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FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA SALUTES HIS TEACHER, DOROTHY ARZNER

It isn’t often that Hollywood studios take the time and trouble to celebrate their history. That’s why Thursday’s event at Paramount Pictures was significant: following a company tradition dating back several decades, a building was named for pioneering director Dorothy Arzner. The most prominent female filmmaker in Hollywood during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, she went on to teach at the Pasadena Playhouse and then at UCLA. Her star pupil was Francis Ford Coppola.

Coppola spoke from his heart about the woman he still refers to as Miss Arzner, out of profound respect. She could be tough but also kind. He and his fellow students were always hungry; knowing this, she regularly brought cookies and crackers to class. He says he has passed on to his filmmaking children her insistence that a director sit to the immediate right of the camera so the actors can see his or her reaction as they perform. (Many of today’s directors are off in a “video village,” far from the cast, which Coppola derides.)

Dorothy Arzner and a star she cherished, Clara Bow

Arzner’s most significant impact on her young student came through an act of spontaneous encouragement. One day, he was feeling downhearted and ready to quit school. She walked by as he was moping and told him that she sincerely believed he was going to make it. Having been in the movie business for many years, she saw something in this young man and urged him to stay the course. He credits her for inspiring him to do just that. It’s difficult to imagine a world without The Godfather, The Conversation, or Apocalypse Now.

On location with cast and crew for The Covered Wagon (1923). That’s future Western star Tim McCoy, who served as Indian translator for the production, in his distinctive cowboy hat. Arzner, who edited the film, is at far right, also wearing a hat

Kudos to Paramount chairman Jim Gianopulos for lending his presence and approval to this ceremony, and Paramount archivist Andrea Kalas for leading the charge. Following the plaque dedication, Kalas and historian Cari Beauchamp discussed Arzner’s importance before introducing a screening of her 1929 talkie The Wild Party with Clara Bow. Vintage photos of Arzner at work were placed on easels in the lobby of the Paramount theater (including one on location for The Covered Wagon, which she edited…see my recent column about the Blu-ray release of this Western epic) along with a beautiful gown that Esther Ralston wore in Arzner’s first credited film as director, Fashions for Women (1927).

Esther Ralston’s gown from Fashions for Women (1927), restored by Paramount archivists, was on display

Paramount now employs a number of dedicated young men and women who are saving and salvaging vintage costumes and props. I wish they had been around when I worked at the studio for Entertainment TonightI would have been a constant visitor. I make a deep bow to all of them for rescuing these artifacts and keeping history alive on this grand studio lot.

Jim Gianopulos, Andrea Kalas and Francis Ford Coppola. Alex J. Berliner/ABImages/Courtesy of Paramount

 

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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