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Norma Shearer – Married to the Boss

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An actress must never lose her ego–without it she has no talent. — Norma Shearer

AS Mrs. Irving Thalberg, actress Norma Shearer ruled over Hollywood with a sophisticated and poised air, brandishing her husband’s authority as her own when it came time to choose the best scripts, co-stars and directors. Her preeminence made her a number of bitter enemies among her female peers at M-G-M–rival Joan Crawford, for instance, bemoaned her situation: “How can I compete with Norma when she sleeps with the boss?” For her part, Shearer believed that “It [was] impossible to get anything major accomplished without stepping on some toes; enemies are inevitable when one is a doer.” She did, and she was.

norma-shearer-2

Though Shearer’s fanny landed firmly in the catbird’s seat following her marriage to Thalberg, her path to stardom wasn’t exactly strewn with rose petals. When her wealthy family lost all its money in the 1910s, Shearer’s mother shuttled her to New York in hopes that her daughter’s beauty could be parlayed into a lucrative show business career. Unfortunately, Shearer bombed out on her audition with follies king Florenz Ziegfeld. Fortunately, she was able to land some work as a model–notably as “Miss Lotta Miles” in tire advertisements–and as an actress in a few bit parts in New York-shot films in 1920. She was spotted in one such effort, The Stealers, by her future husband, Irving Thalberg, who was then working as a talent scout, but Thalberg wasn’t able to track down and sign the compelling actress for a few years.

 Married to the Boss

After Thalberg’s own star rose at M-G-M, he and Shearer married (in 1927), and the duo reigned as the leading couple of Hollywood. Ensconsed as the “First Lady of the Screen,” it was no wonder Shearer achieved stardom, what with having her perennial pick of the litter, but her success wasn’t solely based on nepotism: she garnered five Best Actress Oscar nominations (for 1929’s Their Own Desire, 1930’s The Divorcée, 1934’s The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 1936’s Romeo and Juliet, and 1938’s Marie Antoinette), winning for 1930’s The Divorcée.

Norma Shearer

Following Thalberg’s untimely (he was thirty-seven) demise from pneumonia in 1936, Shearer lost her sense of direction in the absence of his sage career counsel, and witlessly declined proffered plum assignments in Gone With the Wind and Mrs. Miniver in favor of roles in two back-to-back flops, We Were Dancing and Her Cardboard Lover (both in 1942). She wisely retired from the screen after these failures and later married a ski instructor named Martin Jacques Arrougé, who was twenty years her junior. Shearer is credited for discovering Janet Leigh, whose photograph she spotted while vacationing at a ski resort.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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