Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Born Today May 31: Walt Whitman


1819-1892

Famed American poet Walter Whitman was born on this date on Long Island, New York.  When Whitman was four years of age, his family moved into the city, settling in Brooklyn.  He generally didn't experience a happy childhood; as the family was greatly unsettled both financially and in housing due to a series of bad investments that Walter Whitman Sr. had made. By just he age of eleven, he had concluded his formal schooling, and was forced to seek employment to help supplement the family income (he was the second oldest of 9 children).  He started out as an office boy for a very small law firm, and then moved on to apprentice in the printing business for a Long Island Newspaper.  He was taken with the typesetting.  It is around this time that is thought that he was also allowed to write bits as filler for a few issues.  A year later, he got another job at another printer, this time in Brooklyn.  In the spring of the following year he landed a job at a local Whig newspaper there called the Long-Island Star; it was at this time that he became a frequent visitor to the local library and discovered the theater.  He also published his first poems in the New-York Mirror, albeit anonymously.  He moved further into the city, taking a job in Manhattan as a compositor--an advanced type-setting job.  He returned to Long Island in 1836, where he took various local teaching positions--a profession he did not enjoy.  In Huntingdon, New York, tired of teaching, he founded his own newspaper the Long Islander.  For the longest of times, it was basically a one man operation.  After just ten months, he sold the operation and went back to type-setting in Jamaica, Queens; but left shortly after--taking up more teaching positions.  During this period of time he published a series of editorials: "Sun-Down-Papers--From The Desk of a Schoolmaster."  After this, he returned to New York City to take up a lower level position at New World; he also continued to work in various capacities at newspapers working his way up to editor.  Through the 1840's he worked also as free-lance fiction and poetry writer.  By 1852, he was penning as serialized novel Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Autobiography: A Story of New York at the Present Time in which the Reader Will Find Some Familiar Characters. He then published, under the pen-name Mose Velsor the curiosity that is Manly Health and Training.  This is when he decided to take up poetry seriously and devote his life to the writing of it.  By the early 1850's he was working on pieces that would become his most famous work Leaves Of Grass.  Though Whitman's portrait appears on the front piece of the first edition, the work was published without a name attached to it.  Despite high praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the book caused a sensation.  A second edition was almost not released--all through out the 1850's Whitman would continue to have financial difficulties--keeping him working hard in the newspaper business.  The coming of the extreme violence of the Civil War had a profoundly negative impact on Whitman, at one point he left for Washington D.C., with no intention of returning to New York.  In D.C., a friend of his helped him to secure a part-time job at the army's paymaster office, leaving Whitman time to work as a nurse at army hospitals in the area.  Family woes also plagued him at this time, with one brother having been captured by the Confederates, another dying from consumption, and yet another that he personally have to have committed to a mental facility.  Nonetheless, he managed to find a full time, well paying job the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior.  He was abruptly fired from this job by the new Secretary of the Department--a former Senator from Iowa.  In Whitman's case, it is thought that he was fired because the Senator had found a copy of the 1960 publication of Leaves Of Grass.  He was then transferred to Attorney General's office, where he spent time interviewing former confederate soldiers for presidential pardon, and found many of them "real characters."  All through this time, he had continued to publish poems sparsely and a variety of subjects, including one of the death the President Abraham Lincoln.  Whitman remained at the Attorney General's office until 1873, when he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.  He then retired to the home of one of his brother's in Camden, N.J.  He remained there until 1884, suffering bouts of depression, until he could purchase his own home in the town.  By this time, he was almost completely bedridden; though he was able to continue to work from bed editing various editions of Leaves of Grass.  He had a live in housekeeper who had a menagerie of animals and lived with him rent free in exchange for work.  While working on what he called his "deathbed edition" of Leaves, he commissioned a granite mausoleum shaped as a house, overseeing it's construction was the last real work of his life.  Walt Whitman finally gave up the ghost on the 26th of March 1892 at the age of 72.  An autopsy revealed him to have been suffering from a myriad of afflictions, any one of which would have taken a person's life.  A public viewing of his body was held in his home and four days later, he was placed in his self designed tomb located at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden.  Very few films have used Whitman's writing as source material--and the most that have are either shorts or episodic art television. However the very first use of his work comes in a doozy of a silent film.  A section of D. W. Griffith's 3 hour and 20 minute sprawling epic Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout The Ages, which dates from 1916, used Whitman's poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking."  His work would not be used again until 1954 in the television series Your Favorite Story.  The most recent use of his work for film source material came in an animated video short Manahatta which was made in 2011.  



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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Born Today May 30: Irving Thalberg


1899-1936

Famed and highly influential early movie producer Irving Grant Thalberg was born on this day in Brooklyn, New York.  At birth he was diagnosed with what was then called "Blue Baby Syndrome" which turns out to be a congenital heart problem.  His doctors told his parents that Irving would be lucky to live to age 20, never mind to 30.  He started experiencing difficulties with the condition while in high school, and to make matters worse, he contracted rheumatic fever when he was 17.  This confined him to bed for a year; insatiably reading everything he could get his hands on became his past time. Lacking the health to enroll in college, he then took a series of part-time jobs; he also taught himself a set of skills that would hopefully help him find better work, they included: typing, short hand and Spanish--he also attended night school.  At the age of 18, he placed an ad in a newspaper touting what experience he had and simply stating "situation wanted"--what he wound up with was a secretarial job at Universal Pictures' New York office!  He quickly worked his way up the ladder to become the personal secretary to the studio's founder Carl Laemmle.  One of his duties was to transcribe Laemmle's notes that he had taken during screenings of films--before long he was making helpful suggestions to Laemmle, offering keen insights, which clearly impressed his boss.  It was not long before Thalberg was issued an invitation to the Los Angeles production studios, where he was given an unofficial management position.  When Laemmle returned to the studio he asked for Thalberg's notes on the goings on in his absence and what sort of action should be taken to correct the problems that Thalberg had carefully described to him.  Amongst Thalberg's recommendations was that a new management position needed to be established at the facility--Laemmle reportedly said "All right, you're it," to which Thalberg supposedly replied "I'm what?!"  So, at the age of 20 he was put in charge of the studio on the west coast, with Laemmle going back to the east coast.  Two years later, he started work as a producer; with Reputation (1921) reportedly being the first film that he had a hand in producing, but went uncredited.  Despite his frail and slight stature and his extreme youthful look (he looked around 15 years of age), Thalberg quickly established himself as a force to reckon with.  His managerial style was to intervene when he saw excesses that directors were taking.  He had a legendary battle with director Erich von Stroheim, whom he would go on to fire out right: a move that utterly shocked the movie industry.  He even got David O. Selznick's attention for the move.  Despite this, he was repeatedly taken for a office boy by those who only knew him by name and not by sight. The first film that he received a production credit for came in 1923 with Merry-Go-Round; though he already had two writing credits to his name from 1922, the first of which was The Dangerous Little Demon.  He was one of the movers and shakers early on in the production of the Lon Chaney Sr. classic vehicle The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923).  It was not long before other studios began to take a long hard look at attempting to hire him away from Universal.  The person that succeeded in doing so was Louis B. Mayer, who hired him outright as vice-president in charge of production at his Louis B. Mayer Productions.  The first film that he produced in his short lived position with that company was His Hour (1924).  When Mayer Productions became one of "M's" in MGM, 24 year old Thalberg was made part owner of the newly merged company.  In his time there, he over saw the production of literally hundreds of film.  Funnily enough he would wind up one of the major producers on Stroheim's Greed (1924); which was the second film that he produced at the newly minted MGM, the first of which was He Who Gets Slapped (1924)--a Victor Sjöström vehicle.  Notably, that film starred Norma Shearer, whom Thalberg would go on to marry and have two children with.  It was his idea to have the new studio produce a longish short basic introduction to the new studios in 1925 with 1925 Studio Tour in which he makes a personal appearance.  The first partial silent that Thalberg produced came in 1928 in White Shadows In The South Seas, which has a musical score and sound effects, with a few talking sequences provided by the Western Electric Sound System.   The first full sound film that he produced was The Trial Of Mary Dugan (1929).  He even co-directed one film in 1929: the partially silent Queen Kelly--a film that had considerable production woes--again due to his old nemesis Stroheim.  His accomplishments in production are too numerous to list here, suffice to say that he introduced a great many techniques that quickly became indispensable and are still in use today.  Also under his guidance, MGM was the ONLY film studio to turn a profit during the darkest days of the depression.  He was willing to venture into genres that had been frowned on as well--such as horror.  Additionally, the number of unknowns that he had the foresight to hire, and subsequently made huge stars of is also outside the scope of this post (so, as usual, follow links below).  6 films that he was producing at the time of his death were released posthumously, the last of which came in 1938 with Marie Antoinette, which his by then widow starred in.  After working himself without a real break since he first started working for Universal, he came down with an illness that was subsequently diagnosed as pneumonia. He convalesced at home in a oxygen tent, but never rallied, his birth defect had finally caught up with him.  He died on the morning the 14th of September in 1936 at the age of 37, having lived almost 2 decades longer than his pediatric doctors had predicted.  He interred in the Great Mausoleum, Chapel of the Benediction at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.




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Monday, May 29, 2017

Born Today May 29: John Emerson


1871-1956

American silent writer and director John Emerson was born Clifton Paden in Sandusky, Ohio. He grew in Ohio, where he most likely started his acting career.  Although his first documented acting credit on the stage came in 1904, it is thought that he did indeed get started before that.  He got his start in writing and directing first on Broadway; then gradually made the change to film (he also acted on Broadway as well).  He first credit in film came in 1912 in the capacity of a writer in The Agitator, an Allan Dwan directed short western made for the American Film Manufacturing Company.  He also made his directorial debut in 1912 with The Story Of The Starved Rock.  His first film acting credit came the next year with The Grey Sentinel, which was produced by the Broncho Film Company.  His credit as a producer came in 1918 with Come On In, which was made under the company that he founded with his wife, writer Anita Loos (the two of them co-wrote the screenplay). By the late 1910's, he was both a writer and directed of note in Hollywood, and very many of his films starred Douglas Fairbanks (Wild And Woolly (1917) is probably the best known).   Although he continued to write for the pictures, he stopped directing in the early 1920's, possibly due to the beginnings of a mental disorder that would plague him for the rest of his life, and was, unfortunately, progressive.  Probably one the best known of his writing contributions from the late silent era came with the now famously lost Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928)--famously remade in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe.  He did, though, manage to serve as president of Actor's Equity Association from 1920 to 1928.  The first full sound film that he wrote for came the next year with The Fall Of Eve (1929)--sound by MovieTone.  The last film that he contributed to the writing up came in 1938 with The Cowboy And The Lady; the film was nominated for 3 Oscars and won for Best Sound.  Increasing suffering from mental illness, Emerson was sadly confined to an institution for the last 18 years of his life.  He died in an institution on the 7th of March, 1956 in Pasadena, CA.  He was 85 years old.  He is buried in the Etna town cemetery in California. Though his career was cut short, and he didn't direct after the year 1922, he was a truly talented director; and it is fortunate that so many of the films that he did direct survive to this day.  [Note: that many sources wrongly give his birth year as 1874]



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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Born Today May 28: Avery Hopwood


1882-1928

American playwright Avery Hopwood was born James Avery Hopwood, in Cleveland, Ohio on this day.  He grew up on Cleveland and attended high school there.  In 1901 he entered the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.  The next year, he matriculated to Adelbert College, but returned to the U. of Michigan, where he graduated in 1905.  His writing career began when he was hired as journalist for a Cleveland paper to man their New York office.  Very quickly, in 1906 in fact, he was able to get his play Clothes produced on Broadway.  Quite the prolific writer, a sort of American Noel Coward, he quickly turned out comedic farcical plays one after the other.  At one point, in 1920, four of his plays were running on Broadway at once.  It was not long before films took up his work as well.  It was in 1914 when Clothes was made into a film by the Famous Players Film Co. The vast majority of the films made from his work came within his lifetime and just following his death, in the silent and early sound era. Perhaps the best known of his works committed to film is The Bat released in 1926, and remade in 1930 as The Bat Whispers, and again in 1959 starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead (Hopwood actually only penned the third act of the play).  The first sound film made of his work came in 1929 with Gold Diggers Of Broadway; a film that features full mono sound by Vitagraph and the early 2-strip technicolor.  Since 1940 only 13 films have been made utilizing his plays, the most recent of which is a German made for television film Will das Prachtstück.  Vacationing in France in the summer of 1928, Hopwood suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming Juan-les-Pens.  His body was shipped back to Cleveland, where his mother laid him to rest in the Riverside Cemetery.  He was just 46 years of age.  



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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Born Today May 27: Jacques Fromental Halévy (Not So Silent Edition)


1799-1862

French composer [Jacques] Fromental Halévy was born Jacques-Françoise-Fromental-Élie Halévy on this date in Paris.  His father was cantor, who served as secretary to the Jewish community Paris; his father was also a writer and teacher of Hebrew.  At the age 9 or 10, he entered Conservatoire de Paris; later he became a protege of Luigi Cherubini.  by 1819, he had won the Prix de Rome with an original cantata.  He was to travel to Rome after this, but his departure was delayed due to the untimely of his mother.  He did eventually accept his first commission there, and this brought him his first wide spread recognition.  Upon his return to France, he became the chorus master at the Theater Italien; in this capacity, he struggled to get an early opera of his performed.  After he was able to get the performance staged, the critics were quite harsh.  None the less, he was able to secure the job of chorus master at the Opera.  He also became a professor of harmony and accompaniment at the Convervatoire, where he was first schooled.  There, he had an impressive list of students (see link below).  The work that he is mostly remembered for today, La Juive, an opera that debuted in 1835.  It would become a favorite of both Mahler and Wagner, and was a favorite of Caruso to sing.  A year later he accepted a position at the Institut de France.  By two decades later, he was serving as a major promoter of the arts, rising to secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.  It was noted that his health and mental capacity had begun to markedly decline by this time.  Whether he actually had some form of early on-set dementia cannot be known, but at least one acquaintance wrote a description of him in early 1855 that would point in that sad direction.  Halévy died in Nice on the 17th of March, 1862 at the age of 62.  His body was transported back to Paris for burial in the Montmartre Cemetery.  As far a films are concerned, two films in the late silent era featured his music.  Both of them were early Vitagraph sound shorts.  The first of these was Va prononcer la mort in 1927.  The next, also dating from 1927 has a doozy of a title:  Giovani Martinelli, Tenor, Assisted by Louis D'Angelo, Bass, of the Metropolitan Opera Company, in a Duet from Act IV of the Opera "La Juive".  The most recent use of his music came in 2005 in Nóe a made for television French film of his opera of the same name.  



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Friday, May 26, 2017

Born Today May 26: Arthur Marvin



1859-1911

Silent cinematographer Arthur Weed Marvin was born on this day in Warners, New York (for some reason the year of his birth is erroneously cited as being 1861 in a minority of sources). He was a camera operator at Biograph and he was the brother of Harry Marvin, the inventor of the Biograph camera and one of the founders of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.  The very first film that he operated that camera on was A Bowery Cafe' in 1897; it was a short narrative film--which was the vision that the founders of the company had for their films.  Despite the narrative focus, very many of the films that Arthur shot were newsreel documentaries, possibly to field test the camera itself.   The first of these was The Christian Herald's Relief Station, Havana in 1898.  During 1899, he spent considerable time making a series of shorts featuring heavy weight boxing champion James Jeffries.  Also in 1899, he tested the camera in series of on-location shoots in the St. Clair Tunnel located in Michigan.  He would make his directorial debut in 1900 with the first known film adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes Baffled.  Toward the end of his life, he would go on to shoot a few very early D. W. Griffith films, when Griffith was hired by Biograph.  Probably the best known of these is The Adventures Of Dollie, which happened to be Griffith's directorial debut.  The last film that he shot was Priscilla's Engagement Ring, a 1911 film featuring Mack Sennett. Marvin died on the 18th of January 1911 at the age of 51.  He died in Los Angeles, making him one of the earliest cinematographers to make the "film migration" out to the west coast.   He body was shipped back to New York, where he is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens.  The next year, his nephew (Harry's son) lost his life aboard the Titanic, a tragic event that he thankfully didn't live to witness.  



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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Born Today May 24: Muriel Ostriche


1896-1989

Silent film actress Muriel Ostriche (full name Muriel Henrietta Ostriche) was born on this day in in New York City.  From childhood she had planned on becoming a schoolteacher, but all of that changed when she was stopped on the street by director Christy Cabanne, who asked her to screen test for the American Biograph Co. (the studio that D. W. Griffith worked for).  Passing the test, she was hired by Biograph as an extra. The first film that she was in was indeed directed by Griffith.  A Tale Of The Wilderness, which came out in 1912, was one of his signature short westerns.  The first film that she received a named credit for was her very next film with Biograph; A Blot On The 'Scutcheon'  (1912) was a short melodrama also directed by Griffith.  To make ends meet, she started modelling for advertisements for the Moxie soft drink company.  After leaving Biograph, director Étienne Arnaud became her mentor, helping her hone her acting skills.  He elevated her from extra to supporting and a few starring roles in some of his films. A good example would be The Holy City (1912), a 20 minute bible epic in which she played Rebecca.  She kind of bounced around from one studio to another before finally settling at Thanhouser--where she starred in some her most notable roles.  Her first film for them was Miss Mischief (1913).  As her star rose, she developed a love for fancy restaurants.  One in particular was a dance club, where she found a young handsome immigrant actor from Italy struggling to find roles, so he supplemented his income by dancing.  A young Rudolph Valentino would often be her dance partner, with no one having the slightest clue that he would become the superstar of the 1920's that he did.  By the late 1910's her star was beginning to fade a bit.  She starred in a series "Betty" films in 1920; they were co-produced by her own company Muriel Ostriche Productions that she had founded.  The last film that she appeared in was in 1921 with The Shadow.  She then retired completely from acting.  Not only did her entire career occur within the silent era, she also never went to Hollywood, with all of her films being made in the original studio systems in Fort Lee, NJ and NYC.  She was one of the last movie stars of that old system.  She would go on to raise 4 children.  She died at the ripe old age of 92 on the 3rd of May 1989 in St. Petersburg Fla after some sort of short illness--just weeks shy of 93rd birthday.  She was buried in her native New York in the Flushing Cemetery in Queens under her married name of Copp.  



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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Born Today May 23: Douglas Fairbanks Sr.



1883-1939

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman, in Denver, Colorado.  His father was a military man and prominent lawyer.  His mother had been previously married twice (with two sons), her first marriage was to a very wealthy New Orleans business man whose last name was Fairbanks.  Douglas' father met his mother by way of representing her in as suit to win back the estate her first husband's business partners swindled her out of.  Young Douglas began acting at a very early age and became a player in the annual summer amateur theater in Denver.  He attended Denver East High School, but was expelled at age 15.  He subsequently found himself joining the traveling acting troupe the great stage and silent actor Frederick Warde.  He toured with them for two years, serving both as an actor and as an assistant stage manager.  He then relocated to New York, where he made his Broadway debut.  Between acting gigs, he worked both as a clerk in a Wall St. office and in a hardware store.  In 1915, he and his young family--that included his young son who would later be known as Douglas Fairbanks Jr.--moved to Los Angeles.  There he signed a contract with Triangle Pictures and began working with D.W. Griffith.  The first film he appeared in was later that same year in The Lamb (1915), Griffith had written the story for the film and it was directed by Christy Cabanne.  The next year, he added credits for both writer and producer to his name.  He both wrote and produced The Good Bad Man (1916).  He made his directorial debut in 1918 with Arizona, in which he acted, contributed to the writing and produced.  This was under the auspices of his own production company, Douglas Fairbanks Pictures, which is started in 1917.  The film is unfortunately lost. By this time, he had already met and started an affair with Mary Pickford and had become the most popular actor in Hollywood; in fact the title of "King Of Hollywood" would be bestowed on him after his eventual marriage in 1920 to Mary Pickford (that title would be inherited by Clark Gable after Fairbanks' death).  What he is most remembered for today are his silent swashbuckling roles of the 1920's. Notable films include: The Three Musketeers (1921)Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief Of Bagdad (1924).

Fairbanks in The Mark Of Zorro (1920)

His first film with sound came in 1928 with a bit part in the partial silent Show People; by this time his career was entering a slow decline.  His first full sound film was an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew in 1929; he co-starred in the film with his wife.  He did not make a very successful transition to sound films, however, and his career continued to decline in the 1930's.  The last film that he appeared in was Ali Baba Goes To Town (1937), an Eddie Cantor musical comedy.  Fairbanks died on the 12th of December in 1939, after suffering what was thought to be a mild heart attack earlier in the day.  He was just 56 years old.  During his marriage to Mary Pickford, the two were influential helping found The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he personally handed out the first Oscars.  He and Pickford together were also the first celebrities to place their hands in cement outside the then newly opened Grauman's Chinese Theater.  Fairbanks was originally interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  But his third wife/widow had the tomb opened two years later and had it moved to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where she had ordered the construction of an elaborate above ground marble tomb with a reflecting pool.





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Monday, May 22, 2017

Born Today May 22: Romaine Fielding


1867-1927

American silent actor and director Romaine Fielding was born William Grant Blandon on this date in Riceville, Iowa. His first profession was in the medical industry; he ran a medical clinic, despite having no medical training, for a time in Kansas City, Missouri.  He then went to Alaska to prospect for gold.  While there, he met writers Rex Beach and Jack London; both of them would later have influence in his later film directing.  He then found work in the theater and would later graduate to live stage performances.  This was most likely the time when he decided that he needed a stage name.  The first studio that he worked for was the hugely influential Solax; he then went to work for Lubin, and it was at this studio that acted in his first film.  The Senorita's Conquest came out in 1911, it was a two person short drama, in which he played the male part opposite Frances Gibson.  He made his directorial debut the same year in the very next film he acted for Lubin.  Love's Victory, the short romance also starred Gibson (who was at the time, under contract with Lubin) and added Jack Standing to the cast.  By 1912, he had added writer to his list of credits, he penned his first film scenario for The Cringer, which also acted in and directed, though the film is lost, stills are still in existence.  Siegmund Lubin, in an act of pure faith, put Fielding in charge of the Lubin Southwest Company, so this resulted in many on location shoots in the region and in northern Mexico--quite rare for the day. While working in this capacity, he got into the hotel business--renting a hotel and renaming it the Hotel Romaine.  He turned the area into a kind of personal outdoor studio.  All of Fielding's career would be in the silent era; and it is so unfortunate that very little of his work survives today.  By 1922 he had quit directing, but he kept acting in films, albeit in a more limited way, right up until his death.  He died unexpectedly from a blood clot on the 15th of December 1927 at the age of 60 in Hollywood.  The last film that he acted in,  was released posthumously, The Noose (which was nominated for an Oscar) was released in 1928.  Fielding is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  




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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Born Today May 21: Lola Lane (Not So Silent Edition)

1906-1981

American singer, actress and member of the Lane Sisters, Lola Lane was born on this day in Macy, Indiana.  Her birth name was Dorothy Mullican.  She was the second eldest of the Lane Sisters.  In all there were five sisters, but one--Martha--did not enter show business.  Their father was a doctor, and the family grew up in Indianola, Indiana.  Her first job that had anything to do show business, was a job playing piano in the local silent film house.  She was then sent to Des Moines to study music at Simpson College, but was expelled for cutting classes--this was fine with her, as she had not wanted to go in the first place.  There are two versions of what happened next, so there is no need to speculate; suffice to say that somehow she and her older sister wound up in New York.  Still using her birth name, she was given a $450 a week vaudeville contract there.  It was at this time that she and her sisters decided to change their surname to "Lane," and the Lane Sisters were born. Not liking her first name, she chose to change that as well. She then went a the tour circuit with Gus Edwards "Ritz Carlton Nights" and made her Broadway debut in 1928.  She caught the attention of film director Benjamin Stoloff and he gave her a part in his up coming talkie Speakeasy (1929) [yet another lost film :-(].  She would appear in two more films in 1929, both of them talkies.  The first of these was a exhibition reel from Fox to taut the MovieTone sound system that they had decided would be there choice for bringing full sound to their films:  Fox Movietone Follies Of 1929 is unfortunately also lost.  She next appeared in another Stoloff film The Girl From Havana, which is, you guessed, another lost film. All of these were victims of the tragic 1937 Fox film vault fire.  The first film that she had a role in that is not lost is The Big Fight (1930).  Though not as famous as an actress as a couple of her other sisters, Lola did, none the less, have steady work in films until she decided to retire in 1946.  The last film she appeared in was They Made Me A Killer (1946).  Lola Lane died of arterial disease at the age of 75 in Santa Barbara, Ca. on the 22 of June 1981.  She is buried there in Calvary Cemetery, along with her 5th husband of many years under her married name Lola Hanlon.



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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Born Today May 20: Fred Truesdell


1870-1929

Actor Fred Truesdell was born on this day in Coldwater, Michigan.  He would live his entire life within what we now call "The Silent Era," never living past the 1920's.  In fact, his entire film career was en capsuled in the 1910's.  Truesdell graduated from Yale; and in addition to being an silent screen actor (one of the earliest character actors), he was also a writer--specializing in poetry and the writing of plays.  The first film he is known to appear in is The Honor Of The Firm (1912), a 10 minute drama produced by the Eclair American Company.  Probably the first full length film that he appear in came in the 1915 The Deep Purple, but the film is profoundly lost and I can find zero information as to it's original running time.  His next film, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915), was definitely a full length film, with a running time of 50 minutes (the film was remade in 1928).  His last full length film appearance came in 1919 in Shadows (Goldwyn had a hand in the production).  The last film he appeared in was also in 1919 in the comedic short She's Everywhere and was produced for the Stage Woman's War Relief Fund for World War I.  After this, he seems to have retired back to Michigan.  Truesdell died in Quincy, Michigan on May 9 1929, just a couple of weeks shy of his 59th birthday.  There is no information as to where he is buried.


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Friday, May 19, 2017

Born Today May 19: Estelle Taylor


1894-1958

Born Ida Estelle Taylor on this date in 1894 in Wilmington, Delaware, into a Jewish family.  Her mother, for whom she was named, had worked as a freelance make up artist.  In 1903, her parents divorced, and her mother remarried Harry J. Boylan, a vaudevillian.  Little Estelle, as she was known because of her mother, was raised by her maternal grandparents.  Her childhood dream was to become and actress, and at the age of ten, she sang on stage for the first time in an amateur performance of H.M.S. Penifore in the part of "Buttercup" in Wilmington.  While in high school she got a job as a typist; at 17 she married a bank cashier (some sources cite her age as 14, was is wrong and ridiculous).  The marriage didn't last long; and she soon set out for New York with acting aspirations.  She made her official stage debut in the musical Come On, Charlie.  She then relocated to Hollywood, and was able to start film work playing extras.  The first film that she is credited in comes in 1919 with the comedy The Broadway Saint; at 50 minutes, this was considered a very early feature length film.  She found some early success in an early crime melodrama anthologies While New York Sleeps; playing the female leads in each of it's segments (one including a Vamp role).  What is remarkable about this film is that I am happy to write that it is a formerly lost film.  A nitrate copy was discovered and was restored enough to screen at an L.A. film festival (the original nitrate copy is in the vaults of the film school at UCLA).  Her fame only strengthened when she appeared in the critically acclaimed Monte Cristo, across John Gilbert in 1922.  Around this time, she started having trouble with an arthritic condition.  Despite this, she kept working and appeared in the role of Miriam in Cecile D. DeMille's first version of The Ten Commandments in 1923.  In ever increasing pain, she fought for and got the supporting role of Mary, Queen of Scots in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall in 1924 starring Mary Pickford. She was the consummate silent actor and her fame and popularity with players only increased as time went by.  In 1926 she was cast in one of the earliest sound films that was a major production; Don Juan, as Lucrezia Borgia. This was a major breakthrough in sound effects in movies, and was touted as so by Warner Brothers, that unbeknownst to theater organists who played music live in film theaters to projected silents, their days were numbered.  This was so early in this phase, in fact, that the sound was provided by Vitaphone, a company that had been pioneering sound tracking--they were quickly rewarded for their efforts be being copied and improved on, because, in large part they had not been able to patent much of their earliest sound technology because of the Edison corporate giant.  It would be over two years later that she would appear in a film of the same sort; in Show People (1928).  In between this time, she had been cast to star opposite Rudolph Valentino, but he died before production ever started and the film was never made.  The first full sound film that she made was in 1929, Pusher-in-the-Face, a short drama penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Ironically enough, she ended the 1920's going back to starring in a partial silent, with the soundtrack and sound effects being the only tracked recordings in the film and the dialog completely silent, quite unusual for the day for someone who had achieved such success in the height of the 1920's feature length cinematic spectacle.  The film was Where East Is East, a title not without merit; it was directed by Tod Browning and starred Lon Chaney Sr. During the twenties, she had appeared in several films featuring New York, a kind of type casting--one of the earliest that can be easily recognized--despite that she from Delaware (her nickname was "The Delaware Delilah").  Taylor did make a transition to sound film, but it was not to last.  In 1925 she had married famous boxer Jack Dempsey, this in part added to her celebrity; the marriage was over by 1931 and her star began to wane.  Though she is touted as having been a serious star of the silent era who made the transition the talking era, that was not completely the case.  After 1932, she only made more 4 more films in her life; and unfortunately she was 40 years of age in 1934 and the studios still give women of that age a hard time even today; back then one can only imagine the pressure!  Combine that with her health issues from the mid 1920's, one can hardly blame her for retiring from film.  Between Call Her Savage in 1932 and her last film The Southerner in 1945 she only appeared in roles that could barely be considered "bit parts" by actors starting out in the film business.  One notable, and sad, event happened to her in 1944, when she was reportedly the last person to see Lupe Valez before she committed suicide.  In her retirement, she became the founder and president of the California Pet Owner's Protective League and in 1953 served on the Los Angeles City Animal Regulation Commission.  Taylor died in her home on the 15th of April in 1958 at the age of 63 after battling cancer.  She is interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  



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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Born Today May 18: Alfred E. Gandolfi



1885-1963

Silent film cinematographer Alfred E. Gandolfi was born on this date in Italy.  Almost nothing is known about his early life, or how he came to the United States.  During his career, he worked at Fox, World, and eventually Goldwyn (the "G" in MGM).  The first film that he is thought to have worked on came in 1914 with The Squaw Man a film co-directed by  Oscar Apfel and Cecil B. DeMille.  The first film that he is known to have worked on came the next year with After Five, again co-directed by Apfel and DeMille.  For some reason, he had a long hiatus in work from 1924 until the early 1930's.  The last film that he worked on the silent era was The Trail Of The Law (1924), an Oscar Apfel directed vehicle.  He did not return to film work until 1931 with the full sound The Viking-- a Canadian film.  The last film he is known to have worked on came the next year with Amore e morte (1932), an Italian language American film.  Gandolfi obviously spent the rest of his life in New York City, where he died at the age 78 on the 9th of June 1963.  There zero information about his life from the 1930's until the 1960's--never mind information about his burial.  


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Born Today May 17: Bertha Kalich


1874-1939

Silent film and Yiddish stage actress Bertha Kalich (sometimes spelled "Kalish") was born Baylke Kalakh in Lemberg, Galicia--then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Lviv, Ukraine) the daughter of a brush maker and amateur violinist father and a seamstress mother.  Her mother had a love of the theater and this rubbed off on young Bertha.  As her interest in the stage grew as a young child, her impoverished parents were able cobble together enough funds to send her to a private school and the take private music lessons.  By the age of 13 she was a member of the chorus in the local Polish theater and had enrolled in the Lemberg Conservatory.  By her very early teens, she had already been a member of the chorus in at least one opera performance.  Throughout her teens, she performed in Polish, Russian and German.  She had also entered the Yiddish theater owned by Max Gimpel.  She wound up the leading lady for the company and they performed, primarily, by that time in Budapest.  She then left for Romania, quickly learning the language, she was able to appear in large or starring roles in the national theater there.  She was wildly popular--even winning over the admiration of staunchly anti-Semitic theater-goers.  It was not long, however the she would become a victim of her own success.  Her fellow actors became insanely jealous of her; there was even rumoured a murder plot against her.  As a result of this, she was offered a sponsorship in New York by Joseph Edelstein who had just opened the soon to be famous Thalia Theater, a Yiddish language house.  They set themselves apart from other Yiddish play houses, by offering Yiddish language versions of high works of literature, especially Shakespeare.  She was so popular, that she was dubbed "the Jewish Bernhardt"--a reference to actress Sarah Bernhardt--a nickname that stuck.  A couple of plays that she starred in made the move from the Yiddish stage to Broadway--rare for the time!  However by 1910, he star on the live New York stage had begun to fade.  In 1914, she left New York for Hollywood.  Her success there was ever so fleeting, as she appeared in only 4 films.  The first of these was a reprisal of one her most successful roles on the Broadway stage in New York; Marta Of The Lowlands was made in 1914, and was directed by none other than J. Searle Dawley after he went to work for the Famous Players Film Company.  She didn't exactly set the town on fire.  The other three films that she appeared all came in 1916 (SlanderAmbition and Love And Hate).  She then returned to the Yiddish theater scene in New York.  By the late 1920's her eyesight began to fail, suffering from a degenerative disease that would eventually result in full blindness.  Much later in life, she engaged in some radio work, reprising many of her most beloved stage roles.  Kalich died from undisclosed causes on the 18th of April in 1939 at the age of 64 in her adopted home town of New York City.  She is buried in the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens in the Yiddish Theater Alliance section.





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