BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN
Her roles were largely stereotypical, yet her charm and goofiness made her memorable. Here’s a look at her work beyond Gone With the Wind.

DESIGN IN FILM: THE MODERN HOUSEAn eight-minute video montage of modern homes—real and fake—as seen on the silver screen.

KEYE LUKE
An examination of the lengthy career of the Chinese-American character actor, from Charlie Chan to Woody Allen.

70MMThirty visually stunning films that illustrate the grandeur of large-format filmmaking.

CHILL WILLS
Our look at the Texas actor’s 43-year film career, including an ill-advised Oscar campaign. 

MARGARET HAMILTON
A look at the professional life of an actress who proved to be much more than just the Wicked Witch of the West.

NEBRASKANSA look at some of the memorable talentsfrom Astaire to Zanuck—to come from the Cornhusker State.

BEHIND THE SCENES
Twenty-five cool photos reveal what goes on outside of movie camera range.

SILENT SURVIVORS
Our list of at least a dozen silent film performers that are happily still with us.

12 GREAT MOVIE SONGSElvis, The Beatles and The Supremes join our list of favorite movie themes of the 1960s.

WILHELM SCREAMWe trace the history of one of the most famous and beloved sound effects in movies.

LOST HORIZONA dud receives its due as we explore the elements that made this 1973 musical so preposterously memorable.

GREAT CLOSING LINES
One hundred films whose final words of dialogue make indelible lasting impressions.

25 GREAT SILENT MOVIE POSTERSOur selection of artwork from the early days of motion pictures that expertly illustrate the tone and tale of the films they represent.

RAVES AND RASPBERRIES We select some choice bits from reviews by the late Roger Ebert.

ERROL FLYNN GETS WHACKEDThe actor recalls an unforgettable moment with Bette Davis on the set of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

CINEMATIC RIDESTen films where carnival attractions add to the plot and give their protagonists a cheap thrill.

REEFER TRILOGY
Three overwrought cautionary tales from the 1930s examine the perils of smoking marijuana in polite society.

20 DIRECTORS / 20 FILMSSome of the world’s best moviemakers from Hollywood’s Golden Era provide a behind-the-scenes look at their creations.

LOS ANGELES IN THE 1920SVintage clips offer a look at famous boulevards, studios, theaters, eateries and more.

BILLY WILDEROur favorite lines of dialogue from the Oscar-winning writer/director.

WOODY ALLENChoice lines of dialogue, from Take the Money and Run to Midnight in Paris.

KATHARINE HEPBURNTen authoritative moments when Kate's movie character speaks her mind.

UFA MOVIE POSTERSA look at the early one sheets from the longest standing film studio in Germany.

THE LANGUAGE OF NOIRWe celebrate tough talk from the best of Hollywood’s gritty crime dramas.

HELICOPTER OVER HOLLYWOOD

Aerial shots of Hollywood in 1958 includes Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and major studios.

AMERICAWe celebrate one of the most exuberant dance numbers committed to film, a thrilling showcase for freakishly talented folks with music in their bones.

HOLLYWOOD POSTCARDSTen vintage postcards revealing the glories of Southern California's movie mecca.

MAJOR FILMS, MINOR GAFFESTwenty-five mistakes in some of the greatest movies ever made.

GEORGE GERSHWINTen classic songs as seen on the silver screen.

GREAT ENDINGSA memorable tussle in Death Valley caps Erich von Stroheim’s broken classic.

10 GREAT POSTERSOur look at striking works of art that just happen to sell movie tickets.

MUST READMGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot provides a fascinating look at a lost treasure.

IN THE COOL, COOL, COOL OF THE EVENINGJane Wyman and Bing Crosby charm with the Oscar-winning song from Here Comes the Groom (1951).

PLUNDER ROADFilm noir at its best—and most economical. No backstory, a lean look and just 72 minutes long.

W.C. FIELDSTen of his most memorable character names.

OUTER SPACE HORROR
Aliens and mutants take center stage in twenty-five spectacular movie posters from the 1950s.

INGMAR BERGMAN
Our list of ten must-see films—ten artful depictions of the human condition—by one of the world’s most influential directors.

10 DIRECTORS / 10 FILMS 
Accomplished directors from the past 50 years talk about their triumphs and challenges in bringing a story to the big screen.

JACK CARSON
We single out five films that display the talent and range of the Warner Bros. character actor.

AL HIRSCHFELDWe select our ten favorite movie posters by the famed caricaturist.

BILLIE BURKE
Five films that best represent the fluttery voiced character actress’s charms.

DIAMOND SETTINGSWe take a look at five of our favorite baseball movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

BESTSELLERS

A dozen books that became publishing phenomena and, at times, well-made and popular films.


SCREEN TESTSAudition footage from Monroe, Dean, Brando and others.

MOVIE MOMENTS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVINGOur collection of ten little moments of breathtaking beauty, expert craftsmanship and happy accidents that rank as our favorites.

EDNA MAY OLIVER
A tribute to a character actress who’s made aunts and spinsters her specialty.

STARS ON STARS: 30 CANDID OPINIONSA collection of favorite quotes from movie folk discussing their peers.

CEDRIC GIBBONS
We take a good look at the work of MGM’s legendary art director.

JOHN QUALENFive of our favorite performances from the character actor’s lengthy career.

NOT STARRING DORIS DAY
We select three movie musicals we deeply wish the sunny singer/actress would have made.

MICKEY ROONEY’S BEST
Twelve examples of what made the late actor such an enduring movie star.

PUBLICITY PHOTOS
Ten artful, playful and downright silly shots from some of the most famous movies in existence.

JEFFREY HUNTERWe tip our hat to the underrated (and very pretty) actor best known for going toe-to-toe with John Wayne in The Searchers and hanging on the cross in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings.

ELVIS PRESLEYFive essential films for the Elvis movie fan.

SPRING SPRING SPRING”
We take a closer look and listen at Johnny Mercer’s witty ditty about the coming of the season.

BILL GOLD’S MOVIE POSTERSOur salute to the legendary graphic artist, including 25 of his posters for some of the most famous movies ever made.

BEAUTIFUL MENFilm giants Cary Grant and his ilk will have to wait. Here we look at ten not-so-obvious choices—actors blessed with incredible good looks, if not legendary status.

BEAUTIFUL WOMENTen of the most physically stunning females to grace the silver screen.

FOOTBALLFive classic films where gridiron shenanigans drive the plot. 

THE 43 FACES OF JOHNNY DEPPWe review the wide variety of characters the actor has played, from early teenager roles to larger-than-life eccentrics.

FRED ASTAIREFive lively numbers from the peerless hoofer.

THE ROAD TO HELEN LAWSONJudy Garland, Susan Hayward and the bumpy road Valley of the Dolls producers experienced in casting an important role in a truly lousy film.

 AMERICAN LANDMARKS ON FILM From the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, we take a look at ten famous sights that added drama to the movies.

THE GIRL HUNT BALLETWe revisit the stylish Fred Astaire dream ballet from The Band Wagon (1953).

IOWA FILMS & STARSTen contributions the Hawkeye State has made to motion picture history.

FOX THEATEROur fond look back at one of San Francisco’s grandest movie palaces.

AUTOBIOGRAPHIESTen great titles penned by industry legends.

THE BAND WAGONNanette Fabray recalls a glaring mistake in the 1953 classic musical.

TRIGGERWe celebrate the life and somewhat creepy afterlife of Roy Rogers's favorite mount.

CHARACTERS: AGNES GOOCHPeggy Cass's memorable turn as a plain Jane coaxed into living a little in Auntie Mame (1958).

DESIGNS ON FILMA handsome volume by author and designer Cathy Whitlock chronicles the history of Hollywood set design.

REBECCAFive screen tests for Hitchock’s 1940 classic, with comments by David O. Selznick.

CHARACTERS: BABY ROSALIEIn a daffy send-up of Shirley Temple, June Preisser plays an aging child star in MGM's let's-put-on-a-show musical, Babes in Arms (1939).

PRESTON STURGESSnippets of dialogue from six of the writer/director’s best films.

ANSELMO BALLESTEROur gallery of ten striking one sheets from the Italian poster artist.

GREAT MOVIESCelebrating the cool jazz short, Jammin’ the Blues (1944).

BETTY HUTTONTwelve films that exemplify the charms of this freakishly energetic performer.

JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZSmart dialogue from the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

DESERT NOIROur report from this year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

RED DREAM FACTORYWe profile eight films from a unique Russian-German film studio of the twenties and thirties.

« Boyhood (2014) | Main | July 7 »
Wednesday
Jul092014

Billie Burke

“To survive [in Hollywood],” actress Billie Burke said, “you need the ambition of a Latin American revolutionary, the ego of a grand opera tenor and the physical stamina of a cow pony.” The scope and length of her movie career—78 features in 44 years—would indicate possession of all those qualities, plus a talent for creating memorable characters in a sea of star-laden ensemble films. Burke, the wife of theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, began acting on the stage in 1902, moved onto silent films in 1916, then came back in 1917 to her preferred format of live theater, where at least her voice could be heard. The stock market crash of 1929 necessitated her return to the more lucrative business of motion pictures—now well into its talkie phase—where she graced the screen with sincere performances distinguished by her high, fluttery voice and often featherbrained persona. She retired from filmmaking in 1960 and died of natural causes at the age of 85 in 1970.

Essential Films

A Bill of Divorcement (1932)
After a career of silents, Burke made her big screen comeback as mother to Katharine Hepburn, who was making her movie debut in this George Cukor-directed drama. Burke’s husband, Florenz Ziegfeld, died during the film’s production.

Dinner at Eight (1933)
Burke is all nervous dithering as the host of a dinner party where the minor molehills of a less-than-full seating arrangement and the potential lack of a lion-shaped aspic become major mountains for her character. The actress entertainingly holds her own against the likes of John Barrymore, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Harlow.

Topper (1937)
Burke plays Clara, the wife of Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), who is haunted by two very smart-looking ghosts in the shape of Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. The film’s popularity resulted in a series of sequels in which the actress reprised her role as the dotty Mrs. Topper.

Merrily We Live (1938) Norman Z. McLeod’s comedy of errors sees Burke as a wealthy matron who hires a series of tramps to work as servants in her increasingly off-kilter household. For the part as Emily Kilbourne, she received her only Academy Award nomination.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
If anyone in the worlds knows who Billie Burke was, it is likely because of this film, where, as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, she oversees a candy-colored community of wee people who helps a Kansas girl (Judy Garland) return to her sepia-toned farm. Burke’s line when the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) departs—“Oooh, what a smell of sulfur!”—still delights.

Father of the Bride (1950)
The actress stars alongside Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett as Doris, the mother of the wonderfully named groom Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor). Burke would return the following year for the film’s sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951).

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