“Like a Big Family”: The Former Child Actors of Father Goose Share Fond Memories at TCMFF

Biting one of the most famous people in the world, even if they know you have to do it for a movie, would be a daunting prospect for most people.

But that was the task facing Sharyl Locke during the making of Father Goose (1964). Playing Jenny, the youngest of the film’s gaggle of international schoolgirls, Locke had to express her traumatized character’s anger and fear silently. And occasionally with her teeth.

“I had to bite Cary Grant,” Locke remembered. “And when I bit him the first time, I was apprehensive, and I didn’t want to hurt him. So I just kind of barely bit him when he put his finger up. And he says, ‘No, hon, you need to bite. I want to be able to see those teeth marks!’”

So Locke took the hint and chomped down for the benefit of the camera’s harsh scrutiny. And Grant gave her high marks for realism.

“Once I did bite down,” she said, “[Grant] went around the whole stage showing everybody. ‘She did bite me! She did great! Isn’t that great?’”

At the TCM Classic Film Festival, three of the former child actors from Father Goose shared stories in conversation with Leonard Maltin. Locke was the only one who pursued acting, building a resume that ranged from voice-overs on Chevrolet commercials to a role in the William Castle thriller I Saw What You Did.

By contrast, Laurelle Felsette Johnson and Nicole Felsette Reynolds, who played the twins Angelique and Dominique, never set out to be actors. Their Father Goose roles found them instead. When the casting call went out, the French-born sisters lived in L.A. but spoke French at home.

“We didn’t have an agent or anything,” recalled Felsette Johnson. “One day an agent was looking for twins who spoke French, because that’s what the script asked for. This agent called the French Consulate who replied, ‘We don’t have any twins who speak French, but we have sisters that look alike.’

“So the agent called us. We went to meet with Mr. Nelson, the director, and then we went to meet with Mr. Grant. I was so shy. I brought my autograph book, thinking, ‘We probably won’t get this role, but at least I’ll get his autograph!’ But I didn’t dare ask him for it until we wrapped and finished up the movie. And then we did a screen test and we were told that we were picked.”

Thus began a nine-week odyssey that took the girls from Universal Studios to Jamaica to shoot one of the most charming family comedies ever committed to film. It must be a surreal experience to travel the world with movie stars, be immortalized in a hit movie, then return to your everyday existence.

“How do you look upon it today?” asked Leonard Maltin. “As an adventure in your young life?”

“You want the truth?” returned Felsette Reynolds.

And here a “Yes!” rose from the audience. But it was a “Yes” laced with unease.

When you love a movie as much as many of us love Father Goose, you worry about what you might learn—especially when the movie involves children. Could you ever look at a film the same way if you knew that it put a damper on someone’s childhood (or worse)? Fortunately, any such fears were quickly dispelled by the answer.

“We got out of school!” enthused Felsette Reynolds, gushing with the glee of a little girl unleashed on an island paradise. “We had five weeks in the studio with a teacher that was worthless. I still cannot do long division because of her. And then we had four weeks in Jamaica which was really being on vacation.”

Felsette Johnson picked up the story of their off-screen hijinks: “We were very well behaved when we were at Universal Studios for the first five weeks when we weren’t on set. We were in the trailer in the classroom—one classroom for all seven of us. And that’s why we never learned anything!

“But when we got to Jamaica the director had brought two children. The producer had brought two children. So there was a whole gang of us. When we got off the set from working and we were back at the hotel, we had the complete run of the place. There was not a nook or cranny that we left unexplored! In fact, we broke the elevator.”

Apart from the occasional smoke-filled room of poker players or screening of a risqué Liz Taylor movie, practically nothing was off limits to this exuberant girl gang. In fact, the Father Goose crew got in the spirit with them: “In the evenings the crew would make us up,” recalled Felsette Johnson. “Everybody was staying at the same hotel. And they would make us up like a vamp or a mustachioed man or with bleeding knees and faces and stuff. So it was a lot of fun. We had a very good time.”

The most well-known story about the making of Father Goose centers on the tense scene where Walter Eckland’s dinghy—overloaded with seven schoolgirls and their teacher—nearly capsizes in the wake of two large ships. Filming in a large studio tank didn’t quite go as planned. And hilarity ensued.

As Locke recalled, “When were at the sound stage where they filmed all of us in the dingy and when the boats were going by, that was on the screen [rear projected]. But there was a wave machine. I don’t know if it was operated by a person or if it was automatic or whatever it was, but it malfunctioned and it kept making waves and it sank our dinghy while all of us were on it.”

When the boat began to take on water, Locke got an impromptu lesson in the value of a good behind-the-scenes story from her co-star. “I knew how to swim and I started to go,” she remembered, “Cary Grant told me, ‘Do not go! This is great.’ And I said, ‘But I know how to swim!’ And he said, ‘That’s okay! It makes a great publicity picture.’”

Locke and company continued to splash around and allowed themselves to be valiantly “rescued” by the crew, as publicity cameras snapped away.

Felsette Johnson spoke warmly of Leslie Caron, who starred as the prim school teacher Miss Freneau: “As much as she was aloof, she was also a generous person.”

Caron sprinkled moments of learning and fun throughout the shoot for Felsette Johnson and her sister: “I took a liking to her, and she took a liking to me. As soon as she knew and learned that we were studying ballet, in between takes, because, you know, they do three, four, five six, takes, she would show me how to point my toe or do an arabesque. I got the special privilege of being able to visit her in her private trailer while she got her hair done or makeup done or she was running lines. And for a nine year old kid to be next to such a star, that is just so cool!”

And Caron stepped in—literally—to coach Felsette Johnson during a tricky moment towards the end of the film. “In the scene where we have to run back into the hut because the plane’s coming in, the director Mr. Nelson said to me, ‘You have to trip.’ And as a nine year old girl, you don’t want to trip! That’s geeky. That’s embarrassing in the schoolyard. You know, it just wasn’t working. So Leslie Caron said to him, ‘Shoot this. This will work.’ And he called, ‘Action!’ And as I turned around she stuck her foot out. And I went flying.”

Caron, with her extensive dance training, no doubt knew how to trip someone for maximum visual impact—and minimum physical risk. As Felsette Johnson pointed out, the anecdote shows Caron’s dedication to helping the children give their best, most believable performances.

Beyond the cast’s headliners, the interviewees remembered how the crew went out of their way to make the girls comfortable, even as they managed a difficult shoot. “In Jamaica they were wearing shorts and they were all shirtless. And we had a lot of shots with water,” explained Felsette Reynolds. “Half of them were wading into the water up to their waists. The camera was on a raft, especially that last scene when he comes in and turns over our little dinghy.”

The little girls in the cast, however, had to deal with a special challenge in those watery scenes. “We were wearing really heavy suits. I mean, they were truly wool. They were really thick.”

So the crew stepped in with a breezy solution: “They made us these little dresses that we wore when we didn’t have to wear our wool or his outfits [clothes borrowed from Walter Eckland on the island]. And we called them our ‘pinkies.’”

The design of the dresses helped ensure continuity between the studio and location footage. “They were seersucker but with long sleeves, because everything had to match the takes we had done in the studio so we couldn’t get any sun. We couldn’t get tan.

“The only one who could get any sun was Cary Grant. He would sit there with his reflector.”

Well, there have to be some perks to being a star…

“They were all really wonderful to us,” summarized Felsette Reynolds. “It was like a big family. We called it the Father Goose Company.”

At the TCM Film Festival, actors often discover, to their humbled surprise, that audiences still cherish a film they made decades ago. As Felsette Johnson said after watching Father Goose with the TCMFF audience, “When you’re nine years old, you make a movie. You know what was filmed. You know what wasn’t filmed. And you watch it with your family and you don’t get the jokes or the laugh lines! It’s terrific to hear you guys react so positively to this movie.”

In this instance, the delight goes both ways. It warmed my heart to learn that this film brought such joy to its child stars—because it imbued my childhood with vicarious adventure. In Leonard Maltin’s words, “It’s such fun to watch this film. It’s really nice to hear that it was a nice experience for all of you. That makes it even more pleasurable.”

17 Pre-Code Valentines for All You Dizzy Dames and Sugar Daddies

blondellheartemojiI love pre-Code movies with the passion of a thousand heart emojis. There’s a good reason why the banner of this blog comes from a poster for Baby Face and why I chose the the famous “Thou Shalt Not” censorship picture for my Twitter avatar.

When I discovered pre-Code cinema through a college course in 2010 (and they say you don’t learn anything useful in schools these days), I fell hard. Movies made roughly between 1929 and 1934 regularly make me swoon with their witty irreverence, their flamboyant style, their exquisitely hardboiled female protagonists, and their slick, snappily-dressed bad boys. (Plus, the lingerie. Can’t forget the lingerie.) These movies were intended to deliver large doses of risqué pleasure during some pretty dark days in American history—and they still bring the joy, more than 80 years after they were made.

Last year I created film noir valentines and pre-Code candy hearts, so I decided to follow that up with a batch of naughty, bawdy, gaudy pre-Code valentines. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: These valentines (for the most part) reflect the spirit of the films and characters they’re alluding to, not necessarily my views or opinions. If any of these valentines offend your delicate sensibilities, feel free to call the Legion of Decency on me. What can I say? I’m a bad influence.

Clara Bow plays rough in Call Her Savage (1932).

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Herbert Marshall may be a crook, but he’s the crook that Miriam Hopkins adores in Trouble in Paradise (1932).

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Clark Gable would bankrupt the undershirt industry to impress Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (1934).

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Mae West knows that Cary Grant is only playing hard to get in She Done Him Wrong (1933).

Just gals being pals in Queen Christina (1933).

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Pre-Code poster children Joan Blondell and Warren William feel the (cheap and vulgar) love in Gold-Diggers of 1933.

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Count Dracula’s love for Mina will never die. Because it’s already dead.

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Cagney and Harlow get cozy in The Public Enemy (1931).

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Garbo wants some “me time,” but she’ll settle for some “me and you time” in Grand Hotel (1932).

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Miriam Hopkins can’t choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper in Design for Living (1933). Who can blame her?

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Barbara Stanwyck is feelin’ frisky in Night Nurse (1931).

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Warren William is the Big Bad Wolf in Employees’ Entrance (1933).

Employees' Entrance (1933) Directed by Roy Del Ruth Shown: Warr

Looks like Little Caesar just can’t quit his friend Joe Massara. (I can relate. I think about Douglas Fairbanks Jr. a lot too.)

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Barbara Stanwyck knows what men are good for in Baby Face (1933).

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Carole Lombard gives John Barrymore some tough love in 20th Century (1934).

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Watch classic movies and get busy, like Bob Montgomery and Anita Page in Free and Easy (1931).

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Yes, I even got a tad sentimental over Whitey Schafer’s famous “Thou Shalt Not” photograph, showing all the things you couldn’t do in post-Code films.

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The 15 Greatest Roles Cary Grant Never Played (But Could Have)

cary_and_cigaretteIt’s easy to forget how many great films owe their greatness in large part to Cary Grant.

Today, however, I thought I’d ponder some of the movies that Grant didn’t make for various reasons at various stages in his development as an actor.

He would have made a delightful choice for some of these roles—and a disastrous one for others. But (almost) all of them are might-have-beens that I enjoy contemplating.

Gaston Monescu in Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Ernst Lubitsch considered Grant, then a recent arrival at Paramount, for the lead role in this cheeky comic masterpiece. Herbert Marshall (with whom Grant co-starred in Blonde Venus) ultimately won the role of suave swindler and jewel thief Gaston Monescu, so smooth he can steal Miriam Hopkins’s garters without her noticing.

I think that late 1930s Cary Grant would’ve carried off the role admirably. At age 28, though, he couldn’t have captured the note of worldliness—and world-weariness—that Marshall brought to the character.

Interestingly enough, Hitchcock admitted that To Catch a Thief borrowed heavily from Lubitsch’s comedy. In a way, Grant’s turn as retired master criminal John Robie gave him the chance to make up for arguably the best role he lost out on during his early career.

cary_grant_colorPhilip Marlowe

Bogie forever defined the onscreen image of everyone’s favorite wisecracking Los Angeles private eye with his performance in Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep.

Nevertheless, Raymond Chandler himself mentioned Cary Grant as his ideal Marlowe in a detailed character description he wrote to a fan in 1951:

“He is slightly over six feet tall and weighs about thirteen stone eight. He has dark brown hair, brown eyes, and the expression ‘passably good looks’ would not satisfy him in the least. I don’t think he looks tough. He can be tough. If I ever had an opportunity of selecting the movie actor who could best represent him to my mind, I think it would have been Cary Grant.” (The Raymond Chandler Papers, 157)

George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s almost impossible for me to picture any actor other than Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, that humbly miraculous beacon of all that’s best in America. Indeed, the script that Capra supervised, pieced together by husband-and-wife team Goodrich and Hackett, fleshes out a character practically tailor-made for Stewart.

If you read “The Greatest Gift,” the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ll realize how much of George Bailey emerged during the screenwriting process.

Philip Van Doren Stern wrote the simple, moving tale of George Pratt (not Bailey), deterred from suicide by a vision of life without him. When the author mailed the story out to friends with his Christmas cards, his agent recognized its value and decided to pitch it to the studios.

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“Alright, Jimmy. If you want the part that badly, you can play George…”

Grant urged RKO to purchase the rights to the story with the intention of starring in a film version. Fortunately the project didn’t progress and Grant ended up playing a beloved holiday role more suited to his star image: Dudley the angel in The Bishop’s Wife.

Gulliver in a live-action Gulliver’s Travels

I personally have a hard time visualizing Grant being attacked by Lilliputians, but the actor loved Jonathan Swift’s satirical fantasy so much that he lobbied to star in an adaptation. In 1949, Grant asked Thornton Wilder to pen a screenplay for a film version to be helmed by Howard Hawks. According to Evenings with Cary Grant, Wilder brainstormed the concept before opting against it: “If I ever work on a movie again, it will be an ‘original.’”

Presumably the fact that the project never came to fruition disappointed Grant, who said in the 1950s, “Don’t laugh. I’d give a tasteful performance as Gulliver.”

Holly Martins in The Third Man (1949)

David O. Selznick suggested Grant for the part of Holly Martins, but, according to the BFI, “the financial terms he [Grant] was looking for were prohibitive.”

cary_noirLovable schmo Martins, as Joseph Cotten brilliantly played him, makes the audience feel sorry for him. How could this wannabe-Zane Gray buffoon keep up with sly lawman Calloway—much less remorseless outlaw Lime? As Calloway bluntly tells him, “You were born to be murdered.”

Cary Grant had a more versatile range than he’s generally given credit for, but onscreen he was nobody’s schmoe.

Orson Welles once described himself as a “king actor,” limited to imposing, authoritative figures, but Grant was, as Pauline Kael called him, the man from dream city. When Grant’s around, and I say this as a Welles fangirl, who’d believe a female character would look at anyone else?

The power dynamics between Holly and Harry, I suspect, would have shifted if Grant had joined the cast: the two ex-friends would have squared off on more equal terms. Alas, we are left to imagine what a Welles vs. Grant awesome contest would’ve been like.

Shooting for I Was a Male War Bride and the soundstage portions of The Third Man converged at Shepperton Studios, resulting in the picture of Grant, Cotten, Welles, and Ann Sheridan (taken at the studio restaurant) that you see below.

the_third_man_cary_grant“Say, we shouldn’t all stand here together for too long. The world might implode from the collective awesomeness.”

Hamlet in a modern-dress film adaptation

Alfred Hitchcock wanted to direct his version of Shakespeare’s revenge melodrama starring Cary Grant. Unfortunately, it was not to be (bad pun very much intended).

The project didn’t develop, but it remains a tantalizing thought experiment. How would the melancholy Dane’s soliloquies have sounded in Grant’s Midatlantic accent? Would audiences have accepted the screwball icon as the self-doubting, mortality-obsessed prince? Just imagine: the greatest ever screen actor (according to both David Thompson and myself) paired with the greatest role in the English language.

Cary Grant, 1958Joe Bradley in Roman Holiday (1953)

Yes, Grant was considered, but let us not dwell long on this possibility. Gregory Peck was perfection. That is all.

Norman Maine in A Star is Born (1954)

Had Cary Grant accepted the dark, demanding part of alcoholic matinee idol Norman Maine, he might’ve taken home the competitive Oscar that eluded him throughout his career. (And don’t get me started on that!)

On Turner Classic Movies, which featured Grant as its December 2014 Star of the Month, Robert Osborne shared George Cukor’s account of why Grant declined such a top-notch role.

When the actor read the script for A Star is Born at Cukor’s house, the director recalled, “Cary was absolutely magnificent, dramatic and vulnerable beyond anything I’d ever seen him do. I was astonished at the depth and range he was showing. But when we finished I was filled with great sadness because I knew Cary would never agree to play the role on film. He would never expose himself like that in public.”

As a viewer who likes laughing more than weeping, I respect Grant’s decision. I suppose he assumed a certain responsibility to maintain his dreamy image and bring joy, not sadness, to his fans. An Oscar might glitter, but Cary Grant is golden.

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“I can’t believe I had to wait until 1963 to touch Cary’s dimple. Seriously, why didn’t we work together in the 1950s?”

Frank Flannigan Love in the Afternoon (1957)

I mourn regularly for the lack of a collaboration between Billy Wilder and Cary Grant. Between Wilder’s sparkling dialogue and Grant’s sparkling delivery, the combination would have been nothing less than dazzling.

What makes this might-have-been teaming especially painful is that it nearly happened more than once. Wilder wrote the Linus Larrabee role in Sabrina (1954) with Grant in mind (although Bogie proved a more apt choice). In the case of Love in the Afternoon, Wilder tried to convince Grant to play Flannigan until 3 days before shooting when the star definitively bailed out. Gary Cooper replaced him.

Weathered Cooper infused Frank Flannigan with a welcome dose of vulnerability. Still, critics argued that he had no business playing a romantic figure opposite Audrey Hepburn in her 20s. Somehow I doubt that Grant would have raised any such objections. As Wilder pointed out, “He did not age one bit. His hair got gray. That’s it.”

Shears in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Grant starred in several war films over the course of his career—from the early 1930s aviation drama The Eagle and the Hawk to the military comedy Operation Petticoat—and nearly added David Lean’s taut WWII action drama to his resume.

He started preparing for the role of Shears and regretted that the opportunity slipped away: “I had to back out of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of another commitment. I slimmed down a lot to do the part, but you know you can’t do them all. I was sorry to have missed it… but Bill Holden was very happy. He got that one—and 10 percent of the gross.”

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James Bond in Dr. No (1962)

Probably the most famous role that Grant turned down, Bond was conceived with the actor in mind. His hardboiled yet debonair performance as secret agent Alex Devlin in Notorious inspired Ian Fleming to create James Bond. It was only natural, then, that Grant came up as strong choice to play 007 in Dr. No.

As Bond producer Cubby Broccoli wrote in his memoir When the Snow Melts, “I talked to Cary Grant who liked the project. He had the style, the sophistication and, in fact, had been born in Britain. He also happened to be a Bond aficionado. But he said no. As a very important actor and a world-class star, he didn’t feel he could lock himself into the Bond character.”

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Broccoli was relieved by Grant’s refusal, since he preferred the idea of selecting a less well-known actor, rather than a star with an established image, to inhabit the role. The closest Grant came to playing a part in the Bond franchise was serving as best man at Broccoli’s wedding (and, boy, do you have to be secure in your relationship before you invite Cary Grant to be your best man).

The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

It must be true! I heard it in a Universal horror featurette. Grant expressed a desire to star in the Hammer adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s chiller, but his agent advised against it, which is a shame.

Hidden behind a mask or grotesque makeup, the heartthrob could’ve efficiently proved to critics that his acting didn’t depend on his looks—an accusation that plagued him all too often. Perhaps that’s why he sought out the part in the first place?

Given his acrobatic physicality and hypnotic voice, he could have offered a fascinating update on Chaney’s definitive silent performance. Alas, Grant never appeared in a straight horror film.

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Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964)

While vanity might have tempted other actors to accept such a plum part, Grant knew that the curmudgeonly professor belonged to someone else: Rex Harrison, who’d scored a hit in the stage musical. As Grant told producers, “Not only won’t I play Henry Higgins, but if Rex doesn’t I won’t even see it!”

Grant also questioned his right to give Miss Dolittle any elocution lessons: “You don’t understand. My accent is cockney! I sound the way ’Liza does at the beginning of the film.”

Andrew Wyke in Sleuth (1972)

Grant refused the part of a mystery novelist bent on exacting retribution on his wife’s lover, the role played by Laurence Olivier in Joseph Mankiewicz’s thriller. I don’t care much for this twisty mano a mano drama, but I would have liked to see Grant share the screen with his friend Michael Caine.

Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (1972)

cary_grant_bobby_soxerThe first time audiences saw Cary Grant in a feature film, This Is the Night (1932), he was singing a recitative and carrying a javelin.

One can only imagine that such an experience, coupled with the trauma of appearing in Night and Day (1946), understandably soured Grant slightly on musicals.

When Warner Brothers reportedly offered him a million dollars to star in Man of La Mancha, Grant refused.

Then again, he’d already gotten to strut around in a suit of armor in 1947 for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Which of these roles would you most have liked to see Grant play?

Cary as Chaplin: 31 Days of Cary Grant, Day 31

And so my series comes to a close with this hilarious portrait of Cary Grant as Charlie Chaplin for LIFE magazine. I adore this image because, silly as it is, it hints at the way Grant assimilated many of the best traits of the silent comedians… and combined them with the wit and suaveness of talking comedy. He was a treasure and always will be.

Cary Grant as Charlie Chaplin for LIFE magazine

Image scanned from LIFE Goes to the Movies (Time-Life Books, 1975).

Father Goose (1964): 31 Days of Cary Grant, Day 30

A close-up of Cary Grant on the set of Father Goose (1964).

During his one-man show “An Evening with Cary Grant” when asked which of his roles came closest to his real-life personality he’d answer, “the bum I played in Father Goose.” Indeed, in this rare recorded sound clip from one of his appearances, he admitted to a flaw that sounds more akin to gruff Walter Eckland than to Grant’s sophisticated public persona: “I do a lot of burping.”

Cary Grant in Father Goose

Image scanned from LIFE Goes to the Movies (Time-Life Books, 1975).

Cary and the Next Generation: 31 Days of Cary Grant, Day 28

Cary Grant with Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando, and Gregory Peck in 1962.

cary_grant_brando_peck_hudson

Scanned from Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot (Harmony Books, 2004). Most of the images I’m scanning for this series are publicity photos, intended by the studios that created them to be reproduced and shared. However, since this one comes from a more exclusive publishing context, I have watermarked it with the copyright.