Saturday, December 7, 2013

CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon: A Daughter's Education


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

My Dad's favorite actress was Bette Davis. Not surprisingly, she is mine too. I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Bette Davis was. I saw her face death with dignity in Dark Victory. I watched as she loved and fought with Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. I rooted for her when she transformed herself in Now, Voyager. Most of all, I remember being completely engrossed by Bette's passion and screen presence. I still marvel at how she could convincingly be a supportive, loving wife as she was in Watch on the Rhine. Then, she could brilliantly portray a character like Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes, who was the complete opposite.



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
All I can say in closing is THANK YOU DAD!!!

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Donald Gilbert (1944 - 1996)

21 comments:

  1. Beautifully said honey ! I wish I could have met Don .
    I would like to have personally thanked him for bringing the love of my life into the world . I look forward to spending the rest of my life sharing our passion for films .

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  2. I know he would have liked you too!

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  3. Tracy,

    What a great, touching article! A beautiful tribute to your Dad and to your love of film. Your mention of the annual WWOR Thanksgiving showings of KING KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG brings back wonderful memories of my own as does the BOWERY BOYS and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO movies that were on every weekend. I really enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing these fond memories.

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    1. Thanks John. Your article was great too!

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  4. What a wonderful tribute to your dad!! I think it's awesome that he inspired your love of classic films. I know he is beaming with pride and happiness at this article.

    Bette Davis is my favorite actress too. She was brilliant in nearly every role she took on.

    Ah, classic movie actors. George Brent is definitely a handsome, dapper guy. I can see why you had a crush on him. As for me, since I didn't discover classic films until I was in my early 40's, I am now crushing as a middle-age woman!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and it's never too late for a crush!

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  5. Ah, "The Golden Age of B Movies" - what a wonderful book! Another good one in a similar vein is John Cocchi's "Second Feature"...no self-respecting cinephile should be without it.

    I wish that I could say I had a similar story as far as my intro to classic movies went...though I might be able to trace it back to my grandfather, who loved to pick out old character actors any time the two had a movie on TV going. But I am able to get a little mileage out of my parents' disdain for the classics on the blog for laughter's sake. Great write-up, Tracy!

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    1. Thanks Ivan -- I'll be visiting your blog shortly! This is an amazing blogathon!

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  6. It was heartwarming hearing of how your dad shaped your love movies and your life. Our family as well bonded over the classics. Got a kick out of "is that damn ship sinking again". My repeart movie is "The Thing from Another World" and my mom's line is "Oh, you always watch that thing!"

    PS: I love a world filled with Charlie Chan fans.

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  7. It is funny how we all have movies we can watch over and over. I love "The Thing" and got to see it on the big screen a few years ago. Glad you liked the post!

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  8. Tracy, This is such a beautiful tribute to your dad and to the classics. He must've been so happy when he realized you loved them as much as he did. A wonderful legacy. I really enjoyed discovering when and how your passion came into being. And that you met David through TCM is the icing on the cake!

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    1. Thanks Lady Eve. Dad and I butted heads on other issues -- but not film! And yes, David and I met at the "All About Bar!"

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  9. What wonderful memories! How great of your dad to introduce you to these films and to give you a "classic film education". Plus, meeting your husband through the TCM community is a terrific bonus!

    Thanks for sharing these memories with us. :)

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    1. My Dad was a complex man who had demons -- so I embrace these memories!

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  10. Hi, Gilby!
    I loved your thoughtful article on how you first developed your love of classic cinema.

    I adore Bette too but for some reason my dad just doesn't like her and what is so frustrating is he can't give me valid reasons why. So not acceptable! ha ha I'm glad your father was a fan which gave you opportunities to watch some of your favorites like Dark Victory and The Little Foxes. My favorite of her films are The Cabin In the Cotton and All This And Heaven Too.

    You've also listed some other great classics here and I'm thrilled you're also a William Powell fan.

    Thanks for sharing some great childhood memories with us.

    All the best!
    Page

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Page. All This And Heaven Too is fantastic! Not only is Bette great but so are Charles Boyer & Barbara O'Neill. And yes I love William Powell!

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  11. I always enjoy your posts, Gilby, but this one has to rank as my favorite. So much of what you wrote reminded me of my own childhood (I even had many of the same film books). And like you, the anticipation of watching an annual film event is something that I miss to this day. Yes, I'm very thankful to have access to so many more classic films now, but the thrill of watching OZ every year as a kid is something I will always cherish. I think your Dad and my parents would have gotten along very well! Oh, and now I'm intriguing to learn more about how and you David met.

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    1. David and I met at Hepclassic's "All About Bar" Phil was the bartender at the time. I also loved a sketch David posted to the TCM blogsite and he liked one of my articles. Before you know it, we were emailing each other. I met him in his hometown two months later and the rest is history as the expression goes!

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  12. Gilby, you and David are folks after Team Bartilucci's own hearts! As I'm sure you've figured out, our families loved classic movies, too! :-) It sounds like you two lived near us, since you guys clearly watched CREATURE FEATURES and the Thanksgiving Godzilla Marathon like we did when we were young -- Vinnie and I knew you two had to be our kind of movie fans! :-) It's also very cool indeed that you have friends and loved ones with show biz roots! Your post really had me smiling; fabulous job, hon, and have the happiest of holidays!

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    1. I lived near you Dorian because I am a lifelong resident of Bergen County NJ. David grew up in Indianapolis like our buddy Becky. He moved to NJ to be with me! Thanks for your continued support!

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  13. Old is Gold i like to watch old movies early 80s


    Geo Kahani

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