In 2019, I decided to post a series of interviews with members of both the genealogical and old Hollywood communities, hoping to find common ground between the two and learn more about some people whose online presence I truly enjoy. Welcome to the Hollywood/GenesCrossover Interview series! For the original post in this series and to see the complete list of interviewees, click here.
I first became aware of Erica through participation in blogathons (of which Erica is a master). I have since grown to love and look forward to her online posts, from the wonderfully rich blog entries to the interesting Twitter conversations. I am honored and so happy she agreed to participate in this interview series!
Name: Erica D.
Tell us a little about yourself (anything goes!):
I was born in a remote area of the Tidewater region in the U.S. State, or officially Commonwealth, of Virginia. Most of my young childhood was spent living with my maternal grandparents who took care of me and my two siblings because my natural parents were unable to do so. (That’s a long story and quite frankly at this point in my life is water under the bridge.) Some of my heritage remains a complete mystery to me because both my mother and my paternal great-grandmother were adopted, leaving me with only one solid ancestral lineage: that of my father’s father. Luckily, that line has been traced quite thoroughly. My oldest ancestor was apparently an English doctor who was born in 1670 and who moved to America at a relatively young age. He had a wife and at least one child who are also listed on my direct family tree though sadly he died in either 1705 or 1706. Growing up in one of the first permanent American colonies, I often visited places like Williamsburg, Jamestown and Charlottesville, not to mention other places (Presidential birthplaces, battlefields, etc.) along the way.
Nowadays, I live in south-western France not too, too far from the city of Bordeaux. My husband is originally from the northern region but we have moved many places over the course of our marriage. We have been married for 17+ years and have four children, two of which are handicapped. Both suffer from autism (moderate to profound) and my youngest also has epilepsy. Their special needs have proven to be very challenging for me and film has served as a refuge for me. English is the primary language spoken in our home since we live in a Francophone country and all of our outside exchanges take place in French. It is difficult to travel because we are so many people and it is so costly so it has been over 12 years since we last visited the United States. Being so far away was very difficult for the first several years but now I have gotten used to it although sometimes I wonder if I will ever go back to my native land again.
The majority of my online presence revolves around my involvement with blogathons and talking about classic film with others. I am someone who enjoys my privacy and, at times, my anonymity. It is also important for me to set a good example for my children by privileging face-to-face interactions and limiting screen time as much as possible.
What is your earliest memory of watching a classic film? What did it do for you? Why do you remember it?
My earliest memory of taking notice of a classic film was during my childhood when I was around 8 years old. There was a small basket of VHS tapes at my paternal grandfather’s house and for some reason I was enamoured with the cover to Holiday Inn. I would study the colour artwork on the VHS case but was never interested to watch the actual film because it was in black & white. (How times have changed for me!) This probably sticks out in my memory because there was not much going on where my grandfather lived so we had a lot of time just to stare at the countryside and daydream.
I actually touched upon my history of film viewing in an article I wrote on Grace Kelly (here). Aside from the usual, annual airing of It’s a Wonderful Life, classic film was largely absent from my life until a certain point in time.
Who are your top 3 favorite old Hollywood stars and why (1900s-1960s)?
Let me say that any sort of “top”, “best”, or “favourite” questions always kind of stress me because I love so many things that narrowing down preferences is seemingly impossible. So, please take my choices with a grain of salt in the sense that they are not definitive and are, in part, a reflection of how I am feeling at the time of answering.
With that being said, here are 3 beloved old Hollywood stars that came to prevalence between the 1900s and the 1960s:
To me, Joan is the epitome of a strong woman who prevails through time. On a personal level, she grew up in a difficult family/economical situation and strove to live a different, better life. She was largely self-educated and never stopped wanting to achieve certain standards. As an actress, she took on tough roles that were at times very unglamorous, often showing that a woman did not have to settle in life and could pursue her dreams. It has been my goal over the past 15 years to attain all of her films that are available on DVD and I just recently was able to complete that dream. I guess you could say that Joan is my “spirit animal”.
A preferred film of Joan’s: The Damned Don’t Cry
Some people are immediately turned off by Mickey’s vivacious nature and because he was an incurable horndog. The fact of the matter is that he was over-the-top both on-screen and in private life but that Mickey was one hell of an entertainer. Whether it was singing, dancing, comedy or drama, he always delivered his best effort and never lost his desire to perform. A shorter-than-average stature did not dampen his spirits or self-esteem and I personally found Mickey to be a pretty good-looking guy. His confidence was contagious!
A preferred film of Mickey’s: Every single one of the films from the Andy Hardyseries! J
Mr. Skeffingtonis a film that completely changed my perspective on pictures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It provided me company one very long night, at about 3am to be exact, when I was taking care of my newborn twins and provided me much more than just entertainment. I was moved by the performances and storyline, not to mention taken aback that I could be captivated by a film that was in black & white and that moved along at a leisurely pace. Seeing it completely propelled my passion for classic film as well as my specific curiosity for Claude Rains, an actor of immense talent and class who stands out amongst his peers. After purchasing a book on his life and films, I managed to get in touch with a few other Claude fans via social media including the co-author of his biography*, JoAnna Wioskowksi as well as Claude’s daughter Jessica. Knowing more about him made me want to see as many of the works from his filmography as possible but also just to keep re-watching his films to soak-up the experience. Claude was truly in a league of his own.
A preferred film of Claude’s: The Phantom of the Opera
What are your top 3 favorite classic films and why?
Again, read the disclaimer above about “favourites”! J
This is a film that my family and I watch year-round. We never tire of the story or the music, especially since it brings such a sense of enjoyment. The cast is so divinely talented – Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney with their singing, Danny Kaye with his zany comedy, and Vera-Ellen with her jaw-dropping dance skills. They all mesh together so perfectly and against a wintry Vermont backdrop, who can resist? Vibrant Technicolor helps add a special something to the already festive ambiance. This is surely the greatest Old Hollywood Sugar Plum Dream conceivable!
I was introduced to the sequel many years before I got a chance to see the 1960 film but even in that order, my affection for Norman Bates was solidified. It is hard to put into words how one can admire a character that is psychologically whack and effectively, whether it was by his drive or his mother’s, a mass murderer. What draws me to Norman the most is Anthony Perkins portrayal of him, revealing tender, reflective sides of a “grown boy” who was mistreated and unloved by his controlling mother. Norman is not a criminal by nature but is easily swayed by his impulses which results in him making mistakes and being imperfect in his methods, leading to tragedy. For some reason, I always felt a mix of comfort and unease with The Bates Hotel being off the beaten track and in an isolated area. On one hand it enhances the sense of danger and on the other, it piques curiosity.
This is Hitchcock’s ultimate masterpiece both in style and in substance. It is almost as if there are two different types of films happening with the death of Madeleine and the introduction of Judy. When you pay attention to the fine details, you can see how one would be able to mastermind the complex and intricate tale behind Madeleine’s illness. At the same time, you can also completely believe that everything is true and that Scottie is living/experiencing a sort of ghost story. It is my opinion that James Stewart gives one of his finest performances, going from a nice guy keeping his head down to becoming an obsessed, lovesick basket case. Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack is haunting, romantic, and tragic, making it another one of his works that has taken on a life of its own.
How does classic film feature in your life today?
Classic film is ever-present in my everyday life, largely in terms of watching films and writing about them. More than anything, it is a part of my being and alters the way I look at the world and reflect about life. I constantly have snippets of old movies flashing through my mind, almost as if my mind is re-enacting them for my benefit. Seeing random video clips from these films always put a smile on my face, especially the ones featuring dance numbers. (If you are on Twitter, please follow the wonderful @DancerOnFilm who posts daily clips of these gems. You will see how much you start looking forward to watching them!)
I have lived in a rural area for about three years now and since that time I have had no access to cable television and only recently have we gotten high-speed internet. Everything that I want to watch that has not been uploaded online for free is something that I must buy which can get expensive, not to mention frustrating. When I had access to TCM Cinéma here in France, it was nice but the programmes were terribly repetitive. In a given month, they would have about 25 movies that they would continuously rotate until freshening up the selection the next month. Canal+ movie channels had a better variety and allowed me the chance to watch some French classic films. For some reason, I cannot get myself interested in French cinema even though the language poses little barrier.
So, to make a long story short, I watch classic film freely when I have the time and when I have a blogathon coming up. Despite having a hefty amount of obligations in regard to child-rearing, special needs and maintaining a household, I cling on to making classic film a priority in my life because it helps keep me mentally balanced in the face of trying times.
What is your favorite website(s) dedicated to old Hollywood? Why do you find it so enjoyable or useful?
I used to consult the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) website quite a lot before our access to any and all of their online services was forbidden to those of us in Europe; a decision which I still fail to fully understand. After each new film I watch, I will automatically go to its Wikipedia entry page and then onto IMDb for any trivia. Partaking in the now defunct IMDb message boards was a lot of fun and there were generally less trolls for obscure classic film titles. Now I rarely go to websites outside of the personal blogs maintained by my fellow bloggers and rely heavily on my interactions through Twitter.
Do you have a family (or personal) connection to old Hollywood? How so?
There are no direct relationship-related connections of which I am aware.
One of my grandmothers was named Shirley and, having been born in 1941, it is completely plausible that she had been named for Shirley Temple. Otherwise, most of my family members were named after other family members/ancestors or given unrelated, original names.
I am one of the few people in my family who has affection for cinema from any given era. The grandparents who raised me were poor farmers who had little-to-no formal education and who still retained lifestyle habits from the days of the Great Depression. My grandmother in question was born in 1919 and had to quit school at the age of 12 to take care of her siblings after her mother died in childbirth. My grandfather, her husband, was born at a time when official records were not kept so we were never really sure of his birthdate. There is one thing that they really enjoyed, however, and that was television. We watched primetime network shows every single night, maintaining a weekly dedication to Dallasand other programmes like Matlock, Murder, She Wroteand Father Dowling Mysteries.
Which film star are you most often compared to or you think you look the most like? Does anyone else in your family (parents/grandparents) have an old Hollywood doppelganger?
This is another interesting question for which I wish I had an exciting answer! I have never been compared to any film star either in regard to personality or to appearance. When I was a child, other students would taunt me by calling me Fergie (as in Duchess Sarah Ferguson) because I had red hair. Go figure! I once had a guy date me because he had a thing for Lauren Ambrose and since I was a redhead, his criteria were sufficiently fulfilled. Taking the time to write this down makes it sound pretty horrible!
As for my own family, the same goes for them in that no one has a doppelganger though my in-laws are a different story. My mother-in-law has shared characteristics with Ingrid Bergman such as: a deep voice (but not manly at all), similar facial features, being “one of the guys” and an exuberant personality. Whenever I watch Aimez-vous Brahms?, the similarities strike me! One of my brothers-in-law has piercing, clear blue eyes and very tanned skin with some wrinkling around his eyes, making him a near dead-ringer for Charles Bronson. It must be in the European influence!
We all know that classic film fans appreciate characters with moxie. Who is your most moxie filled family member or ancestor and why?
That honour would most definitely have to go to my maternal adoptive grandmother, Josephine. She is the one who raised me with her husband when I was younger and has been the most influential person in my life. Not a day goes by that I do not think her or incorporate the life values that she taught me. Getting over her death was the hardest thing that I have ever had to go through in my life and I still miss her so much, even after nearly two decades without her on this Earth.
Sharp like Thelma Ritter, motherly like Ethel Barrymore, Josephine was a person who experienced a lot of hurt and disadvantage in her life but who never lost her faith and remained ever-generous. She had a great sense of humour but also knew about hard knocks and appropriate discipline, especially when it came to raising us kids. We were all conscious not to step over that invisible white line. I will never forget her mouth-watering Southern-inspired food that was made from scratch, including the lauded spoon bread, biscuits, and rice pudding with raisins. Her legacy lives on in me and also in how I raise my own children which I regard as one of life’s beauties.
Which is your favorite (fictional) film family and why?
As I mentioned above when talking about Mickey Rooney, I absolutely love the wholesome Hardy family. They did have their fair share of problems though most of the time everything was resolved by the end of the film. At least one thing remained constant throughout the series and that was the bickering that went on between Marion (big sister) and Andy (little brother). That is real life at its best!
When it comes to television, it has to be the Brady family. That’s right: I adore The Brady Bunch and so do my children. I used to think that this show was awfully cheesy when I was younger but since having children and watching them grow up, the storylines have really spoken to me. I also find that Robert Reed’s and Florence Henderson’s performances as Mike and Carol Brady were outstandingly real. They were loving, supportive parents who also knew how to let the children know that they were ticked off and even just plain tired of their annoying behaviour. And Alice… oh what a marvel she was. More than the hired help or the comic relief, she was truly a member of the family. I still dream of what it would have been like to actually live in a house like that.
Where to find Erica online, you ask?
My blog, Poppity Talks Classic Film