Monthly Archives: December, 2012

God Bless You, Mr. Scrooge

During the holiday season, I’m positively glued to the television to watch all of the Christmas movies that start somewhere in the middle of November and continue all the way up to Christmas Day. With apologies to the producers, many of these aren’t very good (although that doesn’t stop me from watching them). And I can’t wait until one channel or other finally shows a version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – not adaptations like A Diva Christmas Carol or An American Christmas Carol (which are all fine in their own way) – but the REAL Christmas Carol, complete with Ebeneezer Scrooge, the Cratchits, Jacob Marley, and Spirits of Christmas – Past, Present and Christmases Yet to Come.

I’ve seen nearly every version ever filmed and can quote much of the dialog from memory. So consider yourself warned if you ever watch them with me.

I’m always fascinated how each actor interprets the role of Scrooge. Scrooge is a crotchety old man, that’s for sure, but as we go through his past with him, we see a little more of how he came to be the way he is. Whether it’s Reginald Owen (1938), Alastair Sim (1951), Patrick Stewart (1999 – and I even had the pleasure of seeing his one-man stage show as well – twice!) or even an animated Mr. Magoo (1962, with wonderful music by Jule Styne) or Jim Carrey (2009) to name just a few, we go along for the ride and we rejoice when Scrooge comes to realization that he has an opportunity to benefit mankind or just his own little corner of the world.

All of these performances are good but, for me, the absolute best redemption scene belongs to Alastair Sim. Once he awakens and knows he has not missed Christmas, he bounces around his bedroom, not quite knowing what he should do first. You can tell that the man is not accustomed to smiling and you can almost see his muscles crack from the strain of years of constant scowling.

But as most movie fans can probably tell you, one of the great film flubs also occurs in Sim’s redemption scene. If you have a chance to see it this holiday season – watch the mirror over Scrooge’s wash basin. As Scrooge deliberates what to do next, you can see a stage hand in the mirror’s reflection. Someone must have alerted him that he’s in the shot and he casually backs away.

Happy holiday viewing to all!

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Shopping for Your Characters, Part 1

Apart from my love of movies, I absolutely adore antique shopping. If I have to shop for clothes, I want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Not so with antiques where I must investigate every pile. I have certain collections I like to feed, but I discovered another plus to antique stores – I can find the characters for my book. Nearly every antique dealer will have a collection of old family photographs (some nice studio portraits or candid snapshots), typically under a sign inviting you to “Adopt a Relative.”

Some writers will cut out pictures from magazines of movie stars or models to serve as the inspiration for their characters. I like to browse through these old pictures to see if there’s anyone I can use. The advantage to these old pictures is that you have the period costumes right there to help with descriptive passages. Granted, most of the pictures you’ll find are from the early decades of the 20th Century or jump to the 1960s and ‘70s. Because my characters are from the 1930s, it’s sometimes more difficult to find just the right “character.” Like shopping for my couch, I don’t necessarily know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.

There’s usually a hugh pile of pictures, so you have to be patient but, in my case, perseverance paid off – I found a gem earlier this year. As soon as I saw this picture, I knew I had my Valerie Sharpe. Let me introduce her to you.

Valerie Sharpe 1Valerie Sharpe (born Lottie Schoenbrucher on March 2, 1907 in Pasadena, California) rose to stardom in the late 1930s to become the top comedienne of Majestic Studios (comparable to MGM’s Carole Lombard). Her Hollywood career started when sound came to films (1927) and she often played bit parts for comic relief until 100 Bedrooms (1933) where her role as a maid in a large New York hotel brought her to the attention of movie audiences and Studio executives who began to feature her in larger and starring roles.

Although gossip columns of the time often intimated at a romance between Valerie and the Studio’s top leading man Colin Hoskyns, Valerie married the Studio’s Head of Production, Samuel Jakes, in 1939. Jakes was nearly twenty-five years her senior, which also was fodder for the gossips. After the shooting death of Hoskyns on Christmas Eve 1943, fingers were pointed to Jakes for contracting the murder, but charges were never filed. Sharpe and Jakes remained married until Jakes’ death in 1949. At that time, Valerie retired from motion pictures and lived out the remainder of her life in the home she shared with Jakes in Majestic, California until her death in 1985 at age 78. Throughout her retirement, she refused all requests for interviews about the Hoskyns murder.

I’m still on the lookout for a picture that will capture Colin Hoskyns, who was the top leading man at Majestic (think of him as an equivalent to MGM’s Clark Gable or Warners’ Errol Flynn). If anyone thinks they know where I can find that, please let me know. In the meantime, while I continue to search, I’ll be introducing other characters along the way.