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The Carpetbaggers: Howard Hughes saga takes flight and conquers Hollywood!

Alan Ladd was his generation’s Harrison Ford

The Carpetbaggers: your key to big business!
The Carpetbaggers: your key to big business!

Chicago was one of the last major markets to be wired for cable. (Everybody got their cut!) My first Jerrold Box offered 4 channels, one of which was TBS. Bill Tush hosted a Sunday morning slot that showcased movies with epic running times, among them was this uncut gem.

The Carpetbaggers (1964)

Producer/distributor Joseph E. Levine had been in the picture business for a little over a decade before his success blossomed. What did he get in return for purchasing the rights to Godzilla (1956) and redubbing it for the American market? A million dollars in ticket sales. The success of Hercules two years later made him a multi-millionaire. In the six months leading up to the spring of 1963, Paramount had partnered with Levine’s Embassy Pictures on a trio of co-productions based on a pair of trash novelist Harold Robbins’ biggest successes. (In his day, Robbins was the Jackie Susann of Sidney Sheldons.) Even before The Carpetbaggers went before the cameras, Levine saw in the novel an abundance of sap, and plenty of juicy pulp out of which to squeeze two separate features. This was one of the first, if not the first, time a novel was “twinned” for the screen. (Originally designed with a 70mm SuperPanavision release in mind, it was also one of the earliest examples of a 35mm negative being bumped up to 70mm.) The Carpetbaggers would be followed in 1966 by a prequel, Nevada Smith — Steve McQueen assumed the role originated by Alan Ladd — but not before Levine & Co. put Joey Heatherton on trial for murder in Where Love Has Gone. In each instance, the screenwriting chores were assigned to John Michael Hayes (To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much).

"The Chicago Tribune" June 21, 1964.

Elmer Bernstein’s pulsating score plants us in a cockpit, and the oncoming credits shinny past as if they were crimson clouds. Hollywood’s viva voce valedictorian Paul Frees, the voice that thrilled millions as the original host of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, acts as our narrator. He refers to our scoundrel hero Jonas Cord, Jr. (George Peppard) as both fabulous — a midway barker’s pitch to those eager and curious to explore a larger-than-life subject — and fictional, a verbal disclaimer aimed at Howard Hughes’ legal team, lest they come bucking for a lawsuit. Robbins went to his grave swearing that any and all similarities between Hughes and Cord were purely coincidental, pointing to airplane manufacturer Bill Lear as his sole inspiration. So if Cord isn’t Hughes, that means “Rina Marlowe” (Caroll Baker) has no direct correlation to Jean Harlow, nor was studio head “Bernard B. Norman” (Martin Balsam) based on Louis B. Mayer. As for Hughes’ other cronies, “Buzz Murdock” (Ralph Taeger) bears no resemblance to high-flying sidekick Glenn Odekirk, and don’t be fooled by Lew Ayres’ “Macallister,” who has less in common with Noah Dietrich than he does his ark-stocking namesame.

The San Diego connection that never was. Sandwiched between producer Joseph E. Levine and Paramount VP Jack Karp is native San Diegan, Tony Bill. The "major role" he signed on for in "The Carpetbaggers" went to Tom Lowell. "Boxoffice," May 27, 1963.

Not sure who, if anyone, the Bob Cummings character was premised on. Cummings always came off as a goody-two-shoes, slightly less sweet than Van Johnson. This time he took a risk and it paid off. It may not be the best film the actor appeared in (that honor goes to Reign of Terror, Anthony Mann’s film noir set during the French revolution), but in Dan Pierce, Nevada’s manager, Cummings found the role of his life. The moment he picks Rina up from the train station he had bad intentions writ large across his preening kisser. On the way back from the airport, Dan places his hand atop Rina’s knee and she leaves him 10% in her shot glass. How it is that Pierce has no idea that the woman he just picked up (in more ways than one) was in town to marry his biggest client?

Peppard’s performances in Home from the Hill and Breakfast at Tiffany’s had established him as a sensitive type, but that character trait had no bearing on the life of Jonas Cord, a man who splashes his name across more buildings than a Copley. Everything comes easy to him; having never been in a plane, let alone piloted one, he instantly sizes up and masters the situation: pull the stick back to make the plane go up and reverse the process to make it go down. In no time, he’s buzzing Cord Chemicals and executing stunt moves like a seasoned barnstormer. (This was years before the advent of passenger planes, Jonas won the two-seater rig in an all-night poker game.) He and Buzz split town after depositing his latest fling in a nearby hospital. (She tried committing suicide when told her there’d be no wedding.) Dad (Leif Erickson) doesn’t begrudge his son a good time, but what with reporters covering his every move, did he have to accompany the girl to the hospital? After all, she was the fourth filly this year that came up lame under Jonas’ spell. Dad suggests, “A man is judged by what’s in his head, not in his bed.” That’s rich, coming from a man who took his son’s girlfriend to be his bride.

Charles Lane: the meanest man in Hollywood!

Jonas Jr.s’ cries of “dried up impotent old man” are too much for dad’s ticker to endure. He dies on the spot, his son’s name the last thing to pass from his lips. With Jonas Cord Sr.’s corpse stretched across his office’s leather sofa, his son goes about establishing a new set of ground rules. Do you know Charles Lane, the gaunt, non-nonsense character actor who made a career out of playing the meanest man in Hollywood? He would sooner foreclose on your mortgage than give you the time of day. Lane plays Eugene Denby, Jonas Sr.’s secretary. As we’ll soon learn, one of Jonas’ skills is making men throw up with fear. It’s a rare moment that finds Lane intimidated by anyone, but that’s what he gets for calling his new boss “Junior.” Assuming his position behind the office desk, the young playboy readies to exchange his tennis sweater for a three-piece suit. He orders Denby to give the factory the rest of the week off with express orders to attend the funeral. As soon as Denby’s out of earshot, he orders Mac to fire him.

Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker) just seconds away from bringing down the house.

With the affairs of business in order, Jonah’s next stop is his step-mother Rina Marlowe’s bedroom. She chose money over love, and the second she admits it to Jonas, the seduction ceases. He exits abruptly, her screams of “Junior!” reverberating off the walls. One image has never left me: Rina bouncing on a chandelier, stripping out of her pink frilly feathered number and tossing it to the revelers. In an instant, the rig gives loose and she comes crashing down on the throng below.

This is also remembered as one of the first Hollywood productions to proudly exploit a sadistic side. Poster art tempted ticket buyers with a shot of scantily-clad Rina taking a bite out of the hand that fed her. Rina, decked out in her sultry “widow’s weeds” pleads with Jonas to abuse her, get his revenge over with.

The film’s production values are high, and cinematographer Joe McDonald takes full advantage of every penny afforded him. Ditto Paramount’s in-house production designer Hal Pierira, who must have had a bolt or two of red flocked wallpaper left over from Ernie’s in Vertigo. No wonder it was Paramount’s biggest grosser of 1964.

Featuring an all-star kaleidoscopic cast! (Note that Tony Bill still received billing.)

I’ll have more to say about The Carpetbaggers copping an insanity plea and the Stooges-inspired fisticuffs that close the show next week, same bat time, same batshit crazy movie.

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The Carpetbaggers: your key to big business!
The Carpetbaggers: your key to big business!

Chicago was one of the last major markets to be wired for cable. (Everybody got their cut!) My first Jerrold Box offered 4 channels, one of which was TBS. Bill Tush hosted a Sunday morning slot that showcased movies with epic running times, among them was this uncut gem.

The Carpetbaggers (1964)

Producer/distributor Joseph E. Levine had been in the picture business for a little over a decade before his success blossomed. What did he get in return for purchasing the rights to Godzilla (1956) and redubbing it for the American market? A million dollars in ticket sales. The success of Hercules two years later made him a multi-millionaire. In the six months leading up to the spring of 1963, Paramount had partnered with Levine’s Embassy Pictures on a trio of co-productions based on a pair of trash novelist Harold Robbins’ biggest successes. (In his day, Robbins was the Jackie Susann of Sidney Sheldons.) Even before The Carpetbaggers went before the cameras, Levine saw in the novel an abundance of sap, and plenty of juicy pulp out of which to squeeze two separate features. This was one of the first, if not the first, time a novel was “twinned” for the screen. (Originally designed with a 70mm SuperPanavision release in mind, it was also one of the earliest examples of a 35mm negative being bumped up to 70mm.) The Carpetbaggers would be followed in 1966 by a prequel, Nevada Smith — Steve McQueen assumed the role originated by Alan Ladd — but not before Levine & Co. put Joey Heatherton on trial for murder in Where Love Has Gone. In each instance, the screenwriting chores were assigned to John Michael Hayes (To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much).

"The Chicago Tribune" June 21, 1964.

Elmer Bernstein’s pulsating score plants us in a cockpit, and the oncoming credits shinny past as if they were crimson clouds. Hollywood’s viva voce valedictorian Paul Frees, the voice that thrilled millions as the original host of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, acts as our narrator. He refers to our scoundrel hero Jonas Cord, Jr. (George Peppard) as both fabulous — a midway barker’s pitch to those eager and curious to explore a larger-than-life subject — and fictional, a verbal disclaimer aimed at Howard Hughes’ legal team, lest they come bucking for a lawsuit. Robbins went to his grave swearing that any and all similarities between Hughes and Cord were purely coincidental, pointing to airplane manufacturer Bill Lear as his sole inspiration. So if Cord isn’t Hughes, that means “Rina Marlowe” (Caroll Baker) has no direct correlation to Jean Harlow, nor was studio head “Bernard B. Norman” (Martin Balsam) based on Louis B. Mayer. As for Hughes’ other cronies, “Buzz Murdock” (Ralph Taeger) bears no resemblance to high-flying sidekick Glenn Odekirk, and don’t be fooled by Lew Ayres’ “Macallister,” who has less in common with Noah Dietrich than he does his ark-stocking namesame.

The San Diego connection that never was. Sandwiched between producer Joseph E. Levine and Paramount VP Jack Karp is native San Diegan, Tony Bill. The "major role" he signed on for in "The Carpetbaggers" went to Tom Lowell. "Boxoffice," May 27, 1963.

Not sure who, if anyone, the Bob Cummings character was premised on. Cummings always came off as a goody-two-shoes, slightly less sweet than Van Johnson. This time he took a risk and it paid off. It may not be the best film the actor appeared in (that honor goes to Reign of Terror, Anthony Mann’s film noir set during the French revolution), but in Dan Pierce, Nevada’s manager, Cummings found the role of his life. The moment he picks Rina up from the train station he had bad intentions writ large across his preening kisser. On the way back from the airport, Dan places his hand atop Rina’s knee and she leaves him 10% in her shot glass. How it is that Pierce has no idea that the woman he just picked up (in more ways than one) was in town to marry his biggest client?

Peppard’s performances in Home from the Hill and Breakfast at Tiffany’s had established him as a sensitive type, but that character trait had no bearing on the life of Jonas Cord, a man who splashes his name across more buildings than a Copley. Everything comes easy to him; having never been in a plane, let alone piloted one, he instantly sizes up and masters the situation: pull the stick back to make the plane go up and reverse the process to make it go down. In no time, he’s buzzing Cord Chemicals and executing stunt moves like a seasoned barnstormer. (This was years before the advent of passenger planes, Jonas won the two-seater rig in an all-night poker game.) He and Buzz split town after depositing his latest fling in a nearby hospital. (She tried committing suicide when told her there’d be no wedding.) Dad (Leif Erickson) doesn’t begrudge his son a good time, but what with reporters covering his every move, did he have to accompany the girl to the hospital? After all, she was the fourth filly this year that came up lame under Jonas’ spell. Dad suggests, “A man is judged by what’s in his head, not in his bed.” That’s rich, coming from a man who took his son’s girlfriend to be his bride.

Charles Lane: the meanest man in Hollywood!

Jonas Jr.s’ cries of “dried up impotent old man” are too much for dad’s ticker to endure. He dies on the spot, his son’s name the last thing to pass from his lips. With Jonas Cord Sr.’s corpse stretched across his office’s leather sofa, his son goes about establishing a new set of ground rules. Do you know Charles Lane, the gaunt, non-nonsense character actor who made a career out of playing the meanest man in Hollywood? He would sooner foreclose on your mortgage than give you the time of day. Lane plays Eugene Denby, Jonas Sr.’s secretary. As we’ll soon learn, one of Jonas’ skills is making men throw up with fear. It’s a rare moment that finds Lane intimidated by anyone, but that’s what he gets for calling his new boss “Junior.” Assuming his position behind the office desk, the young playboy readies to exchange his tennis sweater for a three-piece suit. He orders Denby to give the factory the rest of the week off with express orders to attend the funeral. As soon as Denby’s out of earshot, he orders Mac to fire him.

Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker) just seconds away from bringing down the house.

With the affairs of business in order, Jonah’s next stop is his step-mother Rina Marlowe’s bedroom. She chose money over love, and the second she admits it to Jonas, the seduction ceases. He exits abruptly, her screams of “Junior!” reverberating off the walls. One image has never left me: Rina bouncing on a chandelier, stripping out of her pink frilly feathered number and tossing it to the revelers. In an instant, the rig gives loose and she comes crashing down on the throng below.

This is also remembered as one of the first Hollywood productions to proudly exploit a sadistic side. Poster art tempted ticket buyers with a shot of scantily-clad Rina taking a bite out of the hand that fed her. Rina, decked out in her sultry “widow’s weeds” pleads with Jonas to abuse her, get his revenge over with.

The film’s production values are high, and cinematographer Joe McDonald takes full advantage of every penny afforded him. Ditto Paramount’s in-house production designer Hal Pierira, who must have had a bolt or two of red flocked wallpaper left over from Ernie’s in Vertigo. No wonder it was Paramount’s biggest grosser of 1964.

Featuring an all-star kaleidoscopic cast! (Note that Tony Bill still received billing.)

I’ll have more to say about The Carpetbaggers copping an insanity plea and the Stooges-inspired fisticuffs that close the show next week, same bat time, same batshit crazy movie.

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Comments
2

Wow, I never saw that piece of donkey doo. And I'm now so glad I didn't bother. There's that Martin Balsam again, looking lost in that crowd of non-real-actors. P.S. RE: "a man who splashes his name across more buildings than a Copley" hahaha, good one. But one has to admire generous rich folks in SD for giving back, like Jacobs, Prebys and Audrey Geisel.

Sept. 11, 2021

I do. That's why I didn't call them out by name. ;) This is a sprawling good time at the movies. Winter's coming. It's a great way to fill 150 minutes on what passes for a chilly Sunday in San Diego.

Sept. 11, 2021

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