Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Born Today May 24: Fernando Soler


Mexican film actor and director Fernando Soler was born Fernando Díaz Pavía in the village of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, into a family of entertainers.  He was the elder brother of 3, all of which went into the film business.  They were sort of like the Mexican version of the Marx Brothers.  All of them changed their last name to Soler; and were referred to States-side as "The Soler Brothers."  Of the four, Fernando is the only one to have any connection with the silent era of film.  He is credited with having a bit part in the 1915 filmed version of the novel The Spanish Jade, an English language silent which was remade in 1922 (this latter film is sadly lost). His formal film debut didn't come until 1932 in which was given top billing; this came in the Spanish language film Cuándo to suicidas, a comedic feature produced by Paramount in the United States, but shot in France.  He made his directorial debut back in his home country of Mexico in 1940, directing himself in Con su amable permiso, a comedy drama.  He probably best known for his role in Luis Bunuel's Susana (1951). He went on the have a long acting and directing career, mostly in Mexico; and he worked up until the time of his death.  In fact, he was such a busy actor, that one film in which he appeared was released posthumously.  He passed away on the 24th of October in 1979 in Mexico City.  He is thought to have died from a hemispheric body paralysis, the most common cause of which is stroke; he was 83.  There seems to be disagreement about where he is interred, however there is a marker for him in Mexico City's historic Pantéon Jardín cemetery.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Upcoming Silent Festival

JUNE 2-5

Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theater in San Francisco, Ca. Click here for more!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Born Today May 19 Not So Silent Edition: Anthony Bushell


Anthony Arnatt Bushell was born in Kent, England, UK.  He was educated at Magdalen College, and later, Hertford College, Oxford.  After Oxford, he went on to study formal training in stage acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.  Bushell made his stage debut in 1924 in a production of Sardou's Diplomacy at the West End's Adelphi Theater.  By 1927 and 1928 he was touring with high profile theatrical productions in the United States; and by the end of 1928 he was the talk of Broadway.  That same year fellow British stage actor George Arliss saw him in a play; when Arliss was cast in a very early talkie Disraeli (1929) [sound by the Western Electric Apparatus], Arliss recommended Bushell for the role of Charles Deeford, which the studio accepted.  Also in 1929, Bushell was part of the huge production of The Show Of Shows.  He was featured in the "Henry VI" sequence.  Thus his movie career began in the earliest era of sound in motion pictures.  He would go on to be in films with likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson and Erich von Stroheim.  He served his country during World War II; commissioned into the Welsh Guards, where he served as commander in the Guards Armoured Division--tank squadron.  After the war, he developed a close relationship with Sir Lawrence Olivier, and would go on to be an assistant director to him.  By the early 1960's, he had grown tired of the business.  The last full length film he made was the The Queen's Guards in 1961 and, he retired for good in 1964 after making his last acting appearance on the television series Drama 61-67.  He served for a time as the director of the Monte Carlo Golf Club.  Bushell passed away on 2 April 1997 at the age of 92 in Oxford, England, UK.  The details of his burial are unknown

Bushell right with Arliss in Disraeli (1929)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Born Today May 18: Frank Capra


One of the giants of American cinema was born Francesco Rosario Capra (who later translated his name into English as Frank Russell Capra) in the Sicilian town of Biscaquino (of course part of Italy) into a family of fruit growers; he was the youngest of 7 children.  In 1903 the entire family immigrated to the United States.  The family was stuffed into the steerage section of the boat, the cheapest way to travel in those times; the journey took 13 days to complete.  For Capra it remained a vivid lifelong memory of a terrible experience.  The family like most Europeans immigrating to the US at the time, came in to the country through New York Harbor (gasping at the size of the Statue Of Liberty on their way in), but promptly made straight for California, settling in the Los Angeles area, in what is today Chinatown.  At that time it was what Capra himself called "an Italian ghetto."  Capra sold newspapers starting at age 10 and continued to do so through high school. His parents convinced him to enroll in college after graduating, instead of going directly to work, which he did.  He also worked through college at Cal Tech and took a slew of odd jobs; AND he worked at night, in clubs playing the banjo--this was his first foray into any sort of entertainment.  In college he studied chemical engineering and graduated in 1918.  Immediately after graduation he was commissioned in the US Army as a second lieutenant (made possible by his ROTC membership in college); he taught math to artillerymen at Fort Scott in San Francisco.  This didn't long; while in the army he caught the "Spanish flu" that was going around (the pandemic would kill millions across the globe); he was discharged and sent home.  With his father having died in an accident in 1916 and he being the only college educated member of the Capra household, it fell to him to provide for the family.  Nonetheless, he was unable to get work, and seeing all of his older siblings gaining steady work, he became depressed and felt a failure; to make matters worse, he discovered that abdominal problems that he had been suffering from was actually from a ruptured appendix.  He then faced another lengthy recovery.  He did managed to become a naturalized US citizen in 1920.  He moved out the house and spent several years living in flophouses in and around San Francisco; also hoping the rails and traveling around the west picking up odd jobs of all sorts.  One of those jobs was acting as an extra in a film; he also supported himself as a poker player.  The one film from the silent era that he is credited as having acted in (there could well be more) The Outcasts of Poker Flats which is listed as having a given year of 1919--it was a Universal production.  It was an early western directed by the great silent western director John Ford--who would go on to direct some Hollywood's golden age Westerns.  Capra's directorial debut came in 1921, when at the age of 24, he directed a short documentary entitled La visita dell'incrociatore italiano Libia a San Francisco...; which documented the arrival of the Italian naval ship the Libia (Libya) in San Francisco bay.  He is also credited with personally working on the intertitles, along with a person credited as "J. J. DeMoro," whose real name was Guilio DeMoro--who was probably a friend.  He then had to take a job as a book seller, which left him nearly broke, and with a fresh sense of defeat--but the venture boldened his moxey.  While selling books, he read an advertisement in a newspaper about a new film studio opening up in San Francisco; he called the number listed and implied a great deal of experience in film and saying that he had recently moved from "Hollywood."  The studio's founder, one Walter Montague, took to Capra and offered him $75 to direct a one-reel silent film.  With the help of the Montague hired cameraman, they managed to make the film in two days, and cast it entirely with amateur actors.  The film was The Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House (1922) (note: this film is sometimes listed as a two-reeler, it's running time is 12 minutes). The film was comedic short, marking the path that his film making career would take off--though Capra could hardly have seen it at the time.  He almost didn't notice that he had actual talent in the field--he saw it more as a way to have gainful employment that didn't involve selling things. After making 3 more pictures at this studio in 1922 (some of which he wrote), he began casting about for other jobs in the industry which lead him to another job working with producer Harry Cohn.  Working for Cohn at first Capra was a jack of all trades, working his way up from property man, to a film cutter, to a title writer and finally to assistant director.  He was then employed as a gag writer by Hal Roach studios; and this is where his narrative film beginnings a comedic writer and director came into it's own.  As a gag writer, he focused particularly on the Our Gang series.  He also wrote scripts for comedian Harry Lagdon as well.  He was in Mack Sennett's world now.  It would, however, be 4 years between full directorial jobs.  When Langdon left Sennett, he took Capra with him to start his own studio/production company, Harry Langdon Corporation.  It was here that returned to directing.  In 1926 directed Langdon in The Strong Man.  It was the first full length film that he had ever worked on in any capacity. He further directed two more films in 1927.  One was with Langdon's company, the other was with First National with Robert Kane Productions, after he was fired by Langdon.  The film was For The Love Of Mike (yet another lost film); it was considered a failure as a film, but it did mark the first time that he directed Claudette Colbert.  His much storied directing career then took off, when he was put under contract with the now transformed Harry Cohn's studio, which became Columbia Pictures.  The first film he made with the historic studio was That Certain Thing.  The first film that he directed that had any type of sound in was Sunshine, which had musical score and sound effects by Western Electric Sound System.  These were only two of the eight films that he directed in 1928.  He would start 1929 off with another partial sound film, that had an alternative silent version:  The Younger Generation.  His next film, The Donovan Affair (1929), was his first full sound film, with the full mono provided by MovieTone.  He would never make a silent film again.  In all 1929 he directed a total of 3 films, all of them in some sort of sound.  For his part, he was glad to see the silent days go; later in life he was quoted as saying "I wasn't at home in silents."  Of course, he would go on to direct some of the most well known and well made early talkies. It Happened One Night (1934), starring Colbert and Clark Gable, won 5 Oscars, including Best Director.  Other films he made during the 1930's include Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1938). During the Second World War, he again enlisted in the Army.  While there, he was assigned to work directly under Chief of Staff George C. Marshall; Capra's job was to turn out a series of propaganda films that is collectively known as the Why We Fight series; with his taking time out in 1944 to direct Arsenic And Old Lace with Cary Grant.  After the war, in 1946, the first post war film that he made was It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart.  As his themes slowly started to get out of lockstep with the ever modernizing Hollywood; he became increasingly disillusioned with the director's chair.  His last film came in 1964, with a short documentary that was ironically enough to serious look to the future.  Entitled Rendezvous in Space, made for the Martin Marietta Corporation (and produced by Capra's own company), it was about futuristic plans in the United States to build space shuttles and space stations.  It was shown at the New York State Fair in 1965.  He then retired from the movie business.  Capra, however, lived until 1991, long enough to see the shuttle program and Skylab, the first American space state. He had started his directorial career with a documentary short and ended it the same way. Capra died at the age of 94 of heart failure on 3rd September 1991, in La Quinta, CA.  For a person that had so many health problems early in adulthood, that were life-shortening any one of them by themselves, that he lived so long is a bit of a miracle in itself.  He is buried Coachella Valley Public Cemetery.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Born Today May 15: Anny Ondra


Born Anny Sophie Ondrákóva in Tarnów, Galicia--then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of Poland; her father was Czech by ancestry and was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian military.  She grew up in Prague.  She got into stage acting as a teenager, and my the age of 16 she had made her first film Palimpsest, which is sadly a lost film.  There is a great deal of confusion over this lost drama.  For starters, many sources say that she was 17 instead 16 when she secretly agreed to star in this Czechoslovakian film.  Additionally, there is confusion as to who directed it, some sources cite her boyfriend at the time Karel (sometimes credited as Carl) Lamac, he is sometimes credited as an actor in the film; other sources cite Joe Jencík, but this is unlikely because it was Lamac that was the director by profession and Jencík was the actor.  In fact, this is the ONLY director credit for Jencík, which is suspicious. To make things more confusing, Lamac's name when applied to the film is often listed as Karell Lamatch.  Whatever the truth, when Anny's father found about her appearance in the film, he gave her a beating.  As she was billed under her real name, her family was intensely embarrassed by it.  As a military man, her father was outraged that his daughter would stoop to the profession of acting, which in that part of the world after World War I, acting was seen are barely above begging--almost on par with prostitution.  This in no way discouraged her!  Though her father had secured other plans for her after her graduation from convent school (he had managed to save her a position in the government), she instead left home and moved in with Lamac.  She promptly appeared in another film the following year, Dáma a malou nozkou, again under her birth name.  In fact, throughout most of the 1920's, the bulk of her silent career, she went by this name.  Her career at this point was off and running in what was then Czechoslovakia, (she, for example, made 4 films in 1920 alone).  The first film that can be confirmed that she is credited with her last name shortened came in the Czech language film, Chorus Girls in 1928.  Her first English language film also came in 1928 with Eileen of the Trees in the UK; it was also her first sound film, with the whole film in early mono.  She pretty much stayed in the UK from this point on for the rest of silent career.  In 1929 she was in her first Alfred Hitchcock film, The Manxman--it was his last silent film.  That same year, she starred in Hitchcock's first sound film Blackmail. The last silent film that she made was with her director beau, turned lifelong friend, in 1930 in Germany:  The Virgin of Paris.  She would go to marry a famous German boxer and lived the rest of her life in Germany (after WWII West Germany).  During the war, however, the German Fascists tried to exploit the couple to their ends, with the overtures always rebuffed by the couple.  In fact, they helped hide two Jewish children, saving their lives--a capital offense under the Nazi regime.  Unfortunately because of these public overtures to the couple during the war, after the war they were wrongly accused by the post war government of Nazi collaboration and fined to the point of poverty.  They managed to start their own business on family land, she had effectively retired from during the war, so she was committed to the family business from then on.  After the war, she made one more film in 1951 in One Must Be Handsome, then she retired for good.  She died on 28 February 1987 at the age of 84 from a stroke.  She is buried in the Saint Andreas Friedhof Cemetery in Hollenstedt, Germany.  

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Born Today May 14: Miles Mander


Born Lionel Henry Mander in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire UK (in the English Midlands); he was the second son of Theodore Mander of the prominent industrial family of the same name (Theodore was the builder of Wrightwick Manor).  His older brother Geoffrey Mander was a prominent member of Parliament for years.  The younger Mander, however, seems to have a case of wonder lust.  After a childhood education at Harrow in Middlesex and Loretto School east of Edinburgh in Scotland, he set out of University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The plan was for him to follow in the family business, but he soon developed an interest in aviation, and followed that passion into service for his country in World War I, where he served as a captain the Royal Army Service Corps.  After the war, he set out for New Zealand, where he spent most of his twenties on his uncle Martin Mander's sheep farm. He returned to Great Britain in 1918 and began to write both novels and plays.  He also became a film exhibitor, this was his first foray into the world of motion pictures.  By 1920 he had managed to get his first part in film in a minor role; the film was Testimony, a marriage melodrama based on a novel.  His name change came about when he was credited early on sometime as "Luther Miles," presumably because of the prominence of his family, the name stuck, with his changing the last name for his real first name. Throughout the 1920's he had steady work as an actor; but he also has credits as and producer, writer and a director.   His first producer credit came in 1923 with The Man Without Desire , a strange early sci/fi-fantasy film about life suspension, with the subject being reanimated 200 years later.  His first writing credit came in Lovers in Araby, a film that he also acted in.  He made his directorial debut two years later with The Whistler (1926), a DeForest Phonofilm production.  The next film that he made with them was truly revolutionary; they allowed him to direct a very early musical based on a sequel to Lover in Araby, entitled The Sheik of Araby, utilizing thier patented sound-on-film-process.  It was simply a musical number performed by then popular singer Paul England.  The next film that he appeared in that featured sound was Balaclava (1928), but the sound version was released two years after the silent original.  His big breakthrough also came in 1928 with a film that he wrote, directed and starred in:  The First Born.  The film was a huge critical success and gained the attention of Hollywood--to this day it remains one of the great classics of the silent era. The first film that he starred in that featured sound effects that had been perfected into early mono was The Crooked Billet (1929) (it seems that Britain had a slightly different path to sound film--as they just didn't have the ability to promote films in early full sound due to theaters not being owned by studios, so they often overdubbed sound to partial sound effect films and re-released them when theaters finally released around 1930 or 1931 that they had to upgrade or die). Miles Mander went on to be a well know character actor in Hollywood in sound film; a rarity for an actor without stage training who became a star in the silent era.  In 1930, he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Murder!, Hitchcock's third full length sound film.  He is probably best known by film buffs for his portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu in the comedic Allan Dwan directed The Three Musketeers, starring Don Ameche and featuring the The Ritz Brothers, with appearances by Lionel Atwill and John Carradine. Mander died of a sudden heart attack event in the famous original Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles at the age of 57 on February 8 1946.  Well, if you had to go that dramatically, then the Brown Derby was the place to do back in those days!  He was buried in Ocean View Burial Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada under his birth name.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Born Today May 13: Fritz Rasp


Fritz Heinrich Rasp was born in Bayreuth, Germany to a very large family--he had at least 12 other siblings.  Between the years 1908 & 1909 he attended acting school in Munich, where he leaned to overcome a speech impediment by developing a Frankish accent.   He made his stage debut later in 1909.  He soon established himself as quite the character actor, and would go on to work in stage productions directed by the likes of Max Reinhardt and Bertolt Brecht.  He made his film debut in 1916, in a short comedy directed by the soon to be famous Ernst LubitschSchuhpalast Pinkus.  By the early 1920's he was staple "heavy" in German silent films.  He might have acted in more films in the late 1910's if were not for his military service in the years 1916-1918.  The role that he by far and away most famous for is The Thin Man from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).  The German film industry was somewhat behind that of the United States in terms of sound films; so it wouldn't be until 1930 that Rasp was in his first speaking role on film in The Dreyfus Case.  From then on, he would have a long and prolific career acting in films, acting right up until the year of his death.  He was so well known as a villainous character actor, that when he died 30 November at the age of 85 in 1976, his obituary in Der Speigal, read in part "the German film villain in service for over 60 years."  He is buried in Friedhof Gräfelfing Cemetery.  

Scene from Metropolis

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Born Today May 7: Gary Cooper


Born Frank James Cooper in Helena, Montana to English immigrant parents; he had one older sibling, a brother named Arthur.  Their father Charles had become a prominent lawyer in Montana, rising even up to the Montana Supreme Court; this allowed for the family to purchase a large ranch and live comfortably.  Their mother, Alice, wanted her two sons to have an English education, so in 1909 she escorted them back to the UK where they were enrolled in Dunstable Grammar School located in Bedfordshire.  He was educated there from 1910 through 1912.  The boys were then escorted, again by their mother, back to Montana to attend school at the Johnson Grammar School in Helena.  While in high school, he was encouraged by a teacher to join the debate club and get involved in the dramatic arts; this was his first exposure to public oration and acting of any sort.  Also while still in high school, he enrolled in college courses the agricultural college in Bozeman.  After graduating, he headed for Grinnell College in Iowa, the year was 1922.  While there he did well in his course work, but was disappointed not to be accepted at the college's drama club.  During summer's he supported himself as a guide at Yellowstone.  Disgruntled with college life, he quit suddenly in 1924 and headed to Chicago to find work as an artist, but was unsuccessful.  After a month, he headed back to his hometown of Helena, where he got work selling editorial cartoons to the local newspaper.  In the autumn of that same year, Cooper's father Charles left the Montana Supreme Court and moved with his wife Alice out to Los Angeles to work with family members living there.  At his father's request, he joined them there.  He wasn't there long before he ran into two acquaintances from back home who worked as stunt riders in the motion picture industry; they introduced him to rodeo champion "Slim" Talbot who knew people in the industry.  Talbot took Cooper to see a casting director, and he soon found work as an extra for $5.00 a day and a stunt rider for double that amount.  This is were some confusion comes into play.  Many film historians have claimed that Cooper made his film debut in 1923 in an uncredited role in a film titled The Last Hour; this highly doubtful, as Cooper didn't show up in Los Angeles until Thanksgiving of 1924.  It is much more likely that his real debut came as a "crowd extra" in Dick Turbin which came out in 1925.  From there on he got steady work in extra roles in a string of silent films throughout the 1920's.  Realizing that there was more than one actor who went by the credited name of "Frank Cooper," he figured that he needed to change his name.  Nan Collins, a casting director, that had turned agent for Cooper suggested the name "Gary" (after her hometown of Gary, Indiana) and a budding star was born. The first known credit under this name came in 1927 with The Last Outlaw, as "Garry Cooper," in an early starring role for him.  The first partial sound film he starred in came in 1928 in Lilac Time opposite Colleen Moore; though the film had no speaking parts--only sound effects with a musical score.  The first film that he starred in that actually had talking sequences in parts was The Shopworn Angel (1928), with sound provided by Western Electric Sound System.  It was, however, the very last film that he made in the 1920's that was not only his full sound film, but made him a superstar; that would be The Virginian (1929).  Directed by Victor Fleming, it is still a household name amongst connoisseurs of the western film genre.  Cooper would go on to have a very prolific film career, with some very notable roles along the way, including that of real war hero Alvin C. York in the 1941 Sergeant York , for which he won an Oscar.  He also won for High Noon (1952).  His life, though, was cut short, when a late diagnosis of prostate cancer allowed the disease to spread to his colon.  He passed on the 13th of May in 1961, just a week after marking his 60th birthday.  His funeral mass was held on May 18 and was attended by many Hollywood luminaries.  He was then interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.  However, in 1974 when his family relocated to New York, he was exhumed and his remains transported to Southampton, NY, where he was reburied at the Sacred Hearts cemetery there; a 3 ton boulder from the Montauk quarry, along with a flat grave stone mark his final resting place.  

His original grave marker in California

His new grave marker, with Montauk boulder, along with the marker for his wife's grave in Southampton, NY.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Born Today May 4: Esmond Knight


Classically trained stage actor Esmond Penington Knight was born East Sheen on this day, which is located in Surrey in England, UK.  He seems to have made his stage debut in 1925, and indeed, appeared in many filmed Shakespeare adaptations during his lifetime, including the classic 1948 film adaptation of Hamletthe brainchild of Laurence Olivier.  Most sources cite his first film credit as coming in the 1931 early British talkie The Gaunt Stranger.  In fact, his first film appearance came in 1928 in a late silent film entitled The Blue Porter, in which he assayed the role of "radio operator."  From this time forward he appeared in various stage and film productions until WWII broke out.  During the first years of the war he sought to do his part by accepting roles in propaganda films; but his real goal was to fight for his country.  He was finally awarded the chance to serve as Gunnery Officer aboard the HMS Prince Of Wales, a ship that accompanied the HMS Hood.  When the Hood was attacked by the infamous German battleship the Bismark, he personally witnessed the sinking of the Hood; after which, the Germans turned their huge guns on the Prince Of Wales.  The ship received heavy fire, and Knight was hit in the face by an exploding shell, causing him to lose one eye completely and the lose vision in his remaining eye--leaving him totally blind for a time. Because of his blindness, he switched to radio work, but managed to dip his toe back into film work.  He received state of the art (at the time) treatments to help save the vision in his remaining eye; which turned out to be a great success.  This allowed him to return to film and stage work full time.  By 1944, his sight had improved enough to accept a role in Olivier's Henry V.  He continued to act in both television and for the big screen right up until the year of his death.  He died of a massive heart attack on 23 February 1987 at the age of 80.  He was cremated; the location of his ashes is unknown, but they may reside with a family member.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Born Today May 3: Bing Crosby (Not So Silent Edition)


Born Harry Crosby Jr. in Tacoma, Washington; he was three when his parents moved the family to Spokane, where he grew up.  He acquired his nickname of Bing at the age of seven, when an older neighborhood boy started calling him "Bingo from Bingville" after a local popular satirical columnist's serials in a newspaper.  This morphed into Bing and stuck.  In 1917 he took a job at the local auditorium and was enthralled by the acts he was able to see there free of charge--amongst them Al Jolson.  He was bitten by the professional music bug and had gained a love of the stage.  He graduated from high school in 1920. Obviously he is such a towering figure in the 20th century American consciousness, there is no point to go into his full history.  He is commemorated here only because he, by 1928, had managed to help pen a tune that made it into a very, very early musical (a small part actually silent in nature), The Singing Fool in 1928, ironically starring Al Jolson.  The rest is history, of course.  Crosby died on October 14, 1977 just outside Madrid in Spain after an enjoyable game of golf.  He had been battling illnesses and injury since around 1974.  For more see his Wikipedia entry below. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA. next to his first wife Dixie; his grave marker mistakes the correct year of his birth.

IMDb (note that Internet Movie Database also gets his birthday wrong by the day)