Sunday, January 31, 2016

Born Today January 31: Tallulah Bankhead


Born Tallulah Brockman Bankhead in Huntsville, Alabama to a wealthy and influential political family.  Her mother died three days later of septicemia; Tallulah was baptized next to her mother's coffin.  This sent her and her older sister Eurgenia's father, William, into a depression that he could not over-come; he then began to self medicate with alcohol.  The two were basically raised by his mother, Tallulah James Brockman Bankhead--for whom little Tallulah had been named.  They lived in extremely high style on the family estate in Jasper, AL, in a house they called Sunset.  Bankhead developed an interest in performance when she was quite young.  It is said, a great deal of this came with attention seeking behavior on her part, especially in regards to her father.  She supposedly attended a circus revue that was passing through her part of Alabama and caught the performance bug from this.  She was then said to have taught herself cartwheels, which she would do mostly inside; and would also sing and recite copious amounts of literature that she had memorized.  Part of her attention seeking behavior apparently came down from that fact that she was a child, she was perceived as fat and homely, next to her older more slender sister.  Tallulah, claimed that her first judged performance came at the party that her aunt was throwing for the Wright Brothers, and that it was none other the Orville and Wilbur who judged her imitation of her kindergarten teacher to be the best of the gathering.  Who knows if it was true...  As the girls reached that double digits in age, they became too much for their grandmother to handle.  It was decided that they be sent off to convent school; and where thus enrolled in the prestigious Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan, NY.  Tallulah was just 10 years of age at the time.  Their father's political career eventually brought him to Washington D.C., and the girls were enrolled in series of boarding schools; each one closer to Washington.  At the age of 15, her aunt encouraged her to diet, improve her appearance and take more pride in herself--advice that she headed.  By this time, Tallulah's sister Eugenie, at 16, ever the southern belle, got engaged; Tallulah had her head stuck firmly on an acting career instead!  At time, she submitted her photo to a contest run the magazine Picture Play, but forgot to include her return address.  The contest promised a trip to New York free of charge and bit parts in a motion picture being shot in the area to 12 winners.  She won one of the parts, and luckily found out about it when reading a edition of the magazine, where she saw her photo published, with the caption "Who is she?"  Her father immediately contacted the magazine and she set off for New York.  When she arrived she found the contest win was true to it's word, but flimsy at best.  She was paid $75 for about three weeks work  on Who Loved Him Best?  in 1918.  The film was set in, and shot on location in, Manhattan and was produced by Mutual Film. A copy of the film survives at the Library of Congress. The part was very small, but it marked her formal entrance into acting.  She wound up in the Algonquin Hotel and, despite her age (which she may have lied about), she quickly charmed her way into the (in)famous, and newly formed, Algonquin Round Table, where she quickly discovered drugs and bisexuality.  She would go on to have very small bit parts in three more silent films in the late 1910's before making her stage debut in New York in 1919.  She would not return to film work until the late 1920's.  She starred in several plays in New York for the next 5 years.  Though her performances were praised; the material wasn't up to par, so her star had yet to rise.  Frustrated, she left for the London stage.  While there she finally found fame, with the play They Knew What They Wanted in 1925 winning a Pulitzer.  She was known (as she had been as an un-famous actress back in New York) for making the absolute best out of inferior material.  Much of this was down to her "mezzo-basso" deep voice, which she always ascribed to frequent childhood bouts with chronic bronchitis.  She returned to film work while still in the UK, starring in His House In Order, a melodrama, in 1928 (it now amongst the films listed as lost).  Her first sound film was made in the UK as well, the following year:  a comedic short entitled Her Cardboard Lover, sound by British Photophone.  This would be the last film that she made in the 1920's and wouldn't appear another film until 1931, when she returned to the United States. Upon her return to the U.S. she booned straight for Hollywood, where had limited success in film acting; but, again, wild (and I mean wild) social success, with numerous parties thrown at her rented Hollywood home.  This is when her supposed "libertine" morals began to leak out in the press.  She was known for very "free behavior" in almost every way:  "Sex, Drugs...and...Acting."  This made her rather infamous. It also made many people think she had a much bigger silent film career; especially since a good deal of the 1920's she had lived in London.  She found movie acting boring and returned to the stage.  She did not return to film acting until 1943.  She is, perhaps, best known in the world of film for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat in 1944.  From there, she skipped about from stage to film and even turned in a few television performances.  She was well known for being a hedonist from early on.  When asked about drug use amongst the Algonquin Round Table, she once jokingly quipped "Cocaine isn't habit-forming and I should know because I've been taking it for years."  When she made fast friends in Hollywood with Irving Thalberg, she asked him "How do you get laid in this dreadful place?"  After complaining a great deal about film acting to fellow players in the 1930's, she was asked why she stuck around and accepted a role in Devil and the Deep (1932), which had a crazy triple billing of Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton and Cary Grant. She simply replied "Dahling, the main reason I accepted [the part] was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper!"  She once quipped to a reporter, "I'm as pure as the driven slush!"  So, when she was offered a chance to play a religious fanatic by Hammer Horror in the 1965 Die! Die! My Darling, she jumped at it.  At the end of her career, she even got a little voice work in; voicing the "Sea Witch" in the 1966 The Daydreamer--which her very gruff voice by that time, lent itself to well.  Her last acting appearances came as the character "The Black Widow" in the original Batman series in 1967.  She wasn't all jokes, and didn't joke about her politics, however!  She had come from what might be called southern aristocracy in the Democratic party; they were privileged white, rich people who supported segregation and Jim Crow laws.  She was unaplogetically a liberal Democrat at time when this was unheard of; especially from a member of such a prominent political family.  She was an outspoken supporter of the civil right movement and equal rights for all.  This put her at open odds in the public eye with her family....did she care: NO!  She died on 12 December 1968 in a New York hospital.  The official cause of death was double pneumonia that was seriously complicated by emphysema.  The hospital also noticed that she appeared to suffering from malnutrition, but that is thought to have been previously brought by a serious bout of the flu, which probably gave rise to the pneumonia.  She was 66.  She is buried in St. Paul's Churchyard, near Chestertown, Maryland.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Born Today January 30: FDR


So this may be a bit confusing.  FDR was a politician, right?  Not an actor.  True enough; but he did become one of the first politicians and "man of government" to take advantage of the new technology of film to promote government efforts. He was, of course, born Franklin Delano Roosevelt (which he personally pronounced in the proper Dutch fashion as "Roos-ah-veldt," not as "Rose-ah-velt" as most do today).  He was born in a Hyde Park home in New York state.  The family were as close to aristocracy as this country got.  He was also the distant cousin of the first Roosevelt in high office Theodore (Teddy).  In fact, they became more closely related after Franklin's marriage to Eleanor in 1904, when he was 23 and she was 21, as President Teddy Roosevelt--who gave her away at her weddin--was her uncle (her maiden name was the same as her married name).  After entering politics in 1910 on the state level (New York), he was by 1913 appointed Assistant Secretary to the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.  In 1914 World War I broke out.  By 1916 he was actively campaigning for naval issues in regards to war, including arming the navy with more modern equipment and much more extensively than had been previously done.  The Germans then launched their submarine campaign in 1917; Roosevelt went to Wilson and asked permission to fit the naval fleet out for full war duty--the request was denied.  Roosevelt had by this time, developed a deep fascination with submarines.  [As an aside note:  submarines were not new to the U.S., as they were used in a very limited way in the Civil War.]  By the 1910's, newsreels had become a part of the movie going experience.  This exploded after the 1914 here in the U.S., because the country was not actively involved in a war the likes of which the country, or the world--for that matter--had ever seen before.  Citizens became anxious, and this catapulted the newsreel into extreme importance to the movie going public; they actually drove ticket sales for main features. People would attend showings just catch the latest in the news.  The first newsreel that Roosevelt appeared in was part of a series called the "Animated Weekly."  Roosevelt appeared as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Animated Weekly, No. 31 in 1916; this included the christening of the U.S.'s "first undersea fighter" in Quincey, MA, which Roosevelt was present for (oddly enough, it also includes information about a great white shark--over 400 lbs.--caught off the shore in New England, blamed for the death of "five bathers."  This was the inspiration for the novel Jaws! [BTW, it had to be a bull shark--not a great white.]).  The next newsreel that he appeared as Assistant Secretary of the Navy came in a series called "Mutual Weekly."  He appeared, this time by name, in Mutual Weekly, No. 111 in 1917.  The description given, is that of him inspecting the the marine forces in Philadelphia.  This is the last of the silent Newsreels of him that exited, as far as anyone knows.  In 1924, the Lee De Forest Films company filmed him giving a speech nominating New York governor Al Smith as the Democratic candidate for President at the Democratic National Convention:  the little film was simply entitled Franklin D. Roosevelt Speech.  De Forest was one of the leading pioneers in early sound film; they had that same year, produced the first sound film that was shot at the White House.  They managed to get "Silent Cal," President Calvin Coolidge to make campaign speech in a garden (Rose Garden?) at the famous residence.  It was a first on many levels.  It has been called the first sound newsreel, but in reality it is the first sound campaign pitch or appeal to voters on the part of a campaigning politician (even if he is already the President).  Most importantly, it was the first time any president of the U.S. had spoken on film!  It still survives to this day and is preserved at the Library Of Congress.  The fate of the Roosevelt speech, on the other hand, is currently unknown.  Of course, FDR would go on to be the longest serving president in U.S. history; elected to office an unprecedented 4 times, serving between 1933 until his death in 1945, when he was succeeded by then vice-President Harry Truman.  Roosevelt succumbed to a massive cerebral hemorrhagic event (bleeding stroke) in Warm Springs, GA (a favorite resting place of his) on the 12th of April 1945.  On the 13 of April his flagged draped coffin was returned to the White House, in Washington D.C..  On the 14th his funeral was held there and his body was returned to Hyde Park in New York for burial.  He remains one of the earliest high ranking members of the federal government to show up on film.

For More:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Born Today January 29: W. C. Fields


Born William Claude Dukenfield (hence the "W. C.") in Darby, Pennsylvania; for most of his early life, he was known simply as "Claude."  By at least age 14 or 15, he discovered that he had an unusual talent for juggling after seeing an accomplished juggler in a traveling show at his local theater.  By the age of 17 he was performing juggling acts at his church and theater shows.  The juggler that he was most inspired by was chap who went by the name of James Edward Harrigan, who was billed as "the original Tramp Juggler."  Fields liked his looks and adopted his scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo, and entered traveling vaudeville acts as a gentlemanly "tramp juggler" in 1898.  Oddly, for the time, his family supported his decision to take to the stage, despite that he had a stutter.  To compensate for this, he did not speak while on stage--something juggler's could easily get away with.  In 1900, in order to distinguish himself from other jugglers on the circuit, he changed his look to his original design, and began billing himself as "The Eccentric Juggler."  He began adding stunts to his act that he came up with himself; many of which were simple "magic tricks," such as: manipulating cigar boxes, hats and other objects, much to the delight of the audiences.  He became so successful that, by 1900, he was widely called the "world's greatest juggler."  By this time, his act had gone international, and he toured England, the country that his father had immigrated from.  In fact, he was so successful in this line of work that he was able, in 1904, to purchase a summer home for his father in his native England; this saw Fields encouraging his family members to learn to read and write, so that they could correspond with the father via letters.  In 1905, he made his Broadway debut in a musical comedy entitled The Ham Tree.  At this point he wanted to make the full transition to comedian and found himself stuck in the role that had gained him so much fame and relative wealth--that of the comedy juggler.  However, by 1913, had conquered his speech difficulties and made the transition to speaking comedic roles so successfully that he found himself on stage with Sarah Bernhardt (though the juggling act remained part of the show); first in New York, and then in England, where they performed before the King and Queen.  In 1915, he returned to Broadway in Ziegfeld Follies (bringing one small step away from film acting); and he would remain in these shows through the year 1923 (long after his film debut).  At this point he adopted his characteristic look of the top hat, cut-away coat and collar and the cane.  Much speculation has gone on in regards to the inspiration for this look.  The best guess, is that he lifted it from the cartoon character Ally Sloper.   His first appearance in film came in 1915, with Pool Sharks, a comedic short.  The film was shot in Flushing Meadows, New York, and featured Fields as "The Pool Shark," a role he was almost born to play, as he had been a real-life pool hustler as a child.  Although uncredited, he is said to have come up with the scenario himself.  He would appear in one other film in 1915, His Lordship's Dilemma, now, sadly, a lost film (don't let the "MacIntyre" review of it on IMDb fool you!)--also shot in Flushing Meadows.  He didn't appear in another film until 1924, when his stage commitments had been fulfilled the following year.  Janice Meredith, shot in several locations in the northeast, was his first feature length film (starring Hollywood first Harrison Ford!).  Top billing came for Fields the following year, in D. W. Griffith's Sally of the Sawdust; it was filmed on Long Island (which as of this writing, it currently on Amazon Prime).  He would go on to make 8 more silent films, one of which, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1928), would go on to be one of the most talked about lost silents in history, despite it being a remake (same advice applies here, in regards to "MacIntyre" "review").  In fact, all three silent films that Fields would make with Chester Conklin are now lost (as someone on IMDb is used to saying "please check your attic!").  From then on, Fields would become one of the Hollywood greats of the early taking era--a genuine superstar, a movie star, and king of comedy.  However, he started to have serious health related problems in the mid 1930's due to very, very heavy drinking.  By 1938, he was unable to work in film at all, due in part to delirium tremens.  He managed, instead, to get into some radio work.  By 1939, he was able to return to film work, garnering him a brand new shiny contract with Universal Studios.  This is when he made what is probably his most famous film, The Bank Dick, in 1940.  After this, his health began to decline again; he was mostly relegated to guest appearances in film.  He made his last film appearance a musical Sensations of 1945.  He died on the 25th of December (Christmas Day, a holiday the he reportedly despised) in 1946 of a gastric hemorrhage brought on by heavy drinking in Pasadena, CA. He was 66 years of age. His funeral took place on 2 January 1947, after which it was directed in his will, that his remains be cremated.  However, two of his relatives objected on religious grounds, and took the matter to court.  After lengthy litigation, his remains were finally cremated on the 2nd of June 1949, and his ashes interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  Many people have a fanciful idea about what is on his grave marker.  For some reason, it popularly supposed to read "I'd rather be in Philadelphia."  In truth, it is simply inscribed with his stage name, and the year of his birth and the year of his death.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Born Today January 28 (Not So Silent Edition): Sam McDaniel


Born Samuel Rufus McDaniel in Wichita, Kansas; he was the older brother of actresses Hattie McDaniel and Etta McDaniel--in addition, he had 10 other siblings (13 children in all).  The family was born to former slaves; his (their) father, Henry, had fought in the Civil War on behalf of the U.S. (i.e.:  "The North"); and his (their) mother, Susan, was a very accomplished gospel singer.  In 1900, the family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, but didn't stay there long; they then relocated to Denver.  While there, Sam attended and graduated from Denver East High School; and was an active participant in the family's traveling minstrel show--the brain child of an older brother Otis.  After Otis' death in 1916, the troupe began to lose money and cohesiveness; they disbanded.  Sam went on to found his own jazz group, with his long time girlfriend Roberta Hyson as lead vocalist and him on piano.  The toured toured heavily, and mostly exclusively, on the vaudeville circuit during most of the 1920's.  Though many sources list his entry into movie as being 1931, the year he moved to Hollywood; he was actually in two films, one of which he had name recognition in: this was in the year 1929.  Both films, however, were early forms of talkies and musicals.  The first film he was in turned out to be rather a doozy; King Vidor's dramatic musical Hallelujah, which was filmed entirely on location in various places in Arkansas and Memphis, Tenn.  McDaniel's role of Adam went uncredited (as did half the of the cast!), but he was in a film, non-the-less that would go on to be nominated for an Oscar.  His sister Hattie, is very, very famous for being the first African-American not only to be nominated individually for an Oscar, but to also go on and win it.  It was for her 1939 role in Gone With The Wind; she won for the best actress in a supporting role category.  Sam's first film credit also came in 1929, in the musical short Brown Gravy; it was produced by the Christie Film Company.  McDaniel went on to have a prolific acting career and also found work and some celebrity on the radio in the 1930's, where he was able to get one of his sister's a spot as well.  He acted in over 210 films and later on in television episodes combined,;although, sadly, because of his race, he was relegated in most cases to bit parts in stereo-type roles, such as:  doorman, servant, butler, porter, dining car waiter, etc.  Even more sadly, many of his roles simply went uncredited.  For example his last role, which came in 1960, in Michael Curtiz's epic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he played a servant, and the role went uncredited.  He lost his life to a battle with throat cancer on the 24th of September in 1962.  He is buried in Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Born Today January 27 (Not So Silent Edition): Mozart


That's right:  the composer.  We all know him as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; he was actually baptised (the day after his birth is Salzburg--as 5 of his seven siblings had died very early in infancy) as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (that's a mouth full!).  During his short life time, he personally went by the name "Wolfgang Amade' Mozart."  As with any great composer, especially those who lived a died long before the invention of photography, not to mention film; there is no reason to parse through their lives--there are plenty of online resources for that (not to mention print and video medium)!  I think most people are aware that Mozart was a child prodigy.  That he is one the most well known of composers today.  That he composed a large volume of work (apparently over 600 works are credited to him); and that he died young.  His death has always been a mystery.  The only symptoms that any modern physician has to go on is a rash he developed that resembled millet seeds.  Indeed, in the official records, his death is listed as "severe miliary fever" (translated into English from the German)--merely referring to the rash's appearance.  Clearly this rash had a serious underlying cause--many have speculated everything from streptococcal infection to a rare underlying kidney ailment that may have been inherited.  No one ever seems to suspect a venereal disease, which I find a bit strange.  Of course, the popular notion that he was poisoned by fellow composer Salieri due to jealousy still persists, in no small part because of film!  [See, of course, Amadeus (1984)--which was based on a very, very successful play that had a long run on Broadway.] Of course, it doesn't help that Salieri confessed to this in real a mental institution many years later--most likely the product of his mind.  Mozart died in a state of severe illness when he was only 35 years of age on 5 December in Vienna; he was buried in what was known then as a "common grave," which meant that it could be reused in 10 years, which it never was.  It remains to the this day in St. Marx (Marks) Cemetery in Vienna; making his the most visited grave in the resting place.  As to film; the very first time Mozart's music was used in film came in a mono filmed performance entitled Charles Hackett Singing "Il Mio Tesoro Intanto", "O Paradiso", with sound by Vitaphone; produced by Warner Bros.  However, there was a very, very interesting silent biopic dating from 1921.  Mozarts Leben, Lieben und Leiben.  I find this film fascinating.  It only survives in a partial form, with some degree of restoration; it was produced in Austria and filmed on location in Mozart's birthplace of Salzburg.  Mozart is portrayed by Josef Zetenius as an adult (young actor Senta Stillmark portrays him as a "kind" or child).  It's original run time was around 90 minutes.  Apparently, and I haven't seen, it is quite breathtaking--and that is even with most of the last portion missing.  

Probably the most famous portrait of Mozart, it was actually painted posthumously.

For More See:

Wikipedia (with tons of extra links for information!)

For full list of Soundtrack use:  see Internet Movie Database.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Born Today January 26: William Hopper


Born William DeWolf Hopper Jr. in New York City, he was the only child produced from the marriage of his successful comedian father, who went by the stage name "DeWolf Hopper," and later famed Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (he would be her only child in life).  After his parents divorce in 1922, Hedda took him to Hollywood, where he would be raised in a single parent home.  Though unrecognizable in the photograph above, he would go on to be one the most iconic faces of 1950's television in the role of investigator Paul Drake, in the hit legal drama Perry Mason, complete with a full head of white hair.  His face was second only behind that of Raymond Burr ("Perry Mason") himself.  The reason for his inclusion here, is that he got something as an infant that almost no one got as a "child actor" in the midst of the silent era--credit as "infant in carriage."  This came when he was nearly 1 year of age and put in a comedic feature starring his father in 1916:  Sunshine Dad (Wikipedia entry).  It was written by none other than Tod Browning.  His father was sure that he got the credit under the name "DeWolf Hopper Jr."  This was almost unheard at the time.  Infants had been appearing in film since the 1890's (when almost no credits existed); but babies continued to be denied credit in Hollywood even into the 1930's talking era, so this is a really interesting little piece of history.  William wouldn't appear in another film again for 20 years (The King Steps Out); even then, he had to go through the motions of taking bit parts that were uncredited.  So, this makes his first credit even more interesting to history.  He languished in these roles, occasionally getting roles that were credited, until World War II broke out.  He joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific theater.  He would later become a member of the Underwater Demolition Team, also known as Frogmen--these were the earliest incarnation of what would later morph into the Navy SEALS.  After the war, he largely went into car sales in Hollywood, taking the occasional television acting role when it came up.  Finally in 1954 director Bill Wellman (a friend of Hopper's) persuaded him to resume his film acting career; he would go on to appear in Wellman's The High And Mighty starring John Wayne.  The days of selling cars was over, and he went on to have prominent roles in many different types of films until he was cast in the role of Drake in 1957.  That series was, obviously, a huge success and continued through the year 1966.  After this, he had only one role; that of a Judge in Myra Breckinridge, based on novel by Gore Vidal, which starred Raquel Welsh, but also John Huston and Mae West.  This too was an uncredited role, but the complimentary type...that of a cameo.  Hopper suffered a stroke on the 14th of February (sadly Valentine's Day!) in 1970 and was admitted into Desert Hospital in Palm Spring, California.  He passed away there some three weeks later on the 6th of March of pneumonia.  He is buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park in Wittier, CA.  He was only 55 years of age.  

With Burr on the set of Perry Mason

Monday, January 25, 2016

Born Today January 25: W. Somerset Maugham


British writer William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris, France--inside the British Embassy there.  He was a writer of novels, plays and short stories--even some non-fiction.  His father was a lawyer, who handled legal affairs at the Embassy, arranged for his birth to take place inside the Embassy, therefore on British soil, because French law stated that all children born on French ground could later be conscripted into the French military.  He was born into a family of very distinguished lawyers, later in his parents life (his mother had TB when she gave birth to him); it was assumed that any boys would follow that path in life.  However, all Somerset's siblings were so much older than him (already in boarding school when he was born), he was basically an only child being raised in Paris.  He lost both of his parents at a young age:  his mother when he was 8, who succumbed to tuberculosis; his father when he was 10 to cancer.  The death of his mother traumatized him and he reportedly kept a photo of her at his bedside for the rest of his life.  After his father's death, he was sent back to the UK, to be taken in by his uncle, the Vicar of Whitstable.  This further traumatized the young man, because of his uncle's emotional neglect.  He was then sent off to boarding school, The King's School, Canterbury, were his emotional troubles deepened, as his was teased by the other boys, especially for his English pronunciation--as French had been his first language.  His sexual orientation didn't help.  This day and age, we would say that he was bisexual; but in his day, he would have been considered fully homosexual (something that he later became self loathing over).  This caused him to develop a stammer that would stay with him for life; though it would only come out in times of stress.  All this pushed him to inadvertly develop quite a talent of making clever wounding remarks to those who displeased or bothered him.  Unbeknownst to him, this was the beginning of his writing career; as many of his characters possessed this ability.  He began writing by the age 15.  At 16, he convinced his uncle to let him leave boarding school and study at Heidelberg University in Germany.  While there, he wrote his first book; a biography of Giacomo Meyerbeer, an opera composer.  When he returned to Britain, he considered a number of different career paths, none of which he or his uncle fely satisfied with.  He finally settled on studying medicine; and he did qualify as a physician; but he had been writing all during this time, and he published his first novel Liza of Lamberth in 1897 before he could go into practice.  It sold out so rapidly, that he quit medicine to devout his life to writing full time.  By the 1930's he was widely believed to be the highest paid author in the world.  His medical training did come in handy,however, in the first World War, however, where he served in the Red Cross' ambulance corps.; before actually being recruited as a war time spy.  As an ambulance physician, he was part of the "Literary Ambulance Drivers," a group of 24 well known writers that included some Americans; including the likes of E. E. Cummings and Ernest Hemingway.  As far as film is concerned, he did not actually work on screenplays in Hollywood until well after the silent era; but starting 1915, films based on his work were being produced.  The first of these was The Explorer (1915), based on one of his novels.  The first film based on his work that was a full sound early talkie came in 1929 with The Letter, starring Reginald Owen.  In all 17 films based on his work were made during the silent era, the last three of which were in mono.  He even has one acting credit in a silent short, Camille (1926), based on the Dumas play.  In the era of early television, there was even a Somerset Maugham TV Theater, of which he was the host; it ran for 3 seasons during 1950-1951.  The latest film based on his work came in 2014 in an independent short entitled W. Somerset Maugham's The Bum.  He died in Nice, France on 15 December 1965 at the age of 91 from pneumonia.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered near the Maugham Library (obviously named for him) at The King's School, Canterbury (the school he hated so early on in life...).  One of his greatest admirers was director Alfred Hitchcock.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Born Today January 24: Henry King


Born in Christianburg, Virginia (our second Virginian in as many days); he became one of the best known and most influential directors in early Hollywood.  At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and went to work for the railroad in a machine shops.  After working under bad conditions in these shops for an extended period of time, he decided to become an apprentice actor (possibly after attending a performance in his local area?).  He found work with the Empire Stock Company, where he performed song and dance numbers in black face.  During his travels he made the acquaintance of actress Pearl White, best remembered for her serial work--especially in the Perils of Pauline.  She invited him to accompany her one day to the Lubin Film Studio in Philadelphia--there he was asked for an audition. The first film that he appeared was the drama short A False Friend in 1913. He went on to make numerous one-reelers, many of them westerns, for Lubin in 1913. Seeing the film industry had already fled Fort Lee, NJ for California--he did the same.  There is found work with Balboa Amusement Production Company, which went by several names, the last 3 shorts that he starred in 1913 were produced by them under the name PathéPlay.  This company had a penchant for on location film in Long Beach California.  He returned to Lubin in 1914 when they opened a studio in Hollywood.  He divided his time between the two for the year. He made his directorial debut in 1915 with Who Pays?, a serial that he penned himself and starred in for Balboa; he shared the directing credit with two other individuals.  There is really no looking back from there.  His first solo directorial credit came on his very next film, The Nemesis, also 1915 and starring himself; but there is very little evidence that the film was ever completed, never mind released and screened.  His next film Should A Wife Forgive? (1915), in which he also had a role, was definitely released; as most of it survives to this day, the last reel is apparently lost.  He went on to churn out film after film during what was left of the 1910's and all through the 1920's (actually all through his career!).  By 1921, he was one of three co-founders of an independent production company:  Inspiration Pictures.  One of his films, The Magic Flame (1927), was one of the very first films ever nominated for an Oscar (for cinematography).  His first partial sound film came in 1928 with The Woman Disrupted, with sound effects for the silent version and an alternative full mono sound version by Western Electric Sound System.  His first full sound film didn't come until 1930.  King would go on to be one the most prolific and hardest working directors in Hollywood, with significant influence.  Already, before the 1920's ended, he was one of 36 people in Hollywood that served as founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the last surviving founder at the time of his death (ironically he never won an Oscar for directing; he was only nominated twice).  King was known to a possess a very astute eye for talent and shaping looks of actors.  In the 1920's he is credited with several important discoveries; the most recognizable to us today would be Gary Cooper--over the objections of studio boss Samuel Goldwyn.  Having quite the unique vision of film sets and locations, perhaps from working as an actor early on at on location shoots, he was inspired to get his pilot's licence in 1930 (some say this say a renewal, that his first license was actually issued in 1918), so he could personally scout filming spots not within the confines of the studio lots.  This earned him the nickname "The Flying Director."  He would later go on to discover many important actors who contributed to the golden age of Hollywood.  Probably the most recognizable is Tyrone Power; another actor that he had to fight for, believe it or not.  Apparently, Darryl F. Zanuck had serious objections to the young actor, and King would have none of it!  He reportedly badgered the hell out of Zanuck until he gave in.  Without a doubt, King's favorite actor to work with was the great Gregory Peck.  During World War II, he served the deputy director of the Civil Air Patrol, out of Brownsville, Texas, earning the rank of Captain.  In 1944, he was awarded the first ever Golden Globe award.  In 1955, he was awarded The George Eastman Award for his distinguished contribution to the art of film.  As far as extremely well known films that he directed, amongst them are:  The Song Of Bernadette (1943), Captain From Castile (1947)--with Power, in which he introduced Jean Peters, Twelve O'Clock High (1949), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)--all with Gregory Peck.  The later with Eva Gardener. He also directed Carousel (1956), a musical with Shirley Jones, and The Sun Also Rises (1957), again with Tyrone Power.  The last film that King directed was in 1962:  Tender Is The Night with Jason Robards.  He then retired from the business.  From an interview that he gave in 1978, comes his most famous quotes:  "I've had more fun directing pictures than most people have playing games."  He passed away in his home in Toluca Lake, CA in his sleep at the age of 96 on 29 June 1982. He is buried at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park in Tampa, Florida. His younger brother Louis, also become a director and they worked at Fox at the same time in the 1940's--Louis did start in films in the silent era, but was not nearly as important a figure during those years as his much more talented older brother was.  He was, in fact, such an important contributor to the silent era, that a mere birthday write up on the fly here does not do service to his accomplishments that era.  One, or possibly two, well considered essays would need to be penned to properly do that subject justice.  


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Born Today January 23: Randolph Scott


Born George Randolph Scott in Orange County, Virginia--his original focus was that of a multi-talented athlete; excelling in such sports as American football, swimming, baseball and horse racing. When World War One broke out, he enlisted at the age of 19 soon after the U.S. entered the conflict, serving with distinction in France.  He later claimed that this had honed his horsemanship and given him experience with firearms, which would serve him well in his chosen field of film acting.  After Armistice he stayed in France and entered artillery school, and was eventually offered a commission; which he turned down.  He returned to the United States in 1919 at the age of 21.  Back home, he attended Georgia Tech, for which he played football; and eventually the University of North Carolina, where he majored in textile engineering.  He eventually dropped out of college to go work as an accountant at the textile firm where his father was employed.  Around 1927, Scott decided that he wanted to act in film and made his way out to Hollywood.  Scott's father had before this, made acquaintances with Howard Hughes, and sent a letter of introduction with his son.  This letter garnered him his very first film role in 1928 in Sharp Shooters, a comedy, starring George O'Brien, as a bit part as a cafe customer in Morocco.  It was the only fully silent film that he appeared in; though his next appearance in another bit part in 1929 in Weary River, had a few sequences that were filmed in the silent mode.  He would appear in 7 more films in 1929, all of them early talkies, in bit parts; including the Gary Cooper western (the first of many that Scott would act in!) The Virginian.  Scott, actually being from Virginia, was said to have been hired as Cooper's voice coach for the film as well.  Around this time, the director Cecil B DeMill gave him the advice that he should get some stage work, so as to hone his acting skills and get him some much needed experience.  He was able to this at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he got roles in at least four plays, including a bit part in a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.   Scott didn't get his first actual named credit in film until 1931.  Although he is best known for his work in westerns, he made all types of films:  everything from romantic comedies to a few horror films, adventure & fantasy films to war movies; however, of his more than 100 appearances in film, 60 of them were westerns.  Later on, the with the U.S.'s entrance into the Second World War, Scott attempted to gain an officer's commission in the marines, but was rejected due to back injuries.  So, instead he supported the war effort by touring with a comedy act with Joe DeRita, who would later go on to be in the Three Stooges, for the Victory Committee.  He also raised food for the government on a ranch that he owned.  The last film that he made was Ride The High Country in 1962; after which he retired from acting.  He lived out the rest of his life on a portfolio of very successful investments that he made during his acting career.  He resided, with his wife, actress, Patricia Stillman in Beverly Hills, where they lived a life of leisure.  Scott died at home from heart and lung ailments on the 2nd of March 1987 at the age of 89.  He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.  


Friday, January 22, 2016

Born Today January 22: Ann Sothern


Born Henriette Arlene Lake in Valley City, North Dakota; her mother was a professional singer who regularly toured with musicals.  Her maternal grandfather was famed Danish violinist Hans Nielsen.  The family resided in Minneapolis, where she attended McPhail School of Music.  Her mother also home schooled her in piano.  Her parents separated when she was four.  She then began to tour with her mother when time permitted.  By 11 she was both a well schooled pianist and soloist in singing and spent time singing in her church choir.  By 14 she resumed voice lessons.  In high school, she not only appeared in several school plays, she even directed a few of them!  Also while in high school, she entered state sponsored music composition competitions, and won three years in a row.  After she graduated from high school her mother moved to Los Angeles because she had gotten a job a Warner Bros. studios as vocal coach.  Sothern chose to move to Seattle where her estranged father had moved, there she enrolled in the University of Washington; but dropped out one year later.  At some point after she dropped out of University, she appeared in one silent film (her motion picture debut) as a Fan Dancer extra in 1927; Broadway Nights [this must be around the time that she chose to use a stage name].  The film was shot in New York City and produced by the short lived Robert Kane Productions.  She then visited her mother in Los Angeles; while there she auditioned for and got a role in a very early full sound musical revue produced by her mother's employer Warner Bros in 1929:  The Show of Shows.  The film featured full mono sound by Vitaphone with the Western Electric Apparatus, and had parts that were in very early technicolor.   This lead to her signing a 6 month contract with MGM.   These titles were the only two films she appeared in during the late silent era.  She quickly became disillusioned with Hollywood, and left for Broadway in the 1930's with the help of Florenz Ziegfeld.  She returned 3 years later; and had a very long and prolific career in film, radio and television.  During the 1950's, she decided to become a business woman and owned a slew of different type of business ventures, from production companies, a sewing store, to a cattle ranch in Idaho.  She even managed to record an album in 1958.  Some of the notable television appearances came on shows such as:  The Loretta Young Show, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Lucy Show.  From 1958-1961 she had her very own television series The Ann Sothern Show.  She is also the mother of actress Tisha Sterling (her father is was actor Robert Sterling).  The last film she made was in 1987, The Whales of August, with the likes of Lillian Gish, Bette Davis and Vincent Price.  This garnered her the only Oscar nomination of her career--that for a supporting role.  After this she retired to her ranch in Idaho.  She passed away there at the age 92 on the 15th of March 2001.  She buried there in the Ketchum Cemetery.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Born Today January 21: Rudolph Maté


Born Rudolph Mayer in Krakau, Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in what would now be Poland), to Jewish parents.  He went into the film business following his graduation from the University of Budapest.  Though he started out using his birth name when credited, he later changed his last name in order to get more work--as the prejudice against Jews in Europe was already intense.  He first went to work as an assistant cameraman--he would go on to be one the greatest early cinematographers in Hollywood history; but he had to get there first.  Before making that leap, he worked on films all over Europe, including:  Hungary, Austria, Germany, France and the U.K.  In Europe he would often work with his directorial friend Karl Freund.  His first film credit comes in 1919 with Kutató Sámuel.  From then on, he would go on to have steady work throughout the 1920's, as mentioned above all over Europe.  His crowning achievement for that decade came when he was hired as DP on Carl Theodore Dreyer's La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) in 1928.  The last film that he photographed in the 1920's was the short La manque de memoire.  To the best of my knowledge, the first film that he is credited as "R. Maté" was Prix de beauté (Miss Europe) in 1930; this was a film with both a silent version and full talking mono version (for many years the silent version was not available--not lost, but of no interest, but renewed interest prompted viewing at silent film festivals, and finally a full restoration debuted in 2013).  This was the last silent version film that he photographed.  He went on to be the cinematograher for another well known Dreyer production, the horror film Vampyr in 1932.  He made his US debut in 1935 working for the Fox Film Corporation as DP on Dante's Inferno in 1935.  He would go on to work with several famous Hollywood directors (many originating in Europe); the list includes:  Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, René Clair, and Orson Welles.  The later of which was the last time he worked in cinematography on Welles' The Lady From Shanghai (1947).  He wanted to switch to directing and his first credit in the category also came in 1947, just before his job with Welles on It Had To Be You on which he was the DP and shared a directing credit with Don Hartman.  Once he switched to directing, he did not go back to cinematography.  Amongst his directing credits are D.O.A. (1950)  and When World's Collide (1951).  He even managed to get in a little television directing on The Loretta Young Show.  On the 27th of October 1964, he died suddenly from a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home.  He is entombed at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City--a Catholic burial place.  In his lifetime, he was nominated for 5 Oscars.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Born Today January 20 (Not So Silent Edition): George Burns


Born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City to immigrate Jewish parents who came from Romania; he was one of 12 children born to them.  He claims to have been "discovered" while working in a chocolate syrup factory at the age of seven, along with several other kids who worked in the basement with him. He claimed that they were discovered by the company's letter carrier who came down to deliver, well, a letter.  The carrier was a fan of harmony singing, and the kids were in the habit singing harmonies to cut the boredom of making syrup.  He heard singing and complimented them; and stayed for a song or two.  By the end of this little "recital," several other company employees had joined the carrier, who threw some pennies down at them.  Burns related in his own words, "So I said to the kids I was working with, no more chocolate syrup for me.  It's show business from now on."  They formed a group and called themselves the "Pee-Wee Quartet."  They began to perform anywhere that they could, from street corners & ferryboats, to saloons and even brothels.  At this time he still going by "Nate."  He was drafted into the Army during World War I, but his extreme near-sightedness caused him to fail the physical.  Intent of staying in show business permanently, he adopted the stage name "George Burns" in order to hide his Jewish ancestry.  He claimed to have gotten the name from two major league baseball players, George H. Burns and George J. Burns (no relation to each other), who were well known at the time.  Other sources cite that he got the name "George" from his brother Izzy, who hated his first name and changed it to George; and the Burns, from the Burns Brothers Coal Company, whose trucks he used to steal coal from.  He then started partnering with girls for song and dance numbers, with some comedic banter thrown in between the songs.  One of these was with Hannah Siegel (who performed under the name Hermosa Jose); the two wished to take their act on the road, but their parents would not allow it unless they were married--so they married and did the tour.  The marriage was never consummated and they divorced after the tour was over.  In 1923 he met Grace "Gracie" Allen.  The two formed a performance duo as "Burns and Allen," and the act became of huge success.  As they toured the vaudeville circuit, Burns found himself falling in love with his already engaged stage partner, and tried several times to win her over.  Finally succeeding, the two were married on the 7th January 1926 in Cleveland--against the norms of the time given his Jewish ethnicity and her being a an Irish Catholic.  Together they starred in one short comedy in 1929 and that was an early talkie to boot.  That film was Lambchops.  It ran only 8 minutes.  The rest, as they say, is history!  While Allen passed away at age 69, after a long illness with heart problems; Burns is famous for living to 100 years of age, despite his lifelong love of cigars.  He passed away from natural causes in his Beverly Hills home on 9 March 1986, 49 days into 101st year of life.  He is entombed next to his wife, in the Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Born Today January 18: Oliver Hardy


Born Norvell Hardy (some sources site "Oliver Norvell Hardy" as his father was named Oliver; Norvell was his mother's maiden name), probably in Harlem, Georgia--though he may have actually been born in Covington--also in the state of Georgia.  Although he had little interest in formal education, and was reported to be a difficult child who was sent off to military school at the age of 13; apparently by the age of 8 he showed great potential in singing and performing--though no members of his family were involved in this profession (though there is a story that he caught this bug from some his wealthy mother's tenants; this may be apocryphal). He started out as a teen in local minstrels. He joined a touring group after running away from a boarding school in Atlanta. After being caught and brought home, his mother agreed to send him back to Atlanta for formal lessons in that field, but he preferred to skip many of these lessons to sing in the Alcazar Theater for $3.50 a week.  That was the start of it. The whole world knows that he went on to be a giant of the silent era, one of the most recognizable figures in early Hollywood, and famed 1/2 of the Laurel and Hardy; getting there was quite the task.  By 1910 he found work in a movie theater that had newly opened Milledgeville, GA., first as janitor--working his way up to ticket taker, then to projectionist and finally manager.  This is were is obsession with film took over.  It was around this time that he actually took on the name "Oliver" as his first name, in honor of his father, who had died before he reached one year of age.  This also prompted his move to Jacksonville, Florida.  While no Fort Lee, NJ--there was a small movie production industry there (I can attest to this personally, as my grandfather, who was born there in 1897, was obsessed with photography and film, told some stories about this).  While there, Hardy worked in Cabaret and Vaudeville by night and the with Lubin (film) Manufacturing Company by day. His very first film was the comedic short Outwitting Dad in 1914--he was billed as "O. N. Hardy."  By the end of 1915 he had made more than 50 one reel films with Lubin.  By the middle of 1915, his began to be billed by his nickname of "Babe;" the first film in which he was billed as "Babe Hardy" was Fatty's Fatal Fun, a 10 minute comedic short produced by the Mittenthal Film Company.  Knowing about the "real" film industry in Fort Lee, Hardy moved to New York. While there, he made film with Casino, Pathe and eventually Edison Studios.  But Hardy preferred the Jacksonville studio system to the one in the New York area, and returned there to work for Vim Comedy Company.  When he discovered that Vim was stealing from him, this caused that studio's bankruptcy, owed to the fact that he was their lone star.  Vim was purchased by the King Bee studio and Hardy came with it.  Finally in 1917, he moved to Los Angeles and went to work for Vitagraph.  He eventually ended up working for Hal Roach, the kingpin of silent comedies.  In 1921 he landed a role in the film The Lucky Dog, which featured a young British comedic actor name Stan Laurel--this was the iconic duos first pairing.  It would be many years before they actually became a comedic film duo, however.  In 1925 he starred in three pivotal roles in The Wizard of Oz (one of them later became known as "The Tin Man"), a film shot entirely in sepiatone (and currently on Amazon Prime).  This was his first feature length film at 81 minutes long.  All in all, he starred beside many other giants of silent era comedy that included:  Mabel Norman, Our Gang, & Charley Chase.  The next time he would have role next to Laurel was in 45 Minutes from Hollywood a comedic short released in 1926, and ironically starred Theda Bara in a rare comedy role; though the two did not have any scenes together.  The first film in which they were deliberately paired was in 1927 in Duck Soup (no relation to the Marx Bros. film).  There was no looking back from there!  Hardy continued to make comedic shorts, both with and without Laurel (mostly with) throughout the rest of the 1920's--almost all of them silent.  His first partial sound film, made with Laurel, came in 1928 in Habeas Corpus, a 20 minute short that had sound effects on a soundtrack.  Their first full sound film was Unaccustomed As We Are came in 1929 with the sound mono version running 20 minutes; an alternative silent version ran for just 19 minutes.  Men O'War, another 20 minute short and, also from 1929, was the first film they made with no silent alternative version.  Thought the last film they made in the 1920's, Angora Love was indeed another silent short comedy.  The first feature length film they appeared in together was quite the spectacle!  Entitled The Hollywood Revue of 1929, it was Hollywood's first all star revue; a grand musical featuring all the best talent from Hollywood and Broadway, in which Conrad Nagel represented Hollywood and Jack Benny represented Broadway.  It featured Western Electric mono sound and early two-color technicolor; it was even nominated for an Oscar.  The 1951 Utopia AKA Atoll K was the last film that the duo would ever make and the last film that either would ever appear in.  They had contracted with Hal Roach Jr. to produce a television series based on the Mother Goose stories, but Laurel had a stroke which took a significant amount of time to recover from and Hardy suffered on heart attack, which was the beginning of serious health trouble for him.  After the heart attack, he started looking after his health for the first time, losing more than 150 lbs.--which led fans to believe he had terminal cancer.  But neither he nor Laurel could manage to get their smoking under control.  They were such heavy smokers that they stood out even in the 1950's as "smoke stacks."  Hardy suffered a major stroke in September of 1956 which left him unable to speak.  Then early in 1957 he suffered two more strokes which sent him into a coma, which he never woke up from.  He finally succumbed on the 7th of August 1957; the cause of death being listed as "cerebral thrombosis."  He was 65 years of age.  He was cremated and his ashes are interred in the Masonic Garden in North Hollywood's famous Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery (Hardy had been initiated into the Masons, while working in Jacksonville).  In the end, neither men made it into television.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Born Today January 17: Grant Withers


Born Granville G. Withers in Pueblo, Colorado; the actual year of his birth differs in various sources, but his grave marker states 1905.  Apparently he had always wanted to break into movies; but worked as an oil company salesman and as a newspaper reporter before breaking into films in the well into the 1920's.  His first appearance in film came in 1925 with a bit part in a comedy short featuring the, by then, overdone theme of The Vamp entitled So Long Bill.  By 1926 he had steady work.  For an actor with no stage training or appearances, he is rare example of someone who successfully made the transition to talking roles with no formal training.  His first sound film came in 1929.  The Greyhound Limited was one of those films that had both a silent version and full talking version, with sound by Western Electric with Vitaphone technology.  The film that he made next was his first in mono.  Saturday's Children also had sound provided by Western Electric with the soundtrack and sound effects on one track and the mono talking sequences on another; this film, too, had a silent alternative version.  His following film The Divine Lady (1929), reverted back to the partial silent sound mix, with the dialog being silent and the soundtrack and effects manufactured with the Western Electric Apparatus.  Madonna of Avenue A (1929) was his first full sound film, with the sound mix being Vitaphone. It was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct Casablanca. His last film in the 1920's was Tiger Rose (1929), a Canadian Mounty adventure film.  He continued to work right up to the time of his death in 1959 at the age of 54.  On the 27th of March he committed suicide in North Hollywood by taking a deliberate overdose of barbiturates and left a short suicide note apologizing to his family.  He had increasingly been suffering from serious health issues, including horrible back pain that kept getting worse.  He is interred at the Great Mausoleum at the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale.  In all, he appeared in over 200 films.