Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Shipwrecked English Family

How would an aristocratic English family survive on an island after a shipwreck? They couldn't. Not without the held of a butler and maid of course...and thankfully in the case of the Earl of Lom and his family they have the best butler to be had in all of England ( or the South Seas ) - Crichton. 

In this scene from the 1957 film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play "The Admirable Crichton", the Earl's eldest daughter, Lady Catherine ( Sally Ann Howes ), balks at the thought of being stranded on an island with no change of clothing to be had. Kenneth More, Cecil Parker, Gerald Harper, and Diane Cilento round out a fine cast. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stan Hywet Hall - An English Country Retreat

Tucked away on 70 acres in the midst of the hustling bustling metropolitan city of Akron stands an English Tudor, a country mansion built during the reign of industrial millionaires, that stands strong, stalwart, and unfettered by the expansive growth and change that most cities undergo.

This oasis of olden-day country charm is called Stan Hywet Hall.  It was built by Frank Augustus Seiberling, the humanitarian and inventor who built his fortune in the rubber industry by co-founding The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company which became, and still is, America's largest tire manufacturer. 

The Great Hall
Frank Seiberling came from a family of entrepreneurs. After attending college he joined his father's farm machinery manufacturing business and invented a twin binder for grain. During the panic of the 1890s however, many businesses failed, his father's no exception. Seiberling, nearly forty years of age and with a wife and three children to support, suddenly found himself jobless in 1898. He heard tell of an old strawboard factory in East Akron, and with his savings ( and a loan from his brother-in-law ) purchased the property. In a few days time he decided what business he wanted to pursue, picked out a name, and began selling stock. Rubber. This was the business he chose and he decided to name it after the inventor of vulcanization, Charles Goodyear. 

Seiberling had a determination to succeed and turned a small business in a glowing success, even in the down economy. He quickly earned the title of "the little Napoleon" for his small stature and steadfast will to succeed. Automobiles were a growing phenomenon and were soon becoming a necessity for upper-class families. Cleveland was one of the great auto-making cities in the nation and with every car built they needed more and more rubber. In less than ten years time he turned The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company into America's largest maker of rubber tires and Akron was transformed from a small town to the "rubber capital of the world". 

During the hey-dey of Cleveland's growth many industrial millionaires built "country retreats"...mansions of such grandeur that people gazed in wonder of their extravagant size. Most of these structures were built in the middle of Cleveland in such fashionable communities as Bratenahl and Euclid Avenue. Sieberling however, did not stem from Cleveland and so wished to have his country retreat built in the city he made his home, Akron. 

The Dining Room

In 1907 he began to purchase farmland and cornfields and lay the groundwork of planning for his great estate. Architect Charles S. Schneider was selected among many other architects in a competition. Along with the Seiberlings he traveled to England, where in the countryside of Devon they got inspiration for the grand tudor. 

Construction, c. 1913

After five years of planning of every kind  ( 3,000 separate blueprints were drawn up to detail all the architectural features ) the groundbreaking began. At a cost of $150,000 Seiberling's English Tudor Revival manor was being built. Sandstone from local quarries was brought in, furniture obtained from New York and all over England was being selected, the landscape of the property was undergoing a transformation and servants were being hired for the soon-to-be-built residence. Upon completion it became one of the finest examples of a Tudor Revival house in America and evoked the appearance of a manor having been standing for generations. Stan Hywet Hall derives its name from the old English for "stone hewn" and features 65 rooms in all: 18 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms, a billiard room, music room,gymnasium, bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, 23 fireplaces, and most special of all...a splendid country garden. 

The Music Room

Warren H. Manning, a Boston landscape architect designed the original grounds. Later, in 1929, famed designer Ellen Biddle Shipman created a special English garden, which remains today fully restored to her original design. It is the only one of Shipman's gardens open to the public. 

The Library
Stan Hywet Hall was intended for use. It was never meant to be a showplace but rather a gathering place. The motto of the manor "Non Nobis Solum" - Not For Us Alone - was carved above the entrance door so even visitors knew they were welcome and could make Stan Hywet their home. And visitors came! Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Will Rogers, and presidents Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding were among some of the illustrious guests who stayed beneath the roof of Stan Hywet. 

The Seiberlings had a large extended family which visited often and since Frank was very much involved in humanitarian causes, they often hosted events of one kind or another. One of the most famous events that took place at Stan Hywet hall was the Shakespeare Ball. This was the grand opening gala after the construction of the manor and it featured hundreds of guests bedecked in Elizabethan dress to celebrate the 300th anniversary of noted bard's death. Today, an annual Shakespeare Festival still takes place at Stan Hywet in honor of this occasion. 

Although the original construction cost of Stan Hywet was estimated at $150,000 the total cost amounted to nearly $750,000 after all the "extras" that were added to the estate; these included several gardens, swimming pools, a tennis court, a basketball court, a golf course, a pond, and a gate lodge And a very quaint gate lodge at that. 

The Gate Lodge

The three-bedroom structure was originally built as a gatekeeper's house and was used for that purpose up until the mid-1930s when Frank Seiberling's eldest son Fred took it up as his residence along with his family, which included his wife Henrietta and their three children. 

F.A.Seiberling with his four grandchildren

This humble home soon after became the birthplace of a very powerful movement. Henrietta Seiberling was a very devout religious woman and strongly believed that a one person can do a power of good. On Mother's Day, 1935, Henrietta brought together Mr. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, admitted alcoholics, and during an afternoon's discussion in the Gate Lodge they discussed and identified the points that came to be the cornerstone principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

" Welcome, as they need may be, find here Gladness, Happiness, Peace - Sanctuary "

John F.Seiberling Jr., one of Frank's grandsons, became a U.S State Representitive and a great conservationist in his adulthood. It was through his efforts that Ohio's first national park was established - Cuyahoga National Park. One does not wonder where he inheritated his great love of beauty and nature. 

The most beautiful aspect of Stan Hywet is actually not the manor itself, but rather it's splendid gardens. Looking out from the back of Stan Hywet one can see the Breakfast Room garden and London Plane Tree Alley where symmetrically lined plane trees border a wide pavilion of open lawn that leads to the Dell, a shady woodland garden scattered with daffodils and wildflowers. Connecting the house to the landscaped grounds is a flagged stone pathway, bordered with tall grass and lilies of the valley and beyond this, past a stone tool shed entrance, the English sunken walled garden, Mrs. Seiberling's favorite garden refuge. The Fountain of the Water Goddess presides over it, always making sure the flowers have plenty of water to drink from. 

Stan Hywet's 70 acres also include the Great Garden, a grape arbor, lagoon, meadow, Japanese garden with resplendent ornamental maples, and a greenhouse, where vegetables and fruits were grown for the supper table. 

Built as a country home, Stan Hywet has now become a landmark, not only in Akron but across America as one of many manors apart of the National Registry of Historic Homes. Walking beneath its portals you enter the world of the past...not only into the 20th century, but you obtain a glimpse of life in the middle ages as well. It is a sanctuary open to the public to enjoy and relish. 

Stan Hywet Hall is located at 714 North Portage Path, Akron, Ohio. 
Hours of Operation : April 2- December 30. Tuesday through Sunday, 10am-6pm. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dana Wynter - A Regal Lady

Dana Wynter was a beautiful and very elegant leading lady of Hollywood films of the 1950s and 60s. She starred in numerous television productions and a wide range of pictures such as comedies, dramas, sci-fi, action and war films. Most often she portrayed refined ladies for whom leading men would strive to win her love in the course of the picture, and it was in these roles that she really excelled for no other actress had the quiet sophistication that she possessed naturally. Class...that's what she had. No matter what role she was given that innate gracefulness of demeanor showed through. 

I remember the first movie I saw with her was "Sink the Bismarck". I watched it with my sister in parts as a history lesson during homeschool. The battle scenes and the historical aspects of the film I didn't pay attention to at all, but what I did notice was the subplot - a gentle blossoming of love between Kenneth More ( a widowed naval captain ) and Ms. Wynter, his secretary/officer in the midst of the tactical mayhem taking place within London's operational underground headquarters. She has little dialogue in the movie but it does not matter because, like Kenneth More's character, you feel reassured by her understanding presence. 

Probably her most famous movie of all is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Once again she’s a welcome presence. Here she plays Dr. Bennell’s beautiful high school sweetheart Becky. When the townspeople and his two best friends all become transformed into pod people, it is only he and Becky who are left and must flee from the dreadful alien invaders. Chillingly good film.

In 1961 she starred opposite Danny Kaye in the comedy “On the Double”. He played a hypochondriac G.I who, due to his resemblance to an important British general, gets chosen to be a decoy [target] in the event of an attempt on the general’s life. Hmmm….lucky Danny. Not the patriotic task he hoped to fulfill – but he did get one lucky break though…..the general’s wife was a real beauty…..Dana Wynter of course! And naturally he falls in love with her along the way. Darlin’ Meggie becomes her theme song in this song and by golly, every time I hear that melody I still associate it with her.

A few years later, in 1963, she starred along with George C. Scott in the superb whodunit “The List of Adrian Messenger”. And it was around this time that she began to really get a foothold in television too. One of her very best tv appearances was in The Unlocked Window, a spine-tingling “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” presentation. As Nurse Stella, caring for a bedridden invalid, she was trapped with another nurse in a secluded Victorian manor during a storm….while a serial killer ( with a fancy for nurses ) is on the prowl in their very area!  EEK! Not only was Dana Wynter a versatile actress but she was a talented journalist as well, writing articles for The Guardian and The Chronicle as well as penning a book entitled “ Other People, Other Places : Memories of Four Continents” about her life in various countries. 

Born Dagmar Spencer-Marcus Winter on June 8th, 1931 in Berlin, Germany to a noted British surgeon ( Peter Winter ) and a Hungarian mother, Dana was raised in England and later moved to South Rhodesia with her father and stepmother where at the age of 18 she entered Rhodes University as a pre-med student, intending on following in her father’s footsteps. Alas, she was sidetracked by amateur theatricals during school and so she moved back to England, changed her name and took to the stage. Not long after, she moved to New York and did small tv
appearances on such shows as Studio One, and Robert Montgomery Presents. An American agent soon took her to Hollywood though and she quickly went on to play leading roles in such films as “The View from Pompey’s Head”,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers”,” Shake Hands with the Devil” and “D-day Sixth of June” becoming a well-sought for actress. 

During the mid-60s her career as a motion picture began to decline and so she did more and more tv guest appearances. In 1966 she starred opposite Robert Lansing in the short-lived television series “The Man Who Never Was”, and occasionally returned to films, such as making a cameo  in “Airport”  in 1970 as Burt Lancaster’s socialite wife.

Ms. Dana Wynter suffered from heart disease these last few years and on May 5th, 2011 she passed away at the age of 79. She will be sorely missed by a certain fan of hers ( me ) and I’m sure by many others as well. What a truly beautiful person we have lost. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Film Music of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson is one of my favorite of all film composers and so I couldn't resist writing a blog about this magnificent man. Well, I really don't know how magnificent he is in real-life....but judging from his music he sure is magnificent.

Most people are familiar with one particular piece of music that Laurie Johnson wrote, even if they do not recognize his name - The Theme to The Avengers, the popular ultra-cool British spy show of the 1960s. It's unique bongo beating beginning leads us into the tinkling of champagne glasses before the real theme begins....a delectable mixture of big band and mod London swing which captures the spirit of the show to perfection. 

Although this is his most internationally recognized work of theme music, he wrote many other scores for popular films such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, First Men in the Moon, Tiger Bay and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. 

Laurie Johnson was born on February 7th, 1927...( Happy Birthday Mr. Johnson!! ) in Hampstead, England. After studying at the Royal College of Music he launched his music career at the young age of 19 by working as an arranger/composer for Ted Heath and his band. And later for bandleaders such as Jack Parnell and Ambrose. 

Before venturing to the film industry he dabbled in making dance arrangements of popular songs of the mid-50s at Pye Records ( later home to such artists as Tony Hatch, Petula Clark and the Kinks ). 

In 1955 he began work as an arranger and orchestrator at some smaller film studios in London such as the Associated British Picture Corporation until he worked his way up to getting assignments as a composer. His first full-fledged film production was a film called The Moonraker which starred legendary English actors Eric Portman and Celia Johnson. 

It wasn't until 1959 that he made his first big hit with the score for Tiger Bay, a suspense drama starring John Mills, Horst Bucholz and Hayley Mills. After a few more minor films such as I Aim at the Stars ( about the life of Werner Von Braun ), Operation Bullshine, and Spare the Rod, he hit his "prime" and began writing for film and television in such an astounding succession. 

One of his most beautiful songs is the Romance theme to Ray Harryhausen's First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ), a gentle "light classic" that captures the Victorian English country setting that the movie took place in and rather brings to mind the theme to another great H.G Wells film The Time Machine. Laurie Johnson had been working as an assistant to composer Bernard Herrmann on previous Charles Schneer fantasy productions such as Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts so when Herrmann declined to accept the assignment for First Men in the Moon Johnson took the helm and did quite a magnificent job.

He entered the UK Singles Chart with "Sucu Sucu" the theme music to the television series Top Secret in 1961 and it was in television scoring that he was to be most prolific. Between 1965-1980 he worked on such wonderful series as The Avengers, The Professionals, The New Avengers, Shirley's World, and Thriller. 

In the 1960s and 1970s he continued to be busy composing for films, composing his own symphonies,as well as for theatre work. Hot Millions and Hedda have especially lovely melodies and in 1967 he composed the music for a stage version of The Four Musketeers. 

In the late 1980s to early 1990s he composed the music to several TV movie adaptions of historical romance writer Barbara Cartland's novels including A Hazard of Hearts ( what a beautiful score! ) and The Lady and the Highwayman. But alas, in the realm of film and television Laurie Johnson has since ceased to be active. Currently he is still very much involved in his band The London Big Band which specializes in performing big band swing and pop music.