Saturday, September 19, 2015

Born Today September 19: Ricardo Cortez


You would think with a name like Ricardo Cortez and the fact that he was born in New York City, he would be  Cuban, Puerto Rican or of some other Caribbean Latin ancestry.  In fact he was born Jacob Krantz to recently immigrated Austrian Jewish parents.  He mother was heavily pregnant with him when the couple made the move to NYC, so many sources incorrectly list his birthplace as Vienna.  The reason for his name change had nothing to do with him personally. With the popularity of the "Latin Lover" type, first made a character type by Rudolph Valentino, who was Italian and other actual Latin actors coming in to fill out roles; due to his genuinely Semitic dark skin color, Hollywood executives actually changed his name (possibly without his knowing it, or at least with some protest) to place him in roles of that sort.  Certainly he was a truly handsome man, and he did bear resemblance to Valentino.  But the incident reminds me a bit of the joke in the Coen Brothers Barton Fink, where Tony Shalhoub's character Ben Geisler mistakes Barton (John Tuturro) for an actor, notices his dark skin and makes a remark about "Indians" (meaning Native Americans), and Barton replies that he's there because he's a writer and Geisler replies "Think about it Fink! Writers come and go, we always need Indians!" (Interesting to me as a side note, because both characters are themselves Jewish).  Before going to Hollywood, and having that abrupt name change, he worked in New York on Wall Street by day and as a amateur boxer by night.  After the move to Hollywood, press kits on him were circulated stating that he had Spanish ancestry, but it wasn't long before rumors arose about his ancestry (now I wonder, did he start them???), so the studios then said he was actually French, finally they admitted his "Viennese" origin, which is why the confusion of his place birth has persisted.  He was married to tragic silent film starlet Alma Rubens until her untimely death in 1931 from pneumonia; but the couple had separated due to her on going drug abuse and instability, she was released from jail just shortly before she caught the cold that eventually led to her death at the age of 33 (she may have been one of the Hollywood Studios first victims of enticed drug addiction--that is a truly dark subject, that was thought to have developed after the silent era).   In all he appeared in 100 films, he was also the second actor to assay the role of Perry Mason, with Warren William being the first.  He went on, to star in films with the likes of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Al Jolson and one of the best horror actors of all time Boris Karloff.  Having worked on Wall Street before, when he retired from films he went back to New York and work as a stockbroker at the later infamous (as least for a while) Salomon Brothers.  As a moment of serendipity for me today, checking his credits, I found that archive footage of him was used in two Greta Garbo documentaries (both after his death)--her birthday was just a day before her, and I wrote about her just yesterday. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.

Circa 1935

The Non-Latin Romantic's Early Films

The Fringe Of Society (1927) (scenes deleted, this had to be a real let down for him!  This was to be his first film afterall.  Also has to be one of the earlier cutting room floor incidents in feature films.)

The Next Corner (1924) (Lon Chaney Sr.)

A Society Scandal (1924) (a Gloria Swanson film--love her!!)

Feet Of Clay (1924) (hey the first Jaws film and directed by Cecil D. DeMille to boot.  Take that Spielberg!)

This Woman (1924) (thankfully now a formerly lost film!)  

In The Name Of Love (1925) (also starred Wallace Beery.  Lost film)

Torrent (1925) (this was Greta Garbo's first US film and the last time anyone was ever billed above her...that would by Ricardo Cortez)

The Sorrows Of Satan (1926) (not billed as a horror film, it was directed by D. W. Griffith--but it probably should have been.  Can be viewed as Christian propaganda these days.  At the time it was a over romanticized (surprised surprised) response to Theosophy.  It was adapted from a novel Check out the poster--it's awesome!)

Mockery (1927) (also with Lon Chaney Sr.)

Excess Baggage (1928) (lost film)

The Gun Runner (1928) (lost film)

The Younger Generation  (1929) (Frank Capra directed)

New Orleans (1929) (lost film)

Midstream (1929) (lost film)--was a partial silent with sound effect and musical soundtrack by RCA Photophone System)

The Phantom In The House (1929) (early talkie, sound by RCA Photophone System)

The Lost Zeppelin (1929) (this is a partially lost film that has further footage that has been found--some claim that it complete.  I haven't been able to confirm that.  Would love it if were true.  It is on DVD, but some footage may still be missing due to strange issues with subplots.  Or maybe, it's just a bad script)

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