John Howard Lawson Remembered
“First Writers Guild president. Playwright. Screenwriter. Oscar nominee. Organizer. Teacher. ‘Premature antiracist.’ Blacklistee. ‘Dean of the Hollywood Ten.’ Jailbird. ‘Tinseltown’s cultural commissar.’ Film theorist. ‘Grand Pooh-Bah of the Communist movement.’ Author. ‘Gauleiter of the Hollywood Communist Party.’
“Who was this ‘man of outstanding courage and integrity,’ as Charlie Chaplin stated, standing ‘resolute against those . . . attempt[ing] to control thought and desecrate the true American spirit’? As the 60th anniversary of the Hollywood Ten and blacklist approaches, a new biography rescues John Howard Lawson from a cultural exile decreed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Hollywood historian Gerald Horne’s The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten (University of California Press) brings back into focus a life ‘[that] illustrates the necessity for political engagement and organizing.’”
That’s Ed Rampell in the article “Our Founding Father,” from the October issue of the Writers Guild of America’s magazine Written By. That issue has been out for a while, but I only saw the article today.
Lawson, by the way, wrote or co-wrote nearly two dozen films. Among them are the risqué melodrama Bachelor Apartment (1931), directed by and starring Lowell Sherman, with Irene Dunne as a working girl who refuses the easy way to riches (though considering that Dunne would need to have sex with Sherman’s unappealing playboy millionaire, that way could hardly be called “easy”); the politically undecided Spanish Civil War drama Blockade (1938), directed by William Dieterle, and starring Henry Fonda and Madeleine Carroll; the moody romantic drama Algiers (1938), directed by John Cromwell, with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr; Counter-Attack (1945), a war drama directed by Zoltan Korda, and starring Paul Muni as one of many Russians fighting the Nazis; and Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, a 1947 melodrama directed by Stuart Heisler, and starring Susan Hayward as a dipsomaniac.
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, The Pagan boasts paradisiacal location shots (courtesy of cinematographer Clyde de Vinna), a melodious score (from the “Pagan Love Song” by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown), and one of MGM star Ramon Novarro’s best performances. For the type of film it is – male sarong meets female sarong, but male pants create obstacles – Howard’s insightful and socially conscious intertitles almost seem out of place. Well, almost but not quite. In fact, Howard’s work on The Pagan helps turn what could have been a trifling film adaptation (credited to Dorothy Farnum) of a John Russell story into a heartfelt tale of social injustice.
John Howard Lawson died of Parkinson’s disease in 1977. He was 82.
Lupita Tovar Tribute
At one point known as Mexico’s Sweetheart, Lupita Tovar had a surprisingly brief film career. Apart from a handful of films in the early 1930s, including the Spanish version of Dracula and the Mexican classic Santa, Tovar worked only sporadically in motion pictures.
In Hollywood, she either played in Spanish-language versions of American films, or appeared in minor roles in regular studio fare.
I spoke with her once – while doing research on the life of fellow Mexican Ramon Novarro – and ran into her a couple of times at UCLA and at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. Both times Tovar was accompanied by film historian Bob Dickson, who greatly assisted me in my research. Bob is the co-author (with Juan B. Heinink) of Cita en Hollywood, a comprehensive history of Spanish-language productions in the Hollywood of the 1930s.
On December 7, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be paying tribute to Lupita Tovar, with Bob Dickson acting as the evening’s host. Dickson will conduct an onstage discussion with Tovar, which will be followed by a screening of Santa, a drama directed by silent film star Antonio Moreno, and possibly the actress’ biggest success.
Beverly Hills, CA – Actress Lupita Tovar will be the subject of a salute by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday, December 7, at 8 p.m., at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The evening’s host, film historian and author Bob Dickson, will conduct an onstage discussion with Tovar, to be followed by the premiere screening of a new print of Santa, starring Tovar as the title character, in Spanish with English subtitles. The event coincides with the Academy’s ongoing exhibition “Made in Mexico: The Legacy of Mexican Cinema.”
Tovar was born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1910. She came to Hollywood as a teenager to pursue acting, first appearing in silent films for the Fox studio. At Universal she starred in the Spanish-language versions of The Cat Creeps (La Voluntad del muerto, 1930) and Dracula (1931), filmed at night on the same sets used during the day for the English-language versions of these films. Over the course of her career, Tovar appeared in more than 30 films before retiring from acting in 1945.
Tovar married Czech émigré producer and later agent Paul Kohner in 1932, beginning a Hollywood film dynasty that includes their son, producer Pancho Kohner; their daughter, Academy Award®-nominated actress Susan Kohner (Imitation of Life, 1959); and their grandsons, the writer-director team of Paul and Chris Weitz.
In Santa, the first popular sound film produced in Mexico, Tovar stars as an innocent small-town girl whose life is ruined when she is abandoned by her soldier lover. A sensation when it was released in Mexico in 1932, the film is now considered a classic.
The new print of Santa is from the Academy Film Archive and the Filmoteca de la UNAM [Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico].
Following the discussion and screening, attendees will have the opportunity to view the “Made in Mexico” exhibition in the Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery, during special viewing hours for this evening only.
Tickets for the Academy’s Salute to Lupita Tovar, featuring Santa, are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members. They may be purchased in advance at the Academy during regular business hours, by mail, or on the night of the event, if still available, when the doors open at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, please call (310) 247-3600.
Regular viewing hours for “Made in Mexico” are Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends, noon to 6 p.m. Please note that the Academy will be closed November 23–26 for Thanksgiving. The exhibition continues through December 17.
Lupita Tovar photos: © A.M.P.A.S.
Jules Dassin for the Honorary Oscar?
Within certain Hollywood circles, there is a movement to pick Jules Dassin, whose film career spans nearly 40 years, as the next recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Honorary Academy Award.
Having begun his career at the MGM short-film unit in 1941, Dassin went on to direct several important films noirs of the late 1940s – among them The Naked City (1948), one of the first post-war American films to be shot on location, and the thriller Thieves’ Highway (1949).
After directing Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney in 20th Century Fox’s 1950 film noir Night and the City, shot in England, Dassin’s promising Hollywood career came to an abrupt halt as a result of the era’s anti-Red hysteria. The director sought refuge in Europe where he was to make several of his best-known films, including the heist thriller Rififi / Du rififi chez les hommes (1955), starring Jean Servais; the social drama He Who Must Die / Celui qui doit mourir (1957), also with Servais (this film marked the first time the director worked with future wife Melina Mercouri); and the heist comedy-thriller Topkapi (1964), starring Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, and Peter Ustinov.
In 1961, after the Hollywood blacklist had turned light grey, Dassin received Oscar nominations for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay for his 1960 worldwide hit Never on Sunday / Pote tin Kyriaki, a fable in which he mocked American puritanism while showcasing Mercouri’s talents – both physical and thespian – to best advantage. (The couple made nine films together; they were married in 1966.) Mercouri, who later became the Greek Minister of Culture, died of lung cancer in 1994.
Dassin’s last film was the 1980 box office and critical disappointment Circle of Two, starring Tatum O’Neal and Richard Burton.
Screenwriter Sandra Berg recently interviewed the director at his home in Greece. Berg’s chat with Dassin has just been published in the Writers Guild magazine Written By. (It can also be found at the WGA website.)
Academy members who would like Dassin to receive the Honorary Academy Award should write a letter of support to Academy president Sid Ganis.
Jules Dassin, by the way, will turn 95 next Dec. 18.
‘Bonnie and Clyde’ Editor Dede Allen Academy Salute
Press Release: New York, NY – Directors Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (website) will come together to salute three-time Oscar®-nominated film editor Dede Allen on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York City.
The Academy members-only event, hosted by Peter Travers, senior film editor at Rolling Stone, will highlight her career through film clips and feature a conversation with Allen and directors Lumet, Penn, and film editors Jerry Greenberg, Richard Marks and Craig McKay.
In a career spanning nearly 50 years, Allen began as a messenger at Columbia Pictures. Her first editing job came in 1959 in Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow. She went on to edit Robert Rossen’s The Hustler and Elia Kazan’s America America.
In 1967, she edited Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, which launched an editing style that has been imitated ever since. It made Allen one of the most sought-after professionals in the industry.
Allen received Academy Award® nominations for her work on Dog Day Afternoon, Reds (shared with McKay) and Wonder Boys, and she has represented film editors on the Academy Board of Governors for nine terms through July of this year.
The Academy Theater at Lighthouse International is located at 111 East 59th Street in New York City. Doors open at 7 p.m.
For more information, call (888) 778-7575.
Photo: © A.M.P.A.S.
Press Release: Beverly Hills, CA — Dimmer and The Boys of Baraka will be screened on November 29 at 7 p.m. as the next installment in the 25th annual Contemporary Documentaries series, presented by the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Free and open to the public, the screening will take place at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.
Directed by Talmage Cooley, Dimmer is a glimpse into the life of Mike, a blind teenager growing up, with his gang of blind friends, amid the decaying factories and neighborhoods of Buffalo, New York. The film was produced by Cooley, Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti.
In The Boys of Baraka, a group of at-risk kids are relocated from Baltimore’s dead-end streets to a progressive educational institution in rural Kenya. Once away from the ubiquitous drug use and rampant crime of their home neighborhood, the boys eagerly respond to educational opportunities that more fortunate youths often take for granted. The film was directed and produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Admission to all screenings in the Academy/UCLA Contemporary Documentaries series is free. Doors open at 6 p.m. All seating is unreserved. The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at the Academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, 1313 North Vine Street, in Hollywood, at the northwest corner of Fountain Avenue and Vine Street. Parking is available behind the building through the entrance on Homewood Avenue, one block north of Fountain. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or (310) 206-FILM.