As operators of a classic movie website, we recognize that a STAR is a STAR no matter how awful they may behave off screen towards coworkers, spouses and to people in general. Fans take the Faustian bargain the baddies pose — enjoying the performances and ignoring the private sins.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to celebrate four of the biggest male STARS in Hollywood history, who also happened to be generally nice folks.
Don’t take our word for it that Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire were not only consummate pros but good eggs. As you’ll read here, the endorsements of each come from key coworkers.
Since Casablanca is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary, we’ll start with Bogie first.
Joy Page, who played the young, newly-married Bulgarian refugee who catches the eye of lecherous Captain Renault (Claude Rains), was terrified when she first showed up on the set. She was studio boss Jack Warner’s 17-year-old stepdaughter and still in high school at the time she began her two month stint on the Casablanca production. (In this case, nepotism paid off.)
She also knew she was working for a director (Michael Curtiz) renowned for yelling at and demeaning crew members, extras and supporting actors (but never stars). Sensing Page’s fear, Bogart took her under his wing. (And, no, there was no ulterior motive involved.)
Page vividly remembered years later how kind “Rick” was to her, working on lines, providing encouragement and help when needed. As a result, Page delivered a persuasively confident performance, providing Casablanca with one of its more emotionally satisfying moments.
Next, one Oscar winner on another. Ernest Borgnine, a hardnosed and shrewd judge of talent in his own right, recalled working with Gary Cooper in the 1954’s Vera Cruz. (Ernie got to know Cooper well on that western, which is well worth another look today.)
Wrote Borgnine in his autobiography: That six-foot-three legend was a perfect gentleman, an absolutely wonderful man. He never got excited, never got angry, never got flustered. If he flubbed a line…he apologized to the actors and director and we did it again…He was one of the most brilliant actors I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with some pretty good ones. British writer-critic David Thomson notes that in his long career, Cooper never played a malicious or dishonest man.
In 1943, Joan Fontaine found herself cast in a Warner Brothers romantic drama with music titled The Constant Nymph. Her role was not easy to fill. Director Edmund Goulding moaned that studio boss Jack Warner wanted a star for the part, “but she has to be consumptive, flat chested, anemic. and fourteen.”
When he was introduced to the 26-year-old, 5-foot 3-inch Fontaine, her freckled face was without makeup, her hair in pigtails and she was underweight after a minor illness.
“You’re perfect,” beamed Goulding.
Fontaine had just finished Alfred Hitchcock’s production, Suspicion, for which she’d win the Academy Award as Best Actress.
Her Constant Nymph co-star was Charles Boyer (pictured above). The richly endowed cast also included Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre and Dame May Whitty.
Filming the movie was a rare production pleasure for Joan, who later proclaimed in her 1978 autobiography that Boyer was her favorite leading man, a kind, gentle, helpful actor…a man of intellect, taste, and discernment.
He was unselfish, dedicated to his work. Above all, he cared about the quality of the film he was making, and, unlike most leading men I have worked with, the single exception being Fred Astaire, his concern was the film, not himself.