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My Small Personal Connection To Classic Films

Something a little different today. I have a small personal link to classic film that I’d like to share with you all. It’s kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

I have a very dear friend called Mike. He knows of and shares my great love for all things classic film related. He recently spoke to me about his own family link to classic era films. I thought I’d share with you all what he told me, because I think that it happens to be pretty awesome. 🙂

Mike’s dad’s cousin was married to Tony Sforzini. Now you may well be asking yourselves right now, who on earth is Tony Sforzini?  Allow me to tell you who he was. Tony was a make-up artist and was also a make-up supervisor, and he worked on a large number of British classic era films. He worked on films from the early 1940’s until the mid 1970’s.

Tony worked quite often on the British films of the actor and director Laurence Olivier. Mike doesn’t know if they were friends or just colleagues, but what is certain is that Tony did work on a large number of Olivier’s films over the years including Hamlet, Henry V, The Prince and the Showgirl and The Entertainer

I know that some actors and directors like to work with the same crew a lot, so maybe Laurence Olivier loved his work and kept on requesting that Tony work with him.

Tony 2
A photo that Mike sent to me. This shows Tony applying some make-up to the actor Michael Redgrave. This could be for the film Shake Hands With The Devil, in which Michael Redgrave starred.

When he was younger, Mike visited Tony at work over in Ireland, this visit was to the set of the film Shake Hands With The Devil (1959). On the set Mike watched Tony work his make-up magic, and if that wasn’t exciting enough, Mike also got to meet James Cagney! (you can imagine how envious I was when he told me this) James was there because he was the main star of this film. 

Mike was aware of who James Cagney was, but he wasn’t really aware at that age of just how big a star this man actually was. Mike told me that James spoke to him and that he was very friendly. Mike said that if he had been a bit older at the time he met James then he would have most likely asked him lots of questions, and he would have tried to talk to him for a bit longer than he actually did.   

Mike shared with me the following recollections of his visit to the set. 

“The film was Shake Hands with the Devil and on the day that I was there, apart from James Cagney, there was a scene being filmed with Christopher Rhodes questioning Don Murray who was supposed to be lying on a prison bed (it was actually a camera man rolling around as he was being punched).
 
The only ‘stars’ I saw apart from James Cagney who did a scene where he breaks into the prison to rescue Don Murray, were Don Murray and Donal Donnelly.
 
They were talking as Don Murray was being made up to look as though his character had been beaten up by the British. There may have been other actors in the studio on the day, but I didn’t recognise them. The only other thing I remember is that co-star Glynis Johns dressing room was full of Teddy Bears.”

So that is my small link to classic films. I just wanted to share this with you. Hopefully this post will also help to raise awareness of Tony Sforzini. Keep an eye out for his name in the credits the next time you watch a classic era British film!

Do you have a personal connection to classic film? Share your story. 

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18 thoughts on “My Small Personal Connection To Classic Films”

  1. What a nice story, I hadn’t heard of Tony Sforzini before but I’m sure I’ll notice his name in the credits in the future. My only connection to classic film is my old man, who went to a school in Manchester where they filled some scenes for It’s a Grand Life which starred Frank Randle and Diana Dors. He didn’t meet any of the cast, but he still talks about watching them filming in the school grounds.

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  2. My (older) half-sister, Ruth Tobey, played the part of Bernadine Dodd in JANIE (1944), directed by Michael Curtiz, and JANIE GETS MARRIED (1946), directed by Vincent Sherman. They weren’t classic films in the sense of CASABLANCA or CITIZEN KANE, but they were classic Americana in the mid-1940s and rated 2 1/2 stars each (out of 4) by film critic Leonard Maltin.

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      1. She also had a small part in OUR TOWN (1940) starring Wm. Holden and Martha Scott, but I don’t know the extent of her film career, as she was only my half-sister (daughter of my father’s first wife), 8 years older than I, and she lived in California, whereas I’ve always lived in Ohio or Pennsylvania. My mother (his second wife) and he divorced when I was very young, and I never met Ruth in person. She died ten years ago.

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  3. My late brother-in-law acted in Hollywood from 1955 (“The Court Jester”) until 2011. He died in 2013. His name was Larry Pennell, and he truly was a helluva guy. If he didn’t work with them, he’d met them or knew of them, and I was always excited to hear his takes on the business and the folks who made it. I’d love to share, but I don’t want to swamp the conversation and seem like I’m bragging or making things up. A look at his credits will show some of the people he worked with. I met a handful (Ernest Borgnine was a highlight). All the best, Mark

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  4. Ok, where to start…Larry–Bud to family and friends grew up in the Los Angeles that is long gone: orange groves, bungalows, no freeways. Went to Hollywood High. His dad worked for Clark Gable at Gable’s ranch property and Bud met him as a young man, then several times later in life (my sis has a pic of the two of them together). With a mustache he was a dead ringer. After his baseball career and service in the OSS he started acting in 1955. From “The Court Jester”,he had kind words about Angela Lansbury and Glynis Johns. On “Seven Angry Men” he really liked Raymond Massey and became friends with Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget. Lots of new talent on that film. “The Far Horizons” he wasn’t impressed with Heston, but liked MacMurray and really liked Donna Reed. Worked with Jimmy Stewart and Vera Miles (a friend) on “The FBI Story”—the director, Mervyn LeRoy was a rotter (he actually chased my sister around the casting couch in his office:she got out). Patti was/is a great beauty (ala Gene Tierney/Linda Darnell–but more so,honest–and she had plenty of fame brushes on her own (next time) as well as a lifetime with Bud. Bud met Flynn, Cooper, Wayne, Lancaster, Brynner. Really had a great time with Mitchum on the silly “Matilda” (anecdote on my blog) and loved William Holden (working on “The Revengers”). I got to meet Borgnine who as in that as well–what a great guy, nice as could be: I quizzed him about “The Wild Bunch” and “Willard”–I was 17 I guess. Bud worked with James Whitmore, James Earl Jones (on “The Great White Hope”), Warren Oates (a friend, on “The Outer Limits”), Rock Hudson. He did a great episode of “Thriller”, so he got to meet Boris Karloff, who he said was a wonderful gentleman. Its on YouTube, “Late Date”–really worth a watch. Family friends were Doug McClure, Tom Selleck (my niece used to babysit for him) when he was just an ex-model trying to get a career going: nice guy, Max Baer (from Bud playing ‘Dash Rip Rock’ on “The Beverly Hillbillies”). Really liked Fred Clark and Dan Duryea. Ken Curtis was a good friend (due to their series, “Ripcord”) so through him Bud got to know John Ford (Ken was married to Ford’s daughter at the time). Had lousy experiences with Tony Curtis and Robert Wagner. Did not like Shirley MacLaine (risque story). Took out Ursula Andress on her first date in America: knew John Derek,who married her and then Derek’s subsequent wives Linda Evans and Bo. Knew Debbie Reynolds, Tab Hunter, Martin Ritt, Sam Peckinpah. Good pals with James Garner. Had a blast with Stewart Granger working on a German western filmed in Yugoslavia. When he first got started he went to a party, to be seen and introduced to the game and gathered around a piano singing were Frank Sinatra,Dean Martin, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole! My sis (oh that’s next time if you wish)…Oh here’s a good one. Two longtime friends of Bud & Patti were two of my major crushes–and I never found this out until later in life—Barbara Luna and Luciana Paluzzi. Like, I could have met a “Star Trek” vixen and one of the sexiest Bond girls! Thanks a lot! He met JFK! Jack Dempsey. Jackie Robinson. Dietrich. James Mason was very friendly. Had little use for Kirk Douglas. Met Deborah Kerr when trying for a role in “The Proud And The Profane”–he didn’t get it, but said she was a kind lady. He was close to getting the role of Messala in “Ben-Hur” that made Stephen Boyd a star. Outside of business, in another venue, he knew Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret–both very nice people. Oh, a good one–before he married my sister, he and Russ Tamblyn were roommates. In 2008, I went to a Cinerama showing of “How The West Was Won” in Hollywood and Tamblyn was there. During intermission I tagged him in the hallway and said “Mr. Tamblyn, Bud Pennell says hello” (Bud was ill). His face broke into such a huge smile. So I got to meet (for a minute, anyway), Riff’ from “West Side Story”. Do you want more? I’ve got a some good ones left. Cheers, Mark

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    1. Mark, if I could like this post more than once, I would do! Awesome stories! I am so envious of you and of Larry.
      Bet you’re devastated that you never got to meet Luciana(the best Bond bad girl in my opinion)and Barbara Luna 😉

      I’m a big fan of Stewart Granger and James Garner, did he ever tell any stories about either of them? Glad to hear that so many of my favourites listed were nice people.

      Thanks for sharing all of this with us. I’m sure I speak for everyone else reading when I say, please tell us more if you have other stories. I will happily accept stories that your sister has to share too.

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  5. Okay, here’s some more that I forgot about, and a few from my sis. Bud did a couple episodes of “The Virginian” (I mentioned he and McClure were buddies, apparently Doug did a great Burt Lancaster impression) and on one of those was a young Katherine Ross. She and her husband,later and since, Sam Elliott, became good friends. I never met them. Garner and Bud played a lot of baseball together socially, with other actors who were either former ball players like Chuck Connors, or just amatuers like James Caan. He knew both Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood when they were struggling (Eastwood, before “Rawhide”, was digging swimming pools to pay bills), but once they were famous, the contact stopped. Competition in the movie business is deadly serious. Um, the German western he made with Granger was some thing called “Old Surehand” (these were very popular in Europe, I guess). Patti said Granger was a charmer, great racontuer, a real joy for a dinner companion. Decades later, Patti spied him shopping at a local market where she lives, and she didn’t want to bother him, figuring he would not recall her from such a minor thing so long ago. He came up, said in a mock-hurt way “What are you, stuck up or something” and gave her a hug, flashing that smile of his. Great guy. Bud did a good episode of “The Big Valley” and said Barbara Stanwyck was totally down to earth and fun. Stuart Whitman was a friend. He really liked Brian Keith, another great yarn-spinner. He did a season of “Lassie” and took me on the set. Got to “meet” the dog, who was amazing, and also was lucky enough to meet and talk to two old-time vets, Henry Wilcoxon, and Douglas Fowley (I mention Fowley in my review of “Dodge City”). I met, on set, or walking around the studio/s David Janssen, Lloyd Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Arthur Hunnicutt, Joan Blackman (a friend) Martin Milner, William Conrad. Oh, now for a few bits from my sister’s experiences. She won 32 different beauty contest, including Miss Oregon (lost the Miss America thing,alas) before going off to Vegas to be a showgirl at the Tropicana and Desert Inn. She worked with Sinatra and Martin when the whole Rat Pack was in town (that’s where she first met Luna), then went to Hollywood to try to get into acting. Met Bud, they married and she dropped her career, except for a few brief bits doing extra work. She met Glen Campbell and Joe Namath that way, and Henry Fonda. Fonda a series in the 70s,”The Smith Family” that she worked on, and was hell-bent on getting to know her better, but was gallant about it.She met Monroe (unimpressed), Sharon Stone (liked her, very friendly), Jill St. John (the opposite), Tyrone Power and his wife Linda Christian, Audie Murphy, Ward Bond. A funny one–Bud’s last girlfriend before marrying my sister was Dyan Cannon. She kept calling, until Patti basically told her “Leave my husband alone, already” (no love lost there, as you may surmise). Here’s my faves from Patti and I give her hell about them as I do about Luna & Paluzzi. (1) she’s at a masquerade party. Her date was a drag. She’s approached by a guy, masked, polite. They chat, and he eventually says something like “You wanna leave this thing, go out?” She says “no, sorry, but I came with (this other guy). Takes off his mask: Elvis Presley! (2) in 1958 or ’59, she’s on a double date, bowling. The man of the other couple was an outgoing fellow over from your neck of the woods, doing a part for Disney, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. Sean Connery (!!) four or five years from 007. So, I give her grief with, “You mean, my brother-in-law could have been ELVIS or JAMES BOND, and you were TOO POLITE!!? ” The world is cruel. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed these tidbits. My niece and I often muse how bizarre and fun it is that we have these family stories, linking her mom/my sis with all these people, and a part of history. I was always proud of Bud and of course,my sister, and get a kick talking about it all. Brush with glory, etc. Bud was the funniest guy I’ve ever known, a real larger-than-life figure, a history buff, animal lover, FDR liberal and patriot with Real Man brass ones to back it up, kind of a second Dad, older brother for me, and later, just a great pal. I miss him. When I get down on myself and my own less-stellar life, I reflect on my family ties and shake off the blues (my other sister is wonderful as well, and we had the best folks you could have asked for). A solid, fascinating part of a once-amazing America that tragically, needlessly, brutally appears to be going with the wind. Thanks for the interest, and for letting me blather on. I hope it wasn’t too indulgent. Cheers, Mark

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    1. Beautiful post, Mark. Thanks again for sharing stories of your family and showbiz. Larry sounds like he was a wonderful man and great fun to be around.

      I very much liked the lovely story about your sister running into Stewart Granger again and he remembered her, he always struck me as being a charming and charismatic man.

      Such a shame that things didn’t work out with Sean and Elvis LOL. I’d also just like to say that Darby O’Gill and The Little People is one of the most random and downright weird films ever.

      Like

  6. Personal connections with the magical era of Hollywood’s golden age are, in a very small way, an opportunity to keep the glorious past alive for all of us. I write about my own tenuous connection to old Hollywood in my blog Mildred Shay: My Personal Movie Star@ maxmcmanus.com. Thanks so much for sharing your own experiences!

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