Sunday, December 31, 2017

Born Today December 31: Jason Robards Sr.


Jason Nelson Robards, who would later be known as Jason Robards Sr. due his son's fame from is own acting career eclipsing him, was born on New Year's Eve in Hillsdale, Michigan.  His parents were prominent in their mid-western community (his father a post-master and mother a schoolteacher).  Like so many other actors of the time, he started his career on the stage and gained some considerable fame, having trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, before being lured into acting in films.  He was a well known Broadway player prior to this, and had a regular appearance in one long running hit in the 1910's and early 1920's.  His film debut came in 1921 with The Gilded Lilly a Famous Players melodrama about a Broadway cabaret actress played by Mae Murray (a print of the film apparently turned up sometime in 2009 or 2010 in Argentina).  Robards appeared in one more film in 1921, The Land Of Hope, before absconding back to the stage.  He wouldn't appear in another film until 1925 when he showed up in the Universal picture Stella Maris (UCLA apparently has a print in their vaults).  It would be his only film appearance in that year. In 1926, his film appearances became much more frequent and would only increase in subsequent years. Beginning with the comedy The Cohens and Kellys, he appeared in more than 20 films, most of them feature length affairs, before the end of the decade.  If my research is correct, the first talking film that he appeared in was the early 1928 Vitaphone short The Death Ship.  The fact that he was well known for his role John Marvin in the Broadway musical staple Turn To The Right, must have made him a likely candidate as an actor for producer and directors looking to make films with sounded speaking roles in the late 1920's.  After The Death Ship, he was in a number of partial silents and full early talkies in 1928 and 1929.  He has, for example, third billing in Michael Curtiz's 1929 The Gamblers (one of the several Curtiz 1920's films from the US that is presumed lost), which was one of Warner Bros. late 20's sound/partial sound vitaphone productions. [Robards had already worked on a Curtiz picture in 1926 in The Third Degree, along side Dolores Costello and Rockcliffe Fellowes {what a name!}.]  Being a man of the musical stage, it was only a matter of time before he was set up in a musical film. This happened in late 1929 with his role as Andrew Sabbot in First National's filmed version of the popular Broadway contemporary musical Paris.  Needless to say, Robards had no trouble with the coming of full talkies in the 1930's; he acted in no less than 8 films in 1930 alone (one of which was the white hot mess that is D.W. Griffith's first sound film Abraham Lincoln).  A stand-out appearance comes in, along with the first William Holden, the 1931 Warner Oland Charlie Chan film Charlie Chan Carries On.  His film work in the roughly twenty year time span between 1930 and 1950 is copious, though by the late 1940's a number of his roles were small and uncredited.  He has small parts in two Val Lewtan productions with Boris Karloff: Isle Of The Dead and Bedlam.  He shows up in a couple of Dick Tracy films (including my favorite Dick Tracy vs. Cueball), makes an appearance in the Cary Grant film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House; and in 1945, he shows up in the Wally Brown comedy horror Zombies on Broadway as the headwaiter (of course, the film also HAS to have Bela Lugosi as the "zombie maker.").  He then went into semi-retirement in 1950 after appearing in The Second Woman, due to an eye complaint.  After surgery to remove cataracts that nearly blinded him, he made his television debut as a judge in a episode of Broken Arrow in 1958.  He would go on to appear in such shows as Wagon Train, Leave It To Beaver, and Cimarron City.  His last acting appearance came on The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet in the episode "Secret Agent" in 1963, the year of his death.  Robards died of a heart attack in his home in Sherman Oaks on the 4th of April.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale

Leave Virtual Remembrances @ Find A Grave

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Born Today December 26: August Blom


Pioneering Danish film director August Blom was born on Boxing Day in Copenhagen; he began his acting career in 1893 on the stage in Kolding. He was working on the stage all the way up through 1910, the year that he directed his first film entitled The White Slave Trade (there is more than one film by this title from Denmark (and Nordisk) [variations on Den hvide slavehandel the first dating from 1907--so there has been some confusion as to which film was Blom's]).  Many sources cite The Storms of Life (1910) as his directing debut for Nordisk, but he was clearly directing for at least a short time before this film's release. He actually made his debut in film in 1909 as an actor in The Mystery Of The Museum a Nordisk short film of little import. In fact, Blom has a long list of acting credits before taking up directing.  From 1909 and through most of 1910, he was an actor for Nordisk with some 20 credits to his name, most of the films directed by mentor, and one of Sweden's earliest directors (himself also an actor), Viggo Larsen (one of the "Slave Trade" films mentioned above was his).  After he began directing, Blom basically quit acting, only directing himself in bit or cameo roles (such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde released in 1910).  There was initially nothing to distinguish Blom as a director, but what he lacked in directing talent with actual camera work, he made up for in the editing process and in the use of certain set pieces (he was particularly known for his use of mirrors on set to "expand" the size of the acting space).  The first real feature film that he directed was In The Hands of Imposters in 1911, clocking in at just over 45 minutes, the film is a sequel to his White Slave Trade, and it one of the films that gets mixed up in the whole confusion over the "slave trade" films in Danish film history.  While Blom was a successful maker of films in Denmark (and Europe), especially with the construction of a great number of movie houses both in the country and abroad on the continent, before 1913; it was his massive project that became Atlantis; the film, with it's massive runtime of 120 minutes, that Blom is remembered for.  Never mind that it appears to be a telling of the sinking of the Titanic only the year before (it was actually based on a book predating that disaster-though the sinking played a part in the film's story), or that stars the Danish "movie stars" of the day, or even that Michael Curtiz (as Mihály Kertész) was a assistant director and had a part in the film, or even that it sports a "freak" moment with an armless man for some reason; it is that the film was Denmark's first multi-reel film that made it the historical memory that it is.  The film was very expensive and did no where near the business to recoup the filming costs, but it eventually became the most watched, most popular film that Nordisk ever released; thus making it the most watched Danish film of it's time as well.  Blom continued to direct a large number of films in 1910's--working all through World War I.  During the war, Nordisk produced a couple of science fiction films that reflected the true fear and angst of the time that have become silent film classics; Blom for his part directed The End Of The World in 1916 (fellow Danish director Holger-Madsen directed A Trip To Mars two year later).  Blom's directing in 1920's, however, ebbed and stopped by mid way through the decade.  Blom directed just a handful of films from 1920 thru 1925, with a period between 1922 and 1925 when he didn't direct at all.  He instead decided to open his own movie theater in 1924  The last film that he directed was outside the production facilities of Nordisk; for (I believe) the first time in his career he was working for other Danish film companies. The film, Hendes naade, dragonen--a comedy--is barely remembered today.  His film making hey-days were definitely between 1910 and 1916, with many of his later films resigned to obscurity (there is also the problem of many of these Danish films having not survived in the first place--always a very sad fact concerning films from the age).  Blom then retired to run his theater--which he personally managed through the year of his death.  He passed away on the 10th of January, 1947 in the city of his birth at the age of 77.  There is no information as to where he is buried.

Wikipedia (exceptionally well done entry, breaking down his work by year).

You can view or cast Atlantis from YouTube here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Born Today December 25: Evelyn Nesbit (Sorted Edition)


Florence Evelyn Nesbit--model, chorus girl, actress, media "sensation,--controversial figure that she was--was born on Christmas day in Tarentum, Pennsylvania (very near Pittsburgh). It is thought that her actual birth year was 1886 (or after...), but this is unconfirmable at this time.  She herself said much, much later in life that her mother added "several" years to her age--so it's not completely out of the question that even she didn't really remember her actual birth year.  She is most famous for being infamous, but for the purposes of this blog, she did appear (later on) in silent films, many with her young son Russell. I have no desire (or time, given the time of year...) to get into all the details of her rather tragic young life (there are plenty of great places around the web to catch the salacious details!), suffice that her and her family's life changed forever when her father, a lawyer, died suddenly when she was around 8 years old.  He left behind copious debts and two young children (Florence was the oldest, and there was a younger brother).  The family, destitute, was put out of their home.  Her mother sent her younger brother to live with relatives and tried to find work in the Pittsburgh area as a seamstress.  They lived hand-to-mouth, moving constantly and surviving very often on charity.  It was around this time that her mother reportedly started using her blinding, and very young, good looks to advantage.  Nesbit claimed that when her mother tried to start a boarding house, she sent young Florence to collect the rent from the mostly male lodgers who were staying there in the first place because of the child's looks.  Her mother eventually found work as a saleswoman at Wannamaker's Department store in Philadelphia--her two children joined her there and became store employees themselves.  This is when Florence would come to the attention of local artists.  Her first modeling job was innocent enough, as the artist was confirmed to be a woman, and earned the family real, much needed money.  So her modelling career took off and she would pose for artists of different mediums; she has even been called the world's first super-model--though all of her modelling was done when she was seriously underage.  This was bound to bring her to the attention of all types, including pedophile older men.  Such was unfortunately the case for her, when her modeling took the family to New York, where she basically became a super-star (and eventually also a chorus girl).  Her face graced the covers many very popular magazines including Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Hapers and others.  She also became a popular pin-up girl via post-cards.  She also became one of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson's Gibson Girls.  Evelyn found modeling for artists, especially painters, painstaking and laborious and pestered her mother to allow her to enter into theater work instead. (One of the most famous portraits of Nesbit was painted by artist James Carroll Beckwith in 1901).

Very well known illustration by Gibson entitled Woman: The Eternal Question, featuring Nesbit (while seriously underage) with her hair styled as a question mark.

This is around the time that things began to go wrong...very wrong.  She succeeded in convincing her mother to allow her to appear in the crazy phenom that was the staging of the Edwardian musical play Florodora at the Casino Theater on Broadway (this was "on Broadway" in name only even during this day and age). It was around this time that she began to go by the name she is famously (or infamously) known by: Evelyn.  She was very popular (inspiring more than a little titillation due to her young age) and the experience gave her the theater bug.  Near as anyone can assess, she possessed little to no acting skill at all--it was all her looks...and her youth.  It was at this time that she and her family crossed paths with rather infamous architect (and pedophile apparently) Stanford White.  He eventually contrived and succeeded in taking her virginity (no one knows for sure how old she was, though she definitely was not older than 16--probably more like 14). After this she became one of his young mistresses.  Not long after this her path crossed a young man working as an illustrator at a New York newspaper who was John Barrymore.  He was seriously smitten with her and attended many performances of hers at the theater just to gaze upon her.  They had a relationship that in most circumstances would have led to marriage, but her mother objected, claiming that Barrymore's job prospects were poor....(geez!).  He would later state many times over that Nesbit was his first serious love.  She then got entangled with the spoiled rotten and clearly insane railroad & mining heir Henry Kendall Thaw. Thaw would eventually murder White, and the whole trial caused a sensation that was splashed across newspapers worldwide.  Barrymore was retained as a witness in the trial, but ultimately didn't testify.  [It was ostensibly with Thaw that she had her only child Russell William Thaw, conceived she claimed during a conjugal visit, though Thaw always denied paternity and many speculated at the time that the child was Barrymore's (unlikely).] All of this, and Evelyn still had not yet made it into a film!

One of Evelyn's live model shots during a art photo session, long before her troubles began.

Well, technically, that's not quite true. She had indeed been filmed as herself in 1907 in a sensationalistic short entitled The Unwritten Law: A Thrilling Drama Based on the Thaw-White Tragedy (two copies of the film survive in archives in New York and London). The film was made by Lubin and actually released theatrically.  As far as actual acting in films goes, she didn't actually make her formal debut until 1914, by then a life time away from where she started!  She debuted in a role that is just plain strange for her tabloid character in actual life.  She plays Miriam Gruenstein a young Jewish woman, who along with her father Isaac, are the only survivors of a group of Jewish people sent into exile in Siberian Russia in the Lubin Manufacturing produced Threads of Destiny.  The film ends with Miriam becoming an older man's (and the murderer of her people to boot) mistress....this part strikes a familiar tone with Evelyn's actual life (the film is also presumed lost).  She is billed as Evelyn Nesbit Thaw.  She only had 10 more film credits to her name during her lifetime, with several of them featuring her along side her real-life son Russell.  The last of these was an Allan Dwan film The Hidden Woman.  Through all of this, two murder trials had come and gone, her connection to the wealthy Thaw family was petered out well before 1920.  She was left to her own devises to make ends meet.  In the 1920's, she reportedly ran a speakeasy, or two; and by the 1930's she was dancing vaudeville, she was quick to note that she never danced in a strip tease, though the thought of it didn't seem to bother her one jot, she told the New York Times: "I wish I were a strip-teaser. I wouldn't have to bother with so many clothes." During World War II, she lived in Los Angeles, teaching ceramics and sculpting for which she had more talent than acting. She gets no official credit, though she certainly should, for her role in the highly fictional account of life committed to film that was the 1955 film The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing starring Joan Collins, Ray Milland and Farley Granger.  Nesbit served as a consultant on the film.  She was even paid for her time, so IMDb, credit is due here!  After this, she lived most of the rest of her life in Northfield, New Jersey. Toward the end of her life, she moved into a nursing home in Santa Monica, California and on the 17th of January, 1967 she passed away at the age of, or around, 82.  She is buried at Holy Cross in Culver City.  During her life, she was also also married to minor film actor Jack Clifford--who was actually an Italian whose real last name was Montani.  Her son later became a celebrated pilot and served in World War II.

With Joan Collins on the set of The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing (1955).

You may read an excellent post on the whole affair at Keith York City.

Much, much more on Wikipedia

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Born Today December 24: Michael Curtiz


Famed Hollywood director Michael Curtiz was born Manó Kaminer into a "lower middle class" Jewish family in Budapest, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the capital of Hungary).  His father was a carpenter and his mother was trained as an opera singer.  He became enamored of the theater when he was just a small child probably due to his mother's career (he reportedly first graced a stage with her); so much so that he said that he built a little theater the basement of the family apartment house when he was 8 and directed his friends is re-enactments of popular plays.  He followed high school with studies at university, which he then followed with studies at the Royal Academy of Theater and Art in Budapest.  At the age of 19 he joined a traveling theater group; he spent a small stint working at a circus before returning to another traveling theater group that worked in multiple countries.  This occasioned Kaminer, who had Hungarianized his name to Mihály Kertész, to learn several foreign languages that included most of the major European tongues (he was said to speak at least five languages fluently--though heavily accented).  While working with the group, he was basically a jack of all trades and eventually worked his way up to theatrical director.  By 1912, he was working as a director at the National Hungarian Theater.  In that same year, he had the distinction of directing Hungary's first feature film Ma és holnap (Today and Tomorrow) in which he also acted.  He had, however, made his film directing debut earlier in the year with the short Az ezüst kecske.  [As a side note: amongst his many life accomplishments, he represented Hungary in fencing during the Olympic games of 1912].  The film bug had him and he began actively seeking film work, settling and studying in Denmark and wound up as an assistant director on Denmark's very first multi-reel film Atlantis (the film runs for around 2 hours, and was directed by Danish film pioneer August Blom).  This world of new found film success came to a rude and abrupt end with the out-break of World War I; he soon found himself serving in the Hungarian army for a year before being wounded on the Russian front.  He was then assigned to make fund raising documentaries for the Red-Cross; he later admitted that he had met with a lucky fate that so many others had not.  By 1917, he was the head director at the leading Hungarian film studio Phoenix--it was for all intents and purposes a national studio and he remained in this position right up until he decided to relocate to Austria after the war and the communist take over of his country.  Sadly almost no portion of any film that he directed while there survives (only a few scant fragments remain--such a sad shame, he literally directed dozens of films there during the period of 1917 & 1918).  One of these films, The Wolf (1917), he penned himself,  and constitutes the first of a small handful of films that he self-penned (curiously he is given a writing credit on the the now infamously lost Drakula halála aka Dracula's Death in 1921).  And, while on the subject of horror films, it is worth mentioning that one of the last films that he had a hand in directing in Hungary was the now very lost Alraune, a kind of Frankenstein/Golem/magic conjured like monster film [it involves mandrake sex...] that was eventually released in 1919 (looks as though the credits on IMDb have been strengthened out--they were previously a mess).  The first film that I can find that he directed after arriving in Austria is Boccaccio in 1920.  While in Austria (and Germany) he honed his directorial skills; by the time that he directed the epic Sodom und Gomorrha (which has been called his Intolerance) in 1922, he had become adept at handling large crowds of extras on elaborate sets. 

Film still from Sodom und Gomorrha preserved at Austria Filmarchiv showing the throng of actors involved in this Biblical epic. 

In fact, he became a bit of an "epic specialist" while in Austria; one such large project managed to harken back to his own Jewish ancestry at a time when things were increasingly becoming difficult for Jewish artists in country and in Germany.  Die Sklavenkönigin (better known in the English speaking world as The Moon of Israel) was his exodus epic and sported a huge cast of thousands.  It was a film that got the attention of studios and film makers in the U.S., for better or worse--the rights were bought by Paramount to attempt to compete with DeMille's 1923 Ten Commandments. It was this film that got him an offer to direct for the newly formed Warner Bros. in the U.S., though the growing menace against Jews must certainly have played a big part of his European departure.  

1924 English poster for Curtiz's exodus epic made for Count Alexander Kolowrat's Sascha-Film in Austria.

In 1926, Curtiz journeyed to the U.S. and set up shop at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California.  The first film that he made for them was The Third Degree starring "The Goddess of the Silent Screen" herself, Dolores Costello (it also features Jason Robards Sr. and survives with only a degraded print, unrestored at the Library of Congress); he made this film without knowing word one of English (Curtiz's trouble with English became infamous in Hollywood, so much so that many were called "Curtizisms").  The first film that Curtiz made that worked on that had sound from the time of filming was the 1928 Tenderloin, it was a partial silent is now thought lost (Warner's had worked in some post, post-production [meaning added after the films were released] sound by the Vitaphone system that they owned into Curtiz's two previous silent films made for them).  His next film for Warner's was to be their big biblical epic (part of what Curtiz was hired for afterall...) and was as close to full sound as a Warner film got at the time; the 2 hour and 15 minute Noah's Ark told the story of the great flood with a frame story from World War I--the sound was not Vitaphone, but rather the Western Electric Apparatus (this is the first film that Curtiz made for Warner's that has survived intact, and the only one to be restored).  All four of the films Curtiz made in 1929, all full sound affairs, are thought lost.  Curtiz was, it turns out, the perfect director for films made in the early 1930's (what we today call "pre-code" films).  This portion of his film catalog alone is ripe for plumbing the depths.  He made several of my personal favorite films from the 1930's; two of them stand out on their own not because they are horror films, but because they were made with what is popularly called 2-Strip Technicolor-the earliest "Technicolor" process-and the most stable color process up to that time.  The first was Doctor X (1932) starring Lionel Atwill and newly minted scream queen Fay Wray.  The other was The Mystery of The Wax Museum  (1933) starring the same two actors, adding the plucky Glenda Farrell to the cast (the film had a black and white version as well, the color version was thought lost for good until a copy turned up in the late 1960's--after Curtiz's death).  He also directed The Kennel Murder Case in 1933 with William Powell and Mary Astor.  

Of course, Curtiz would go on to direct one the most famous films that Hollywood would ever produce: Casablanca in 1942.  After the point, most his films are/were barely talked about.  Though his directing career would decline, he did go on to direct films in several genres that stand the test of time.  Among them are:  Night and Day  with Cary Grant, Mildred Pierce, the 1952 remake of the The Jazz Singer and White Christmas in 1954 (ironic given his Jewish background and that he was born on Christmas Eve as reckoned by the western, or Roman, calendar).  He is also credited with discovering Doris Day. The last film that he directed was the John Wayne western The Comancheros in 1961.  Curtiz died on the 10th of April in 1962 after a battle with cancer.   He was 73.  He is buried at the Glendale location of Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Whispering Pines section--his younger brother David, an assistant director and special effects artist, joined him there the following month).  

Leave Virtual Remembrances @ Find A Grave

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Born Today December 23: Wallace McCutcheon Jr.


Wallace McCutcheon Jr. was the eldest son (most sources cite eldest child) of early in-house director Wallace McCutcheon Sr., who was known as "Old Man McCutcheon" at Biograph where he he was head directing honcho before he was lured away by Edison, then lured back again (you can find his entry on Wikipedia here.*).  The younger McCutcheon was one of eight siblings.  With the McCutcheon Jr. was born in New York City on this day in 1880.   Because of his father's profession, he became enamoured of acting--without ever really showing any talent in the arena.  He did get his acting start on the stage in the New York area; but owed of his father's position at Biograph, he was also able to put his son to work acting in films.  The younger McCutcheon's film debut actually came in a film that his father did not direct, instead he had a part in Over the Hill to the Poorhouse, which was released in June of 1908; the film was directed by Stanner E.V. Taylor--the film also featured his mother billed as Mrs. Wallace McCutcheon in her only film appearance, and a young Mack Sennett as the bartender.  He was directed by his father in The Kentuckian also from the summer of 1908; the film featured D.W. Griffith in one of his acting roles--and though he got no credit for contributing to the writing, the title invites suspicion that he made a contribution (Griffith had a life-long obsession with romanticizing Kentucky, the place of his birth).  McCutcheon Jr. also has three credits for directing which apparently came about when his father took ill mid-1908 (he probably directed more titles; it is highly probable that some of his handy work had been put under this father's name--which is a shame for the later really).  "Wally" was allowed to take over directing duties from his dad, until it was determined that he was profoundly untalented in the area and easily distracted (not to mention murder on scripts).  The first film that he directed actually survives: At The Crossroads Of Life, which also featured Griffith as an actor, was indeed also written by Griffith (the film is available to purchase on DVD).  The film is also notable in that it featured Griffith's wife Linda Arvidson and is probably the film debut of Marion Leonard (later a staple actress for Griffith's shorts at Biograph).  In fact, Wally's directing was so bad, at least two of his titles were co-directed by Griffith...and the rest, as they say, is history on that score!  One of those titles is The Black Viper (1908), the poster for which is shown above.  The other title, The Fight For Freedom, has the younger McCutcheon hiring himself as actor...though the film apparently did show some of Griffith's talent for directing that earned him a permanent job at Biograph as a major director.  It should be noted that there is a problem also with proper attribution of films at Biograph.  For example, the 1908 film King of the Cannibal Island has his father credited with directing, but the ham-fistted style of directing most surely gives away that it was his son who "helmed" the project not McCutcheon Sr.  Wallace Jr. did manage to make his way back into films about 10 years later, showing up in the Goldwyn film The Floor Below starring Mabel Normand in 1918. After this he had a short and disastrous marriage to action star Pearl White and a even worse turn in World War I, where he was gassed and probably suffered from some type of traumatic brain injury--if he didn't have an actual head wound, he most certainly returned "shell shocked" (with PTSD).  He just four other credits in the world of film to his name, the last of which dates from 1920:  The Thief, a short film produced at Fox and starring....Pearl White (by this time he had moved to the west coast to be near the new hub of movie production).  McCutcheon fell off the radar by 1921, finally taking his own life by shooting himself on the 27th of January in a run down Los Angeles hotel.  He was 47 years old.  Details of his burial or cremation are unknown. 

*It is worth reading as McCutcheon Sr. was indeed a pioneer in the truest since of the word in regards to the structure of studio systems and the role of directors in them.  Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to debate; nonetheless his contribution to early narrative film has largely been over looked. There will be no entry here (unless I get into writing entries on days when silent film participants died--not likely), as his date of birth is unknown and his death certificate is also not available (certainly there is no information on a grave site). There is more about "Old Man" McCutcheon at Who's Who of Victorian Cinema.  His principle cinematographer was the camera pioneer A.E. Weed. He is also, probably rightly, credited with being the person who green lighted the first purchase of the D.W. Griffith scenario/screenplay.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Born Today December 22: Lucien Hubbard

Lucien Hubbard on left, with William A. Wellman and John Monk Saunders 


Screenwriter, producer and occasional director Lucien Hubbard was born on this day in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  Hubbard started his professional career out as a writer; working as a night editor of the New York Times in the 1910's, while writing screenplays in the time he had to himself.  Despite that some sources cite 1923 as the year his professional career in Hollywood was launched, he actually landed on the west coast years prior to this, probably in 1916 (maybe earlier).  The first scenario that he wrote that was made into a film actually came in 1917 with The Angel Factory, a tenement drama made by Asta Film.  In fact, by 1923 many, many scenarios that he penned had been filmed.  It was around the year 1923 that he career as a Hollywood producer did indeed take off; his first production credit came as the supervising producer on Wanderer Of The Wasteland (1924); based on a Zane Grey novel the film was made at Paramount and filmed on location at Death Valley and in Nevada.  This did not keep him from writing however--he wrote and sold several screen plays in 1925 and a couple in 1926. He returned to production work on the huge project that was William A. Wellman's Wings (1927) [see the photo above], but his work on the film went uncredited.  His work as a producer on the Victor Fleming film The Rough Riders, also from 1927, did not go uncredited, but his work as a script doctor on the project did.  He was hired as an upper level executive at Paramount  after the release of Wings.  In 1928 and 1929 he was hired on as a director (had worked as director on at least 3 films, but was only openly credited with just two).  The first of these film was Rose-Marie which he adapted from a play and made at MGM and starred Joan Crawford. The second was The Mysterious Island, which he adapted from a Jules Verne novel, starred Lionel Barrymore and had a silent version and a partial sound version (it was also shot in the start of the art color process of the time and incorporated film work by Maurice Tourneur and Benjamin Chirstensen). His work as a producer on the partial silent The Wolf Song starring Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez cemented his work as a producer in the 1930's.  He was a very active producer during that decade, and along with his studio work, this was his most prolific decade in the business.  He was lured to MGM in 1933 and this resulted in legal action by Paramount due to Hubbard's contract as an assistant to Darryl Zanuck--the whole affair ended with Zanuck absconding to Twentieth Century Fox; and it would be that studio and Zanuck that Hubbard to turn to in the later days of his work as a producer.  The last film that he has a production credit on is as an associate producer on the 1941 comedy For Beauty's Sake.  Through all of this, he had never stopped writing.  During the silent years, among the many writing credits that he amassed, one has become a bit of a stand out on cultural grounds.  He has been given sole credit in some places (or blame depending on how you view the matter) wrongly for writing the script from scratch (which is just strange) for The Vanishing American (1925), when in fact, he adapted it from another Zane Grey novel (the film/book was remade 1955 with one shared actor and sported a very different plot).  His writing during the 1930's consisted of doctoring a number of scripts that needed work--for these he mostly didn't get credit, and probably, given his executive positions, didn't want credit.  The last film that he wrote came when he penned the script for Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders which was based on a true memoir; the film starred Randolph Scott and featured Noah Berry Jr., son of Noah Berry who would appear in several Paramount films that Hubbard penned in the 1920's.  Hubbard passed away in 1971 on the 31st of December, just days after his 83rd birthday, having lived the rest of his life on the property that he purchased in the 1920's in Beverly Hills.  As of this writing, there is no information as where he was interred.  

1919 film that was based on one of his stories (co-penned with W.A.S. Douglas) which distributed by Pathe.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Born Today December 21: J. Gunnis Davis

Still from the Bride Of Frankenstein (his scenes were cut in final product)


Actor and director J. Gunnis Davis was born Joseph Gunnis Davis on this day in Sunderland Tyne-and-Wear, England, despite his stage name being James Gunnis Davis for most of his film career.  He was a well known British stage actor who had been schooled in London.  The vast majority of his career was spent in the UK on the stage as both an actor and a director.  He came to the U.S. with his wife, who was also an actor, under his birth name after the turn of the century.  They both apparently continued to act on the stage--he certainly did and gained acclaim for some of his performances.  He got into the film industry as an actor in The Lucky Loser in 1912 under his stage name.  The film was an Eclair production.  Davis was then contracted to Eclair, and stayed with them through 1913.  At the very end of 1913, he began working for Kalem, who would give him the opportunity to direct.  He made his directorial debut in 1914 in what has come down to us as an important early surviving serial in The Hazards Of Helen; he was one of 6 directors that included Robert Vignola.  It was the beginning of a very prolific directing career that would last through 1917.  Almost all of the films that he directed were shorts and were for Kalem.  Actress Helen Gibson was the star of most, if not all of them.  Davis was given formal credit for writing just one scenario for one of the films that he directed, Saving The Fast Mail (1917), but doubtless he had written all or part of other shorts under his direction as well (many of them lack a writing credit altogether).  In the meantime, he had continued to act from time to time, though his work in front of the camera slowed.  Also during this time, he appeared on the stage as well; he had a role in a 1915 production of Alice In Wonderland that was well regarded.  One of his more prominent roles came as second bill in The Pit in 1914, based on the Frank Norris novel of the same name and directed by Maurice Tourneur.  The film was made for World Film; this brought Davis into the orbit of the cabal of characters that had founded that company (the film was directly produced by William A. Brady's company).  The last film that Davis directed was The Deserted Engine in 1917--the film was also the last in Kalem's A Daughter Of The Daring series--an eleven part serial of one-reelers.  After this point, he devoted himself solely to acting.  With his directing career behind him, he appeared in films mostly for World Film; this led him, by the early 1920's, into the Selznick production world.  He had a part in A Certain Rich Man, one of the first films produced under David O. Selznick's new Selznick Pictures Corp., which would become Selznick International Pictures.  Additionally, he appeared in films made at Vitagraph in the 1920's.  Most of the roles that he had in that decade were small and some went uncredited. In 1928 he had a role in the partial silent Lilac Time, a film that starred Gary Cooper and Colleen Moore; it was his first "sound film."  He did not appear in another film until 1930; (by this time, of course, all major motion pictures were full sound affairs) the film was Headin' North, a small western featuring saloon vaudeville.  Having been a stage actor for all of his adult life, there was little chance that he would be a target for cutting during the sound era. He was given roles in the films where a British accent would clearly help the story in bit parts and if those parts were deemed superfluous to the story, they were cut in post-production--this is what happened to his appearance in The Bride of Frankenstein.  One exception to this is Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) [it so unfortunate that this is a lost film, not least because of his speaking role].  After his appearance in One More River in 1934, all of his roles went uncredited, whether they made it into the film or not.  His last film credit came in 1937 in yet another Gary Cooper film Souls at Sea.  This is because he died suddenly on the 23rd of March of that year in Los Angeles at the age of 63. He is reportedly buried in a cemetery in Los Angeles--either Hollywood Forever or the Hollywood Hills location of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, but I can find zero information from either location to back this up.

Poster for A Forest Romance (1913) in which Davis had a large role with Mona Darkfeather.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Born Today December 20: Charley Grapewin


Charles Ellsworth Grapewin, who his entire life went by "Charley," famous as the uncle in The Wizard of Oz (1939), was born today in Xenia, Ohio.  Not happy in his young home life, he ran away literally to join the circus--this was the beginning of the young man's road to playing perpetual "old man roles" in character parts in many well known films of the first decades of sound films.  His first specialty was work was in aerial acts and, in the capicity, wound up working for B. T. Barnum.  His circus work eventually led him into acting.  Coming from this background, his drift into vaudeville work was inevitable if he wished to further his acting skills.  Grapewin became a skit writer as a result, penning stage plays for himself.  There is some speculation as to how long Grapewin had been acting on stage before making his film debut in 1900, but at least two decades is a reasonable time period to speculate.  Grapewin is known for his appearance at the dawn of sound in the late 1920's, but he actually first acted on film in Chimmie Hicks and the Rum Omelet (1900). The film was a comedic short that employed slapstick elements borrowed directly from the vaudeville stage--it was an American Mutoscope & Biograph Production, shot at their studio facility in Manhattan.  The film features Anna Chance, Grapewin's actual wife (the two were married in 1896 and remained married until her death). Grapewin also appeared, as the character Chimmie Hicks, in Above The Limit (much more famoulsly known as Chimmie Hicks At The Races).  Both films were shot in 1900, but the later is often dated 1902, and both are drawn directly from his vaudeville act at the time.  Garpewin would not appear in another film until 1929.  Below is an embed of the second of the two film's from the Library of Congress. 

He spent the rest of the time in-between on the stage, making it as far as Broadway (again, conflicting accounts abound as to how many times Grapewin was actually on Broadway--he is credited in some sources as a one time performer, in others as a performer in 1903 Broadway production of Oz). Grapewin returned to film, along with his wife, in Jed's Vacation (1929), a comedic full sound short based on one of Grapewin's scenarios and produced by Christie Film Co.  In all, the couple appeared in four short sound comedies during the year (3 by Christie and one for Universal), before Grapewin moved on to a role in Universal's vaudeville "throw-back" comedy The Shannons of Broadway (1929)--a 65 minute full Western Electric Sound film (the film is lost as of this writing).  He would go on to have supporting roles in some the most well known films of the 1930's and 1940's, including The Wizard of Oz.  These include: The Libeled Lady (1936) with Jean Harlow & an all star cast, The Petrified Forest (1936) with Humphrey Bogart & Bette Davis, The Good Earth  (1937), A Family Affair (1937) with Lionel Barrymore, and  The Grapes Of Wrath (1940).  Grapewin was the star of Tobacco Road featuring Gene Tierney, which was directed by John Ford. He also made several appearances the Ellery Queen films of the early 1940's as Inspector Richard Queen--mostly to Ralph Bellamy's Ellery.  The last film that he appeared was as Grandpa Reed in When I Grow Up, a Bobby Driscoll film, in 1951.  Upon his retirement in the early 50's, he had amassed over 100 film appearances.  Grapewin died on the 2nd of February in 1956 from natural causes at the age of 86 in Corona, California.  He was cremated and interred with the ashes of his beloved first wife in the Columbarium of Inspiration (in the Great Mausoleum) at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

Leave Virtual Remembrances @ Find A Grave

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Born Today December 17: David Butler


Most people remember David Butler as a prolific director of both the big and small screen who first made a name for himself in the 1930's directing the likes of Will Rogers and Shirley Temple.  Butler, however, got his start in the film industry long before this as an actor in silent film.  David Wingate Butler was born on this date in San Francisco with the business in his blood, so to speak.  His mother was a well known stage actress and his father a stage manager.  Naturally, his first roles as an actor came on the stage as an extra when he was a young man.  He was schooled in San Fransisco and would go on to attend Stanford University (at this point I can't really help but mention Leland Stanford's own involvement with very early film, given that he was the owner of Sallie Gardner, the horse photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, that is rightly pointed to as one of the beginnings of motion pictures).  Butler initially followed his father into stage management, but was pulled into motion picture acting in 1910 at Biograph by the likes none other than of D.W. Griffith.  His first appearance came in the melodrama A Face At Window in an unnamed role in the lower portion of the bill with Griffith's wife at the time Linda Arvidson.  He appeared in a scant number of roles in films throughout the next few years, including an appearance as both a northern and a Confederate (southern) soldier in  Griffith's Birth Of A Nation (1915), and as a Babylonian soldier in Griffith's 1916 "apology" Intolerance. It wasn't until 1919, however, that his film acting came into it's own, took off and continued with steady roles throughout the 1920's.  During this time, he appeared in films by directors that would become household names.  In 1919 alone, he appeared in films by Griffith, King Vidor, & no less than three Tod Browning films.  In 1921, he added producer to his credits, signing on to produce a film that his father Fred was directing, giving David the starring role of course; the film--Making The Grade-- was a comedy made for Butler's new production company David Butler Productions.  He was also still heavily involved with live theater during the 1920's and worked as a manager for part of that time. He got into directing because of script writing--he penned a script that eventually became the Fox comedy High School Hero; which also became his directorial debut.  Much of the film was shot on location at the Hollywood High School.  Though he appeared as an actor in several films in 1927, including the award winning 7th Heaven starring Janet Gaynor, his directorial career was beginning to take center stage (so to speak) in his professional life.  As an actor, he appeared in just a few more films in the 1920's, after High School Hero, he was first and foremost a director.  His last full length acting job for a bigger budget film came in The Rush Hour the 1928 silent comedy starring Marie Prevost and the "original" Harrison Ford.  His last professional acting job was in his own scripted and directed  full mono short Nertz (a sports short).  In the meantime, at Fox, he was becoming a directing staple; he was in the director's chair 9 times alone in 1929.  One of his early specialties was the sports comedy, often shot on locations outside the studio backlots.  For example, his first directing job on a full length film that had sound came with Prep and Pep (1928), which was shot at the Culver Military Academy in Los Angeles.  He was also tapped to direct the studio's Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, presented, of course, in full sound with the MovieTone system and featured colored portions filmed in the brand new Mulitcolor process.  As a director, Butler stayed with Fox through most of the 1930's, leaving in 1938 after filming the Oscar winning Kentucky, starring Loretta Young.  During his career, he would go on to direct big stars of the age (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Errol Flynn, Dorothy Lamour, Humphrey Bogart, June Haver & John Barrymore included--and that is just in films).  His "mainstay" actor was Dennis Morgan and Hungarian born character actor S. Z. Sakall made appearances in several of his films.  He also directed Shirley Temple as an adult, becoming one of the only director's to direct her both as a child star and as a leading lady. A few of his well known films include: The Princess And The PirateMy Wild Irish RoseThe Story Of SeabiscuitThe Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady and Calamity Jane. As a horror buff, I would be remiss if I didn't mention his direction of the horror comedy You'll Find Out made for RKO in 1940 starring Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  In 1955, Butler made his directorial debut on the small screen, directing Who's Been Sitting In My Chair for the series Studio 57.  He then became a director almost exclusively of television, making just two more films during the remainder of his career.  He directed episodes of Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone and Leave It To Beaver.  His last directing job came on one of the only two films made during the later half of his career.  C'mon, Let's Live A Little was a comedy musical released in 1967 starring Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon and featuring Ken Osmond (aka Eddie Haskell) as "The Beard." The film was reportedly not a good experience and he said that he had only been partially paid for his work on it.  He then retired.  He passed away in Arcadia, California of heart failure at the age of 84 on the 14th of June 1979.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.



Leave Virtual Remembrances @ Find A Grave

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Released On This Date--Silent Horror (Sort Of)

Released on this day in 1925 we have what is widely called the very first werewolf film.  This may not be 100% true given that several silent horror film before it at least had element of lycanthropy in them (not to mention a myriad of films that I have been researching of late from eastern Europe dating from the silent era--that has turned up a number of silent horror films I never knew existed that run the range of various monsters). Suffice to say that this is (as of this writing) the oldest surviving werewolf film.  It's premise is quite strange--involving a blood transfusion of wolf's blood and what is surely a  strange  series of hallucinations on the part of Dick Bannister, the lead character, essayed by George Chesbro, who ghost (co) directed the film with Bruce Mitchell.  Chesbro was a western specialist, and there is more than a little of the western genre in this film!  Produced by the independent Ryan Brothers Productions, it features some lovely on location camera work (the real gem of the film in my opinion).  Embedded below is the best print that I could find of several currently on YouTube.