I have always believed the most valuable gift my father gave me was the introduction to the world of classic film. In my opinion, my Dad's passion for film was cultivated by his godmother, Gertrude. Gertrude was my grandmother's cousin and a former Ziegfeld girl. Although Gertrude was never a star, she loved theater and took my Dad into NYC to see shows. I remember that he told me going into the city with her was fun. Gertrude still knew some people in the business, so my Dad got to hear their stories. I think it was a natural progression for my Dad to start watching old movies on TV that hearkened back to a time of truly great stars.
|Dad (Don Gilbert) and me|
Although Bette was Dad's favorite leading lady, he did not limit his viewing to just the films of Ms. Davis. He encouraged me to watch a variety of wonderful films with other actors and actresses. He loved Lifeboat with Tallulah Bankhead so he made sure I got to see it. Apparently, he loved this movie so much that he would stay up every time it was on the late show. It got to the point where my grandfather would hear the opening and ask if that "damn ship" was sinking again? Another movie my Dad loved was Casablanca. He watched it every time it was on TV. His favorite part is where Paul Henreid has the band play La Marseillaise and the patrons of Rick's Cafe sing along. Well, in my house, Dad always sang along too. San Francisco was another film dad introduced me too. And, yes he sang the title song along with Jeanette MacDonald.
My Dad encouraged me to learn more about films of Hollywood's Golden Age by giving me books about the era. Some of my favorites that still have today are: The Warner Brothers Story by Clive Hirschhorn; Garson Kanin's Together Again; and The Golden Age of B Movies by Doug McClelland. I also could look up my favorite stars in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years by David Shipman. In fact, I enjoyed browsing this text for hours to discover even more actors and actresses of the era. It was this book that piqued my interest in Ruth Chatterton and Kay Francis. As a result, I looked for their films on TV and found several films that are still favorites of mine like Dodsworth and One Way Passage.
Watching pre-1960 movies became my norm by the time I was old enough to choose what I wanted to watch. I vividly remember how great weekend programming was in my childhood. I loved "The Bowery Boys" and Abbott and Costello movies. The weekend usually meant Creature Feature and Chiller Theatre to satisfy my monster and sci-fi needs. I have to say that the Universal monster movies were my preference. But I distinctly remember Christopher Lee scaring the hell out me as Dracula in the Hammer films. As lover of mysteries, Sunday afternoons could be spent with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan.
I know my first crushes were Golden Age movie stars. George Brent without a doubt was the very first. He wore clothes so well and had a quiet strength which I admired. Obviously, Errol Flynn was another crush. Honestly, I can't name another actor who had the personality and good looks that Flynn did in his prime. William Powell's sophisticated looks and wonderful sense of humor made me love him. And who wouldn't want a Southern gentleman like Joseph Cotten as a boyfriend?
It's hard to explain to anyone born after 1980 what it was like to anticipate the showing of a movie on TV. I remember how excited I was in 1976 that Gone With the Wind was going to make its TV premiere on NBC. It was shown in two parts and there was NO way I was going to miss it. Watching The Wizard of Oz was an annual event not to be missed in the Gilbert household during the 1970's and 1980's. Every Thanksgiving meant WWOR's annual showing of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. Other movies that were shown yearly and were "must sees" for me were The Poseidon Adventure, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and Miracle on 34th Street. And is it me or is the Christmas season not as much fun without It's a Wonderful Life showing daily (even hourly) on PBS? For the children of the VCR and DVR age, the idea of watching a show when it is on or not getting to see it at all seems ludicrous.
Today, I have a huge and diverse movie collection. I have a sizable library of books about the films and stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. Thanks to TCM's community, I met my husband David. If it weren't for my Dad introducing me to the magical world of classic movies, I might never have found David. Dad provided me with a wonderful education in cinema. An education that created a passion. A passion that led to another soul who shares the same passion. I think Dad is smiling up in heaven that the education he provided for his daughter has led to genuine happiness in her life.
|David and me|
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Donald Gilbert (1944 - 1996)