Last week we went to the Savoy, the finest small cinema in Wales and a mile’s walk from where we live. The film was Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and, predictably, as the film came to an end there was a lump in my throat, perhaps even a tear in the eye. That doesn’t mean anything in itself. I’m a bit of a sob-bucket. A well designed advert has much the same effect – to the amusement of my daughter and wife.
The film itself is improbable but true and with a nice irony. In ‘Hollywood world’ it remains the norm for aging male stars to be paired off with young and attractive actresses. In this true story it is the reverse —the real life Gloria Grahame, still highly sexual at fifty-seven, cops off with a young man in his twenties. (Although it must be said, Gloria had form in this department)
An added bonus for me was the film’s location, and I was able to walk the streets alongside its stars.
I walked with them into the Philharmonic – in the film, doubling up as London pub, into Ye Cracke where father and son discuss bacon butties and Gloria Grahame – in fact I’d sat on that same seat more than once. And then there were the terraced streets, those glorious slabs of red brick and shadow that add magic to Liverpool – especially at night, especially in the rain
I knew nothing about Gloria Grahame, nor some of the weird and wonderful actresses who wanted to portray her in the film: Joan Collins, Whoopi Goldberg, and Madonna. I’ll leave you to decide the weird in those three. Thank God they went for Annette Bening.
I did discover that, for her, the #MeToo and designer black dresses came sixty-seven years too late.
In 1950 she was offered the lead in ‘Born Yesterday’ but because she wouldn’t ride unaccompanied in the back of Howard Hughes’ limo, the company immediately dropped her. Like many women of that era, she was bullied into needless plastic surgery, although her own vanity played a part too. And, like many of her male stars, she had a strong sexual appetite, culminating in a scandal that shocked Hollywood. In time the 'machine’ against her in stories that ‘stuck.’ This is perhaps one of the fairest assessments.
I’ve since mugged up on Gloria Grahame, her performances in ‘A Wonderful Life’ and Oklahoma; noir films like Sudden Fear alongside Joan Crawford and Jack Palance, and In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart, The Big Heat and The Bad and the Beautiful
It's my ambition to see each of these films with Film stars don’t die in Liverpool in mind, for I don’t mind confessing, I found myself falling a little in love with Gloria Grahame* as well as Peter Turner.
*Or was it Annette Bening. Tricky.