Author Tags: Film
Born in North York, Ontario, David Spaner grew up in Vancouver where he graduated from Langara College and Simon Fraser University. During his stint as a movie reviewer for The Province newspaper he published Dreaming in the Rain: How Vancouver Became Hollywood North by Northwest (Arsenal 2003 $19.95). It was followed by Shoot It! Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film (Arsenal 2011) which "examines the Hollywood studio system from the early days when it produced more quality yet commercially viable films, to today, when studios seem only interested in surefire sequels and comic-book adaptations aimed at a global audience. By the same token, Shoot It! also celebrates today's great movies produced outside of the studio system, chronicling the international independent film movement in seven countries (the United States, Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Romania, and South Korea), from its roots to the revolutionary impact of digital technology. It also features commentary from indie film notables such as Mike Leigh, Gus Van Sant, Claire Denis, Miranda July, Woody Allen, Atom Egoyan, Catherine Breillat, and more."
Dreaming in the Rain: How Vancouver Became Hollywood North by Northwest (Arsenal 2003) 1-55152-129-6 $19.95
Shoot It! (Arsenal 2011) 978-1-55152-408-5 $22.95
[Photo: Yvonne De Carlo]
[BCBW 2011] "Film"
Dreaming in the Rain: How Vancouver Became Hollywood North by Northwest
Long before Pamela Anderson was born in Ladysmith, Yvonne De Carlo was born on September 1, 1922 in Vancouver as Margaret Yvonne Middleton. Nicknamed Peggy, the star of Hollywood films such as The Ten Commandments commanded the romantic attentions of Howard Hughes and later played Lily Munster in the TV series The Munsters.
As The Province film critic David Spaner recalls in Dreaming in the Rain: How Vancouver Became Hollywood North by Northwest (Arsenal Pulp $21.95), ‘Peggy’ Middleton grew up on Comox Street in the West End and worked as an usher at the Orpheum Theatre long before Margot Kidder, who later played Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, worked as an usher at the Varsity Theatre. With the help of band leader Dal Richards, leggy Miss Peggy badgered Palomar supper club owner Hymie Singer to let her do a dance number with top hat and cane, having trained at the June Roper School of Dancing.
Not long after heading to Hollywood in 1942, Yvonne De Carlo was billed as “the most beautiful girl in the world.” But she was by no means the first Canuck pin-up girl in Tinseltown. The first three actresses to win Academy Awards were Mary Pickford, Marie Dressler and Norma Shearer—all Canadians. As Charles Foster makes clear in Once Upon a Time in Paradise: Canadians in the Golden Age of Hollywood (Dundurn $35), the success of Canadian comics such as Jim Carrey, John Candy and Mike Myers is only one more stage in a long-running tradition of invasion. MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer was from New Brunswick, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers hails from Ontario and Mack Sennett, the ‘King of Comedy,’ went south to silent screen stardom from Quebec.
Concentrating on the backlot of B.C., Spaner recalls:
• An early art director from Victoria, Richard Day, won seven Oscars for films such as How Green Was My Valley, A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront.
• In 1922, local actress Mary Livingstone (having changed her name from Sadie Marksmet) met a touring vaudeville comic named Benny Kubelsky who played the Orpheum with the Marx Brothers. She married him before he changed his stage name to Jack Benny.
• The first Vancouverite to win an Oscar, actor Victor McLaglen, originally found the spotlight when he was a last-minute replacement to fight heavyweight champ Jack Johnson in Vancouver in 1909.
• Humphrey Bogart gave some of his most memorable performances (The Caine Mutiny, Crossfire) when he was directed by Edward Dmytryk, from Grand Forks.
• A horse is a horse, of course, of course, unless he’s the famous Mr. Ed., the talking horse in a series that starred Alan Young of Victoria.
• Vancouver born Barbara Parkins, who starred in Valley of the Dolls, was the first actress to return home to play lead in a movie, the unheralded Christina, in 1974.
Spaner went to the effort of tracking down Beverly Aadland, who was 50-year-old Errol Flynn’s 17-year-old escort when he came to Vancouver to sell his yacht, The Zaca—and died—in 1959. Now living in northern California under a married name, Aadland is pictured in the book with the ‘devilish Tasmanian’ wearing her bikini poolside, but only one picture survives of the pair in Vancouver, when it was raining. “That’s why he had a bowler hat on,” Aadland says, “and my hair was all wet in that one picture that was taken at the airport.”
Aadland was long vilified in the press as a bad girl, but Flynn had already faced statutory rape charges and been linked to the Nazis prior to his demise at a 1310 Burnaby Street apartment on October 14. When Aadland was told at the Vancouver General emergency that Flynn was dead, she went berserk. “I guess I went hysterical,” she says. “I was banging my head and my hands on the ground and they took me off to a room. I think I was in a straitjacket because I was trying to get into the room with him.”
Dreaming in the Rain is most useful as a primer for anyone entering the local film industry. Although Spaner’s overview is selective, it contains a valuable summary of the first independent feature made in Vancouver in the modern era, plus its banned follow-ups.
A UBC theatre student named Larry Kent—influenced by the remarkable films screened by Varsity Theatre manager Don Barnes—wrote and produced Bitter Ash for $5,000 in 1963. The censor banned it before it was viewed due to bare breasts on screen and the words ‘shit’ and ‘piss’ in the dialogue. “The virginal, puritanical attitude that was held by the establishment had nothing to do with reality.” Kent told Spaner. Undeterred, Kent made Sweet Substitute in an impromptu manner, again using local actors, followed by When Tomorrow Dies, co-written with novelist Robert Harlow.
Spaner credits Kent as being the founding father of Vancouver independent film. Undoubtedly there will be those who disagree. In the aftermath of Kent came Morrie Ruvinsky and The Plastic Mile. Its lead actor, Jace Van Der Veen, was discovered when he was hitchhiking home from UBC as a theatre student. Ruvinsky picked him up and asked if he’d like to be in a movie with another UBC theatre student named Pia Shandel. The B.C. censor Ray McDonald banned the movie because it contained a scene in which Shandel experienced an orgasm. “This wasn’t Larry Kent,” she recalls. “Larry Kent came out of UBC and was considered a little bit sordid, and he was kind of a bit wicked. But this was going to be a legitimate movie, you know. And the director Morrie was from Montreal so it had a bit of pan-Canadianism to it.”
The Plastic Mile was scheduled to premiere at the 1969 Vancouver Film Festival awards-night gala at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. When protestors objected to a replacement film, singing “We Shall Overcome,” Ruvinsky was invited to speak, supported by Festival president Ben Metcalfe. Everyone wanted to see the movie, but the projectionists refused to defy the censor. “So I went up to the projection booth and I got the film,” Ruvinsky tells Spaner. “I put the five reels up on the stage and I said, ‘Well, now, here you can see The Plastic Mile.’” Encouraged by laughter, Ruvinsky picked up a pair of scissors and went strolling through the aisles of the QE Theatre, cutting up his film “so everybody could have their own piece of The Plastic Mile and get to see a little bit of it.”
[BCBW Winter 2003]