightly used.allyson3 Peter would come into difficult situations for the whole of his life, and being a dreamer and idealist, often felt helpless himself against that which he was made to bear.   

A year later June and Peter would star in Good News. For this production Peter worked harder than for any film he had since. He took lessons in singing and dancing. This was a lead role, and opposite a reluctant lover, one could only imagine the tension on the set. With Peter feeling jaded and her hands tied, the couple became prone to fighting. Still, being the first big title role for Peter, and a whole year wiser he was quick to try and abide by the rules, and act professional. The on screen interaction with June would have to suffice. It is the chemistry between Peter and June that makes Good News so successful. A beautiful movie in its own right, one could not imagine it without these two stars.  There are places in the film where one wonders if the longing gazes are real or just an example of Peter’s improving acting capabilities.

It would be two long years before the two would be paired again in 1949 in Little Women. Two years of other women for Peter included another warning from MGM regarding a 16 year old Elizabeth Taylor. It also included the film It Happened in Brooklyn which paired him with his fairweather friend, Frank Sinatra. Kathryn Grayson and Jimmy Durante, who starred with him in Two Sisters from Boston, would also share the limelight in this film.  Easter Parade brought a breif romance with Judy Garland and a lifelong friendship.

By the time he took the role of the lovesick Laurie in Little Women,  June Allyson was 32 to Peter Lawford’s 26. Little Women would be their last film together, and as such their last chance for romantic encounter.

(Spada, James, Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept Secrets, Bantam 1991)

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