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Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

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Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 15th, 2016, 11:56 am

SYLVIA SIDNEY BIOGRAPHER SCOTT O'BRIEN TO VISIT THE SSO ON 12/17 & 12/18 TO DISCUSS "SYLVIA SIDNEY: PAID BY THE TEAR"

''There isn't a role that I wouldn't accept, provided it's good and has something to say..." - Sylvia Sidney

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Her face was magnificent--and her acting could be unforgettable. In youth, middle age and as an elderly woman she wore it proudly, radiating intelligence, innocence, pain and joy--along with some acerbic humor and a stubborn feistiness--but Sidney's enduring spirit and professionalism might be even more impressive during her eight decade career.

That was Sylvia--a woman whose high cheekbones and magnetic, large eyes who could radiate an exquisite delicacy and toughness with the flick of an eye. Now we have an opportunity to learn more about this somewhat mysterious figure in classic film on Sat., Dec.17 & Sun., Dec.18 we have a chance to learn more about Sidney during an online visit at The Silver Screen Oasis. Scott O'Brien will be discussing his latest book, PAID BY THE TEAR (BearManor), throughout the weekend.

Sylvia who? For far too long, many of this Oscar & Emmy-nominated actress' best films remained unavailable until recent years. Some only know her from her very funny turns on the television classic, WKRP in Cincinnati, or in Beetlejuice (1988) or Mars Attacks! (1996)--but fewer know her best Depression-era dramatic work in such films as City Streets, Fury and You Only Live Once and fewer still had the privilege of seeing Sidney on stage--despite a forty+ years career in live theater.

As many know, Scott O'Brien has long made our Oasis a beacon for classic movie fans with his previous visits discussing his previous books on Kay Francis, Ann Harding, Ruth Chatterton and George Brent (linked below).

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Please consider this your gilt-edged invitation to join us for this celebration this weekend at the link below. Also listed--links to learn more about Scott O'Brien and his biographies:

The Upcoming Scott O'Brien Q & A at The Silver Screen Oasis:
viewforum.php?f=36

Scott O'Brien's Previous Visits to the SSO:
viewforum.php?f=36

Scott O'Brien on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/scott.obrien.963

A Sylvia Sidney Playlist:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... dko6u3ggq5

BearManor Media Publishers of Scott O'Brien's books:
http://bearmanorblog.blogspot.com/searc ... +o%27brien

Scott O'Brien on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Scott-OBrien/e/B002BLLB6I

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 17th, 2016, 9:18 am

Thanks for joining us this weekend, Scott. Sylvia Sidney's presence in such unjustly obscure movies as Thirty Day Princess (1934), Mary Burns, Fugitive (1935) and The Searching Wind (1946) have made me a longtime fan.

How did you happen to choose Sylvia Sidney as the subject of your biography?
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby clore » December 17th, 2016, 11:27 am

No questions - not yet anyway, I just learned of this thread. Just a thank you for recognizing the Queen of the Depression-era melodrama. She was so good that even George Raft showed chemistry with her. ;) STREET SCENE is my favorite and she and Estelle Taylor are actually believable as mother and daughter.

Not a question, but I do wonder if it dawned on her that while in the 30s, she was billed above Bogart and Raft in the films she made with them, by the 40s it was reversed and in THE WAGONS ROLL AT NIGHT and MR. ACE, she had second-billing. Her brief screen time in LES MISERABLES (1952) are the best moments in the film.

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 12:20 pm

Thanks for the invite Moira - Great to be here. Film author/historian James Robert Parish suggested that Sidney was long overdue for a biography. I had to agree. Sylvia had the power and impact of stars like Davis, Stanwyck and Hepburn—and like them, she had something unique. I love this quote from author James Baldwin about Sidney: "She was the only American film actress who reminded me of reality." No pretense, no glamour, no star-treatment—just honest-to-god reality. Baldwin, an African-American, underscored that Sidney had the essence of minority women he had grown up with. She was his "everywoman."

I first saw Sylvia in a 1957 revival of Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). Naive, ten-year-old me, thought it was about real people. I have to credit Sylvia (along with Beulah Bondi) for my being so gullible. As Baldwin stated, these women reminded me of reality.

After Parish suggested writing about Sylvia, it was easy for me to get on-board.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 12:45 pm

Hello Clore - Sylvia sang praises for Raft, who treated her royally. "What he lacked in talent, he made up for in charm," she said. I enjoyed Pick Up (1933), as well as their last film together Mr. Ace (1946). The latter film was originally titled The Congresswoman. As Raft was considered bigger box-office at that time, producers gave the title a sex-change. Sidney and Raft definitely had celluloid simpatico. "And he never made a pass at me," confirmed Sylvia.
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As with Bogart in The Wagons Roll at Night (1941), I doubt Sylvia was all that concerned about top-billing. She didn't demand star-treatment. She came back to Hollywood in 1944, because it was considered a healthier climate for her young son, Jody Adler, who had health issues. She was glad to get work.

I would have to say that Street Scene is my personal favorite, too. Such a well-crafted film. Vidor's direction and the ensemble spirit of the cast made it something special.

Thanks for your questions about our Depression Queen.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 17th, 2016, 12:49 pm

Thanks, Scott.

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Above: Sylvia Sidney, demonstrating her early sense of drama

In your book, you describe how her her early talent was nurtured by her family--yet, as with many actresses, her home life was not entirely conventional. Could you comment on what made her girlhood a bit different?

I think Clore touched on some great Sylvia Sidney movies in his post, but for those unfamiliar with her work, could you please cite five essential films that were highlights of her career?
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 1:53 pm

Moira - Sylvia was frank about how her parents unhappy relationship affected her. Before they came to the U.S., Victor Kosow and Rebecca Saperstein both escaped the pogroms and slaughter of Russian/Polish Jews. By the time Sylvia (born Sophia Kosow in New York, 1910) was five, Victor abandoned his wife and daughter. "I was painfully shy," recalled Sylvia. "I lived with a saddening and permeating sense of my mother's tears." Little Sophia also had a stuttering problem. Fortunately, she bonded with her mother's second husband, a dentist, named Sigmund Sidney. He adopted her when she was twelve. Dr. Sidney afforded her elocution lessons, and gave her the tenderness that she so sorely was in need of. Her mother, on the other hand, must have been a challenge. In 1988, Sylvia told director Richard Kramer that when her ninety-two-year-old mother died (1979), "That was the best day of my life!"
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Sylvia with her father Victor Kosow (c. 1915)

My list of five film "highlights" of Sidney's career in the 1930's:
Street Scene (1931)
City Streets (1931)
Fury (1936)
Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936)
Dead End (1937)

My favorites from her 40's comeback:
The Searching Wind (1946) - absorbing, disturbing indictment on U.S. isolationism that contributed to the killing of 6 million Jews.
Mr. Ace (1946) - an expose on the machinations of American elections that is still relevant

I usually have to mention Beetlejuice before most people (non film buffs) recognize the name: Sylvia Sidney
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby Jezebel38 » December 17th, 2016, 2:12 pm

Hi Scott - welcome back to the SSO.

I had the pleasure of viewing AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY at The Pacific Film Archive and found the film most impressive - I prefer it to the remake. I am a fan of Phillips Holmes and his portrayal of Clyde, but Sylvia Sidney is the best of the leads in this. Can you tell us a bit of her experience making this movie? Did she get along with Von Sternberg?

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 2:31 pm

For Jezebel38 - I agree, Sylvia's portrayal in An American Tragedy gave the film its most genuine moments. She carried a certain pathos with rare naturalness that was certainly recognized by the film industry.

Sidney did not get along with von Sternberg. Along with his volatile temper, she found him to be dictatorial and arrogant. She felt von Sternberg's treatment of Phillips Holmes appalling. I quote: “Phillips Holmes ... a lovely young man. We all knew he was having trouble with his homosexuality and we were warm to him. Von Sternberg terrified him. He didn’t have to be so rough on Holmes ... von Sternberg was a dreadful person. Oh God, I hated him."

Thanks for joining in with an excellent question.
With Phillips Holmes
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 17th, 2016, 2:46 pm

For those curious about one of the less familiar movies mentioned by Scott, Mr. Ace (1947) is available online at youtube:

phpBB [video]


Did Sylvia Sidney bring out something special in George Raft? He seems much more relaxed and animated in the above film as well as You and Me (1938), which is linked below.

phpBB [video]
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 3:08 pm

Moira - re: the team of Raft and Sidney. I had to laugh when I read a 1933 Boston Herald review of Pick Up.

“Miss Sidney scores her points quietly, efficiently. She is always in character.
Mr. Raft is in and out of his ... one cannot dodge the impression she is patiently
and ever so subtly teaching him how to act.”
Raft and his "pick-up" Sidney
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I believe their mutual affection/understanding of each other, helped Raft relax. Sidney somehow had the ability to pull him into the world of make-believe.

Mr. Ace is worth watching. You and Me, has its moments, but feels disjointed.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby clore » December 17th, 2016, 3:54 pm

oscotto wrote:“Miss Sidney scores her points quietly, efficiently. She is always in character.
Mr. Raft is in and out of his ... one cannot dodge the impression she is patiently
and ever so subtly teaching him how to act.”
I believe their mutual affection/understanding of each other, helped Raft relax. Sidney somehow had the ability to pull him into the world of make-believe.

Mr. Ace is worth watching. You and Me, has its moments, but feels disjointed.


That quote is one worth remembering. Raft was a lot more "fun" in his Paramount days than later. It was around the time of MANPOWER at WB that he turned into the great stone face. He's quite animated in YOURS FOR THE ASKING and SOULS AT SEA will have one in tears.

If i had to come up with my five top Sidney movies, they would be...

Street Scene
Thirty Day Princess
(something lighter for a change)
Sabotage
You and Me
You Only Live Once


It's been way too long since I've seen Pick-Up or An American Tragedy - close to 40 years. Thus, harder to gauge in comparison to the above which I've seen several times each.

Honorable mentions to Les Miserables (1952) and Violent Saturday.

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 4:50 pm

Clore - I'll have to put Souls at Sea on my must-see list. I've always thought him a pleasant, likeable screen presence. I agree, Thirty Day Princess was a great change of pace for Sylvia. Her 1958-59 cross-country tour in Auntie Mame also proved how funny she could be. Typical reviews raved: "Miss Sidney ... has the comedienne's instinct and facility." "It is doubtful that Sylvia Sidney in the title role could be surpassed."

Sabotage, unsurprisingly, is more about Hitchcock than Sidney. Excellent film, although Sylvia said she felt like Hitch was moving her around like a "puppet." I thought she was the best thing in Les Miserables ... too bad director Lewis Milestone put so much emphasis on the Debra Paget-Cameron Mitchell subplot.
download/file.php?mode=view&id=10599 "Auntie Sylvia"
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 17th, 2016, 7:38 pm

One of the aspects of Sylvia's life that you brought out in your book was the remarkable trajectory of her career on stage in the late '20s, beginning with good notices in her Broadway debut in 1927's Crime opposite Douglass Montgomery and her critically acclaimed part in Gods of Lightning, inspired by the Sacco & Vanzetti case then roiling the nation. All this--before she was even 21!

Did her early success prepare her for the ups and downs of her career?

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Above: A teenage Sylvia Sidney stunned audiences with her power and sincerity in Maxwell Anderson and Harold Hickerson's topical play, Gods of Lightning on Broadway in 1928.

Could you talk about Sylvia Sidney's stage work throughout her life a bit more? She seems to have found much more variety in the theater--comedy as well as drama and even a musical at one point!



Did she prefer stage work over film?
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby clore » December 17th, 2016, 8:09 pm

TCM aired SOULS AT SEA in June 2015, so I made a DVD of it. I hadn't seen it since the 70s and it still moves me. I believe that it is out on Universal's Classic series. Another Raft and also from Henry Hathaway is SPAWN OF THE NORTH which has Raft top-billed over the rising Henry Fonda and the declining John Barrymore. Both well worth your time.

I have the theory that once his chances with Norma Shearer and then Betty Grable fell apart because he could not get a divorce, his personal depression showed up on the screen. Then after he realized that he handed Bogart his career, what did he have to laugh about? He wanted CASABLANCA but the stories of him turning it down are false. Hal Wallis turned him down, writing to Jack Warner that "he hasn't made a film around here since I was a little boy."

Have you seen Sidney's turn on the NAKED CITY TV series? It's almost as if we're seeing one of her Depression heroines in 1961, now confronting several bank robbers/killers, one of whom is her nephew played by Robert Duvall. It's quite tense and she has a number of powerful scenes.


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