Every August TCM breaks from its regularly scheduled programming to honor the faces that make the great mechanical art form so enchanting. It’s Summer Under the Stars, 24 hours with a dozen or so movies from a single actor, 31 actors in all.
Barbara Stanwyck kicked off this year’s festivities on Saturday with a couple of iconic film noir performances (Double Indemnity and Clash By Night), not to mention one of her most sincere in Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe.
Stanwyck is no stranger to Summer Under the Stars. Nor is Rock Hudson (Aug. 2), Rita Hayworth (Aug. 3), Burt Lancaster (Aug. 6), Charlie Chaplin (Aug. 8), Lana Turner (Aug. 12), John Barrymore (Aug. 13), Steve McQueen (Aug. 14), Cary Grant (Aug. 16), Maureen O’Hara (Aug. 17), Olivia de Havilland (Aug. 23), Laurence Olivier (Aug. 26), and Claudette Colbert (Aug. 27). Additionally, Aug. 17 will be a celebration of O’Hara’s centenary, while Aug. 23 will pay tribute to de Havilland, who died at the age of 104 on July 25 (more on de Havilland’s career on this week’s After Image).
Twelve new stars join the ranks this year, from song and dance man, Sammy Davis Jr. (Aug. 11) to French heartthrob, Alain Delon (Aug. 31). Goldie Hawn (Aug. 9) is the most contemporary actor featured in the line-up and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall (Aug. 4) might be the most obscure. Born Grünwald Jakab in Budapest, Hungary in 1883, Sakall left for Hollywood in 1940, when his homeland fell under the iron grip of the Nazi party, and found work as an affable character actor. It was studio boss Jack Warner who bestowed the nickname “Cuddles,” and it fit Sakall like a glove. His most memorable role was as Rick (Humphrey Bogart’s) maître d in Casablanca, which will screen on Aug. 28, on Paul Henreid’s day—Sakall is as memorable in his role as Henreid is as forgettable in his.
It just wouldn’t be August without Summer Under the Stars. And in a year where nothing feels normal, TCM’s centerpiece programming isn’t only a chance to watch an actor’s range play out over a day and several decades; it’s a welcome salve to make things feel somewhat, if only a little, normal.