Above is the cover of Turner Classic Movies' August 2003 issue of its monthly viewing guide and magazine, Now Playing. It was introducing its U.S. audience to a new feature from the classic film channel, something called "Summer Under The Stars." The idea: Spend 24 hours or so focusing on a classic Hollywood personality (almost always an actor), sort of its "Star Of The Month" concept in a concentrated, 24-hour dose.
From TCM's perspective, it was a nice change of pace for August, a month when viewership for virtually all American channels is low due to vacation and other recreation. And while its presence meant a temporary hiatus for features such as "Silent Sunday Nights," relatively few people complain. In contrast, when TCM disrupts its February program for a month of Academy Award-related programming, many die-hard TCM buffs lose interest, sensing the channel is aiming for more casual viewers. It's like hearing an oldies station that plays "Respect" or "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" over and over again.
To date, Carole Lombard, shown above with Fred MacMurray from "Swing High, Swing Low," has only been a "SUTS" subject once, on Aug. 17, 2006 (MacMurray was honored in 2008). She's not on this year's roster, either; keep your fingers crossed for 2011. Here's the list from past years:
James Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Peter O'Toole, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Robert Mitchum, James Cagney, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Katherine Hepburn, Steve McQueen, Gene Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Myrna Loy, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Doris Day, William Holden
John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck, Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds, Sidney Poitier, Lucille Ball, Katherine Hepburn, Clint Eastwood, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda, Jean Harlow, Laurence Olivier, Doris Day, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Peter Sellers, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Ginger Rogers, Charles Chaplin, Shirley MacLaine, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Esther Williams, Kirk Douglas
Lauren Bacall, James Cagney, Joel McCrea, Alec Guinness, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Judy Garland, Shelley Winters, Ray Milland, Lena Horne, Kirk Douglas, Jane Wyman, Cary Grant, Glenn Ford, Fred Astaire, Donna Reed, James Garner, Irene Dunne, Marlon Brando, James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Joan Crawford, Basil Rathbone, Sophia Loren, Norma Shearer, Randolph Scott, Spencer Tracy, William Holden, Constance Bennett, Deborah Kerr, Humphrey Bogart
Angela Lansbury, Groucho Marx, Susan Hayward, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Doris Day, Burt Lancaster, Claire Trevor, Jane Powell, John Garfield, Katherine Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Walter Matthau, Lana Turner, Richard Dix, Joseph Cotten, Carole Lombard, Bela Lugosi, Audrey Hepburn, Lee Marvin, David Niven, Rita Hayworth, Van Johnson, Ann Sothern, James Stewart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Hedy Lamarr, Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Stanwyck
Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole, Joan Crawford, William Holden, James Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Vincent Price, Doris Day, Alan Ladd, June Allyson, Ernest Borgnine, Joan Bennett, Elvis Presley, Maureen O’Hara, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Rosalind Russell, Gary Cooper, Ann Miller, Jane Fonda, Ronald Reagan, Broderick Crawford, Kirk Douglas, Loretta Young, Roy Rogers, Mary Astor, Buster Keaton, Sean Connery
Michael Caine, Charlie Chaplin, Gregory Peck, Marie Dressler, Claude Rains, Anne Bancroft, Greta Garbo, James Garner, Fred MacMurray, Doris Day, Richard Widmark, Kim Novak, Peter Lorre, Greer Garson, Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jack Palance, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Ava Gardner, Trevor Howard, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, Henry Fonda, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy
Henry Fonda, James Mason, Marion Davies, James Coburn, Harold Lloyd, Judy Garland, Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Dirk Bogarde, Audrey Hepburn, Clark Gable, Gloria Grahame, Sidney Poitier, Deborah Kerr, Elvis Presley, Jennifer Jones, John Wayne, Red Skelton, Miriam Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Sterling Hayden, Angela Lansbury, Fredric March, Merle Oberon, Yul Brynner, Ida Lupino, Frank Sinatra, Peter Sellers, Jean Arthur, Claire Bloom
This year's group has a lot going for it, and several of the selected stars worked with Lombard at one time or another. Moreover, 14 of the 31 -- that's nearly half -- are "SUTS" rookies. Here's the roster; newcomers are marked with an asterisk:
1. Basil Rathbone
2. Julie Christie*
3. Steve McQueen
4. Ethel Barrymore*
5. Woody Strode*
6. Ingrid Bergman
7. Errol Flynn
8. Bob Hope
9. Warren Beatty*
10. Kathryn Grayson*
11. Walter Matthau
12. Norma Shearer
13. Robert Ryan
14. Gene Tierney*
15. Margaret O'Brien"
16. Robert Stack*
17. Maureen O'Hara
18. Ann Sheridan"
19. Walter Pidgeon*
20. Katharine Hepburn
21. Paul Newman
22. John Mills*
23. Elizabeth Taylor
24. John Gilbert*
25. Lauren Bacall
26. Lee Remick*
27. Olivia de Havilland
28. Peter O'Toole
29. Henry Fonda
30. Thelma Todd*
31. Clint Eastwood
That's a pretty potent list. (And to answer the question some of you may be asking, "To Be Or Not To Be" is not on the Robert Stack schedule -- and that's fair, because he appeared in all sorts of fine films over the years, everything from "The Mortal Storm" to "Airplane!")
There are a few days I'm particularly looking forward to:
* Aug. 12, with plenty of pre-Code Norma Shearer goodies, even the silent "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg," directed by Ernst Lubitsch;
* Aug. 24, as John Gilbert is featured, most notably in "The Merry Widow," "The Big Parade" and "Flesh And The Devil"; and
* Aug. 30, perhaps the day many of us are looking forward to most of all. That will be a 24-hour tribute to the lovely, funny Thelma Todd, the queen of two-reel comedies and someone we lost, under still-mysterious circumstances, 75 years ago this December. TCM will air nine features starring Todd and an incredible 21 short films. Her co-stars range from the Marx Brothers, Joe E. Brown and Laurel and Hardy to Charley Chase, Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly.
It promises to be an enjoyable August, beginning this Sunday with Basil Rathbone (who worked with Lombard, but in radio rather than films, as did the featured star the following Sunday, Bob Hope).