čtvrtek 10. března 2016

Annette Helen: "While many film historians focus upon a star’s life after he or she gained fame, I take a unique step further into the past and illustrate a star’s life before Hollywood."

My friend Annette Helen loves everything old-fashined! If you are interested in the history of the Hollywood movies, Annette is the girl to know! Her blog Hometowns to Hollywood and her facebook page is filled with interesting info about actors and actresses that you perhaps didn't even know about...  She was very kind to answer a couple of questions for our web. 

Annette, you have been a great fan of old classic Hollywood movies and great stars of the screen . When did you first realize this was the IT you wanted to concentrate on and learn about?
I have been a fan of Golden Age films for as long as I can remember, but my actual "involvement" in them did not begin until I was an undergraduate student. While I possess a deep passion for them, I did not really contribute to conversation about them until about 2010, when I started to get involved in a local library‘s classic film series. I was sort of a novelty--a 20-year-old with a fanatical knowledge about classic film--so, my guest lecture spots and writings helped draw in younger audiences. While I was in graduate school, I also began a blog, entitled, "Hometowns to Hollywood" 
(https://home2hollywood.wordpress.com/), which chronicles my trips to the hometowns of various Golden Age stars. I am fascinated by the genesis of their creativity, as well as how their legacies have been cemented within their hometowns. This has led to several exciting opportunities and retired Hollywood Golden Age star meetings for me, and I have a pretty solid following as a result. I'm excited to have a unique niche in my passion for Golden Age film, and have since started a classic film series of my own!

I have been a follower and a great fan of your Hometowns to Hollywood facebook page. You have almost 1500 followers! Facebook page is linked to your lovely web where you have published interesting articles and inside info about hometowns of famous actors and actresses. Can you please tell us more about this project? 
While many film historians focus upon a star’s life after he or she gained fame, I take a unique step further into the past and illustrate a star’s life before Hollywood. Because I actually travel to these hometown locations, I am able to credibly discuss how a specific legacy is evident within the star’s hometown. I am thrilled to offer audiences this especially significant “walk” in the star’s footsteps through photos, videos, and captivating stories. My blog is the main hub for all of my hometown travels. At present, I have covered the hometowns of Gloria Swanson, Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, James Dean, Red Skelton, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Jack Lemmon, Tyrone Power, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn, the Barrymores, Oliver Hardy, Lana Turner, Anne Baxter, Cole Porter, Phil Harris, James Stewart, and Frances Farmer. I took "Hometowns to Hollywood" on the road, so to speak, as my first endeavor at manning my own film series. This series is hosted at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. I screen a set of three films on a seasonal basis. Each film screening is preceded with my presentation about the the star's life, hometown, and an exploration of how his or her legacy is documented within his or her hometown. I bring in items to display that were either owned or worn by the star of the film that night, or memorabilia relating to the film or star at hand. I kicked off my first showing in early September of 2015, which was a success. I also work to involve special guest appearances at least once per season. In October of 2015, I interviewed Tyrone Power’s daughter, Taryn Power-Greendeer during one of my screenings. You can read about that experience here: https://home2hollywood.wordpress.com/editorials/a-powerful-legacy-my-afternoon-with-taryn/ I am so thrilled to share my enthusiasm and passion for Golden Age cinema with others, and am excited for the second round of my series to begin in April 2016. Nothing rivals the communal experience of watching a film on the "big screen."

Who are your favourite Hollywood actors / actresses?  I am sure you must have met some of them in person. Or perhaps their children to discuss lots of wonderful and interesting stories...
I have so many favorites! I am fond of Judy Garland, Jimmy Stewart, Eleanor Powell, Jean Arthur, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Eleanor Powell, and so many more! I am especially a fan of musicals and screwball comedies, and have a huge respect for „triple threat“ actors and actresses. I have met Jane Powell and Mitzi Gaynor in person through TCM’s „Road to Hollywood“ events in Chicago. I have also met Irene Dunne’s granddaughter, and one of Tyrone Power’s daughters. I’ve recently become close with an actress named Lyn Wilde, who was part of a twin act with her sister, Lee. I’m currently working on an article about Lyn’s experiences working in Hollywood, as she basically starred in the first „Parent Trap,“ which was actually a film called „Twice Blessed.“ Lyn has worked with the likes of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, June Haver, and so many more. In addition, she was good friends with Judy Garland. She’s a wealth of information still, at the age of 93, and I’m so lucky to know her. I look forward to publishing her story as soon as possible.

Annette with the one and only Michael Feinstein (2015)

I also know you are a teacher. Can you tell us where and what you exactly teach your students?
I am an English and Film Studies teacher at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, which is essentially located in Chicago’s north shore. The subjects I teach are Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, American Literature, Creative Writing, College Writing, and Film Study. In particular, I’m delighted to be teaching the „first run“ of my Film Study course. The course is taught chronologically, but I plan on featuring shorts, silents, noirs, screwballs, musicals, and so much more. I am especially excited to familiarize students with the idea of the studio system and to emphasize that before there was a Hollywood, there was Chicago. I worked for Essanay Studios Chicago throughout graduate school, which is where stars like Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson got their start. It's one of the last remaining silent film studios. While the film industry moved West for the steadier climate, we are still in a critical location regarding film history, and have fantastic archives nearby that document its importance. I also want to emphasize how cinema is constantly building. One technique makes way for the next over and over again until we come to what is familiar to us in the present day. However, I have a deep love for early cinema, and will remind my students that almost every part of it is groundbreaking. After all, these were the pioneers who were experimenting with just about everything for the first time, and their craft is both phenomenal and inspiring. So much of their work has aged well and has certainly shaped the film industry. While we may be used to the modern, it is so crucial that we do not dismiss the old. There is a certain glamour to Hollywood’s Golden Age that just cannot be replicated today.

Reunited with the Johnny Mercer piano! 
Taken at the Great American Songbook Foundation in Carmel, IN

You have even been introducing films on TCM (Turner Classic Movies)? Can you tell us more about your work for TCM?
TCM periodically reaches out to its fans via social media, seeking audience members with "interesting, funny or poignant stories about their relationship to classic films." Simply mentioning which film you would like to see is not enough--they want to know why fans love a film. Upon seeing their posting, I submitted my entry via TCM.com. I selected the 1936 screwball comedy, Theodora Goes Wild, for a number of reasons. First off, I admire the film's leading lady, Irene Dunne, for probably being one of the most down-to-earth stars to come out of Hollywood. I previously co-screened the film as part of a local library’s classic film series in May of 2014, which showcased lesser-known films of Hollywood's Golden Age. Upon coordinating with Irene's granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich, I was able to invite her to speak at the screening. I remember feeling moved when I heard the many stories she shared about her grandmother, and felt so lucky to be able to view this film alongside someone so closely connected to the lead actress. Finally, I met my boyfriend, Don, at that screening! I think TCM enjoyed that factor most of all, so I received an email informing me that I was selected to introduce and offer commentary about the film on the air. You can view my pre-film and post-film interviews here:  

It might be a difficult task but can you name your Top 10 favorite movies and why are they the best in your eyes?
This is an extremely difficult task, but I will try my best!

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This film turned me into the film fanatic I am today! Judy Garland provides her iconic portrayal of Dorothy, and is supported by an equally immortalized část. „Over the Rainbow“ is easily my favorite song.

Gone With the Wind (1939)
Vivien Leigh shines as the cutthroat Scarlett O’Hara, alongisde a legendary část. There are just so many elements to this film that the story behind its making is just as terrific! The costumes and scenery are breathtaking and inimitable.

Easter Parade (1948)
You just can’t beat these Irving Berlin tunes. I remember seeing this film on VHS for the first time and playing back the tape to record all of the songs on cassettes. Thank goodness for CD soundtracks. This film also has such a dream cast—and a good few of them weren’t even signed on to do the film initially! Judy Garland and Fred Astaire are accompanied by the amazing Ann Miller and a crooning Peter Lawford in some gorgeous period costumes.

 Easter Parade trailer

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
Two words: Dick Powell. I enjoy watching musicals, and I do adore the crooners! Additionally, Gloria Stuart is such a delight in this film. It’s fun to see her at the height of her 1930s career, long before her appearance in Titanic!

Born to Dance (1936)
I love to see films which showcase moments when studios just didn’t know what to do with some of their newly acquired stars. I think of Jimmy Stewart here, in particular, who croons several tunes along the way. The studio had him learn dance routines for Born to Dance, but ultimately decided he wasn’t. Luckily, Eleanor Powell was! Frances Langford, Una Merkel, and Buddy Ebsen also offer wonderful performances.

Sons of the Desert (1933)
I highly admire the old comedy teams, and I think that this is the best Laurel and Hardy film. It’s a riot from beginning to end!

It Happened One Night (1934)
I adore Frank Capra’s work, and this film is one of his best. Both Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable thought that this film would flop, but it wound up being a hugely successful moment in both of their careers! My Frank Capra Collection came with me to undergrad, and I had so much fun sharing this film with my roommates.

Strike Up the Band (1940)
I think that the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland films are such a treat. I hold a soft spot for this one, since this was the first film in which I spotted Judy Garland outside of The Wizard of Oz. I caught it on TCM one day and have been hooked on the channel ever since.

Strike Up the Band trailer

The Thin Man (1934)
I’m a fan of witty exchanges, and William Powell’s banter with Myrna Loy does not disappoint. Who doesn’t want to be Nick and Nora?

Singin‘ in the Rain (1952)
It should not come as a surprise that I enjoy musicals, but this is THE musical. What’s not to like? Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and the hilarious Donald O’Connor give their best performances in this film.

What interesting places have you visited recently?
I completed several hometown travels in Wisconsin pretty recently. Stay tuned! I covered two Hollywood stars, and am planning on going back soon to cover Ten Chimneys—the home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine just for fun. I also visited the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research to work with original Edith Head sketches and to view their Melvyn Douglas collection. Expect updates soon!

Are there any ‘’ hometowns’’ you’d like to visit in the future? Perhaps even in Europe? Cary Grant’s Bristol, Liz Taylor’s and Bob Hope’s London? Any other?
Absolutely! There are certainly no limits to hometowns! All of the ones you mentioned are high on my list, along with the hometowns of Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin in England, Maureen O’Hara in Ireland, Greta Garbo in Sweden, and so many others. There are plenty in the United States that I still wish to cover, including the hometowns of Ava Gardner, Ginger Rogers, Jean Harlow, and Myrna Loy. Also, I have never been to California, so covering the „to Hollywood“ portion of my blog would be a dream come true! 

For more info, please visit Annette's great web and facebook page: