Tag Archives: 1950 in Film

St. Francis of Assisi and the leper depicted in “The Flowers of St. Francis” (1950) by Italian filmmaker ROBERTO ROSSELLINI (1906-1977).

FEATURE Image: Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman – “Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman” by classic film scans is marked with CC BY 2.0.

By John P. Walsh

Come la notte Francesco pregando nella selva incontro il lebbroso —or, in English, “How St. Francis praying one night meets a leper.”

Starting at 38:15, the dramatic five-minute scene in the middle of Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 Italian film Francesco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God’s Jester or The Flowers of St. Francis) shows the medieval St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) seeking out and embracing the time-honored social outcast—a leper.

Following their embrace—an encounter Francis up to this point in his life had seriously avoided—the saint falls to the ground and, in tears he cries out: “My God. My Lord and my all!  O great God!”

Is the film scene historically accurate?

While the event of the embrace is historically accurate, it is dramatized in Rossellini’s film after Francis’s brotherhood is established. In fact, it occurred at the start of the Italian saint’s conversion.  This is an important distinction since the embrace was most significant for St. Francis. It could even be argued that without it, there would be no St. Francis of Assisi at all.

In Francis’s own Testament written in 1225—one year before his death at 44 or 45 years old—the saint stated directly that his embrace of the leper became the cause of his conversion.

For a rich young man such as Francis seeking glory in military arms, he naturally spurned the contagion of leprosy and diligently avoided lepers. As Francis put it, he “exercised mercy” to the leper as Francis bridged his religious doubt with trust by embracing Assisi’s despised.

In that way, the leper— a common sight throughout medieval Europe and one that readily filled the lighthearted Francis with horror—became the astonishing means for the saint’s conversion of faith.

Special order of knights founded by pope cared for lepers in Italy.

In the thirteenth century in Europe, lepers by law had to live apart from the rest of society owing to their contagious infectious disease.

From at least the seventh century in Italy going forward there were special orders of knights who took care of lepers.

In the time period that Rossellini’s poignant film scene is set— it is either 1205 or 1206—there existed in Europe tens of thousands of these church-run leper “hospitals.” One such leper hospital was only a short walk outside Assisi’s town walls. Called San Salvatore delle Pareti, the leper hospital near Assisi that began to intrigue a young Francis is today a farm field.

Before his famous encounter of embracing the leper, Francis —then around 24 years old—had to work up to the crucial moment of embracing a leper gradually.

After Francis gave up his several quests to be a soldier, he returned to Assisi disappointed and disenchanted. Though he found refuge in the embrace of family and childhood friends, the same impulses that led Francis to abandon a military career even before it started, now prompted him to walk beyond the comforts of Assisi’s walls onto the road that led to the leper hospital.

Young Francis visits the leper hospital — and it changes his life.

Near the hospital, Francis interacted very tentatively, first with those caring for lepers —a charitable activity instituted by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE)—and then at times with the lepers themselves. 

To start, it was the sickening smell peculiar to the leper hospital wafting into Francis’s nostrils that made him flee.

But as his visits continued Francis—who by now was living as a hermit— journied to the leper hospital to leave them a charitable gift. After leaving it on the roadside, Francis vanished as bell-clanging lepers appeared.

It took Francis many more visits to the leper hospital as well as, in solitude, dwelling on his own thoughts and prayers to finally reach what he believed was God’s answer for him.

As clearly dramatized in Roberto Rossellini’s wonderful film, Francis discovered a deeper courage and confidence in himself—and in the same moment a supernatural faith— when along the road to the leper hospital he stepped up to leave for the leper the charitable embrace of one of the rich sons of Assisi.

Yet, following that encounter, Francis realized that the leper had given him a gift also.

After that Francis was free to profoundly pursue whatever track God called him to run. Francis could now be called to renounce the world’s riches. He married his “Lady Poverty” in their joyous mystical marriage so that even today, in the 21st century, poverty remains a major Franciscan charism. Francis and Lady Poverty have been married for over 800 years.  

Following a lifetime spent in heroic Franciscan mendicancy, this world-famous Umbrian saint “Francesco” proclaimed to his Franciscan family and the world that it was at that exact moment when he embraced the leper—and the leper embraced him—that a life in and for God truly started.

St. Francis of Assisi has the indelible mark of the leper. He conquered fear and embraced the other in love no matter how godforsaken. Done in the context of divine trust and love, that faith-filled action set each man free.

SOURCE: St Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Johannes Jørgensen (1912). Translated from the Danish with the author’s sanction by T. O’Conor Sloane, Image books, 1955.

Sassetta (c.1392-c.1451), St. Francis in Ecstasy, back of the Sansepolcro altarpiece, 1437-44, Panel, 80 3/4 x 48 inches. Villa I Tatti, Florence.

MARLENE DIETRICH, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, LANA TURNER: History of Hollywood Publicity Glamour Portraits in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

FEATURE image: Marlene Dietrich. Paramount, 1947. Photograph by A.L. “Whitey” Schafer. The actress was appearing in Golden Earrings, a 1947 romantic spy film made by Paramount Pictures and starring Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich.*

MARLENE DIETRICH

This Hollywood glamour portrait of forty-six-year-old Marlene Dietrich (1901, Berlin – 1992, Paris) wearing a green turtleneck sweater was taken when the movie actress was starring in Golden Earrings, a romantic spy film made by Paramount Pictures. It was her comeback film following World War II.

1940’s blondes

Like other leading ladies in the 1940’s, the Hollywood glamour machine transformed Dietrich into a golden-haloed blond which accentuated her magnificent cheekbones and sultry eyes under penciled-arc eyebrows and painted nails that A.L. “Whitey” Schafer’s color portrait makes evident.

It was also in 1947—the same year that the photograph was made— that Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom. Dietrich called it her life’s proudest achievement.

While Golden Earrings was a decent film, its main purpose was to provide the actress with a job. It led into her next project—the 1948 American romantic comedy A Foreign Affair directed by Billy Wilder. That film made Dietrich again a top star.

Following Dietrich’s meteoric rise at Paramount Pictures starting in 1930 her acting parts later stagnated as film directors —including Josef von Sternberg and others—seemed to use her more as a piece of expensive cinematic scenery than as a serious dramatic actress.

The film’s song, “Golden Earrings”, with a tune by Victor Young and lyrics by Ray Evans and Jay was sung in the movie by Murvyn Vye. It was a hit recording in 1947-48 by Peggy Lee. See- https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1633213/m1/#track/4

“Whitey” Schafer wrote an important book on glamour photography

Photographer A. L. “Whitey” Schafer (1902-1951) was a still photographer who started shooting stills in 1923 and continued in that line of work at Columbia Pictures when he moved there in 1932. Personally outgoing, Schafer was appointed head of the stills photography department at Columbia three years later. In the 1940’s Shafer wrote copiously on his craft and advocated for techniques in glamour photography that are seen in this Dietrich color portrait.

In 1941 Schafer published Portraiture Simplified, a book in which he argues that “portraiture’s purpose is the realization of character realistically.” Among his technical observations Schafer wrote elsewhere that “composing a portrait is comparable to writing a symphony. There must be a center of interest, and in all portraits this naturally must be the head, or your purpose is defeated. Therefore, the highest light should be on the head.”

In 1941 Schafer replaced Eugene Richee (1896-1972) as department head of still photography at Paramount Studios. Schafer remained in that position where he photographed the stars until he died at 49 years old in an accident in 1951.

From Paramount Pictures, A Foreign Affair is a 1948 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Billy Wilder. The film made Marlene Dietrich once again a top star in the post-war years.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR.

Though still a teenager, Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) in 1949 when the publicity still photograph was made, was celebrated as the new generation’s great beauty.  In 1942, at 10 years old, Elizabeth made her film debut and her life and beauty blossomed over the decade in front of the cameras. The photograph captures Taylor after she made a little over a dozen films. In 1950 she co-starred in M-G-M’s comedy film, Father of the Bride. Directed by  Vincente Minnelli, Taylor played Kay, the daughter of Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) who is trying to cope with the preparations for her wedding day.

Elizabeth TAYLOR 1949
Elizabeth Taylor. M-G-M, 1949. Photograph by Hymie Fink.

Who is Hymie Fink?

Who exactly was her photographer, Hymie Fink? His identity remains a mystery. Was Hymie Fink a studio photographer? Freelancer? Pseudonym for an unknown talent or combination of unknown talents? His name appears among the stars starting in the late 1930’s until his death was announced in the mid-1950’s by Hedda Hopper. The gossip columnist ended her newspaper column for September 28, 1956 with the epitaph: “Hymie Fink, one of the sweetest men in Hollywood, died of a heart attack on Jane Wyman’s TV set. Hymie photographed every star and every major event in (Hollywood) for twenty-five years.”

Elizabeth Taylor co-starred in Father of the Bride, M-G-M’s 1950 comedy film directed by Vincente Minnelli. Father of the Bride was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

LANA TURNER.

Before she became in the 1940’s the well-known Hollywood platinum sensuous blond of movie legend and fame, Lana Turner (1921-1995) was just a pretty redhead from Idaho named Julia Jean Turner.

Lana Turner. 1939.
Lana Turner. 1939, photograph by László Willinger.*

By the time this unretouched color portrait was made, 18-year-old Lana Turner had been discovered three years earlier in a manner that has made it into the annals of show-biz mythology. The immediate result of her discovery in an iconic malt shop near Hollywood High School where she was a student, was a movie contract with producer-director Mervyn LeRoy (1900-1987).

“America’s Sweater Sweetheart”

The title of Lana Turner’s first film in 1937 for Warner Brothers was They Won’t Forget. The title proved prophetic for Lana Turner’s Hollywood career. By 1938 Lana Turner was a sex symbol who went on to make over 50 glamorous films, most of them at M-G-M.

Lana Turner was only 16 years old when she played her five-minute debut part that has her at one point strut across the screen in a tight-fitting sweater and cocked beret for about 20 seconds.

Lana’s image created such a stir among movie-going audiences that gossip columnist Walter Winchell coined her “America’s Sweater Sweetheart” because of her now-classic screen appearance.

Over the next 20 years, a bevy of Hollywood actresses would wear tight sweaters over specialty bras that emphasized the bust line in the hope of sparking a Lana Turner movie success story for themselves.

New Jean Harlow?

Lana was originally being groomed to be the new Harlow. She followed the sex-bomb script in full force in 1941 when the studio dyed her hair whitish blonde for Ziegfeld Girl. Lana co-starred with Judy Garland and Hedy Lamarr and stole the show. 

László Willinger 

Hungarian-born photographer László Willinger (1909–1989) started his professional career in Vienna, Austria. He left Europe for America in 1937 where he joined M-G-M that same year. Soon after, he made this lush shot of 18-year-old Lana Turner in a silky green dress seated on a red divan (or chair) with her head turned and looking to one side with slightly bloodshot eyes.

Willinger’s color portrait of red-headed Lana Turner emphasizes the sensuality of her personality manifested in her full red sensuous lips and painted nails. In 1944, László Willinger left MGM and established his own photography studio in Hollywood. For the next 40 years he successfully practiced his craft.

About her own reputedly rowdy personal life in those M-G-M years, Lana Turner later remarked: “My plan was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out the other way…” 

SOURCES:

DIETRICH – “Miss Dietrich to Receive Medal,” The New York Times, November 18, 1947;
https://ladailymirror.com/2013/11/04/mary-mallory-hollywood-heights-mdash-a-l-whitey-schafer-simplifies-portraits/;
http://vintagemoviestarphotos.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-l-whitey-schafer.html;
They Had Faces Then. Annabella to Zorina: The Superstars, Stars and Starlets of the 1930’s, John D. Springer and Jack D. Hamilton, Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.
Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.
https://www.aenigma-images.com/2017/04/a-l-whitey-schafer/
PHOTO CREDIT – *The photograph copyright may be believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Paramount, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. The copy is of sufficient resolution for commentary and identification but lower resolution than the original photograph. Copies made from it will be of inferior quality, unsuitable as counterfeit artwork, pirate versions or for uses that would compete with the commercial purpose of the original artwork. The image is used for identification in the context of critical commentary of the work, product or service for which it serves as poster art. It makes a significant contribution to the user’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be conveyed by words alone. As this is a publicity photo (star headshot) taken to promote an actress, these have traditionally not been copyrighted. Since they are disseminated to the public, they are generally considered public domain, and therefore clearance by the studio that produced them is not necessary. (See- Eve Light Honthaner, film production expert, in The Complete Film Production Handbook, Focal Press, 2001 p. 211. Gerald Mast, Further, film industry author, in Film Study and the Copyright Law (1989) p. 87, writes: “According to the old copyright act, such production stills were not automatically copyrighted as part of the film and required separate copyrights as photographic stills. The new copyright act similarly excludes the production still from automatic copyright but gives the film’s copyright owner a five-year period in which to copyright the stills. Most studios have never bothered to copyright these stills because they were happy to see them pass into the public domain, to be used by as many people in as many publications as possible.” Kristin Thompson, committee chairperson of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies writes in the conclusion of a 1993 conference with cinema scholars and editors, that they “expressed the opinion that it is not necessary for authors to request permission to reproduce frame enlargements … [and] some trade presses that publish educational and scholarly film books also take the position that permission is not necessary for reproducing frame enlargements and publicity photographs.”(“Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills,” Kristin Thompson, Society for Cinema and Media Studies.)

TAYLOR -http://tatteredandlostephemera.blogspot.com/2009/06/who-is-hymie-fink.html;
http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1956/09/29/page/22/article/diana-dors-isnt-homesick-shes-set-for-film-in-britain;
Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.

TURNER – Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.
Lana Turner interview with Phil Donahue, 1982 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhu6_V7pNL0
“Hollywood Photographer Dies,” The Hour, Associated Press, August 9, 1989 – https://news.google.com/newspapers nid=1916&dat=19890814&id=azIiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=uXQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1804,2177679
PHOTO CREDIT: *The photograph copyright may be believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. The copy is of sufficient resolution for commentary and identification but lower resolution than the original photograph. Copies made from it will be of inferior quality, unsuitable as counterfeit artwork, pirate versions or for uses that would compete with the commercial purpose of the original artwork. The image is used for identification in the context of critical commentary of the work, product or service for which it serves as poster art. It makes a significant contribution to the user’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be conveyed by words alone. As this is a publicity photo (star headshot) taken to promote an actress, these have traditionally not been copyrighted. Since they are disseminated to the public, they are generally considered public domain, and therefore clearance by the studio that produced them is not necessary. (See- Eve Light Honthaner, film production expert, in The Complete Film Production Handbook, Focal Press, 2001 p. 211. Gerald Mast, Further, film industry author, in Film Study and the Copyright Law (1989) p. 87, writes: “According to the old copyright act, such production stills were not automatically copyrighted as part of the film and required separate copyrights as photographic stills. The new copyright act similarly excludes the production still from automatic copyright but gives the film’s copyright owner a five-year period in which to copyright the stills. Most studios have never bothered to copyright these stills because they were happy to see them pass into the public domain, to be used by as many people in as many publications as possible.” Kristin Thompson, committee chairperson of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies writes in the conclusion of a 1993 conference with cinema scholars and editors, that they “expressed the opinion that it is not necessary for authors to request permission to reproduce frame enlargements … [and] some trade presses that publish educational and scholarly film books also take the position that permission is not necessary for reproducing frame enlargements and publicity photographs.”(“Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills,” Kristin Thompson, Society for Cinema and Media Studies.)