Friday, December 4, 2009

Richard Farnsworth: "I'm Kind of a Loner"

A holiday movie, like the raised expectations of the festive season, can be burdened with some pretty extravagant hopes. Like the day itself, we always seem to hope for a cinematic experience that might transcend the reality of an enjoyable if sometimes stressful day such as Thanksgiving. This year we got lucky. After rejecting family votes for some familiar films, including Avalon (1990-Barry Levinson), with its cri de coeur line, "you cut the too-key without me?!" spoken by with the now immortal Lou Jacobi; any hopes for those who wanted to see The Searchers (1956-John Ford) for the umpteenth time were also dashed; as was one l-tryptophan induced vote for Pulp Fiction (1994-Quentin Tarantino). We finally settled on a movie with little obvious connection to the holidays, The Straight Story (1999) on DVD...more on the Movie Morlocks

The Christmas Album: Monty Woolley

We meet the normally curmudgeonly Monty Woolley (1888-1963) on the fourth day of our holiday tour one day in the Christmas season of 1942, when he took on the unlikely role of a "Guest Santa Claus," at Macy's Toy Department in New York. Reportedly, "The Beard" is explaining to three year old Barbara Siebert, of Bellrose, Long Island, that the gifts she hopes to find under her family's tree may be contingent on her being a good girl--something that he seems to be explaining with uncharacteristic tenderness.

Frankly, his casting opposite several appealing children in his day, including Peggy Ann Garner in The Pied Piper (1942-Irving Pichel) a maturing Shirley Temple in Since You Went Away (1943-John Cromwell), and Roddy McDowall in Molly and Me (Lewis Seiler-1945), seemed a natural fit to me. I've always found him a very appealing avuncular figure, with the kind of gruff exterior that was meant to be pierced by a fleeting moment's glance, a well chosen word, or the recognition of a missed opportunity for a connection with another person. His verbal dexterity and crisp diction were a pleasure to hear, even if his words so often bristled with the most delightfully caustic sarcasm. The hirsute actor's public image seems to be intertwined with that of the character based on Alexander Woollcott in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942-William Keighley), a role that he played to great acclaim on stage and in the movie, which will be broadcast next on TCM on Dec. 19th at 8pm EST.


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