Submitted for your approval – a classic “Dan disappears down the Internet rabbit hole” experience from the other night.
Saturday night while I was at work, Heidi linked to this article on my Facebook timeline which detailed how Joan Crawford, not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1962, managed to accept the Oscar on behalf of Anne Bancroft, infuriating Bette Davis was WAS nominated that year and also a favorite to win. It’s one of those stories out of old Hollywood that you would never see today with all the “I’m so honored to be in the company of all the other nominees.” We just don’t see great movie diva battles like that any longer. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m still not entirely sure, but it is decidedly less fun.
Here’s the video of Joan accepting the award.
I knew the story of how this happened, but I read the article anyway as I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. As it happens, I ended up clicking on an article on the same site that detailed the 1973 Best Actress Oscar race, one in which the author of the article stated “the Best Actress winner was probably the worst choice in the last 40 years.” The winner that year was Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class, up against heavy hitters like Joanne Woodward, Ellen Burstyn and Barbra Streisand. While the drama surrounding the Best Actress Oscar was interesting enough, I was equally intrigued by how presenter Susan Hayward made her final public appearance that night. Hayward, who was dying of brain cancer at the time and was in pretty rough shape. According to the article “with the help of hours of makeup, a flaming red wig and a large dose of Dilantin she braved the event on the arm of her former co-star Charlton Heston.” This was news to me – I had no idea that Susan Hayward had died. To be fair, it really wasn’t something that I would usually give two whits about, but I just had to see if this footage was on YouTube.
Sure enough, it was.
This led me to read Susan Hayward’s Wikipedia entry. As I mentioned, I knew precious little about her and had completely forgotten that she had played Helen Lawson in the 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. A remake of that film is reportedly in the works, with Madonna in the Helen Lawson role. Madonna is nuts if she does not take this role – someone actually wants her to act! – and the camp value would be off the charts. Not that the original version isn’t campy enough as it is.
But anyway, I got to reading about Susan Hayward’s film The Conqueror. Released in 1956, it was filmed in Utah a mere 137 miles downwind from where, in 1953, the U.S. government did large scale above-ground nuclear weapons testing. Not only was there 13 weeks of filming in radioactive fallout, but tons of the radioactive soil was shipped back to Hollywood for soundstage reshoots. In the end, 91 of the 220 member cast and crew ended up getting cancer. Now there are certainly reasons other than radiation that people might get cancer, not the least of which is smoking which was much more prevalent then, but The Straight Dope has my back on this one although there are also opinions exonerating radiation. In addition to Hayward, the director of the film died of cancer in 1963, cast member Pedro Armendáriz developed renal cancer in 1960 and in the 70s both John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead succumbed to cancer. Talk about hazardous working conditions. And all for a film that is considered one of the biggest box office turkeys not just of the 1950s but EVER. Who thought John Wayne as Genghis Khan was a good idea?
(obviously not the real trailer, but actual footage from the film, nonetheless.)
From there, I leapt over to Agnes Moorehead’s Wikipedia page. Best known as Samantha Stephens’ mother, Endora, on the TV show Bewitched, her cause of death was uterine cancer. She died in 1974 in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic. Admittedly, I knew little about her as well aside from her work on Bewitched, which ran on TBS ad infinitum when I was growing up. It kind of blew me away that she was born in 1900 – ancient history even to the likes of me and practically prehistoric to my daughter – and that she was most likely a lesbian, although that opinion was up for debate as well. Obviously, if she was a lesbian, she never came out during her lifetime. The effects on her career would have been catastrophic. Paul Lynde, who also appeared on Bewitched, is frequently credited with outing Moorehead, saying “Well, the whole world knows Agnes was a lesbian–I mean classy as hell, but one of the all-time Hollywood dykes.” Keep it classy, Paul.
Naturally, this made me want to read more about Paul Lynde, whose sexuality was the worst kept secret in Hollywood during the 70s. Everyone knew he was gay, but no one talked about it. I vaguely remembered his death in the 80s, and couldn’t remember how he had died – I had thought AIDS initially, but that just didn’t seem right as Rock Hudson was the first big celebrity to die from AIDS. Turns out it was a garden variety coronary event – a massive heart attack from years of smoking and drinking. I also wanted to see if there was any Hollywood Squares footage of Paul Lynde on YouTube. Of course, there was scads of it. Amongst those results was the video “The Paul Lynde Story: Mysteries & Scandals.” I couldn’t not watch it.
The host is kind of a douchebag, but it was entertaining. Turns out there are tons of different episodes of this show on YouTube, each highlighting a famous star from yesteryear. I finished out the night watching the Joan Crawford episode.
And with that, I figured that I’d come full circle and better quit while I was ahead. But it was a very educational evening, in a most unexpected way.