Friday, May 24

The Directors: Joshua Logan

He only directed 10 films and was uncredited on an 11th one.  Four of those were smashing successes.  One is on my list of 50 favorite films and one probably should have been.  He is better known for his writing and directing of Broadway shows but his brief fling with Hollywood completely enchanted me. 

Texas-born Josh Logan first became enamored of show business when he saw a play in Louisiana when he was only at a single-digit age.  His father committed suicide when Logan was only three and his mother later married a teacher and Logan attended the school where his stepfather taught.  It was there that he first started dabbling in dramatics.  He would go on to attend Princeton and while there he would become involved in an intercollegiate summer stock company called the University Players whose members included actress Margaret Sullavan, largely unknown today, and two who are still quite well-known, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.

While in college, he would have an opportunity to go to Russia to study with Stanislavsky which, in turn, would propel him to The Great White Way.  He started on Broadway as an assistant stage manager but was soon directing and ultimately writing as well.  His greatest joy, whether on the stage or in film, was writing and directing the same project.  I don't think many people do this very well but Logan was certainly an exception.  When his Broadway career was more or less petering out, he took to the movies.

Well, that's not quite right.  In 1938 he directed I Met My Love Again with Joan Bennett and Fonda, but it was no great shakes and Logan made Broadway his home until 1955 when he did some work on Mister Roberts after John Ford had been fired and before Mervyn LeRoy took over the direction.  Logan was uncredited on this film.

His movie directing really took off with two films that had been written by one of my cherished playwrights, William Inge.  The first was Picnic (1956).  It starred two of my favorite actors, both featured at different times in this blog, William Holden and Kim Novak.  I'm sure I saw it the first day.  It was about a down-on-his-luck stud who arrives in a small Kansas town around Labor Day and drives a number of the women to fan themselves a little more aggressively in the sweltering sun.  Holden was a bit too old for the role and Novak a little too uncertain but both provided memorable portrayals especially surrounding and during the dance scene.  The playing of Moonglow didn't hurt a bit.  As my mama was given to saying... mmmm  mmmm  mmmm.  The film was a blockbuster, one of the biggest hits from my favorite decade.

Next was Bus Stop (1956).  Marilyn Monroe was not only the star but she had choice of directors.  She was badly in need of a hit after feuding with 20th Century Fox and fleeing to Manhattan and the famed Actors Studio.  While it wasn't my favorite Monroe picture, I would say that this was arguably her best work.  She played Cherie, a hillbilly singer who spends the entire film fending off the advances of Don Murray as a lovesick rodeo cowboy.  Murray's character Bo is probably why I dismiss the film in the way I do.  Cherie, for the most part, found him annoying and God knows I did.  Monroe came with baggage, of course, and people shouting from the Hollywood rooftops that she was mega-trouble, but Logan enjoyed the experience.  He said about her that she was as near-genius as any actress he had ever known.

Logan with the near-genius

Logan was on the lookout for an East-West love story and it was therefore a stroke of luck that he came across James A. Michener's Sayonara.  Logan was also fairly captivated by Marlon Brando and when he signed for the lead, Logan was in heaven.  It is astounding that Audrey Hepburn was originally wanted for the part of his Japanese lover, but apparently not by Logan who opted for newcomer Miiko Taka in her film debut.  It was the story of an American air force major in Japan who is opposed to Americans marrying Japanese when he himself falls in love with one.  Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki both won Oscars for their supporting roles.  I never particularly cared for the film but it was another big success, although not as big as the next one.

The East-West theme and James A. Michener came into play again in 1958 for South Pacific.  Logan had also helmed the immensely successful Broadway play and was only natural for doing the film.  We won't linger any here, however, since you check out this link.

Two of Logan's films were just plain stupid, far beneath his abilities as a director.  The first came in 1960 with Tall Story, a silly basketball romance opus which starred always ill-at-ease Anthony Perkins and introduced Jane Fonda to the movies.  If Logan had directed 35 films, I would not have even mentioned this one.

The following year came my second favorite of all Logan's films, the delightful Fanny.  I mentioned it some in my piece on Leslie Caron, its title star.  Logan had cowritten the play and directed it on Broadway as a musical whereas the film would be a drama.  I'm given to things French and with this being gorgeously filmed in Marseilles, there was no way I would not be taken with this rather bold (for the time) love story.  I was taken aback that Caron would be married to--- gulp!-- Maurice Chevalier. 

Another interest (is that the word?) for me was handsome German actor Horst Buchholz whom I first fantasized (is that the word?) after seeing his cocky portrayal of a gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven.  He played Marius, the love of Fanny's life who decides he would rather fulfill a life-long ambition to go to sea, probably on a freighter.  When he does so, he isn't aware that Fanny is pregnant with his child.  In that Catholic country at that time, having a child out of wedlock was unthinkable so she marries the much older Chevalier.  How this all unfolds you ain't hearing here.  Do yourself a favor and rent this one.  It's a total delight.

Fanny was sandwiched between Logan's two stupid movies... the aforementioned Tall Story and Ensign Pulver.  That was a character in Mister Roberts (Jack Lemmon won an Oscar playing him) and in true Hollywood style, c'mon boys and girls, let make a sequel.  Oh stop.  I cannot discuss this any further.  I could get a case of the vapors if I do.  I do admit that any wonderful director can have two stupid movies in his library of work but that doesn't mean I want to discuss them.

The next two, both musicals, were iffy.  Both came from plays although Logan was not involved with either.  The first was Camelot which starred Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave in the familiar King Arthur story.  I never saw the film when it came out because I had heard such bad things about it and I didn't warm a whisper to Harris and Redgrave in musical roles.  I know it didn't do well either.  But I must confess that I saw it several years ago on TV, determined to get over whatever bias I had long suffered with, and you know what?  I not only quite liked it, I recorded it for keepsies. 

And then comes Logan's final film, Paint Your Wagon (1969), long considered to be a bow-wow of a film.  If one thought there was bad pre-press on Camelot, you ain't ready for this one.  It was slings and arrows from before the time cameras rolled, all during the Oregon filming, when (and if) you were sitting in the theater watching it and up to today.  If one paused to think of Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave singing, one could go all catatonic over Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood raising their voices in song.  It didn't hurt that the western was about two Gold Rush friends marrying the same woman (say what?) who turned out to be Jean Seberg.  So what didn't originally work for me for Camelot never seemed to matter for Paint Your Wagon.  I loved its big, boisterous, butchness.  I read that it was a painful shoot and it probably contributed to Logan never directing another film.  He famously said this at the time:  Not since Attila the Hun swept across Europe, leaving 500 years of total blackness, has there been a man like Lee Marvin.  Having finished a biography on Marvin a short time ago (and reviewing it here), I am not surprised at Logan's comment.

Perhaps Logan quit making movies around 1969 because he discovered a drug for his long-endured bipolar disorder.  He went into sanitariums twice to control his rages and depresssions and had suffered publicly with some embarrassing moments. 

He was a bisexual who was married most of his life to two women, both actresses.  The first was a brief union with Barbara O'Neil who played Scarlett O'Hara's mother and the second, with Nedda Harrigan, lasted 43 years.

Josh Logan died in 1988 at age 79.  His contribution to the world of show business was huge.  While the majority of his acclaim comes from stage work, the movies and I have been lucky to have him.

Coming in June

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