Of course, the two kings of rock, Elvis Presley and the Beatles, have been the most imitated acts. There were a handful of Presley tribute performers even while he was alive (and I'm not referring to singers who covered relatively obscure Elvis material and had hits of their own, such as Ral Donner or Terry Stafford). All four Beatles were still with us when "Beatlemania" began its stage run, and Beatles tribute acts are still going strong.
Speaking of "Beatlemania," did you know that one of the best rockers of the 1980s, Marshall Crenshaw -- his "Cynical Girl" is one of my very favorite rock records -- got his start playing John Lennon in a road show of "Beatlemania"? Later in the '80s, Crenshaw played Buddy Holly in "La Bamba," and did a splendid version of Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping." (A few years ago, he wrote a book, "Hollywood Rock," that reviewed many rock movies dating back to the 1950s.)
If you're wondering what this has to do with classic Hollywood, take a look at this:
Did someone colorize "It Happened One Night"? (And please, no Ted Turner jokes -- the money he has given to support film preservation has more than made up for his indiscretion of two decades ago.) Nope...it's "an incredible simulation," as the radio ads for "Beatlemania" used to say -- James Marsden and Rose Byrne re-creating the famed hitchhiking scene for Vanity Fair's August issue (Heath Ledger is on the cover), as the magazine salutes movies set in the 1930s. (I emphasize the word set, because some of the films they pay tribute to, such as "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and "Paper Moon," were filmed several decades later.)
This is nothing new, of course -- in the late 1950s, Marilyn Monroe did a photo shoot for Life magazine where she paid tribute to Jean Harlow and other screen legends of the past. And give Marsden credit for at least resembling the Gable character; it is, after all, a still picture, so he's not trying to act like him.
The good news, for Carole Lombard fans, is that Vanity Fair is paying tribute to one of her films. Here's their take on one of Carole's classics, "My Man Godfrey":
That's Channing Tatum, a former model turned actor (he played Pretty Boy Floyd in the recent "Public Enemies") as Godfrey, with Amanda Seyfried as Irene. (They'll be co-starring in a film next year called "Dear John," which I initially thought was a revival of an old sitcom. Then again, I haven't watched any sitcoms since "Frasier" left the air.)
The costumes evoke the characters, but that can't quite be said of the actors; it seems strange to see Godfrey without a mustache (whether it be William Powell or even David Niven in the pointless 1957 remake) and Seyfried frankly looks too cool to be a madcap. I frankly see more of Gail Patrick's Cornelia in her than I do Lombard's Irene.
Nevertheless, it's a nice tribute. It was shot at the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and here are two photos from the shoot not used in the magazine:
The first one is about as stiff as the one that was published, but the second conveys a little of the dizzy romance that characterized the film. (Perhaps they should have tried to replicate the scene where Godfrey puts Irene in the shower, but since this photo spread is also being used to promote designers -- we learn the designers of both stars' clothes -- that was probably a non-starter.
As fate would have it, I uncovered two stills from the colorized version of the 1936 "Godfrey" -- one representing the scene used in the shoot, the other the shower scene. See for yourself what they were trying to emulate, and what might have been:
I hope this criticism isn't taken as an indictment of the spread, because anything that can get people interested in both this era of American history and the films being made in the 1930s is welcome. The Orpheum stage was used for a scene evoking the classic musical "42nd Street," and another highlight has Mila Kunis, late of "That '70s Show," as that '30s actress Joan Crawford -- long before Faye Dunaway even existed -- as "Letty Lynton."
To see some of the outtakes from the sessions, visit http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/08/30s-fashion-bts-slideshow200908.