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Carole...in "Wonderland"?



You might not automatically link director Tim Burton to classic Hollywood, but those of us who love the Golden Age have much to thank him for. Through his casting of Sylvia Sidney in films such as "Beetlejuice," he helped revive interest in that one-time star of the thirties. Now, he's indirectly doing the same for a film of that era.

On March 2, 2010 (3/2/10 -- get it?), Universal Home Video, which has the rights to much of the pre-1948 Paramount product, will be officially releasing a film many have have sought for quite some time -- the 1933 version of "Alice In Wonderland":



The DVD release coincides with the theatrical release of Burton's long-awaited "Alice In Wonderland" film, where he'll bring his inimitable style to the Lewis Carroll classic.

Bootlegs of the '33 "Alice" have made the rounds for quite some time. Many college-age folk saw the film in the sixties and loved it, perhaps for its pre-psychedelic references. {Remember Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"?) Now, finally, you can go ask (for) "Alice" legally.

When "Alice" came out in late 1933, it was every bit as anticipated as the Burton version is now. In fact, the movie made the cover of Time magazine on Dec. 25, 1933:



One of the more fascinating aspects of the 1933 "Alice" is that while many stars populate the cast, most are unrecognizable since they're wearing masks based on the famous John Tenniel renderings of the characters. So while the tentative DVD cover promotes Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and W.C. Fields, you won't visually recognize them. (You will, however, aurally recognize Fields' unmistakable voice.)

Many of Paramount's stars populated the cast, which begs the question: Could Carole Lombard have become one of them? (And no, we're not talking about casting Carole as Alice, though something along those lines was employed as a running gag for the Lola Burns actress character in Jean Harlow's "Bombshell," also issued in 1933.)

The answer? Not likely.

The reason is simple: The Carroll characters were either male or non-glamorous females (e.g., the Queen of Hearts, the Cook). None of Paramount's ingenues -- Lombard, Sidney, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins -- appeared in the film. (The closest to a "glamour" type was Mae Marsh, cast as a sheep.) And Paramount's biggest star of either gender, Mae West, certainly wasn't considered.



The '33 "Alice" is a weird blend of "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" and "Through The Looking Glass," with significant parts of each removed to keep the story going; the special effects are good by 1933 standards.

So who ended up playing Alice? It was a 19-year-old girl from Brooklyn named Charlotte Henry, who had appeared in about a dozen films, some of them in uncredited parts, before landing the role of Alice. (Her most significant pre-"Alice" part came in the 1932 Barbara Stanwyck film "Forbidden," where she played an 18-year-old.) Despite her age, Henry looked young enough to pass herself off as Alice.

So, did being cast as Alice propel Henry into a major screen career? Sadly, no. While the following year she was cast as Little Bo-Peep in Laurel and Hardy's charming "Babes In Toyland," her career fizzled; perhaps being associated with juvenile roles backfired. She retired from films in 1942 and died in 1980.

A fascinating what-if to ponder regarding the actress Paramount initially envisioned as Alice, someone young, from England and with a respected show business bloodline to boot. We are referring to...



...Ida Lupino, two months older than Henry, who Paramount signed with the intention of having her play Alice. But when she arrived in Los Angeles, the production executives immediately realized that there was something rather aggressive, assured and adult in Lupino’s demeanor...and even in pre-Code days, sex appeal was not the objective in casting an Alice. Just as well, Lupino said at the time: "You can't play naïve if you're not. I never had any childhood."

Instead, the future film noir star and director's American debut came in a vehicle 180 degrees removed from "Alice" -- the pre-Code film "Search For Beauty," where she and Buster Crabbe play swimming champions exploited by promoters. (Universal issued it earlier this year as part of a six-film pre-Code package.)



Curiouser and curiouser.

I don't know what the weather's like where you live, but here in the Washington area we are anticipating a foot, or more, of snow...the biggest blizzard to hit D.C. in at least six years. So in honor of the occasion, some music -- "Baby It's Cold Outside," naturally -- performed by its lyricist, Johnny Mercer, and the always-wonderful Margaret Whiting:



Stay warm!
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