An over-capacity crowd packed the Academy Theater in
NewYork last night for AMPAS’s popular
“Monday Nights with Oscar” program, this time featuring a special treat: “Hollywood
Home Movies: Treasures from the Academy Film Archive.” The program, curated by
Academy archivist Lynne Kirstee and accompanied by pianist Donald Sosin,
afforded a rare glimpse into the intimate scenes of family life of Hollywood’s legendary
directors, producers and actors, and were at once fascinating and strangely
We saw Alfred Hitchcock playing with his baby daughter
Patricia on their English estate; Bogart and Bacall sailing their beloved Santana out of the Newport Beach marina
(she’s making dreary sandwiches down in the hull while he dashingly masters the
riggings up on deck, an ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips); Cedric
Gibbons and his wife Dolores del Rio entertaining guests poolside at their home
in Santa Monica; and other peeks at the off-hours of Hollywood’s Golden Age
royalty. Interestingly, just when the scenes began to look overly familiar in
that “every family has an over-eating aunt” way, out of left field comes a
sophisticated camera trick (Hitchcock eating a banana backwards, for example)
that reminds one that these people literally had technical magic at their
Or, for example, watching Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland
playing in a charity tennis match in 1939 (part of the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Collection) gives the viewer the sensation of being in a communal living room
and watching home movies of everyone’s relatives. Or something bizarre like
The program also included revealing commentary from the
likes of Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis; Steve McQueen’s wife,
Neile Adams; and the last wife of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Vera Shelton, among
others. As Shelton recounted in an amusing
anecdote, she met Fairbanks
by chance at a crowded bar when she turned to the man next to her and asked his
help in getting her a drink. For some, brushes with fame remain just that. For
others, they turn into relationships, affairs or marriages that last decades.
McQueen poses at home with super model Peggy Moffitt next to his 1963 Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso GT- a gift from his wife Neile.
One revelation I found fascinating was the availability of
color film to the home movie camera user as early as the mid-1930s. In the
Hitchcock segment, the clip was in a dreamy “lenticular color” which is
registered on a specialized film through thousands of minute “lenses” embedded
into the emulsion, and then usually projected through a tri-color banded filter
(these details courtesy of Wikipedia). Also holding up astonishingly well were
the Kodachrome film clips featuring Esther Williams at home (circa 1949-55) and
the beautiful saturated color footage of Marlon Brando shooting On the Waterfront (c. 1953-54), courtesy
of the Charles Rossi Collection.
The program was also punctuated with early home movies of New YorkHarbor
in 1927, a beauty contest parade in Atlantic City
from 1935, and the neon wonderland of Times Square
in the mid-1950s, providing a national context to the celebrity home movie
clips through the decades.
Bravo to AMPAS for this entertaining and revealing evening!
The Academy Theater is located at 111 East 59th Street in Manhattan. Please note
Monday Nights with Oscar is going on hiatus for the month of September for
administrative needs. For reservations to any event in this monthly film
series, call (888) 778-7575.