Thursday, January 31, 2019

Born Today January 30: Travers Vale


British born silent film director Travers Vale was born Solomon Flohm in Liverpool, England on this day.  He was the son of Polish Speaking Russian Jews who had emigrated to the UK fleeing the Crimean War. Not long after Solomon was born, the family left for Australia, settling in Victoria. It seems the entire family emigrated to the area, as Solomon's first experience with any sort of medium that would lead into film direction was working as a photographer for his uncle Aaron, who was a well-established professional photographer in the territory (I have to mentioned that in addition to being Solomon's uncle, Aaron was also his father-in-law-owing to Solomon's marrying his first cousin--Aaron's daughter Leah).  During this time Solomon (Travers) had his interest in stage production sparked. This lead to his eventually moving to Melbourne and working his way up to stage manager there.  What sparked this change in his career path is not known exactly, but the whole family was known to be supportive of the arts and enjoyed family musical performances.  In any case, it was at this time (again circumstances unknown) that he started using the name "Travers Vale." Sometime in the late 1890's he left with his wife for India, eventually making his way back to the UK. By 1900, they were in the United States, in the state of Alabama, known due to the birth of their second daughter.  They were still there in 1904, because his wife Leah died there during that year. He then moved his little family to New York and got involved with Vaudeville.  It wasn't a very hop away into the buzzing film industry--his background in photography would have been and plus, add in his stage/production managerial experience and his resume would have been quite attractive. The first film that he directed--as Travers Vale of course--was also the first production release of the new Champion Film Company: Abernathy Kids To The Rescue, a western, in 1910.  He is not credited with directing another film until 1913 (The Blacksmith's Story made for Pilot Films), after which he worked constantly. He worked for Pilot for most of 1913, and it with that company that he penned his first scenario for The Girl Of The Sunny South, which he also directed (he was by this time remarried and his new wife Louise stars here as well).  A few of these short films featured names that became famous, or at least famous by association, they included: Harry Carey, Dorothy Gish and Lottie Pickford. In 1916, he produced his first film A Beast Of Society, which he of course directed and also starred his wife, who was by this time in almost every one of his films.  The vast majority of his nearly 110 directing credits come between the years 1913 and 1919. In 1918 his second wife died during the outbreak that became known as "The Spanish Flu," although he married again, this event seems to have effectively killed the momentum that he had in his career. He only directed four films in the 1920's, one of which he produced (A Pasteboard Crown (1924)) and one of which he served as his own DP on (The Street Of Tears (1924)).  He also penned a story/screenplay that was produced in 1925 which he did not direct himself; Barriers of the Law was directed by fellow Aussie J. P. McGowan.  The last film that he directed was a western for Universal, entitled Western Pluck.  He was by this time living in Hollywood and he died there at a relatively young age, succumbing to cancer on the 10th of January just before his 62nd birthday in 1927. As of this writing, details of his burial are unknown. In 1945, his 1915 film East Lynne made for Biograph and featuring Alan Hale Sr. was afforded a closer look in the four part anthology Gaslight Follies, which featured a look back at the era of narrative silents in the 1910's and 1920's.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Born Today January 30: Wilfred Lucas


Canadian born character actor of stage and screen Wilfred (Van Norman) Lucas celebrates a memorial birthday today. Lucas was born on this day in Norfolk, Ontario, probably in the township of Townsend. His father was a minister and he had two older brothers; if he wasn't actually born in Montreal (which is a possibility), he certainly grew up there. His first performances were as a featured singer in his father's church in Montreal; and he was possessed of a fine baritone voice.  This led to performances at small local venues featuring singers; which would in turn eventually hand him his acting career. He turned professional at some point early in his adult life and made a name for himself as a light operatic vocalist.  After attending university, he left his birth country for the U.S. sometime in the 1880's.  His career as an opera singer eventually led to performances in high opera and tours abroad to Europe.  His Broadway debut date is recorded as the 4th of April 1904 in a very small role; by 1906 he had graduated to much larger parts.  His motion picture debut came two years later in one of D.W. Griffith's Biograph shorts The Greaser's Gauntlet.  After he began acting in films, he stayed in the business for the rest of his life (literally, with two titles he appeared in being released after his death). Upon his entrance into the field, he stayed with Biograph, and was actually a player in basically every single film directed by Griffith there between the years 1908 and 1912; after which he moved on from Biograph, landing--after making a few pictures "on the float" at Rex Motion Pictures--at Bison in 1913.  It was at Bison that he directed the vast majority of films in his career (though he had made his directorial debut in 1912 at Biograph, co-directing with Griffith An Outcast Among Outcasts).  The first film listed at Bison that he directed is the western short The Honor of the Regiment in 1913--recorded as starring The Ford Brothers, along with himself, as actors (though unconfirmed). By 1914, he was back to acting under other directors; though he did continue to direct a few titles here and there over the next two years before having a hiatus of two years in the field. Lucas continued to work steadily as an actor during that time, and appeared several lesser known Griffith films after Griffith's departure from Biograph. In 1916, Lucas was one of a cast of hundreds on Griffith's epic Intolerance, though only as an extra (bit biting that, given his close relationship to the famous director only a few years prior). He was also hired as a director at Keystone for a time. Lucas also wrote a few screenplays during the 1910's, his writing debut came at Biograph with Sunshine Sue (1910), a short melodrama and directed guessed it...D.W. Griffith. Of special note is his return to directing in 1917, he co-directed the drama Jim Bludso with a young Tod Browning (he also co-directed Hands Up!--a film that he also penned the adapted screenplay for with Browning).  Lucas took the entire year of 1918 off completely from acting to devote his time solely to directing--returning to acting the following year. During the 1918 acting hiatus, he directed some five films--most feature length. He had a hand in writing parts of some of them, but that task was mostly handed over to his then wife Bess Meredyth (who is better known as the wife of Michael Curtiz).  Lucas is credited with directing nine more films during his lifetime--seven of them in the silent era.  He also continued to write for the pictures up through 1924. As mentioned before, he was throughout his life a hard working character actor who had over 400 credits at the end of his life. As he aged into older characters in the 1920's, he was never at a loss for roles.  He played every type of older male character imaginable: from noble earls and lords to gritty detectives and authoritative judges.  He had a significant hiatus in acting however between 1927 and 1930--which corresponds with the break down and divorce of his second marriage, and his subsequent remarriage in 1929. The last silent film that he appeared was the mystery Burnt Fingers released in 1927, in which he played Lord Cumberly. His next film was the Walter Lang drama Hello Sister in 1930.  It was one of dozens of films that he made in the talking era (though toward the end of his career, many of his roles were small and some portion of them went uncredited until years later).  Without a doubt, the most famous film that he had a part in after the dawn of sound, was Charlie Chaplin's 1936 Modern Times.  Being the horror fan that I am, I would be remiss if I didn't mention his appearance in the 1931 "old dark house" horror thriller The Phantom (it is currently on Amazon Prime for those interested).  His last film credit comes in The Sea Wolf (the second of two films released after his death in which he appeared in bit parts).  Lucas died on the 13th of December 1940 in Los Angeles at the age of 69.  He was cremated and interred at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Born Today January 29: Owen Davis


Writer, principally of plays, Owen Gould Davis, was born on this day in Portland, Maine, but was raised in Bangor.  His family was large--consisting of 9 children--so the favorite past-time for them was stage performances in the town.  This is appears to be the catalyst for sparking Davis' interest in the theater and his beginnings as a playwright. Davis' principle vehicle was the straight-forward melodrama with the proverbial happy ending.  It seems that the first staging of one of is plays came in Bridgeport, Conn. in 1897; by 1900, his work was on Broadway. In 1914 his work was first adapted for a motion picture; and this was no slouch of a production either. The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England was directed by Maurice Tourneur, who also personally wrote the scenario directly from Davis' play (the film remains the earliest surviving feature by Tourneur and is a treasure of National Film Registry and has been released on DVD). Around a dozen films using his work adapted for the screen were made in the 1910's, including Lola (1914/I)--which features a plot similar to Frankenstein with a revival of the dead, but then moves to something like a "zombie" film with the dead being revived without the return of the soul (the film stars Clara Kimball Young and is unfortunately lost).  Sinners (1920) was the first film utilizing his work made in the 1920's--it is a little known Alice Brady vehicle. That decade saw the largest number of films made from his work than any other; and by 1927 Davis was himself on the payroll of Paramount--by 1929 it was Davis doing the adapting of other writers work directly for the screen (a good example of his work in this regard is in They Had To See Paris in 1929--a comedy starring Will Rogers and based on the novel of Homer Croy). [See also Frozen Justice (1929)--an early talkie--in which Davis was merely credited with "additional dialog."] [And on anther side note: Davis was already in the adaptation business before working on films, adapting novels and short stories for the stage--a profession that he continued throughout his life.] The first film produced that contained sound, in this case sound effects, based on his work, was an adaptation of his "old dark house" comedy play in three acts: The Haunted House in 1928.  The 1930's wasted no time in adapting one of his plays for the musical screen; Spring Is Here (a Rodger & Hart affair) was released in 1930.  His works remained popular fodder for adaptation during the first half of the decade, but began to wane thereafter; failing off to a trickle in the 1940s and 50's. His popular play adaptation of Lockridge's Mr. and Mrs. North, first adapted for film in 1942, became his first work to make it on to the small screen of television in 1946; and the Kraft Theatre presented two episodes based on his plays (both in 1948). Several popular "photoplay" series presented adaptations of his plays in the 1950's--the last of which was the Lux Video Theatre in 1956. There would be a 37 year hiatus between this and the next adaptation for film, which came with Jezabel, a made-for-television film in Mexico, in 1993.  As of this writing, there are no pending projects.  Davis also wrote plays for radio production and was the author of two non-fiction books--one of which was about his lifetime spent on Broadway.  He also sported a nearly half a dozen pen names. He died after a brief hospital stay on the 14th of October in New York City.  He was 82 years of age.  I can find no information regarding a grave or cremation. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Born Today January 23: Pierre Beaumarchais


Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (birth name minus the Beaumarchais), who at one point in his 67 years did almost everything, including the writing of very influential plays, was born on this day in Paris, France.  Born into a middle class family of former Huguenots; his father was a watchmaker (a profession that he would take up himself in life, amongst a myriad of others!).  One of the youngest in a family full of older sisters, he was the only son, and reportedly spoiled by all.  He was schooled (partially in the classics) up through the age of 12, when he left school to become an apprentice to his father.  Though smart, but given to flights of "daydreaming" and bouts of nonchalance, he was a poor student at work.  However, the pocket-watch, at the time a very unreliable mechanism and little more than a piece of jewelry, caught his attention.  By the age of 21, he had perfected a new and much more accurate version that also more compact.  His invention caught the attention of the royal clockmaker, as the two had been acquainted when Beaumarchais was briefly on apprentice to him.  After the clockmaker attempted to take credit for the invention, Beumarchais, rightly outraged, wrote to the French Academy of Sciences, proving that he was the rightful inventor by precisely describing the intricate workings of the machine.  This brought him to the attention of the royal family.  He was soon wed (1755), with a new name (de Beaumarchais) and coat of arms.  Almost a quickly, he was widowed and left with debts of his own making (there remain to this day suspicions surrounding the deaths of two of his wives--especially his first).  His circumstances were mitigated when he was appointed a music teacher to one of the king's daughters.  He worked in various capacities in royal service and on many different levels of government; he also rose in society and was able to afford at least two titles.  In 1964 he left France for Madrid; the reason for this was initially for business reasons--and nasty ones at that!--as the proposal was to gain liscenese to import slaves into the Louisiana territories newly acquired by Spain.  The "venture" came to nothing, but the experience left him with lifelong impression that would stay with him to such a degree that he made them the marshal subject of his writing.  His return to his native France saw his deep involvement in theater and public musical performances for the first time in his life.  It was at this time that the thought of writing for the theater first occurred to him, and he penned his first drama in 1767, which was followed by another in 1770. The plays for which he is famous for however were not premiered until some 10 or 11 years after his return from Spain (though every indication that he had been working on them since around 1765 are attested to in correspondence).  These plays, all based in Spain, are collectively known as "The Figaro Plays."  In English they are known as "The Barber of Seville," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Guilty Mother." The first two of these are immensely well known, in part due to their utilizations in opera; with the most well known being a Mozart composition.  It is with these plays that silent films are concerned.  Upon their first readings in the court of Louis XIV--the King was heavily critical of the writing. They all had a components that, though set solidly in Spain, were just as solidly French in content and political at that.  Nonetheless, the works--rolled out progressively--became quite popular at home and in London (where they were presented in English translation).  Marriage was eventually banned by the King, despite first allowing it to pass censorship.  Louis was not without his detractors in this, not least was his own Queen, Marie-Antionette, who was evidently a big fan of Beaumarchaise.  The ban was lifted in 1784, mostly probably at the continued insistence of the Queen; upon public performance after the ban was lifted, the works became a rage in popularity. Beaumarchais would go on to live an extremely colorful life, becoming one of the French players in the American Revolution. He would wind up in exile in Austria after a contentious existence during the French Revolution, but eventually made his way back to France to live out his days in the capital.  He died there at the age of 67 on the 18th of May, just a few months before the dawning of the new century; he is buried in Paris' Pere Lachaise. As far as film is concerned, the first of his works utilized for a screenplay was Le Barbier de Séville in the 1904  Méliès short of the same name.  The play was next filmed four years later in Sweden for Svenska Biografteatern (IMDb link here). The Marriage of Figaro was first committed to film in 1911 in Italy. In all, seven films were made from these works in the silent era, proudced in four different countries, including his own France; none of these was in the UK or the US. The last of these is a doozy of a film produced in his home country that ran for a whopping 2 hours! Simply entitled Figaro, it presented all three works together for the first time with the intent to commit them to film (it was the first time that the last of the three plays La Mére coupable was ever filmed) and was released in November of 1929--the film was fully silent, despite recent innovations in film sound technology.  It would be 7 years before another film was produced from his work; the first in the sound era--The Barber of Seville--ran for just over 50 minutes, was presented in operatic form and was released in France in 1936.  In 1954, The Adventurer of Seville was produced as music translated for the first time fully into Spanish--the language that the plays homaged in the first place. The first television film produced from his work was for French television in 1960 and aired on the 17th of September; and the first television series to present an episode based on his work was Spain's Teatro de siempre, in the 1967 staging La boda de Fígaro.  The most recent presentation on any sort of film medium came in 2014 in an operatic staging of Rossini's work--Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia--for the series The Metropolitan Opera HD Live, which aired on the 22nd of November. It should also be noted that Beaumarchais served as a librettist once during his lifetime, to composer Salieri. He penned the libretto to Salieri's opera Tarare, which has been filmed once in 1988: Tarare was a three hour West German production. 

Silent (& Pre Code) Films on TCM--February 2019

Silent Film on TCM February

31 Days of Oscar

Feb 1 1:45 AM TCM Clip--John Gilbert!

31 Days of Oscar
The Following Two Films feature Janet Gaynor!

Feb. 1 8PM Trailer

Feb 7 6:15AM (Partial Silent) Clip 

February 13th marks one full day of films from the 1920's! 6AM to 8PM

Feb. 13 4:30AM (Partial Silent) Promo

Feb. 13 6AM TCM Clip

Feb. 13 7:30AM TCM Clip

Feb. 13 9:15AM TCM Clip

Feb. 13 11:15AM (Partial Silent) Clip

Feb. 13 1PM (Partial Silent) TCM Clip

Feb. 13 3PM Trailer

Feb. 13 4:45PM TCM Clip

Feb. 13 6:30PM Clip

Feb. 24 8PM Condensed Sound Clip


Feb. 7 8AM (1930) Clip (Genre: Crime)

Feb 7 9:45AM (1931) Clip (Genre: Crime)

Feb. 7 11:30AM (1932) Trailer (Genre: Early Noir)

Feb. 8 4:15AM (1931) Full Film (Genre: Comedy)

Feb. 10 9:45PM (1934) clip (Genre: Mystery Comedy)

Feb. 11 6:45AM (1933) Clip (Genre: Drama)

Feb. 11 8:15AM (1932) Preview (Genre: Drama)

Feb. 15 1:30PM (1931) Trailer (Genre: Sports Drama)

Feb. 16 6AM (1931) Trailer (Genre: Western)

Feb. 18 12:15AM (1931) TCM Clip (Genre: Drama)

Feb. 20 8PM (1933) Clip (Genre: Historical Drama)

Feb. 24 5:30AM (1933) Title Song (Genre: Musical)

Feb. 24 10PM (1932) Trailer (Genre: Drama)

Feb. 25 10AM (1934) Trailer (Genre: Romantic Comedy)

Feb. 25 8PM (1931) Trailer (Genre: Crime)

Feb. 25 9:45PM (1931) Trailer (Genre: Crime)

Feb. 27 4:30AM (1934) Trailer (Genre: Crime)

Feb. 27 6:15AM (1930) Trailer (Genre: Crime)

Feb. 28 2:15AM (1932) Trailer (Genre: War Drama)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Born Today January 22: Gyula Zilahy


Hungarian silent film actor Gyula Zilahy (sometimes spelled Zilahi) was born on the date in Zilah, Hungary/Astro-Hungarian Empire (now Zalau, Romania). He is known to have entered films in 1914, starting out both directing and acting in the Hungarian language silent Örház a Kárpátokban, the bulk of which was directed by fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda under his birth name of Korda Sándor.   He has only two director credits to his name, the second of which came just one year after his first with A becsapott újságíró, which was likewise also co-directed with Korda, and in which he also acted. In between the releases, Zilahy garnered his only career production credit with Korda's Tutyu és Totyó; again he also acted in the film. In all, Zilahy appeared in 20 films in his lifetime (he seems to have been primarily a stage actor), only two of them in the sound era, and all of them in Hungary.  The last silent film that acted in was István György's Tavasz a viharban in 1929. He made just two films in the 1930's (1932 and 1933).  Zilahy died in Budapest at the age of 79 on the 16th of May. He is buried there in the Kerepesi Cemetery.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Born Today January 20: Carlyle Blackwell


Icon of early popular cinema Carlyle Blackwell was born in Syracuse, New York on this day (Note: some sources cite Troy, Pennsylvania, but given his desire to be buried in Syracuse--New York seems the likely place of his birth).  He is primarily remembered for his acting roles, for which he was rewarded by becoming an early matinee idol; but he also dabbled in directing and production.  Blackwell started in pictures in 1910 in the Vitagraph short Uncle Tom's Cabin, a Florence Turner vehicle.  Although the first few films in which he appears were produced by Vitagraph, Blackwell is much more well known for being the heartthrob at Kalem during the 1910's. The first film that he made for them was When Lovers Part, a short romantic melodrama featuring Alice Joyce which was released in December of 1910.  In fact, Joyce would be his co-star in romantic Kalem films for the next year and a half. After her departure, Blackwell veered into westerns for the bulk of 1912 and a portion of 1913.  By 1914, Kalem was ready to let him take the directing reigns, which he did for the first time in the comedy Out In The Rain, which starred himself and Louise Glaum.  They then allowed him to direct a series of lesser shorts during that same year--matinee material.  Being as I am an Edwin S. Porter fan, I would like to point out that Blackwell was also directed by Porter during 1914; the most prominent of these is Such A Little Queen, which was co-directed by Porter and starred Mary Pickford (unfortunately it's yet another lost film--at least for now). By 1915, he was out from under contract to Kalem. The first film that he acted in outside that studio was produced by Jesse Lasky's company: The Puppet Crown.  He stayed with Lasky's Feature Picture Play Co. for the remainder of the year, but by 1916 he was "on the float" again. He next landed at Equitable and production company under the distribution of World Film. He spent the next couple of years in the orbit of World Film and it's huge distribution universe. For example, his next turn in the director's chair came in 1917 for Peerless, one of World Film's many production partnerships. The film was a drama featuring himself opposite Evelyn Greeley entitled Good For Nothing.  He would direct two more films in the silent era--Leap To Fame and His Royal Highness--both of which were made directly for World Film and both produced in 1918. By this time, he was wholly a commodity of the influential company; he would remain with them until the dawning of the new decade.  By 1920 he had also developed a taste for stage acting (there is a two year gap in his film appearances between 1920 and 1922, when apparently he turned to the boards for work).  In 1922 he landed the part of Captain Hugh Drummond in the film that most casual followers of silent film know him from, the joint UK/Netherlands Hollandia project that is Bulldog Drummond, if only for the fact that it is the very first such film--the film itself is presumed lost and is on the list of several British entities of "most wanteds."  Blackwell worked in films in the UK for the remainder of the silent era and into the early sound era; in other words, for the rest of his film acting life.  It was in the UK that he produced his first film--The Beloved Vagabond in 1923 under his own company (named for himself) and a partnership with Astra-National.  He is known to have produced at least six films in his career, and is thought to have been an uncredited producer on Alfred Hitchcock's most famous silent film The Lodger.  The first film that he worked on that was released with any sort of sound came in 1929 with Gainsborough's The Wrecker--which was a joint venture with a German production team--the sound featured an synchronized musical score (the film The Crooked Billet (1929) that he appeared in was re-released with partial sound in 1930, but was silent upon it's initial release).  The last film of the 1920's in which he appeared was a fully silent German adaptation of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: Der Hund von Baskerville in 1929, the film also featured a performance by German actor Fritz Rasp.  Blackwell only appeared in two additional films after this--both of them he directed and produced and both were made in the UK (one of them, he also wrote, his only such credit).  After this, he retired from film acting to devote his energies solely to stage work.  At some point, he retired to the Miami area in Florida, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 71. He was transported for burial at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.  His son Carlyle Blackwell Jr., also an actor, is also buried there with him. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Born Today January 16: Johnston Forbes-Robertson


Considered one of the greatest Shakespearean (and stage) actors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson was born into a family with the theater in it's blood.  Born on this day in London to a well known theater critic and his wife, his original desire in life was to become a visual artist. He possessed considerable talent as a painter, and in fact, some of his works not only survive, but are prominently displayed and well thought of.  As a lad, he was educated at the very exclusive Charterhouse; to further his plans to become an artist, he then studied at the Royal Academy.  Somewhere along the way his life took a turn that would lead to his becoming an actor (at this point I would wonder, given the number of his siblings that went into the profession, if he didn't face pressure from home in this regard).  He wound up apprenticing with Samuel Phelps (whom he would paint). Acting was not a profession that he liked; in fact, he never held it in any high regard, despite that he possessed a serious talent for it. At this point, I should point out that is beyond the scope of this write-up to encapsulate such a long and brilliant stage career; I am solely concerned here with his appearances in early film.  Suffice to say that his years active on the stage spanned from 1874 thru 1915 and included performances in the United States in addition to his native Britain. His first appearance in film supposedly dates from 1898, when he is credited in appearing in what has been called the first film adaptation of Shakespeare: Macbeth. It is curious that this film (if it existed at all) has so little history attached to it; a search for even production company information yields nothing.  In any case, he absolutely appears the Hepworth film from 1913 Hamlet directed by Hay Plumb in the part that he was not only known for, but, by some accounts, was born to play (note: it is astonishing that he did not actually take on the part of Hamlet until he was 44 years of age!). Forbes-Robertson appeared in three more films, two of them after he had retired from the stage. He played Hamlet twice on film, the second time coming in a 1915 short (Hamlet)--this was his first credit as Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson. In 1917 he appeared in the Fred Paul directed comedy Masks and Faces; and finally, in 1918 he appeared as "The Stranger" in the melodrama The Passing Of The Third Floor Back--written and directed by Herbert Brenon.  Upon his retirement from live acting, he became a producer of plays.  He died at the age of 84 on the 6th of November in St. Margaret's Bay, which is located in Kent, Dover.  He was cremated at Golders Green. A memorial service was held at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a famous church located in Trafalgar Square, Westminster. Please follow the Wikipedia link below to read more about his life.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Born Today January 14: Thurlow Bergen


Born Thurlow Weed Bergen (most probably named for the prominent newspaper man turned politician of the 19th century Thurlow Weed, though I do not know at this time if he was a relation); Bergen's career on the silver screen is encapsulated wholly in the silent era.  He was born in Saginaw, Michigan to a lawyer father, and his father intended his son to go into that profession--sending him east to Washington DC to study the law. It was there that Bergen decided instead to become an actor.  Throughout his life, he was primarily an actor of the stage--with his years active spanning all the way through to 1940 at least. He started his own touring company that was by all accounts quite successful before eventually making his debut on Broadway. As with many actors of the age, he was eventually drawn into the motion picture industry.  The bulk of his film appearances date from 1914; he debuted in moving pictures in the Páthe Frères film The Stain (the film also features the debut of Creighton Hale, who would become a staple of film and television and the first appearance of a young woman as a "Gang Moll" named Theda Bara--under her birth name of Theodosia Goodman).  He next went to work for Wharton for the remainder of that year (first film with them was The Boundary Hunter)--the company was the production of company of British born Leopold Wharton and his younger brother Theodore and would figure in some fashion throughout Bergen's film career.  The last film that he appeared in was the drama Blind Love in 1920.  He then returned exclusively to the stage.  During his time in films, he worked for a number of production houses, the most well known being Fox; he also appeared in films directed by the likes of Oscar Apfel and Herbert Blanché.  Additionally, appeared in a number of films with his second wife Elsie Esmond, who was herself a star primarily of the stage (she is considered minor royalty of the Broadway stage in fact).  Bergen passed away at the age of 79 on the 1 of May in 1954, having lived well into the age of television.  There is no information as to his place of death or his interment. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Born Today January 6: Tom Mix


Tom Mix is such a western fixture that he is one of the stars of silent film (primarily) that is known to people who have no clue that he was an actor in such early films.  In other words, he's basically a legend.  Born Thomas Hezikiah Mix (which he later changed to Thomas Edwin Mix) on this day in Mix Run, Pennsylvania [I've never looked this up, but I have always wondered whether his family surname was adopted from the area that he was born in--and if so, what was it before?]. His years active in the film industry ran from 1909 thru 1935--very, very early stuff for fans of westerns to bandy about his name decades later right next to the likes of Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan and The Duke himself: John Wayne. No doubt, part of the reason for this was a series of comics that he appeared in as a character that were published for around 10 to 12 years or so after his untimely death in 1940.  And, these comics were published internationally, so it wasn't just kids born in the United States and Canada who were introduced to Mix without viewing a single one of his films--it was kids in places like Scandinavia and Germany who also came to know the western icon through the power of print.  But to move onto his actual film appearances, part of his success undeniably had to come from his ease in early action scenes in westerns which came naturally to him, as he was the son of a stable master who taught him everything horses at a very young age.  Mix was first involved in the military before making it into performance during what we now term the Spanish-American War, but was never deployed (and, in fact, was almost court-martialed for being AWOL due to an elopement). After this, he was involved all manner to professions out west--including any that had anything to do with horses. He in fact was a rider in Teddy Roosevelt's inauguration parade in 1905, albeit not in any kind of official capacity. By 1911, he was working at a very large ranch in Oklahoma and married to an Oklahoma native (literally--his wife Olive's ancestors appeared on the Dawes Rolls for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma).  The ranch had it's own version of a wild west show--by then more of a side show of western types of vaudevillian performance--and Mix was, well, mixed up in this production (sorry, couldn't help myself!).  But his first film appearance actually dates from two years prior, when he part of the cast of Selig's The Cowboy Millionaire--filmed in the Chicago area and released in October of 1909.  In fact, Mix had appeared in multiple films in 1909 & 1910 (most of them in the later year)--the vast majority of the them were directed by Otis Turner and all of them produced by Selig.  It was actually Selig that made him into a star of the western screen and he signed a very lucrative contract with the company.  By the time Selig ran into financial trouble in 1917, Mix and his "ten gallon" stetson were stars and Mix was a household name from the matinees. Also a star was the contracted actress Victoria Forde, whom Mix had met on various western shooting locales.  She would not only become his fourth wife, but also his contractual partner at Fox Films after they both left the troubled Selig behind in 1917.  For them not much in the way of shooting environs changed though, as Fox leased the studio that Selig had built up in Edendale for the express purposes of turning out westerns.  Fox went from turning them out to something more like "churning" them out for the matinee audiences that consisted of kids and poorer adults.  Hearts and Saddles appears to be the first film that he and Forde made for Fox in 1917, just a few months prior to their marriage.  Mix had a hand in directing at least a small portion of the film, which was shot in Arizona (the film was a two-reeler, and it almost lost, with only a little more than 5 minutes remaining).  Mix next moved onto A Roman Cowboy (1917), which he not only directed, but also penned; naturally it featured Forde as "The Girl."  Mix started 1918 out with the feature Cupid's Roundup which sported a poster with him and his now famous hat, just above his easy to remember name in big bold letters. Suffice to say that he was a big, big money maker for the studio.  His salary at Fox  topped out at $7500--a comfort that he soon grew used to and led to later contractual disputes at other studios. He did contribute at Fox more than your usual type-cast actor to the making of the films in which he appeared though. The most well known of these was the part of of the Edendale lot that he designed for western shoots that included everything from fake, but realistic looking mountains to a full sized ranching house with no roof for easy interior filming.  The whole thing was dubbed "Mixville."  Though he did appear in the few roles that were not "cowboy" in nature, nearly all of his roles required some sort of horse riding (at this point it should be mentioned that his horse Tony was very nearly as popular with the public as his was).  The highwayman "adventure" Dick Turpin (1925) is a prime example of such a rare non-western role.  One of his best known films to the wider public in the more modern era came in the starring role in Fox's 1925 remake of Riders Of The Purple Sage (which was remade 3 more times in the sound era). By 1928 he was signed for what would be a short period of time with FBO Pictures, where he had financial disputes. The last film that he made at Fox was Painted Post (1928).  He was with FBO through 1929; his last film with them was the late fully silent ranching adventure The Big Diamond Robbery, which was released in May of 1929.  He never appeared in a feature film that sported any sort of sound in the 1920's. It's no coincidence that he doesn't appear again in a film until 1932; it wasn't just the coming of talkies that took a toll on his career, but also the depression and yet another broken marriage.  Mix seemed to have always had a fascination with the circus--something that apparently came up frequently in the late 1920's money negotiations he tangled with. From 1929 through 1931 he appeared Sells-Floto circus, reportedly for a jaw dropping 20 grand a week!  And, this would not be his last brush with "running away to the circus;" in 1935 he appeared in another more local circus, which he would go on to actually "run away with" when he bought it.  The first sound film in which he appears comes in the very non-western The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood for Universal, and it was hardly a starring role for sure.  Universal did, however, want him for talking westerns; and in 1932 Carl Laemmle annoucned triumphantly Mix's return to the silver screen in Destry Rides Again.  The film did well and Universal gave him a contract deal that included perks like script approval. In all, Mix appeared 9 westerns for the studio, but suffered several injuries along the way making him reluctant to renew any contract (I am also not sure how well he really like working in talking motion pictures to begin with). He appeared in just two more productions after leaving Universal in 1933; one of the them is the highly acclaimed 15 part serial The Miracle Rider (1935).  His last film appearance came in 1940 a sort of "who's who" rodeo event that used to be an annual occurrence in Palm Springs; Rodeo Dough is only 10 minutes in length, but packs in several famous cowboys of the silver screen and couple of famous horses, including Tony, to boot (yeah...pun intended). In writing about Mix the cowboy legend of the silver screen--it leaves little room to take on his roles as both a writer and director. In both he was surprisingly prolific. He was a director of more than 100 films, most of them early shorts at Selig and Fox; and a writer of some 85 produced scripts. Almost all of these were, of course, westerns. One of the other reasons for Mix's popularity well beyond his films came by way of radio. It's not he was a radio actor himself; rather a show bearing his name that ran from the 1930's through the early 1950's. Mix died suddenly and tragically in a horrible road  accident driving from Tucson, Arizona that broke his neck on the 12th of October; he was 60 years old.  He was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale four days later. 

Photo: Find A Grave