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BCB After Dark: The boy from Brazil

The swinging spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you to weigh in on the signing of catcher Yan Gomes.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the casual music club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I’m glad you decided to stop in tonight. Please make yourself at home. Pour yourself a beverage. Be sure to tip your waitstaff although honestly, I’m not sure what they’ve done to earn it. You found your own seat and got your own drink.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

Last night I asked you about how worried you were about the Cubs off-season and on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most worried, 34 percent of you were worried at level 4. Another 26 percent were at level 3 and in third place was the full-out panic of a 5 with 17 percent.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings.

We may be doing a lot of jazz and movies in the coming weeks.

Guitarist Grant Green was one of the most distinctive guitarists in jazz and maybe one of the most overlooked. His playing style was pretty much like no one else’s. One big reason for that is that Green didn’t look to other jazz guitarists for inspiration. Instead, he mimicked horn players like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. That meant he did a lot of plucking of individual notes and very little chord playing, which is kind of the opposite of most guitarists’ style.

But while Green’s name is rarely mentioned among the jazz greats of the sixties, he really deserves more attention. So here’s Grant Green on guitar along with Sonny Clark on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey on drums playing George and Ira Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

I promised you I wouldn’t put up Christmas jazz tunes every day from now until the 25th. But I did promise you some so I’ll have a great jazz take on a Christmas standard tomorrow night.

Normally I do a brief BCB After Dark on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning without any film talk, but I had time tonight to do something extra and I still had a lot I wanted to say about Hangover Square from last night. So I’ll go that extra mile for you tonight and maybe I’ll sleep in tomorrow. After all, it looks like all of baseball is going to sleep tomorrow night.

First, I want to say something about the film Hangover Square that I didn’t get a chance to last night. Do not go to this film looking for a sympathetic or even accurate portrayal of mental illness. That’s true for pretty much any remanent of the nineteen-forties, but it’s especially true of Hangover Square. George Bone is a serial killer (again, not a spoiler) because he has dissociative identity disorder. They don’t feel to explain this any further. You can see how problematic this is from our modern understanding of mental illness.

I also wanted to write about Laird Cregar, the star of Hangover Square. Cregar was someone who was typecast as a “heavy” (i.e. villain), but he dreamed of being a leading man. In the end, his Hollywood dreams ended up killing him at a very young age.

Cregar was born in Philadelphia in 1913. His father was, believe it or not, a professional cricket player. He was attracted to the stage at a young age and was involved with several theater groups in Pennsylvania until 1936, when he got admitted to study acting at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse. That sent him off to California, where he caught the eye of the actor John Barrymore, who recommended him to Twentieth-Century Fox in 1940. Barrymore thought Cregar was one of the most talented young actors he’d ever seen, and he wasn’t alone in thinking that.

Cregar was a gentle giant with a big sense of humor. His fellow actors loved him. But his size meant that the studio immediately pegged him for villainous roles. Cregar was 6’3” and his weight usually was around 300 pounds. But while he didn’t mind playing an occasional “heavy,” he was really too good an actor to play just one type. He did get to do some comedy opposite Jack Benny in Charley’s Aunt in 1941, but right after that he was cast as an evil police officer in I Wake Up Screaming again. In Heaven Can Wait from 1943, Cregar got his most high-profile and best-reviewed role yet. But unfortunately for him, he was playing The Devil.

Cregar knew that Hollywood valued good looks over talent and that he’d never get cast in a a lead as long as he weighed 300 pounds. So he started trying to lose weight. He went on a crash diet, aided by what they called at the time “diet pills,” or what we today call amphetamines.

Cregar also wanted to lose the weight because he’d lost a few boyfriends over it. Cregar was about as “out” as you could be in Hollywood in the 1940s and still keep making movies. That meant that Cregar was not out to the public, but everyone in the business knew he was gay and he often brought a male date to parties.

In 1944, as Cregar was trying to losing weight, he got cast in his most-successful film yet: The Lodger, where he played Jack the Ripper. The film was a smash hit and Cregar’s performance was widely given much of the credit for the film’s success.

The novel Hangover Square, written by Patrick Hamilton, came out in 1941 and was meant as an allegory about the rise of fascism and the start of World War II. The protagonist, George Bone, is a sad, lonely alcoholic who falls in with a group of people who pretend to be his friend, but really make fun of him, both behind his back and in front of his face.

I’m not going to go to deep into the plot of the novel, because I haven’t read it. I also don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone. I have read enough on-line synopses to realize that the book and the film have very little in common other than someone with dissociative identity disorder who gets led on by a beautiful but heartless woman named Netta who detests George but finds him to be a useful tool to get what she wants. And there’s a murder, but there’s no serial killing. I also say that any allegory about the rise of fascism in the book seems pretty tortured to me. But again, I haven’t read it, so maybe the on-line summaries don’t do that part of the book justice.

I’m not sure whether Cregar brought this book to the attention of Fox or whether Fox’s interest in the English best-seller brought it to the attention of Cregar. But Cregar was convinced that the part of George in Hangover Square was his ticket to stardom. Something about a man who is mocked and laughed at while others exploit him appealed to Cregar. It’s pretty obvious that Cregar saw himself as George. It was the part he felt he was born to play.

Well, Fox noticed the success of The Lodger and decided that what the people wanted to see was Laird Cregar as Jack the Ripper again. They moved the 1939 setting of the book to 1903, which pretty much eliminated any commentary on fascism in the script. (Unless, that is, the fact that George’s first victim is a shopkeeper who looks like he’s on the way to audition for Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as soon as he shuts up shop was meant as a commentary on Nazism. If it was, it was a pretty clumsy reference.) They also turned George from a troubled man with violent tendencies into a flat-out serial killer.

Finally, Fox turned George into a celebrated classical composer. I’m not sure why they did that other than they could get Bernard Hermann to do the score or they had some ideas about how the ending would be better with music.

When Cregar saw what they did to Hangover Square, he was furious. Instead of a sympathetic sad man whom society mocks and exploits for their own benefit, he was playing a serial killer again.

Cregar refused to do the picture and Fox suspended him. (Most actors in the “Golden Age of Hollywood” were under a seven-year contract to a studio and earned a weekly salary, rather than be paid by the picture.) Cregar eventually relented, both out of the money he was losing and because it was pointed out to him that he still got to do love scenes with Linda Darnell and Faye Marlowe. It wasn’t much, but at least it was a start towards the “hero” parts he desired.

Cregar was determined to look good for the film. His use of the diet pills escalated, and by the time the film was over, he’d lost almost 100 pounds from where he was before he filmed The Lodger. If you look closely, you can see Cregar losing weight throughout the film—probably 30 pounds from the beginning of the film to the end.

But Cregar’s behavior on the set became more and more erratic, as taking that many drugs on an empty stomach will do to a person. If Cregar’s eyes look like they are going to explode out of his face during one of George’s “blackouts,” just remember that he’s hyped to the gills on speed.

Filming Hangover Square under these circumstances would have been a nightmare for a skilled director, and John Brahm was pretty much the definition of a run-of-the mill hack. It didn’t help that co-star Linda Darnell, who was struggling with depression and alcoholism, was having mood swings during filming as well.

After the filming ended, Cregar went in for abdominal surgery. I’ve read two different stories about what that was. Some sources claim he was having gastric bypass surgery to further his weight loss, but the more credible sources (in my mind) say that it was hernia surgery. Cregar had been putting off surgery on a hernia for years, but between the weight loss and the work on Hangover Square, the pain had gotten so bad that he couldn’t put it off any longer.

But Cregar’s body was too weak from the crash weight loss and the amphetamine use to handle the surgery. While in recovery, he had a heart attack. He managed to linger a few days afterwards, but his heart eventually gave out in December of 1944. He was only 31 years old. Hangover Square premiered two months later.

George Sanders, Cregar’s co-star on Hangover Square and other pictures, was blunt about what happened: “Hollywood virtually assassinated Laird Cregar.”

Welcome back to those who skip the jazz and movies. You missed some good stuff about some forgotten performers who shouldn’t be forgotten.

On Tuesday, the Cubs signed catcher Yan Gomes to a two-year, $13 million contract. The article on this site didn’t include BCB’s typical Yay/Nay/Meh poll question, which made me very happy because that meant that I could do one here tonight.

So at the risk that you’re already all talked out on Yan Gomes, I’m simply going to ask you ‘Yan Gomes?” The Cubs did sign a “major” free agent before the deadline, if by “major” you mean a major leaguer who got a two-year deal for eight figures. But was it a good idea? Does it mean the end of Willson Contreras’s time in Chicago, or is Gomes just the backup catcher whom the Cubs desperately needed in 2021? I personally don’t believe that the Gomes signing means that the Cubs won’t sign Contreras to an extension, but I do believe that the front office believes that signing Gomes gives them some options when it comes to Contreras. To me, Gomes is a terrific backup catcher who can serve as the starter if it comes to that. And let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

So without further ado, Yan Gomes?


Yan Gomes?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (68 votes)
  • 5%
    (6 votes)
  • 31%
    (34 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll have someone get your hat and coat. Tell us if you need us to call you a ride. I hope you’ll stop by again tomorrow when we will have what I promise will be a much shorter version of BCB After Dark. I promise you that we won’t be locked out, even if MLB probably will be.