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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood

“No scientific discovery is named after its discoverer”*…

 

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Via Lapham’s Quarterly, “Eponymous laws: Legal Nomenclature.”

* “Stigler’s Law”  Statistician Stephen Stigler (who attributes the law to sociologist Robert Merton)

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might send expensive birthday greetings to Irving Paul “Swifty” Lazar; he was born on his date in 1907.  A bankruptcy lawyer turned talent agent, he represented Humphrey Bogart (who gave Lazar his nickname), Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote, Cher, Joan Collins, Noël Coward, Ira Gershwin, Cary Grant, Moss Hart, Ernest Hemingway, Gene Kelly, Madonna, Walter Matthau, Larry McMurtry, Vladimir Nabokov, Clifford Odets, Cole Porter, William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw, Richard Nixon (Lazar negotiated the interview with David Frost), and Tennessee Williams (among many others).  Lazar’s power grew to such an extent that he could negotiate a deal for someone who wasn’tt even his client, then collect a fee from that person’s agent.

In a 1993 profile of Lazar, Michael Korda recalled his first glimpse of the self-dubbed “Prince of Pitch”:

The person in question was standing on the other side of the pool, an incongruous, diminutive figure among all the half-naked, oiled, and bronzed bodies. He was totally bald, and his face–what could be seen of it below huge, glittering gold-rimmed Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses–was tanned, like his pate, to the color of a well-cared-for crocodile handbag. He was wearing tiny white shoes, a blue blazer with gold buttons, and white trousers pressed so perfectly, despite the heat, that he looked like a shiny, expensive beach toy that had just been unpacked by some lucky child. He was shouting into a telephone…

Asked in 1975 to summarize his philosophy, Lazar replied with what might be called “Lazar’s Law”: “In a deal, you give and take. You compromise. Then you grab the cash and catch the next train out of town.”

Swifty Lazar, with Diana Ross

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Written by LW

March 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When I consider Life, ’tis all a cheat; Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit”*…

 

A picture, supposedly of Poyais, fabricated by Gregor MacGregor

In October 1822, Gregor MacGregor, a native of Glengyle, Scotland, made a striking announcement. He was, he said, not only a local banker’s son, but the Cazique, or prince, of the land of Poyais along Honduras’s Black River.

A little larger than Wales, the country was so fertile it could yield three maize harvests a year. The water, so pure and refreshing it could quench any thirst – and as if that weren’t enough, chunks of gold lined the riverbeds. The trees overflowed with fruit, and the forest teemed with game. Painting an exotic, Edenic vision of a new life abroad, his proposal offered quite the contrast with the rainy darkness and rocky soils of Scotland.

What Poyais lacked, he said, was willing investors and settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest. At the time, investments in Central and South America were gaining in popularity, and Poyais appeared to be a particularly appealing proposition.

Scotland didn’t have any colonies of her own, after all. Could this not be a corner of the new world for her own use?…

MacGregor designed currency that was supposedly used in his fictional land

Gregor MacGregor’s massive fraud and how he brought it off: “The con-man who pulled off history’s most audacious scam” (excerpted from Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game).

* John Dryden

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As we demur from accepting wooden nickels, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that Los Angles police were summoned to the home of silent film director William Desmond Taylor by a call about a “natural death” that had occurred the night before.  When they arrived they found actors, actresses, and studio executives rummaging through the director’s belongings… and Taylor lying dead on the living room floor with a bullet in his back.

Mary Miles Minter, a teenager, had become a star in Taylor’s films and had fallen in love with him– much to the dismay of her mother,  Charlotte Shelby.  After Taylor’s murder, a love note to Taylor from Minter was found in his home, along with her nightgown in the bedroom.  Then other damning facts came to light: Minter had once tried to shoot herself with the same type of gun used in Taylor’s murder; Shelby had previously threatened the life of another director who had made a pass at her daughter; and most portentously, Shelby’s alibi witness received suspiciously large sums of money after the murder.  Still, no one was ever prosecuted for Taylor’s death– the case remains officially unsolved.

Mary Miles Minter and William Desmond Taylor

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Written by LW

February 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin”*…

 

 

Hopefully you’ll never experience being held somewhere against your will, but if you find yourself in a tricky situation, you’ll be glad to know a few effective escape strategies. Standard-issue police handcuffs, and more recently, zip ties, can both be rendered useless in a matter of seconds if you know what you’re doing…

Learn to slip both cuffs and zip ties at “How to Escape from Handcuffs.”

* Harry Houdini

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As we amaze our friends, we might spare a thought for Otis Harlan, he died on this date in 1940.  A vaudevillian (Hell in the first show at New York City’s Folies Bergère; Irving Berlin’s “ragtime” productions, et al.), Harlan moved to Hollywood and became a film staple.  He played the role of Cap’n Andy in the first, part-talkie film version of Show Boat (1929), and was the Master of Ceremonies in the sound prologue that accompanied the film.  In 1935, he played Starveling in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 magical film version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  And in 1937, he voiced “Happy” the dwarf in the Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and appeared in the Our Gang short Roamin’ Holiday. Five years later, he voiced Mr. Mole in Bambi.

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Written by LW

January 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I _am_ big. It’s the _pictures_ that got small”*…

 

Apple paid $10 billion to developers in calendar 2014– thus, iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from box office in the U.S.  Of course, Hollywood studios make money in foreign theaters, in cable, in home video, and in digital.  But, as Horace Dedieu observes…

Apple’s App Store billings is not the complete App revenue picture either. The Apps economy includes Android and ads and service businesses and custom development.  Including all revenues, apps are still likely to be bigger than Hollywood.

But there’s more to the story. It’s also likely that the App industry is healthier. On an individual level, some App developers earn more than Hollywood stars, and I would guess that the median income of app developers is higher than the median income of actors [a large majority of whom earn less than $1,000 a year from acting jobs]. The app economy sustains more jobs (627,000 iOS jobs in the US vs. 374,000 in Hollywood) and is easier to enter and has wider reach. As the graph [above] shows, it’s also growing far more rapidly…

Grab some popcorn and read the rest at “Bigger Than Hollywood.”

* “Norma Desmond” (Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

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As we disable in-app purchases, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that City Lights premiered.  Written and directed by its star, Charlie Chaplin, the film follows Chaplin’s “Tramp” character as he falls in love with a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill).  Though sound films– “talkies”– were the rage at the time, Chaplin produced City Lights as a scored silent– for which he composed the music himself.  It was a huge success on its release, grossing over $5 million ($730 million in 2015 dollars).  And it has grown in critical stature ever since:  In 1992, the Library of Congress selected City Lights for preservation in the United States National Film Registry; then in 2007, the American Film Institute‘s 100 Years… 100 Movies ranked City Lights as the 11th greatest American film of all time.  The critic James Agee referred to the final scene in the film as the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.”

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Written by LW

January 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears”*…

 

Vaccination rates are plummeting at top Hollywood schools, from Malibu to Beverly Hills, from John Thomas Dye to Turning Point, where affluent, educated parents are opting out in shocking numbers (leaving some schools’ immunization rates on par with South Sudan) as an outbreak of potentially fatal whooping cough threatens L.A. like “wildfire”…

Read @GarymBaum’s fascinating– and chilling– story (and find the interactive version of the map above) at “Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic.”  See also: “The Calculus of Contagion.”

[TotH to Quartz for the pointer]

* Alice Walker

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As we steel ourselves for the prick, we might spare a thought for Abraham Flexner; he died on this date in 1959.  The founding director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Flexner is best remembered for his pioneering work as a reformer of American higher education, especially medical education.  On the heels of his 1908 study, The American College, in which he effectively critiqued the university lecture as a method of instruction, he published the Flexner Report, which examined the state of American medical education and led to far-reaching reform in the training of doctors.  The report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research.  While one unintended consequence of Flexner’s impactful advocacy was the reversion of American universities to male-only admittance programs to accommodate a smaller admission pool (female admissions picked up again only later the century), most historians agree with his biographer, Thomas Bonner, that Flexner was “the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had.”

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Written by LW

September 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”*…

 

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Using IMDb‘s ratings of popular films, a Reddit user, Jakubisko, made a map that identifies the most popular movies of each state in America. California thus becomes Pulp Fiction, Florida Scarface, Colorado Psycho or New-York The Godfather. Mainly all the motion pictures named in the map are American movies [in] which plot takes place in America…

Read more at Konbini… and then check out the top-rated films on IMDb set and shot in each European country.

* Martin Scorsese

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As take our truth at 24 frames per second, we might recall that it was on this date in 1887 that Harvey Wilcox officially registered Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office.  Harvey and his wife had recently moved from Topeka, where he’d made a fortune in real estate. They bought 160 acres of land in the Cahuenga Valley, in the foothills just of the city of Los Angeles, on what had been a sleepy settlement founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Poricuncula,

The Wilcoxes, prohibitionists, dreamt of founding a community of devout– and abstemious– Christians; by 1900, the community numbered 500.  But the city of Los Angeles, fueled first by the Southern Pacific Railroad, then the Sante Fe, had grown to 10,000.  By 1910, L.A. had used the promise of water (Hollywood had precious little) to lure the smaller community into annexation… after which the fledgling motion picture business began to grow explosively… and Harvey Wilcox’s dream of a sober, conservative religious community faded.

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Written by LW

February 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it”*…

 

Psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Žižek has become potent public intellectual.  Variously called  “the Borat of philosophy,” “the Elvis of cultural theory,” and “the world’s hippest philosopher,” he’s published more than 50 books, countless articles, and starred in several documentaries. Indeed, there’s already a journal, The International Journal of Žižek Studies, devoted to his works.

As cultural theorists and critics go, Zižek is among the more accessible.  Still, he brings out the impenetrable in his followers; to wit, a typical quote from a book entitled (apparently un-ironically) Žižek: A Guide for the Perplexed: “Žižek finds the place for Lacan in Hegel by seeing the Real as the correlate of the self-division and self-doubling within phenomena.”

Žižek himself is a little more plain-spoken, as readers can see in this Dutch documentary…

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But it is as a film critic– indeed, a film fan– that (R)D invokes the Slavic Savant.  Žižek writes often about movies, and hosted a the three-part documentary series, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Joseph and Ralph).  The Pervert’s Guide places Zizek in original locations and replica sets of several classic films—David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, to name just a few.  Zizek’s scenes of commentary are edited with scenes from the films to give the impression that he is speaking from within the films themselves…  To what ends?  Well, readers can see for themselves in this clip on Vertigo:

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See the whole of Part One here.  And read more about The Pervert’s Guide at Open Culture.

* Marshall McLuhan

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As we move closer to the screen, we might spare a thought for Virginia Katherine McMath (whom we knew better by her stage name, Ginger Rogers); she died on this date in 1995.  Rogers worked in vaudeville, then on Broadway, and made over 70 films; but she is surely best remembered for the nine RKO musicals she made with Fred Astaire between 1933 and 1939.  Starting with Flying Down to Rio, and including Top Hat, Swing Time, and Shall We Dance, they revolutionized the Hollywood musical.  Astaire was a grateful fan; in an interview with Raymond Rohauer, curator at the New York Gallery of Modern Art, he said, “Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually she made things very fine for both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.”

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Written by LW

April 25, 2013 at 1:01 am

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