Friday, October 31, 2014

Malabar Farm: Ghosts and Hollywood

[Maybe you believe in the paranormal. Maybe you don't. Either way, I suggest that you take the following for what it is: a really cool story from a good pal of mine. - RW]

Guest post
by Andrea McEnaney

Ohio is not a state thought of as a getaway destination. When most people think of Ohio, if they think of it at all, they imagine farms and fields, not Hollywood icons. But for a period in the 1940s, Ohio was a destination for some of the biggest names in movies. James Cagney, Tyrone Power, Dorothy Lamour, Clark Gable - who, incidentally was born in Cadiz, Ohio - they all came and spent time there and when they came, they came to a farm.

Louis Bromfield was born in Mansfield, Ohio in 1896. He grew up on a farm like the typical Ohio boy. After high school, he went to Cornell University and studied agriculture, but eventually left for Columbia to study journalism. His studies were interrupted by World War I. He enlisted as a ambulance driver just as another famous author, Ernest Hemmingway, had. His efforts earned him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor medals. After the war, he returned to the United States and lived in New York City working as a reporter. 

In 1924, he wrote his first novel, The Green Bay Tree, and in 1927, he earned a Pulitzer Prize for Early Autumn.  In 1925, the Bromfields left the U.S. for a vacation in France. They ended up living there for  the next thirteen years.  During that time, one of Bromfields books, The Rains Came, was made into a motion picture, and he was introduced to Hollywood society. Two more of his novels were made into movies, Mrs. Parkington (1944) and The Rains of Ranchipur (1955). The latter starred a young Richard Burton.

Louis Bromfield
When the dark clouds of war began to build over Europe, Bromfield and his family returned to America and Ohio. He purchased a farm outside of Mansfield and began to work it as his father and grandfather before him had worked the land. He named the farm Malabar after the Malabar region of India, the setting for The Rains Came. Bromfield had made many friends in Hollywood, prominent among them was Humphrey Bogart. Old timers will tell you that it wasn't unusual to see Bromfield and Bogart walking the streets of Mansfield. Bogart loved Malabar so much that he chose the farm to be the site of his marriage to Lauren Bacall in 1945.  

The Hollywood elite began to come to the farm as a spot to get away from the paparazzi and bask in anonymity for a time. But they did not lounge around. Bromfield put them to work doing chores. The old timers remember seeing James Cagney selling produce from the farm at a market in Mansfield.

By the 1950s, Malabar Farm had become the standard for soil conservation and innovative farming practices. Bromfield had moved from fiction writing to writing about the land and how to preserve it. In 1952 Bromfield's wife, Mary, died of cancer, and Bromfield himself passed away in 1956. The children - three girls, Anne, Ellen, and Hope - moved away and began their own lives, and the Big House, as it was known, stood empty. 

Bogart & Bacall, at their wedding
at Malabar Farm in 1945
In 1972, the state of Ohio acquired the farm and created Malabar Farm State Park. The Big House was restored to the way it looked when the Bromfields lived there, right down to Louis' crumpled hat on the grand piano in the foyer. Over the years, many visitors came to the farm to see the house and barns. Some of them saw things that weren't on the tour. The rumors began that Malabar Farm was haunted. People, including the park rangers who worked there, saw Bromfields long dead boxer dogs. Some heard conversations in empty rooms.

In 2005, the Central Ohio Paranormal Society (COPS) was contacted by Malabar Farm to investigate the alleged hauntings. The group, based out of Columbus, was founded the year before by Mike and Gena Robare and use the scientific method of investigation, i.e. debunk everything that can be explained rationally. The first investigation yielded many EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) that could not be attributed to members of the team. Subsequent investigations found many more, including a voice that said, “tapes' done” a second before the click of the recorder stopping was heard. Gena Robare photographed a shadow figure standing in the doorway of one of the upstairs bedrooms. All attempts made to reproduce the photo were unsuccessful. 

Eventually, C.O.P.S became the paranormal investigation group of record for Malabar Farm and conducts investigations once a month, from May to August, that coincide with the Night Haunt event hosted by the park. Almost every investigation has yielded a result, whether it is electronically documented or a personal experience. 

Myrna Loy & Tyrone Power in The Rains Came,
based on Bromfield's book
The group has concluded that Malabar Farm is indeed haunted. Most of the activity is considered “residual,” that is, like a tape recording that plays over and over again. The group also believes there is an “intelligent” haunting occurring. This is a spirit and/or energy that is aware of its surroundings and interacts with the living. This conclusion was reached by the many voice recordings that answer questions posed, the instances of people being touched, and objects that move to different locations when there is no living person present. 

Alas, to the hopeful, I have to say that none of the spirits haunting Malabar Farm are the Hollywood legends whose pictures adorn the wall of an upstairs hallway. The ghosts are of the people who lived there day in and day out. Mary Bromfield still lives in her room, and Louis is usually in his study or sometimes in the living room. Anne, a rather tragic figure in that she may have had some mental health issues that resulted in her remaining upstairs most of the time, can be felt in her bedroom where the sadness is palpable. Occasionally, a invisible cat will mew and brush up against a leg. Still, for the movie buff, a visit to Malabar Farm will bring back the Golden Age of Hollywood and the beautiful rolling hills of Pleasant Valley will soothe away the worries of modern life.

Andrea McEnaney grew up on a farm in Eastern Ohio that wasn't a bit haunted. She is a medical assistant, a cartoonist, and a paranormal investigator and lives in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio with her husband, two cats, and a flatulent Beagle. She can be reached at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

5 horror films from my childhood

The TCM blog, Movie Morlocks, recently had a piece in which the author recounted how he got his child to not be afraid of what he initially thought of as relatively benign horror movies from his youth, such as the original Blob. I, on the other hand, had no such guidance from my folks; I discovered horror films on my own, and more or less dealt with the consequences of watching such films the same way. It's not that they didn't care. It's just that in some things, such as television, they were surprisingly permissive.

I've never had any great love for horror movies, but I watched them, like most kids did, whenever they were on TV, whether on local networks on Saturdays and holidays, or cable TV later on in life. Here are a few that stand out in my memory, regardless of quality.

- Dracula (1979). You can have Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman. Me, I'll take Frank Langella as the dude in the cape and fangs every time. I'm pretty sure this would air on NBC when I was a kid and I'd watch it every time. I suspect it was this version that helped shape my earliest impression of the vampire mythos in general. Director John Badham made this after Saturday Night Fever, and while I was far too young to appreciate the presence of all-stars like Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance in the lineup, I still remember John Williams' thrilling score. This was also a movie I recorded with our Betamax VCR (shut up, it was a good VCR which lasted us years!).

- The Mask (1961). This one played on good ol' WPIX-TV, back when they still played old movies. It was one of my earliest forays into 3-D television. Don't remember where I got the 3-D glasses to watch this movie (probably from a CrackerJack box or a comic book or someplace like that), but you always knew exactly when to don them, because they'd tell you: "PUT THE MASK ON NOW!" Looking at one of the 3-D scenes on YouTube, I was pleasantly surprised to see that as far as cheap thrills go, it still holds up, in a way. Obviously it's not on the levels of gore fright fans are used to these days, but it's imaginative, in a carnival fun house kind of way. In my dream movie theater, this would be a midnight movie.

- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. One of the first movies I saw on my own, without my parents, this one played, if I'm not mistaken, at the old Colony on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, just down the street from the Jackson. That theater was a two-screener, I think. It was quite small; I didn't go there nearly as much as the Jackson. I wish I could say what drew me to this film. I know I didn't see the first two Elm Street movies. Maybe it was the image of Freddy Kruger with that glove of his. Maybe it was the psuedo-superhero aspect of the "dream warriors" concept. It wasn't the presence of Patricia Arquette (!) and Laurence Fishburne (!!), sad to say. Maybe it was the theme song by Dokken! In a recent interview, Wes Craven lamented the fact that Freddy turned into a comedic figure after starting out as straight horror, but I always liked the funny Freddy.

- Poltergeist II: The Other Side. By 1986, I had cable TV, and this was one of many movies I'd see in constant rotation, so of course, I'd watch it. The first Poltergeist is a modern horror classic, but this one... Actually, I would watch this one because it was unintentionally funny! I mean, the MST3K guys should've gotten hold of this one, because there's so much mock-worthy material to be mined here, despite the return of the original cast. (Geraldine Fitzgerald was in this movie!) The Dissolve recently used Poltergeist II as an example of why horror sequels suck.

- The Gate (1987). Don't expect anyone to remember this other than hardcore horror fans. It was also a cable TV staple for awhile, and I would watch it for no apparent reason other than to kill time. Maybe I was drawn to the premise of kids fighting demons. Watching YouTube clips didn't jog my memory of this film much. I vaguely recall the ending, but that's about it. This didn't exactly set the world on fire, although it did inspire a Gate II. And Stephen Dorff is in this movie, for what that's worth.

Got any childhood horror movies you're not too embarrassed to talk about?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear White People

Dear White People
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

First of all, I wanna say upfront how grateful I am that the Kew Gardens is showing Dear White People. I was prepared to see this in the city if I had to - the Kew gets a lot of indie films, but they don't get everything - but seeing it in Queens, at a reasonable price (read: single digits) means a lot to me. They even put it in Theater 3, the main auditorium, which is the biggest one they have.

Now, when the movie started, I was the only person there.

It was a mid-afternoon showing, on a Tuesday, where all-day admission is $8, and there are usually a fair amount of people at the Kew on a Tuesday, especially during the first week of a new release. And it must be said: Kew Gardens is a very white neighborhood. Draw your own conclusions. 

None of this is the theater's fault. They did their job. 

I've talked about this before, but it really bears repeating: it's regrettable, to say the least, that movie theaters in black neighborhoods in this town don't do more to support black-themed independent movies. Black folks don't go to art house theaters in large numbers, so when a movie like this comes along, they won't get to see it, and they need to.

Regardless, this was everything I expected and more. Don't be put off by the provocative title! Equal parts funny and insightful, with characters that explore this so-called post-racial society from many relevant angles - media stereotyping, language and who gets to use it; upward mobility; to name a few - all within the context of higher education. The Spike Lee comparisons are apt, but I also detected influences from Wes Anderson, John Landis and Stanley Kubrick, whom writer/director Justin Simien has said is a favorite of his.

There are a handful of moments where the cast faces the camera directly, and though the fourth wall is never broken, the audience is, by implication, part of the story. It's as if Simien is using his film to engage in a conversation with the audience, and insisting that you not dismiss his perspective.

So about twenty minutes into the film, someone else entered the auditorium, which shocked the hell out of me. At the end, when the lights came up again, I saw that this was an older woman, in her sixties at least, and black. I couldn't resist coming up to her and asking what she thought. She seemed to like the film, though she said something about how she hoped this didn't reflect reality too much. One look at the images in the closing credits should answer that question (he said, trying to avoid spoilers). Perhaps she didn't notice. I almost didn't!

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York, NY

I'm sitting here trying to think of how to express my feelings about the movie Birdman and I can't quite come up with something. I don't know why. It's not a bad movie; in fact, it's quite good, but it's so chock full of... stuff - ideas, images, themes - that it's difficult for me to arrange. It would help if I saw it again, but these days, I can't afford to see the same movie twice. Well, I probably could, but I don't want to fall behind schedule, not that it matters. It's not like I've got an editor over my shoulder telling me I've gotta meet a deadline, but when it comes to current movies, I do wanna attempt to stay as up-to-date as I can.

I thought it would be more meta-fictional than it actually was - ha ha, Michael Keaton, actor who played a superhero, plays an actor who played a superhero - but of course, it's much more than that. I also thought it would have more to say about the blockbuster superhero movie trend in Hollywood, though it does have its share of commentary about that. Mostly, i
t's about acting in general, and how fame works in this modern world. 

I found myself admiring the craft of the movie more than the story: the roaming camera all throughout the theater and the surrounding city streets; the way it looks like one long take; the acting, of course. I've seen people praise this movie up and down the net, and it deserves all the praise, but I didn't quite love it as much as I thought I would. Maybe it's a case where I fell victim to the hype surrounding it, but I don't think so.

It was nice to be back at the Angelika again. It's been so long since I'd been there. Of course, at fourteen dollars a pop with no matinee prices, that's probably one big reason why I've stayed away. I would've waited until it came to Kew Gardens, but Vija wanted to see it, so we did. Franz was there also; when we all went to eat afterwards, he realized he left his cellphone there and had to go back for it.

Sorry this took so long. Wish I had more to say about it, but I do recommend it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


seen @ Lincoln Plaza Cinema, New York NY

I was thirteen years old when I entered high school and took the freshman drawing class. I majored in art, you see, and it was my specialized course of study throughout high school. The teacher I had, to quote the Eagles, had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude. He was this middle-aged sourpuss of an instructor whom everyone dreaded. He was acerbic, bitterly sarcastic and merciless. In his class, everything had to be done his way if you expected any chance of passing. I hated the guy with a passion.

But he was one of the best teachers I ever had.

One of his assignments was a still life; fruits and vegetables in front of drapery, and I worked big - probably 18" x 24". I worked super hard on it. It was my first few months in this prestigious high school that lots of kids aspired to get into, and I was anxious about doing well and seeing how good an artist I could be. The finished product was one of the most sophisticated works of art I had done in my brief life, and I was certain the teacher would like it.

He hated it. I don't remember his exact words in describing it, and I don't remember the level of sarcasm he threw my way in critiquing it, but I do recall feeling irritated and deflated and embarrassed - until he explained why my still life was no good.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nosotros amamos Ricardo Montalban

Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon es un evento dedicado a celebrar los logros de los latinos en la industria del cine a lo largo de la historia, organizado por Once Upon a Screen y Movie Star Makeover. Para obtener una lista de bloggers que participan, por favor visite los enlaces en cualquier sitio.

"My dear guests, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island!"

And with a beverage raised in salute, the mysterious yet charismatic host played by Ricardo Montalban welcomed television viewers every week to his tropical getaway resort where dreams literally come true... for a price. I watched Fantasy Island all the time, coming on right after The Love Boat on Saturday nights. It was an easier show for me as a kid to grasp, I think, than the more adult-oriented Love Boat, with all its silly shipboard romances and 70s-style hanky panky. I probably watched it more for the celebrity guest stars than anything else.

Montalban, circa 1951.
You're welcome, ladies.
Fantasy Island, however, was wish-fulfillment of a different kind. If it were made in 2014, it would no doubt have an ongoing "mythology" built around the secret of how the island works, who Mr. Roarke really is, and similar crap like that, a la Lost. But it didn't need any of that silliness back then. The vaguely Twilight Zone-light premise was enough for the show to be entertaining, for me and a lot of other viewers, and a big reason why was the presence of a smooth operator like Montalban. (Yes, I'm aware of the rebooted version with Malcolm McDowell; it never interested me much.)

For the Mexico City native, it was the latest turn in a long career that stretched back to the early 40s. Born in 1920 as Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino, he moved from Mexico to Hollywood as a teen, where his brother Carlos was pursuing a film career. Ricardo learned English in the process, and eventually, they went east to New York, where he did some stage work for a time. Back in Mexico, he built a career in the film industry there until he caught MGM's attention. His debut Hollywood film, 1947's Fiesta, was with Esther Williams. From there, he did a lot of "Latin Lover"-type roles, as well as various other stereotypical Hispanic (and occasional non-Hispanic) roles. In the mid-50s, he returned to the stage, earning a Tony nomination for the 1957 musical Jamaica, with Lena Horne. He would return to the stage periodically for decades afterward.

Montalban as Khan in Star Trek
In the 60s, Montalban was immersed in television, and among the many shows he appeared in, including Playhouse 90, Bonanza, The Loretta Young Show, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare and The Man From UNCLE, there was, of course, his unforgettable turn in an original Star Trek episode as the genetically-enhanced superman Khan. (Little known fact: in 1956, Montalban appeared on the TV show Chevron Hall of Stars in a sci-fi episode called "The Secret Defense of 117," written by none other than future Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.)

Khan was a conqueror from a period in Earth's history where war and internal conflict still ran rampant between nations. In the episode, Mr. Spock is appalled to discover that Captain Kirk admires the man in a way, despite his brutality, because that barbarism is part of humanity's nature, even in a future society where humanity is unified in peace. Montalban has some great scenes, especially the ones in which he attempts to match wits with Kirk and Spock over dinner, and also when he seduces a young woman lieutenant into doing his will. Watching him closely, one can see that his performance is very much in the eyes. Years later, of course, he would return to this role in the second Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, revered by genre fans as a modern classic.

Montalban w/Herve Villechaize,
from Fantasy Island
Fantasy Island's Mr. Roarke, by contrast, was much lighter, but even here there were places where he gave the character a certain edge. Rare is the TV show these days in which a mystery remains a mystery for long, and I don't think it hurt the show to keep Mr. Roarke - or, for that matter, his diminutive sidekick Tattoo - an enigma. Re-watching it on YouTube, I still found it enjoyable. It was a product of its time, reflecting the tastes of executive producer Aaron Spelling, of Charlie's Angels and The Love Boat fame. Apparently, ABC initially wanted Orson Welles as Mr. Roarke. Can you imagine?

In the 80s, Montalban also enjoyed a stretch as a recurring character on Dynasty, and its spin-off, The Colbys, playing a European shipping tycoon with the unlikely name of Zach Powers. The only clips of him in the show that I could find on YouTube were dubbed into Spanish, so I can't attest to how he was on the show, but I imagine he fit in well with the rest of the cast.

Montalban continued to appear in films as well as TV, including Sweet Charity (with Shirley MacLaine), two Planet of the Apes movies, and The Naked Gun, plus his Emmy-winning role in the TV mini-series How the West Was Won, but he wanted better roles for himself and for other Latinos. In 1970, he and several other Latino actors founded the Nosotros Foundation, which strove to improve acting opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood. The Golden Eagle Awards were started by the Foundation to honor Latino actors and it's held at the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood as part of the Nosotros American Latino Film Festival.

Back in 1951, while filming a Western, Montalban fell off a horse, and was trampled by another one. As a result, he sustained a back injury that never healed. In 1993, after nine hours of spinal surgery, he was paralyzed below the waist and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. However, this did not adversely affect his career. He continued to appear on TV (also doing voice work for animated series) and film, including two Spy Kids movies from Latino director Robert Rodriguez.

Montalban died in 2009 at age 88. As a Trekkie, I, of course, tend to think of him as Khan first (a role which that other guy can never replace), and indeed, it's perhaps his best-known role, but he had a rich and vibrant career, one in which he overcame Latino stereotypes imposed on him to become a respected and beloved actor to several generations of film and television lovers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Gone Girl

Gone Girl
seen @ Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas, Jamaica NY


Can't talk about this movie without them. Sorry.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Devil's Rain

The O Canada Blogathon is an event devoted to Canadian actors and films, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

The Devil's Rain
seen online via YouTube

The first impression most people have of him is that acting style of his. It defined his most popular role when he was young and in his prime: a kind of stop-and-start cadence in which he'd carefully punctuate... certain...words, andthenspeedup! In that sense, he was a bit of a throwback to movie actors of the past, whose distinctive voices and mannerisms marked them from one movie to the next - unlike today, where actors are generally expected to be more chameleon-like in their roles.

I can't say that it ever bothered me. I noticed it, of course, but I don't recall ever thinking it was that unusual an affectation. I suppose I might have thought it had more to do with his signature character than with the man himself, but I couldn't make such distinctions back then. It was enough that I even knew his name.

He has such a strong sense of himself. Some who have worked with him have called it ego, and perhaps they're right. I would guess that he'd say that one needs a healthy dose of bravado to survive as long as he has in show business. Still, he has rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, and while that's unfortunate, to say the least, I try not to judge him for it. After all... one could take on a ship full of Klingon warriors like he could.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The unexpected virtue of linkage

So there's this local literary magazine called Newtown Literary. It's still relatively new, but it's already built a bit of a rep for attracting Queens writers for short stories and poetry. The theme for their next issue is sci-fi/fantasy.

Guess who's gonna be in it.

Yep! I had had my eye on getting in the mag before, possibly by submitting a piece from WSW, but they only take original, unpublished work (a post on a blog counts as being published), so what I did was, I crafted a short story loosely inspired by a post - in this case, the one on the movie The Terminal. It's a story set in the "near future," in which teleportation technology replaces airplane travel. I didn't have a whole lot of time to write it, and I wasn't entirely sure it ranked among the best stuff I've ever written, but I just wanted to give it a try and see what happens. Lo and behold, they liked it more than I expected they would!

Don't know when exactly the next issue will come out yet, but it should be sometime this fall. I'll let you all know as soon as I do.

In other news: I've decided - and this is probably something I should've done long ago - that not every post about a new movie has to be a long essay. For whatever reason, sometimes I find I can't go deep on a movie at the time I'm ready to write about it, so from now on, whenever this happens, I'll simply write shorter posts. You've no doubt already noticed this by now in my posts for Life Itself and Love is Strange. This only applies to new movies; if I have this problem with an older movie, chances are I'll end up not writing about it at all.

And speaking of writing: at this point, I don't think I'll participate in National Novel Writing Month again this year. I took part in it last year mostly to see if I could do it. I never had a burning desire to write a novel, but recently, in looking at my NaNoWriMo draft from last year, I've found a new way to approach the revision process, and I'd much rather continue doing that than to start a brand new draft which may or may not even become anything. From what I saw of other people involved in NaNo, a number of them seem to enjoy the process of writing a first draft under these unusual conditions more than taking the time to work on revising what they have into a presentable, finished manuscript. I could be wrong, but that's what it seemed like to me. I'd rather polish my draft instead.

Also, on my WSW Tumblr page, you can see pics from the Jackson Heights street named, in a ceremony last Saturday, for Manny Balestrero, the "Wrong Man" of the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

Your links for this month:

Will really, really, REALLY likes pre-code movies.

Le watches Birth of a Nation so you don't have to (and raises some points about the film that I never knew before). Google Translate required, as usual.

Ivan writes about a Gordon Parks Jr. movie featuring Irene Cara in her film debut.

Pam looks fabulous as an extra in the Denzel Washington movie The Equalizer.

Jennifer talks about the real-life Civil War-era train that inspired two classic movies - and where you can see it today.

The Museum of Modern Art has discovered an early silent film with a black cast.

WB/DC looks like they're gonna resist the urge to tie their superhero movies and TV shows into a single shared universe.

Vivien Leigh & Clark Gable may have been the stars of Gone With the Wind, but upon reflection of the film for its 75th anniversary, there's no question who embodies the movie's heart.

12 Years a Slave will be used in high school classrooms to teach students about slavery.

And finally, congratulations going out to my pal Joanne who's tying the knot with her longtime beau.