Saturday, April 28, 2012

How this all got started

I was thinking today about how my love of classic movies began. The first classic movie I remember seeing is "Gone With the Wind" in 8th grade. (Well, I saw "The Wizard of Oz" long before that, but GWTW was what started my love.)

We read the book in English class, and everyone loved it (despite the groans that came at first when we were handed the book and realized it was over 1000 pages). I can still remember the day the class geek, who had finished way before any of us, horrified everyone by blurting out the Melanie dies at the end. Anyway, after we finished reading this behemoth, our teacher treated us by showing us the movie in 45 minutes chunks each period for about a week. We were just dazzled. Or at least I was.

Casting: Clark Gable was, of course, the perfect Rhett Butler. Whether Margaret Mitchell had in mind when she wrote the book or not, no one else could have played that role, ever. Olivia de Havilland had that quiet, gentle manner that was just right for Melanie. Had no idea Vivien Leigh was British until years later.

The one cast member that wasn't quite right was Leslie Howard. If you've read the book you'll understand why. The first description of Ashley goes like this:

"...his drowsy grey eyes wide with a smile and the sun so bright on his blond hair that it seemed like a cap of shining silver."

And later, when he comes home on Christmas furlough:

"The Ashley Wilkes in his faded, patched uniform, his blond hair bleached tow by summer suns, was a different man from the easy-going, drowsy-eyed boy she had loved to desperation before the war. And he was a thousand times more thrilling. He was bronzed and lean now, where he had once been fair and slender, and the long golden mustache drooping about his mouth, cavalry style, was the last touch he needed to make him the perfect picture of a soldier."

Somewhere I think it also mentions that Ashley is over six feet tall. So imagine our surprise when we get to the barbecue scene of the movie, Scarlett calls out, "Ashley!", and this guy comes down the stairs:

And he has a British accent.
I am sorry to say that we all burst out laughing. Poor Leslie Howard, who was so great in many other roles, and was shot down by the Germans in 1943, was spectacularly unsuited for this role.

Not long after that, a new video rental place opened, with a much bigger selection than your average Blockbuster, including a great selection of old movies. They were usually shelved by actor/actress, so I began working my way through the Joan Crawford shelf, and the rest is history.