USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hollywood’
Folk Beliefs

Avoiding Exclamation Marks in Film Titles

The informant is an 18-year-old Film Production Major, freshman.


 

According to the informant, there is a tradition in Hollywood filmmaking to avoid exclamation marks in movie titles, for they are considered bad luck to box office success. Under the tradition lies a paranoid tradition of film studios avoiding any decisions outside the norm, so as to not risk a poorer performance in profits. Therefore, this tradition is rooted in a likely statistic that films with an exclamation mark in the title make less money, whether by chance or a subliminal dislike of Americans towards exclamation marks. As a result, the informant claims he also avoids using exclamation marks in any films he produces in the School of Cinematic Arts, perpetuating a widespread habit among filmmakers.


 

general
Legends
Narrative

Irving Thalberg

“My name is Carol Dalah and this is the first ghost story that I am going to be sharing with you. Umm this story takes place in the mid 1970s when I was young around 12 years old and my family decided to purchase a home in Pacific Palisades, California. This house happened to be on Sunset Boulevard and the address is 13746 Sunset Boulevard, and today it is a historical monument. It happens to be umm or it happened to be the first historical home that was built in the Palisades even before Will Rogers estate was built. Umm the house was actually built by Irving Thalberg, who in the 1920s was Hollywood’s golden boy. He was a Brooklyn boy and he was also a very infamous womanizer. Umm during the ’20s umm early ’20s to mid ’20s, he was here in Hollywood making films and umm he was having an affair with a woman named Constance Talmadge, who was an actress. During this relationship, he happened to umm breakup with her and during this time of this period or breakup period he went ahead and married another actress named Norma Shearer. During their relationship, Irving Thalberg decided to build this love nest which happened to be our home umm for Constacne Talmadge. In 1928, this house on Sunset Boulevard was built and it was a love nest. The house consisted of 35 rooms and the estate in itself was actually about 5 blocks longs. Within the years, the property and the parcels were sold off. When we moved into the house, it was very strange to find rooms within rooms and secret compartments and a production room also on the side of the home. Irving Thalberg had his secret life hidden from Hollywood’s eyes. Within these barred walls and gates and with his lover Constance Talmadge, they had a child out of wedlock. Now, this little girl happened to pass away at the age of 5 in this home.
The day that we moved in to the home, I remember very clearly and vividly. We were handed the keys, well my father, was handed the keys from the realtor. And we walked through the house and my sister was walking up -into- from the master bedroom to this huge huge closet in vanity area. While she was walking, she sees this man in the distance. And, she called out to him thinking that this was my father. So she said “Dad! Dad!” and as he turned around, she realized that it wasn’t my father and he was as clear as you and me today. And he smiled at her and winked. And the man was dressed in such a beautiful silk suit with slicked back hair and I guess that was the first greeting that we were umm given by Irving Thalberg. At the time, we did not know who he was. It was discovered later on, when the house had a history of all the sightings and infamy that came with the house. Umm later on in that day, I was in my bedroom and I invited my friend over to stay. And this was much later in the evening. Again, the same day that my sister had seen the first sighting of Irving Thalberg. I went into the main stairway. The house had three stories and I had left my friend standing in the main stairway, because she needed some towels and some blankets and the next thing I know she was screaming hysterically and she completely turned pale. And I asked her what had happened and she had actually seen and witnessed a playback of how this love child had passed away, the love child again of Irving Thalberg and Constance Talmadge. She had told me that they were dressed for the evening and they started down the hallway. And they started to make their way down the grand staircase. In the middle of the staircase, there was a landing and this little girl had tripped from that landing to the bottom of the staircase and she tumbled and tumbled and hit her head. At that time. I guess, in her vision, umm it was marble. She hit her head and cracked her head open and she saw the whole scene right in front of her. Today, my friend is still not the same since that happening. Umm since then, I am sure there are many many stories that came with that. That was just the first day that we were in the house. It seemed also that the activity was much stronger coming in the summer months than the winter months for some reason. That is my first story and just a little bit of intrigue for you. Thank you for listening.”

Analysis:

This story focuses on Hollywood, which is a very haunted aspect of America. It really drives home the idea that people want to keep their public image clean and safe even though certain immoral or indecent actions are happening behind closed doors. These actions can haunt the person as in the case of this story with the child and the child’s death. Furthermore, the child passes away on the marble staircase. A staircase is liminal, because it is neither upstairs nor downstairs, but in the middle. This hidden story of Irving Thalberg also differentiates between the official history and the unofficial, or ghost history. In the public’s eyes, none of these events were supposed to happen, because his image is important.In the same way, that America does not like to discuss the Native Americans that were killed, Thalberg did not like to discuss his love affair. Both of these motifs appear in ghost stories though.

Game
Initiations
Legends
Narrative

The Glass Eye

The informant has been a professional actor for many years and runs an acting school in Hollywood. He here recounts a few pieces of interconnected folklore which he shares with his class every year. Contained in this are both a legend and a prank.

He begins by explaining how he does voice over acting at his agency (by going in, waiting in the hall, then going into a sound booth) then he launches into…

The story:

On this particular day, I was standing in line and in front of me, waiting to go in the booth, which was across the hall, was Hil Huber with her, ya know, glass eye. And I say “Hey Hil, how ya doin’? How ya doin’?”

She says, “Oh hi David how are you?”

“Good, good.”

And then my buddy Ogie came in and stood next to me. And Ogie’s been a friend of mine for, oh god, like 15 years. And so, we’re sitting there and we started doing this little nudging thing like “You’re too close to me man. You’re too close. You’re too close.” Before you know it, it somehow escalated into a game of capoeira. Do you know what capoeira is? It’s kind of that Brazilian “Oh, I chop at you; I get out of the way; I come back over; windmill kick” kind of thing. [He mimes these moves as he says them.] We don’t really know capoeira but we were kind of in the hallway pretending that we did.

So, me and Ogie are doing the fake fighting thing in slow motion in the hallway, and Hillary Huber is there watching. …with her good eye. [Class laughs.] Uh, and the door to the booth opens and out of the booth comes Kenny Campbell. Kenny Campbell is about six foot five, three-hudred-and-eighty pounds of man.And as he walks out of the booth, I am here, and I’m doing like a chop at Ogie. [Mimed.] And he’s doing like “I get out of the way” like this. [Ducks and spreads his arms.] And he’s down with his leg extended. [Slaps the extended leg for emphasis.]

Kenny doesn’t see. Kenny comes out, trips over the leg, falls shoulder first, the full three hundred and eighty pounds of him, into the sternum of Hillary Huber.

Hillary’s eye pops out. It bounces off the wall in front of me, bounces off the wall behind me, and comes to rest at the center of the hallway. [Nervous laugher from the class.]

And Hillary goes, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Where is it!? Where is it!?” [Clasping his hand over his right eye.]

I’m looking right at it. And it’s looking right at me. But I don’t want to pick it up. Because it was just in her face man! But I feel like I have to so I go “I’ve got it. I got it.” and as I bend to pick it up, I kick the eye. And the eye goes rolling down the hallway and gets lodged under a huge piece of sound equipment at the back of the hall. [This whole bit is mimed.]

At which time Hillary goes, “Oh my god. They know. They all know!” And she runs out of the agency. [Mimed]

Now of course none of that is true you fools! [Uproarious laughter from the class. as well as a cry of “What?!”

There is also a prank involved with the legend:

As I say, Ogie and I have been friends and been at this agency for 15 years. So we know all the people there because at a voice over agency you go in every day. And, when it’s just me and ogie in the waiting room, which happens every week or so, and one of the new people who’ve been there for oh, a week or a month or so comes in and sits down in the waiting room, I look at Ogie and he looks at me and we both know without saying a word… it’s on.

And I say to Ogie “Dude, don’t fuckin’ talk about it.”

He goes “Dude, I couldn’t stop think…”

“Ogie, you’ll get us in trouble.”

“Not gonna get us in trouble. Everybody knows”

“Everybody doesn’t know!”

Until the new person says, “everybody knows what?”

At which point I will turn to them and say,  “well, you know Hillary Huber right?” And then we launch into the story, me telling half, him telling half, it getting more outrageous with every telling. And the person never suspects what kind of a sick fuck would lie about something like that. They never suspect that it’s all bullshit.

He then goes on to explain his reasoning:

He explains that the point of the story is that when someone is lying, they are at their most adamant and sincere because they don’t want to be caught in it. He uses the story as an example of how, when you are auditioning for a detective show you should always play the roll as though you were innocent because liars sound believable.

The story and prank are also examples of liminal folklore in that weather you believe the story/fall for the prank is a measure of how long you have known the informant. If you have heard it before, you laugh along with him as he tells it because you are in his circle.

 

Folk speech

Recipe for Success in Hollywood

There’s a saying in Los Angeles that if you’re an actor going in for a casting director, you’ll be successful if you are:

Happy, Pretty, Busy.

The source learned this saying from his girlfriend, who was a child star in several movies in the ’90s. Whenever she went on auditions, she was coached to always be Happy, Pretty, Busy; to be as desirable as possible.

It meaning is fairly straightforward, it is a guideline to making good impressions when meeting people in the film and TV industry.. You need to be happy, so people don’t think you’re a miserable person to work with, and to show you have a positive attitude. Pretty, because you need to be good looking or you wont get cast. Busy, you always need to be coming from something important, or going to something important immediately after a meeting; because people will want you more if they think other people really want you. Also if you make a person in the industry feel like meeting them is the most important thing you have to do that day, they wont take you as seriously.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Old age
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Old Actress Versus Young Actress

Interview Extraction

Informant: “And then the last story is supposedly from Tallulah Bankhead who was in a play with a fairly snippy young actress who was basically telling her that she was old and irrelevant and that the world belonged to the young. At to which Mrs. Bankhead replied: ‘Honey, I can out act you and not even be on the stage.’ And the next night, in one of the scenes there was a party scene and prior to Mrs. Bankhead’s exit she was blocked* to put down a champagne glass on an end table as she exited. And she put her glass down and she set her glass so that it was like this, slightly more than half off the table and then she made her exit. And over the course of the scene the audience became aware miraculously balancing glass on the edge of the table and everyone was wondering when it would fall, and murmurs and rustlings were going through the audience. And then at the end of the scene when the stage crew struck* the glass they discovered a little piece of toupee tape under one edge of it to keep it from falling over.”

Analysis:

My informant’s story reflects an unfortunate custom that is prevalent in Hollywood, which is that the entertainment industry discriminates against people of an older age.  An aspect of the entertainment industry is escapism, and there is a desire to create a beautiful world in their films in which the audience can escape into and forget the troubles in their lives momentarily.  In the entertainment industry’s desire to do this, there has been too much emphasis put on young beauty and the sensuality that comes with it.  Therefore in this drive to create sensuality in films, older actors often have a harder time getting casted for production roles.  This has created a stereotype that older actors are not as important as their younger colleagues.

My informant heard this story from one of his colleagues at USC.  The popularity of this story suggests that the audience of this tale is revolting against the idea that only young actors are good actors.  This change in values of the entertainment industry can be seen in the currently popularity of actress Betty White who is 90 years old.  People today do not respond as well to the idea of a sensual Hollywood than they had in the past, which is part of a shift in cultural values that rejects the notion that beauty is only skin deep.  Thus the custom of shunning older actors is an idea that is currently changing, which reflects a more accepting Hollywood when it comes to age.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Blocked: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that an action has been planned.  When an actor moves on stage, their actions have been rehearsed prior to the performance and planned or ‘blocked’ in rehearsal.

*Stuck: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that a prop or object is being removed from stage.  At the end of every performance or during intermission, stage hands remove or ‘strike’ props or furniture that has been left on stage in preparation for the next performance.

 

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