Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

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Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, featuring urbane comedy veteran William Powell (of the Thin Man series) as the titular Arthur Peabody, whose trepidation over turning fifty is handled by his wife, Polly (Irene Hervey), with a Caribbean vacation. One day out fishing he catches a mermaid (Ann Blyth) whom he nicknames “Lenore,” as she’s incapable of speaking, and finds his crumbling romantic self-worth revitalized by this supernatural creature – which no one else can actually recognize as anything other than a fish. Multiple complications ensue, with Peabody entreating the help of a psychiatrist to sort it all out and salvage his endangered marriage.

Shot mainly on the back lots of Universal Studios where the Caribbean getaway was simulated with plenty of exotic palm trees and architecture, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid features some striking underwater mermaid imagery which set the pace for future similar films like Splash (1984). These sequences were actually filmed in Week Wachee Springs, Florida, whose popular nautical attraction featuring a mermaid swimming routine had opened a year earlier in 1947 (and went on to largely inspire a recurring plotline on the TV show Pushing Daisies). Lenore’s water dance seen in the film was actually a performance originated by the Week Wachee mermaid performers, who double for Blyth’s swimming scenes. As noted in Susan Doll and David Morrow’s Florida on Film, Southern theaters even used popular mermaid attraction Nancy Tribble to promote the film in a water tank at several engagements!

The Southern aspects of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid don’t stop with the mermaid swimmers, however. One of its most prominent promotional aspects was its screenwriter, Nunnally Johnson, who was even given possessive credit of the film’s title on many of the theatrical posters. Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1897, Johnson became a screenwriter in the early sound era after a stint as a newspaper reporter in New York and, after his acclaimed work adapting The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, had most recently penned a pair of successful thrillers, The Woman in the Window in 1944 for director Fritz Lang and The Dark Mirror in 1946, still the definitive good and evil twin movie. His work on Mr. Peabody, adapted from a novel by Guy and Constance Jones, was a lighthearted change of pace before he returned to headier dramatic material like The Mudlark (1950) and Phone Call from a Stranger (1952); however, his most famous work was yet to come with a string of very different Cinemascope films at Fox: How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Black Widow (1954), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), and the Oscar®-winning The Three Faces of Eve (1957), the latter two of which he also directed. However, for his final feature film he made the leap to action/war territory with one of the genre’s most enduring classics, 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. Another reason for Johnson’s prominence on Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is its status as one of a pair of films produced by his Nunnally Johnson Productions, by this time undergoing a name change to Inter-John Productions after the release of the only other released title, Casanova Brown, in 1944.

Though not as much of a household name as his screenwriter, director Irving Pichel also had a diverse career beginning in Hollywood as a frequent character actor (usually villainous) including notable supporting parts in Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1934), the sinister sidekick in Universal’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936), and Huger in the antebellum drama Jezebel (1938). However, in 1932 he began a parallel career as a director beginning with the breakneck horror/action classic The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and the outrageous pulp fantasy her (1935). His penchant for florid visuals and tight, psychologically trenchant narratives are his most obvious attributes in Mr. Peabody, which he continued to expand in different genres with a notably peculiar film noir, Quicksand, and ground zero for the ’50s sci-fi film, Destination Moon (both 1950).

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Anton Grot

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I had been interested in art director Anton Grot’s work for a while. He worked on many films with Curtiz, and is credited on numerous other Warner features in the thirties and forties. It’s been really hard to find information on Grot, but I did come across a blog which features several of his drawings. As far as I can tell, most of them were done for Captain Blood, but it looks like at least one was for Mildred Pierce, and the last one is probably for Elizabeth and Essex or The Sea Hawk (the two films share a number of sets). One of my first job’s was with Anton Grot’s it was on the film set of Mildred Pierce, as a set stills photographer,

He was the only Warner’s Art Director repeatedly nominated for Academy Awards, for Svengali (1931), Anthony Adverse (1936), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and The Sea Hawk (1940), but he won only once, an honorary award for inventing a ripple machine used in The Sea Hawk. Through the forties, Grot worked less often, but no less brilliantly, on films such as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Possessed (1947).

I would take still shots of the film set construction as it went up, built on the film set at the old Warner Bros. Studio backlot on Sunset Boulevard. I still had a job working as a darkroom accent on Sunset Boulevard for, Consolidated Film Industries, where I worked for the next four years. After the four years working for Consolidated Film Industries, I was hired by Byron Haskin, ASC, and head of the Warner Bros. Special Effects Department on Stage 5 in Burbank. Since this was the largest such department in the movie business, I was able to work with some of the top cinematographers in the effects field, such as ASC fellows Edwin DuPar, Hans Koenekamp and Warren Lynch.

I first made the acquaintance of Ann Blyth on the film set of Mildred Pierce, (1945). Warner Bros had borrowed Ann for this film. It was Anton Grot’s that called Ann over and introduces me to her. What was so special about Ann? Well, she was just a nice person who always had a warm smile and a pleasant word for she exuded maternal compassion and was ever willing to listen to anyone’s tales of woe (including mine). Also you must remember as members of the film crew, you do not fratnise with the acting fraternity that was the golden rule for the film crew.

Charlie Marie Gordon

Charlie looked at me and wrinkled her pretty nose and grinned. I noticed that wrinkle in her nose and forthwith suspected she was “up to something.” I likewise knew that Curtiz was getting more than just a trifle bored with being here so he left. In front of me was  a very, very serious-minded young woman a very sophis ticated girl who was more than just a bit fed up on so called intellectual chatter. All things considered (particularly that twinkle in the eye); I knew it was but a matter of moments before I was going to get a brand new angle and a new friend in my life. We stared out going down Hollywood Boulevard to 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard, The Formosa Cafe doesn’t look like much from the outside. An unimpressive, brick-red building with white & black striped awnings, it sits in a particularly faded section of Hollywood, near the corner of Santa Monica& La Brea Boulevards – a corner where hookers have been known to peddle their services even in broad daylight.

But the key to the Cafe’s good fortune can be seen just to the west of the place, right across Formosa Avenue (from which the Cafe takes its name): that walled, beige complex next door is none other than Warner Hollywood Studio. After work I would always end up there and Charlie would always what to see the prints and I had processed that day and get the stories and what went on through my day on the film-set. We entered the darkly lit building we noticed a small crowd dispersed throughout the dining car and bar. One of the servers quickly greeted us and offered up any available seat in the house. We chose the leather-lined booths along the wall.

Old – Fashioned was made by the book with a fresh orange peel and we really enjoyed it, hour food menu was hand-written with daily specials that shared an Asian theme: chicken satay, spring rolls, sesame wasabi fries and sweet and sour rib tips. We decided on the chicken satay and spring rolls. The satay came out with 2 grilled skewers; tender, yet simple on a sparsely dressed plate. Our vegetable spring rolls were fried and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

The Journals of Charlie Gordon: An Autobiography, Charlie grew up in the early magic of Hollywood’s movie and television industries. She graduated from Hollywood High School and entered Los Angeles City College. As secretary to a movie producer, the company produced a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Charlie’s first writing sale was a story published in “True Confessions” magazine. Her television sales included “Return to Peyton Place”NBC, “Mulligan’s Stew”, Paramount, “Faith for Today”, Transda, “Gift of Life”, Lutheran League. She sold her screenplay “Nellie Cashman” to Metromedia in New York; Luther Davis hired Charlie to write the book for a musical, “War Widow”. She wrote the book for another musical, “My Hong Kong” produced in Hong Kong. Charlie was a story analyst for CBS-TV and staff producer at PBS. She was a reader for Group One Films in Hollywood and for Private Screenings in New York Charlie sang in the Santa Monica Opera Company, performing Musetta in “La Boheme” and Hansel in “Hansel and Greta” She joined the Los Angeles Opera Co, singing Suzuki in “Madam Butterfly”. Charlie is a member of Writers Guild, west, a reviewer for the National Humanities Awards in Washington D.C. and had private lessons in French and Italian.

 

“Mildred Pierce”

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Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce” is without doubt, a classic example of 40’s film noir. Warner’s rolled the dice and gambled on Joan to give them a hit, and she thanked them by giving them a five million dollar return in profits. In turn, she put her name back in the hat as one of the hottest movie stars around, taking home a Best Actress Oscar and showing MGM (the studio that let her go), that she was far from washed up.  But did you know that it could have been   Bette Davis and Charlie Marie Gordon.  It was Michael Curtiz, that introduce me to Charlie I later learned that she had been offered a leading role in which she starred with Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce this would have been Ann Blyth part as Veda Pierce? She also told me that it was Bette Davis not Joan Crawford for the part.

On loan to Warner Brothers Blyth was cast “against type” as Veda Pierce, the scheming, ungrateful daughter of Joan Crawford in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce. Her dramatic portrayal won her outstanding reviews and she received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. (Crawford won the Best Actress award for that film.)

Annie Blyth and I became friends part of her recovery required her to swim. It was Joan Crawford that let Annie swim in her pool. Annie and I would go there all the time swimming, exercising. She said Crawford was always gracious, generous, a supportive actress who understood that this was a big change for Ann Blyth, a big opportunity for her, and she wanted the film to work and she wanted Ann to do well. I would push her around in that wheelchair day after day I would take Annie over in my car.

Joan Crawford’s Home was located at 426 N. Bristol Avenue, Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA. it was in a quiet residential area. All the homes in this area are very beautiful, with well-kept lawns and gardens, and cost a fortune.  It was also at that time I made the acquaintance of Charlie Marie Gordon we also have been friends for a very long time. She is absolutely perfect. She’s smart, funny, cool, BEUTIFUL, and she is one of my closest friend.

We stared out going down Hollywood Boulevard to 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard, The Formosa Cafe doesn’t look like much from the outside. An unimpressive, brick-red building with white & black striped awnings, it sits in a particularly faded section of Hollywood, near the corner of Santa Monica& La Brea Boulevards – a corner where hookers have been known to peddle their services even in broad daylight.

But the key to the Cafe’s good fortune can be seen just to the west of the place, right across Formosa Avenue (from which the Cafe takes its name): that walled, beige complex next door is none other than Warner Hollywood Studio. After work I would always end up there and Charlie would always what to see the prints and I had processed that day and get the stories and what went on through my day on the film-set. We entered the darkly lit building we noticed a small crowd dispersed throughout the dining car and bar. One of the servers quickly greeted us and offered up any available seat in the house. We chose the leather-lined booths along the wall.

Old – Fashioned was made by the book with a fresh orange peel and we really enjoyed it, hour food menu was hand-written with daily specials that shared an Asian theme: chicken satay, spring rolls, sesame wasabi fries and sweet and sour rib tips. We decided on the chicken satay and spring rolls. The satay came out with 2 grilled skewers; tender, yet simple on a sparsely dressed plate. Our vegetable spring rolls were fried and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

Mitchell Camera Corporation

Mitchell Camera Corporation was founded in 1919 by Henry Boger and George Alfred Mitchell. Their first camera was designed and patented by John E. Leonard in 1917, from 1920 on known as the Mitchell Standard. Features included a planetary gear-driven variable shutter (US Patent No 1,297,703) and a unique rack-over design (US Pat No 1,297,704).

There were several off-springs of the Mitchell, namely the Fox-Grandeur Wide Film Camera (70 mm) in 1928-29, the Beam-Splitting Three-Strip Camera for the Technicolor Corporation in 1932, the CinemaScope-55 Camera (55-mm film) in 195?, and the Todd-A. O. Camera for 65-mm film in 1955, an adjustment of the Grandeur.

Cinema Products Corporation was an American manufacturer of motion picture camera equipment. It was formed in 1968 by Ed DiGiulio, a former director and vice-president of Mitchell Camera Corporation. Their first product was a Silent Pellicle Reflex conversion of the Mitchell BNC 35mm Motion picture camera.

Cinema Products made a custom lens for Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon the Cine-Pro T9, the company grew with the introduction of CP-16. The CP16 sound on film camera was the most widely used by TV news cameramen before compact hand held video camcorders such as Sony’s betacam based cameras displaced the “film at ten” CP16.

The Mitchell BNC conversion to reflex was followed by the studio quiet XR35. The Cinema Products XR35 had a Mitchell NC camera inside a light weight housing or blimp. The blimp was so close in size to the original camera, it looked small compared to the blimps made for Mitchell or Arriflex cameras. The XR35 was a crystal controlled 35mm motion picture camera considerably lighter than the Hollywood studio owned blimped Mitchells. The X stood for crystal, the R for reflex. The reflex was based on a spinning mirror shutter, during the mirrors’ revolution at one point the film would be exposed, then the operator would view the image in the mirror as the film was advanced to the next frame, at 24 times a second. Cinema Products horded the Mitchell NC camera market as the XR went into production. Cinema Products sold the remaining Mitchell inventory to a Japanese company when the XR35 was challenged but still selling well.

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Panavision and Arriflex came to market with their lighter weight 35mm cameras in 1972; Panavision’s Panaflex and Arri’s BL1. These cameras were not blimped in the sense they had a camera in a housing; these cameras were designed to be quiet. The BL1 gave the French New Wave it’s style of shooting; the ability to be hand held and shoot on location. The Panaflex became America’s industry standard motion picture camera, displacing the Mitchell legacy.

The studio quiet 16mm Cinema Products GSMO was introduced in the mid 70’s. It had quick loading coaxial magazines, in camera light meter viewable in the eyepiece and an on camera battery. The GSMO stood for Gun Sight Man Operated. Cinema Products would develop products under government contracts, then industry market them.

The GSMO had crystal speeds of 12,16,24,25,32,48,64 FPS. The GSMO had a novel and rare 100 foot magazine and the standard 400 foot mag. The 100 foot mag was the height of the camera so the camera with mag would be only 5 inches tall. The GSMO did not have video assist, a way of viewing what the cameraman was seeing on a video screen. TV commercial producers and directors wanted video assist and the GSMO fell behind the competition. After market video assist is now available for the GSMO.

In the early 80’s, Cinema Products introduced the CP35, a non quiet 35mm camera. With a BNCR lens mount, it was to partner with the studio quiet XR35 that had the same BNCR mount. The CP35 had video assist, but it was not as integrally designed as the competition’s. The CP35 had multiple crystal speeds like the GSMO ranging from 6 to 120FPS.

The FX35 was introduced in 1987. It had a larger body but resembled the CP35. They shared magazines. The FX35 had integral video assist. It used the PL lens mountArriflex had introduced. The camera’s electronics were cutting edge for the day with special effects and motion control underlining the electronics design. From the switch-mode power supply to the 36 pin computer interface, the FX35 offered features unavailable on cameras at that time. The speeds were thumb-wheel selected in .01 increments. A CRT computer monitor with 72.06 hertz could be filmed with no roll bar, the black bar visible when a 24 or 25 FPS camera records a TV or computer monitor due to the difference in refresh rates. The FX35 was originally designed for a motion picture and video camera rental company in Great Britain. The production rights and remaining inventory of the CP35 and FX35 were sold to Redicam in 1992.

In its last years, Cinema Products was still innovative. A film to HD video transfer machine was introduced, novel in that the HD camera was not part of the transfer machine but mounted on it. An upgrade would be easy, just change the HD camera, the film transport deck stayed the same. A fiber optic based 35mm ground glass to video chip reducer was patented and sold to a competitor. A consumer oriented Steadicam unit designed for small mini DV cameras was added to the Steadicam line. The Steadicam Jr. incorporated a 8 layer non-glare LCD video monitor comparable to the professional Steadicam rigs. The Steadicam line became the company’s leading marketable product. Tiffen Filter bought the rights to make the Steadicam when Cinema Products Corporation went out of business in 2000.

Andre de Dienes –

Andre de Dienes was born in Hungary in 1913. At the age of nineteen, he decided to leave his native country and traveled all over Europe and North Africa, finally settling in Paris, where he became interested in photography. In 1938, he settled in the United States and later became a citizen. He became a freelance photographer for a while but later decided to follow his own instincts and purposely refused all photographic assignments in order to be able to devote himself to the kind of work he most enjoyed. In particular, he wished to photograph nudes. Gradually, he became so involved in this subject and its techniques that most of his time had been given up to it.

Many of de Dienes nudes were impersonal artistic nudes photographed in nature. He traveled extensively just to find the right backgrounds for his models, and the desert and seashore were a few of the locations he found especially suited to his style of photography. Concerning his work, Andre once wrote: “Every picture I have taken of the nude was for the sole purpose of expressing my feelings for the beautiful”. When giving advice to other photographers interested in this type of photography, he cautioned them: “I ask you not to disgrace the nude with your camera. Respect it, express its beauty, exercise and better your beautiful emotions. Try not to photograph just naked girls; try to give meaning to your pictures; be proud of the photos you take. Do not abuse the luck and privilege of having a girl pose for you in the nude. Do not photograph nudes as I do, but try your own techniques, give in to your own feelings. Try to create something entirely new, abstract, in any way, as long as it remains within the bounds of decency.”

De Dienes is also well known as one of the first major photographers to photograph Marilyn Monroe. Andre and Marilyn traveled extensively together in Dec. 1945, and during this time he took hundreds of photos of her, some of which later ended up on magazine covers throughout the world. Andre de Dienes was also a regular contributor of photos and articles to several photography magazines during the late 40’s and 1950’s. He also contributed to Playboy during the early years of the magazine. In fact, in the very first issue of Playboy (Dec. 1953), a nude photo of glamour model Diane Hunter that had been taken by de Dienes was featured in the back pages. Diane Hunter would later be photographed by Bruno Bernard, and his pinup of her would be selected by Playboy to make her Miss Nov. 1954 (see my glamour models page for more info).

Other actresses and glamour models that de Dienes photographed include: Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Anne Francis, Leslie Caron, Jill St. John, Julie Newmar, Barbara Peyton, Yvette Mimieux, Ruth Roman, Carroll Baker, Anita Ekberg, Joan Bradshaw, Pat Crowley, Jeanne Carmen, Judy Crowder, Sara Shane, Arline Hunter, Kathleen Crowley, June Wilkinson, Joyce Winthrop, Marianne Gaba, Colleen Miller, Bobbie Shaw, Jean Peters, Vikki Dougan, Stephanie Griffin, Kathleen Hughes, Joan Tyler and Joan Kerr.

Camera equipment used by the photographer included 4″x 5″ view cameras (the Graflex, Graflex D, Auto Graflex and the Linhof Technika) and a Twin Lens Reflex (the Rolleiflex). At least one of Andre de Dienes photo books, “The Nude”, was shot entirely with his Rolleiflex, which was also the Medium Format camera of choice by most glamour photographers back in the early to mid 50’s. Peter Gowland, Bunny Yeager, Bruno Bernard, Frank Bez, Danny Rouzer, and Sam Wu all used the Rolleiflex during this period. The Rolleiflex uses 120 film which gives an image size of 2 1/4″ x 2 1/4″. Like most photographers, his was equipped with the Zeiss Tessar 75mm f/3.5 lens, which was highly praised for its sharpness. Andre made sure to always shoot at f/11 or f/16 in order to gain good depth of field and maximum sharpness. Consequently his indoor shots were usually taken at shutter speeds ranging between 1 to 6 seconds and his outdoor shots were usually taken at between 1/50 to 1/500th of a second. He often liked to use Plus-X film in his Rolleiflex due to its fine grain.

Andre de Dienes was one of Bunny Yeager’s early influences, and I believe she followed de Dienes technique of shooting at f/11 with her own Rolleiflex, even for nudes shot indoors using available light.

One technique for which de Dienes became well known was his creative way of combining images from two separate negatives onto one photo. He would sometimes spend an entire day on just one or two such photos, dodging and burning the light from the enlarger until he got the seamless effect he was looking for on the developed print. The end result was always a beautiful fantasy image.Andre de Dienes was born in 1913 in Turia, Transylvania (now Romania). Following his mother’s suicide he left home at 15 and traveled throughout Europe, mostly by foot, before ending up in Tunisia, North Africa, where he worked odd jobs, learned to paint, and purchased his first camera, a 35mm Retina.In 1933 de Dienes arrived in Paris to study art and bought his first Rolleiflex camera. Fascinated with taking pictures, he made a living selling photographs to publishing companies, including La Humanite ( a Communist newspaper) and worked for The Associated Press until 1936 when famous Parisian couturier, Captain Molyneux, encouraged de Dienes to become a fashion photographer.

In 1938, with the help of Esquire magazine editor, Arnold Gingrich, he emigrated to the US and settled in New York to work for Esquire, Vogue, Life, and Montgomery Ward. De Dienes spent his vacations traveling parts of the US, taking pictures of the scenic grandeur of the Western United States, and especially the Hopi, Navajo, and Apache Indians.Dissatisfied with the restrictions of fashion photography, de Dienes moved to Hollywood in 1944 to pursue to pursue his real passion of photographing nudes and outdoor scenes. An emotional and passionate photographer, de Dienes’ objective was to see the beauty in nature and in an effort to make his photographs as true to life as possible, he never retouched them. He believed that to take good photographs, one must have great patience, imagination and endurance, and the capacity to reveal both truth and beauty.

De Dienes’ association with Marilyn Monroe began in 1945 when he hired her for her first modeling job at age 19. A five week road trip photographing the young Norma Jeane across California, Nevada, and New Mexico resulted in a love affair and numerous magazine covers around the world. Their working relationship continued until 1953. Today, de Dienes’ images of Monroe are considered by most to be the best studies ever taken of her.De Dienes’ work on nudes has generated twenty-four books, published in the US, England, and Germany. Marilyn Mon Amoura was published in 1985 by St. Martinas Press, and Marilyn in 2002 by Taschen (Newsweek featured the three volume book in a six page cover story). Married twice but with no children, de Dienes died in 1985.

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