I've been collecting photographs seriously for the last seven years or so: First, focusing pretty much entirely on vintage Hollywood images of movie stars riding bikes, issued by the studios' publicity departments to promote their melodramas and westerns, rom-coms and noirs -- and the actors and actresses playing all type of hero and heroine, villain and vamp, in them. It's an ongoing obsession: I post a few new (old) photos on my blog, Rides a Bike, every week. Movies and bikes are two of my passions, and landing on, say, a photo of a Mad Men-era Paul Newman pedaling around the backlot on a clunky delivery bike, or Virna Lisi in a white sundress on an Atala step-through, stopping on a country road somewhere... well, pretty much bliss.
Same thing happened -- the kick of discovery, surprise, joy -- when I started searching through dealers' collections and movie memorabilia shops for photographs of stars having coffee, making coffee, clinking their mugs next to craft services tables (and grabbing a donut while they're at it), refilling from a trusty percolator in their dressing room, or in their kitchen back home. Coffee: another passion, and, yes, probably an addiction, too. Last night my wife and I went to hear Kelly Jones and Teddy Thompson play at a club in Philadelphia -- the two singers and songwriters have teamed for Little Windows, a collection of heartbreakingly beautiful duets that recall classic country couples like George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris (and the Everlys and the Louvins). There was one song with a line about sugar in a coffee cup, how it dissolves like true love can dissolve.... It was a sweet moment, or bittersweet, anyway.
Where am I going with this? Well, as I continue (daily) to troll for bike photos and coffee photos on the eBay sites of dealers in Canada and California, France and Argentina (yes, there's a gentleman in Buenos Aires who has a collection of 50,000 photos, 20,000 posters, all hailing from Hollywood), I sometimes screech to a stop on an image that has neither a bike nor a steaming cup of joe in it, but it's a photo that I nonetheless feel compelled to bid on, to own. An iconic star from an iconic movie, a still from one of my all-time favorites (I've got an expanding folder of press photos from Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake in and out of their hobo gear), an incongruous, odd or just-plain-beautiful shot. So, on this a.m., as guest author on the Best American Poetry blog, I thought I'd share two of these gems, at least I think they are. Poetry in motion... pictures.
First, here's Jean Parker in an artfully staged shot from 1934's Sequoia, an MGM wildlife drama set in California's sequoia forests. Parker's character, Toni Martin, grew up in the woods, befriending puma and deer, and then loggers came rolling in threatening the animals' -- her pals' -- sanctuary. An environmental cautionary tale, way-back-when!
Second, Vanessa Redgrave, clapping her own clapperboard in a production still from Isadora, the 1968 Karel Reisz biopic, from Universal, in which the British actress starred as modern dance legend Isadora Duncan. (Who died, by the way, strangled, in a flukey accident, by a long, flowing silk scarf given to her by her close friend, Mary Desti, who happened to be Preston Sturges' mother.) It's the 84th scene, the first take. Action!
If you like, I'll share a few more images over the course of the week. For now, have a cup of coffee, get on your bike, go watch a movie!