Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Born Today May 31: Fred Allen (Not So Silent Edition)


John Florence Sullivan was born in Cambridge, Mass to a staunch Irish family.  His mother died when he was only 3 years old and the family (Allen, dad and infant brother Robert) had to move in with one of his mother's sisters, who had a disabled husband.  Allen later remembered these hard times in a second memoir that he would pen; both his father (due to drinking) and his uncle (due to lead poisoning) could not work.  Eventually, his father remarried and things stabilized for the two boys. Both boys were offered the chance to go with him and his new wife, or to stay with their aunt--Allen chose the latter; later saying that he had not one single regret for doing so. One thing that did come of the family moving into such close quarters, is that his father purchased a Emerson upright piano when they moved--Allen took piano lessons, but only managed to learn two songs.  It was, however, the beginnings of his performance exposure.  When older, he took a job at the Boston Public Library and found a book on the origins and development of comedy that was hugely influential on him.  To help with family money troubles, he also took up juggling.  As fate would have it, the library decided to put on a stage show for patrons and asked him to do some juggling and a bit of comedy. A young girl in the audience liked his routine so much that she told him he shouldn't be a library employee--he should be on the stage!  He determined that this is what he wanted to do with his life, but it took some time to realize.  In 1914, at the age of 20, in addition to his library work, he added working in a piano repair shop to his daytime work, and taking parts in amateur stage competitions to his night time activities.  At first, he took the stage name of Fred St. James and soon found himself on a $30 a week vaudeville circuit.  This then morphed into "Freddy James: World's Worst Juggler."  He went out on wider and wider traveling vaudeville shows.  In 1917, he returned to New York and substituted the last name "Allen" after a booker for Fox theaters (not Edgar Allan Poe, as has been suggested) so that he would be paid more by theater owners--had they billed him under his original name, he was sure to get a lower salary.  Throughout the 1920's he continued to develop his stage act, including a few truly original and bizarre touches (a cemetery gag amongst them).  He made his Broadway debut in 1922; he then gravitated to early radio.  In the 1920's radio was beginning to really show it's promise with staged shows being broadcast to a growing audience that no longer had to pay up to attend live shows in theaters.  The radio work then led to two short film appearances in 1929, both were early talkies.  The first was The Installment Collector, a ten minute comedy voice-over featuring Allen talking a mile an hour (a contrast from his later radio persona, for which he is best known); the second is Fred Allen's Prize Playlets (1929), and even shorter film featuring some of his fellow radio players.  The first was produced by Paramount, the second by Warner Bros.  Both are in mono.  If you look up Allen's film credits, they are quite short--just a little over 10 appearances; however his radio work, which began full time in 1932, was extensive!  In fact, one of his shows featured bogus news desk coverage, something that everyone from the likes of Johnny Carson to Lorne Michael's of Saturday Night Live, would go on to imitate.  To read more about his immense radio career, please see the Wikipedia link below.  Starting in 1953, he was a panelist on the popular television program What's My Line--his comedy was then introduced to a whole new generation of people.  On the 17 of March in 1956 he suffered a shift and fatal heart attack, much to the shock of everyone who knew him.  His wife insisted that Fred would have wanted the show to go on as planned--remember, this is when television was live--so Steve Allen took his place on Line and the panel proceeded as usual, until the last 90 seconds of the broadcast, when everyone offered their fondest memories of Fred Allen.  He is buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorn, New York.  Both his birth name and the name that the rest of world knew him by are engraved on his marble marker.  He was 61 years of age at the time of his death.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Born Today May 30: Howard Hawks


Howard Winchester Hawks was born into a wealthy industrial family in Goshen, Indiana; the eldest of five children.  In 1898, the family relocated to Neenah, Wisconsin so that Howard's father Frank could go to work in the mill that his father-in-law owned. Winters there were very harsh, which by 1906, saw the family annually escaping by over-wintering in Pasadena, California.  In 1910, the family moved there permanently due to Howard's mother's ill-health.  In 1912, the family relocated again to Glendora, where Frank Hawks owned orange groves.  By the time Howard was old enough to attend high school in 1913, he was sent away to the prestigious private Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  While there, began to attend theatrical shows in Boston; the first real evidence of his being interested in performance art.  After finishing high school back in California, Howard went on to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he majored in mechanical engineering.  College friends remember him as an average student that spent basically no time applying himself; but everyone did notice that he was an extremely avid reader of English language novels.  Back in California, Howard's grandfather purchased a Mercer race car for him (in his youth Hawks had discovered Coaster Racing, a form of gravity racing). It was because of this car that he crossed paths with Victor Fleming.  It wasn't long after this that Fleming, a former auto mechanic, quickly found himself in the position of cinematographer to film director Allan Dwan, after Fleming quickly fixed a faulty film camera for him.  Through this connection, Hawks got his first job in the film industry; that of prop boy to Douglas Fairbanks on the film In Again, Out Again (1917), which Fleming shot (Hawks is sometimes credited as assistant director of the film).  He very quickly worked his way up to set designer.  He was next hired, in more or less the same capacity, by Cecil B. DeMille. Also in 1917, he supposedly worked on the Mary Pickford film The Little Princess.  He would go on to have 3 more assistant director credits by 1921.  During this time, he also applied to Sanford University, but returned to Cornell instead in 1916.  In 1917, he joined the armed forces with the U.S. joining the effort in 1917, finally received his degree in absentia.  A lot to cram into such a short period of time.  In 1923, Hawks received his first writing credit, penning the story that the film Quicksands is based on.  He made his directorial debut at the age of 21, when he and a cinematographer attached to the project, filmed a strange double-exposed dream sequence for another Mary Pickford film. His first formal director credit came the next year in The Road to Glory, which he also wrote the story for (this is, unfortunately, a lost film). The film was made for Fox Film Corp. During the time in-between, he was just one of rebel-rousing group of young men kicking around Hollywood up to all sorts of antics; more can be read about that below by clicking the Wikipedia link below.  He would continue with Fox throughout the remainder of the 1920's; making 8 films for them.  The first time he worked with sound came in 1928 with Fazil, the soundtrack and sound effects provided by MovieTone. His first full sound film came with The Air Circus (1928), yet another lost film (note: amazingly only two of Hawks' film are lost to us). The last film that Hawks made in the 1920's was a return to the partial silent format; Trent's Last Case (1929), a mystery, utilized soundtrack and sound effects only, with sound by Western Electric.  As the 1920's ended, so did his association with Fox Films.  He bounced around from production company to production company in the early 1930's (this includes the time period when Scarface (1932) was made). Finally in 1933, he, and most of his old gang, landed at MGM; though most of greatest and well known films were made at other studios.  Such as:  Bringing Up Baby (1938)--RKO, His Girl Friday (1940)--Colombia, Sergeant York (1941)--Warner Bros., The Big Sleep (1946)--Warner again, The Thing From Another World (1951)--back to RKO, etc.  He became one Hollywood's most sophisticated and prolific directors during it's Golden Age.  The last film that Hawks directed came in 1970 with Rio Lobo, starring an aging John Wayne.  Like many directors, Hawks also got into the world of film production, but unlike other directors, his production credits fail to outnumber his directorial credits.  A couple of weeks before his death, Hawks accidentally fell over his dog; already suffering from vascular disease, the fall caused complications that led to a stroke.  He passed away on 26 December 1977 at the age of 81 in Palm Springs, CA.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Born Today May 29: Josef von Sternberg


Born Jonas Sternberg in Vienna, then Austria-Hungary (now just Austria) to a Jewish family whose father was a former soldier in the army.  When he was just two years of age, his father left for the United States in search of work; when Jonas was 7, the entire family joined him in the U.S., only to have to migrate back to Vienna 3 years later.  Still little Jonas had gotten his first taste of the place that would shape the rest of his life.  Four years later, when Jonas was 14, the whole family again set out for the U.S., settling in New York City.  He later dropped out of high school to work as an errand boy for the lace factory where his father had found work as a lacer.  He moved on to a cleaning job in a film factory that lead to work in film repair.  By 1915 he was working for the World Film Company under William A. Bradley in Fort Lee, NJ (the first "Hollywood").  The company had a cache of French directors and cinematographers; Sternberg was mentored by one of them:  Émile Chautard.  In 1919, Chautard hired Sternberg as an assistant director on The Mystery Of The Yellow Room, after founding his own production company: Emile Chautard Pictures Corp. (though, this film is considered by some film historians as being the first independent film).  Thus comes his first actual credit.  He would continue as assistant director until 1925.  In 1924, his first writing credit came in By Divine Right, a film for which he was also assistant director to director Roy William Neill.  It was in the credits for this film that Co-producer (and actor) Elliott Dexter added noble "von" to Sternberg's name, supposedly to even up the titles; Sternberg did not object (this also appears to around the time that he changed his first name).  In 1925 he took to the director's chair for the first time; directing his own project The Salvation Hunters, which he also wrote and produced.  The film was shot in Los Angeles Harbor.  Charlie Chaplin saw the film and was impressed enough to urge both Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to acquire the rights to the film.  Pickford, suitably impressed with Sternberg, then hired him to direct a film starring her (he wrote a scenario for it, which she rejected). In the meantime, he shadow directed The Masked Bride (1925), a Chester Conklin film, that sports an early appearance by Basil Rathbone.  Chaplin then commissioned Sternberg to direct a film starring his current lover Edna Purviance, after Sternberg had been fired from a previous directing job.  A Woman of the Sea (1927) (AKA The Sea Gull) has since become one the most infamous lost films in history.  In fact, it was never really properly released; Chaplin simply destroyed the film--no known copies where made (note:  in 2008, still photographs from the film did surface and were published, giving temporary hope that a copy had been made).  Starting in 1927, however, he began to get some commercial success, starting Underworld, a gangster film starring George Bancroft. He went to work for Paramount in the late 1920's and directed several late silent films during that time that are considered classics of the era.  They include:  The Docks Of New York (1928), considered a very early film noir, and Thunderbolt (1929), a film with an alternative mono sound version provided by Western Electric.  Both films starred Bancroft.  Thus ended Sternberg's career in silent films, and almost ended his tenure in the directors chair.  His career hit a serious slump after the making of Thunderbolt, so he accepted a invitation to work in Berlin. This is where his film making legend began to take shape.  He cast a little known German actress by the name of Marlene Dietrich and things turned around for him.  He would go on to contribute to the careers of other legendary actresses, including:  Rita Hayworth and Carole Lombard.  His film making slowed considerably during the 1940's and he only made 3 film in the 1950's; with his very last being Ana-ta-han in 1953; made in Japan about Japanese soldiers who refused to believe that the war with the U.S. was over; he had written, directed and produced it--the film had a limited release and was a financial failure.  The last film by year that he is credited with comes in 1957 with Jet Pilot, a film he was hired for by it's producer Howard Hughes, starring John Wayne; but the film was shot a full seven years before it release.  Between the years 1959 and 1963 he taught film aesthetics at UCLA. Two of his students, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison, would go on to their own fame the band The Doors.  Before his death, Sternberg was able to pen an autobiography.  He died in Hollywood of a heart attack at the age of 75 on 22 December 1969.  He is interred at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

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This is his new memorial marker added in 2017, when his widow passed away at the age of 97 in June.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Born Today May 28: Minna Gombell


Born in Baltimore, Maryland into a prominent doctor's family; Gombell had by 1912 made her successful stage debut. The following year, she made her Broadway debut, realizing success there quickly.  She specialized in comedic roles and had a very well known and regarded run as a stage actress all the way up through the 1920's in many such role.  This garnered the attention of Hollywood and by 1930 she had signed with Fox Film Corporation.  It was not Fox Films, however that produced her filmed debut in 1929; that fell to Franklin Warner Productions.  Gombell had married playwright Myron C. Fagan sometime well before 1929 and had starred in his play The Great Power in 1928 on Broadway; the cast was approached to make a film of the play, which was released the following year.  It was a strange early talkie, and like a good number of small budget early talkies, it had and alternative silent version.  What makes this film strange is the sound mix for the talking version.  The sound mix for that was provided by Bristolphone Sound, not your ordinary Hollywood talking sequencers at all! For more on this, please click here.  After this, she did continue her stage career, mostly along side her husband,  but also made a prolific number of early talking films under her contract with Fox.  She appeared in more than fifty films, including some real blockbusters such as The Thin Man, from 1931 through 1951, when she retired.  Gombell remained married to Fagan until his death in 1972.  She followed him in death on 14 April 1973 at the age of 80, passing away in Santa Monica, CA.  She is buried in Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.


Yorkshire Silent Film Information

Thursday and Friday 16 & 17th June screening (and future screening) information can be found here. Found on the website of Silent Pianist Jonathan Best.  Ticket information can be found here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Born Today May 27: Lucile Watson


Born in Québec City, Canada, she was the daughter of a British Army officer stationed there. Watson is almost completely recognizable for her character acting in role of mothers and matrons in the talking era; but her career started much earlier.  She became interested in acting at a very early age; being independent minded she had hopes of attending a dramatic arts school in New York City; a move that her military father completely disapproved of.  Despite this, she left for New York anyway and did enroll in school there.  She made her Broadway debut in 1902 in a production of Hearts Aflame.  She went on to find roles in several Broadway productions over the next two years.  Along the way, she worked in plays that starred early motion picture actors such as Robert Warwick and John Barrymore.  Her stage career continued to grow over the years, culminating with an appearance in a silent short film in 1916 The Girl with the Green Eyes, a production of Popular Plays and Players, Inc. This was the extent of her film work in the silent era.  She would not appear in film again until 1930 in an early Western Electric talkie, The Royal Family of Broadway, a New York based production partially directed by George Cukor.  She chose instead to stay on the stage; and she stayed there until 1934. She started taking film roles in the few movies that were still being produced in the New York area and found herself with a whole new career on hands.  By the end of 1934, she was making films in Hollywood.  She would continue to act in films right up into the early 1950's, and then even moved on to a little television work, before retiring in 1954 and moving back to her beloved New York.  Watson passed away there of a heart attack on 24 June 1962; she was 83 years of age. She is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester Co.  

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Up Coming Blogathon

I will a participant in this upcoming blogathon Royalty On Film, over at the The Flapper Dame blog site.  Please check it out.  Wado/Thanks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Born Today May 24: Fernando Soler


Mexican film actor and director Fernando Soler was born Fernando Díaz Pavía in the village of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, into a family of entertainers.  He was the elder brother of 3, all of which went into the film business.  They were sort of like the Mexican version of the Marx Brothers.  All of them changed their last name to Soler; and were referred to States-side as "The Soler Brothers."  Of the four, Fernando is the only one to have any connection with the silent era of film.  He is credited with having a bit part in the 1915 filmed version of the novel The Spanish Jade, an English language silent which was remade in 1922 (this latter film is sadly lost). His formal film debut didn't come until 1932 in which was given top billing; this came in the Spanish language film Cuándo to suicidas, a comedic feature produced by Paramount in the United States, but shot in France.  He made his directorial debut back in his home country of Mexico in 1940, directing himself in Con su amable permiso, a comedy drama.  He probably best known for his role in Luis Bunuel's Susana (1951). He went on the have a long acting and directing career, mostly in Mexico; and he worked up until the time of his death.  In fact, he was such a busy actor, that one film in which he appeared was released posthumously.  He passed away on the 24th of October in 1979 in Mexico City.  He is thought to have died from a hemispheric body paralysis, the most common cause of which is stroke; he was 83.  There seems to be disagreement about where he is interred, however there is a marker for him in Mexico City's historic Pantéon Jardín cemetery.

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[Source: Find A Grave-Guadalupe]

[Source: Find A Grave-Cartoo]

Monday, May 23, 2016

Upcoming Silent Festival

JUNE 2-5

Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theater in San Francisco, Ca. Click here for more!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Born Today May 19 Not So Silent Edition: Anthony Bushell


Anthony Arnatt Bushell was born in Kent, England, UK.  He was educated at Magdalen College, and later, Hertford College, Oxford.  After Oxford, he went on to study formal training in stage acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.  Bushell made his stage debut in 1924 in a production of Sardou's Diplomacy at the West End's Adelphi Theater.  By 1927 and 1928 he was touring with high profile theatrical productions in the United States; and by the end of 1928 he was the talk of Broadway.  That same year fellow British stage actor George Arliss saw him in a play; when Arliss was cast in a very early talkie Disraeli (1929) [sound by the Western Electric Apparatus], Arliss recommended Bushell for the role of Charles Deeford, which the studio accepted.  Also in 1929, Bushell was part of the huge production of The Show Of Shows.  He was featured in the "Henry VI" sequence.  Thus his movie career began in the earliest era of sound in motion pictures.  He would go on to be in films with likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson and Erich von Stroheim.  He served his country during World War II; commissioned into the Welsh Guards, where he served as commander in the Guards Armoured Division--tank squadron.  After the war, he developed a close relationship with Sir Lawrence Olivier, and would go on to be an assistant director to him.  By the early 1960's, he had grown tired of the business.  The last full length film he made was the The Queen's Guards in 1961 and, he retired for good in 1964 after making his last acting appearance on the television series Drama 61-67.  He served for a time as the director of the Monte Carlo Golf Club.  Bushell passed away on 2 April 1997 at the age of 92 in Oxford, England, UK.  The details of his burial are unknown

Bushell right with Arliss in Disraeli (1929)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Born Today May 18: Frank Capra


One of the giants of American cinema was born Francesco Rosario Capra (who later translated his name into English as Frank Russell Capra) in the Sicilian town of Biscaquino (of course part of Italy) into a family of fruit growers; he was the youngest of 7 children.  In 1903 the entire family immigrated to the United States.  The family was stuffed into the steerage section of the boat, the cheapest way to travel in those times; the journey took 13 days to complete.  For Capra it remained a vivid lifelong memory of a terrible experience.  The family like most Europeans immigrating to the US at the time, came in to the country through New York Harbor (gasping at the size of the Statue Of Liberty on their way in), but promptly made straight for California, settling in the Los Angeles area, in what is today Chinatown.  At that time it was what Capra himself called "an Italian ghetto."  Capra sold newspapers starting at age 10 and continued to do so through high school. His parents convinced him to enroll in college after graduating, instead of going directly to work, which he did.  He also worked through college at Cal Tech and took a slew of odd jobs; AND he worked at night, in clubs playing the banjo--this was his first foray into any sort of entertainment.  In college he studied chemical engineering and graduated in 1918.  Immediately after graduation he was commissioned in the US Army as a second lieutenant (made possible by his ROTC membership in college); he taught math to artillerymen at Fort Scott in San Francisco.  This didn't long; while in the army he caught the "Spanish flu" that was going around (the pandemic would kill millions across the globe); he was discharged and sent home.  With his father having died in an accident in 1916 and he being the only college educated member of the Capra household, it fell to him to provide for the family.  Nonetheless, he was unable to get work, and seeing all of his older siblings gaining steady work, he became depressed and felt a failure; to make matters worse, he discovered that abdominal problems that he had been suffering from was actually from a ruptured appendix.  He then faced another lengthy recovery.  He did managed to become a naturalized US citizen in 1920.  He moved out the house and spent several years living in flophouses in and around San Francisco; also hoping the rails and traveling around the west picking up odd jobs of all sorts.  One of those jobs was acting as an extra in a film; he also supported himself as a poker player.  The one film from the silent era that he is credited as having acted in (there could well be more) The Outcasts of Poker Flats which is listed as having a given year of 1919--it was a Universal production.  It was an early western directed by the great silent western director John Ford--who would go on to direct some Hollywood's golden age Westerns.  Capra's directorial debut came in 1921, when at the age of 24, he directed a short documentary entitled La visita dell'incrociatore italiano Libia a San Francisco...; which documented the arrival of the Italian naval ship the Libia (Libya) in San Francisco bay.  He is also credited with personally working on the intertitles, along with a person credited as "J. J. DeMoro," whose real name was Guilio DeMoro--who was probably a friend.  He then had to take a job as a book seller, which left him nearly broke, and with a fresh sense of defeat--but the venture boldened his moxey.  While selling books, he read an advertisement in a newspaper about a new film studio opening up in San Francisco; he called the number listed and implied a great deal of experience in film and saying that he had recently moved from "Hollywood."  The studio's founder, one Walter Montague, took to Capra and offered him $75 to direct a one-reel silent film.  With the help of the Montague hired cameraman, they managed to make the film in two days, and cast it entirely with amateur actors.  The film was The Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House (1922) (note: this film is sometimes listed as a two-reeler, it's running time is 12 minutes). The film was comedic short, marking the path that his film making career would take off--though Capra could hardly have seen it at the time.  He almost didn't notice that he had actual talent in the field--he saw it more as a way to have gainful employment that didn't involve selling things. After making 3 more pictures at this studio in 1922 (some of which he wrote), he began casting about for other jobs in the industry which lead him to another job working with producer Harry Cohn.  Working for Cohn at first Capra was a jack of all trades, working his way up from property man, to a film cutter, to a title writer and finally to assistant director.  He was then employed as a gag writer by Hal Roach studios; and this is where his narrative film beginnings a comedic writer and director came into it's own.  As a gag writer, he focused particularly on the Our Gang series.  He also wrote scripts for comedian Harry Lagdon as well.  He was in Mack Sennett's world now.  It would, however, be 4 years between full directorial jobs.  When Langdon left Sennett, he took Capra with him to start his own studio/production company, Harry Langdon Corporation.  It was here that returned to directing.  In 1926 directed Langdon in The Strong Man.  It was the first full length film that he had ever worked on in any capacity. He further directed two more films in 1927.  One was with Langdon's company, the other was with First National with Robert Kane Productions, after he was fired by Langdon.  The film was For The Love Of Mike (yet another lost film); it was considered a failure as a film, but it did mark the first time that he directed Claudette Colbert.  His much storied directing career then took off, when he was put under contract with the now transformed Harry Cohn's studio, which became Columbia Pictures.  The first film he made with the historic studio was That Certain Thing.  The first film that he directed that had any type of sound in was Sunshine, which had musical score and sound effects by Western Electric Sound System.  These were only two of the eight films that he directed in 1928.  He would start 1929 off with another partial sound film, that had an alternative silent version:  The Younger Generation.  His next film, The Donovan Affair (1929), was his first full sound film, with the full mono provided by MovieTone.  He would never make a silent film again.  In all 1929 he directed a total of 3 films, all of them in some sort of sound.  For his part, he was glad to see the silent days go; later in life he was quoted as saying "I wasn't at home in silents."  Of course, he would go on to direct some of the most well known and well made early talkies. It Happened One Night (1934), starring Colbert and Clark Gable, won 5 Oscars, including Best Director.  Other films he made during the 1930's include Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1938). During the Second World War, he again enlisted in the Army.  While there, he was assigned to work directly under Chief of Staff George C. Marshall; Capra's job was to turn out a series of propaganda films that is collectively known as the Why We Fight series; with his taking time out in 1944 to direct Arsenic And Old Lace with Cary Grant.  After the war, in 1946, the first post war film that he made was It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart.  As his themes slowly started to get out of lockstep with the ever modernizing Hollywood; he became increasingly disillusioned with the director's chair.  His last film came in 1964, with a short documentary that was ironically enough to serious look to the future.  Entitled Rendezvous in Space, made for the Martin Marietta Corporation (and produced by Capra's own company), it was about futuristic plans in the United States to build space shuttles and space stations.  It was shown at the New York State Fair in 1965.  He then retired from the movie business.  Capra, however, lived until 1991, long enough to see the shuttle program and Skylab, the first American space station. He had started his directorial career with a documentary short and ended it the same way. Capra died at the age of 94 of heart failure on 3rd September 1991, in La Quinta, CA.  For a person that had so many health problems early in adulthood, that were life-shortening any one of them by themselves, that he lived so long is a bit of a miracle in itself.  He is buried at the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Born Today May 15: Anny Ondra


Born Anny Sophie Ondrákóva in Tarnów, Galicia--then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of Poland; her father was Czech by ancestry and was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian military.  She grew up in Prague.  She got into stage acting as a teenager, and my the age of 16 she had made her first film Palimpsest, which is sadly a lost film.  There is a great deal of confusion over this lost drama.  For starters, many sources say that she was 17 instead 16 when she secretly agreed to star in this Czechoslovakian film.  Additionally, there is confusion as to who directed it, some sources cite her boyfriend at the time Karel (sometimes credited as Carl) Lamac, he is sometimes credited as an actor in the film; other sources cite Joe Jencík, but this is unlikely because it was Lamac that was the director by profession and Jencík was the actor.  In fact, this is the ONLY director credit for Jencík, which is suspicious. To make things more confusing, Lamac's name when applied to the film is often listed as Karell Lamatch.  Whatever the truth, when Anny's father found about her appearance in the film, he gave her a beating.  As she was billed under her real name, her family was intensely embarrassed by it.  As a military man, her father was outraged that his daughter would stoop to the profession of acting, which in that part of the world after World War I, acting was seen are barely above begging--almost on par with prostitution.  This in no way discouraged her!  Though her father had secured other plans for her after her graduation from convent school (he had managed to save her a position in the government), she instead left home and moved in with Lamac.  She promptly appeared in another film the following year, Dáma a malou nozkou, again under her birth name.  In fact, throughout most of the 1920's, the bulk of her silent career, she went by this name.  Her career at this point was off and running in what was then Czechoslovakia, (she, for example, made 4 films in 1920 alone).  The first film that can be confirmed that she is credited with her last name shortened came in the Czech language film, Chorus Girls in 1928.  Her first English language film also came in 1928 with Eileen of the Trees in the UK; it was also her first sound film, with the whole film in early mono.  She pretty much stayed in the UK from this point on for the rest of silent career.  In 1929 she was in her first Alfred Hitchcock film, The Manxman--it was his last silent film.  That same year, she starred in Hitchcock's first sound film Blackmail. The last silent film that she made was with her director beau, turned lifelong friend, in 1930 in Germany:  The Virgin of Paris.  She would go to marry a famous German boxer and lived the rest of her life in Germany (after WWII West Germany).  During the war, however, the German Fascists tried to exploit the couple to their ends, with the overtures always rebuffed by the couple.  In fact, they helped hide two Jewish children, saving their lives--a capital offense under the Nazi regime.  Unfortunately because of these public overtures to the couple during the war, after the war they were wrongly accused by the post war government of Nazi collaboration and fined to the point of poverty.  They managed to start their own business on family land, she had effectively retired from during the war, so she was committed to the family business from then on.  After the war, she made one more film in 1951 in One Must Be Handsome, then she retired for good.  She died on 28 February 1987 at the age of 84 from a stroke.  She is buried in the Saint Andreas Friedhof Cemetery in Hollenstedt, Germany.  

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Born Today May 14: Miles Mander


Born Lionel Henry Mander in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire UK (in the English Midlands); he was the second son of Theodore Mander of the prominent industrial family of the same name (Theodore was the builder of Wrightwick Manor).  His older brother Geoffrey Mander was a prominent member of Parliament for years.  The younger Mander, however, seems to have a case of wonder lust.  After a childhood education at Harrow in Middlesex and Loretto School east of Edinburgh in Scotland, he set out of University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The plan was for him to follow in the family business, but he soon developed an interest in aviation, and followed that passion into service for his country in World War I, where he served as a captain the Royal Army Service Corps.  After the war, he set out for New Zealand, where he spent most of his twenties on his uncle Martin Mander's sheep farm. He returned to Great Britain in 1918 and began to write both novels and plays.  He also became a film exhibitor, this was his first foray into the world of motion pictures.  By 1920 he had managed to get his first part in film in a minor role; the film was Testimony, a marriage melodrama based on a novel.  His name change came about when he was credited early on sometime as "Luther Miles," presumably because of the prominence of his family, the name stuck, with his changing the last name for his real first name. Throughout the 1920's he had steady work as an actor; but he also has credits as and producer, writer and a director.   His first producer credit came in 1923 with The Man Without Desire , a strange early sci/fi-fantasy film about life suspension, with the subject being reanimated 200 years later.  His first writing credit came in Lovers in Araby, a film that he also acted in.  He made his directorial debut two years later with The Whistler (1926), a DeForest Phonofilm production.  The next film that he made with them was truly revolutionary; they allowed him to direct a very early musical based on a sequel to Lover in Araby, entitled The Sheik of Araby, utilizing thier patented sound-on-film-process.  It was simply a musical number performed by then popular singer Paul England.  The next film that he appeared in that featured sound was Balaclava (1928), but the sound version was released two years after the silent original.  His big breakthrough also came in 1928 with a film that he wrote, directed and starred in:  The First Born.  The film was a huge critical success and gained the attention of Hollywood--to this day it remains one of the great classics of the silent era. The first film that he starred in that featured sound effects that had been perfected into early mono was The Crooked Billet (1929) (it seems that Britain had a slightly different path to sound film--as they just didn't have the ability to promote films in early full sound due to theaters not being owned by studios, so they often overdubbed sound to partial sound effect films and re-released them when theaters finally released around 1930 or 1931 that they had to upgrade or die). Miles Mander went on to be a well know character actor in Hollywood in sound film; a rarity for an actor without stage training who became a star in the silent era.  In 1930, he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Murder!, Hitchcock's third full length sound film.  He is probably best known by film buffs for his portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu in the comedic Allan Dwan directed The Three Musketeers, starring Don Ameche and featuring the The Ritz Brothers, with appearances by Lionel Atwill and John Carradine. Mander died of a sudden heart attack event in the famous original Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles at the age of 57 on February 8 1946.  Well, if you had to go that dramatically, then the Brown Derby was the place to do back in those days!  He was buried in Ocean View Burial Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada under his birth name.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Born Today May 13: Fritz Rasp


Fritz Heinrich Rasp was born in Bayreuth, Germany to a very large family--he had at least 12 other siblings.  Between the years 1908 & 1909 he attended acting school in Munich, where he leaned to overcome a speech impediment by developing a Frankish accent.   He made his stage debut later in 1909.  He soon established himself as quite the character actor, and would go on to work in stage productions directed by the likes of Max Reinhardt and Bertolt Brecht.  He made his film debut in 1916, in a short comedy directed by the soon to be famous Ernst LubitschSchuhpalast Pinkus.  By the early 1920's he was staple "heavy" in German silent films.  He might have acted in more films in the late 1910's if were not for his military service in the years 1916-1918.  The role that he by far and away most famous for is The Thin Man from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).  The German film industry was somewhat behind that of the United States in terms of sound films; so it wouldn't be until 1930 that Rasp was in his first speaking role on film in The Dreyfus Case.  From then on, he would have a long and prolific career acting in films, acting right up until the year of his death.  He was so well known as a villainous character actor, that when he died 30 November at the age of 85 in 1976, his obituary in Der Speigal, read in part "the German film villain in service for over 60 years."  He is buried in Friedhof Gräfelfing Cemetery.  

Scene from Metropolis

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Born Today May 7: Gary Cooper


Born Frank James Cooper in Helena, Montana to English immigrant parents; he had one older sibling, a brother named Arthur.  Their father Charles had become a prominent lawyer in Montana, rising even up to the Montana Supreme Court; this allowed for the family to purchase a large ranch and live comfortably.  Their mother, Alice, wanted her two sons to have an English education, so in 1909 she escorted them back to the UK where they were enrolled in Dunstable Grammar School located in Bedfordshire.  He was educated there from 1910 through 1912.  The boys were then escorted, again by their mother, back to Montana to attend school at the Johnson Grammar School in Helena.  While in high school, he was encouraged by a teacher to join the debate club and get involved in the dramatic arts; this was his first exposure to public oration and acting of any sort.  Also while still in high school, he enrolled in college courses the agricultural college in Bozeman.  After graduating, he headed for Grinnell College in Iowa, the year was 1922.  While there he did well in his course work, but was disappointed not to be accepted at the college's drama club.  During summer's he supported himself as a guide at Yellowstone.  Disgruntled with college life, he quit suddenly in 1924 and headed to Chicago to find work as an artist, but was unsuccessful.  After a month, he headed back to his hometown of Helena, where he got work selling editorial cartoons to the local newspaper.  In the autumn of that same year, Cooper's father Charles left the Montana Supreme Court and moved with his wife Alice out to Los Angeles to work with family members living there.  At his father's request, he joined them there.  He wasn't there long before he ran into two acquaintances from back home who worked as stunt riders in the motion picture industry; they introduced him to rodeo champion "Slim" Talbot who knew people in the industry.  Talbot took Cooper to see a casting director, and he soon found work as an extra for $5.00 a day and a stunt rider for double that amount.  This is were some confusion comes into play.  Many film historians have claimed that Cooper made his film debut in 1923 in an uncredited role in a film titled The Last Hour; this highly doubtful, as Cooper didn't show up in Los Angeles until Thanksgiving of 1924.  It is much more likely that his real debut came as a "crowd extra" in Dick Turbin which came out in 1925.  From there on he got steady work in extra roles in a string of silent films throughout the 1920's.  Realizing that there was more than one actor who went by the credited name of "Frank Cooper," he figured that he needed to change his name.  Nan Collins, a casting director, that had turned agent for Cooper suggested the name "Gary" (after her hometown of Gary, Indiana) and a budding star was born. The first known credit under this name came in 1927 with The Last Outlaw, as "Garry Cooper," in an early starring role for him.  The first partial sound film he starred in came in 1928 in Lilac Time opposite Colleen Moore; though the film had no speaking parts--only sound effects with a musical score.  The first film that he starred in that actually had talking sequences in parts was The Shopworn Angel (1928), with sound provided by Western Electric Sound System.  It was, however, the very last film that he made in the 1920's that was not only his full sound film, but made him a superstar; that would be The Virginian (1929).  Directed by Victor Fleming, it is still a household name amongst connoisseurs of the western film genre.  Cooper would go on to have a very prolific film career, with some very notable roles along the way, including that of real war hero Alvin C. York in the 1941 Sergeant York , for which he won an Oscar.  He also won for High Noon (1952).  His life, though, was cut short, when a late diagnosis of prostate cancer allowed the disease to spread to his colon.  He passed on the 13th of May in 1961, just a week after marking his 60th birthday.  His funeral mass was held on May 18 and was attended by many Hollywood luminaries.  He was then interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.  However, in 1974 when his family relocated to New York, he was exhumed and his remains transported to Southampton, NY, where he was reburied at the Sacred Hearts cemetery there; a 3 ton boulder from the Montauk quarry, along with a flat grave stone mark his final resting place.  

His original grave marker in California

His new grave marker, with Montauk boulder, along with the marker for his wife's grave in Southampton, NY.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Born Today May 4: Esmond Knight


Classically trained stage actor Esmond Penington Knight was born on this day in East Sheen, which is located in Surrey in England, UK.  He seems to have made his stage debut in 1925, and indeed, appeared in many filmed Shakespeare adaptations during his lifetime, including the classic 1948 film adaptation of Hamletthe brainchild of Laurence Olivier.  Most sources cite his first film credit as coming in the 1931 early British talkie The Gaunt Stranger.  In fact, his first film appearance came in 1928 in a late silent film entitled The Blue Porter, in which he assayed the role of "radio operator."  From this time forward he appeared in various stage and film productions until WWII broke out.  During the first years of the war he sought to do his part by accepting roles in propaganda films; but his real goal was to fight for his country.  He was finally awarded the chance to serve as Gunnery Officer aboard the HMS Prince Of Wales, a ship that accompanied the HMS Hood.  When the Hood was attacked by the infamous German battleship the Bismark, he personally witnessed the sinking of the Hood; after which, the Germans turned their huge guns on the Prince Of Wales.  The ship received heavy fire, and Knight was hit in the face by an exploding shell, causing him to lose one eye completely and the lose vision in his remaining eye--leaving him totally blind for a time. Because of his blindness, he switched to radio work, but managed to dip his toe back into film work.  He received state of the art (at the time) treatments to help save the vision in his remaining eye; which turned out to be a great success.  This allowed him to return to film and stage work full time.  By 1944, his sight had improved enough to accept a role in Olivier's Henry V.  He continued to act in both television and for the big screen right up until the year of his death.  He died of a massive heart attack on 23 February 1987 at the age of 80.  He was cremated; the location of his ashes is unknown, but they may reside with a family member.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Born Today May 3: Bing Crosby (Not So Silent Edition)


Born Harry Crosby Jr. in Tacoma, Washington; he was three when his parents moved the family to Spokane, where he grew up.  He acquired his nickname of Bing at the age of seven, when an older neighborhood boy started calling him "Bingo from Bingville" after a local popular satirical columnist's serials in a newspaper.  This morphed into Bing and stuck.  In 1917 he took a job at the local auditorium and was enthralled by the acts he was able to see there free of charge--amongst them Al Jolson.  He was bitten by the professional music bug and had gained a love of the stage.  He graduated from high school in 1920. Obviously he is such a towering figure in the 20th century American consciousness, there is no point to go into his full history.  He is commemorated here only because he, by 1928, had managed to help pen a tune that made it into a very, very early musical (a small part actually silent in nature), The Singing Fool in 1928, ironically starring Al Jolson.  The rest is history, of course.  Crosby died on October 14, 1977 just outside Madrid in Spain after an enjoyable game of golf.  He had been battling illnesses and injury since around 1974.  For more see his Wikipedia entry below. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA. next to his first wife Dixie; his grave marker mistakes the correct year of his birth.

IMDb (note that Internet Movie Database also gets his birthday wrong by the day)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Born Today May 2: Hedda Hopper


Born Elda Furry in Hollidaysville, Pennsylvania to a "Pennsylvania Dutch" (German) family that was staunchly German Baptist Brethren; an influence that would stay with her all her life, especially in role as a notorious Gossip Columnist.  She had six siblings and the family resided in Altoona as of Elda's third birthday.  Before transforming into the columnist that she became (in)famous for, she had quite a long acting career. This started in New York City, where she had relocated in order to break in chorus line work on Broadway.  She did manage to get parts in this capacity, but was not very good at it and was famously fired by the renowned Broadway big-wig the Shubert Brothers.  She eventually found work in a staged matinee where she met it's owner DeWolf Hopper, whom she would later marry and have her only child with--famed Perry Mason actor William Hopper.  She began then to hone her acting skills and was eventually awarded a lead role in a touring stage production of The Country Boy.  It was at the time of her marriage to DeWolf Hopper that she changed her first name to Hedda, as her real first name was too similar to several of his previous 5 wives!  It was also at this time that she started acting in motion pictures.  The first film that she appeared in was in 1916, The Battle of Hearts, and was billed under her birth name.  The next two films in which she appeared, both in 1917, she was, for some reason, billed as "Elda Millar" (her mother's maiden name was Miller, why the change in spelling is a mystery).  It wasn't until the next year that she was finally billed under married name in Virtuous Wives, when she was credited as "Mrs. DeWolf Hopper."  From then on, she was credited as Hedda Hopper.  Her first partial sound film came in 1927 with an uncredited role in the huge production that was Wings; however there was no dialog in sound, only sound effects and a soundtrack by Western Electric Sound System.  It would be fully two years later before she would appear in another sound film, with many appearances in late silents in between.  That came with her role in Girls Gone Wild (1929) (a most unfortunate title since the schmuck that was filming girls on spring break in the 90's called his series the same thing!).  The film was in full mono sound provided by MovieTone.  Though she continued to appear steadily in films right up through the year 1940 (and would, indeed, accept a few scant roles right up to the year she died); her acting career started to slip in the mid-1930's.  She began to look for alternative sources of earned income.  Hopper was known as a notorious gossip, so when the Los Angeles Times offered her the opportunity to write a Hollywood gossip column, she naturally jumped at it.  Thus she began the career that she is most known for.  Her first column appeared in the Valentine's Day edition of the paper in 1938, and things took off from there. She became quite the vicious writer, and was reportedly quite vicious person in actual life.  She started a rivalry with Louella Parsons, who had arguably created the role of the film columnist, and with whom Hopper had been friendly with when she was acting.  The column would soon lead her to radio, where she had a spot on Hollywood romance and scandalous divorces.  Her strict religious upbringing "informed" her politics, about which she was very vocal; she was an unrepentant Republican.  Her darkest moments in the political arena came in the era of communist scares in Hollywood, when she basically came up with name after name, with no evidence, to hand over the Hollywood Blacklist.  She was also a very strong supporter of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which had origins in congressional committees going back to the 1910's and created the Hollywood Blacklist.  It was also closely associated in the popular mind and in the press with Senator Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Junior Senator from Wisconsin--though he never had anything officially to do with the committee, and, indeed, had never served in the House of Representatives.  Future disgraced president Richard Nixon however, did serve on the committee; being that he was from California, Hopper was a supporter.  Hedda Hopper died on February 1, 1966 of double pneumonia at the age of 80.  Her body was sent back to her home state for burial.  Her last acting role came earlier that same year, when she played the role of "Hedda, the Mad Hatter" in in a musical television adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and Sammy Davis Jr.  Hopper had long been known for her very large hats. She is buried Rose Hill Cemetery in Altoona, Penn. where she grew up.  Her grave marker states that she born in 1890, which does not match her birth certificate.  She was succeeded in death in 1970 by her only child William. Just as side note:  she was recently played by the great Helen Mirren in the 2015 release Trumbo, about blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, assayed by the equally great Bryan Cranston (an interesting recently published article about her in the 1960's in Variety can be found here.)