Saturday, December 19, 2015

Born Today December 19: Mabel Paige


1880-1954

Born Mabel Paige Roberts in New York City in the borough of Manhattan, she started on the stage at just the age of four.  She went on to be an extremely successful Broadway actress, and founded her own touring company in her own name:  The Mabel Paige Theatrical Company after 1918.   She made her film debut in 1912 in Comedic short entitled No Trespassing  ironically playing a character named "Mable Long."  This began her tenure had the Lubin Manufacturing Company, which quit production of motion pictures in 1916 when it was forced into bankrupcy by court rulings on motion picture patenting.  During this period of time, she starred in a number or romantic comedies opposite Oliver Hardy.  After Lubin's bankruptcy, it was a full two years before she appeared in another motion picture; that would be Eight Bells (1918).  This was the last silent motion picture she was ever in. This is when she founded her stage company.  The company toured in the southern United States extensively and for a protracted period of time. This came during a period time after she retired from the motion picture industry, during the silent era.  Ever a creature of the stage, silent acting was just not for her.  This earned her the nickname "Idol of the South." She did not appear again in a film until 1942.  In all she appeared in over 50 films, many of them silent shorts between 1912 through 1916.  She also worked in television.  Her appearance on I Love Lucy, is probably her most famous T.V. appearance.  She died of a heart attack on 9 February in Van Nuys at the age of 73.  She is buried in Pearce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, under her married name of Mary Paige Ritchie.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Born Today December 18: Betty Grable (Not So Silent Wierdness Edition)


1916-1973

Born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in Saint Louis, Missouri; she was pressured by an over-bearing to become a performer.  She was entered into dance school at the very young age of 3 and taken, by her mother, to Hollywood when she was 12 or 13.  Her mother lied about her age, thus getting her bit parts in movies in the 1930's.  She made 1 full sound talkie in 1929, a musical entitled Happy Days, as a chorus girl. The sound was by MovieTone.  Despite being a very talented singer, and actress, she evidently suffered from a phobic fear of crowds; which must have terrorized her when her mother enrolled her in multiple beauty contests and pressured her to become a model.  Though the modeling experience did pay off, as she was able to fall back on it in WWII as photos of her "million dollar legs" provided titillation and comfort for soldiers.  And she was able to provide entertainment by actually making a film about being a USO hostess called Pin Up Girl, thus avoiding actually facing throngs of actual soldiers as a real USO hostess.  She passed away passed away on the 2nd of July 1973 of lung cancer at the young age of 56.  She is entombed in Inglewood Park Cemetery....with her mother, under the name Betty Grable James.

  



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Born Today December 16: Sir Noël Coward


1899-1973

Born Noël Peirce Coward in Teddington, Middlesex, England, UK.  He is best known as a influential comedy playwright; but in reality he was the epitome of a Renaissance man:  he was also a composer/lyricist, director, painter, singer and actor.  He possessed a unique and extraordinary wit, with which in invented a form "Englishness" that persisted at least up until and, even through, the British rock invasion of the 1960's.  He was on the unprofessional stage by the age of 6 and acting professionally by the age of 11, while attending dance academy in London (on strong encouragement from his mother).  He is supposed to have written his first play, a drama, by the age of 16.  In 1921, he visited an increasingly swinging New York City and caught "the Broadway bug" in a big way, when a play he was starring in debuted on "The Great White Way."  By this time, he had already appeared in film for the first time, and with no slouch director either; he had two bit parts in D. W. Griffith's Hearts Of The World, which was released in 1918 and is an anthology of series of tales set in Europe about the coming of The Great War (and is currently on Amazon's Prime rental free).  In the silent era, only three films were produced as adaptations of his work; one of the directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The first one was German, Forbidden Love (originally titled "The Queen Was in the Palour"), was made in 1927.  The next was Easy Virtue in 1928, and was directed by Hitchcock before he left England for Hollywood.  The last was The Vortex, also in 1928, based on his infamous play of the same name that had taken New York by scandalous storm earlier in the 1920's.  From then on out, his adapted works were in full sound; and often either included songs that he had written, or were turned into musicals.  One of my personal favorites, is the David Lean directed Blithe Spirit (1945), which he is reported to have worked on the screenplay covertly.  Coward died in Jamaica, on his Firefly Estate, in Blue Harbor on 26 March 1973 of a heart attack, after suffering for many years the condition that is properly known as "hardening of the arteries."  He is buried there.






Statue over-looking his burial slab in Jamaica.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Born Today December 15: Yuli Raizman


1903-1994

Born Yuliyakovlevich Raizman in Riga, in what was then the Russian Empire, which is now the Capital of the country of Latvia, he would go on to be a well known Soviet director of films.  He got his start in the Soviet film industry as an uncredited actor in 1925 in the comedy short (which has survived and can actually be rented on Amazon) Shakhmatnaya goryachka or Chess Fever.  He apparently, quickly decided that acting was not for him. He then that same year he got his first Assistant Director job, in Medvezhya svadba or The Bear's Wedding.  He has two more credits as an assistant director; one in 1926 and another in 1927.  His first full job as a director also came in 1927 with the feature length Krug.  He made one other silent film in 1928; with his first mono sound film coming in 1930; quite early for the USSR, as other film directors at the time where still making silent pictures well into the early 1930's there.  Very late into his career, his film Chastnaya zhizn (Private Life) was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  He directed his last film in 1984 before retiring.  He passed away in Moscow on the 11th of December 1994 at the age of 90.  He was born when Russia was still and empire, and lived all but three of years of his life in the USSR, and died in a much smaller independent country.  Although he, like all directors in the USSR made propaganda films, he was no where as prolific as most.  From my research the most propagandistic film that he directed was a "documentary" had to do with the fall of Berlin in 1945.  He is buried in Troekurov Cemetery in Moscow.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Born Today December 14: Frederick Worlock




1886-1973

Born in London, England; he started in the theater there in 1906.    In the silent era, he made it only into two films, one of which, released in 1928, was an early talkie; both were shorts.  His first film was a British short Kismet  made in 1914.  Sometime after this he left for the U.S. By 1923 he had made his Broadway debut, and that career lasted into the 1950's.  The short talking film that he made in 1928 was Two Masters.   He did not appear again in films until 1939; from there he went on to have a very long career as a character actor.  Notably along the way in a couple of Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.  He also did quite a lot of television, appearing on variety of shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason.  He was Laelius in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960).  His role came in 1970, and it is an uncredited role in Airport, as a passenger.  He passed away on 1 August 1973 in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles.  He is buried in Pierce Bros. Valhalla Memorial Park, in North Hollywood.

With Basil Rathbone



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Born Today December 10: Victor McLaglen


1886-1959

Born Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen; the place of his birth is bit of a mix-up.  On the one hand, he claimed to have been born in Tunbridge Wells, in County Kent; on the other, his birth certificate states that he was actually born in the East End of London.  On thing is for sure, he was born somewhere in England in the United Kingdom.  People popular believe that he was completely of Irish ancestry; when in fact, he was Scottish by ethnicity.  His father, who would become a Bishop in the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, moved the family to South Africa when Victor was a child.   He actually joined the British Army when he was 14, lying about his age, but soon after was forced to leave when his true age was discovered.  Four years after this, he moved to Canada and became a successful boxer and wrestler.  He was also famous for being a westerner that practiced and mastered the martial art of Jujutsu and even wrote a book on the subject. When World War I broke out and rejoined the army, serving as acting Captain for the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.  He also did some service in Baghdad later in war.  While in the army he was Heavyweight Champion in 1918.



After the war, he began taking roles in British silent films.  From the start, they were not small roles--no uncredited roles in his filmography.  The first film he appeared in was The Call Of The Road in 1920, the plot of which revolved around boxing.  At some point he moved to Hollywood and quickly became a character actor in silents.  He often played Irishmen, which lead movie goers to assume that he was actually from Ireland, rather than from England.  One aspect of his "character" was that he was particularly good at playing drunks.  One of my personal favorite silent films that he had a role in was The Unholy Three (1925), which was remade as a talkie in 1930.  He starred alongside "The Man Of A Thousand Faces" himself, Lon Chaney, Sr. It is crime caper that just captivates; and, of course, he plays the strongman figure in the film. Rounding out the "three" is Harry Earles, who stood only 3'3" as Tweedledee. This is why I got the joke in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005), about the "The Unholy Two" featuring one of my favorite Native American actors:  Danny Trejo.  To my mind, the 1925 silent is better than the talking remake, which also featured Chaney, Sr.  

The Unholy Three

For a man that went into acting with no formal training, and went directly into leading roles in silent film, McLaglen made the transition to sound film with a great of ease.  The first full sound film that he was in is The Black Watch (1929), which starred Myrna Loy and was directed by John Ford.  Sometime toward the end of his life and during his third and final marriage, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.  He died of a heart attack on 7 November 1959 in Newport Beach, CA.  He is interred in Forest Law Memorial Park in Glendale.



Below is the clip from The Devil's Rejects that includes the "the unholy two."


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Born Today December 9: Douglas Fairbanks Jr.


1909-2000

Born Douglas Elton Fairbanks Jr. in New York City the his famous actor father Douglas Fairbanks Sr.--he was the only from Fairbanks Sr.'s first marriage.  After his parents divorce when he was just 9 years of age, he lived with his mother in various large cities, both here in the US and in Europe.  His first film role came in 1916 in a bit role in one of his father's films American Aristocracy , when he was just 7.  He didn't appear in another film until 1921, when he was 12.  Both of these roles went uncredited.  Two years later, because his father was one of the very first Hollywood icons of film, Fairbanks Jr. was given a contract at Paramount just because of his name:  he was 14 years old at the time.  The first film that he made under that contract was Stephen Steps Out (1923); not only was this his first credited role, he actually got top billing--even over Noah Beery!  Many of his performances in under this contract were pretty unimpressive.  He fell from top billing to supporting roles for the most part.  Though he did have steady work through the silent 1920's.  He is said to have be disillusioned with the motion picture industry, so he took to the stage instead.  There his acting skills improved vastly; reportedly even impressing his father.  It is said that it was his famous stepmother Mary Pickford and family friend Charlie Chaplin that encouraged him to continue his acting career in film.  By the late 1920's he was a well established film actor in his own right, and was back to top billed roles.  His first partial sound film came in 1928 with The Toilers, with the musical score and sound effects provided by the RCA Photophone System.  Also in 1928 he starred in The Barker, which had a silent version and a full mono alternative version--this was his first speaking role on film.  His first full sound film came later that same year with the very famous early talkie A Woman of Affairs (1928), starring the great Greta Garbo.  During World War II he became a highly decorated Naval officer, earning the Distinguished Service Cross from the UK Naval because he was the head the Beach Jumpers program.  He was later appointed a KBE, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the King of Great Britain, for this wartime service.  One of his last roles came in one of my favorite ghost films of all time Ghost Story (1981), as Charles Edward Wanderley.  His very last role came in 1989 in a episode of the television show B. L. Stryker.  Fairbanks Jr. passed away in the city of his birth, at the age of 90 on 7 May 2000.  His body was shipped back to Los Angeles, where he is interred in tomb with his famous father, at the equally famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery.





Saturday, December 5, 2015

Born Today December 5: Walt Disney!


1901-1966

Born Walter Elias Disney in Chicago.  Obviously we are talking about a towering figure here, so for the purposes of this blog, I am sticking to the silent era stuff for the most part.  Disney was a multi-talented voice actor, animator, print cartoonist and producer.  His first interest in these arts seems to have come when he was in high school in Chicago, he began to take night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts studying under artist Louis Grell.  However, at the age of 16 he dropped out of high school and tried to join the Army to fight in World War I, but, was, of course, rejected for being underage.  So he joined the Red Cross instead and he was sent to France as an ambulance driver, but this was only after armistice was signed.  Back in the United States, and in Kansas City, he decided in 1919 to start some sort of artistic career and briefly considered becoming an actor, but then changed his mind to drawing political cartoons and comic strips for newspapers; no was hiring him.  He did manage, through connections with brother Roy, to get temporary work at the Pesman-Rubin where he created advertisements for magazines, newspapers, and, I think, most importantly--movie theaters.  There he met one of my personal favorite cartoonists, Ubbe "Ub" Iwerks, who was also working there temporarily.  When both of their contracts ran out, they decided to start a commercial company together.  That company was the short lived Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.  The company got off to a rocking start and Disney left, he thought temporarily, to find work at the Kansas City Film Ad Company; Iwerks, unable to run their company alone, soon joined him there.  There, Disney started to make ads by a method known as Cutout Animation; this is when he became intensely interested and decided to become a full time animator.  The owner of the company allowed him to borrow a camera to experiment with at night at home; after reading Edwin G. Lutz's book Animated Cartoons:  How They Are Made, Their Origin And Development, he decided that Cel animation (short for celluloid) was a much more promising approach to actual animation.  So effectively he was back in a kind night school situation, only he was teaching himself.  He then decided to open his own animation company and lured Fred Harman from the Ad Company to be his first employee.  There they started creating cartoons they called "Laugh-O-Grams."  After studying Asps Fables, they created modernized versions in 6 Laugh-o-Grams; they were then publicly screened at a local theater that was owned by the man known as the most popular showmen in Kansas City:  Frank Newman.  Disney was off and running!  He then created Laugh-O-Gram Studio, and the cartoons produced there were known as "Newman Laugh-O-Grams"--always with a "by Walt Disney" at the bottom of any poster.  The people working there grew by three, with Harman's brother Hugh, his partner Rudolf Ising, and Disney's old friend and colleague Ubbe Iwerks.  Disney, it turned out was a terrible money manager, and the profits the company was taking in didn't match the high pay to the employees, so the company wound up bankrupt.  It is with these "Laugh-O-Grams" that earns Disney his first film credits, the first coming in 1921 in the capacity as a director, with Kansas City Girls Are Rolling Their Own Now, it was all of 1 minute in length.  This was his first credit...and that is all that really matters.  When Disney died on 15 December 1965 of lung cancer, he had amassed a huge empire including theme parks that I personally grew up with.  There was a romour that he had been frozen and put under the pirates of the Caribbean ride in Los Angeles; thus the "Thaw Walt" campaign in the late 1960's.  The opposite is the truth, he was cremated and his ashes are interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.



Friday, December 4, 2015

Born Today December 4: Lloyd Bacon


1889-1955

Born Lloyd Frances Bacon in San Jose, CA, the son a famous stage actor Frank Bacon, who managed to live just long enough to have a turn performances in early motion pictures himself.  Lloyd's film debut was in a Broncho Billy film, a franchise in which he would continue to act in; the year was 1915.  He was also a frequent actor in early Charlie Chaplin films.  As a matter of fact, he was in a lot of very classic early Chaplin short films, including The Tramp (1915).  He acted all the way through the 1920's with great frequency, but acted in only film in the 1930's.  That would be Broadway Gondolier, a musical made in 1935, which he also directed.  This was his last acting credit, when then became a very successful director.  He actually made his directorial debut in the early 1920's; in 1922 he directed The Speeder a short film that he also starred in.  The first film that he directed that he did not act in also came in 1922, another short entitled The Educator.  His directing career in the 1920's was probably more prolific than was his acting career, in fact.  In the 1930's and 1940's, he directed some very famous films.  An early hit for him was 42 Street (1933).  He continued to direct films right up until the time of his death, when on the 15th of November 1955 he passed away suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 65, in Burbank, CA.  He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.

Bacon with Chaplin




Thursday, December 3, 2015

Born Today December 3: Anna Sten


1908-1993

Born Anna Petrova Fesak in Kiev, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire, today it is the capital of Ukraine.  The actual year of her birth is in dispute, everything from 1906 to 1910.  1906 may actually be the year of her birth, since it shows up in her handwriting on her mother's listing of entry into the US and her own college applications later; but her official biography lists 1908, so that is the year used in almost every biographical account of her.  There is also some confusion/controversy over her birth name, with some accounts giving it as Anel Sudakevich.  There are claims that her Ukrainian father was actually a Cossack, what is known for sure is that her mother was Swedish.  There is also further confusion about her maiden name, for all this information see Wikipedia below. In entry into film came in 1926.  In all she is credited with 6 roles in the 1920's.  She died at the age of 84 on 12 November.  That date is not in question.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Born Today December 2: Frank Reicher


1875-1965

Born Franz Reichert in Munich, Germany to an actor and to a mother who was the daughter of a famous opera singer, the entertainment industry was in his blood.  He immigrated to the United States in 1899, becoming a US citizen in 1911.  During this period of time he worked actively on and off Broadway and was quite successful, as the above photo was taken of him in character from Broadway in 1912.  Also during this period of time, he was even the head of the Brooklyn Stock Company, where at least one version on Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice was performed in Yiddish. He made his film debut straight out of his Broadway career, not as an named actor, but as a director, in 1915!  This is not the usual path of silent era actors making their way to Hollywood.  The film is The Case Of Becky.  He did give himself a bit part in the role, something in the vein the Hitchcock would go on to do.  Indeed, during the silent era, he was primarily a director.  His last directorial credit comes in 1931, with him then devoting his life to acting.  He is most well known to the public as the captain of the ill fated boat in the 1933 hit King Kong:  Captain Englehorn.  He would eventually become somewhat of a fixture in Universal Horror in the 1940's in acting roles--particularly later "Mummy" movies.  His last film was Superman and the Mole-Men (1951).  He passed away on 19 January 1965 at the age of 89.  He is interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery.  His sister, Hedwiga, would also go into acting in Hollywood. 

From King Kong 1933


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Born Today December 1: William Tracy


1917-1967

Born in Pittsburgh, Penn. he was a child actor on the stage; his one and only silent role came as an 8 year, but what a movie it was!  He was the child rat catcher in the extremely famous silent of 1925 The Phantom Of The Opera, starring "the man of thousand faces" Lon Chaney Sr.  He did a stint on Broadway in his late teens and gained attention in 1937.  Well, of course, Hollywood beckoned.  He is probably best known, at least to my mind,  for his role as Sgt. Dorian "Dodo" Doubleday, in a series of late Hal Roach comedies known as Hal Roach's Streamliners, a war time series.  In 1941 he also appeared in two famous director's films:  John Ford's Tobacco Road and Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith (infamously remade with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie).  After the second world war, his star started to wane.  Efforts to revive his career as a character actor fell flat.  He did manage to do quite a bit of television after this that included:  Dragnet and Perry Mason, The one that he is the most famous for, actually starred in, was Terry And The Pirates.  He died of unknown causes on 18 June 1967 at the young age of 49 in Hollywood.  He is buried at Pierce Brothers Vahalla Memorial Park, a cemetery with a very strange history.