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.