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Brent Phillips....

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » February 6th, 2015, 11:38 am

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Join us this weekend for author Brent Phillips, who will discuss his new book, Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance on Saturday, February 7, and Sunday, February 8!

According to the University Press of Kentucky, Brent Phillips' new book illuminates the life of a man whose work involved some of the most important figures of classic cinema: "From the trolley scene in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s last dance on the silver screen (The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949) to Judy Garland’s timeless, tuxedo-clad performance of “Get Happy” (Summer Stock, 1950), Charles Walters staged the iconic musical sequences of Hollywood’s golden age. During his career, this Academy Award–nominated director and choreographer showcased the talents of stars such as Gene Kelly, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra. However, despite his many critical and commercial triumphs, Walters’s name often goes unrecognized today.

In the first full-length biography of Walters, Brent Phillips chronicles the artist’s career, from his days as a featured Broadway performer and protégé of theater legend Robert Alton to his successes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He takes readers behind the scenes of many of the studio’s most beloved musicals, including Easter Parade (1948), Lili (1953), High Society (1956), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). In addition, Phillips recounts Walters’s associations with Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, and Gloria Swanson, examines the director’s uncredited work on several films, including the blockbuster Gigi (1958), and discusses his contributions to musical theater and American popular culture.
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This revealing book also considers Walters’s personal life and explores how he navigated the industry as an openly gay man. Drawing on unpublished oral histories, correspondence, and new interviews, this biography offers an entertaining and important new look at an exciting era in Hollywood history."

Brent Phillips is a former Joffrey Ballet soloist and a 2003 graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House. He holds a BA in English from Hunter College (CUNY) and has taught American History and English at the Harvey Milk High School in New York City. Phillips has worked as the Media Archivist at Fales Library since November 2003, where he safeguards the nearly 90,000 audiovisual holdings from various theater, dance, music, and cinema collections, as well as notable public access television collections like the Gay Cable Network Archive.

Phillips will be interviewed on Thursday, February 12 at 6 p.m., at the Fales Library on the NYU Campus By John Fricke, film historian who has written several books about Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz, and is widely-regarded as the preeminent Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz historian. (Fricke was a Special Guest at the TCM Film Festival 2014.)

Space is limited for this special event; please contact: rsvp.bobst@nyu.edu

December's Friday Night Spotlight on TCM featured Phillips and TCM Host Robert Osborne discussing the films directed by Charles Walters.

Please welcome the wonderful Brent Phillips to The Silver Screen Oasis!
Links:
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Walters-D ... 0813147212

TCM's Friday Night Spotlight: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/1 ... lters.html

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com/2 ... arles.html

The University of Kentucky Press: http://kentuckypress.com/live/title_det ... MvMRIFOKrU

NYU appearance: http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/resear ... stest.html

Wall Street Journal Review: http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review ... 1420835193

Brent Phillips' Facebook page celebrating all things Charles "Chuck" Walters:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charles- ... 2837020474
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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby kingrat » February 6th, 2015, 2:29 pm

Brent, thank you so much for meeting with us. I'm so pleased that you're giving attention to someone who has never received his due. A lot of critics don't let Charles Walters sit at the cool kids' table, but movies like Easter Parade, Lili, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, to name only three, suggest that we ought to take a closer look.

1. Was Charles Walters one of the people Arthur Freed discovered on Broadway? What brought him to the attention of Hollywood?

2. How openly gay was he? Did he share a house with another man, or was his private life more like George Cukor's?

3. Did he have favorite films he was particularly proud of making?

4. I'm one of the few people who really likes Two Loves. What did Walters think about this film, and were there any great stories about working with Shirley MacLaine and Laurence Harvey?

5. Will you be attending the TCM Film Festival? Several of us from SSO will be, and we'd love to continue the conversation.

Thanks so much for chatting with us.

David

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » February 6th, 2015, 6:21 pm

Yes, Brent. We would love to continue the conversation about Charles Walters with you in person! Will you be traveling to LA for the TCM Film Festival 2015?

I was wondering what you felt might have been Charles Walter's most enduring legacy, and what do you consider one of his greatest professional achievements? I know not everyone was able to view your Friday Night Spotlight appearances in December on TCM, but I think Chuck Walters' enduring legacy is a topic discussed on most of your appearances.

Thank you so much for visiting us here on The Silver Screen Oasis. :D
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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 11:15 am

Good morning! Hello, Moira — and Silver Screeners everywhere. Before I dive into kingrat’s great questions, let me first take a moment to say a big ‘thank you’ to Christy for this invitation. It’s not everyday you get asked to visit an Oasis! It’s a typically chilly February day here in New York City, so I’m thrilled to be answering your questions about the “swellegant” career of Charles “Chuck” Walters.

Hi, kingrat (great name, btw!). Apologies if I get too long-winded on these answers.

1. Actually it was Gene Kelly who “delivered” Chuck Walters to M-G-M and producer Arthur Freed. Gene and Chuck were colleagues in New York (Chuck’s companion, John Darrow, was agent to both dancers) and when Gene needed someone to stage a number for him in Freed’s screen adaptation of Du Barry Was a Lady, he contacted Darrow looking for choreographer Robert Alton, who Darrow also represented. When Alton proved unavailable, Gene asked for Chuck, who had already begun choreographing Broadway shows. At the time, Chuck was in between Broadway assignments and was staying in Hollywood to be with Darrow, whose agenting was keeping him on the Coast. Freed agreed with Kelly that Walters could stage the one Du Barry number (“Do I Love You”) and was so impressed with Walters’s abilities that he soon gave Du Barry’s original choreographer, the rather ponderous Seymour Felix, his walking papers. Chuck took over all the musical sequences for that picture. Freed then lobbied MGM to keep Chuck under contract. After Chuck served five years working as a dance director, it was Freed (once again) who persuaded MGM to make him a full-fledged director. Years later, Freed would (proudly) include Chuck’s name when mentioning the all the Broadway talent he brought to Hollywood, but - in actuality - Gene Kelly was the initial delivery guy.

2. I always say Chuck Walters was discreet but not dishonest about being gay. He was a very private man. He simply lived his life and did his work. As Judy Garland’s manager/husband Sid Luft once said, “Chuck didn’t alter his life one iota. He lived with another man (Darrow)…as in a marriage. They owned property together and lived well.” While researching my book, I was surprised to see several Metro memos that showed Darrow listed as Chuck’s guest at sneak previews, which meant the two of them were regularly “coupled” in the presence of the rest of the attending MGM echelon. This is something Cukor would never have done.

3. Walters would often state that Lili was a favorite film of his, primarily because he had so much control over that entire picture, shaping it as he knew it had to be shaped. Lili also netted him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. However, near the end of his life, Chuck remarked that he was most proud of Billy Rose’s Jumbo. To do such a BIG musical, he said, was a thrill. There was great initial “buzz” around that film when it opened, but its poor performance at the box office hurt him deeply. In 1980, he was teaching at USC and screened Jumbo. The students cheered afterward and Chuck wryly commented to the class, “Where were you guys 20 years ago?”

4. Wow, you are the first person who has admitted to liking Two Loves! The film was a disappointment to Chuck. He had great ambitions, including beginning the movie with a very psycho-sexual dream sequence with MacLaine, Harvey, a motorcycle, and a dead rabbit. (Yup!) He filmed it out in Palm Springs, with MacLaine's hair blowing in the wind, but M-G-M cut the sequence. Chuck had bad things to say about the final film, calling it “castrated.” As for MacLaine and Harvey, they truly did not get along. Shirley, who seldom minces words, later called her co-star "insensitive and pompous." Harvey’s schedule while filming was tight (he was set to make Summer and Smoke at Paramount) so they had to film all the climactic scenes at the beginning. Chuck called it “absolutely murderous!” Amusingly, the film was originally titled The Spinster (as it had to do with MacLaine’s character valiantly holding on to her virginity). Before changing the title to Two Loves, the studio considered the ridiculous title I’ll Save My Love.

5. I am still uncertain if I will be attending the TCM Film Festival. I am going to do my best to be there as I’d really like to meet you all.

Thanks for the questions. Cheers.
Last edited by Brent Phillips on February 7th, 2015, 2:37 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Moraldo Rubini » February 7th, 2015, 1:06 pm

I'm so glad you're here. Some people count sheep to go to sleep; I plan fantasy dinner parties... deciding who'll sit at a table of 12. For the past month, you've had a seat at the table!

I always enjoyed seeing Charles Walters dance with Judy Garland in the reconfigured finale of "Presenting Lily Mars". Did he ever consider a career in front of the camera? He seemed to have the charisma and talent for a promising career. Did he appear in any other films?

P.S. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » February 7th, 2015, 1:10 pm

Thank you for your lovely responses, Brent. I especially enjoy Kingrat's questions, and I'm happy to see Moraldo has a posed a great one, too.

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Director Charles Walters (seated next to Leslie Caron) with the cast of Lili (1953).

I noticed that screenwriter Helen Deutsch worked with Charles Walters on Lili (1953), The Glass Slipper (1955), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), and was wondering what she was like as a collaborator on his directorial projects. Deutsch also created a Broadway musical from the Lili material called Carnival which afforded her two Tony nominations in 1962 for Best Author (musical) and Best Book. Deutsch also wrote the screenplay for Valley of the Dolls, I'll Cry Tomorrow, National Velvet, The Seventh Cross, Plymouth Adventure, and King Solomon's Mines.

It seems that genre didn't control her interests or abilities, and I was wondering if you had any comments about Helen Deutsch and her association with Charles Walters?.
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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Lzcutter » February 7th, 2015, 1:24 pm

Mr. Phillips,

Welcome to the Oasis! So glad you could join us for the weekend! I've been of fan of Charles Walter's for a very long time. I was at USC film school when Charles Walter was teaching there and was friends with Mary Whitley who was his teaching assistant. I have fond memories of a group of us regularly going to the Vagabond Theater to see classic movies on the big screen.

I have a couple of questions for you on this cloudy Saturday morning if that's okay-

1) Did Walters enjoy teaching at USC? Another MGM alum, Norman Taurog, was also teaching there at the time and I would often see them sitting on the benches around the quad area of the old film school talking with students prior to their classes at Norris Theater.

2) I first saw "Unsinkable Molly Brown" on television (probably NBC's Day of the Week Night Movies) and first saw it on the big screen at the movie theater at the original MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Was it a difficult shoot? Debbie Reynolds has talked about it in the past and I have always been curious how well she and Harve Presnell got along.

Thanks again and I do hope you are able to come to the TCM Film Festival. Give my best to Mary Whitley if you speak to her!
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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 1:35 pm

Hi, Sue Sue.

Hm…those are some big questions (that you posted earlier). :)

It would be difficult for me to narrow Walters’s professional achievements down to one. There were certainly high points on Broadway and in Hollywood. On the Great White Way he triumphed in Jubilee, stopping the show when dancing to “Begin the Beguine.” He was featured in I Married an Angel and Du Barry Was a Lady -- two of the “smashiest” Broadway hits of the 1930s. In Hollywood, I would argue that Walters was one of Metro’s most profitable directors. Films such as Easter Parade, Lili, High Society, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown continue to endure and enchant. His adept ability to showcase his stars is perhaps his greatest attribute. Certainly directing Judy Garland’s triumphant first engagement at the Palace Theater was a milestone in his career — as well as Garland’s.

As for your question about Walters's legacy...
From childhood, Charles Walters was an entertainer.

All his life, he wanted to entertain.

And in that, he succeeded on a level of pure entertainment that remains uniquely -- and finally recognized as -- his.
Last edited by Brent Phillips on February 7th, 2015, 8:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 2:01 pm

Hi, Moraldo.
Well, I am absolutely “in” should any of your fantasy dinner parties ever come true! (…and sincerely honored, as well.)

Initially Chuck had hoped to have a career in front of the camera. In the early 1930s he screen-tested for MGM but didn’t make the cut. Just as well because he then went to New York and recognized how important it was to really have mastered your craft before jumping into the Hollywood machinery. (He often joked that he wanted to dance at MGM because he “couldn’t stand the way George Murphy danced.") :)

There certainly was great chemistry between Garland and Walters in that reconfigured Lily Mars finale. LB Mayer reportedly wanted to give Chuck an artist’s contract after seeing that dance number, but Arthur Freed thought he’d be more useful to MGM in the dance department. This makes sense as Metro (by 1943) already had song-and-dance men Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Ray McDonald, and occasionally Fred Astaire on the payroll.

Chuck did “step out” on film a few more times: “Embraceable You” from Girl Crazy (dancing once again with Garland), “Fun On the Wonderful Midway” from Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (dancing with Frances Rafferty), and two sequences in Torch Song (dancing with Joan Crawford).
Chuck also had a few incognito moments dancing on the screen. You can spot him as Jean-Pierre Aumont’s “dancing double” in the Adoration Ballet from Lili, and he and Cyd Charisse can be seen dancing the Cha-Cha-Cha from the waist down only in Easy To Love.

Thanks for the questions. When do we eat?
Last edited by Brent Phillips on February 7th, 2015, 8:48 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » February 7th, 2015, 2:45 pm

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Charles Walters and Judy Garland in 1943's Presenting Lily Mars...
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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Moraldo Rubini » February 7th, 2015, 7:10 pm

Brent Phillips wrote:Initially Chuck had hoped to have a career in front of the camera. In the early 1930s he screen-tested for MGM but didn’t make the cut. Just as well because he then went to New York and recognized how important it was to really have mastered your craft before jumping into the Hollywood machinery. (He often joked that he wanted to dance at MGM because he “couldn’t stand the way George Murphy danced.) :)

Re Senator Murphy: I have more in common with Charles Walters than I ever imagined.

Were you able to pour over MGM archives? [This too, is a fantasy of mine.] Were you able to see his screen test?

Brent Phillips wrote:Chuck did “step out” on film a few more times: “Embraceable You” from Girl Crazy (dancing once again with Garland), “Fun On the Wonderful Midway” from Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (dancing with Frances Rafferty), and two sequences in Torch Song (dancing with Joan Crawford).
Chuck also had a few incognito moments dancing on the screen. You can spot him as Jean-Pierre Aumont’s “dancing double” in the Adoration Ballet from Lili, and he and Cyd Charisse can be seen dancing the Cha-Cha-Cha from the waist down only in Easy To Love.

Oh! Thanks for those tips. Torch Song?! He's the choreographer to whom Miss Crawford exclaims, "What? And ruin my line?" [as she revealed her stubby leg]? I imagine this was his first time working with Miss Crawford, as Torch Song was her return to MGM after a decade at Warners. It must have been odd for her to be back, I wonder if he spent most of his time making her feel at ease?

Brent Phillips wrote:Thanks for the questions. When do we eat?

I'll send the dinner invitations to the engravers. It's always so difficult to get the deceased to arrive on time, and Miss Garbo never shows...

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 7:11 pm

Hello, Lynn in Sherman Oaks. It’s amazing that you were at USC the same time Walters and Taurog were teaching. How exciting that must have been! So many of Taurog’s films hold up remarkably well, and — like Chuck’s — they possess a great deal of heart. Glad the students at USC had the opportunity the learn from both of these veteran directors.

Chuck absolutely adored teaching at USC. At that time, he hadn’t worked for about five years — directing two Lucille Ball TV specials in 1975 had been his last professional project. Plus Chuck was going through a rough period in his life (his longtime partner John Darrow passed away shortly after Walters started at USC). Teaching became something of a salvation and a solace. He wrote to his long-time friend Gloria Swanson: "School is going beautifully. Really think it is saving my life.” Those two semesters in 1980 gave Walters a lovely final chapter to his life; he passed away in August 1982 after a tiring bout with mesothelioma.

Speaking with Mary Whiteley for the book was a complete joy. Her memories surrounding her work as Walters’s teaching aid were quite strong; she remembered plotting the courses and (above all) recalled Chuck’s graciousness, humility, and humor.

Regarding your questions about Molly Brown:

Molly was a stressful shoot, but also a wonderful one. It is true that Chuck did not want Debbie Reynolds. He simply could not see her in the title role. That caused friction. But his opinion changed after seeing the rushes. The two ultimately worked well together and he later said, “Sometimes I’m asked, ‘What do you think is your greatest contribution to the business?’ If I could be honest, I’d say, ‘Getting an Academy Award nomination for Debbie Reynolds.'”

Walters's other problems on Molly stemmed from the building friction between him and producer Lawrence Weingarten. The two had worked together well in the past (on comedies The Tender Trap and Don’t Go Near the Water) but this time there was hostility — which is very out of character for Chuck.

On the other hand, I spoke with dancer Grover Dale for the book (what an absolute treat!) and he remembers the filming as a joy. He said: “I never had an experience like that. in looking back — and having some tough ones to deal with [later on] — it has reminded me how blessed I was to get that opportunity.”

As for Debbie and Harve, I believe they got along fine. Molly Brown was his first feature film, and Debbie can be extraordinarily giving. Plus she wanted that film to be the best — she had lobbied hard for the title role and won. It's interesting to think how the film might have turned out with Chuck’s first choices for the leads: Shirley MacLaine and Robert Goulet. (Goulet even screen tested, but negotiations broke down over distribution rights to the Molly Brown soundtrack. Goulet worked exclusively for Columbia Records, not MGM Records.)

Thanks for the questions. Seeing Molly Brown on the big screen at the MGM Grand must have been, well…grand!
I’d love to hear any memories you have of your time at USC.
Cheers.
Last edited by Brent Phillips on February 7th, 2015, 10:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 7:42 pm

Sue Sue -

Thanks for asking about writer Helen Deutsch. I am absolutely wild about this remarkable woman. Her archive is at Boston University and I could have sat reading her lengthy letters and memos for days. Dore Schary once wrote that Deutsch was not entirely a calm woman, which I figure meant she was simply a strong-minded, independent woman working hard in the male-dominated movie business. The female characters she created were also resolute and determined (Lili in Lili, Ella in The Glass Slipper, Velvet Brown in National Velvet, Molly Brown (the unsinkable). Heck, she even made Helen Lawson victorious in Valley of the Dolls!)

There was a great deal of respect between Helen Deutsch and Chuck Walters. They was also a strong level of trust. Deutsch once said that when writing for a Chuck Walters picture she'd leave "big hunks wide open for his imagination and improvisation and invention, for that is when he functions best." They first worked together on Lili, which was great because Chuck had creative control over that picture. Their next project, The Glass Slipper, was more problematic because producer Edwin Knopf was more interfering. The two began work together on I'll Cry Tomorrow with the intention of starring June Allyson as Lillian Roth. (Chuck eventually went on studio suspension rather than direct Susan Hayward.) By the time they got to Molly Brown, Deutsch and Walters both recognized they would have a problem if Molly seemed too much like a gold-digger. Deutsch wrote a nine page character analysis on Molly Brown -- and I would argue that she made that character into one that audiences rooted for. Talk about a gifted writer.

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Lzcutter » February 7th, 2015, 7:54 pm

Mr. Phillips,

It was a great time to be at USC. The school was still located in the old barracks buildings and had an open quad area where students and teachers could gather before classes. Norris Theater was located a short distance away and was a great place to see films. In addition to Charles Walters and Norman Taurog, Arthur Knight who at the time was writing about films for Playboy was also a teacher there as well as Drew Casper and Rick Jewell who many now recognize from various DVD commentaries on classic film DVDs.

Arthur Knight knew a number of stars and taught a Thursday night class where he would show a current film usually just before its release or just after. We got to see the original cut of "Heaven's Gate" about a week after it had been pulled following Vincent Canby's scathing review.

DKA, the campus film club, was run by a couple of students, mainly Gordon Meyer, Don McGlynn and Russell Ito and they presented some outstanding programs including an in-depth look at Sam Peckinpah's career. Sam attended the screening of the European version of "The Wild Bunch" which was a very rare screening back then and that version included the scenes that had been cut from the American version. The final night of the retrospective Sam returned to campus for a screening of "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" and Jason Robards and L.Q. Jones joined him on stage for a discussion.

They also did an in-depth retrospective of Ozu and one on Don Siegel. The final night of the Siegel tribute, Mr. Siegel was in attendance along with Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood (with Sandra Locke with Clint). Sam signed my progam, "Remember, he started it all" in tribute to Don Siegel.

Mary Whitely programmed a terrific retrospective on Gene Kelly that included an evening with Gene Kelly talking about his career.

There was a retrospective of Orson Welles films that brought Welles to the theater. The head of DKA then was Ken Kwapis and he was nervously pacing back and forth in the lobby smoking like a chimney worried that he would mess up. When the time came for him to walk into the theater, he stubbed out his cigarette and ran down the theater aisle, on to the stage and gave Welles a great introduction with no flubs.

I think my fondest memory is the night that we held a discussion about film preservation. Marty Scorcese came and brought Thelma Schoonmacher with him and after the program ended and the crowd had left, a few of us sat on the stage with them and Scorcese talked in depth about the subject.

I worked my way through film school as one of the theater managers at Norris Theater and so we had the opportunity to see many, many classic films and provided the projectionists for the retrospectives complete with projected film clips.

It was great fun back then!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Re: AUTHOR BRENT PHILLIPS DISCUSSES CHARLES WALTERS!

Postby Brent Phillips » February 7th, 2015, 8:07 pm

Moraldo -
Were you able to pour over MGM archives? [This too, is a fantasy of mine.]


I was able to pour over the archives of Arthur Freed, Roger Edens, Joseph Pasternak, and Chuck Walters at USC. I think I floated back to my hotel room every night. Talk about a treasure trove.

Were you able to see his screen test?


Alas, no, I did not see the screen test. Not even sure it still exists. I did get to view some sensational rare footage of Walters performing on Broadway in the 1930s. (From Jubilee, I Married an Angel, and Du Barry.) Those hours were precious!

Regarding Joan Crawford: Yes, Chuck spent a good deal of time making sure Crawford was calm and at ease. No small feat. He admitted that he and Joan had a few slugs of vodka before filming the first dance sequence in Torch Song in order to shore up her confidence. The two became pretty good friends.

Thanks!!


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