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Pauline Kael...Barbara Stanwyck...Ginger Rogers -- Dancing Through Great Critics and Great Stars

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"Better late than never!" I always say.

So, I am excusing myself for never having read Brian Kellow's biography of the great movie critic, Pauline Kael. I should have read it long before this.

Sub-titled A Life in the Dark -- it received raves from practically everybody. And I especially like what a paper called Celluloid Void wrote about it back in 2011.

"Brian Kellow finds the emotional core of Pauline Kael's persona. Kellow is quickly becoming a film fan's dream biographer...That Kellow chooses to write in calm, unshowy prose is both astute as a journalistic technique and integral to the book's aesthetic success. Kellow's Kael transcends mere artistic contrarianism and resembles a sort of impassioned duelist."

•BUT HERE'S the reason I am writing about this now. The biographical rave of this year comes from Victoria Wilson's long-awaited first massive volume describing A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 (From Simon&Schuster.)

I just can't remember how long I was expecting Vicky Wilson to publish. But now she has and most of us can hardly wait for Number Two which will describe the great star's greatest years in Hollywood.

So, while I'm waiting for that, I run across the following on Stanwyck in Kellow's work on what some call the finest movie critic of all time:

•"One of Pauline Kael's favorite actresses of the '30's was Barbara Stanwyck. Decades later, she was one of the first critics to grasp fully the power and seamlessness of Stanwyck's craft, which was simple and spare and true, devoid of the sentimental, laid-on effects in which so many other females stars of the time indulged. Of Stanwyck's performance in the 1930 drama Ladies of Leisure, directed by Frank Capra, she wrote: 'Though she came from the theatre, Barbara Stanwyck seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the fluid physical movements that work best on camera, perhaps she had been an unusually 'natural' actress even onstage.' To Pauline, Stanwyck represented a 'remarkable modernism' and was 'an amazing vernacular actress.'"

"This observation about Stanwyck was crucial to understanding the aesthetic that would later make Pauline famous, controversial and deeply misunderstood. She loved movies -- and literature -- that made honest, direct and imaginative use of plain American speech... Pauline was less pleased with many of Hollywood's more high-minded efforts..."

•This explains in part why critic Kael was always feuding with her New Yorker boss, the lofty power William Shawn, who wanted her to write in a more lady-like manner and was offended when she described an actor as "pussy-whipped."

•As long as we are looking back at films and older stars, let's add to our recent contributions from some who dealt with the dancing phenomenon that was Ginger Rogers.

One such comes from Peter Rogers, who is a dancing fool himself and has gone to live in New Orleans where people still "dance" and don't just "twerk' around.

He notes: "I was seated next to Miss Rogers at a benefit and naturally, asked her to dance. I dipped her slightly and she said, 'Don't do that. People will think we are showing off.' There I was a boy, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I never thought I'd be dancing with Ginger Rogers."

Terry Hodge Taylor, he of the "Hall of Fame" event happening on January 27th looked back to a time when Ginger Rogers was to present to Bob Fosse in New York.

"A few days prior to the 1986 event, I put Miss Rogers into the Wyndam Hotel on West 58th. Two days later, I had Ginger purring over the phone. 'Darling, my hotel is nice but I'm wearing a grand dress to the event which will sweep West 58th Street and my dress will be black when I arrive. May I move to the Plaza?"' I said yes of course and we got her a penthouse suite. The grand night, they told me she was arriving so I went to the double door entrance to the reception room. I waited. No evidence of Ginger. I was panicked of course.

"Finally, in desperation, I opened the door. She was standing there waiting to make an entrance. But when I opened the door, she didn't make a move.

"Her dress was so large, it wouldn't just fit through one door. It needed two. Needless to say she entered when I opened both doors, to enormous applause. I feel she planned the entire thing. This was a great moment in producing a gala event."

The Theater Hall of Fame will have another gala event on January 27 but I fear there are no more big stars of the Ginger type with us nowadays. The theater is full of innovative talented people of all stripes, but only occasionally do we get a true "star!"