Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sister Act

Venus and Serena Williams played against each other in the Wimbledon Ladies' singles final this morning, so perhaps it's a good time to discuss cinematic sisters. Probably the most famous pair is Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, both of whom are happily still alive. Joan Fontain was of course born Joan de Havilland, but took the name Fontaine from her stepfather because she didn't want to be seen as playing off her sister's success. Interestingly, in Fontaine's first movie, 1935's No More Ladies, she was credited as Joan Burfield; legend has it that she got that name from a street sign.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish are another pair of very famous sisters, and they appeared together in quite a few of D. W. Griffith's silent movies. They're not the only pair of famous sisters who starred together in the movies; the Lane sisters (Priscilla, Rosemary, and Lola) did, too, with Rosemary and Lola appearing together just this past week when TCM showed Hollywood Hotel.

On the other hand, I can't think of any sister comedy acts along the lines of the Marx Brothers or the Ritz Brothers. Musical sisters have been less uncommon in the entertainment industry. A curious example from a historical standpoint would be the Three Gumm Sisters. The showed up in a few shorts in the 1930s, most notably the early Technicolor Fiesta de Santa Barbara, which includes cameos from a bunch of more famous people: Warner Baxter, Ida Lupino, Gary Cooper, Andy Devine, and several others. The Gumm Sisters act is important, though, since Frances, the youngest of the three, was noticed by the bigwigs at MGM, who changed her name to Judy Garland, an actress who went on to somewhat bigger things. It's too bad that Fiesta de Santa Barbara isn't available on DVD.

The Gumm Sisters weren't the only time one sibling was overshadowed by another. As I pointed out when I recommended The Big Heat, the character of Glenn Ford's wife is played by Jocelyn Brando. She does a serviceable job, even if her character does get killed off early on. However, today she's probably much more remembered because her kid brother is Marlon Brando. At least Jocelyn could enunciate clearly.

There's even a classic movie about one sister being overshadowed by another, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which Bette Davis plays the child star who was eclipsed in adulthood by sister Joan Crawford, and now has to take care of Crawford after a car accident crippled her. Therein lies an entire blog post....

No comments: