Meet the dynamic dame behind the book, ‘Dynamic Dames’

One of the film books I’ve been looking forward to the most this year is TCM’s Dynamic Dames, their latest book in collaboration with Running Press. Author and film historian Sloan Deforest, who previously wrote Must-See Sci Fi: 50 Films that are Out of this World, is back and delivers a loving tribute to the unforgettable actresses and female characters that have inspired countless generations of women and men. In Dynamic Dames, Deforest shows 50 heroic females spanning film history. We see precode bad girls, mothers, women of mystery, survivors and superheroines. I recently spoke to Deforest about the book and her process putting it together. Thank you to Running Press for giving me this opportunity. For the readers, I hope you find the dynamic dame within. 

1. This is a book I feel like I’ve personally been waiting for especially now when we continue to hear the phrase “strong female lead” even though strong females have been around since films have existed. What inspired you to delve into this topic?

Yes, the term “strong female lead” is bandied about a lot in Hollywood. As an actress, I would see the casting notices frequently use this description. But the actual number of films headed by heroic women is still pretty skimpy compared to the early days of film. From roughly 1910 to 1950, at least half of the top stars were female, and women were the target audience demographic. Those were such glorious days. I wanted to celebrate some of the most inspiring leading ladies of that bygone era, and also gather some more contemporary “strong female leads” for the book. I personally like all kinds of movies—including Sergio Leone westerns and action movies with nary a female to be found—but the ones with powerful women calling the shots are especially fulfilling to me. Maybe that’s why I was driven to write Dynamic Dames.

2. I really enjoyed how you broke it down into different eras and genres, is there a particular one that you yourself enjoy most?

I love comedy, so “Ladies Who Laugh” may be the most fun section for me. I think Roger Rabbit put it best: “A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Sometimes in life it’s the only weapon we have.” Audiences seem more willing to side with empowered women when they are funny, like one of my all-time favorites, the smart and sassy Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. I also grew up watching Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby and Adam’s Rib. I’ve probably taken a few pages from these ladies’ books in the way I deal with people.

3. In your research, what was one thing you discovered that you think will surprise viewers?

I think some readers will be surprised to learn how many behind-the-scenes women were responsible for these Dynamic Dames. The majority of characters in the book were either inspired by real women, written or produced by women, or the roles were largely shaped by the actresses who played them. Even when the screen credits don’t reflect it, the actresses had more of a creative hand than is apparent at first glance. Today Greta Garbo would be called a producer on Queen Christina. She had so much power she was basically a silent producer. Then there are the actresses who lobbied to be cast in roles that they weren’t initially wanted in, and triumphed: Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. The list goes on. Making these discoveries in the research process was one of the most thrilling aspects of writing the book.

4. Who is your favorite dynamic dame?

I feel a little like a mother with fifty daughters! It’s difficult to play favorites. I genuinely enjoy and respect all of these women, plus the long list of others who didn’t make the cut. That being said, the comedy ladies I mentioned previously are among my favorites. There’s also Clarice Starling, Ida Lupino as Lily Stevens in Road House, Mary Poppins, Hermione Granger, Ellen Ripley, and Thelma and Louise too. As for my favorite classic-era actress, I would place Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck in a tie for first place. Their artistry, emotion, outer beauty and inner fire leap right off the screen. They never fail to inspire me.

5. What do you hope readers will walk away with after they read the book?

I hope readers are reminded of some great movies they forgot about, and are inspired to seek out those they never saw. It would be great if readers develop a new appreciation for movies about women who are the hero of their journey. These stories used to be commonplace in Hollywood, but since the 1960s, they have been fewer. Yet they are still here. Dynamic Dames have never gone away because they are fascinating, and because women keep going to the movies. We always will, and we want to see ourselves reflected on the screen . . . or the selves we wish we could be.

Dynamic Dames is out now. It is available at your local bookstore or on TCM’s official website here.

Nancy Olson at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

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One of the highlights of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was hearing the fabulous Nancy Olson speak. I’ve been a fan of Olson’s for a while now and she is a great storyteller. Whether it be on television or in person appearances, she is always candid, respectful and full of memories and moxie. She’s attended the festival before but has eluded me. When I saw her on the lineup this year, I knew I had to make it. Olson is now 89 and her memories are as sharp as ever.

The theme for this year’s festival was “From page to screen” and what better film to spotlight than Sunset Boulevard? Arguably it’s one of the greatest screenplays ever written. On top of that, it’s William Holden’s centennial year so I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear, in person, from someone who worked with him four times! I love the screen teaming of Olson and Holden. There was a great deal of respect between the two and it shows on film.

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Below is the raw audio of Olson’s talk with Micheal Feinstein at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival.

How I learned to stop worrying and love #LetsMovie

Yesterday, a Deadline article introduced Turner Classic Movies’ new ad campaign called “Let’s Movie” that is meant to encourage audiences of all ages to check out the network, interact using the hashtag “Let’s Movie” to connect with others on social media and brand Turner Classic Movies as the “ultimate movie destination.” The reporter interviewed TCM’s GM Jennifer Dorian who said this is meant to be a “broader invitation” for all movie lovers, adding:

“A great movie is a great movie, no matter what decade it was created in.”

When I initially saw the article’s headline, I was intrigued to see what TCM has come up with next. In my opinion TCM always outdoes itself. The network, to me, is perfection and I’m always in support of their next venture. But when I read that quote nerves just took over as I got flashbacks of the demise of American Movie Classics.

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When I was growing up, American Movie Classics was my safe haven. Instead of Nickelodeon and cartoons, I grew up on American Movie Classics. These films spoke to me, they provided me the escape I was yearning for. I identified with the independence of Katharine Hepburn, the wit of Carole Lombard and the optimism of Audrey Hepburn. I longed to escape to the wild west with John Wayne, to explore the dark underworld of film noir with Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. I was a child growing up in the ’90s, I started watching these films when I was 10-years-old. Some of the themes of films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner may have gone over my head but in other films, Betty Grable was my best friend; Bob Dorian and later Nick Clooney were in my living room every night. I had the TCM magazine and in it I would highlight all the movies I wanted to see. I recorded films on countless video tapes (which I still own) and if it wasn’t on TCM, I was trying to find them at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.

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American Movie Classics magazine

But being a young girl with this passion was tough at school. All of my heroes were dead and none of my friends knew what I liked or even wanted to know. Yet as I watched American Movie Classics, it didn’t matter that I was an awkward girl with friends who thought I was weird because Bob and Nick felt like friends. As American Movie Classics and I grew up, the brand began to change. The logo was different, the bumps between movies traded the 1940’s glamour for a more slick modern look, suddenly movies like The Shawshank Redemption and Big began creeping in and then (gasp!) there were commercials. Then one day it all changed, there were no classic movies. None. I don’t remember exactly what day or what year it happened but I remember I was heart broken. I was truly heart broken. I felt like a friend had abandoned me. It was like a sucker punch in the stomach. Thankfully, there was Turner Classic Movies. I personally had always preferred American Movie Classics because I gravitated towards the 20th Century Fox and R.K.O. films and at the time Turner had the rights to mostly MGM but I became much more devoted to TCM because it was the only other option. TCM was like a knight in shining armor in this situation, it rescued me during this difficult breakup and I haven’t looked back since. In fact, TCM has only gotten better and has surpassed American Movie Classics in many ways. They are committed to showing these classics the way they were intended to be seen, not just uncut and commercial free but also in widescreen. They have also enhanced their efforts to connect with their audiences with the Classic Film Cruise, TCMFF, and this summer’s Summer of Darkness film course. Right now there’s never been a better time to be a TCM fan.

However when I read Ms. Dorian’s quote, the same punch in the stomach I felt about the demise of American Movie Classics crept in  but she sent out tweets clarifying that this was just a marketing campaign and no changes were coming to programming.

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It’s not that I don’t think films beyond say the ’70’s should be shown on TCM, it’s quite the contrary. I agree films are classic no matter what decade they are and as time continues to pass there will be more classics. I consider Back to the Future, The Royal Tenenbaums, Clueless, Fight Club, etc. as contemporary classics. Her quote in the article just made it feel like I was having a bout of AMC-PTSD, like TCM was making way for newer films to be shown more often and pushing studio-era films to undesired time slots.

In the past few years, I’ve seen something remarkable happen thanks to social media. I’ve never known other classic movie fans but a grassroots social media movement known as #TCMParty has changed all of that. I’ve met so mantcmlogoy other classic movie fans from around the world on Twitter and have subsequently become more confident in sharing this passion in every day social interactions. The awkward little girl in me now has more friends than just Betty Grable. What was something I was once so protective of and embarrassed to share, is now something that I talk about proudly and often. #TCMParty has helped me grow as a classic movie fan and is what led me to create this blog. It’s truly been a life-changing experience on many fronts which is why I’m excited for #LetsMovie. #LetsMovie will give young people who may be going through the same experience like I did growing up the opportunity to connect with others, which is something I didn’t have when I was younger. To be able to connect with such a loving community and go on a film journey together is what filmmaking is all about. That, in itself, is worth it.

TCM, I raise a glass to you and I’m excited for all us to #LetsMovie but just don’t kick Betty Grable to the curb. 🙂

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