Controvesial Depictions of Lesbianism in Old(-ish) Hollywood

Last night I took in two old Hollywood films which, by chance, proved something of a lesbian-themed double feature. Hardly risqué by contemporary standards, each was nevertheless considered somewhat scandalous in its day: the first can claim one of Hollywood’s earliest implied lesbian characters and was widely-banned abroad, while the second received one of the first X-ratings for its alleged prurience. Any guesses?

The first is Michael Curtiz’ 1950 Young Man With A Horn, its unfortunate title suggesting anything but a lesbian picture. Essentially a whitewashed retelling of the Bix Beiderbecke story, it stars Kirk Douglas as whiz-kid trumpet player, Rick Martin, and Lauren Bacall as Amy North, the frigid society girl he falls for. When their marriage founders, Amy takes a sudden interest in a female painter friend and contemplates going to Paris with her. Unaccountably away from home one night, it’s hinted at that she had a sleep over with her new lady friend. Chaste as that may sound, it was enough to keep the film from circulating much outside of he United States until an international re-release in 1962.

The second (and in my humble opinion, superior of the two) is Robert Aldrich’s 1968 picture, The Killing of Sister George. Hot off the success of The Dirty Dozen, Aldrich had recently founded his own production studio which enabled him to pursue material that might have elsewhere been considered outré. The film concerns aging, alcoholic actress June Buckridge (Beryl Reid), who fears that her much beloved “Sister George” character on tv’s Applehurst is in danger of being written off the show. She goes on an extended bender, and takes out a great deal of her frustration on her live-in lover, the younger, dim-witted Alice “Childie” McNaught (Susannah York) until a cutthroat tv executive intercedes in their personal life. The film treats the characters’ sexuality very matter-of-factly, and but for a very awkward (and again, rather chaste) love scene probably would have gone forward without too much controversy. But the MPAA instituted a new rating system while the film was in production, and despite a lawsuit by Aldrich, the scene earned Sister George an x-rating which significantly affected the film’s box office.

There’s no trailer online, but here’s a rather delightful clip of Buckridge on a rampage, molesting a couple of nuns:

Whether for their respective scandals or no–again, I saw them together by happenstance–both films are well worth a rental.

Where Celebs Go Out: Penelope Cruz, Katie Couric, Gabrielle Union

At the New York Film Festival premiere of Broken Embraces:

● PENELOPE CRUZ – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Oh, I have many because I love food so much!” And in Madrid? “I go to many that are out in the countryside, but whoever goes there for the first time should go to Botin. It’s the oldest restaurant in the world.” What did you like about it? “Everything!”

● PEDRO ALMODOVAR – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Mr. Chow’s — we had dinner there the other day, and it was really very impressive.” And in Madrid? “In Madrid, there are many. Casa Lucio is one of my favorites.”

● LAUREN BACALL – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Oh, please, don’t ask me about that! I’m going to see a movie!”

● ANDREA ILLY – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Here we have many good restaurants: Le Bernardin, Le Cirque, these kind.” And in Rome? “In Rome, we also have many restaurants, like Lapergola — these kind of beautiful restaurants — or the Hotel de Russie, a beautiful place as well.”

At the Library of American Broadcasting’s Giants of Broadcasting Awards:

● KATIE COURIC – “I don’t really spend a lot of time hanging out in bars [laughs], which I think is a good thing. But I like BLT Steak because I’m a big carnivore. I like this really, beautiful restaurant outside Washington called L’auberge Chez Francois, where I took my parents on their anniversary. I love Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. Those are three good ones.”

● KEN BURNS – “Well, I like Burdick’s Restaurant in Walpole, New Hampshire. It’s been around since 2001. It is a small, little village in New Hampshire, but people quite often drive from New York or Boston. That’s four or three hours to have a meal there. The fact that I am a silent partner in it is part of full disclosure. I live in Walpole, New Hampshire; I travel a great deal, and I basically don’t cook anymore. I’ll eat every meal I can in this restaurant. It’s a broad mix of Continental cuisine done in a very informal and really charming atmosphere, and I don’t know anybody who has been there that hasn’t just fallen in love with it. The proprietor, the man whose genius it is, is Larry Burdick, the well-known chocolatier with a boutique chocolate business. He used to work here, as a dessert chef for many fine restaurants, and moved to our little village 15 years ago to manufacture his chocolates, which are second to none. But he and I had always complained that what we needed was a good restaurant, and we were able to do that.” What about in New York? “I like Bar Pitti on 6th Avenue between Bleecker and Houston. It’s next to Da Silvano, which gets a lot of attention. Bar Pitti is just quite simply the best Tuscan cuisine in the United States. It’s simple. Everyone who goes there knows about it. You can’t get a better side dish of spinach. The tagliata is amazing. Every dish — I’ve never had a bum dish there. And it’s sort of our go-to place. We bring the kids; we go late; we go early. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

At the New York Film Festival premiere of Capitalism: A Love Story:

● MICHAEL MOORE – What are some of your favorite restaurants or bars? “[Laughs] I don’t do commercials!”

● MORGAN SPURLOCK – “I love La Esquina ’cause it’s right next to my office. It’s this incredible restaurant, right on Kenmare and Centre Street and Lafayette. Amazing food, fantastic. I love Balthazar. I probably have lunch there once a week because my office is also very close to there. Puck Fair is probably my favorite bar in New York City — Irish bar. I love Puck Fair. I love just the energy. It’s probably the best pint in New York City. Yeah, it’s a great energy, great vibe.”

At the Quicken Online launch party for Bank of Mom and Dad:

● FARNOOSH TORABI – “Cafe Frida on Columbus Avenue & 77th Street for Mexican food.”

Spotted on Columbus Avenue, in town for Clinton Global Initiative:

● LISA LING – “My favorite place these days in L.A., which is where I live, is a place called Baby Blues Barbecue. It’s Southern-style barbecue, and it is comfort food. And over the last few months, I had been needing a lot of comfort, so it was a perfect kind of place to feed that desire and that craving.”

At the Sophie’s Voice benefit for spina bifida research:

● COUNTESS LUANN DE LESSEPS – “I was just at Jean Georges on Central Park West, which I haven’t been to in a long time, and it was so nice ’cause we got to sit outside and the weather’s still nice … so that’s one of my favorite places in New York. In Milan, Sant Ambroeus. They come from Milan, and they have a place in New York and Southampton.”

● GABRIELLE UNION – “Let’s start with Miami! They have this new place called Eight Ounce Burger that I love; love Il Gabbiano on the water, off of Biscayne; love the spa at the Mandarin. In L.A., there’s this place called Happy Foot on Ventura that gives, like, the most amazing foot and body rubs, but you’re fully clothed. It’s kind of awesome.”