Classic Hollywood: This week's ride in 'The Time Machine'


his is Susan King, a veteran movie reporter at the Los Angeles Times and guardian of the Golden Age of Hollywood galaxy. Every Friday in the Classic Hollywood newsletter, I get to share with you my passion and love for all things vintage. Each week I write about what’s new on DVD, notable births and deaths, movie and TV milestones, and fun happenings around town.

Like the American Cinematheque’s “The Worlds of George Pal” retrospective currently at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood through Sunday.

The Hungarian-born Pal was one of the biggest names in the sci-fi and fantasy genre. And most baby boomers like myself grew up watching his classic productions, including 1953’s “The War of the Worlds,” 1960’s “The Time Machine” and 1964’s “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.”

George Pal (Cal Montney / Los Angeles Times)

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held a tribute to Pal in 2008, I talked to several people who worked with or knew Pal, including director Joe Dante (“The Howling,” “Gremlins”).

“His movies are so humanistic in a genre that frequently passed by that element,” Dante told me. “There wasn’t a lot of darkness in George Pal. All of his movies became kind of funny and bright. Even mistakes like ‘Atlantis: The Lost Continent,’ which is sort of an Italian movie that isn’t an Italian movie and is a really a pretty silly picture, there is a geniality to his movies. He stamped his personality on them whether he directed him or not."

Alan Young (“Mr. Ed”), who appeared in 1958’s “Tom Thumb” and “Time Machine,” described Pal as “just perfect. He was the gentlest, nicest man outside of directing, and when he was directing,  he was the same way.”

Screening Friday at the Egyptian are “The War of the Worlds” and “Time Machine.” Ann Robinson, the star of “War,” will chat in between features. “The Puppetoon Movie” from 1987, which features Pal’s Oscar-nominated stop-motion animation shorts, screens Saturday afternoon, with the 1985 documentary “The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal” and “Dr. Lao” set for Saturday evening. The series concludes Sunday with 1962’s “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” and my favorite Pal film,  “Tom Thumb,” which I fell in love with at the age of 3. Barbara Eden, who stars in “Grimm,” will be the special guest.

DVD vault

Film noir fans alert! Warner Archive is releasing the Blu-ray of “Murder, My Sweet” on Sept. 15. Edward Dymtryk directed the crackerjack 1944 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s mystery thriller starring Dick Powell as gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Powell was the first actor ever to play Chandler’s shamus on the big screen. Claire Trevor, Anne ShirleyOtto Kruger and Mike Mazurski also star in this influential film noir, which looks like a million bucks on Blu-ray.

Dick Powell, left, Miles Mander and Anne Shirley in a scene from the 1945 crime thriller "Murder, My Sweet." (File photo)

“Murder, My Sweet” was also a real career changer for Powell, who came to fame in the 1930s in a series of Warner Bros. musicals including 1933’s “42nd Street” and “Golddiggers of 1933.” But after “Murder, My Sweet,” Powell became one of the iconic noir actors, starring in such acclaimed thrillers as 1945’s “Cornered,” 1948’s “Pitfall” and 1951’s “Cry Danger.”

TV milestone

Where did the time go? This Monday marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of the Emmy Award-winning NBC sitcom “The Golden Girls.” And three decades later, the “Girls” have endured thanks to repeats in syndication and on cable TV. Bea Arthur, Betty WhiteRue McClanahan and Estelle Getty starred as four older, single and very funny women sharing a house in Miami. The series, created by Susan Harris, was an instant hit. And during its seven seasons, it won the Emmy for best prime-time comedy series twice, and each of the four stars received an Emmy for their hilarious work. The show also ranked in the top 10 for six of its seven seasons. Last year, the Writers Guild of America listed the show as No. 69 on its list of the “101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.” The Hallmark Channel, TV Land and Logo are among the networks airing repeats.

Don't touch that dial

TCM is turning the clock back to 1941 Monday morning with several sparkling films from that year. Among the highlights are a fast-paced romantic comedy, "The Bride Came C.O.D.," starring James Cagney as a cocky pilot and Bette Davis as a spoiled heiress; "The Strawberry Blonde," starring Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Rita Hayworth; and "The Man Who Came to Dinner," based on the hit Broadway comedy, starring Davis, Monty Woolley and Ann Sheridan.

Sneak peek

In this Sunday’s Classic Hollywood, I chat with 97-year-old Marsha Hunt, who made her film debut 80 years ago and appeared in such movies as 1940’s “Pride and Prejudice” and 1948’s "Raw Deal.” Hunt is also one of the few surviving actresses who was blacklisted. Hunt is also the subject of a new documentary,  “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity,” which premieres Sunday at the Burbank International Film Festival.

From 'Sunrise' to 'A Star is Born'

This Monday marks the 31st anniversary of the death of Janet Gaynor. The petite Gaynor won the very first Oscar for lead actress for three films: 1927’s "Sunrise” and “7th Heaven” and 1928’s “Street Angel.” The latter two starred her frequent leading man Charles Farrell. Gaynor successfully made the transition to talkies and earned another lead actress Oscar nomination for 1937’s “A Star Is Born.” She stepped away from Hollywood in 1939 when she married costume designer Gilbert Adrian and had a son and returned to acting on only a few occasions.

Andy Devine and Janet Gaynor in "A Star Is Born." (UCLA Film and Television Archive)

Shortly before she was severely injured in a car crash with Mary Martin in September 1982, I chatted with Gaynor on the phone. My memory was that she was very sweet and peppy. And though she loved talking about her days in Hollywood, I could sense Gaynor enjoyed her life much more out of the spotlight.

Gaynor never recovered from her serious injuries and died at 77. Here is the L.A. Times obituary as it appeared in the paper on Sept. 15, 1984.

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable births this week include Earl Holliman (Sept. 11); Maurice Chevalier (Sept. 12); Billy Gilbert (Sept. 12); Mel Torme (Sept. 13); Claudette Colbert (Sept. 13); Clayton Moore (Sept. 14); Jackie Cooper (Sept. 15); Tommy Lee Jones (Sept. 15); Fay Wray (Sept. 15); Penny Singleton (Sept. 15); Lauren Bacall (Sept. 16); Peter Falk (Sept. 16); and Anne Francis (Sept. 16).

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