Tag Archives: clara bow

Meeting ‘God’

Comedian George Burns, who died 15 years ago today just after turning 100, had an amazing 90-year career.  After starting out in vaudeville, he and his wife Gracie Allen enjoyed successful runs in radio, film, and television as the comedy team Burns and Allen. After Gracie died in 1964, George continued working, winning an Oscar at the age of 80, and whimsically portraying the Supreme Being in 1977’s Oh, God!

I met George Burns on two occasions. “Met” is actually too strong a word – encountered would be more accurate.

The first encounter took place at LAX when an escalator malfunctioned and he stumbled on top of me. I helped him up, made sure he was okay, gave him a knowing nod after recognizing who he was, and we went on our merry ways.

The second took place at the spot where you can find him today: Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

I was supposed to be in church that morning because the religious college I was attending at the time required that I go, but was powerless to make me happy about it. I made an appearance, but when I saw a jerk that I knew mount the podium to deliver the sermon, I grabbed a friend and bolted for the door. 

My friend knew that I liked to explore cemeteries to find the permanent homes of the famous and infamous and had always wanted me to give him a tour of Forest Lawn. It seemed like a perfect place to hide out for a couple of hours from the all-seeing eyes of the church police, so we drove to Glendale.

I took my friend around to the graves of all the biggies at the top of the hill – Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy – and then went inside the mausoleum to introduce him to lots of other folks, like Nat King Cole, Alan Ladd, Clara Bow, and George Burn’s late wife and comedy partner, Gracie Allen.

We exited the building and turned the corner, and for the second time in my life, I literally ran into George Burns.

Now, I’m not a big guy, but compared to me, George Burns in his eighties was a Smart Car next to a Hummer. (It was like the time at Warner Bros. when I rounded a soundstage, and bounced off John Goodman like a pinball.)

Luckily, he was none the worse for wear, and gave us a quick “Hello, boys,” before heading into the building to visit his beloved Gracie.

After he walked away, my friend turned to me and said, “See what happens when you talk me in to cutting church? God himself shows up!”

I stop by Forest Lawn from time-to-time to check in on George and Gracie. They are now entombed together with Gracie’s name listed first, since George wanted her to finally get top billing.


The Casting Curse

The Misfits, which concluded filming 50 years ago today, must have been a particularly tough shoot.

The filming took place in the blazing Nevada desert where temperatures regularly topped 100. The director was often hung over and had to borrow money from the producers to cover his gambling losses. The leading lady, just months away from her own mysterious death, was strung out on pills and booze, and was in the midst of a breakup with her husband, who just happened to be the film’s writer. Another star was dealing with his own addictions and couldn’t remember his lines, and the leading man – a Hollywood icon – would suffer a heart attack two days after filming concluded and be dead within a week.

The Misfits is a depressing tale about a divorcee, played by Marilyn Monroe, who becomes romantically involved with Clark Gable, who plays an aging cowboy. Gable’s character rounds up wild horses for a living to sell to a dog food company. Montgomery Clift costars as a rodeo rider. The film was directed by John Huston, and written by Arthur Miller, who was Monroe’s husband at the time.

With this list of principles, it would be tempting to assume that The Misfits is a Hollywood classic. While technically a good film, showcasing what is arguably Monroe’s finest screen performance, it’s a tough watch, especially with its very PETA-unfriendly subject matter. The film is only remembered today as the final screen appearance for Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, who would both be dead within months.

Despite all of their personal peccadilloes, Huston was still able to get solid performances out of all of the actors. But the real drama took place off screen.

This “cursed” production seems more a victim of when they cast their leads rather than of who they cast in the roles. Monroe’s life was unraveling in front of everyone’s eyes at the time. She was usually late to the set, when she decided to show up at all, and Huston once had to shut the production down to send her to a rehab hospital. Montgomery Clift, who never fully recovered from the trauma of an automobile accident in 1956, was in a serious decline. He was described by Monroe as, “The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.” The stress of dealing with Monroe’s unprofessionalism and being overtaxed by performing his own stunts was too much for Gable’s heart. He suffered a massive heart attack on November 6 and was dead only a few days later at the age of 59.

The film also featured the final screen appearance of 1930s Western star Rex Bell, who was the Lt. Governor of the state of Nevada at the time, as well as the husband of former “It” girl Clara Bow. He would also die a few months later – on July 4, 1962 – which is memorable to me personally since it just happens to be the day I was born.

This “war of attrition” claimed its final victim in 1966 when Montgomery Clift was asked by his personal secretary if he wanted to watch The Misfits on television that evening. “Absolutely not!” was his reply, which turned out to be the last words he ever spoke to anyone. He died of a heart attack later that night.