Only happens in photo shoots. Normally the stars avoid looking at the camera when they are filming.


Cameron Mitchell


Maureen O’Hara


James Stewart


Vivien Leigh


Clark Gable


Ann Sheridan


Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall


Fred MacMurray


Cary Grant


Richard Widmark

GRAND ILLUSIONS: Art of the Hollywood Backdrop

Gene Kelly poses in “AN AMERICAN IN PARIS”, but he isn’t  really in Paris.  The backdrop has been painstakingly painted to look as real as possible.

Before green screens and C.G.I., Backdrops ( or ‘Backings’ as they are  called in the industry) played a vital role in Hollywood movies in the era where the studios very rarely left their sound stages.

The world of Oz in The Wizard of Oz was created by scenic artists over a period of three months.

The art and craft of Hollywood’s hand painted backdrops were documented in The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop (2016) by Richard M. Isackes and Karen  L. Maness.

And finally the names of the artists who painted these enormous back drops came into the light – Ben Carre, Verne, Ronald and Ed  Strang, Duncan Alanson Spencer.

Mountains, jungles, skyscrapers, all were the work of these men. They painted on canvas, calico, cloth – always with a view to how would they look through a camera lense.

The massive, wall size paintings were done with brush, roller, spray gun.

In a  way, like song dubbing, the use of backdrops was a guarded secret . Nowadays we are probably far more aware of backdrops in vintage films, but back in the day, if an audience recognised the backdrop as a painting, the scenic artists had failed.


Original backdrop from the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain, MGM (1952). “Make ’Em Laugh,” Donald O’Connor and dummy. Digital still.

Born in Edinburgh, George Gibson joined MGM in 1934 and became head of MGM’s scenic dept. He did not retire until 1969. During his tenure at the studio he constructed a new building where all the backings could be painted on movable frames.
Gibson was never credited for his work and died in 2001 at the age of 96. His daughter said he was most proud of his work in BRIGADOON.


Part of the North by Northwest backdrop (40 feet by 100 feet) painted by MGM scenic artists, Ben Carre, Wayne Hill, Clark Provins, Harry Tepker and Duncan Spencer.

The Mount Rushmore backdrop was donated by JC Backings to the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and it was so large it required a two-story gallery.

And there hangs a tale.

Several generations of the Coakley family have been involved in scenic design.

John Harold Coakley Jr. (1918-1970) was trained by Ben Gibson and worked on backings at MGM and Fox.He formed his own backings rental company, J.C. Backings in 1962 . He bought 100s of unused backings from the studios.

Currently the company is run by Lynne Coakley.

Most of their business was now digital and photographic printing , and Lynne Coakley donated  many of 200 backdrops ( which hadn’t been rented out for years) to the Art Directors Guild , and the Guild Archive project ( under Tom Walsh)  unrolled, photographed and catalogued the 200 and set out to find homes for them.

(The Coakley family have been called “the Barrymores of Backdrops”.)

Lynne Coakley in front of the BEN HUR backing at the  Scenic Art building at Sony Pictures  studios, Culver City (MGM).

We can be grateful that so many backdrops from the classic era were saved from the dumpster.
The Art Directors Guild had long wanted to preserve the legacy of its film scenic arts. Over time the backdrops were donated to museums, film archives,universities.


Author and artist Karen L. Maness described the “North By Northwest” backdrop as “….the grandaddy , the Babe Ruth of all Hollywood backdrops.”


The ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ backdrop from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.


Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly. ‘Fit as a Fiddle’. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN



A classic scene from NORTH BY NORTHWEST, as Eva Marie Saint walks in front of the massive backing outside the window of the recreated Mount Rushmore cafeteria – the illusion that the actors are not studio bound.


I was lucky enough to attend an event at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow in 2022. Called THE LOST ART OF HOLLYWOOD.

The Conservatoire have several backings donated by the Art Directors Guild and it was exciting to see them unfolded and on display : the backings are used on Production Arts and Design courses.

The three illustrations below are from the Conservatoire evening.












………..Volume Two of Alice Faye and Betty Grable recordings available in February 2023 from Sepia Records (www.sepia


This is Vol.2 of rare recordings from Alice Faye never commercially released. The collection of songs on the 2 CD’s are from her 1940s movies, remastered from studio discs, and including songs performed by her costars such as Don Ameche, Betty Grable, John Payne, Carmen Miranda.


  • Vol.2 of Betty Grable recordings are similarly from her 1940s musicals never commercially released before.
  • Includes songs by June Haver, John Payne, Dick Haymes,Dan Dailey.

………….Re-watching NOCTURNE, I noticed Mack Gray (1905-1981) in a few scenes with George Raft – both playing cops. Turns out Mack Gray was a stand in for Raft and also appeared in  about 17 Raft films between 1933 and 1949!

Gray’s roles were generally minor – a Variety review of BROADWAY (1942) called him, “companion – bodyguard – shadow” to Raft. ( both played themselves in “Broadway”.)


Mack Gray, George Raft, Joe Gray.

Mack’ s brother, JOE GRAY (1912-1971) was a boxer who came to Hollywood and was a technical advisor on boxing  movies.  Joe was friends with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and he was in 32 Dean Martin films (a stunt double for Martin) and 10 of Sinatra’s films!


George Raft, Mack Gray.NOCTURNE


Dean Martin, Mack Gray.

Mack Gray was a production associate on Dean Martin’s TV shows from  1974 to 1980.


………….A page from the San Diego Union,July,1947.

So much on one  page. I counted about 46 film titles.

It was the last day of THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS.

You could go to a double bill of THE SEA HAWK and THE SEA WOLF. or THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER and STALLION ROAD.

ODD MAN OUT  is held over  for a second week – and paired with Roy Rogers in HELDORADO.

Nice to see an ad for the opening of the La Jolla Playhouse production of “Night Must Fall”, with Dame May Whitty.


………….Jean Harlow ‘s 1933 Grauman’s hand and foot ceremony. Jean placed three new pennies as a good luck charm. They were pried out by souvenir hunters.

(From Harlowheaven on Instagram)


………….Great song by Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer. Huskily sung by Lauren Bacall,with Hoagy at the piano.


…………Drawings by Serbian artist, Aleksandar Radulovic (from his Instagram page.)

Sylvia Sidney, Spencer Tracy.FURY


Janet Gaynor


Margaret Hamilton.THE WIZARD OF OZ.



….……Due for release in June,2023, “Warner Bros.100 Years of Storytelling” by Mark A. Vieira celebrates the 100th anniversary of Warner Brothers. I don’t have much detail about the contents, but it runs to 368 pages and promises untold stories and rare images.

That’s enough for me!




Some dialogue zingers from “ALL ABOUT EVE”.


Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter.

Bill ,who is on his way to Hollywood, says to Birdie:

“What should I tell Tyrone Power for you?”

Birdie: “Just give him my phone number. I’ll tell him myself.”


Celeste Holm, Bette Davis,Hugh Marlowe

 “Slow curtain, the end.”

(Margo talking to Karen and Lloyd about the trajectory of a woman’s career.)


It could be argued that George Sanders  has the best lines .

To Eve, he says:  “I’m Addison DeWitt. I’m nobody’s  fool, least of all yours.”


Bette Davis, George Sanders



Addison: “I have lived in the theatre as a Trappist monk lives in his faith. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator.

I am  essential to the theatre – as ants to a picnic.”



Delighted to discover this publicity shot of Anne Baxter.

Eve as she wants to be. A star like Margo – at any cost.



Ok, it’s the Hollywood premiere at Graumans, but are we supposed to believe all those stars will turn up! Is it possible??

I love how the neighbouring Roosevelt Hotel blacked out some of their hotel sign, to show just ‘EVE’.



First time I’ve seen this pose of Anne Baxter and Gary Merrill. Looks  like Bette is the interloper!

Not sure about that foreign title – EVE AGAINST EVE?


Rare on the set photo of Joseph Mankiewicz discussing a scene with Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter .

Any ideas on who is the young man sitting down, listening to Mankiewicz?


Another interesting shot of Anne Baxter and Joseph Mankiewicz. But why is  Anne holding a violin?  Have I misremembered a scene in the film.


Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm.

I’ve read the atmosphere on the set was far from friendly.


The main cast.


Happy ending. The four friends have survived Eve.


Bette Davis.

Of course, Bette gets the most famous line. Something about fastening your seat belts and a bumpy night! You know the line.
I remember when the lines became the start of a song ( ‘Fasten Your Seat Belts’ ) in the musical version ,APPLAUSE ( starring Lauren Bacall in 1970)

And 20 years after she played ‘Eve’, Anne Baxter took over the part of ‘Margo Channing’ in “Applause” in 1971 on Broadway.

Anne Baxter.

The lyrics , by Lee Adams ,include:

Fasten your seat belts

Say all your prayers

And hold on tight

Drink and be merry

For the Titanic sails tonight

All aboard 

It will be a bumpy night


Fasten your seat belts

It’s gonna be a bumpy night

Margo in action

Critics have called an awesome sight……



Virginia Bruce.

Looks windy .


A young Tony Curtis. Posing for a fan?

Snazzy scarf.



Norma Shearer.

Never really casual.


Gregory Peck  1947.


Jane Greer.


Bette Davis

Not easy to find a photo of Bette without a cigarette in her hand.


Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart take a stroll between scenes of “The Maltese Falcon”.


Susan Hayward.

Would look great in color . The flaming redhead.


Snapshot of Ginger Rogers.

Always keep your camera ready!


Ida Lupino.

Would love to know where and when this was taken.


Cary Grant poses with fans while filming “The Howards of Virginia “.

Lucky ladies.

Those branches behind him look as though they are sticking out of his hat!

A Cary Grant film I’ve never seen. Is it any good?



A young Joan Bennett .  1931



Born John Hoysradt, John Hoyt (1905-1991) had a long career on stage and screen.

John was 40 before he made his first screen appearance in “OSS”, with Alan Ladd.

Alan Ladd, Richard Webb, Geraldine Fitzgerald, John Hoyt, Patric Knowles.


With Geraldine Fitzgerald. OSS.

His stern demeanour and clipped tones led to typecasting in supporting roles, but, as John  said, “Well, you have to accept typecasting to a point, because it’s your daily bread.”

And yet he appeared in many different  roles – a sympathetic policeman in THE UNFAITHFUL; an undercover Treasury agent in TRAPPED; a prison inmate in BRUTE FORCE; an Apache Indian in DUAL AT DIABLO; a school principal in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.



Jeff Corey, Burt Lancaster, John Hoyt. BRUTE FORCE.


In WINTER MEETING, John is the society friend  of Bette Davis – his performance was reminiscent of Clifton Webb as ‘Waldo Lydecker’ in LAURA.


With Florence Marly. SEALED VERDICT

As a German general on death row in SEALED VERDICT, John  had third billing after Ray Milland and Florence Marly.



In his long stage career, John  had been a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre company and had played in “JULIUS  CAESAR” in 1937.

16 years later, he would reprise the very same role of ‘Decius Brutus’ in the 1953 film of “Julius Caesar”.
He played the Roman general who leads Caesar into the hands of the conspirators.


Edmund O’Brien,  Michael Pate, John Hoyt, John Gielgud, James Mason, Marlon Brando.

John fitted well into costume drama and also appeared in THE DESERT FOX, SPARTACUS and CLEOPATRA.



With Ann Sheridan, Zachary Scott, Lew Ayres.  THE UNFAITHFUL.

In the 1940s, he was averaging three or four films a year.


With Barbara Payton. TRAPPED.


With Paul Stewart.LOAN SHARK.

John got to display some comic touches in LOAN SHARK, as the gangster up against George Raft.






With Jeffrey Hunter. STAR TREK.

John was in the pilot episode of STAR TREK (‘The Cage’) – as ‘Dr. Boyce’.


In an episode of TWILIGHT ZONE entitled, “Will The Real Martian Stand  Up”, John humorously played a 3-armed alien!

In his pre-Hollywood days, John was known as “The Master of Satire” . His nightclub act was popular , with his impersonations of celebrities.

In 1946,  Variety called him: “the Broadway legiter and nightclub entertainer.”

His impression of Noel Coward led to his casting in Broadway’s THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1939) , playing ‘Beverley Carlton’.

But  he lost out when Hollywood came to film “The Man Who Came to Dinner”  in 1942 (,Reginald Gardiner took over the role).

In 1969, John had a one-man show – if only we could find some reviews.

John Hoyt died of lung cancer – he had been part of the cast of THE CONQUEROR in 1956.

He was a skilled actor whose career covered five decades, both in cinema and television. Like so many of the other dependable supporting actors, he was never out of work.

And to think he was in the cast of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, alongside Fanny Brice, Bob Hope, Gypsy Rose Lee,Eve Arden!
Quite a career. Quite a character.


Be sure to check out all the other entries on January 8th. in the WHAT A CHARACTER BLOGATHON .



COMING SOON – in 1938

Warner  Brothers advertises its releases for 1938, with Jane  Bryan and Dick Powell doing the honours.
Jane appears in “Hollywood Hotel” , “A Slight Case of Murder”and “Girls on Probation”. Dick Powell’s only upcoming film is “Hollywood Hotel” .

So, lots to look forward to……”Fool for Scandal”, “Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Jezebel”.

Jane Bryan, at age 20, was doing well at Warners, but within  two years she retired from acting after marrying.
The quizzical name on the Xmas tree is Grad Sears.

Why are all the films parcelled up and marked ready for Mr. Sears?

Turns out Gradwell L.Sears was the General Sales Manager for Warner Brothers, so I guess this advert perhaps appeared in a trade magazine, indicating the films Mr. Sears would be selling round the country.


I haven’t seen HOLLYWOOD HOTEL but I love a quote from it. Dick Powell is an aspiring actor who joins the fictional studio, ”Miracle Pictures” – whose motto is:

“If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle.”

”Hollywood Hotel” came about because Louella Parsons had a very successful radio show of the same name from 1934 to 1938.  She would introduce the show ,saying: “This is Louella Parsons broadcasting from the Hollywood Hotel” – which wasn’t true – Louella and her guests were in a radio studio.

(There was a ‘Hollywood Hotel’ built in  1903 on Prospect Boulevard – which later became Hollywood Boulevard). It became a popular locale for the stars.)

Hollywood Hotel

It was interesting to read that big stars who appeared on Louella’s show were paid in soup! Yes, I said soup.
Louella’s show was so popular, studios and stars got plenty of publicity. The show had millions of listeners, coast to coast.

Stars received a case of the sponsor’s soup – the Campbell Soup Company!

(Louella’s salary was over $2000 per show.)

However, a few stars refused to appear- Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Garbo.

By 1938 the Screen Actors Guild insisted that the stars would no longer accept soup in payment. Campbell’s Soup said no to the usual $1000  paid for a radio appearance. The Louella show left the air.


A clip of Benny Goodman orchestra from HOLLYWOOD HOTEL.


Health and happiness to everyone in the new year.


It’s that time of the year. Television and cinemas get out their copies of Frank Capra’s “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”  and hope and expect audiences see this film as the Xmas event we can happily watch -again!

A post I wrote over four years ago, “BOB ANDERSON:YOUNG GEORGE BAILEY” has had a thousand views in  December. ( thanks to everyone ).

It’s A Wonderful Life” is surely is one of the finest examples of the depth of the talent pool in Hollywood in the classic era.

Even an independent company ( Liberty Films), outside of the bubble of  the big studios , could cast so many well known faces.




Frank Capra


Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, Samuel Briskin

Liberty Films was the independent film producing company set up by three of Hollywood’s most well known directors and the former head of production at Columbia. They had production offices at RKO and a contract for Capra, Wyler and Stevens to do 9 features for RKO distribution.

.Unfortunately, “It’s a Wonderful Life’ didn’t recoup its high costs and Liberty Films was purchased by Paramount after  producing only one other film, “STATE OF THE UNION.”

It seems incredible  now that Paramount didn’t retain the rights to ‘Wonderful Life’, but the television rights were sold to National TeleFilm Associates -and they too did not renew the rights to the film in 1974.

Republic Pictures claimed  the rights in 1993 – something to do with them owning the short story (‘The Greatest Gift’) on which the film was based, and having the music score –  plus an original negative of the movie.

Republic sold the exclusive TV rights to the  Xmas Classic to NBC in  1994.

And almost full circle – Paramount acquired Republic Pictures in 1998!


And according  to the American Film Institute, the film had mostly positive reviews on its release and got several Oscar nominations.
Ironically it was up against William Wyler’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES  which swept the board.

By the way, the FBI thought the film was a Communist trick to discredit bankers!



Here  goes with a picture gallery of  most  of the performers in the film, in no particular order. . If you can name them all, well done!

 Can you spot who played  – Violet – Freddie Othello – Mr. Martini – Nick – Potter’s bodyguard – Ernie – Ruth – Eustace – Annie – Sam – Billy – Mr. Carter – the real estate salesman – Mrs. Martini – Clarence – Pa Bailey…….