You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
Music & Lyrics by Herman Hupfeld
Featured in Casablanca (1942)
Last week I did a podcast binge of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This—which is as its website proclaims—”a podcast dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”
When I first stepped foot into Hollywood—the actual city in Southern California—at age 21 I’d had exactly one film history class. I knew very little about the history of Hollywood—that almost mythical place known around the world as HOLLYWOOD in greater Los Angeles where movies were produced that have entertained people around the world for over 100 years.
Keep in mind that my first time there was in 1982, not only long before you could stream movies on the internet, but even before cable TV and VHS were ubiquitous. The most common ways to watch old movies was to catch them on late night TV or at revival movie house (only found in larger cities).
Via film school and revival houses, books—and later video rentals—I quickly got a sweeping overview of film history and its cast of characters. Within two or three years I also found my way onto the lots at Disney Studios and Warner Bros. in Burbank and Paramount in Hollywood.
I once worked on a film project at Rudy Vallee’s Hollywood Hills house (with its secret passageways) while Vallee was still alive and living there. His older housekeeper told me that back in the day Errol Flynn would ride his horse over from his house and entertain women in the playroom—sometimes on the pool table. (I’m not sure how comfortable that was—or how good that was for the felt—but that’s what I was told.)
And that’s a good a segue to the You Must Remember This podcast. Because a study of Hollywood history is one full of debauchery. In the past week I’ve listed to I’ve listened to podcasts on Lana Turner, (podcast #5) Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, (#14) Lauren Bacall, (#63) Eddie Mannix and George Reeves, (#61) Jean Harlow , (#59) John Gilbert, and (#66) David O. Selznick & Jennifer Jones, each one a different variation of the core life in Hollywood themes; drug and alcohol abuse, nervous breakdowns, suicides and suicide attempts, sexual and physical abuse, gambling problems, extramarital affairs & divorce, dirty studio & governmental politics, personal grudges, paranoia, the rise and decline of careers, and the occasional mysterious death.
And, of course, a trail of great movies.
Longworth is a storyteller in her own right, and each podcast reveals a good deal of research she’s done to provide insights into the golden era of Hollywood. And it’s not all about hedonism, Longworth offers insights into the film business, including aspects like what separated the studios and the kinds of movies they produced:
“Of all of the studios that produced films and stars during the first half of the 20th century, MGM was in many ways the gold standard. For many years their movies were the biggest, their stars the starriest. MGM didn’t always make the best or most innovative movies, in fact, they intentionally targeted a sweet spot supporting productions that were neither highbrow or low, which guaranteed escapist entertainment that was never vulgar or insulting, that promoted no political point of view or message—other than a general endorsement of family life. That was proud to conform to the internal censorship of the production code. That transcended class difference, while always staying classy. Nearly ever movie that MGM made was engineered to be a movie that everyone everywhere would want to see. Or, at the very least, that no one anywhere would have any objection to.”
MGM Stories Part 1: Louis B. Mayer vs. Irving Thalberg
You Must Remember This (#56)
At least from the You Must Remember This podcasts I’ve listened to so far, it’s a reminder that happy endings are more common in Hollywood movies than in lives of Hollywood greats.
P.S. An example of an MGM movie that everyone everywhere wanted to see was Gone with the Wind (1939). A film that still has more paid admissions than any film to date. Actually, more than 100 million tickets sold than Avatar. I don’t know if that fact is more shocking—or Errol Flynn and that pool table revelation. (I’m sure Longworth will get around to Mr. Flynn sooner or later, but his Hollywood demise, financial & physical decline, excessive use of drugs and alcohol, and eventual death at age 50 seems like a Hollywood cliche.)