Some of the most interesting stories from Old Hollywood happened off-screen and in the everyday lives of legendary stars. Home videos offer the best visual insight into celebrity life in a less curated and controlled way than feature films and press media. The Academy Film Archive gives TCM Film Festival attendees a glimpse of their selection of Hollywood home videos each year, but this year they are giving everyone a chance to see stars in their personal lives and at work with them Hollywood Home Movies: Stars at work and play Program. From the celebrity commentary to the one-of-a-kind look at history, here’s why these home videos are worth the watch.
Randy Haberkamp and Lynne Kirste from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences host a varied collection of silent home videos, accompanied by a live piano by Michael Mortilla. Haberkamp and Kirste are passionate experts in home video collection. Still, they even invite the audience to let them know if they recognize unidentified people or locations in the home videos they are showing. The hosts also speak to Tony Nicholas, son of one of the Nicholas Brothers, and Shirley Jones, the star of Oklahoma !, about their home videos.
Hollywood home videos give us a glimpse into stars from the past in a way that biographies and other records cannot. In Hollywood Home Movies: Stars at Work and Play, we see legendary couple Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in their home and on their sailboat in Richard Brooks’ home films. The clips span over a decade and show Bogart and Bacall at various stages of fame and their relationship. Her love for sailing and important moments in her life, like Bacall’s pregnancy with one of her children, are just a few examples. These moments weren’t always featured in gossip magazines or other press coverage during the period. Couples like Bogart and Bacall have also been very private about their personal lives. With these home videos, we can see them through the eyes of someone they love, Brooks. For a moment we see moving images of her life outside of her acting career.
Gilbert Roland’s home videos included in the program feature stars like Janet Gaynor, Constance Bennett, Frank Morgan and Ben Lyon making jokes and playing tennis at the Beverly Hill Tennis Club. Even producer David O. Selznick and director Frank Capra stop by in Roland’s films. In these clips, we see one of the places where stars in Hollywood history have had fun. In black and white, the first clips show an early version of the tennis club with only seats and tables where stars would drink and smoke a lot of cigarettes. The court seems like a very exclusive place for the famous, but these clips also show the waiters and other workers in the club. In the last few clips we see an evolved Beverly Tennis Club in color. The club acquired a pool full of people in the 1940s, including John Garfield and director Billy Wilder. They look cozy and relaxed, which is a treasure to capture in the film. The club no longer looks like Roland’s private place and has evolved far beyond pure tennis. These home videos are the closest thing to the party with some of our favorite studio-era stars from back then.
We also get an insight into aspects of the industry that are not always captured on film. In a clip we see Jean Harlow getting ready in an unknown dressing room. The presenters are unsure of the exact context of the film, but estimate that it was captured during one of Harlow’s extensive promotional tours after The Public Enemy was released. It appears that Harlow is being filmed by someone she knows, but it’s not entirely clear who. Harlow toured theaters across the country from 1931 to 1932, drawing a large crowd of people just to see her greet them on stage. These publicity stunts were a big part of studio-era Hollywood, but it’s a rarity to go behind the scenes during these stunts. Interestingly, the archivists used Harlow’s artificial beauty mark on her face to date the film. Harlow drew her beauty mark in different parts of her face during different parts of her career. This home film shows how helpful these films can be in capturing all aspects of celebrity lives and the work archivists must do to put these home videos in the context of history for us.
The program shows behind the scenes of Oscar winner Oklahoma! Thanks to the home films of director Fred Zinnemann, which were shot on location in Arizona. Shirley Jones, who starred as Laurey Williams, comments on these home videos and shows how Jones prepares and recovers from certain scenes. Jones froze while filming a swimming scene, and the home videos show her wrapped in a towel drinking whiskey to warm her up. This is a big no-no with movie sets, so it’s fascinating to see how it’s captured in the movie. Zinnemann also captured stunts from a moving train, scenes of dancers and the huge crews surrounding the camera when Jones appeared. We can see set photos quite a bit, but these home videos give a broader view of what became a giant musical in the 1950s.
These home videos also show major historical moments beyond Hollywood’s borders, such as World War II. Character actor Billy Gilbert’s home movie collection features his moments on USO tours with Fay McKenzie, her sister, and her other friends. We see Gilbert and his friends sailing and having fun on the beach when they are not performing skits and songs for a large crowd of soldiers. We can also see what a USO show was like from the cast’s point of view during WWII. These moments show what the war time was like outside the realm of battles, which can also tell a lot about the story from that time.
Finally, Haberkamp and Kirste reveal that one of the best treasures is the home videos of the Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold. The brothers were some of the best dance performers of all time, both on screen and on stage. Her home videos were so historically and culturally significant that they were included in the national film register for safekeeping in 2011. The clips in this program show the brothers performing on stage with Carmen Miranda who starred with the brothers in Down Argentine Way. Her son Tony provides commentary and context on all of the clips as they document the dance duo’s extraordinary life and important aspects of African American history. Shots of the Cotton Club, Harlem, and Hollywood are important to history in general. Tony even appears in the home videos, dancing with his uncle and father Fayard.
There are even more intriguing clips in Hollywood Home Movies: Stars at Work and Play You won’t want to miss it at the TCM Film Festival. Interesting film techniques in these home videos show their historical and entertainment value for everyone from hardcore film history enthusiasts to the casual viewer.
This portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival program rounds off the final day of the program on May 9th at 7:00 p.m. EST. More information on the full schedule can be found here.