PIANIST GLENN GOULD | REJECTING THE ‘BLOODSPORT’ CULT OF SHOWMANSHIP

“A record is a concert without halls, and a museum whose curator is the owner.”

Glenn Gould was blessed with a musical talent that few have managed to match in our lifetime. A ‘child prodigy’ pianist, he was thrust into fame’s spotlight in 1955 at the age of 22 when Columbia released his groundbreaking Bach ‘Golberg Variations.’ (Gold was his birthname, which his parents had changed to “Gould” over fear of anti-semitism during WWII– the family was not Jewish. When he was often asked his religious ancestry he’d remark, “I was Jewish during the war.”) His rebellious style, anti-establishment vibe, and longish locks also made him a sort of counter-culture icon of Classical music.

Gould’s incredible playing– inventive, unorthodox, and originally shunned by classical purists like Leonard Bernstein, was often noted by a manipulated tempo, sometimes very fast, yet each note amazingly clear. He was also known for his signature ‘humming’– which he wouldn’t allow to be removed from the final tracks over fear that doing so would diminish the sound quality.  His other eccentricities are also legendary– the lone, personal folding chair he insisted on using for playing, the layers of gloves he’d wrap his hands in year-round, his refusal to shake hands, hypochondria, the social awkwardness, and difficulty with fame– mostly likely can be attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome.  By the age of 31, Gould had sworn off public performances.

Glenn Gould passed away from a stroke on September 27th, 1982– shortly after his epic second Bach ‘Goldberg Variations’ (recorded in 1981) was released.  Many who knew him said he was planning on abandoning the piano and move on to conducting.  God only knows what incredible works would have resulted.  Below is an incredible series of photographs taken during the recording of his 1955  ‘Goldberg Variations’ by another cultural icon, the photographer Gordon Parks.

.

March 1955, Columbia recording studio, NY — Brilliant young Canadian pianist Glenn Gould listening intensely while a section of his performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is played back as the sound engineer (R) follows the score. — Photograph by Gordon Parks for LIFE

.

March 1955, Columbia recording studio, NY — Glenn Gould eating his lunch (graham crackers & milk cut with bottled spring water) while sitting at the sound engineers table next to wall festooned with nude pinups.– Photograph by Gordon Parks for LIFE

Continue reading

ON THE WATERFRONT | CONTENDER FOR ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S BEST FILMS

“You don’t understand– I could-a had class.  I could-a been a contender. I could-a been somebody… instead of a bum, which is what I am– let’s face it.”

–Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront”

The masterful Marlon Brando, as longshoreman Terry Malloy, in 1954’s epic film “On the Waterfront.” –Image © Bettmann/Corbis.  Based on New York Sun reporter Malcolm Johnson’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning exposé on crime and corruption (Crime on the Waterfront), Kazan and cast’s gripping portrayal of blood, sweat, toil and tears on the docks is a gutsy Hollywood classic without peer. It was shot entirely on location in Hoboken, NJ– using the gritty Jersey streets and rooftops as its living, breathing sets– and the hard-as-nails local longshoremen for extras with real life experience and attitude.

Still one of the most powerful films Hollywood has ever put out– On the Waterfront caught a lot of Tinseltown’s elite off-guard when it ran off with 8 Academy Awards in 1955, including– Best Motion Picture (Sam Spiegel for Columbia Pictures), Best Director (Elia Zazan), Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Screenplay (Budd Schulberg), Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Art Direction (Richard Day), and Best Cinematography, B&W (Boris Kaufman).

It was a low-budget film, dealing with low-brow business– when Producer Darryl Zanuck was pitched the film he blasted it, saying “Who’s going to care about a bunch of sweaty longshoremen?” Even Marlon Brando wasn’t interested, but for personal reasons– Director Elia Kazan’s perceived act of betrayal against fellow artists by providing names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 (screenplay writer Shulberg was also an informer), left a bad taste in Marlon’s mouth. It was a stigma that Kazan would never fully shake. In fact, many would later believed upon its release that On the Waterfront represented a self-serving, cathartic expression for Kazan– a vain attempt to regain his lost dignity, and rebuff his attackers, Hollywood style. Were we watching Kazan, the shunned name-dropping director, making a case for himself vicariously through the heroic Brando as Terry Malloy, the underdog whistle-blower, onscreen?

Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in 1954’s “On the Waterfront.” Karl Malden’s “Father Barry” was based on Father John M. Corridan, a tough-talking Jesuit priest, who ran a Roman Catholic labor school on the Manhattan’s West Side and a very active “waterfront priest.” Budd Schulberg interviewed Father Corridan at length for his version of the “On the Waterfront” screenplay– the original had been written by Arthur Miller (called “The Hook”), and rejected by studio heads– causing a deep rift between Miller and Director Kazan.

Continue reading

GOT A LUST FOR LIFE | KIRK DOUGLAS THE ROLE THAT ALMOST CRACKED HIM

*

Lust for Life was the film that should have finally won Kirk Douglas the coveted Best Actor Oscar– after having been nominated for the brilliant The Champion (1949), and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).  He was definitely due for his gripping portrayal of the tortured, complicated Van Gogh, and losing to Yul Brenner in The King and I was an injustice. Douglas was personally devastated by the loss–  “I really thought I had a chance,” he said stoically after losing. It was a blow that gnawed at his soul for years. Lust for Life Director Vincente Minnelli himself stated, “Kirk Douglas achieved a moving and memorable portrait of the artist—a man of massive creative power, triggered by severe emotional stress, the fear and horror of madness. In my opinion, Kirk should have won the Academy Award.”

When you think of method actors, it’s usually Marlon Brando, Monty Clift and James Dean that come to mind– but Kirk Douglas, who’ll never share their misunderstood, hipster mystique, was also known to throw himself into every project.  He would not only dissect his own lines, but everyone else’s, and carefully go through the entire script front to back. It was often said that Kirk Douglas tried to direct every film he was in– he was headstrong and wouldn’t back down from any director. That intensity was also manifested at home, as told by his wife, “When he was doing Lust for Life, he came home in that red beard of Van Gogh’s, wearing those big boots, stomping around the house—it was frightening.”

Filmed largely on location in France, Lust for Life is often noted for its beautiful cinematic use of color to tell the story, which is true– but it is Douglas’ deeply personal acting and eerie likeness to Van Gogh (so much so that while filming on location where Van Gogh had lived, some older inhabitants of Van Gogh’s believed that he had actually returned) that power Lust for Life.  It was said that Douglas got so deep inside Van Gogh’s twisted pain and inner turmoil that it nearly drove him to the brink of madness, and it was very affecting and difficult for him to unwind from the role.

Looking at these still images from Lust for Life crystalize and convey Kirk Douglas’ intensity in a way that even the film can not.  They are absolutely stunning in their composition and emotion.  They slay me.

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

Continue reading

A JAMES DEAN TRUE LIFE LESSON | DON’T ACT IT, OR SHOW IT– JUST DO IT

*

James Dean– from the haircut and setting, I’d say it’s during the filming of Rebel Without a Cause.

*

Dennis Hopper said that when he was around 18 or 19 years old,  he thought of himself as one of the best, our at least on his way to being one of the best, actors in the world.  That is, until he met James Dean. Watching Dean in action as they worked together in Rebel Without a Cause, Hopper witnessed Jimmy doing things so far over his head as an actor, that at the time he couldn’t even comprehend it.  He knew Dean knew something, had something, that he didn’t, and it made him special– set apart.

*

 Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

*

“LITTLE BASTARD” | THE SILVER SPYDER PORSCHE/DEAN MYSTERY REVISITED

james dean competition motors porsche spyder 1955

James Dean on the lot of Competition Motors with his infamous silver Porsche 550 Spyder not long before is tragic death on Sept. 30, 1955 – Image courtesy mptvimages.com. Jimmy had finished shooting George Stevens’ epic “Giant” (notice his hairline was shaved by the studio to play the older, receeding Jett Rink). With the film in the bag, he was now free to race.

.

james dean rolf wuetherich last photo porsche

The day of James Dean’s tragic death behind the wheel of his Porsche Spyder is well documented, as professional photographer Sanford Roth was accompanying Dean for an article on the actor’s passion for racing in Collier’s Magazine. This image shot by Roth in Hollywood on the morning of the accident, shows Dean and Rolf Wütherich preparing for a weekend of racing and camaraderie. That this would be Dean’s final hours, or that Wüetherich was about to experience a life-shattering event, was clearly the furthest thing from either one’s mind. Julien’s Auctions sold an 11×14-inch print of this shot, taken from Roth’s original contact sheet and mounted on foam core, for  $1,500. It is confirmed to be among the last “official” images taken of the actor before his fatal crash. via

Continue reading

“LITTLE BASTARD” | THE SILVER SPYDER THAT DROVE JAMES DEAN TO HIS GRAVE

James Deans "Little Bastard" Silver Porsche Spyder

James Deans “Little Bastard” Silver Porsche 550 Spyder. This shot was taken just hours before Jimmy’s tragic death.

*

James Dean’s love for speed, racing and “living on the edge” are all well documented in many books, documentaries and bios– so I won’t belabor the point here.  Check out the video after the jump for a “James Dean legend” primer.  What is fascinating is the tremendous staying power, cult status and curse stories that surround not just James Dean, but also the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that he tragically lost his life in.  The Porsche 550 Spyder is now forever linked with James Dean– it’s nearly impossible to recount one icon without the other.

*

ames Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche Spyder-- "Little Bastard"

James Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche 550 Spyder– “Little Bastard”

Continue reading

THE “REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE” CURSE | A CURIOUS CAST OF CHARACTERS

jamesdean

James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause”

The 1950s were a very cool time, I only wish I could have experienced them for myself. It is a time in American pop culture that is highly idealized for it’s music, fashion, style and culture. Everyone looked incredible, and seemed so squeaky clean– but you just knew there had to be much more going on behind the scenes. Rebel Without a Cause is one of the most iconic films from that era, and the stories behind the making of the James Dean classic are as incredible as the movie itself. And truth be told, Dean was not the only rebel on the set. Nicholas Ray, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood definitely held there own.

Continue reading