Friday, September 30, 2016

Born Today September 30: Frederick Sleigh Roberts


The subject of early documentary newsreel style films, Lord Roberts, was born in India into a prominent Anglo-Irish military family.  Eton educated, he later attended Addiscombe Military Seminary, before entering the East India Company Army as a Second Lieutenant.  He eventually rose all the way to Field Marshall and served as the Commander in Chief of the Forces for the British Military.  He later became the 1st Earl Roberts.  Starting in 1899 he was featured in a number of short documentaries by various early British film companies performing various official duties.  The first of these was Lord Roberts Unveils Statue of Queen Victoria by the Hepworth company.  He continued to be the subject of, and in, such shorts right up until a year before his death; the last of which was England's King at Liverpool (1913), produced by the Kalem company.  On the 14th of November 1914 he passed away from pneumonia in St. Omer, France at the age of 82.  His body lay in state before he was given a state funeral and buried at St. Paul's Cathedral.  He is only one of two non-royal individuals to lay in state in the 20th century; the other being Sir Winston Churchill.  For more about his extensive life, see the Wikipedia link below.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Born Today September 20: Kermit Maynard


Actor, stuntman and body double Kermit Maynard was born today in Vevay, Indiana.  Growing up in a family of five siblings (including older brother Ken who went into movies before him, and for whom he served as a body double--despite their age difference, most in Hollywood assumed they were identical twins).  As a young man, he attended college at Indiana University and played as a linebacker for the Hoosiers in the early 1920's.  Also while there, he played baseball and basketball, but in the end, he did not graduate. At some point along the way, he worked for a time as a meat packer for the Hormel company. He also found work a local circuses.  He later followed his rodeo veteran older brother into moving pictures in Hollywood by early 1927.  The first film that he appeared in was Prince of the Plains, where he was cast as the star and credited (as he would be in all the silent film in which her appeared) as "Tex Maynard."  In all, he made 6 films in the silent era under his "stage" name.  In then doesn't appear again in a film until 1930, when he took an uncredited role in the all talking Rin Tin Tin film The Lone Defender.  He never went by the name "Tex" again.  This is also the film in which he began to appear as a stunt man, a career which spanned even longer than his acting career.  In addition to his own older brother, he worked as an action double of a number of other western actors.  Throughout his long career,  he appeared in over 280 films and television episodes up to the year 1962, when he retired.  Maynard passed away in North Hollywood on 16 January 1971 of a heart attack, 2 months before his older brother Ken passed in March of the same year.  He was 73 years of age.  He is buried in the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.  

Monday, September 19, 2016

Born Today September 19: Ben Turpin


Bernard Turpin was born today in New Orleans, LA the child of a candy store owner.  Having been born long before the invention of the moving picture, he obviously got his start on the stage; which in  his case came in the form of various traveling shows.  He possessed a body type and face that lent itself to comedic work, with one of his eyes permanently crossed (later in his life, he famously--and comically--took out an insurance policy with Lloyd's of London in case his eyes straightened out), and an oversized handle bar mustache.  In the early days of his career, he found work in circuses, vaudeville and burlesque.  He developed an exaggerated form of physical comedy that laid the ground work for what we now call "slapstick;" and was this talent that eventually got him into the motion picture business.  He made his film debut in 1907 in a comedic short that he was specifically cast for:  An Awful Skate, or, The Hobo On Roller Skates.  From this point onward, he starred in a series of slapstick comedy shorts, making him a huge star of the silent cinema, even playing roles such a "The Tramp" long before one Charlie Chaplin would take up that comedic identity. In fact, the company that introduced Turpin to the moving image was Essanay, who would later employ Chaplin, who became their biggest star until his departure bankrupted the studio.  This is when things began to deteriorate between Turpin and Essanay.  As soon has they hired Chaplin, they made Turpin his comedic side-kick, setting up his characters as mere foils for which Chaplin could play off of.  Turpin was naturally insulted by this.   In 1917 he went to work for the king of comedy Mack Sennett. Turpin signed a very lucrative contract the the Mack Sennett Studios.   Much to Turpin's delight, he quickly became one of their biggest stars; so much so, that he began to introduce himself as "I'm Ben Turpin, I make $3000 a week!"  He worked steadily up through the invention of talkies, at which time--owed to good investments--he chose to retire from the industry, rather than attempt to make the transition to talking cinema.  Still, he was sought out for cameo comedy appearances in films regularly.  In 1935 he, and other stars from the silent comedy era (including Chester Conklin and Ford Sterling), starred in Keystone Hotel; it was his only starring role in the sound era.  The last film that he appeared in, very briefly, was Laurel and Hardy's Saps At Sea (1940).  He was set to make a cameo appearance in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), but Turpin died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 70 on the first of July before filming started.  He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.