The League of Alternate Superstars: Joseph Cotten

Although he’s not well remembered by most people, especially those under, say, 50, citizen kaneJoseph Cotten, 1905-1994) had a superior number of classic movies to his credit.  A member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater ensemble, Cotten joined Welles on the director’s Citizen Kane (1941) and immediately afterward starred in the wunderkind’s star-crossed The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  With Welles uncredited, Cotten starred with him in Journey Into Fear (1942, U.K., 1943 U.S.)

That was quite an initiation for a novice film actor but the quality work continued throughout the ensuing decade.  (It is hardly ever noted that even the biggest stars, the legends, rarely appear in excellent and successful movies for more than a decade.  In this sense, David Shipman downplayed Cotten’s career in The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.)

Next up for Cotten was Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the murder mystery that turned the star’s charming demeanor upside down.   As Teresa Wright’s Uncle Charlie, he ingratiated himself with his niece’s family, but she soon realized there was something terribly dark about him.

gaslightIn Gaslight (1944) Cotten was part of a triumvirate of topnotch stars that included Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.  That same year Cotten returned to form, playing a naval lieutenant on leave who provides Claudette Colbert and her children (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple) a shoulder to cry on in Since You Went Away.

Cotten would see much more of Academy Award-winner Jones, who became a lifelong friend.  First up was Love Letters (1945), followed by the western epic Duel in the Sun (1946), and in 1948 they co-starred in the romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1948).  For that he received the Best Actor International Award at the Venice Film Festival.  (Cotten had co-starred with another Academy Award winner in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter:  Loretta Young.)

third manThe end of the decade reteamed Cotten and Orson Welles in the classic The Third Man (1949).   Everything revolved around Cotten despite Welles playing the title character.

Like Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), in 1953 Cotten may have been cast to help 20th Century Fox’s rising star Marilyn Monroe improve her acting.  The film was Niagara, a big success.

As the fifties progressed, Cotten, like so many others, found himself on TV and increasingly in character parts.  Nevertheless, on occasion he found some leading movie roles.  Based on Jules Verne’s novel, From the Earth to the Moon (1958) saw him as the leader of the expedition.

During this time Cotten continued doing radio programs.  In fact, he’d begun on radio in the 30s.  His voice was perfect for that medium as it would be when he narrated the 22 episodes of the 1963 TV documentary, Hollywood and the Stars.

lady frankensteinFollowing Vincent Price and Ray Milland into the horror genre, he battled Price’s maniac in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and that same year played Baron Frankenstein in the low budget but curiously compelling Italian horror movie Lady Frankenstein.  Then came another Italian horror film, Baron Blood, in which he menaced Elke Sommer.

About his life and career Cotten had no regrets.  He married actress Patricia Medina and closed his autobiography with, “I continue to love my wife passionately, spiritually, and completely.  That she calmly and unregretfully closed the door on a thriving and glamorous movie career to be at my side, tells of her love for me.  We are ordinary, extraordinarily lucky people.  For that, all I can say is ‘Amen’.”

By Kim


Cotten, Joseph.  Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.  1987.

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.  1972.

June Staff Picks

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Dragana’s Picks
art of the stealDocumentary: The Art of the Steal
This excellent documentary follows the struggle for controlling the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the Philadelphia Barnes Foundation. It is about how you can steal art worth billions and violate Dr. Barnes last wishes.villa lobos

CD: Villa-Lobos Par Lui-Même by Villa-Lobos
This disc is for the Villa-Lobos lovers and has a lot of historical value. It is Villa-Lobos’s vision of his work and almost all pieces are conducted by himself. Recorded between 1954 and 1958, and performed by the Orchestre National de la Radio Diffusion Française.

Jamie’s Picks
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Funny and affecting coming-of-age story of a Sacramento teenager and her complicated relationship with her mother. Excellent acting by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
Audiobook: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
A powerful memoir that poignantly depicts what it was like to grow up black around LA at the height of the war on drugs and the generational effects of imprisonment and surveillance on a community.

Jessie’s Picks
cocoMovie: Coco
Heart-warming Pixar film about a young Mexican boy that loves music, but his family does not. He travels to the Land of the Dead, meets his musical idol, and discovers his family’s history.still life

Audiobook: Still Life by Louise Penny
The first book in the numerous awards-winning Three Pines mystery series. The characters and the setting, which makes you want to travel to small Quebecois towns, sets this series apart from other mysteries. In this book Chief Inspector Gamache travels to Three Pines to solve the murder of a retired school teacher/ amateur artist.

Kim’s Picks
panic in year zeroMovie: Panic in Year Zero!
Only months before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, moviegoers were presented with this apocalyptic film about a middle-class California family on vacation trying to survive a nuclear attack and remain civilized.  Academy Award-winning actor Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, 1945) directed this very compelling low-budget thriller.

Audiobook: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston the lost city of the monkey god
Preston, a prolific author of crime (the Pendergast series), true crime (The Monster of Florence), and modern-day adventure (Talking to the Ground:  One Family’s Journey on Horseback Across the Sacred Land of the Navajo) here details another authentic contemporary saga:  the expeditions into the pristine Honduran department known as  Mosquitia in search of La Ciudad Blanca, the fabled “white city,” aka City of the Monkey God.  Writing for National Geographic, Preston accompanied the camera crew, archaeologists, sponsors, and two British ex-special forces men into a savage habitat replete with poisonous snakes, sucking mud, and disease-carrying insects.  The journey was only possible after the forest canopy was penetrated with lidar (Light Detection and Ranging).  The explorers paid a high price for their discoveries as many came down with the horrific and often fatal parasitic disease known as Leishmaniasis.  Despite the discovery of a lost civilization, serious issues must be addressed:  who created the white city and its satellite population centers centuries ago, what catastrophes caused the citizens to leave, and how can we combat the spread of tropical diseases and potential pandemics when deadly microbes take advantage of global warming to move north?

Mary’s Picks
divine secrets of the ya ya sisterhoodMovie: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
A true chick flick, with a great female cast. After years of mother-daughter tension, Sidda’s mother’s friends kidnap her to try to bring them closer together.the secret

Audiobook: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Great introduction to the law of attraction, the power of positive thinking and how it effects your entire life. Listeneing to this audiobook just puts you in a good mood.

Stephanie’s Picks

young adult.jpgMovie: Young Adult
Raw and honest, funny yet uncomfortable to watch at times, Young Adult is the story of a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart.

Audiobook: Defending Jacob by William LandayCover image
“Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next. His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.”

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May Staff Picks

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Jamie’s Picks
the-crownTV Series: The Crown
Beautifully filmed with fantastic costumes, this series chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The chemistry and tension between Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Prince Philip is palpable, and as an American I found it interesting to learn more about palace dynamics– such as how much control the “courtiers” have on the royals.
CD: E·mo·tion by Carly Rae Jepsen
Super catchy and poppy; a distillation of being a boy crazy young girl without being too juvenile or sugary, meaning anyone can give this a listen and enjoy it.

Jessie’s Picks
ant-manMovie: Ant-Man
“Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.”between shades of gray

Audiobook: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
“In 1941, Lina and her family are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers.”

Kim’s Picks
running targetMovie: Running Target!
Future Academy Award-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall shows his early skill with this beautifully photographed color adventure set in the Colorado Rockies.  Future Academy Award-winning composer Ernest Gold provides the significant score.  The story:  a sheriff (Arthur Franz) reluctantly leads a modern day (circa 1956) posse into the wilderness to recapture four escaped convicts.  Richard Reeves’ obsession with his weapon (his “brother”) remains germane today.

Audiobook: Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Hendersonsons and soldiers
The author follows a half dozen German-born Jews who as teenagers in the 1930s were sent or made their way from Hitler’s increasingly-dangerous Reich to the United States.  As they reached military age and Germany declared war on the U.S., they enlisted and found themselves training at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.  These “Ritchie Boys” learned interrogation techniques and because of their familiarity with the German language and culture became invaluable assets in front-line units from D-Day until the war’s conclusion.  Some actually made contact with their families, others expected and found the worst:  their kin had died in extermination camps.  This is an exciting and moving tale one hopes Hollywood will turn into an epic film—with actors of the appropriate age as the real Ritchie Boys.

Mary’s Picks
chocolatMovie: Chocolat
A woman and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village. Their unconventional style changes the rigid community.

CD: Eden by Sarah Brightmaneden.jpg
Sarah’s best album with a mix of English, Italian, French and Latin, as well as a mix of classic Opera, pop and New Age.

Stephanie’s Picks

hungerAudiobook: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Listening to Roxanne Gay read her beautifully-written memoir Hunger was like listening to a close friend divulging some of her most intimate yet painful feelings and memories. It is quite literally the story of her body, and the way she and others have treated it. Powerful, raw, and heartbreaking, it is a must read.

CD: Beast Epic by Iron & Winebeast epic
After multiple albums of experimenting with new sounds, it seems that singer Sam Beam has gone back to his sweet melodic folk roots. This is his best album since Our Endless Numbered Days.

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April Staff Picks

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Dragana’s Picks

Image result for home again posterMovie: Home Again
Very, very, light, fairy tail comedy with no strong characters. But, if you are looking for entertainment, this movies does deliver it!

CD: Lady Soul by Aretha FranklinImage result for lady soul aretha franklin
This is another Aretha classic and it includes the full-length version of Chain of Fools, as well as other hit songs. Enjoy the wonderful voice of the “Queen of the Soul.”

Jamie’s Picks

Image result for how to train your dragon posterMovie: How to Train Your Dragon
So much fun and so heartwarming! Any pet lover will relate to the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. Witty and insightful script with great voice-acting by Jay Baruchel.Image result for the buried giant

Audiobook: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
A historical fantasy set just following the end of King Arthur’s reign. An easy read but a thoughtful one that reflects on the relationship between memory and trauma in a society.

Jessie’s Picks 

Image result for death in paradise posterTV Series: Death in Paradise
“British cop Richard Poole is a fish out of water when he is sent to the tiny island of Sainte Marie to solve a mysterious murder. Awaiting Richard is a ramshackle station and a very different type of policing.”

CD: La Roux by La RouxImage result for la roux cd
The debut album by La Roux, a synth pop duo comprised of Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid. Heather Phares of AllMusic calls this group “…a standout, not just among the many other ’80s revivalists, but the entire late-2000s pop landscape.”

Kim’s Picks

Image result for stargirl jerry spinelliAudiobook: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The late John Ritter does a marvelous job reading another terrific Jerry Maniac Magee Spinelli book for teens that will go down well with adults.  The curiously named Stargirl arrives at Arizona’s Mica High and confounds the entire school by carrying on her person a pet rat, strumming a ukulele in the cafeteria, singing “Happy Birthday to You” to those she barely knows, and cheering for the home team and its opponent.  Initially confounded, then ecstatic, and finally fed up with this odd duck, her classmates shun her—all, that is, except Dori Dilson and Leo Borlock, but even Leo eventually bows to the crowd.  Nevertheless, Stargirl has made an indelible mark on her classmates.  A sequel, Love, Stargirl, takes place right here in Chester County.Image result for generation war

Miniseries: Generation War
Originally a TV mini-series, this epic German film beginning with the invasion of Russia in 1941 and concluding with the fall of Berlin in 1945, chronicles the calamitous events affecting five friends:  two brothers in the Wehrmacht, a nurse, a chanteuse, and a Jewish tailor.  A tragic tale writ large.

Mary’s Picks

Image result for pan's labyrinth posterMovie: Pan’s Labyrinth
In the Falangist Spain of 1944 a young girl tries to travel into a fantasy world to escape her evil stepfather.Image result for the secret life of bees

Audiobook: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
A picture of the South in the 1960’s with strong women working together to support each other. All act as mother figures for Lily while she searches for her own mother’s past.

Stephanie’s Picks

Image result for small great thingsAudiobook: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
“Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?”

CD: The Golden Echo by KimbraImage result for the golden echo kimbra
Kimbra famously sang on the major hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know” with Gotye, but she is a talent in her own right. This album includes collaborations with artists such as the Mars Volta, Muse, Foster the People, Silverchair, John Legend and Bilal. Heather Phares of AllMusic notes: “An album that just becomes more engaging with time, The Golden Echo lives up to its name: it refashions the best of what came before it into something alluringly modern and a lot of fun.”

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Happy Anniversary, Nellie Forbush and Gigi

South Pacific

March 19 marked the 60th anniversary of the New York premiere at the Criterion Theatre of the film version of Rodger and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949.  It was one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Big 5,” whose other members were Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.  Like Oklahoma!, South Pacific differed from traditional musical theater in its emphasis on story, even a hard-edged story.  Racism was at the core as sailors, soldiers airmen, and nurses island-hopping across the Pacific toward Japan encountered and interacted with indigenous peoples or, in the case of American nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor), expatriate French planter Emile (Rossano Brazzi, his singing voice dubbed by Ezio Pinza, Broadway’s Emile) who’d fathered children with a Polynesian woman, and Lieutenant Cable (John Kerr), who romanced Liat (France Nuyen).

The public made the film the highest grosser of the year.  Unsurprisingly, critics, who rarely complimented Broadway director Joshua Logan’s films, belittled South Pacific.  Complaints ranged from casting Gaynor as Nellie rather than, say, Mary Martin from the stage play or Judy Garland, to the curious color palette developed by Logan and 20th Century-Fox’s “house cinematographer” Leon Shamroy.  Shamroy had helped develop CinemaScope and photographed The Robe (1953), the first movie in the process.  Logan hated Technicolor and did not want to make a film that looked like a picture postcard.  He took a still photographer’s advice to “Use filters, overexposure, shoot through a Navajo blanket or a Spanish shawl.  Anything!  Just don’t make it look as though you could turn it over and find written, ‘Having wonderful time in colorful Tahiti—wish you were here.’”  Taking the advice, Logan “thereby made one of the major mistakes of my career.”  Nevertheless, in The Musical Film, Douglas McVay complimented the rich score “and some at times slightly bilious but often strangely atmospheric use of colour films,…”

Mitzi Gaynor, who could dance up a storm and sing more than adequately, had been under Fox contract for her most of her career.  That was a mixed blessing as Fox worked in MGM’s shadow in the musical realm, continuing to make backstage musicals rather than create art via spontaneous singing and dancing.  Gaynor did get to do one good MGM musical, Les Girls, but like her work at Fox, it was mostly a backstage affair.



Like South Pacific, Gigi, which premiered on May 15, 1958 in New York at the Royale Theatre, was a reserved-seat roadshow and a smash hit, taking in $40,000 in advance, mail-order tickets before opening night.  Unlike South Pacific, Gigi was one of the last Hollywood musicals whose score Lerner and Loewe wrote specifically for the screen and included such memorable songs as “The Night They Invented Champagne,” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I Remember It Well,” and “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight.”  Gigi won a record 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

There is a relationship between Gigi and 1951’s An American in Paris.  Both were MGM productions, both were directed by Vincente Minnelli, both featured Leslie Caron as the lead femme, both were set in Paris.  Both won the Best Picture Academy Award.  One thing was radically different:  Douglas McVay identified “virtually no dancing (the numbers frequently being shot in long, static takes with the singers sitting down).”

In fact, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of dancing in South Pacific either.  (Of course it’s difficult to dance on sand.)  Nevertheless, dancing or a simulacrum of it was part of “A Wonderful Guy,” “Honey Bun” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”

Sidenote:  In the mid-sixties South Pacific and Gigi were reissued, which was the only way audiences who’d missed them in ‘58 could catch up.  There were no VHS tapes, RedBox, YouTube, streaming, or Turner Classic Movies.

By Kim


Holston, Kim.  Movie Roadshows.  2013.

Logan, Joshua.  Movie Stars, Real People and Me.  1978.

McVay, Douglas.  The Musical Film.  1967.

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March Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks

billions.jpgTV Series: Billions

A great soap opera exploring the world of high finance as a separate ecosystem that rules unto itself at the cost of most everyone else. Despite a lack of likable characters, Billions is addictive and highly entertaining. Season 1 released in 2016, Season 2 in 2017, Season 3 coming soon!

Nonfiction DVD: Joan Sutherland – The Complete Bell Telephone Hour Performances, 1961-1968joan sutherland

Opera lovers will find much to enjoy in this Joan Sutherland “Live Greatest Hits” compilation that spans nearly a decade of unrivaled bel canto splendor. Sit back and enjoy this perfect voice singing arias from Tosca, Rigoletto, Norma, Ernani, la Traviata, and more!

Jamie’s Picks

in the gardenAudiobook: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

A fascinating true account of an American ambassador’s front row seat to Hitler’s rise that reads like a movie or novel. Offers valuable insight into not only how Hitler consolidated his power but how the American foreign service failed to stop it.

CD: The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unitnashville sound

An alt-country/rock album that has songs ranging from southern rock anthems to bittersweet duets. Favorite tracks are “Cumberland Gap” and “Molotov.” Isbell shows again that he’s an excellent songwriter.

Jessie’s Picks

unbreakable kimmyTV Series: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

A quirky, lighthearted comedy about a former cult member that moves to NYC. Her optimism and naiveté despite her time in the cult endears her to those around her and to the viewer.

Audiobook: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolverpoisonwood

Dean Robertson does a good job narrating this audiobook and handling its various dialects and accents. Because of that the listener gets to experience the story of a missionary family in the Congo around 1960. The story is told from the perspectives of the four daughters and their mom. This is a powerful book and is one of Barbara Kingsolver’s best.

Kim’s Picks

wicker manMovie: The Wicker Man

The infamous British horror film received accolades after its first and extremely limited 1973 release and is now reckoned a veritable masterpiece.  The story:  a police inspector (Edward Woodward) travels to a remote Scottish island in search of a missing girl.  But is she really missing?  Who is Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and what strange rites does he practice?  With Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland and cult fave Ingrid Pitt.

Audiobook: Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroydcharlie chaplin

Small but mighty is this 8-disc biography of he who was once the most famous man in the world:  Chaplin, the Cockney raised in poverty whose innate talents in mime, music and acting helped create the world of the cinema.

Mary’s Picks

leap yearMovie: Leap Year

An unlikely pair travel through the Irish countryside in this fun, romantic comedy.

Audiobook: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilberteat pray

A woman’s search to find herself after a nervous breakdown. An uplifting journey that speaks to all of us and truly opens your eyes to the beauty of life.

Stephanie’s Picks

an inconvenientNonfiction DVD: An Inconvenient Sequel

“A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change into the heart of popular culture comes the follow-up that shows just how close people are to a real energy revolution.”

CD: Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanukalove and hate

Dark, and at times, lonely and sad soul album. Standout tracks are the orchestral 10-minute opener, “Cold Little Heart,” and “Black Man in a White World.”


Quoted summaries from

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