The Silver Screen — Mike Gildersleeve — 9th October 2017.

Mike Gildersleeve, a reg­u­lar vis­itor to our Probus, was brought up in Wembley in the 1950s, in a house with no Mod. Cons., but, they had a ‘wire­less’, then a Radiogram (ini­tially wind-up gramo­phone) and also they were within easy access of 24 cinemas, all now closed.

In 1950 there were only 300,000 TVs in the UK, so Mike reminded us of how he listened to The Goons, Dick Barton, Educating Archey, the Archers, and 78s of Mario Lanza…..

1953 was the water­shed for the TV revolu­tion, with the Coronation of Elizabeth II. Then came Muffin the Mule, the Flowerpot Men, ….. , etc, but the cinemas con­tin­ued to com­pete ever­more vig­or­ously, trying to under­mine the advance of TV.

In the USA in the early 1950s there were many more TVs in peoples’ homes, than in the UK, as they were not so affected by the cost WW2, but the chan­nels were always com­mer­cially influ­enced, with the advert­isers decid­ing what pro­grammes would be put on, to ensure the watch­ers didn’t switch off. The pro­grammes also were strictly cen­sored on sub­jects such as race, sex, viol­ence, drugs, reli­gion, and lan­guage etc.

However, films at the cinema tackled these taboo sub­jects, and cre­ated, bigger and bigger screens and better and better pro­duc­tions and present­a­tions, with Cinemascope, Technicolor and  Toddao, a really big screen inven­ted by Mike Todd, who was mar­ried to Liz Taylor.

Mike Todd made the most watched film ever, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ with David Niven and Robert Newton, who died 2 weeks after film was compled due to alco­hol­ism. Other films tack­ling the taboos were ‘The Robe’ by 20th Century Fox, star­ring Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Richard Burton. Other not­able films were ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ (Burt Lancaster), ’12 Angry Men’ (Henry Fonda), and films with Frank Sinatra, Bill Haley, Glenn Ford, Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, tack­ling race issues, booze, rock and roll and drugs.

James Stewart and Jeff Chandler were in a film which depic­ted the Indian not being the baddie for the first time. Up to that point they had always been the vil­lains.

Although 1957 saw the first decline in num­bers of cinem­a­goers, cinema held its own until Howard Hughes, who owned RKO Radio Pictures, sold all his lib­rary of RKO films to TV. Up to that point, the only films on TV had been films spe­cific­ally made for TV. The film stars in the cinema at that time were con­trac­ted to one studio, (hence the 24 stars around the ‘Paramount’ trade mark, they rep­res­en­ted the 24 stars on con­tract), and so they did not appear on TV, until Howard Hughes let the genie out of the bottle.

All the big stu­dios of the time (MGM, Universal, Warner, United Artists, Columbia, RKO) have today morphed into other group­ings.

The biggest British studio at the time was J. Arthur Rank with the famous Bombardier Billy Wells on the  papier-mâché gong. Ealing Studios became syn­onym­ous with comedy and actors like Peter Sellars.  Pinewood Studios was built by Charles Boot, the father of Henry Boot of civil engin­eer­ing fame. They made ‘The Lady-killers’ and ‘I’m alright Jack’ amongst other not­able films.

The 1950s was also the golden era of cinema music­als like ‘Oklahoma’, ‘Singing in the Rain’, and ‘7 Brides for 7 Brothers’. War films and cowboy films aboun­ded. ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ (Alec Guinness), ‘The Dam Busters’ and‘Reach for the Sky’ (Kenneth More), ‘High Noon’ (Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly who was everybody’s friend, except James Stewart).  ‘The Ten Commandments’ was the only film not to dis­play ‘The End’, but fin­ished by, ‘So it was writ­ten, so it shall be done’. ‘Ben Hur’ (Charlton Heston) was an epic film which cost $145m, whereas ‘From Here To Eternity’ cost $1m and was made in 6 weeks.

Mike then took us down memory lane, men­tion­ing a whole host of actors and act­resses who appeared on the cinema screen.   Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like It Hot’ with the immor­tal last line, “No one is per­fect.”) who died in1961.  Jack Hawkins who fought in WW2 and appeared in ‘The Cruel Sea’.  Dirk Bogarde who ori­gin­ally appeared with Jack Warner (Evenin’ All).  Norman Wisdom who was Knighted at 90. Maureen O’Hara who was John Wayne’s best friend because she was the only person who could drink him under the table. Montgomery Clift who had a crash, then took to booze and drugs.  Paul Newman, mar­ried to June Woodward, and got the indus­tries rasp­berry (Rassy) award with his first film, but 4 years later began to make hits and sub­sequently gave a lot of money to char­ity. Robert Mitchum who was a crim­inal. Shirley Maclean, still going, and whose brother is Warren Beatty. James Dean who only made 3 films and only ever saw one of them before he died. And many , many others……

Mike had to be stopped when he ran out of time. We hadn’t noticed.