Celebrating the 70th anniversary of groundbreaking ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ at the Lasky-DeMille Barn

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present on Wednesday, April 12: An Evening at the Barn – “Gentleman’s Agreement”: Hollywood’s Stand Against Anti-Semitism.

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, “Gentleman’s Agreement” was a critical and box-office hit. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and was named Best Picture of 1947, additionally winning Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm and Best Director for Kazan.

Few critics would rank it that high today – it’s perhaps too much a message picture. That said, many of its performances are vastly underrated.

For Peck, it was one of his most curious, controversial movie roles: a New York City magazine writer named Philip Schuyler Green, who (at first reluctantly) takes on the assignment of writing an exposé of contemporary American anti-Semitism.

Phil decides to personalize the piece by posing as a Jewish man and recording how he’s treated or mistreated in the posh sections of Manhattan, Darien, Conn., and elsewhere – places that usually welcome him, or anyone else who looks like Gregory Peck, with open arms.

Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) and Phil (Gregory Peck) have the ideal romance. Or do they?

Peck’s Phil, who renames himself Phil Greenberg, gets more than he bargained for, from restaurateurs, real-estate agents, hotels, and from his increasingly skittish girlfriend, Kathy Lacy (McGuire) and her parents and friends.

Meanwhile, with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) operating in high gear, the postwar movie audience got a lesson in tolerance of unusual candor – from a first-class director (Kazan), Laura Z. Hobson’s highly acclaimed and best-selling source novel, a brilliant screenwriter (Moss Hart) and top actors (including Holm, Albert Dekker, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, June Havoc and Jane Wyatt.)

From left: John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Celeste Holm.

Stealing every scene he’s in, is a bona-fide New York Jewish actor, John Garfield, who begged to do the film and gives a powerhouse performance. Peck, McGuire, Revere and Hart received Oscar noms, as did Harmon Jones for editing.

Ironically, though many of the 1947 Hollywood moguls were themselves Jewish, they all shied away from the project. It took the 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck (a Gentile) to get “Gentleman’s Agreement” on the screen.

(And it should be noted: in 1952, Kazan gave HUAC the names of eight actors who had been members with him of a Communist Party unit in the Group Theatre.)

At Wednesday’s event, film historian Claudine Stevens will discuss the book and the movie, with clips, and Cecilia Peck, daughter of Gregory Peck, will talk about her father and his part in the film.

Reserve your tickets now for this special event, which will take place in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn. Free parking is available in Hollywood Bowl Lot D, which is directly adjacent to the museum.

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Film noir news: Come out & see her this time, Noir City opens, ‘Dog Day’ turns 40, Poverty Row book party, Cecil B. DeMille showcased and ‘Sunset’ in Sherman Oaks

Mae West

Mae West

“It’s not the men in my life, it’s life in my men.” The original bad girl Mae West will be honored at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14., with a special program at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

Happily ever after. Not. Noir City: The Film Noir Festival returns to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Jan. 16–25, with a program of 25 titles depicting the darker side of marriage. The fest will travel to several other cities, including Los Angeles, later in the year.

Catch this dog. The singular neo-noir “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975, Sidney Lumet), starring Al Pacino, screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s on a double bill with “The Dog,” (2013, Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren). The story behind “Dog Day Afternoon” (a man robbing a bank to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation) was true, and this doc explores the off-screen drama, providing a riveting look at New York in the 1970s and the early days of the gay liberation movement.

Early Poverty Row StudiosLocation, location, location. Though it’s a myth that the classic film noir canon consisted entirely of B-movies, the genre’s writers, directors, cinematographers and set designers often worked on minuscule budgets. Hey, it wasn’t all bad. They had more room to experiment and defy the censors that way – just look at Edgar Ulmer.

Many of them were regular denizens of the scrappy little Hollywood studios known as Poverty Row and so we are eagerly looking forward to Marc Wanamaker and E.J. Stephens’ new book: “Early Poverty Row Studios.”

The authors will discuss the book at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. See you there!

UCLA honors DeMille, a Hollywood pioneer. Starting Sunday, Jan. 18, the UCLA Film & Television Archive presents the film series, “The Greatest Showman: Cecil B. DeMille,” at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village.

This retrospective of one of cinema’s greatest storytellers will showcase 10 films restored by the archive, including “The Ten Commandments” (1956), “The Plainsman” (1937) and “The Buccaneer” (1938). A legendary producer and director, DeMille (1881-1959) helped put Hollywood on the map and set a high bar in terms of both artistry and showmanship. The series ends Feb. 28.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” Arguably, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” is the finest movie ever made about Hollywood. Inarguably, it’s deliciously noir. Aging Hollywood star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is admittedly a little cut off from reality. She fawns over her pet monkey, has rats in her pool, autographs pile after pile of 8 x 10 glossies for her fans, even though she hasn’t made a picture in years. But, like so many women of film noir, she was ahead of her time. Norma was a veteran movie star who wanted to create her own roles, look her best and date a younger, sexy man. Anything wrong with that?

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Luscious William Holden plays Joe, Norma’s younger lover, and it’s worth watching just to lust after Holden. See it on the big screen at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at the ArcLight Cinema in Sherman Oaks. Co-presented with the Skirball Cultural Center, in conjunction with its outstanding film noir exhibitions.

Read the FNB review here.

Just the ticket? Meanwhile, Ben Affleck and others from the “Gone Girl” team are remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Hmm. Hope they can do it justice. Or at least give the Robert Walker character a few flashy suits. 😉

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A centennial party for the Man who set the movies in motion

The Squaw Man posterAny idea who Dustin Farnum, Monroe Salisbury and Winifred Kingston were? In fact, they hold a prestigious claim in Hollywood history. They starred in 1914’s “The Squaw Man,” co-written and co-directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The 74-minute flick was the first U.S. feature-length movie.

DeMille, the brilliant (now legendary) director, was somewhat reluctant to take on the project. The best jobs come through networking and, in this case, DeMille had a great contact – his mother got him the gig.

But, once he agreed to make the picture, he was quick to recognize the potential of Los Angeles’ dramatically beautiful scenery for exterior shots. For interiors, DeMille rented a barn at Selma and Vine streets in Hollywood for $200 a month. DeMille’s western saga turned out to be a commercial success and helped establish Hollywood as the world’s top spot for movie making.

The old barn now stands at 2100 N. Highland Ave. and is home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, which is hosting a “Squaw Man” centennial party on Tuesday, July 1, from 5-8 p.m. The event will include a continuous screening of the movie, special presentations from authors and historians, and a party with retro touches, such as antique cars. Barbeque and beverages will be served.

Border Incident posterThe Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is co-hosting the event. Admission for chamber and museum members is free. Tickets for the general public are $10 for adults (free for kids under 10). There is free parking in Lot D off of Odin St. Register for the party here.

Also of note: “Border Incident” (1949, Anthony Mann), starring Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy and Howard Da Silva, plays tonight at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, 1615 Vine St., in Hollywood! And there’s more Montalban noir next month. See the site for more info. 

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Author Anthony Slide to discuss ‘Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine’ as part of the Evening @ the Barn series

Acclaimed author Anthony Slide will discuss his book “Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Hollywood Heritage Museum as part of the Evening @ the Barn series. The museum is housed in the restored Lasky-DeMille Barn (c. 1895).

Slide will explain how the fan magazines dealt with gossip and innuendo as well as how they handled the Hollywood scandals of the 1920s, World War II and the blacklist. Slide will show a PowerPoint presentation to accompany his talk.

Critic Leonard Maltin says: “For anyone who equates ‘fan magazines’ with supermarket tabloids, this book should come as a revelation. Tony Slide has done a formidable job of research to chart the birth, rise and fall of Hollywood fan magazines in the 20th century, their relationship to the industry they covered and the readers they served. It’s a colorful, well told history that’s full of surprises.”

“Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine” will be on sale in the museum shop ($40) and Slide will sign books at the end of the program. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also had high praise for the book; you can read his September 2010 review here.

Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. The Hollywood Heritage Museum is at 2100 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, CA 90068; 323-874-2276. You can buy tickets here.

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