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Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Taylor

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Today we send birthday and get well greetings to one of Hollywood’s all-time most enduring and alluring stars, Elizabeth Taylor. Here are some of my favorite Taylor movies for family viewing:

1. Lassie Come Home Taylor co-stars with Roddy McDowall and cinema’s most beloved dog in this classic story.

2. National Velvet The all-time best girl and a horse movie ever stars has Taylor as Velvet Brown, who raced her horse in the Grand National with the help of Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury, and the magnificent Ann Revere as her mother.

3. Father of the Bride One of the most beautiful sights ever put on screen is Elizabeth Taylor walking down the aisle in this gentle comedy about a wedding that creates great upheaval in the family, especially for the bride’s father (Spencer Tracy).

4. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Mature teens and their parents will appreciate this Tennessee Williams dysfunctional family story about power, money, frustration, and ambition, also starring Paul Newman and Burl Ives.

5. The Taming of the Shrew Taylor and then-husband Richard Burton star in Shakespeare’s rowdy comedy about an angry and outspoken woman “tamed” by a high-spirited man who thinks all he wants in a wife is money but finds himself falling in love (some mature material, brief nudity).

6. Little Women Taylor plays the artistic and sometimes socially ambitious daughter Amy, the youngest of the March girls, in this version of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel.

7. Jane Eyre Taylor has a small but unforgettable part as the young Jane’s only friend in the cruel boarding school.

8. Ivanhoe Taylor’s performance as Rebecca is so winning that it makes it hard to root for Ivanhoe’s romance with Rowena.

And here’s her charming appearance on “What’s My Line?”

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Happy Birthday Lucas Grabeel

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Today is the birthday of Lucas Grabeel, an extraordinarily gifted performer I’ve seen in four different movies in the past few weeks. He’s still best known for playing Ryan, the twin brother of the scheming Sharpay, in the High School Musical series.

They highlighted his singing and dancing, especially the third one, where he gets a little more screen time. In Alice Upside Down he played the title character’s older brother, showing an appealing on-screen confidence and a deft touch with comedy. They had to add a line to explain his shaved head — he had just completed an appearance as a young Lex Luthor in an episode of “Smallville.” He took the lead in the cute comedy The Adventures of Foodboy as a high school senior who discovers he has the power to make food appear.

And he has a small role in the prestige film “Milk,” co-starring with Sean Penn in the story of the first openly gay man to win major elective office in the United States. Grabeel plays photographer Danny Nicoletta, and you can glimpse him with a camera in this trailer for the film. I am very impressed with the range, screen presence, and charisma of this talented young actor and I expect him to be a breakout star.

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William Holden Salute at Lincoln Center

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The Film Society of Lincoln Center completes its salute today to one of my favorite movie stars, William Holden. Michael Atkinson writes on the Museum of the Moving Image’s wonderful Moving Image Source site that Holden was:

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on the surface one of the Hollywood century’s typical all-purpose leading men, but beneath it the keeper of poisoned secrets, and a living embodiment of America’s postwar self-doubt and idealistic failure. He seethed with disappointment as a persona, and we all knew what he meant. Holden was the anti-Duke, an avatar of hopelessness, shrouded in the smiling physique of an all-American boyo. For every high school football star turned pot-bellied gym teacher, every prom queen turned food-stamp mom, and every good-hearted B student turned Cracker Barrel waiter, Holden was the walking, talking, growling truth, in a sea of showbiz lies.

Holden was terrific as a romantic leading man in early movies like “Dear Ruth” and tweaking that role slightly for “Sabrina,” where he was the irresponsible younger brother to Humphrey Bogart’s wealthy businessman, both attracted to the chauffeur’s daughter played by Audrey Hepburn. He was a good choice for a character who is the essence of America, George Gibbs in Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town.” But Holden was at his best showing the complexity, insecurity, and disappointment of the post-WWII era. Sometimes his character triumphed over it; sometimes not. In “Executive Suite,” his idealistic executive competes against a green-eyeshade number-cruncher (Frederic March) for the top corporate job. In “Picnic” he had one of his most memorable roles as a college football star who had lost his way. He arrives in town to meet up with a wealthy friend from school and tries to pretend that he has been as successful as everyone expected. In this scene, one of the most famous moments ever put on film, a dance with his friend’s girlfriend, the prettiest girl in town (Kim Novak) has an intimacy that changes both of their lives.

I am a big fan of “Born Yesterday,” where Holden played a Washington journalist hired by a thuggish businessman to “educate” the businessman’s former showgirl significant other (Judy Holliday). In “Sunset Boulevard” he was a struggling screenwriter who is corrupted by a demented former star. Holden won an Oscar for “Stalag 17,” playing a prisoner of war, and he was nominated for another for his performance in “Network” as a television news producer. In these roles and others what made him so compelling was that he showed the tension between his characters’ cynicism and idealism in a way that expressed part of the essence of the American spirit.

And this is for you, Alicia! Holden’s appearance in my very favorite episode of “I Love Lucy!”

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