On Saturday night I spoke to 102-year-old Carla Laemmle, the last surviving cast member of Dracula, who charmed everyone in attendance with her wonderful spirit. Just before our interview, horror-film scholar David Skal gave me a great tip: I asked Carla if it was true that she remembered her parents showing her a newspaper headline about the sinking of the Titanic, one hundred years ago that night. She said yes! Even though she was only two years old, the shock of the tragedy stayed with her all these years. As you may know, Carla has a small role as a dowdy secretary in the opening scene of Dracula, but it is historic because she speaks the first lines of dialogue in the picture.
Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne always has interesting things to say about her grandfather’s movies, as she is the keeper of his flame. I always enjoy talking to her before a screening. There was a great turnout for his 1924 silent comedy Girl Shy, which played at the Egyptian Theatre with live accompaniment by the Robert Israel Orchestra.
In fact, festivalgoers turned out in large numbers to see films even when there wasn’t a guest on hand. I was honored to introduce my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca, and must admit I was mildly surprised to see about 700 people at Grauman’s. They came from far and wide for just this reason: to be able to see a great movie on a large (and historic) screen. I tried to provide some context and behind-the-scenes stories about this landmark film, as I did the first morning of the festival, when I introduced the long-unavailable 1947 movie The Macomber Affair, arguably the best screen adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway story. Warner Bros. has just cleared the rights so the film can be screened once again, and I’m happy to report that it will turn up later this year on TCM.
Bruce Goldstein of New York City’s Film Forum hosted a tough, but enjoyable, round of illustrated movie trivia (using film clips) at Club TCM on Friday afternoon, and stumped everyone in the room with the question, “What person who is in attendance this weekend appeared in the pilot episode of the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies?” The answer: TCM’s own Robert Osborne!
There was also a feeling of serendipity in the air. One of the high spots for me was getting to see the apparently ageless Peggy Cummins, who flew in from London, before a screening of her amazing film noir Gun Crazy. (As she admitted to interviewer Eddie Muller, she made other movies she liked, such as The Late George Apley with Ronald Colman and Moss Rose with Victor Mature, but even in 1950 she appreciated the opportunity to break away from playing “pretty young things” by becoming the femme fatale in Joseph H. Lewis’ exceptional crime story.)The night before that showing, my family and I had dinner with friends at a restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex, which houses the Mann 6 theaters where many screenings were held. At one point I realized that Miss Cummins and her friend Eunice Gayson (an original Bond Girl from Dr. No) were seated two tables away and went over to pay my respects. We had a lovely conversation, and at one point she asked the name of the actor with whom I was dining, whom she had met briefly on her way to the restaurant. I told her his name was James Karen, a lifelong actor whose uncle was Morris Carnovsky. After a beat, she said, “Wasn’t he in Gun Crazy?” Indeed he was. How perfect that such a connection should come about at the TCM Classic Film Festival.