THE MUSIC MAN
With Seán Martinfield
MILDRED PIERCE - Ann Blyth, Live at the Castro
July 21, 2006
Tuesday, June 29, 1943. The figures are in for MGM's latest Crawford
flick, ABOVE SUSPICION. Barely enough for lion litter. It's curtains
for Joan Crawford. The bottom has dropped out. Washed up. Chief
Executive Louis B. Mayer tells her she's "Box Office Poison",
packs up her dressing room and gives her the gate. Next!
A bit later, across town at the Warner Brothers lot, Executive
Producer Jack L. Warner is sweeping off his welcome mat. He pencils-in
"J. Crawford" above "B. Davis", hands Joan
a script, drapes her in a lush fur coat (shoulders measuring 5-heads-across,
with hat to match), escorts her to director Michael Curtiz (brandishing
his Oscar for CASABLANCA, just in case), and gives the command,
Friday, September 28, 1945. For weeks the banner ads have been
screaming, "The kind of Woman most men want - but shouldn't
have!" But now the lights are dimming at New York's Strand
Theatre, the curtains part, the overture begins. A deep boom from
the bass drums, the piercing treble of heralding trumpets, a clash
of symbols - the black and white WB shield sparkles in the center
of a silvered screen. The score is by Max Steiner - ironically,
having won the Oscar the previous year for SINCE YOU WENT AWAY.
The Warner's logo disappears under an incoming ocean wave. As
the foamy waters retract, Joan Crawford's name sits above those
of co-stars Zachary Scott and Jack Carson. Another crash from
the orchestra, another retracting breaker. Finally, the title
- MILDRED PIERCE. Whether Miss Crawford's second shot at a career
will likewise wash-up on shore, remains to be seen. One way or
another, what every Critic in town knows for sure: We are in for
In an overhead shot, the camera pans across neon signs reading
"Cocktails / Entertainment / Seafood". (It looks like
old San Francisco!) Joan enters from the right and heads toward
the end of the pier, perhaps the end of the line. But in a pair
of ankle strap shoes, sable hat and coat, glittering neckline
and smart long-strapped evening bag hanging over 2-feet of furried
left shoulder - so far, the Brothers Warner have given Joan the
Star Treatment. With gloved hands she grips the top rail of the
barrier standing between her and
the end. A wary cop approaches.
Joan makes her move to jump. He bangs his night stick sharply
on the rail. She stops.
"What's on your mind, lady? I think maybe you had an idea
you'd take a swim."
"Leave me alone," she pleads.
"If you take a swim, I'd have to take a swim." This
cop recognizes quality fur when he sees it. "Just because
you feel like bumping yourself off, I gotta get pneumonia. Is
that fair? Beat it. Go on home before we both take a swim."
Somewhat embarrassed, tears glistening in the eyes, Mildred heads
up the pier towards the Cocktail Lounge where some two-bit blonde
is crooning, "You must have been a beautiful baby."
After all, back home - with Husband #2 pumped full of bullets
and dead on the floor, lip-prints from daughter Veda (Ann Blyth)
on his stiffening corpse, a still-smoking pistol registered to
Husband #1 cooling in a pool of upper class blood - there's more
than a sable coat to save here. Mildred's got to beat the wrap.
Inside the Lounge, a man raps on the window. It's Wally Fay (Jack
Carson), slick-talking real estate hawker.
"Mildred! What are you doing around this pigeon perch? Slumming?"
Friday, July 21, 2006. Marc Huestis presents a special event
screening of MILDRED PIERCE at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.
Appearing live is "Veda" herself, Academy Award nominated
Ann Blyth. Renowned author and film noir expert Eddie Muller will
interview the venerable actress. Also being screened is BLYTH
SPIRIT, a fabulous clip reel covering Ms. Blyth's splendid career.
Comedian Heklina, creator of San Francisco's drag cabaret Trannyshack,
hosts "Mildred's Fierce Pie Eating Contest" (watch for
celebrity contestant Anita Cocktail); special appearances by Matthew
Martin and Jan Wahl, and Juanita Moore presenting LA "VEDA"
LOCA. Sponsors include Twin Peaks Tavern, Castrobear Presents,
Joie De Vivre Hospitality and the Maxwell Hotel.
Tickets are $27.50 for the 7 pm Gala, $55.00 for the 10:30 Dessert
Reception and Gala
Partial Proceeds benefit the AIDS Emergency Fund.
Tickets are available by calling: 415-863-0611
At: A Different Light Bookstore, 489 Castro Street