Hollywood’s classic stars talk in Blaine resident’s new book

Bob Hope is one of 34 people whose interviews are gathered in “Conversations with Classic Film Stars,” a new book by Ron Miller and James Bawden.
Bob Hope is one of 34 people whose interviews are gathered in “Conversations with Classic Film Stars,” a new book by Ron Miller and James Bawden. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

When it comes to celebrity interviews, Ron Miller has gone nose to nose with Bob Hope, chin to chin with Kirk Douglas, and face to face with scores of other stars of the big screen.

Now busily retired in Blaine, Miller used to be the TV critic at the San Jose Mercury News, where his syndicated stories ran in more than 100 newspapers. That meant actors and actresses were usually more than happy to sit down with him for an interview. And Miller, who loves movies just as much as television, was more than happy to talk to them about their film careers as well as their current TV shows.

Miller and James Bawden, a longtime friend and fellow TV critic, have pooled their interviews with 34 actors and actresses for a new book, “Conversations with Classic Film Stars; Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era.”

The interviews feature stars from 1930, when talkies became the norm, to the mid-’50s, when movie studios lost their dominance to the rise of TV and other changes in the entertainment world.

“They are the golden movies that we remember to a great degree,” Miller said.

Based on original tape recordings and notes, the interviews were updated and recast into easy-to-read, question-and-answer chapters. All of the interviews were originally conducted face to face, so the book amounts to a treasure of sit-down sessions with such familiar figures as Dorothy Lamour, Loretta Young and Cary Grant, as well as Douglas and Hope.

Also interviewed were such “niche” stars as Chinese-American actor Keye Luke, and Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”

They are the golden movies that we remember to a great degree.

Ron Miller, co-author, “Conversations with Classic Films”

In some cases, Miller and Bawden had separately interviewed the same star. For the book, they melded their interviews while shedding duplication.

A follow-up book with 45 more interviews by them is in the works, and they plan to compile another book about famous directors, producers, screenwriters and cinematographers.

Miller, 77, moved to Blaine in 2001 and has kept busy teaching about movies and television at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University.

Stars in “Conversations with Classic Film Stars” who were interviewed by Miller include:

▪ Kirk Douglas, who co-starred in four movies with John Wayne, his political polar opposite. “We had a respect for each other. The fact that you start a picture where everybody loves each other doesn’t mean you’re going to wind up making a good movie.”

▪ Bob Hope, the great film comedy star of the 1940s and ’50s was a womanizer who often acted opposite the most beautiful women in Hollywood. “Marilyn Monroe was very kittenish and cute and pretty. She was very nice offstage. Jayne Mansfield was another one that came on like gangbusters and lived it right on through in her personal life.”

▪ Dorothy Lamour, the “sarong girl” of the late 1930s and ’40s, is best remembered for her “Road” pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. “In my day, the films were romantic. Now they’re all raw sex. I don’t know what I’d be doing in pictures if I were starting out today. ... As for my sarong, that would be like wearing long underwear today.”

▪ Luise Rainer, the Austrian actress who won the first back-to-back Oscars for Best Actress (for “The Great Ziegfeld” and “The Good Earth”), left the movies after her marriage to playwright Clifford Odets broke up. “He was handsome and recklessly brilliant. Later, I discovered he was a cruel-mouthed, mean-spirited, egotistical womanizer.”

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Ron Miller time

Miller will teach a class, with film clips, about classic film stars, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, May 21, in the Library Presentation Room at Western Washington University. The community class is through the Academy for Lifelong Learning. Cost: $20 academy members, $25 general. Deadline to register: May 14. Details: 360-650-4970.

Miller will discuss “Conversations with Classic Film Stars” at 7 p.m. May 26, at Village Books, 1200 11th St.