Thursday, February 18, 2016

Born Today February 18: Edward Arnold


Born Gunther Edward Arnold Schneider in New York City to German immigrant parents; he went to school at the East Side Settlement House.  His interest in acting came at an early age and he made his stage debut at the age of 12 in The Merchant Of Venice, playing the role of Lorenzo.  He made his professional stage debut in 1907.  After this, he found work as an extra with Essanay Studios after it's move from Chicago westward.  Many of these roles do not show up in his list of credits.  He first credited role, and on IMDb it looks like his first film role, came in 1916 with The Misleading Lady.  By 1917 he was getting lead roles in silent films.  His last credited role in a silent film came in 1920 with The Cost.  The last silent film in which appeared was simply as an extra in the huge cast of Victor Sjöström's He Who Gets Slapped (1924), starring Lon Chaney Sr. Arnold then left the motion picture industry for the stage; he would not return until well into the talking era.  He made his film return in 1932 in the short Murder in the Pullman and from then on had steady work, becoming one of Hollywood's most recognizable character actors.  His specialties became characters that were either authoritarian figures or rogues.  In the 1947 he became the star of his own radio show Mr. President, which ran through 1953.  He also got into television work in the 1950's.  In addition to his acting career, he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1940 through 1942; and he was co-founder of I Am An American Foundation. He worked right up until the time of death at the age of 66; in all he would appear in more than 150 films.  His last time in front a camera came as the host of the television program Strange Stories the year of his death. He passed away suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage on the 23rd of April 1956 in Encino, California.  He is  buried in the catholic San Fernando Mission Cemetery in the Mission Hills part of Los Angeles.  He grave marker somewhat comically states, "He's not dead--He's just away."


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Born Today February 17: Mary Brian


Mary Brain was born Louise Byrdie Dantzler in Corsicana, Texas.  Unfortunately, her father died when she was just a month old and the family moved to Dallas.  In the early 1920's the family relocated to Long Beach, California; where here mother hoped to get her into the motion picture industry.  She was entered into a beauty contest there at the age of 16.  One of the judges was movie star Esther Ralston.  She did not win the $25 dollar first prize, but Ralston, feeling sorry for her, arranged a consolation prize:  an interview with director Herbert Brenon, who was casting for his upcoming production of Peter Pan (1924).  He liked her in the tests for the main part of Wendy Moira Angela Darling; and loved that she was an unknown.  She was put under contract with Paramount Pictures; it was at this time that the studio changed her name to Mary Brian.  She then had very steady work throughout the 1920's.  The studio had put out that she was two years younger than she actually was, and she was eventually dubbed "the sweetest girl in pictures."  By the mid-1920's she had become so popular that Paramount was even willing to loan her out to MGM; which they did for the film Brown Of Harvard (1926).  That same year, along with a host of other young Hollywood luminaries, she was named one of that year's WAMPAS Baby Stars.  During her time with Paramount, she starred in over 40 films.  Her first speaking role came in 1928 with Varsity, a partial silent that had a few talking sequences, with sound by Western Electric (it amongst the long list of lost films, unfortunately). Her first full sound talkie came in 1929 with Black Waters.  Also in 1929, she would have a major role in one the earliest, and most influential, talking westerns, The Virginian, opposite rising star Gary Cooper. The last film that she made in the 1920's was The Marriage Playgrounda return to the partial silent format, with only a few speaking lines.  By the early 1930's, her contract with Paramount was up and she went into freelance mode, unusual for the time. She also got stage experience by performing live vaudeville in New York.  This allowed her to make a successful transition into speaking roles; something that was highly unusual for silent stars that did not start out on the live stage before appearing in films.  She went on to have steady work in film all during the 1930's.  By the early 1940's, she was involved in stage work that took her around the world.  She was also involved in entertaining troops in both the Pacific and Europe live during WWII; she spent Christmas of 1944 with American troops fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.  After this, her acting career began to wane some.  The last full length film that she appeared in was Dragnet in 1947.  In the 1950's she transitioned to television, having a major role as Janet Archer in Meet Corliss Archer (1954-1955), the last acting role that she would have.  After the show was canceled, she quit acting to work with her second husband George Tomasini's work as film editor for Alfred Hitchcock.  Personally, she devoted her time to her lifelong love of portrait painting.  She lived to the age of 96, passing away from natural causes on the 30th of December in 2002 in Del Mar, CA.  She is buried under her married name "Mary Brian Tomasini" Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills location, next to her husband George, who had passed away in 1964.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Born Today February 16: Chester Morris


Born John Chester Brooks Morris to acting parents:  his father a Broadway actor and his mother a successful comedian, in New York City.  As a child, he became very interested in magic tricks, and was a self-taught top amateur magician by adulthood.  He began his acting career at the age of 15. After dropping out of school; he went straight to Broadway; acting opposite of Lionel Barrymore in The Copperhead.  He made his film debut the following year in An Amateur Orphan, which starred Gladys Leslie (the film is now considered lost). Though he appeared in 3 more films between the years 1919 and 1925; his film acting career did not actually take off until the year 1929--having spent his time in the 1920's on the stage.  When he did return to films, his acting was immediately noticed.  His performance in the early all talking Alibi (1929) earned him a nomination for an Academy Award in the the Best Actor category.  His next film, Fast Life, also an all talking film, is also, unfortunately lost.  In all, the four films that he made in in 1929 was early talkies, though Woman Trap, had a silent version.  He had become so popular in film as such a fast pace, he even appeared in the Hollywood extravaganza The Show of Shows; representing both Broadway and Hollywood at the same time. Because of this, he appears in not one, but two skits in the musical.  By the mid 1930's, his Hollywood star began to fade and he found himself accepting lead roles in B-pictures.  He wound up in the serial part of "Boston Blackie" and made several films in that role; even playing the role on the radio in the 1940's.  During World War II, he performed numerous magical skits to entertain troops at USO shows.  The 1950's found him making television appearances on a steady and regular basis, with his first appearance coming as a magician in 1950 on a show called Cameo.  He even made it into one 1950's cult horror film, playing a mad doctor who had magical powers of transformative hypnosis.  He went on acting in television right up until the time of his death.  His last role was "Pop Weaver" in The Great White Hope in 1970, starring James Earl Jones (the film was released after his death).  Before filming began, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.  After filming wrapped, he joined a stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial in New Hope, Penn.  On the 11th of September, when he didn't show up for a luncheon date with the producer of the play, Lee R. Yopp; Yopp went to his hotel room, only to find the actor dead on of the floor from a overdose of barbiturates.  His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over a river in Germany.

As Dr. Carlo Lombardi in The She-Creature (1956)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Born Today February 12: Wallace Ford (Not So Silent Edition)


Born Samuel Jones Grundy in Bolton, England into a working class family; at the age of 3 he was placed with an aunt and uncle because his family low fortunes would not allow them to keep children.  They in turn could not keep him and several other children; so they were placed in an orphanage.  At the age of 7, he got caught up in a program by the British Empire to help populate the Canadian territories.  They did this by shipping orphans from the UK to foster homes in the wilderness there.  He was adopted into a family in Manitoba, but they did not treat him well and he subsequently ran away several times.  He was then passed from foster home to foster home, until he ran away permanently at the age of 11 and joined a touring vaudeville act called "The Winnipeg Kiddies."  This is where is acting career began.  In 1914, when he was 16, he and another kid around the same age named Wallace Ford, decided to travel south, illegally, to the US to seek their fortunes.  Ford, however, was killed when he fell from the train they were hitching a ride on, and was run over by it's wheels.  Gundy then decided to assume his companions name; this is where is came by his stage name.  In the US, he served in the Calvary during World War I and continued in vaudeville.  In 1919, he landed a role in major play in Chicago that wound up being a packed house success; the play then made a successful debut on Broadway.  He then went on to star in many successful Broadway productions throughout the 1920's; after which he made his way out to Hollywood.  His film debut came in 1929 with a bit part in an early talkie, Married in Hollywood; even the poster touted "All Talking."  It wasn't very long before he got noticed.  By 1931, he was in a film with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford:  Possessed.  In 1932, he got a role in a very early film noir starring Jean Harlow:  The Beast of the City.  He had the staring role Tod Browning's infamous Freaks, also in 1932.  By the 1940's he had transformed into a character actor who would go on to make appearances on television--with one notable performance on The Andy Griffith Show.  His last role came in 1965 in A Patch of Blue, as "Ole' Pa."  Following the death of the wife in 1966, to whom he had been married since 1922, he checked himself into living facility for retired actors of film and television; the facility included a hospital.  He died there a few months later of heart failure.  He is buried in an unmarked grave at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Born Today February 10: Lon Chaney Jr.


The man who would become a major fixture in the Universal Horror canon, was actually born Creighton Tull Chaney, the son of his a very famous actor father Lon Chaney, who was a horror icon in silent films.  Creighton's mother was a singer who traveled with road shows with her young son.  His childhood was a difficult one.  His parents divorced in 1913, when he was only 7, after a much publicized suicide attempt by his mother in Hollywood.  He then bounced around from various homes and boarding schools, until his father remarried and was able to provide a home for him.  Chaney openly discouraged his young son from going into show business; even telling him that he was too tall to be an actor.  Nonetheless, he did let his son play a bit part in one of his movies in 1922, when "Chaney Jr." was 16 as "Hands of a Boy;"  the film was The Trap (it can be seen at Internet Archive) and was produced by Universal.  This would be the only silent film that he appeared in; and the only time that he came close to getting any sort of acting approval from his father.  The next film that he would have a role in came in 1931, and only as a extra, in The Galloping Ghost--credited under his birth name.  During this hiatus he worked private industry, had gotten married and started a family In 1930, his father died from a battle of throat and lung cancer.  History records that Creighton had been told his mother had died when he was a boy;  and that it was only after his father's death that he found out otherwise.  After the death of his father, he pursued acting full time; but wound up in only bit parts and uncredited roles for most of the 1930's.  By the late 1930's, he was being billed as Lon Chaney Jr.  In 1939, he got his break through role in Of Mice And Men in the role of Lennie Small.  His very next role, in One Million B.C. (1940), with it's heavy makeup job, got him a much coveted contract with Universal.   While he continued to make other types of movies, principally westerns, the studio started to look at him as a actor following his father's legacy of accepting roles requiring heavy makeup.  Well, we all know where this is 1941 to  The Wolf Man! Chaney was type-cast by the part and appeared in many an horror film from then on.  Lon Chaney Jr. died on the 12th of July from various ailments: he had been suffering from Beriberi (a drinkers vitamin B1 deficiency) and liver failure; he finally succumbed to heart failure in San Clemente, CA.  His body was donated to science for medical research.  For years, it was reported that his liver and lungs were kept in specimen jars, as examples of what extreme smoking and alcohol abuse does to human organs.  He has no grave site and no memorial marking his passing.  


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Born Today February 6: Ramon Novarro


Born Jose' Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico to a well off family (his father was a prominent dentist there); the family fled the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and relocated in the Los Angeles area here in the U.S.  His mother, Leonor, was said to be of prominent mixed ancestry and a descendant from the Aztec royal house.  His father's side of the family were pure Castilian.  As a young man in the L.A. area, he decided to study ballet.  By 1917 he had gotten the attention of the movie industry.  He made his motion debut in 1916 in Cecil B. DeMille's epic Joan the Woman as a starving peasant.  By the next year he had steady work in various extra roles; supplementing his income by working as a singing waiter.  By the 1920's, he as being promoted by MGM as a "Latin Lover" type--even as a rival of Rudolph Valentino.  This was done at the urging director Rex Ingram and his wife Alice Terry; early Hollywood friends of Ramon.  It was Terry who suggested that he change his name to "Novarro," though the name had no familial connection and he had plenty of prominent names that he could use that did.  His break through role came in Scaramouche in 1923; a film directed by Rex Ingram.  The film also starred Alice Terry.  By 1925, he had full blown, and well known, leading man status; playing the lead role in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ--his revealing costume causing quite the stir.  After Valentino's untimely demise in 1926, only Novarro was left as Hollywood's Latin Lover.  Oddly he did not make any films in 1926, opting instead for the stage (his work on the stage, is undoubtedly what allowed him to make the transition to talking films).  The Flying Fleet (1929), was his first partial sound film, with the soundtrack and sound effects being provided by Movie Tone.  His next film, the rather infamous The Pagan, in which he plays a "half-caste Pacific islander" who refuses the Christianity of his white father, had a specialized synchronized full musical soundtrack, also by Movie Tone--one of the first of it's kind.  His next role Devil-May Care, based on a French drama, was his first full sound talking film; sound provided by Western Electric.  It also featured on full scene in early 2 strip technicolor.  This would be the last film that he made in the 1920's.  During this time, and through the early 1930's he had prominent roles opposite the greatest leading ladies of their time, including:  Myrna Loy, Greta Garbo, & Lupe Velez; becoming one of the highest paid actors in town.  After his contract with MGM expired in 1935, he made fewer and fewer films; largely retreating from public life.  He developed a drinking problem that was the result of his homosexuality being at odds with his strict Catholic upbringing.  Supposedly, Louis B. Mayer tried on more than one occasion to arrange for a "lavender marriage," the term used for men and women (largely actors) who were gay that marry each other out of convenience; Novarro was having none of it.  Things only got worse for him, when he, and Lupe Velez, Dolores del Rio and James Cagney were all accused of promoting communism in California after they attended a special screening of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein's ¡Que viva México!.  Fortunately for Novarro, he had used some the hundreds of thousands of dollars he was paid as a leading man to invest smartly in real estate around Hollywood.  His own personal residence as designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.  From this he was able to maintain quite an easy lifestyle, working in acting when he felt like it.  It also allowed him to keep a comfortable low profile.  Throughout the rest of his life, he acted sporadically in films and later television, until his horrific death on 30 October in 1968.  Two young men, one a minor and one not (ages 17 and 22)--brothers Tom and Paul Ferguson--were hired by Novarro from an agency for the purposes of sex.  Apparently they thought the actor kept $5000 hidden behind a portrait.  They tied him up and beat him incessantly, demanding to know where the money was (one of them would later deny this part of the story).  Novarro died from asphyxiation on his own blood.  The brothers left the house with the $20 dollars that the actor had in his bath robe.  They were caught, tried and convicted and spent several years in jail, before being released in the 1970's (they were both rearrested several times, and one of them, committed suicide).  Novarro was buried by his sibling under his stage name at the Catholic Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles as "Beloved Brother."

[Source: AJM (Find a Grave)]

Friday, February 5, 2016

Born Today February 5: Tim Holt


Born Charles John Holt III, in Beverly Hills, to actor Jack Holt and his wife Margaret.  His father was a star of silent westerns; so acting, particularly in westerns, was in his blood.  When he was a very young child, he would accompany his father to the set of many a silent film.  Due to his father's ample connections, he found himself in his first film role before the age of ten. So it came as no surprise that his father found him work as an extra on the piece of comedy fluff that was French Dressing in 1927 at the age of 8.  By the next year, he had his very first film acting credit, playing a 7 year old version of a character his father was assaying as an adult in the western The Vanishing Pioneer.  Young Holt was on his way.  By the late 1930's he was under his first contract to work in westerns.  This contract lasted for just two years, after which RKO snapped him up; they had seen him in a film that was produced by Sam Goldwyn the year before.  From there, all throughout the 1940's (when not serving his country in WWII), he was known as fixture in singing westerns [this makes him a very likely inspiration for Hobie Doyle in the Coen Brother's latest film Hail, Caesar!--his many singing side-kicks would have provided fodder for the character as well).  He did have genuine original talent outside the western genre (unlike the Hobie Doyle character); and was well adapted to other types of roles.  In one interesting twist, he was hired by none other than Orson Welles to play the lead in his second film The Magnificent Ambersons.  Welles said of his decision to hire the younger Holt, "It was a lucky decision."  He later remarked the Holt was  "one of the most interesting actors that's ever been in American movies."  Holt also played a Nazi in 1943 in Hitler's Children, before heading off to war himself.  He served in the Pacific Theater in World War II with distinction with as a 29-Bombardier.  He was wounded over Tokyo in the last day of combat, and was rewarded the purple heart.  He returned to RKO after the war.  Later in his career he moved away from making films; he veered instead toward producing rodeos, managing theaters and making personal appearances--he even worked as an independent builder for a time.  By the time he made the horror/sci-fi film The Monster That Challenged The World, he had already been absent from the world of film making for five years.  After this, he would go on to make just 2 more films; spending much of his time continuing with rodeos, producing and starring in western music jamborees and working as an advertising manager at a radio station. All the while, apparently having the time of his life doing it.  His life was cut short by bone cancer at the age of 54 on the 15th of February in 1973.  He was living in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where he was managing a radio station.  This makes him one of the only movie stars born into silent film industry privilege in Los Angeles, to leave and die somewhere far from movieland--not the other way around.  He is buried in the Memorial Lane Cemetery in Harrah, Oklahoma.  He is buried under his birth name "Charles J. Holt."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Born Today February 4: Nigel Bruce


Well known British character actor famous for his Dr. Watson to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce was actually born William Nigel Ernie Bruce in Ensenada, in Baja California on the Mexican side of the border, while his parents, Sir William Waller Bruce and his wife Angelica, Lady Bruce, were on holiday there.  His father was 10th Baronet, and after his death, Nigel's older brother, famed author and adventurer, Michael, became Sir Michael Bruce, 11th Baronet.  Throughout his childhood, Nigel was simply known as "Willie," and this was the name that those who knew him personally called him throughout his life. In 1914, he served in World War I; he was deployed in France with the Somerset Light Infantry and the Honourable Artillery Company.  In 1915, he was severely wounded, taking 11 bullets to his left leg (!), in Cambrai.  He spent the rest of the war in a wheelchair.  Sometime around this, he developed an interest in performance.  By 1920, May 12 to be exact, he made his first public performance at the Comedy Theater (now the Harold Pinter Theater), in the West End, as the footman in Why Marry?  In October, he moved to Canada to become a theater manager, and took up the role of "Montague Jordan" in Eliza Comes To Stay; within a year or two, he was back in the UK, touring as the same character in the same play.  He is also said to have taken several roles in the UK silent film industry; but as of now, only one role has him credited.   In 1922, he an early partial color film (2 color process by Prizma Color), as an uncredited extra, the film was Flames of Passion--a pot boiler melodrama.  He is currently not credited with another film appearance, until 1930 in the UK produced crime/mystery The Squeaker.  He moved to Hollywood in 1934.  He would go on to make several milestones in film from there.  For example, in 1935 he was in Becky Sharp, the first full length technicolor film; in 1939, the same year he made his debut as Dr. Watson, he played a rare heavy in The Rains Came, with Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy--this would go on to be the first film to win an Oscar for special effects.  Later on in 1952, a year before his death, he was in Bwana Devil, with Robert Stack and Barbara Britton--this was the first 3-D feature.  He was also in two Alfred Hitchcock films:  Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).  Bruce died of a heart attack on 8 October 1953; he was cremated and his ashes were stored in Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.  He was 75 years old.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Born Today February 3: Carl Theodore Dreyer


One the world's greatest writer/directors of all time was born illegitimate to a married Danish farmer and his Swedish housemaid employee, in Copenhagen, Denmark; Dreyer's birth father gave him up for adoption at birth.  He spent the first two years of his life in an orphanage and several foster homes--it's unclear what his name was; if he even really had one.  He was then adopted by one Carl Theodore Dreyer and wife, and named after his adopted father.  His childhood was unhappy, with his adopted parents constantly reminding him that he should grateful for anything they gave him, including and especially food; and in his own words from later in life, "...and that I strictly had no claim on anything, since my mother got out of paying by lying down to die."  He turned out to be an extremely intelligent young man, and left home and school when he was 16 years of age.  He managed to get work as a journalist; from there, he found work as a silent title card writer, and from there, a writer of screenplays.  His first film credit came as a writer in 1912 with Dødsridtet (The Leap To Death), a film with a crime plot, that he actually appeared in as "Balloon Skipper." [a role he would resprise in his The Hidden Message (1913)]  He wrote for a couple of Danish production companies, before being hired by Nordisk Film (one of the only silent film producers to survive into the modern age--they are still open!) in 1913.  The first film that he wrote for them was Chatollets hemmelighed.  His first direction credit comes at Nordisk in 1919, The President, based on a Karl Emil Franzos novel about infanticide, that Dreyer adapted for the screen himself.  The next film that he directed, The Parson's Widow (1920), a horror comedy, was a Swedish collaboration, produced by the Swedish production company, Svensk Filmindusrti (another company still in business), and, again adapted by Dreyer.  By the mid 1920's he was frustrated with his work in Denmark and Scandinavia, and left for the French film industry.  While there, he met many prominent members of the French artistic community, including:  Jean Hugo and Jean Cocteau.  It was in France that he finally made his great film break through in 1928 with La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, which Dreyer penned with poet Joseph Delteil based on transcripts from the historical trial.  The film is considered one the great triumphs of the silent era and a top 100 film classic by many a critic.  This would be the last silent film that he wrote or directed.  The next film that he made came in 1932 with the horror masterpiece Vampyr, which he co-adapted from a novel by Sheridan La Fanu, with fellow Dane Christen Jul.  The film featured mono sound mix by (Tobis-Klangfilm), part of the production company for the film, Tobis-Filmkunst, a Danish company, to very sparse dialogue. For the most part, the film should be considered a partial silent film because of this.  Three versions were made, one in French, one in German and one in English.  The film was panned by critics and did not do well at the box office.  After this, he left for journalism again; by 1952 he was a cinema manager.   He would go to make several more experimental type films and many more short documentaries.  One film, Två människor (1945) was a complete box office failure.  Dreyer thoroughly disowned the film, and even later claimed that it never existed.  He tried his best to have copies of it destroyed; but despite this, the Swedish Film Institute preserved a copy and it has been remastered since.  Dreyer died on the 20th March 1968 in Copenhagen at the age of 79.  After his death the screenplay for a film that he had been planning to make about Jesus was published; this has been called the great unfinished project of his life.  He is buried in Frederiksberg Old Cemetery there.  His gravestone is adorned with his signature.

[Source: Wikimedia Commons]


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Thanks To Guillermo del Toro For Retweet Of This!

Born Today February 2: Frank Albertson


Born Francis Healey Albertson in Fergus Falls, Minnesota; his family moved around quite a bit, before settling in Los Angeles.  When settled there, young Frank, as he was affectionately known, found work in as an laboratory assistant at a photography shop--this resulted in contacts in the newly established studio system(s) in Hollywood.  In 1922, at the age of 13, he was already at work at one studio (most probably Paramount, given his film debut the following year).  In 1923, but before his 14th birthday, he had a very small part in James Cruze's The Covered Wagon, a western adventure; the film was produced by Paramount.  He wouldn't appear in another film until 1928.  Most likely, he continued to work on and around back-lots during this time. There are also probably several titles that he appeared in as extraduring the hiatus, that have not been attributed to him as an uncredited extra. He returned to film definitively for his first named credit in 1928, in The Farmer's Daughter, produced by Fox. The next film that he made, also in 1928, Prep and Pep, was a partial silent, with soundtrack and sound effects provided by Western Electric.  His first full sound film came in 1929, with Words and Music, which had a fully silent alternative version--sadly it is amongst the many lost films.  He next made Salute, also in 1929, which was a full early talkie, with sound also by Western Electric.  He would make just one more film in the 1920's--a full sound musical revue.  After this, he had steady work as a character actor, and sometimes a leading man in a B-movie, for the rest of his life. He would go on to act in over 100 film and television programs.  He is probably best remembered for a small, but very visible part in Alfred Hitchcock's horror thriller Psycho, in the leering role of Tom Cassidy, the rich man who talks up Marion Crane and boasts about his wealth at the beginning of the film--it was his money that she later steals (Albertson had made two appearance on Hitchcock's television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, before this).  In looking at the fresh faced youngster pictured above, it is rather hard to imagine, that by the young age of 52, he would look old enough to play such a role!  He did not live long after this--he passed away in his sleep at his home in Santa Monica, at the age of 55 on Leap Day in 1964, having worked right up until his death.  He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA.  It should be noted that he was in no way related to sibling actors Jack and Mabel Albertson.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Remembering Buster Keaton

On The 50th Anniversary Of This Death

Born Today February 1: Clark Gable


Born William Clark Gable in Cadiz, Ohio into an oil family; his father William Henry Gable was an oil driller.  Though he was named after his father, who went by the nickname "Will;" little William was always known by his middle name from early on in life.  At just 10 months, he lost his mother to what people now speculate was a brain tumor.  His father remarried in 1903; it would be his step-mother who introduced to the first performances, teaching him to play the piano.  He then took up brass instruments.  By 13 his was the only boy (meaning minor), in the local men's town band.  He also, reportedly, had a love of language and memorized Shakespeare sonnets, which he could recite in an impassioned tone.  By 1917, his father had hit financial hard times and decided to go into farming, moving the family to Ravenna, Ohio (which is near Akron), after settling his debts.  His father insisted that Clark work on the farm; but he soon, reportedly, left to work at tire factory in Akron itself.  Apparently, while there, he attended a performance of the play The Bird of Paradise, which inspired him to become an actor. Though he had to wait until the age of 21, when he inherited some family money, to embark on that venture.  He began touring with a theater company, which eventually landed him in Seaside, Oregon--eventually leading to various jobs in and around Portland to make ends meet.  While there, he met stage actress Laura Hope Crews, who had already made her film debut (she would later play Aunt Pittypat in Gone With The Wind).  She is responsible for his return to the stage, landing him in another theater company.  During this time, he met the manager of the Little Theater, Josephine Dillion.  She became his acting coach & patron, and later his first wife.  He was 17 when he met her, and she was 17 years his senior.  Not only did she successfully coach him all aspects of acting, she also paid to have his teeth  fixed and put onto a path of beefing up his undernourished, lanky body. After quite a long period of time, she decided that he was ready to present to the motion picture industry.  She moved to Los Angeles in 1924; he followed her a short time later.  He had been acting under the name "W. C. Gable," but she convinced him to agree to be presented by his childhood name, figuring that it had a much more appealing ring to it.  Clark's film debut actually came the year before this, in the sports serial Fighting Blood; which also saw the film debut of June Marlowe.  Both were in only very minor roles.  The film was produced by the Robertson-Cole Pictures Corporation.  His first credited role came in White Man in 1924; this is widely cited as his film debut--it wasn't.  From here on, he found steady work in films, but only in bit and/or uncredited parts; some which came in very famous films, up through 1926.  During this period of time, he was in Eric von Strohiem's  The Merry Widow (1925), Ben-Hur: A Tale Of Christ (1925), and Johnston's Flood (1926), which saw not only himself in an uncredited role, but also Gary Cooper, and, more importantly, Carole Lombard.  Frustrated with not getting bigger roles and more name recognition, he quit film acting in 1926 to return to the stage; he wouldn't return again until 1930.  This last silent film that he was in was One Minute to Play, where is was merely an extra.  It was during the late 1920's that he first met Lionel Barrymore, who despite being very unimpressed with Gable's stage acting ability, went on to encourage him to hone his stage craft--Barrymore went on to be a life-long friend.  During this time, Gable acted live in Houston at the Laskin Brothers Stock Company, where he became a local matinee idol.  From here, he moved on to New York, seeking work, with Dillion, on Broadway.  He did find some work, and at least one of his performances was written up favorably (if a little "Woody Allensy") in the press.  But the emergence of talking cinema, and the beginning of the Great Depression, caused the cancellation of many plays on Broadway.  Back to Los Angeles Gable went, finding work on the stage there for the first time.  After staring in successful production of The Last Mile, he was offered at contract at MGM.  The rest is basically well known cinema history.  Of course, the role that stands, like a giant, is his Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind (1939)!  Before this, he had stood out in the goofy Frank Capra re-marriage comedy in 1934 It Happened One Night, in which he starred opposite Claudette Colbert; this earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Lead Role.  He would also go on to marry Carole Lombard in 1939, his third marriage--having married a socialite between Dillion and Lombard.  Lombard famously died in a plane crash at the beginning of World War II on her way home from selling war bonds--killing all 22 on board, including her, her mother, and 15 active service members.  Gable received personal condolences from President Roosevelt himself--who declared Lombard a casualty of war.  Everyone who knew him, said he was never the same after this.  He actually joined the U.S. Army Air Force (now just the Air Force), and managed--though MGM tried at every step to turn this into a stunt--( even going so far as to have one of their own enlist with Gable); he did persevere, and wound up in England in 1943 with the 351st Bomb Group, at the rank of Lieutenant.  He flew 5 combat missions, including one into Germany.  That sortie, left one crew member dead, two other seriously wounded--and Gable himself, narrowly missed being killed as well. This earned him the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.  MGM, finding out about this, began to pester the U.S. armed forces to reassign him to a less dangerous post.  Gable was allowed leave to return to the U.S. that same year, to finish a film.  In 1944 he was promoted to Major, and was eager to return combat.  However, after the invasion of Normandy, he was relieved of active duty.  His discharge papers were signed by one Captain Ronald Reagan.  He resigned his commission in 1947, one week after the Air Force became an independent branch of the U.S. military.  [As aside note:  apparently Gable was Adolf Hitler's favorite American actor.  After hearing that Gable was on active combat duty in Europe, he reportedly offered a sizable reward for anyone who could capture him and bring him to Berlin unscathed.]  By the end of the war, he had won a great many medals and commendations.  After the WWII, he lived another 15 years, having numerous affairs, two more marriages; and basic dissatisfaction with the roles he was playing, despite that he was the highest paid actor at MGM, probably all of Hollywood, at the time.  On November 6, 1960, Gable suffered a major heart attack.  He died 10 days later on the 16th, from an arterial blood clot at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles; leaving behind a pregnant young wife.  His son, one of two that he had, John Clark Gable, was born in the same hospital where his father died some four months after Gable's death.  Clark is interred next to his third wife, Carole Lombard Gable in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA.  Many people blamed the over taxing situation on this last movie set for The Misfits, released in 1961, for his untimely death at the age of 59.