Ava Gardner

August 23, 1957 – The Curtain Rises on “The Sun Also Rises”

On August 23, 1957, Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises, came to life on silver screens across America.  Set in 1920s France and Spain during the dissolute backlash following World War I, the story centers around wounded expatriate American journalist Jake Barnes, lovely but careless British Lady Brett Ashley, her fiance Mike Campbell, Jake’s college friend Bill Gorton, Jake’s other college friend Robert Cohn (Jewish, tortured, ex-boxer), and a young hunk bullfighter named Pedro Romero.

Hemingway shared his obsessions and passions for drinking, bullfighting, fishing, writing, and sex in The Sun Also Rises.  In producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s and director Henry King’s film treatment, Tyrone Power plays the semi-autobiographical role of Jake.  Jake loves Lady Brett but, to the infinite frustration of both, can’t sustain a relationship with her for a mysterious reason related to his “war wound.”  Ava Gardner (Frank Sinatra’s at-the-time main squeeze) played Lady Brett with her liberated short hair, short skirt, and tendency to short lead-time-before-hopping-in-the-sack with Robert, Mike, Jake, and finally, Pedro.  Errol Flynn played Mike, Eddie Albert played Bill, Mel Ferrer played Robert, and a young actor named Robert Evans played the initially pure and beautiful artist of the bullring, Romero.

Yes, that Robert Evans.  Bob claims he was a persona non grata on the set.  Hemingway, Power, Gardner, and most of the cast and crew wanted him fired from the production, he later wrote in his autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture.  Zanuck refused to get rid of Evans, saying – you guessed it – “the kid stays in the picture.”

Later in his career, Robert certainly proved his prowess as a producer of blockbuster hits.  Starting in the 1970s with Chinatown, Marathon Man, and Black Sunday, in the 1980s with Urban Cowboy, Popeye, and The Cotton Club, and tapering off in the 1990s with The Two Jakes, The Phantom, and The Saint, Evans made a big name and a big fortune for himself in Hollywood – where success is possibly more tricky to achieve and survival more in doubt than in any bullfight ring.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

July 10, 1957 – Night at the Movies: “The Pride and the Passion”, or, “Loving You”?

On July 10, 1957, American filmgoers had two movie premiers to choose from: The Pride and the Passion, with Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren; or Loving You, with Elvis Presley, Lizabeth Scott, and Wendell Corey.

The Pride and the PassionThe Pride and the Passion, produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, was an adaptation of The Gun, by C. S. Forester.  The setting is Spain during the war with Napoleon, and British Captain Anthony Trumbull (Cary Grant) is on a mission to transport an abandoned cannon to the British lines.  Spanish guerilla leader and hothead Miguel (Frank Sinatra) hates Trumbull but signs on to help, bringing along the sultry Sophia Loren, playing his mistress Juana.  Anthony and Miguel fight for Juana’s affections on screen. Off-screen, Grant was said to be participating in the film to avoid wife Betsy Drake and Sinatra only signed on to be near his wife, Ava Gardner, in Spain herself on the set of The Sun Also Rises.

Opening to mixed reviews, The Pride and the Passion grossed 8.75 million to become one of the twenty highest-grossing movies of 1957.  Two quotes from reviews: “The panoramic, long-range views of the marching and terribly burdened army, the painful fight to keep the gun mobile through ravine and over waterway – these are major pluses,” from Variety; and “overblown, empty, epic nonsense,” from Ephraim Katz of The Film Encyclopedia.

Loving You, which premiered in Memphis and was released nationwide on July 30th, was Elvis’ second movie.  He played truck driver and undiscovered singer Deke Rivers who is “found” and promoted by Glenda Markle (Lizabeth Scott) who becomes his agent (essentially a female version of Colonel Parker).   Glenda sees a financial opportunity in signing Deke to open for her ex-husband Walter “Tex” Warner’s (Wendell Corey) down-and-out country band.  Deke becomes a singing sensation, especially with female members of the audiences, and finds himself attracted both to manipulative Glenda and to Tex’s young and innocent lead singer, Susan Jessup (Delores Hart).

Production on Loving You began January 21, 1957 and finished in early March.  Elvis had his naturally light brown hair dyed black for the film (inspiration: Tony Curtis) and, except during his military service and one brief period in the early sixties, he continued to color his hair for the rest of his life.  Director and screenwriter Hal Kantor spent research time at Presley’s “Louisiana Hayride” concert prior to filming what was orginally titled Lonesome Cowboy, then changed to Running Wild, and finally named Loving You after the song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for Elvis to perform in the movie.  Cameo appearances by Elvis’ parents, Vernon and Gladys, as audience-members, and casting of several of Presley’s current band members added to the promotion value of equating fictional Deke and real-life Elvis.  Loving You eventually rose to #7 on the Variety National Box Office Survey.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Free Use; Paramount Pictures (imdb.com)