Classic Hollywood: 'Jaws,' 'Cocoon' and Christopher Lee

It's another Classic Hollywood Friday. I'm Susan King, veteran entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times, reporting on everything Golden Age of Hollywood, including movies and milestones, vintage happenings in Los Angeles, can't-miss classic movies on TV and other fun facts and tidbits.

I have loved movies since I was a toddler, though my first experience at age 3 at the drive-in was a disaster. My parents took me to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" — no, it wasn't when it was originally released! — and I got so scared I hid under the dashboard of the car.

Happily, I never plunged under the dashboard again and I have loving, wonderful memories of going to the movies with my parents.

A hungry Great White shark opens wide in a scene from the 1975 movie "Jaws." (The Bettman Archive)

One of those movies I saw with my mother was "Jaws," which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Saturday. The Steven Spielberg blockbuster signaled the arrival of the summer movie event.

I went to the first showing of "Jaws" on opening day at the Cooper in Denver, one of those great Cinerama–style theaters that was torn down several years ago. The theater was packed that warm summer day and as soon as John Williams' iconic score began, you could feel the excitement spreading throughout the crowd. It was a roller-coaster thrill ride watching as the audience laughed, screamed and cheered.

And, thanks to TCM and Fathom Events, "Jaws" is returning to theaters on June 21 and 24, with a special introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. You definitely need to experience "Jaws" on the big screen at least once in your life.

Movie milestones

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Ron Howard's poignant sci-fi fantasy "Cocoon," which starred such veteran performers as Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Gwen Verdon, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as residents of a Florida retirement community who become rejuvenated when they secretly use a neighboring pool.

Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn in Twentieth Century Fox's "Cocoon." (Twentieth Century Fox)

Ameche had been one of 20th Century Fox's top stars in such films as 1939's "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell" and 1941's "Moon Over Miami," was a headliner with Frances Langford in the popular radio comedy "The Bickersons," and starred on Broadway in the hit Cole Porter musical "Silk Stockings." But by the 1970s he was primarily doing TV guest shots in such series as  "Columbo," "Petticoat Junction" and "The Love Boat." He made a movie comeback in the 1983 Eddie Murphy comedy hit "Trading Places" and then was cast in "Cocoon," for which he earned a supporting actor Oscar as Arthur.

I was still a rather newbie reporter at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner when I interviewed Ameche at his small Santa Monica apartment 30 years ago. He was an absolute sweetheart during our 90-minute conversation. He talked about the Golden Age of Hollywood, telling me how I would have loved to have lived here back in 1930s, about his friendship with frequent costar Tyrone Power and how he lamented the end of the studio system.

"Cocoon" revitalized Ameche's career. I particularly loved him in David Mamet's 1988 film, "Things Change." He continued to work until he died of cancer in 1993 at age 85. They don't make them like Ameche anymore.

Set your DVRs

TCM is celebrating the storied career of British actor Christopher Lee, who died this month at 93, beginning Monday with an eight-film retrospective. The tribute features 1959's "The Mummy," 1957's "The Curse of Frankenstein," 1958's "Horror of Dracula," 1966's "Dracula, Prince of Darkness," 1969's "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave," 1972's "Horror Express," 1973's "The Three Musketeers" and 1975's "The Four Musketeers."

Christopher Lee in the movie "Horror of Dracula." (Universal Pictures)

Sneak peek

In this Sunday's Classic Hollywood, I look at vintage movies and television shows offered on streaming services, especially Warner Archive InstantShout Factory TV and Flicker Alley.

From the Hollywood Star Walk 

Notable births this week include Louis Jourdan (June 19); Guy Lombardo (June 19); Olympia Dukakis (June 20); Errol Flynn (June 20); Martin Landau (June 20); Judy Holliday (June 21); Jane Russell (June 21); Billy Wilder (June 22); Michele Lee (June 24).

Let's face the music and dance

It's hard to put into words the astonishing and influential talent of Fred Astaire. His dancing was flawless. The films he made with Ginger Rogers were extraordinary. His TV specials with Barrie Chase were revelatory. Was there anything he couldn't do? I remember shedding some tears when Astaire died June 22, 1987, at age 88. Here is the obituary that appeared in the Los Angeles Times the next day.

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and follow me on Twitter at @mymackie.