Happy 112th Birthday, Henry Fonda!

Henry Fonda was born Henry Jaynes Fonda 112 years ago today in Grand Island, Nebraska. Here are 10 HF Did-You-Knows:

  • Fonda and James Stewart were roommates early in their careers, first in New York and later in Hollywood, and were both known as ladies’ men. Their political views were diametrically opposed—Fonda was liberal, Stewart conservative—and after a argument over Hollywood blacklisting threatened to end their friendship in 1947, the pair agreed never to discuss politics again.
  • As a young man in Omaha, Henry Fonda studied acting with Marlon Brando‘s mother, Dorothy.
  • Fonda’s first wife was actress Margaret Sullavan; the two separated after just two months of marriage.
  • Henry Fonda’s Dutch ancestors settled the still-extant town of Fonda, New York, in the early 1600s. Fonda also had English, Scottish, and Norwegian ancestry. The town of Fonda is situated 44 miles northwest of Albany, N.Y. and 54 miles southeast of Utica, N.Y.
  • Among Fonda’s hobbies were bee-keeping and building model airplanes.
  • Henry Fonda enlisted in the Navy in World War II, saying, “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He was a recipient of the Bronze Star, the fourth highest award for bravery or meritorious service in conflict with the enemy.
  • Fonda holds the record for the longest gap between acting Oscar nominations: His first nomination was for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, his second for On Golden Pond in 1981.
  • Though his movie career last more than 50 years, Henry Fonda continued to work in the theatre from time to time, as long as his health allowed it. From his debut on the Great White Way in 1929 to his final stage appearance in 1978, Fonda appeared in 16 Broadway productions.
  • Fonda was offered the role of George in the original Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? His agent turned it down without consulting him, and Fonda was furious.
  • Fonda won one Best Actor Academy Award (he was nominated another time), a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and one Tony award. He also won honorary lifetime achievement awards from the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Tonys and the American Film Institute.

Happy birthday, Mr. Fonda, wherever you may be!

Henry Fonda

This story originally appeared in a slightly different form in May 2016.

Happy 96th Birthday, Gene Tierney!

The lovely Gene Tierney was born 96 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York. Here are GT Did-You-Knows:

  • Tierney’s childhood was one of privilege. Her father was a successful insurance broker, her mother a former teacher. She sometimes lived with her grandparents in Connecticut, attending St. Margaret’s School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Unquowa School in Fairfield. She later attended finishing schools in Switzerland and Farmington, CT.
  • At 17, Tierney visited Los Angeles. Her striking beauty caught director Anatole Litvak‘s eye during a visit to the Warner Brothers studio (her cousin worked there) and she was offered a contract. Her parents urged her to turn it down, due to the low salary and the fact that they envisioned a more high-society path for her.
  • Gene Tierney was a debutante, making her society debut in September 24, 1938, but society life didn’t interest her and she resolved to be an actress. She began theatrical studies and was a protégée of Broadway producer-director George Abbott.
  • She made her Broadway debut in a small role in What a Life! (1938) that saw her carrying a bucket of water across the stage. A Variety reviewer wrote of her performance, “Miss Tierney is certainly the most beautiful water carrier I’ve ever seen!”
  • Tierney went on to appear in a handful of other Broadway shows, garnering larger roles and positive reviews each time. In 1939, she signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures and was slated to star in National Velvet (1944), but when the picture was delayed, she returned to Broadway to star in The Male Animal, which was a big hit and led to a contract with 20 Century-Fox and her motion picture debut, in The Return of Frank James (1940), opposite Henry Fonda.
  • Tierney wrote poetry throughout her life; she first saw one of poems published in her high school newspaper.
  • Tierney struggled with manic depression throughout her adult life. While shooting The Left Hand of God (1955), her costar, Humphrey Bogart, whose sister had struggled with mental illness, urged her to seek medical help.
  • Tierney spent time in various institutions and underwent multiple shock treatments against her will. She was thereafter an outspoken critic of shock treatment therapy.
  • Tierney was married twice—to fashion designer Oleg Cassini and oil baron W. Howard Lee—and had romantic relationships with many other prominent men, among them John F. Kennedy, Prince Aly Khan and Tyrone Power.
  • Tierney, who took up smoking to lower her voice—“I sounded like an angry Minnie Mouse,” she is reported to have said after seeing herself on screen for the first time—remained a heavy smoker throughout her life and died of emphysema in 1999.

Happy birthday, Gene Tierney, wherever you may be!

Gene Tierney

The curtain is drawn on a great director

In February 2008, NYC’s Film Forum held a tribute to director Sidney Lumet, who died today at the age of 86. The celebration of Lumet’s life and career took the form of a two-hour Q&A, interspersed with clips from some of his most memorable films. We were lucky enough to be on hand, and we are pleased to offer, as a tribute to a very talented movie maker, our account of the evening.

Lumet shared in the early part of the discussion that his father, Baruch, was an actor in the Yiddish theatre, and Sidney himself got his start there at a very early age.

Lumet went on to appear in a number of Broadway shows, among them a Max Reinhardt production, before slipping behind the camera as a television director in the 1950s.

So it was fitting that the evening opened with a clip from One Third of a Nation (1939), which boasts Lumet’s only film acting appearance. The then-14-year-old director-to-be starred as the nephew of Sylvia Sidney.

The next clip shown was from the first movie he directed, Twelve Angry Men (1957). Asked if he’d made a specific effort to make the film in a cinematic style, so as to prove to the industry bigwigs that he could direct as well for the large screen as for the small, Lumet admitted with a laugh, “I was too arrogant. It never occurred to me that I might need to convince anyone.”

Asked later about working with Henry Fonda, Lumet said Fonda was constitutionally unable to make a false or dishonest move as an actor. “I don’t think he could’ve done it if I’d asked him to,” Lumet said. “He could only play the truth.”

Lumet said that filming on Twelve Angry Men was completed in 19 days. He said he shot the film in a very particular way. There were three levels of lighting in the film—sunlight through the windows, cloudy skies, as a storm approached outside, and with the overhead lighting in the jury room illuminated once the storm is underway.

Lumet shot the film entirely out of sequence, rotating around the room, getting each shot he needed from each actor under that particular lighting. Once he’d shot all of his sunlit shots, Lumet had the set relit to suggest cloudy conditions and slowly worked his way around the room again, going from character to character, getting every shot he needed.

Finally, he had the set relit once last time, with overhead lighting lit, and made the rounds again.

Lumet said he never used storyboards, as Alfred Hitchcock was famous for doing. Instead, he preferred to rehearse his actors for two weeks, as if they were mounting a play, and when he had all the blocking down, then he considered where to place the camera in each scene.
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Film Forum fetes Fritz's hits

If you’re anything like us and you happen to reside in or around New York City, you plan to make an almost daily pilgrimage to West Houston over the two weeks for “Fritz Lang in Hollywood,” a two-week retrospective at Film Forum.

The GermanAustrian-born Lang would be a revered figure in cinematic history even if he’d never set foot in Southern California. Such influential classics as Metropolis (1927), Spione (Spies, 1929), the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, and M (1931) ensure that.

But Lang became a very important director in the United States, too, beginning with his first Hollywood feature, Fury (1936), starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney, which closes the Film Forum series as the 22nd of Lang’s 29 Hollywood pictures to be shown.

While in Hollywood, Lang showed a penchant for cinematic takes on pulp fiction—films noir, westerns, thrillers and espionage adventures—but he never settled for by-rote takes on these familiar genres. He gave his pictures a very particular look and dark mood, with the Expressionism of his making films in Germany clearlly influencing his American efforts.

You can’t go wrong with any of the bills during the series, but we especially recmommend the aforementioned Fury on Feb. 10; You Only Live Once (1937), starring Sidney and Henry Fonda, which is paired on Feb. 9th and 10th with Lang’s gangster musical (!) You and Me (1938), and three terrific noir double-bills: The Woman in the Window (1944)/Scarlet Street (1945 on Jan. 30, House by the River (1950)/The Blue Gardenia (1953) on Feb. 8, and the series-opener, The Big Heat (1953)/Human Desire (1954) on Jan. 28-29, both of which star noir royals Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.

If you’re familiar with Lang’s work, you’ve no doubt already got this great retrospective marked in your calendar. If you’re not, clear your calendar now and check out the series’ full line-up to plan which pictures you intend to see. You can thank us later.