When it comes to old movies, don't mess with Cher. The Oscar-winning uber-diva and passionate film buff is helping Turner Classic Movies launch its new weekly film series Friday Night Spotlight (8/7c), which kicks off this week. Each month will showcase a different theme and guest co-host. First up is A Woman's World: The Defining Era of Women in Film, a collection of 17 classic movies — handpicked by Cher — that illustrates the evolving roles of women from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. Among them: Stella Dallas, Mildred Pierce, Bachelor Mother, So Proudly We Hail, The Devil in Miss Jones and the 1946 Best Picture Oscar winner The Best Years of Our Lives. (For a full list go to tcm.com). Cher and TCM host Robert Osborne will talk shop and intro the films, which air in four categories — Motherhood (April 5), War Effort and the Homefront (April 12), Working Women (April 19) and Women Taking Charge (April 26). TV Guide Magazine rang Cher to talk about her obsession with the golden age of Hollywood and to find out — if she could turn back time — which long-gone leading man she'd most like to costar with. You'll never guess.
TV Guide Magazine: A few years back we did a cover story on you and I remember you telling me how you'd throw these dinner parties at your house — even Thanksgiving dinners — and never come downstairs to see your guests because you were too busy up in the bedroom...
Watching Turner Classic Movies! [Laughs] And it's still true. I'm glued! I'm responsible for turning my publicist, Liz Rosenberg, into an aficionado. I make her come to my house and we lay on my bed watching old movies on TCM for hours and hours...and pretty soon it turns into days! Unbelievable! I never get tired of seeing the same movies over and over. I just watched The Best Years of Our Lives for what's probably the thousandth time. It's such a perfect movie that I can't stand it! I don't know what to do with myself.
TV Guide Magazine: We always think of Cher as being very forward thinking and groundbreaking. How does that square with the Cher who is so happy to escape into the past?
But the past is groundbreaking! That's what's so exciting about this series of films about women I'm hosting with Robby Osborne. [Laughs] I called him Robby on the set and I hear the crew is still busting his balls about it. I had so much fun with him. Anyway, these films reflect a time when women really had power in Hollywood. They were filling theaters across the country! It was a very progressive era.
TV Guide Magazine: So what happened? Why are women still the second-class citizens of the movie biz?
By the time the '50s rolled around it all turned back into a men's game. Well, it's always been a men's game but, for a while there, women were just too strong to f--k with! Now the movies are so action-oriented. It's all about men blowing up stuff. They give Helen Mirren a machine gun [in Red] and call it progress. Comedies seem to be where women have more of a chance these days. Romances used to be a great place, too, but there aren't too many of those anymore, unless you're a vampire. Then it's a great time for you!
TV Guide Magazine: Wasn't it still pretty brutal for the great women of that era — Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck?
So many of them stopped making quality films after they passed their thirties. Lana Turner was a huge star who went on to some really bad breaks. She took a percentage of Peyton Place and made a fortune but, in order to keep her career alive with that film, she had to do the thing actresses most hated to do — play the mother of a grownup daughter. And she didn't make too many more movies after that. It was so hard for these women to reach the point where they were no longer the love interest. Joan Crawford was fired from MGM when she was way too young to be fired for being too old. But then she went on to play Mildred Pierce — again, the mother of a teenage daughter — and she won an Oscar. I guess the lucky ones were those who weren't ever leading ladies, the character actresses like Beulah Bondi, Spring Byington, Agnes Moorehead, Gladys Cooper. They never stopped working!
TV Guide Magazine: Did you steal from the stars of that period when you became an actress?
Oh, hell, yes! I can't even tell you what I took from those great women because I must have taken everything. I was a sponge. [Laughs] Like Agnes Gooch.
TV Guide Magazine: If you could go back to that era in a time machine and have your pick of leading men, who would it be?
Dana Andrews. I know that probably seems obscure but you'll know what I mean if you see him in The Best Years of Our Lives or in Laura. I guess there are reasons he has gone so unrecognized — there was alcoholism and what have you — but he was a genius. Just extraordinary!
TV Guide Magazine: Didn't you try for years to produce and star in a remake of that old Dorothy McGuire fantasy The Enchanted Cottage.
I tried for a million years and couldn't get it made. Francis Coppola even said to me, "You need to make this movie. Give it all your energy." But when I had the rights, I couldn't find the right writer. Then I lost the rights, then got them back again and still couldn't find a writer. I may be too old to do it now but it would still make a fabulous movie. I also always wanted to remake A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Oh! And also On Borrowed Time, the one with Beulah Bondi and Lionel Barrymore, and that little kid who was such a great crier. What was his name? He was also in Boys Town. Bobs Watson! And they had Sir Cedric Hardwicke walking around as Death! Fantastic. See, I know my stuff.
TV Guide Magazine: Didn't doubt it. So you never feel guilty about how much time you spend watching old movies?
Are you kidding? Never! But I do watch a hell of a lot. In fact, when there's a movie on TCM that I haven't seen before, it truly shocks me because, at this point, I've seen everything. How can you not appreciate these great old films? It's like owning a diamond and going, "Well, s--t, that thing's so old. Who wants that?" [Laughs] Yes, these movies are old but, damn it, they're diamonds!