Tag Archives: Joan Crawford

It’s Still a Wonderful Life!

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the most cherished Christmas movie of all time – It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s life-affirming fable of a suicidal everyman whose guardian angel shows him that the world would have been a poorer place without him is now regarded as the most uplifting of all feel-good films. For its legions of fans, it is as essential a part of the festive season as carols, cards and carving the turkey. These days, most people have heard of the film, even if they haven’t seen it, and many cinemas and TV channels screen the movie year-in, year-out as a Christmas tradition. Yet, at one point, this classic was in serious danger of sinking into obscurity.

When It’s a Wonderful Life premiered in New York on December 21, 1946, it was a major event heralded by big spreads in newspapers and magazines. The movie was the first film made by both its director, Frank Capra, and its charismatic star, James Stewart, since they had returned from serving in the Second World War, and many of the reviews were glowing. One reviewer wrote that it “melted the barnacles off my heart and left me feeling young and full of ideals again.”

Capra, who had felt that the story was a gem from the outset, was entitled to be disappointed, then, when the film failed to live up to expectations at the box office. Although movie lore has it that It’s a Wonderful Life was a flop when it first came out, it actually performed quite respectably – just not as well as anyone had hoped. Telegrams flooded in to Capra congratulating him on the film. Joan Crawford wrote: “Just saw It’s a Wonderful Life. It was magnificent. Bless you.” And William Holden’s said: “Thanks for making us stop to think that it is wonderful.” Nevertheless, at the box office the takings were unspectacular and its failure to win any of the Oscars for which it was nominated stuck in Capra’s craw.

Perhaps audiences just weren’t ready for the film. Released just two months after the end of the Nuremberg trials and with the horrors of the war still fresh in most minds, It’s a Wonderful Life – for all that it is often dismissed as sentimental “Capra-corn” – was, in its darkest moments, considerably darker than the usual Hollywood fare. James Stewart’s character, George Bailey, is literally on the brink of suicide (he’s poised to jump into the river) because he feels he has let his family and friends down. In 1946, movies didn’t entertain the notion of suicide, let alone show the hero attempting it, on Christmas Eve of all days.

Just as shocking, from the 1946 point of view, was the scene in which Bailey gets drunk and, sobbing into his double bourbon, begs God for help. Movie-goers had seen James Stewart playing a champagne-burping drunk in The Philadelphia Story, but here he was playing a man driven to drink by gut-wrenching, raw despair.

In the run-up to the film’s release, Capra said: “People are numb after the catastrophic events of the past ten to 15 years. I would not attempt to reach them mentally through a picture, only emotionally.” And he certainly put his audience on an emotional rollercoaster with this one: the plunges into the pits of despair are more than balanced out (if not, like the horrors of childbirth, blotted out) by the ecstatic climax of the film – the wild jubilation of the hero as he realises the value of his life, the overwhelming outpouring of support and love, and the final message of “No man is a failure who has friends”.

The story behind the film echoes the “second chances” theme of the movie itself. Ironically, it was television which, in the early 1950s was blamed for wiping out cinemas audiences, which gradually came to be the film’s guardian angel. TV kept the film in circulation and introduced successive generations to its delights. It developed a cult following, and, by the late 1970s, converts in America – where it was shown much more often than here – were holding It’s a Wonderful Life parties. Watching it became an event; it was one to watch in company and preferably during the festive season.

The film’s second life was also the result of the copyright lapsing in 1973. It was such a neglected movie, and had been passed around among so many different companies, that it was allowed to slip into the public domain. This meant that not only could TV stations show it for nothing, but that clips from it could be pinched by filmmakers and used in their movies by way of homage – or to boost the feel-good factor of their own films. These tantalising snippets helped to pique the interest of viewers who were starting to hear about this quirky festive film. It was only in the mid-1980s, as the video took off that It’s a Wonderful Life took its place as a mainstream classic.

Of course, the main reasons for the film’s longevity and popularity are there for all to see in the two hours of screen time. It’s an inspired and daring blend of comedy, fantasy and tragedy. It appeals to children and adults alike. It boasts a tour-de-force performance by James Stewart and a supporting cast of such unforgettable, beautifully nailed, characters as his hapless guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), his loving wife, Mary (Donna Reed), his hapless uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), his Scrooge-like nemesis, Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore), and the kind old pharmacist, Mr Gower (HB Warner). It offers hope and it restores or reinforces our faith in our fellow man. Now in its eighth decade, and better loved than ever, It’s a Wonderful Life is proof positive that second chances are always worth taking. Attaboy Capra!

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Uncategorized

My Week in Beauty


My week started in a glamorous gothic fashion when I went to the opening night of The Rocky Horror Show in Glasgow. I may have been disappointed in the show but enjoyed the references to 1930s horror movies as I loved all those films – Bride of Frankenstein especially – when I was a teenager.

I’ve only met a handful of genuine stars among the many celebrities I’ve interviewed – and I’ve probably only interviewed one bona fide movie legend: Fay Wray (left), the actress who was dangled over the Empire State Building in King Kong back in 1933.

When I interviewed Miss Wray in 1998, she was already on the wrong side of 90 but before she would let me start firing questions, she insisted – in a distinctly non-diva-like way – on applying some lipstick. The still striking nonagenarian realised that she had no mirror and asked if I had one. I lent her my Bobbi Brown compact and she proceeded to apply a shocking pink lipstick.

A couple of weeks later, I spied a compact with two mirrors – one of them a magnifying one – in a shop near my office. I bought it and sent it to Miss Wray at her Trump Towers home. Imagine my surprise and delight when she wrote back to thank me … The power of lipstick and a compact – unites all women!


And speaking of horror movie legends, that was one of the subjects of conversation over a dinner at the elegant Blythswood Square hotel in Glasgow on Tuesday. The occasion was to celebrate the arrival of Giorgio Armani Cosmetics at Frasers in Glasgow.

I was sitting next to Frederic Letailleur, who has the impressive title “international face designer”  for Giorgio Armani Cosmetics, and we discovered that we had much in common – notably a passion for old movies, and, especially, movie music. Frederic is also a fan of old horror movies and actually began his career doing the make-up for monsters and aliens on stage and screen. (Perhaps that should have rung an alarm bell when he offered to do my make-up, but he was so charming that it didn’t.)

We all had a great time – indeed, at one point there were so many animated conversations going on round the table of glamorous people that I felt I was in the party scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Right down to the fact that I was sitting next to a Fred. Luckily, nobody’s headgear caught fire.

After a considerable amount of champagne (bubbles like company, I find), I really could not be bothered with the palaver of washing my face with my usual rinse-off cream. Instead, I turned to what is currently my favourite beauty short-cut, Clarins Water Purify One-Step Cleanser (£17.50; www.clarins.com), pictured above. This gorgeous-smelling liquid cleanser removes all traces of make-up in one fell swipe, and leaves the skin feeling soft, smooth and refreshed. Hope they do a travel size…


I was reunited with Fred on Wednesday for the promised makeover.  The new Giorgio Armani space in Frasers’ beauty hall is impressive – large and elegant – and I was able to have my make-up done fairly discreetly, which is always a good thing if you don’t want passers-by spying you with a naked face..

What was striking about the Armani makeover was how fast and effective it was. Fred used a wonder cream, called Crema Nera (£180) to prepare my skin. This luxurious moisturiser calms redness and evens the skin tone. Then, before it had completely sunk in, he was applying Fluid Master Primer (£32) to mattify and ready the skin for the utterly gorgeous foundation, Luminous Silk Foundation 2 (£32) which he brushed on. Of the various aspects of the makeover, I think it was the base which impressed me most – Fred gave me a glowing, healthy-looking complexion by using a dash of bronzing liquid.

He said: “I mixed Fluid Sheer 10 (£28) in to the foundation to give you an added touch of warmth, then I dabbed it with a blusher brush over the cheekbones and along the hairline. This builds the warmth on areas which would be exposed to the sun but in a more natural manner than any powder bronzer could achieve.”

On the eyes, Fred used two eyeshadows, 13 and 14 from the new Eyes to Kill collection, plus the vampish, Excess Mascara (£23)  fromthe same range.  The coppery colour palette matched my leopard print beret a treat!


If you aspire to femme fatale eyes a la Joan Crawford (right) but can’t afford the Armani price tag, treat yourself to 17 Wild Curls Mascara (£5.99; www.boots.com) in Wildest Black, the latest budget wonder wand.

It certainly gives good lash – plenty of flappability and come-hither potential but, as with the last under-a-tenner mascara I tried out, it left me with smudges under the eyes. If you’re prone to panda eyes, avoid this mascara – but if not (lucky you!), I’d highly recommend it for the party season when black lashes are as essential the little black dress…


Joan Crawford would probably have scratched my mascara’d eyes out to get her mitts on the lipstick in Clarins’s limited edition Christmas collection. Clarins Rouge Prodige in Barocco (£16) is a beautiful deep claret shade which is a terrific alternative to the dark purples that are around just now – especially if you fnd that that shade can drain you.

Not only does it look good on the lips – though those of us with dry lips may need to stick some balm on first – but it also looks drop dead fabulous in its rococo tube and would be a lovely present for anyone who loves old-fashioned Hollywood glamour…

Leave a comment

Filed under Beauty

My Week in Beauty


I caught up with my beauty therapist pal Margaret on Monday and she reported back to me on the Dior Capture Totale One Essential skin boosting serum (£75) I asked her to try out a while back. This is the anti-ageing serum which Dior launched earlier this year, with promises of “increasing the skin’s ability to repair itself in order to combat all signs of ageing” and of  “increasing the effectiveness of skincare products applied afterwards”.

Margaret’s verdict? “I really enjoyed using it and definitely thought my skin looked more youthful. It’s expensive, given that it lasted only about a month – so is probably only for ladies with a disposable income!” She’s now testing Lancome’s Genefique …


Okay, I know it’s only June – season of sorbet colours and hot pinks – but the autumn/winter cosmetic collections have been arriving and we beauty writers are already experimenting with the shades everyone will be wearing at Christmas..

Last week, the Chanel colours – including their next sure-fire must-have, the pewtery purple shade Paradoxal – arrived, and then, on Tuesday, I received a package containing the already-available Marks & Spencer Perfection Long Wear Nail Lacquers (£7.50 each; www.marksandspencer.com) in Gunmetal and Rainbow (don’t understand that name – it’s silver).

If you want to get a head-start on everyone else, go for the Gunmetal – a glistening metallic grey which looks great on fingernails. The Rainbow shade would be better against more tanned skin than mine but if you feel artistic you could always give yourself a French grey manicure, painting the silvery shade along the tip of the dark grey. It looks fab! Practise now and you could be celebrating Christmas in July – beauty-wise, anyway …


With the hot weather last weekend, I noticed that both of my six-year-old twins had red bags under their eyes after they had been out in the sun – despite having been slathered in Factor 50. The younger boy, 11.41, who is fairer, actually looked quite ill because of it.

So, on Wednesday I set off to find a sun cream that could be used on the sensitive area under the eyes – and the only child-friendly one I could find in Boots was Garnier Ambre Solaire Very High Protection Stick for Sensitive Areas (£8.97; www.superdrug.com) which has turned out to be a great and speedy way of applying sun protection to the whole face.

What was particularly worthwhile about this trip to Boots was the chat I had with the excellent suncare advisor (at the Sauchiehall Street branch in Glasgow). I hadn’t known that almost all sun creams take a good 20 minutes or more to take effect, and that the only ones which are absolutely instantaneous are from the Nivea range. .


And speaking of suncare – or rather sun tans – is what my pals Lizzy, Colette and I were doing when we went out on Thursday. Lizzy is the chief of my department of fake tan testing so when she announced that her new favourite tanning product was a body tint which cost less than a fiver, I took note..

Actually, I’ve got a feeling I gave her this Rimmel Sun Shimmer Instant Tan Bronzing Spray (£3.25) last summer so I was especially pleased to hear it was a hit.  She reported: “It gave me a lovely, even, colour for the night – I got lots of comments about my healthy glow  – and I didn’t wash it off until the shower the next morning.” The only drawback, says Lizzy, was that because of the spray, she had to do the tan in her bathroom – so the ten minutes post-application were spent scrubbing her bath. In the scud!


I went into Debenhams to return a faulty necklace and came out looking like a movie star – though not Roz Russell or Joan Crawford (pictured, below, in the famous department store scene in The Women), alas!  My transformation was thanks  to a lovely girl called Gemma who was manning a new beauty counter – Smashbox.

Smashbox is an American company which was founded by the great-grandsons of a certain Hollywood make-up pioneer called Max Factor. I’m pretty sure it was available in the UK in the mid-1990s but it hasn’t been widely available here for years so we had a bit of catching up to do.

Gemma talked me through the philosophy behind the cosmetics. It’s a professional brand; the make-up has skincare benefits and it’s all about problem-solving. In this case, this meant applying some green primer to my flushed cheeks before the foundation went on. I hope to get to try out some of the products at home soon – as soon as I’ve tracked down the PR – but in the meantime, I may head back to Debenhams soon for another free make0ver!

1 Comment

Filed under Beauty

Turban Power

It has none of the intelligence of the TV series, little of the style, and – worst of all – it’s made its quartet of heroines impossible to warm to (Miranda’s lost her witty spark, Carrie’s a moaner, Charlotte could turn baby talk into a form of torture, and Samantha has become a parody of her former self),  but Sex and the City 2 does have something going for it: a fabulous array of headgear. Notably Carrie’s turban. But she’s not the first movie star to work the eastern headgear trend. Here are some other favourites, kicking off with Lana Turner as she’s first seen in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

By the time she’s revealed her murderous plan to her new lover, she has switched her virginal white turban for an altogether more appropriate one for a film noir femme fatale..

Another fan of the turban when it was popular in the 1940s was Joan Crawford.

In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) preferred hers in leopardprint …

… while in real life, jazz singer, movie star and activist Lena Horne used her white one to keep cosy.

One of the most beautiful turbans on the big screen was worn by Ava Gardner in the sumptuous romantic fantasy Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951). Here it is in action:

1 Comment

Filed under Style

Scarlet Woman


Estee Lauder has a range of ravishing reds for Christmas 2009.

Whether it’s danger, drama or street cred you’re after, only one lipstick shade will do for 2009: red. The most classic of lipstick colours often pops up in the Christmas collections but this year it’s making a proper comeback for autumn and, with more shades and formulations available now than ever, there’s no excuse for not finding your perfect red.

Just as fashions in clothes go in cycles, so do trends in make-up – and red lipstick is one of the oldest trends there is. In ancient times, women painted their pouts with sheep’s blood. No doubt this vogue was inspired by the erotic appeal of red lips to the opposite sex; an appeal said to stem from the resemblance of the painted mouth to another part of the female anatomy.

In the Victorian era, woman pinched their cheeks and bit their lips in order to look flushed. Early in the 20th century, red lipstick came to represent more than a state of sexual excitement; it became a symbol of liberation. Red lipsticks were first marketed in the 1920s, just after American women were granted the vote, and were dabbed on to the centre of the lips to create the “bee-stung” effect made famous by movie star Clara Bow.

By the 1940s, the red lipped look also represented power, and it’s no coincidence that the strongest, feistiest women on the big screen were the ones best known for their full, red pouts. Celebrated screen bitch Joan Crawford exaggerated her lips with lip liner and blood red lipstick – a shade which, along with her trademark shoulder pads, enjoyed a major revival in the power-mad 1980s. Both the lip colour and the shoulder pads are back in vogue again just now.

In the 1950s, red lipstick – corally reds, scarlets, tomato reds, cherry – was every Hollywood starlet’s essential make-up item but by the 1960s, it had fallen from favour; replaced by the pale, frosted lip look or no lipstick at all.

These days, anything goes and some style icons have become known for their signature scarlet: accessories designer Lulu Guinness and burlesque star Dita Von Teese are two of today’s most influential poster girls for painted red pouts. And they’ve been joined recently by such A-listers as Angelina Jolie, Sienna Miller and Cameron Diaz in sporting 1940s-inspired lips on the red carpet.

So, how to pick the right red? After all, it’s not just a case of which shade matches your favourite top/dress/coat. Choose the wrong red and you could well pass for a clown, an Elizabeth I impersonator, a drag queen or a wee girl playing with her mum’s make-up.

We’ve asked various experts and the common consensus is that the first step is to identify your skin tone – because it is the key to whittling down the range of reds to the one which suits you. If you’re pale, prone to flushing and find it difficult to get a tan, then – like red lippie-fans Diane Kruger, Gwyneth Paltrow and the afore-mentioned Dita Von Teese – you have a cool skin tone, and should stick to cherry reds which have a blue or pink undertone, and blood reds for a dramatic look, especially with dark hair and pale skin.

Women with warmer-toned complexions – honey blondes with sun-kissed skin and brunettes with Mediterranean colouring – can pull off the orangey shades better; the classic tomato reds, rusts and brick tones. Think Cameron Diaz, Catherine Zeta-Jones or Scarlett Johanssen. Girls with dark skin should opt for deep reds, berry reds and burgundies for a touch of Hollywood glamour – as Naomi Campbell often does.

But, alas, once you’ve got a fix on which shades should suit you, there is still the question of texture. Alan Pan, Estee Lauder’s make-up artist, says: “Choosing which texture of red you want is crucial. You have to choose whether you want a matte, satin or glossy finish. For smaller lips it is best to go with a glossy finish as this gives the illusion of a fuller pout.”

Matte red is notoriously tricky to wear as it can emphasise thin lips and have an ageing effect. It can also be very uncomfortable for dry lips. Generally, the drier your lips, the shinier you should go with your lipstick, and if you’re really stuck for one that’s comfortable, then follow international beauty guru Bobbi Brown’s advice.

She suggests: “Don’t feel constrained to wear red found in a lipstick tube – create your own customised lipstick by combining a red you like with a favourite neutral or brown lipstick”

Of course, there’s always the option of ditching the lipstick entirely, and opting for one of the new, richly pigmented glosses that are around this season. Just as long as it’s red.


* No7 Wild Volume lipstick in Forever Cherry (£9.50)

* Dior Addict Ultra Gloss Perfect in Red Stockings (£17.50)

* Estee Lauder Limited Edition Signature Lipstick in Simply Red (£16)

* Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Lipstick in Stay Scarlet (£16)


* Chanel Rouge Allure in Enthusiast (£21.50)

* No7 Stay Perfect Lip Lacquer in Flamenco Red (£9.50)

* Bobbi Brown Rich Color Gloss in Ruby Red (£14)

* Guerlain Rouge G in Greta (£25)


* Revlon Matte Lipstick in Really Red (£7.29)

* Dior Rouge Dior in Celebrity Red (£21)

* Bobbi Brown Rich Color Gloss in Merlot (£14)

* Chanel Rouge Allure Laque in Dragon (£23)


Filed under Beauty, Style