Sunday, November 13, 2016

Born Today November 13: Hermione Baddeley


Hermione Youlanda Ruby Clinton-Baddeley was born on this date in Shropshire, England, UK.  She is best known stateside for her numerous television roles in the 1970's, as well as supporting roles in films like Mary Poppins (1964) and Alister Sims' A Christmas Carol.  Though very well known for these roles, and her recurring role as Mrs. Naugatuck opposite Bea Arthur in the series Maude, Baddeley actually started acting in films in the late 1920's and had stage career before that.  Her first film appearance came in 1927 in the role of "Calamity Kate" in the British silent comedy A Daughter In Revolt.  She made one other silent film in 1928 entitled Guns Of Loos, which was set during World War I.  She would go on to be one of the great female character actors of her generation.  Starting in the 1940's she also forged a long stage working career with playwright satirist Noel Coward. During the span of her career, she was nominated for both a Tony award and an Oscar (as a point of trivia: her Oscar nomination came for Best Supporting Actress for Room At The Top (1959), hers was the shortest performance time to ever be nominated for that category.).  She continued to work right up until the time of her death.  She passed away in California on 19 August 1986 after a series of small strokes.  She was 79 years of age.  Though she died in the U.S., her remains were shipped back to her home country and interred there in the St. Mary and St. Melor Parish churchyard in Wiltshire. 

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Born Today November 12: Aleksandr Borodin


Russian romantic composer Alexksandr (westernized to Alexander) Porfiryevich Borodin was born on this day in St. Petersburg a central city in the Russian Empire. Borodin was the illegitimate son of a Georgian nobleman and a married young Russian woman.  His biological father had him registered as being the son of one of his Russian serfs, Porfiry Borodin, hence his last name.  Condemning him to the life of a serf for at least the first 7 years of his life, his nobleman father emancipated him from serfdom then and provided him with shelter and money for his up keep.  Though he lived under the same roof with his biological mother, she would never publicly acknowledge him, and he would grow up calling her "aunt."  After training as and working as a chemist, Borodin would go on to be tutored by Russian pianist and composer Mily Balakirev.  He then began to compose his own works, which ranged from chamber works (string quartets) to symphonies; he also penned one opera.  The reason for his inclusion here is that a chamber work, the string quartet In The Steppes of Central Asia was used as a proscribed soundtrack for the 1909 film Moscow Clad In Snow.  This little 7 minute documentary, produced by France's Pathé Freres, shows several areas in the city under wintery and blizzard conditions.  This was the only film to deliberately make use of his music during the silent era.  Since the advent of talking pictures, however his music has shown up in many, many films; oddly, the most recent is this year's horror anthology Holidays.  Borordin died of a heart attack on the 27th of February 1887 in his birth city of St. Petersburg.  He had always severed from health trouble, having contracted cholera as a child, which led to a series of small heart attacks as an adult.  He was only 53 years of age.  He is buried in a an elaborate tomb in St. Petersburg's Tikhvin Cemetery, along with several other luminaries, many of them composers, including his old tutor Balakirev.  For more on his life, follow links below. His music can be found on both Spotify and Pandora. 

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Born Today November 11: József Katona


Hungarian writer Katona József (western name order used above), was born on this date in the city of Kecskemét.  Primarily a poet and playwright; he is often credited with being the creator of Hungarian drama and is well known for his historical play Bánk Bán.  His work first appeared in a motion picture in 1915 with staging of that same play, Bánk Bán (1915); a very early film by Kertész Mihály, who became very famous in Hollywood as Michael Curtiz.  This was the only known film of Katona's work in the silent era.  It wouldn't be until 1968 that another film of the same work was produced.  The most recent film of that same work came in 2002, and was produced in his native Hungary.  Katona died young at the age of 38 of a massive heart attack on 16 April in his offices in his birth city. He was a relatively unknown author during his short lifetime; he is now a national figure of great reknown in his native country. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Born Today November 10: Claude Rains


William Claude Rains was born today in Camberwell, London, England, UK.  His father Frederick Rains was a well known stage actor.  Young Claude made his own stage debut at the age of 11 in the play Nell Of Old Drury.  He also worked in the business side of of the theater from a young age; starting out as a page, and working his way up to stage manager.  His acting talent was later noticed by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  He paid for Rains' elocution lessons (Rains would later become an instructor at the Academy, teaching the likes of Lawrence Olivier and John Gielgud).  His acting career was interrupted by World War I, when he entered military service (along with fellow actors that included Basil Rathbone) and served in the London Scottish Regiment.  He entered the military as a private and by the end of the war had risen to the rank of Captain.  During the war he was the victim of a gas attack that left him almost blind in one eye for the rest of his life.  He made his motion picture debut in 1920 in the now lost film Build Thy House.  It was the only silent film that he is known to have acted in.  By the late 1920's he had moved to New York and made is Broadway debut. In the early 1930's he had the ambition to return to film acting with the advent of talking pictures.  A screen test for the RKO film A Bill Divorcement (1932) led him being cast as the Invisible Man in James Whale's film of the same name (Whale had earlier met Rains in London before they both made the move to the U.S.).  He would go on to be once of Hollywood's most bankable male stars, showing up such well known films as Curtiz's Casablanca, Hitchcock's Notorious and Lean's The Passionate Friends, not mention the role of the corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  He also made several appearances in Universal's monster franchises.  In addition to stage and film acting, he also made several sound recording and worked in radio.  He also made numerous television appearances toward the end of life.  Rains spent his final years in Sandwich, New Hampshire.   On the 30th of May 1967, he died from an abdominal hemorrhage in Laconia, New Hampshire and was buried in the Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonbourough, New Hampshire.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Born Today November 9: Marie Dressler


Born Leila Marie Koerber in Cobourg, Ontario to a musical family, her father was both a church organist and a music teacher, she started acting at the age of five in church plays.  The family eventually relocated to the United States, where young Leila continued to seek out roles in local theatrical productions.  She left home at the age of 14 to seek out acting jobs professionally, and found work with the Nevada Stock Company, where she lied about her age, telling them that she was 18.  Her parents had become disapproving of her choice of career and her father began to object to the use of the Koerber last name; so she changed it to Dressler (there are conflicting accounts as to how she came by the name).  Dressler stayed with the company for three years, after which she joined the Robert Grau Opera Company.  She eventually ended up in Philadelphia, where she then joined the Starr Opera Company, though she later quit and returned home to her parents living in Saginaw, Michigan.  She joined the church choir, and while yet another opera company, Bennett and Moulton, came to town, she gained their attention and was asked to join them--she stayed with them a further 3 years. In 1891 she quit and moved to Chicago.  She starred in a couple of productions there, after which she moved to New York City.  She made her Broadway debut in 1892. She was persuaded to accept comedic roles by Maurice Barrymore.  It was at this time that her long association with that large acting family began.  By 1900, she had started her own touring theater group, which saw them working up and down the northeastern city circuit.  In 1907, she moved to London with fellow actor Jim Walton. While there, they sunk an enormous amount of money into what became a huge theatrical flop; destitute, they returned to New York and declared bankruptcy.  She returned to Broadway for a time and wound up doing vaudeville in the summer at Atlantic City.  She also began to record for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910.  At this tim, she began rehearsals for a new play Tillie's Nightmare.  The play was a success, and toured extensively, ending up staged on Broadway.  During the first World War, Dressler was very active in selling Liberty Bonds and entertaining American Expeditionary Forces.  As she owned the rights to the play of Tillie's Nightmare, any production of it of any sort, had to gain her approval first.  Having made the acquaintance of Mack Sennett in 1902, she was the obvious choice to star in a filmed production of the play which famously became known as Tillie's Punctured Romance in 1914, in which she acted opposite Charlie Chaplin (the film also featured Mabel Normand and Chester Conklin, amongst others). The film made history as being the very first full feature length motion picture comedy (the film would also be remade in 1928 with W.C. Fields).  She starred in two more "Tillie" films before moving on to other comedic shorts through 1918; all the while, continuing to star on Broadway and in vaudeville.  She then quit acting in motion picture altogether until 1927, when she reentered the business in the comedic drama The Callahans and the Murphys (sadly a lost film).  Her first sound speaking role came in the comedy short Dangerous Females in 1929.  She continued to act both on the stage and in front of the camera until a little less than a year before her death.  In late in 1933, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She succumbed to the illness on July 28 in 1934 at the age of 65.  She is interred in the crypt in Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Ca. Her interment plaque records the year of her birth as 1871, though she was 3 years older in actual age.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Born Today November 8: O.O. Howard


Major General Oliver Otis Howard was born on this date in Leeds, Maine.  His inclusion on this silent film blog is due he appearance in the very early short in 1897 entitled Major-General O. Howard, U.S.A., and Staff, the film was made by the American Mutoscope Company.  Howard died on the 26 of October 1909, just before his 79th birthday in Burlington, Vermont.  He is buried there in the Lake View Cemetery. Follow links below to learn more about his life.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Born Today November 7: Karel Jaromîr Erben


Czech writer and historian Karel Jaromír Erben was born today in Miletín in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Czech Republic).  His youth apparently passed in the region. In 1831 he relocated to Prague to study philosophy and later law. In 1843 he gained employment at the National Museum working with historian and politician Frantisek Palacky.  In 1848 he became the editor of the newspaper in Prague.  Two years later he became the archives secretary for the Museum as well.  He is best known for his poetry, though he also wrote short stories and historical works as well.  His poetry widely consisted of folkloric themes.  In the world of film, the first motion picture produced from his work came in 1925. Czech actor/director Theodore Pistek made a film from one of Erben's poem; that film Svatební kosile, decidedly gothic in nature, featured only 4 actors, one which was Pistek; another was a role simply entitled Dead Man (an early incarnation of a type of "zombie"). The film was shot by talented Czech cinematographer Josef Kokeisl.  This was the only film in the silent era to be made from Erben's work. The next use of his material would not come until the 1950's, after which over the decades a few films here and there have been produced based on his stories, fairy tales and poems.  The latest to be released was The Noonday Witch earlier this year; with another title Zlatovláska in the works.  Erben contracted tuberculosis, which eventually claimed his life on the 21st of November 1870, only a short time after his 59th birthday.  He is buried in an elaborate tomb in the Olsany Cemetery--the largest, and arguable most ornate, graveyard in Prague.

For More:

Wikipedia (English page) (contains much less information)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Born Today November 6: Jonas Lie


Norwegian writer Jonas Lauritz Idemil Lie was born on this date in Hokksund, in Øvre Elker, Norway. His father was in service, and at the age of five the elder Lie was appointed sheriff of Tromsø, which lies within the arctic circle. He most of his formative years were spent in this very remote region.  When older, he was sent to naval school, but his poor eyesight precluded him from serving in the Norwegian Navy.  He then transferred to attend Bergen Cathedral School; and in 1851, he entered the University of Christiania, where he was to make acquaintances with Bjørnstjeme Bjørnson and Henrik Ibsen.  He graduated in 1857 with a degree in law.  He took to the practice of law the following year in Kongsvinger, a border town next to Sweden.  As this was a fairly isolated community, clients where few and far between; in the spare time allotted to him by the circumstance, he then began to write for the local newspaper.  By 1866 he had complete a full volume of poetry, which ultimately was not a success.  After this, he devoted himself solely to journalism when it came to writing, and by 1870, he was writing tales based on his brand of naturalistic reporting.  In this year, he published The Visionary Pictures From Nordland, a tale filled with far north superstitions and notions of the sea.  This would set him on the course of becoming a full time writer.  By 1874 the Norwegian Parliament had granted him an artists salary; money that he used to travel to add to his natural observational style of writing.  He would go on to pen several long tales in the form of novels and a few volumes of short stories, some of which bordered on gothic in nature.  In the world of film, not much has been made of his work; in all there are just 3 well known documented motion pictures based on his writing.   The first, and the only in the silent era, came in 1912 with The Commodore's Daughter  based on one of his novels.  It was a Danish film and was produced by the famed Nordisk Films.  Two Norwegian films have be produced from his work, the latest of which is the short drama Troll  in 1991.  Long married to Henriette Thomasine Lie, the aunt of the Norwegian/American painter who also went by the name Jonas Lie, the elder Jonas Lie died on 5 July in Fleskum in Andvika, less than a year after losing his wife.  He was buried in the famed Stavern Kirkegård cemetery in Norway, along with his wife.

For More:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Born Today: November 5--Ella Wheeler Wilcox


Poet Ella Wheeler (Wilcox) was born on this date in Johnston, Wisconsin; she was the youngest of four children.  After the family moved to Madison when she was very young, she began to write poetry. When she graduated from high school, she was already a very accomplished and well known poet.  In 1884 she married Robert Wilcox from Meriden, Connecticut, where the couple lived before moving to New York City.  The couple then moved out onto Long Island, where they constructed two homes and several smaller cottages. These would later serve as retreats and gatherings of their literary and artistic friends from the region. The couple became interested in theosophy and spiritualism soon after they married; this only intensified after the death of their only child, a son, who died soon after his birth.  These philosophies figured heavily in her work. She was a very popular and well known poet of her time, and embraced the New Thought movement, a school of monotheistic religious thought that would lead to the founding of Christian Science.  Being an immensely popular and well known poet, it is hardly surprising that her work would be used for scenarios in early narrative independent film.  The first of these came in 1914 with The Price He Paid, produced, not surprisingly, by the new thought Humanology Film Producing Company.  In all, four films were made from scenarios found in her poems between 1914 and 1917.  In 1916 her beloved husband Robert passed away, sending her into a depth of grief that she had never experienced before, even after the death of her infant.  This prompted her to seek even deeper answers in the realm of spiritualism and theosophy, where she sought help from a prominent Rosicrucian of the time.  This lead to an autobiography which was published one year prior to her own death.  Wheeler Wilcox passed away on the 30th of October, after battling cancer, in 1918 in Short Beach, Connecticut, she was 68 years of age.  She is buried on the family estate there with he husband; location New Haven County.

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Read More About Her Life @ Wikipedia