Saturday, October 23, 2021

A Tribute to Coleen Gray

Actress Coleen Gray was born 99 years ago today, on October 23, 1922.

She passed away on August 3, 2015, at the age of 92.

I previously paid tribute to Gray on her birthday in 2012, which directly led to my having the opportunity to interview her later that year. 

I was also honored to attend her memorial service in September 2015.  One of the most memorable aspects was that she had prerecorded a greeting and testimony to be played at her service.  Sitting at the reception with Marsha Hunt and Julie Adams (who would pass away in 2019) was part of an unforgettable experience.

This year I'm marking Gray's birthday with an article originally written for ClassicFlix in 2013. I've updated the column with review links and current DVD/Blu-ray information but have left the rest of the post as it originally appeared in 2013, when Coleen was still with us.

Actress Coleen Gray may not be a household name today, but she is greatly appreciated by fans of film noir, having given outstanding performances in some of the all-time noir classics. 

Gray was a very fine actress, and it may be that her chameleon-like ability to submerge herself into her roles worked against her being as well remembered as some other actors of her era. It's also interesting to note that some of the films for which Gray is best known today – NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) being a prime example -- did not receive critical recognition until years after their release.

I had the rare opportunity to learn about Coleen Gray's life story firsthand when I interviewed her a few months ago. Ms. Gray is a very sharp, articulate lady who is a most engaging storyteller, with many fascinating stories to tell about her life and the remarkable people with whom she worked.

Coleen Gray was born in Nebraska in 1922. Growing up on a farm, she avidly read movie magazines and dreamed of being a movie star. She planned to teach music in public school but instead gravitated to drama and art in college. Upon graduation from Hamline University in Minnesota, she followed a sweetheart in the military to La Jolla, California, where she found work as a waitress. When the romance ended she went north to Los Angeles, where a family friend helped her find work as a typist with the YWCA.

Bored with secretarial life, Coleen was looking at want ads and saw an ad casting a play in which she'd appeared in college. She ended up joining a little theater and appeared in three plays, which led to her being spotted by an agent.

The agent took her to Fox, where Coleen suddenly found herself in a room with numerous men in suits, including the intimidating casting director, Rufus LeMaire, who barked, "So you're an actress, huh? Let's see you act!"

Utilizing the same confidence which would allow her to begin her acting career in leading roles opposite Hollywood greats, Gray launched into a couple of monologues she knew from a play, and she was promptly signed to a contract for a screen test. She then sat at home for months, paying the bills with a night job as a cashier at Thrifty Drug Store, until she finally was given her screen test. She passed with flying colors and became a contract player at 20th Century-Fox.

Eventually she had an opportunity to interview with Howard Hawks for RED RIVER (1948); they hit it off, and she was cast in the small but noticeable role of Fen. Before RED RIVER finally made it to theaters, however, she would also star in leading roles in two of the all-time great film noir classics, KISS OF DEATH and NIGHTMARE ALLEY (both 1947).

Gray, no shrinking violet, felt she was born for the role of Molly in NIGHTMARE ALLEY and made an appointment to see studio head Darryl Zanuck. Zanuck told her that if a major actor starred in the lead role he would consider an unknown actress for Molly.

Gray then went through some prolonged contract negotiations while making KISS OF DEATH, with Fox attempting to dangle the NIGHTMARE ALLEY role in place of her contractually required pay increase, but despite the fact she was just starting out, Gray stuck to what she felt was right and told Fox they needed to stick to the terms of her contract. She was ultimately awarded both her raise and the part in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, opposite Fox's biggest star, Tyrone Power.

After NIGHTMARE ALLEY Gray was reunited with her KISS OF DEATH costar, Victor Mature, in FURY AT FURNACE CREEK (1948). Gray would star in many Western and film noir titles over the course of her career, and as the '50s moved on she also did a great deal of work in television.

Gray's acting career for the most part closed out as the '70s came to an end, with just a couple more roles in the '80s. She married Joseph Zeiser in 1979, and the two of them became involved in prison ministries for women. Gray drew great satisfaction from being able to play a role helping to encourage women to change their lives for the better.

Today Coleen Gray is 90 and still going strong (she'll be 91 on Wednesday), recently giving a lively interview at a screening of Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING (1956) at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Some films with excellent Gray performances, including THE SLEEPING CITY (1950) and COPPER SKY (1957), are not yet out on DVD. (Update: Since this was first written, THE SLEEPING CITY was released on DVD and Blu-ray.) Here are some key Gray films currently available on DVD:

RED RIVER (1948) - Gray's first significant film role, a small but noticeable part opposite John Wayne.

KISS OF DEATH (1947) - This film is understandably famous for Richard Widmark's electric debut as Tommy Udo, but the movie wouldn't work nearly as well as it does without the heartfelt lead performances by Gray and Victor Mature. Gray's open, naturalistic performance doesn't feel quite like any other screen acting of its era.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) - Gray plays Molly, the carnival girl who loves Stan (Tyrone Power), only to see his life and their relationship spiral out of control as Stan attempts to "play God" with his mentalist act.

RIDING HIGH (1950) - Gray was directed by Frank Capra and starred opposite Bing Crosby in a remake of Capra's own BROADWAY BILL (1934).

FATHER IS A BACHELOR (1950) - A cute Western romance and family comedy opposite William Holden, with little Mary Jane Saunders (seen here) in support.

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952) - Another famous noir title, with Gray costarring with John Payne, Preston Foster, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Jack Elam.

THE KILLING (1956) - When Gray was interviewed prior to the screening of Kubrick's noir classic at the TCM Classic Film Festival, she recounted that she was told the filmmakers had said, "Let's get a Coleen Gray type" and then someone said, "Well, why not get Coleen Gray?" She appears as Sterling Hayden's girlfriend in the opening and closing sequences; it's a relatively small role but she's great as the film reaches its unforgettable ending.

THE LEECH WOMAN (1960) - I've not yet seen this one, but Gray's performance in this sci-fi film is admired by many.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2013.

Around the Blogosphere This Week... taking the weekend off while I attend the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

Around the Blogosphere This Week will return next weekend, on Saturday, October 30th.

For the most recent news and links, please visit my October 16th roundup.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Return to Disneyland: Halloween Time 2021

Our initial return to the Disneyland Resort was attending the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween party at Disney California Adventure, which included our first visit to Avengers Campus.

A few days later we visited Disneyland for the first time since February 2020. Returning to the park where I once worked (and met my husband!), and where I've been an annual passholder for three decades, was quite an emotional experience.

I've been dreaming of listening to the Dapper Dans sing in Town Square while the Disneyland Railroad train bell clanged in the background, and I could scarcely believe when it was really happening!

It was an absolutely beautiful fall day:

We enjoyed ice cream cones from Main Street's Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, got a new Annual Passholder (Magic Key!) refillable popcorn bucket...

...and had a good pot roast dinner at Docking Bay 7 in Galaxy's Edge.

It was hard to believe I hadn't been in Galaxy's Edge in over 19 months. Here's a look at the top of the Millennium Falcon from the Smuggler's Run queue, with Black Spire Outpost in the background:

One of the first things we did was check out the renovations to the classic Snow White Ride, which is now called Snow White's Enchanted Wish.

It was quite lovely, now a less scary experience which has also added a couple of happy scenes.

The Mark Twain was a longed-for sight:

The Golden Horseshoe at the "golden hour":

Ray Bradbury's Halloween Tree in Frontierland:

Another beautiful sight:

Disneyland Friday nights are the best Friday nights!

A few more looks at Main Street U.S.A. as the sun was setting:

The light on in Walt's apartment above the firehouse:

I hope we never have reason again to go so long between Disneyland visits.  It was so good to be "home"!

We were at the park again last weekend for our daughter's birthday, and I hope to share a few photos from that visit as time permits in the future.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Off to Palm Springs!

After over 18 months spent mostly close to home, I'm making up for lost time with not one but two film festivals this month.

Two weekends ago I attended the 31st Lone Pine Film Festival, and tomorrow I head to Palm Springs for the 21st edition of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

It's sure to be a great weekend, with a wonderful mix of films I've never seen and favorites I'd love to see again. I'm especially thrilled at the prospect of seeing Joan Bennett and James Mason in THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) on a big screen in 35mm.

Please follow my Twitter account for "as it happens" updates, or search Twitter for the hashtag #ArthurLyonsFilmNoirFestival.

When I'm back I'll have lots of coverage of both festivals, along with Blu-ray and book reviews. Looking ahead to the last weekend of the month, I'll also have a fresh news roundup and a look at TCM in November. I've also got a new Classic Movie Hub column in the works!

In the meantime, I have a couple of posts scheduled to run while I'm away, so please check back later in the week for new content.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...A very happy birthday to Angela Lansbury, who turns 96 on October 16th. It was a thrill to see her in person two years ago this month, at a tribute to Robert Osborne which included a screening of DODSWORTH (1936).

...Linda Darnell was born October 16, 1923. In honor of her birthday, please visit my previous posts A Birthday Tribute to Linda Darnell and A Tribute to Linda Darnell. Both posts are filled with ideas for Linda Darnell viewing, including links to numerous film reviews.

...A 1930s-era Los Angeles home once owned by Rita Hayworth is for sale.

..."Coming soon" from Kino Lorber: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011). December 14th releases include THE BRASS BOTTLE (1964) with Tony Randall and Barbara Eden, THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) with William Holden, and THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN (1979) with Alan Alda and Meryl Streep.

...ClassicFlix has announced "The Little Rascals - The ClassicFlix Restorations, Vol. 4" for January 18, 2022.

...In my review of the new Academy Museum I mentioned the absence of the industry's founders from the museum. Sharon Rosen Leib writes in Forward about the Jewish founding fathers of the cinema industry ending up on the museum's "cutting room floor." It's a thought provoking and, in my view, sadly necessary article.

...Mark Harmon has left the NCIS TV series after an 18-year run.

...Also retiring is 78-year-old Alan Horn, the Chief Creative Officer of Disney Studios.

...Speaking of Disney, a film is being made for the Disney+ streaming service about the creation of Disneyland.

...And speaking of Disney+, last year I reviewed the documentary ADVENTURE THRU THE WALT DISNEY ARCHIVES (2020) when it was streamed exclusively for D23 members. The documentary will be available on Disney+ starting in mid-November, and I recommend it.

...Out this month: I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS MOVIES, a book on Hallmark Christmas films. It will include interviews with the movies' stars and creators. There's a foreword by Hallmark star Kristoffer Polaha.

...There are new Christmas CDs this year from Kristin Chenoweth, Norah Jones, and Kelly Clarkson.

...Kino Lorber is currently hosting a Blu-ray sale, including some very recent releases.

...David Wangberg of Cinema Sentries interviewed Leonard Maltin about his brand-new book, STARSTRUCK: MY UNLIKELY ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD. It's an enjoyable interview, and I'm looking forward to the book!

...New fall cookbook titles: COOKIES: THE NEW CLASSICS by Jesse Szewczyk and HEALTHY AND DELICIOUS INSTANT POT from America's Test Kitchen.

...Noir Girl Casey Koester recently spoke with Eddie Muller about the new edition of his book DARK CITY. Among other things there's a delightful tidbit about Eddie's original career choice, before he became the "Czar of Noir."

...Erica has reviewed THE BIG HEAT (1953) and HUMAN DESIRE (1954) for her blog Poppity Talks Classic Film. It's part of a Glenn Ford Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy and Coffee, Classics, and Craziness.

...Kristina of Speakeasy also participated in the Ford blogathon, writing about MR. SOFT TOUCH (1949).

...One of KC's latest reviews at Watching Classic Movies is of SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (1941).

...Karen Hannsberry reviews JEWEL ROBBERY (1932), starring William Powell and Kay Francis, for her blog Shadows and Satin.

...And at Riding the High Country, Colin reviews the fascinating THE LOCKET (1946) starring Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, and Robert Mitchum.

...Attention Southern Californians: The UCLA Film & Television Archive has resumed screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. Upcoming titles include a November 12th evening showing MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) and DOCTOR X (1933), hosted by Alan K. Rode.

...Notable Passings: Actress Cynthia Harris has died at 87. She starred with Edward Fox in TV's EDWARD & MRS. SIMPSON (1978) and was a regular face on television for over half a century, including a recurring role on MAD ABOUT YOU (1993-99)...Longtime Disney animator Ruthie Tompson has passed away at the age of 111. She was named a Disney Legend in 2000.

...Next weekend I'll be at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs. (Host Alan K. Rode was interviewed about the festival for Palm Springs Life.) Around the Blogosphere This Week will return on Saturday, October 30th.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my October 2nd roundup.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Back From Lone Pine!

I'm back from the 31st Lone Pine Film Festival!

We arrived home yesterday following a wonderful weekend which included eight films, three location tours, additional "freelance" location hunting, a parade, and more!

We saw many interesting things -- including a location for THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), seen above -- and had a simply terrific time. It was a particular thrill to meet Claude Jarman, Jr., who costarred in one of my all-time favorite films, RIO GRANDE (1950).

I can also report that everything was wonderfully normal in Lone Pine. After the last 19 months, I really needed that!

I have a particularly busy workweek ahead, as I'm leaving for Palm Springs and the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in nine days, but I'll have detailed Lone Pine coverage posted here as soon as possible. As the saying goes, "Watch this space!"

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Around the Blogosphere This Week... taking the weekend off while I attend the Lone Pine Film Festival.

Around the Blogosphere This Week will return next weekend, on Saturday, October 16th.

For the most recent news and links, please visit my October 2nd roundup.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Disney California Adventure: Avengers Campus

Last month's Oogie Boogie Bash party at Disney California Adventure was my first time to visit the park, other than for limited December 2020 Christmas shopping, since March 5, 2020.

Disney California Adventure's newest land, Avengers Campus, opened to the public in June 2021, so the party was our first chance to see it.

The entire area is nicely themed, with the Avengers theme playing as you walk through the campus.

The most impressive thing about Avengers Campus is the constant presence of the Avengers. Here's Spider-Man...

...who can also be seen going down a wall at the left of this photo. Click on any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

Here's the Black Widow in action, with a Quinjet visible above her. I wonder how many stunt people they've hired for this land? They make it a lot of fun.

The "Classic" version of Loki is seen below.

Here's Doctor Strange's Ancient Sanctum:

Doctor Strange and Thor appeared in a show with some very nice special effects.

Later in the evening, Agatha Harkness of WANDAVISION appeared in the same location alongside one of the party's many "treat trails."

We also got to ride the brand-new Web Slingers ride. I had no idea what to expect; the closest rides to it are Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters and Toy Story Midway Mania, except instead of a gun riders use their arms.

I loved these signs seen along the path to Cars Land!

Elsewhere in the park, we loved this photo op featuring Miss Minutes from the LOKI TV series. She's a wonderfully original character.

Coming soon: A photo post on my return to Disneyland for Halloween Time!

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