Purple Rain: A Traditional Musical with an Anti-Traditional Score

West Side Story. Singin’ in the Rain. My Fair Lady. Ask any film fan for a classic example of the Hollywood musical, and these are the ideas that first come to mind. And they’d be absolutely correct; each of these classics, and more, helped define and refine the genre. The electrifying 1984 film Purple Rain thrust the movie musical into the 1980s with a spectacular dossier of rock, pop, and funk songs, all framed within the traditional Broadway musical structure.

hqdefaultThe opening number “Let’s Go Crazy” functions as a perfect musical introduction: establishing the time, the place, and the main players all embedded in one song. Our hero Prince (playing The Kid) performs onstage with his band The Revolution, as his flashy rival Morris Day and future love interest Apollonia each arrive at the First Avenue nightclub. Small but character-defining vignettes catch us up to speed as to who they are in the Minneapolis universe, and instantly set the foundation for the drama to unfold.

The “I Want” song, a staple of Broadway musicals, appears in the same setting, sung by Prince only, but can apply to all members of the neon love triangle. He wails “The Beautiful Ones,” an unstoppable power ballad demanding, “Do you want him, or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you.”Prince sings this directly to Apollonia, and it certainly applies the other way around, as well as from Morris Day to Apollonia. Even beyond the romance itself, the potential jealousy and obsession puts Prince’s career at stake. Prince and Morris have a deep-seeded feud, and the sudden appearance of Apollonia into town might just be enough to push them over the edge. They are enemies both in their careers and in their love lives, raising the stakes to dangerously personal levels.

For the grand finale, this purple package is all wrapped up by a one-two-three punch  of the songs “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U,” and “Baby I’m a Star.” After scenes of high drama and disturbing violence, “Purple Rain” is the thoughtful, mature ballad to redeem Prince and all his mistakes. This deeply personal song pierces through the club crowd and they beg for more, so he returns to the stage for the rollicking pop songs “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” From the audience’s reaction, it is clear that the Revolution’s future at the club is guaranteed, and Prince even shares a charming smile with Apollonia, watching from the crowd; we know they’ll work out in the end. In one extended sequence, we go from mournful and introspective to celebratory, charming, and triumphant.

What Purple Rain is arguably missing is an Eleven O’Clock Number: a big, energy-driving Act Two song to propel us through the end of the show. The film takes an extended break from music, as romantic tensions rise between Prince and Apollonia, Prince grapples with his parents’ violent relationship, and he struggles to make amends with The Revolution. The energy deflates from the film, and Prince is forced to get his life back together.

This decision is an important one, as the third act is all about Prince rebuilding himself after he’s sunk so low. He cleans up his life, focuses on his music, and opens his mind to allow in others’ ideas. The reawakening comes not from some song pulsing through him, but an internal journey and choice that only he can make. The music literally stops until he has redeemed himself.

tumblr_m6khz1luin1qcvaxho1_500By working in a classical musical structure, Purple Rain introduced an incredibly niche culture to a wide audience. The smoky nightclubs and pop-funk stylings of the Minneapolis Sound were just at the brink of explosion across the airwaves, and it admittedly is a unique world. The enormous hair, outrageous styles, and dripping sexuality may have seemed otherworldly to moviegoing audiences of the 1980s. It becomes easier to digest and packs more of an emotional punch when framing this world bizarre into a familiar, traditional narrative structure. Our hero, villain, love interest, and outlining the foreign landscape within a standard musical theater context, allowing a mainstream audience who’d never step foot in the First Avenue nightclub to enjoy and partake in the wonders and beauty of Purple Rain. “It’s time we all reach out for the new, that means you too.”



This blog post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2017 hosted by Aurora’s Gin Joint, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club. Check out the full lineup here!

There Never was a Woman Like Rita

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is a never-ending two-way street. The action on film has countless sets of onscreen pairs (two cars drag racing, two Castigliane brothers), plus a showstopping double narrative: midway through the film, we enter a new story altogether, with the same actors playing different characters in a hauntingly distorted mirror of what came before.

One of the most exciting match-ups is the dual performance by Laura Elena Harring, with two main roles but ultimately playing no fewer than four characters throughout the film. In the first half, she is an unnamed woman who takes on the persona of Rita, and in the second half, a venomous rising star named Camilla. These are two women existing in two realities, but somehow piece together in this dreamlike puzzle.

The film opens with an unnamed, dark-haired woman in the back of a car driving up in the Hollywood Hills. She is well-dressed and wearing vivid red lipstick, ready for a night out. The car pulls over and stops, and the two men in the front seat turn around with guns pointed at her. The hit is prevented by a sudden crash, as a pair of drag-racing cars on the opposite side of the road hurdles into the stopped car. The woman, suffering from temporary amnesia, stumbles out of the wreckage like a broken doll, and descends into the glowing Los Angeles night below.

She sneaks into an apartment as the tenant (Aunt Ruth) departs for a trip. While alone, she takes a shower but is interrupted by another young woman, Betty – Aunt Ruth’s niece who is staying there while Ruth is away. Betty apologizes and leaves the dark-haired woman alone to dress. The woman looks at herself in the mirror, and notices a poster on the wall behind her.

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gilda-movie-posterThe poster is for the classic film noir Gilda starring Rita Hayworth. The tagline reads, “There never was a woman like Gilda!” As she dries her hair, the dark-haired woman introduces herself to Betty: “My name is Rita.” A fitting choice, as there never was a woman like Rita either. She knows nothing of her past or her true identity, and takes this opportunity to build a new persona for herself. Another connection with Gilda is the notion of rebuilding oneself. The three leads (Johnny Farrell, Ballin Mundson, and Gilda herself), all recent arrivals in Argentina, often reassure themselves they have “no pasts, just futures.” Like Rita, they seize the opportunity to shed their old life (though unlike Rita, their choice is voluntary) and build a new identity.

The first half of the film is driven by Rita and Betty’s quest for what trouble is following Rita: investigating the car crash, following leads, and even climbing into other people’s apartments (paralleling the dark-haired woman’s gutsy hiding spot from earlier). These actions are driven mostly by Betty, a more dominant, proactive personality foiled with Rita’s more timid, passive approach. Rita is fearful of what they might find, and is content to stay in the apartment drinking Coke  Throughout the journey, the two fall in passionate love.

The story soon diffuses into the second parallel reality. The actress playing the sincere, smiling Betty is now a dark, demented woman named Diane, in a less romantic sexual relationship with the same dark-haired woman, now named Camilla, who suddenly breaks things off with Diane. Theirs is not a relationship of equals: Camilla calls the shots, while Diane takes whatever she can get.

Camilla is also a rising star, arguably related to her falling in love with the director Adam Kesher. She does helps Diane by getting her supporting roles in films, but clearly doesn’t reciprocate the romantic feelings Diane has for her. Whether through genuine romance or for getting ahead in Hollywood, Camilla has made her choice in pursuing Adam.

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All films, especially those by David Lynch, are certainly open to interpretation. A common a theory to piecing together Mulholland Drive is that the first half of the film (Rita’s story) is a dream, and the second half (Camilla’s story) is the reality. This is reflected in the different relationships between Rita and Betty, vs Camilla and Diane.

Both worlds feature the duo in a sexual relationship with different power players in each. The “dream world” has Betty in the dominant role, helping and guiding Rita as she struggles to understand her past. Their romance is pure and sincere, in a beautiful love scene where they declare their passion for one another. This is a stark contrast from the “reality” where a desperate Diane tries to keep Camilla for herself, and is left behind and humiliated as Diane pursues love with a man.

Both worlds also place the dark-haired woman in a victim role. She is nearly killed by hit men, and is fearful of pursuit through the “dream world” storyline, clinging to Betty for protection. In the “reality,” her rebuff of Diane’s affections turn violent, as the vengeful Diane takes out a hit on her former flame. The dream version has the blonde woman as protector and savior, the polar opposite of the reality of the blonde as killer.

The stories of Mulholland Drive are as winding as the road itself. It travels in and around the world of Hollywood, taking visitors through turns and twists throughout their journey. The dark-haired woman is at the center of it all, whether the helpless victim of Rita or the cruel heartbreaker Camilla. Like Gilda herself, this femme fatale is victim, antagonist, and atomic bomb all at once – a true force to be reckoned with. There never was a woman like Rita.



This blog post is part of the Dual Roles Blogathon: One Actor ~ Multiple Roles hosted by Christina Wehner. Check out the full lineup here!

Announcing the “Dual Roles Blogathon: One Actor ~ Multiple Roles”

Check out the Dual Roles Blogathon: One Actor ~ Multiple Roles — accepting submissions now!

Christina Wehner

Dual Role BannersThere is something particularly riveting about watching a film where an actor plays more than one role. Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda, Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap, Michael J. Fox in the three Back to the Future films. Even Ginger Rogers in The Major and the Minor.

It is that combination of technical know-how, make-up, and the sheer skill of an individual actor that produces the peculiar exhilaration one can feel. Cinema is, after all, about role playing and the illusion of reality, an image of reality. What can typify this more than the concept of dual or multiple roles?

In that spirit, Ruth of Silver Screenings and I are so excited to announce the Dual Roles Blogathon: One Actor ~ Multiple Roles.

Time – Friday, Sept. 30th – Sunday, Oct. 2nd

Rules – Duplicate posts on the same film are most welcome (it seems…

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Finding Elaine: UC Berkeley in “The Graduate” (1967)

Remember me to one who lives there.

Since I first watched it about ten years ago, The Graduate instantly flew into the swirl of my favorite films. Of course, late middle school / early high school age me didn’t fully grasp the complex themes masked by uncomfortable comedy and moody ambivalence, but this classic still spoke to me in a primal, instinctive way.

When it came time to decide where to pursue higher education, I landed on UC Berkeley – where many other onscreen characters have attended, including High School Musical‘s Troy Bolton, Looking‘s Patrick Murray, and The Graduate‘s Elaine Robinson.

The Graduate is probably the most notable film to be partially set at my alma mater, and likely one of the only to have actually filmed there. As is show business, several shots of Cal within this film are really shot at USC (sss!) but several are filmed in the places and streets I called home for four years.

  • Moe’s Books & Caffe Mediterraneum

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Moe’s Books is a still-operating independent bookstore with a wide breadth of literature, new, old, and out-of-print. I discovered this later in college and even got a book about the making of All About Eve there.

More exciting (to The Graduate fanboys like myself) is there Benjamin is sitting: the Caffe Mediterraneum. This is one of Berkeley’s most well-known coffee shops, where I’ve attended multiple study groups, political meetings, and social catch-ups. It’s the self-proclaimed “home of the caffe latte,” and they also boast a great breakfast and lunch menu.

These are in the “Southside” neighborhood, just 3 blocks from campus and 1 block from a house I lived in.

  • Unit 1 & Theta Delta Chi

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In this brief shot, we view the 2600 block of Durant Ave, just 1 block south of campus. First we see Unit 1, a large dormitory complex. I didn’t live there myself, but several friends did so I became familiar with it. Durant was also home to many popular eateries, including Top Dog (known throughout the Bay Area), La Burrita (terrific Mexican food), and a collection of restaurants known as the Asian Ghetto (I didn’t come up with the name). Durant Avenue was part of my everyday life.

As Benjamin runs into a frathouse, the camera quickly pans into another real-life location: Theta Delta Chi, or TDX. (The interior shots unfortunately are not the “real” insides of this fraternity.)

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During my later years in college this frat earned a bad rep, but I had a lot of positive memories here. When my friends and I would frequent frat row, we’d always hit up TDX and even went to a charity haunted house event they hosted one Halloween.

  • Sproul Plaza

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Possibly the most exciting on-location shots are those in Sproul Plaza, as Benjamin continues to try to win Elaine over. Sproul Plaza is the real heart of the UC Berkeley campus: where student groups recruit members & publicize events, religious fanatics preach from soapboxes, and passers-by can pick up the Daily Californian campus newspaper. It is the place to see and be seen, and I’m not even joking.

More so than the other locations in this film, Sproul Plaza is one of the most iconic images of UC Berkeley and of my own college experience. I was there for key milestones in my student tenure, like running for student government (I lost) and watching (not participating in) the Occupy UC mayhem, but more importantly it was part of my everyday. It is the main strip between campus classroom buildings and student housing, where everyone intersects within one space. It’s only logical that Benjamin sees Elaine here, as this is the one place that every UC Berkeley student can be found.

I loved The Graduate years before I even thought about Cal, and will continue to be as my memories of college slip away. But having an intimate knowledge and personal experience with several of the locations, however minor, in a cinema masterpiece will forever tie me directly to one of my favorite films.


 

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Outspoken and Outfreckled. Check out the other great entries here!

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Meet the Robinsons is the story of a good scientist and budding inventor, who struggles to get his inventions right in a world without emotional support or room to experiment. Lewis lives in an orphanage, where his tinkering annoys his roommate Goob, and his ideas often scare off potential adoptive parents.

Growing up friendless, and with no family, each new invention is an opportunity to impress and connect with others – making the stakes, and potential failure, that much greater. After suffering an invention mishap during an adoption interview, Lewis runs away and laments, “I have no future.” For him, failure in his inventions is inherently linked to failure in finding a home.

Circumstances whisk Lewis away from his constraining present into a positive, optimistic future. At the home of the Robinsons, Lewis tries, and fails, to fix inventions several times – and each time is met with encouragement and praise. The Robinsons happily insist that you learn from each failure to build a better future: to “keep moving forward.”

meet-the-robinsons5Such is the rallying cry of Meet the Robinsons. Through various degrees of time travel, Lewis glimpses a wonderful future before he returns to the present and work to build that future, today. He looks at the potential world awaiting him, asking “so this’ll be my future?” Future Lewis replies, “Well, that depends on you.”

There are two key themes running throughout this film: first, the importance of a space where creative minds can tinker, with room for trial and error. Second, the reality that you need to work to change your own future: no one is going to do that for you. This thread weaves together the importance of family with empowerment and humanism, leaving a positive message for all kids, scientist or not.


This post is part of the Movie Scientists Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Check out the other great entries on the full roster here!

The Girl Next Door: Garland & Minnelli in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

The glorious technicolor MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis brought future husband-and-wife Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland together. This collaboration became a six-year-marriage and their daughter Liza, but it was a landmark for the film industry in general, as a key success for the MGM musical as a genre, and for their careers specifically.

Prior to St. Louis, Garland was known to audiences as a typical girl next door type, often paired up with Mickey Rooney as an “ugly duckling” who doesn’t win his heart til the last reel. With this film, Minnelli tasked his team with presenting Garland as a beauty, adjusting her typical makeup design as well as through camera staging. Liza Minnelli points out how often her mother is framed within the camera – in a window pane, in a mirror. This presents Garland to the audience as a work of art, allowing the memory of an “ugly duckling” to fade away and allow this new, more mature, beauty to sink in.

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In addition to his bride-to-be’s onscreen presentation, Vincente Minnelli also had to work on Garland’s on-set persona. While a more grown-up beautiful character than she typically portrayed, Garland’s role as Esther Smith was still that of a young woman, on the brink of adulthood – still playing a “girl next door,” albeit a mature one. The story goes, she would play her scenes with a wink, and ditch the lengthy rehearsals midway through – only to be intercepted by a phone call from Minnelli to the MGM studio gate. Venting about this to Mary Astor, an established star playing her onscreen mother, Astor turned the tables back on her, insisting Minnelli “knows what he’s doing. Just go along with it, because it means something.”

The trust paid off. Meet Me in St. Louis opened in November 1944 and earned over $6 million at the box office during its initial release. Even today, the film is a staple on classic movie channels, particularly during the holiday season, and has given us the immortal standards “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It connects to audiences so well for the genuine love the characters share for each other onscreen, while behind-the-scenes a new romance was just beginning.


Special thanks to the excellent audio commentary by John Fricke, available on the DVD, for providing much of the insight into this piece.

This post is part of the Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon hosted by CineMaven. Check out the full roster to read other excellent posts on unforgettable director-star duos!

Barbara Stanwyck: Wife, Actress, Canteen Hostess

When she wasn’t bamboozling beaus in The Lady Eve, enlightening scholars in Ball of Fire, or murdering husbands in Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck paid her civic duty by volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. The Canteen was a real-life establishment in the early 1940s as a club offering food and entertainment for service men & women; many stars, notably Bette Davis, volunteered their efforts in this admirable cause.

Ms. Stanwyck was among these volunteers, and her charity is immortalized in film within the same era as many of her most classic roles. Here is her brief, yet memorable, scene within Hollywood Canteen, a 1944 film inspired by the real-life Canteen:

The soldier is Slim Green, who during his leave in Los Angeles, wins a date with actress Joan Leslie. When he visits the Canteen, he is starstruck by everyone around him (and, to be fair, who wouldn’t be!). Jane Wyman (!) introduces him to Barbara, who is managing the food counter. She instantly has him wrapped around her finger:

“You’re Barbara Stanwyck!”

“How can you tell?”

“Because you look like you look, only more so than I thought.”

She plays up her charm and puts him on the defensive:

“Well, I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment.”

“Disappointment?! My gosh, I was more crazy about you than just about anybody until…”

“What came between us?”

“Joan Leslie.”

“Aw, darn!”

After this light teasing, she shows her genuine warmth and tenderness. He asks:

“How did you know my name was Slim?”

“We got word from the South Pacific that Slim was coming and to treat him right.”

In her comic roles, Ms. Stanwyck typically plays a similar function: initial assertions of power, ignited by sharp humor, before moving into softer affection and care. Her scene in Hollywood Canteen may be brief, but is a perfect snapshot as Ms. Stanwyck’s power as a comedienne, entertainer, and citizen.



This post is part of the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out the other entries!

Salome & The Teacher: Two Women Navigating the Entertainment Industry in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”

In Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, arguably the ultimate Hollywood movie, struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis falls into professional & personal relationships with two women: Norma Desmond and Betty Schaefer. Each of them represent different takes on the Hollywood experience – two strategies to navigate the twisted, labyrinthine world of show business. Norma ignores the status quo altogether, operating on her own terms, while Betty proactively driving her career forward within the confines of the system.

The film’s first act gives us a glimpse at what the world of show business is like for everyday stakeholders like Joe. He struggles to maintain his relevancy,”grinding out original stories[…] only [he] seem[s] to have lost [his] touch. Maybe they weren’t original enough. Maybe they were too original. All [he] know[s] is they didn’t sell.”

He’s also in a financial jam, so he goes to Paramount to “take advantage” of his friendship with producer Sheldrake to weasel his way into a job, but Sheldrake doesn’t take the bait. His agent doesn’t help either, insisting “the finest things in the world have been written on an empty stomach.”

Joe’s Hollywood is a world of manipulation and exploitation, where friends and partners won’t help a guy in need. He is disappointed in this response, though not surprised; from Joe’s reaction, this seems to be “business as usual” and nothing new.

Gloria Swanson in -1950-Sunset BoulevardOne car chase and a flat tire later, Joe finds himself at the home of former silent star Norma Desmond. It’s been years since she last partook of the inner workings of Hollywood, making her either oblivious or subversive, or both, to the laws that govern show business. She presents the script she’s drafted for her amateurish passion project Salome to Joe, who warns her to “Never let another writer read [her] material; he may steal it.” She carelessly dismisses this claim, “I’m not afraid.”

A crafty orator, Joe sets himself up for a job by telling Norma the script could be stronger if someone did an editing job. Norma sighs, “Who? I’d have to have somebody I can trust. When were you born — I mean, what sign of the zodiac?” Joe is a Sagittarian, an astrologically trustworthy sign. “I like Sagitarrians. You can trust them,” Norma insists. The stars, not Joe’s talent or credibility, make him a qualified candidate to take on Salome.

As her delusions for a triumphant career return continue to grow, she visits Paramount Studios, uninvited and unannounced, to visit Cecil B. DeMille, a past collaborator whom she has pegged to direct her new masterpiece. At the entrance gates, a guard asks whether she has an appointment, to which her butler/driver/(and more) Max replies “No appointment is necessary” for Norma Desmond. She needs not adhere to the procedural courtesies and rules of show business. After all, “without [Norma] there wouldn’t be any Paramount Studio.”

Norma’s utter dismissal for the governing laws of Hollywood are foiled by the other woman in Joe’s life, Betty Schaefer. Betty is a young talent in the Readers’ department, reviewing incoming scripts and advising on which stories to produce for the screen. Unlike Norma, ignoring the rules altogether, Betty leverages the studio system to propel her career.

bettyschaeferHer career kick-start even comes from rejection from the studios. Betty tells Joe about her background, as the third generation of show business in her family, and as such she was expected to become a great star. “Ten years of dramatic lessons, diction, dancing. Then the studio made a test. Well, they didn’t like my nose […] I went to a doctor and had it fixed. They made more tests, and they were crazy about my nose — only they didn’t like my acting.” Joe teases her how sad her story is, and she replies “Not at all. It taught me a little sense. […] What’s wrong with being on the other side of the camera? It’s really more fun.” Betty acknowledges, and grows from, her rejection from the studios; she doesn’t recluse herself away from show business, but finds another avenue within which to grow her career.

She’s not in love with her current job as a Reader, and aspires to be a studio writer. She leverages her relationship with Sheldrake, a Paramount producer, to pitch story ideas and generate buzz for what she’s working on. After work hours, she and Joe meet to collaborate on a past work of his (Dark Windows, a love story about two teachers) to develop it into a fully fledged script to be produced. When she initially offers this idea to Joe, he declines, but she insists, making herself “completely at [his] disposal.” Hers is a proactive, flexible attitude – willing to do what she must in order to take this next big step as a writer.

Betty and Norma offer two very different takes on the entertainment industry. Betty redefines herself, taking opportunities to develop herself and her career within the ever-evolving studio system. Norma, however, exiles herself altogether and operates in her own world. At a time in Joe’s life when he finds himself defeated by the Hollywood machine, these two women offer new strategies on how to get back in the game: one proactive, one ultimately destructive.

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This post is part of the Backstage Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently & Sister Celluloid. Check out the other entries from the full rosters listed on their sites!

Special thanks to Daily Script hosting the Sunset Boulevard screenplay available here.

ANNOUNCING THE “REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON”

Check out The Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon – signups are still being accepted!

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood.

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Barbara Stanwyck is the most versatile actress to ever grace the silver screen. During the annals of her career, Barbara showcased her indelible talents in a pantheon of films of every genre imaginable, and succeeded on all levels.

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Sadly Barbara Stanwyck passed away on January 20th, 1990, at age 82. For many fans worldwide this is a day of mourning, but for a legion of others, it’s a time when we reminisce about how phenomenal Barbara Stanwyck was and pay tribute to Barbara and the myriad of achievements she made.

Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress of all time, and January 20th marks the 26th anniversary of her passing, so as a special remembrance to my favorite actress, I’ve decided to celebrate her legacy by hosting a blogathon in her honor.

What better way is there to pay tribute to Barbara Stanwyck than hosting a blogathon to commemorate this sad day, so let’s all coalesce…

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