Sunday, April 30, 2017

Born Today April 30: Jerold T. Hevener


Silent film actor and director Jerold T. Hevener was born on this date in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He got his start as an actor in 1912 appearing in A Poor Excuse That Worked, a short film released in January of that year.  It appears that he also made his directorial debut in 1912.  It thought that he directed himself in Once Was Enough (1912) for Lubin Manufacturing--but as of now, that is unconfirmed.  In 1913, he definitely directed A Guilty Conscience, a film that he starred in and was again produced by Lubin.  The last film that he directed was It Happened In Pikesville, a film starring Oliver Hardy.  His last known appearance as an actor in a film came in 1917 in The Hash House Mystery.  In all, he appeared in 36 films, and directed 18 movies during his years active; almost all of these films were made for Lubin.  Curiously there is absolutely no information about his death.  None.  Not even a date.  It is unknown at this time, if he simply retired from acting or if he, in fact, died in 1917.  The later seems likely, since he was so active in films from 1912.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Born Today April 29: Charles Nodier


French Romantic writer Charles Nodier, birth name Jean Charles Emmanuel Nodier, was born on this day in Besançon, France--which is right on the border of Switzerland.  His father was mayor and later police chief, during the French Revolution.  His father's reputation was not a kind one--he seems to have abused his power with some abandon.  During the Reign of Terror, his father placed him under the care of a tutor, with whom he studied German and English.  Also under tutelage, he studied nature and natural history.  He had been a voracious reader since early childhood, and he would go on to be librarian in his home town.  At one point he came under suspicion by the government and the police demanded to read his personal papers.  All they managed to find were dissertations on nature, including one on the examination of antennae of insects.  The experience must have incensed him, because in addition to producing future works on etymology and philology and even works of pure fiction, he also wrote a satirical skit on Napoleon; for this he was sent to prison for months in 1803.  After his release he left for Paris; and from there he lived life for some years wandering about various French towns.  It is during this time that he produced his first novel.  After this, he settled and went to work as a private secretary, then turning to translating works by his employer: Sir Herbert Croft.  In 1813, he returned to Paris, and in 1824, he appointed librarian at the Bibiliothéque de l'Arsenal (French National Library), a position that he would keep for the rest of his life.  Nodier died in Paris on the 27th of January 1844 at the age of 63.  He is buried there in Pére Lachaise cemetery.  He is being commemorated here, because one of his stories (which had been adapted into a play by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck) was made into a film in 1923.  La légende de soeur Béatrix  was a joint French and Belgium production.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Born Today April 28: George Leyton



Expat American songwriter and actor George Leyton was born today in New Orleans, LA.  Not a lot is known about his life, except that he left the U.S. for Great Britain when he was quite a young man.  He served for a time in the British army; and reportedly started a fund for veterans of the Crimea and the India Mutiny.  He financed this to the tune of £3,600 (quite a sum in the day!) with the sale of one of his songs.  He was a well known stage performer of various music halls in London, frequenting the vaudeville scene there.  Beginning in 1916, he appeared a small number of films, the first of which was Boys Of The Old Brigade.  In 1917 he appeared as "The Man" in The Man Who Made Good, for which he wrote the story that the film was based on.  Also in 1917, he appeared in It's Never Too Late To Mend.  Finally, in 1921 he produced and starred in Land Of My Fathers.  Leyton died in his adopted home town of London, England on 5 June at the age of 84.  There is no information on the disposal of his remains.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Born Today April 27: President Ulysses S. Grant


Our 18th President of these United States of American Ulysses S. Grant, born Hiram Ulysses Grant, was born on this date in Point Pleasant, Ohio.  Despite that his father was a merchant and a tanner, the family had a long history of military service in the New World. The story as to how he wound up with the name "Ulysses" is an interesting one.  The family held a naming ceremony where in names were placed in a hat and drawn out.  Amongst them was the name Ulysses, chosen because of the Greek hero of the same name.  This happened to be the name drawn out, but Grant's father Jesse, who wanted to honor his father-in-law Hiram, gave the infant his grandfather's name, but always referred to him as Ulysses.  A year after his birth, the family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where all of his younger siblings were born.  His formal education started at the age of five years at a subscription school, and later attended two private schools.  During this period, he demonstrated a great talent with horses.  Almost all aspects of the equestrian arts came easy to him.  He was an expert rider and trainer, what we might call today a "horse whisperer."  He did not want to follow his father into the tannery business, so he was put to work by his father transporting both goods and people by horse-drawn carriages.  Jesse Grant wrote to his congressman in Washington asking him to put his eldest Ulysses forward for attendance at West Point.  Upon hearing this, Ulysses reportedly refused, but his father was able to convince him to attend if he were accepted.  When a cadet position opened up Ulysses was put forward under the mistaken name "Ulysses S. Grant." It would be his adopted name for the rest of his life. He entered the academy in 1839 and trained there for four years; during which he became the record holder for the equestrian high jump (a record that stood for 25 years).  He wasn't exactly suited to a military training situation and came up with creative outlets to relieve the monotony.   Among them was studying Romantic art under Robert Walter Weir, and reading a lot of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper.  He left behind 9 surviving works of art from this time period.  He graduated in 1841, with a four year compulsory commission in front of him, after which he planned to resign and go into a possible teaching career.  It was around this time that he met his future wife Julia Dent (read more about her here).  He would marry her four years later, though his father refused to attend the wedding because the Dent family owned slaves.  In the meantime, he served in the Mexican American War, but resigned afterward.  The next years were hard on Grant and his young family, winding up on a farm that was little more than sharecropping.  Much to the chagrin of his family and going against his own principles, he acquired a slave during this time.  But when the Grant's left the property, he freed the man, even though Grant was desperate for money and could have sold him for $1500.  Grant bounced around, until he eventually was able to go back to work for his father.  Then the Civil War broke out and he was drawn, at the request of President Abraham Lincoln, slowly back into military service.  He eventually attained the rank of a four star General. Immediately following Union victory in the bloody conflict,  Ulysses and Julia were invited by the Lincoln's to attend a performance at Ford's Theater.  They were forced to decline due to previous travel plans; otherwise, they would have been present when Lincoln was mortally wounded that night by one John Wilkes Booth.  Grant intensely disapproved of incoming president Andrew Johnson; he could plainly see that Johnson bungling the Southern Reconstruction.  It would be Johnson's near impeachment and removal from office that would spur Grant to move into politics at the highest level.  He entered the 1868 presidential race and won, being sworn in on the 4th of March 1869.  As with all historical figures here of major import, to learn more about his history, especially as President, follow the links below.  The reason for Grant's inclusion here is because of one lone film dating from 1911 entitled The Last G.A.R. Parade at Rochester, NY, which was produced by the Independent Moving Pictures Co. of America.  Grant would serve two terms as President, would leave office, only to later seek a third term later on and fail; he spent the rest of his life in various business ventures, and ended up writing memoirs.  Over the summer of 1884 he developed a sore throat that wouldn't go away; a visit to his doctor confirmed that he was suffering from throat cancer--a condition he tried unsuccessfully to keep from his doting wife Julia.  After the announcement to the country of his illness, Congress reinstated his military pension, which he was forced to give up by becoming President.  He succumbed to the disease in New York on the 23rd of July, after suffering through the ordeal for a year. He was 63 years old.  President Grover Cleveland ordered 31 day of mourning, and flags were flown at half-staff at military installations.  His casketed body was then borne on a funeral train for two days traveling to and from West Point, after which he was given a private funeral in New York City.  During this time, it is thought that a quarter of a million people showed up to get a glimpse of the train.  His casket was then marched up to Riverside Park, with tens of thousands of men--many veterans--marching along with it.  He was interred there in what would become a temporary tomb.  Twelve years later, the mausoleum that he is currently entombed in, with his wife, was built.  It is commonly known as Grant's Tomb and remains the largest mausoleum in North America.  In all around 1.5 million people were thought to be on the streets of New York the day of his funeral.  

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Born Today April 26: Guinn "Big Boy" Williams


Western star Guinn "Big Boy" Williams was born Guinn Terrell Williams Jr. on this date in Decatur, Texas.  He was given the nickname "Big Boy" by none other than Will Rogers himself, because of his height, 6'2".  Before going into the movie industry he served in World War I.  His father, a congressman, wanted him to attend West Point after the war, but Williams wanted to become a baseball player instead. And he would go on to play semi-professionally.  He was instead introduced to the motion picture industry by Rogers (who also made a competent polo player out of him).  His film debut came in 1919 with Almost A Husband, a Will Rogers comedy.  Precisely because he was introduced to films by Rogers, he became a specialist in westerns almost immediately.  But he did have some notable roles in other genres as well, and was often one of two sidekicks in Errol Flynn films, the other being Alan Hale, Sr..  By 1921, he was getting bigger and bigger roles, with his first credit as Guinn "Big Boy" Williams in The Jack Rider, a comedic western that he also wrote.  After this point, he frequently wrote stories specifically to be turned into film scripts which would star himself.  All of these were westerns.  The first film that he acted in that had sound was Beggars Of Life (1928) a partial silent with sound sequences by MovieTone.  The first sound film he had a part in also came in 1928, with the huge Zanuck/Curtiz epic Noah's Ark.  It turned out that Will Rogers had a good eye for talent, Williams had acting prowess and made the transition to sound with relative ease.  He made his television debut in 1955 in the series The Adventures Of Wild Bill Hickok.  It is often written that his last role also came in a Michael Curtiz film, The Comancheros in 1961, but in fact it was in a widely over-looked little TV film called Buttons And Her Beaus, a failed television pilot in 1962.  Williams died suddenly from a rapid on-set of Uremic Poisoning on the 6th of June in 1962, he was 63 years old.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial, Hollywood Hills location.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Born Today April 25 (Not So Silent Edition): James Pierpont


American songwriter James Pierpont, born James Lord Pierpont, was born on this day in Boston, Mass (some sources wrongly list his birthplace to be in Maine).  His father was a well known pastor, poet and abolitionist.  He was also the nephew of the famous banker James Pierpont Morgan.  In 1832, young James was sent to boarding school in New Hampshire.  But in 1836, he ran away to sea on board a whaling ship.  Upon returning, he enlisted in the Navy, leaving at the age of 21.  Back in New England, he married and started a family, but later got caught up in the gold fever that was gripping San Francisco.  He left his young family to start a supply store there, but the business failed when he lost all of his inventory in a fire.  He also supplemented his income by becoming a photographer.  In 1856, his wife died, leaving him with 3 children.  James' father had taken a job in church located in Savannah, Georgia; so James followed him there.  He was then hired by the church as the organist and music director.  He also became an independent music teacher, teaching both the organ and voice.  (A point of trivia, the organ from that church is currently located at Florida State University in Tallahassee).  This is when he started composing his own songs.  Though he was a prolific song writer, there is just one song that he is known for (well known!) today.  In 1857 he composed Christmas song that he originally called "The One Horse Open Sleigh"--two years later, he added "Jingle Bells" to the title.  Today it is one of the most well known non-religious Christmas song in the world.  While in Savannah, he also remarried and had more children.  Then the civil war broke out and James and his father found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict, with his father serving as Army Chaplin in the the Union Army and James writing songs from the Confederacy.  After the war, he moved with his family to Valdosta, Georgia to teach music, then in 1869 he moved just down the road to Quitman, where he had accepted a job as church organist in a Presbyterian church there and to teach music at the Quitman Academy.  By the time he reached retirement age, he was the Music Director at the Academy.  After retirement, he moved to Winter Haven, Florida; where he died at the age of 71 on the 5th of August.  He is buried at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.  In regards to films, the first time "Jingle Bells" was used in a movie came in an early sound short from 1927 also called Jingle Bells (the first hundreds to come!).  It was next featured in another early partial sound short The Toy Shop in 1928 (the film has a mono musical score, and is also an early color film showcasing the early 2-strip Technicolor process).  The first time the song was used in a full length film came in 1930 in The Unholy Three.  The first time in was used in a television series came in 1951 with a Christmas special for The Frank Sinatra Show.  It's most recent use came on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.  It's most recent use in a feature film dates from this year with the thriller Clinical.  Pierpont was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1970.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Born Today April 24: Charles Nuitter


French librettist Charles Nuitter (birth name Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter) was born on this day in Paris.  Not only did he write lyrics for original operas, he also translated other non-French operas into French.  For example, he helped translate Wagner operas from the original German.  There are more than 500 original works by him.  Additionally, he also worked as an archivist/librarian in the field of music for the Paris Opera.  A handful of films have been made from his work, two of them in the silent era.  The first was The Toymaker's Secret a Vitagraph short, which was released in 1910.  The second was Una tazza di the, an Italian production, it was released in 1923.  The most recent film to use his work as source material was a filmed ballet made for television affair by the BBC: Coppélia: A ballet in three acts, it aired in 2000.  In 2015 the horror film Victor Frankenstein used one of his songs in it's soundtrack.  He died in Paris on the 23rd of February 1899 after suffering a stroke days before, he was 70 years old.  There is no information about any memorial for him in Paris.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Born Today April 23: William Shakespeare


England's most famous writer William Shakespeare is thought to have been born on this date in Straford-Upon-Avon, England.  The son of an alderman and glover John Shakespeare.  Though no official records survive as to when his actual birthday was, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd.  He was baptized for sure on the 26th of April, so the 23rd is as good a guess as any.  There are also no records regarding Shakespeare's early education, but it is generally accepted that he attended King's New School in Stratford.  After marrying young at the age of 18 and starting a family, he fell completely off the historical map.  He surfaces again in 1592, identified as being part of the theatrical community in London.  Because of the biographical black hole, so to speak, it is not known when Shakespeare began to write.  Though it had to have been some many years before 1592, because, by this time, he was well known enough among theater goers to be attacked in print by another playwright.  By 1599, a group from a larger theater company, of which he was a leader of, banded together to build a theater of their own on the River Thames, the now very famous Globe.  In 1608 that same company took control of Blackfriars Indoor Theater.  By this time, there is every indication that Shakespeare had amassed an impressive about of wealth.  He was not, however just a writer and theater manager.  He was an actor as well, and he is listed as continuing to act beyond a time when he would needed to, so it is logical to assume that he enjoyed it and possessed a talent for it.  What is additionally known, is that throughout his career, he evenly divided his time between London and his home town.  Being that you can make a case that he is the most famous playwright in history, it not surprising that he work as source material in film dates back to the 19th century.  In 1898 "The Scottish Play" Macbeth became the first Shakespeare play to be filmed (note: the existence of this film is still somewhat in question).  It is a short film featuring English actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Macbeth.  The following year the film King John (1899) was produced by the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, a portion of this film still survives and can be found in the Silent Shakespeare DVD collection.  The first film in the 20th century to be produced from his work was Romeo and Juliet, a French production, followed by Le duel d'Hamlet, both in 1900.  In 1912, The Life and Death of King Richard III was released, the film is feature length and stars Frederick Warde, it was for it's day, a true epic in every sense of the word, featuring outdoor full blown staged war scenes.  It's not that Richard III had not been filmed before, it had (notably in 1911 this version of Richard III, although a short, was impressive for it's time, and again is featured in Silent Shakespeare); but this version was the first true film staging of one of Shakespeare's plays, taking the action completely off the stage itself.  Frederick Warde indeed said that as a stage actor, the outdoors action scenes required him to invent a whole new approach to acting; one could make a case that he was film's very first action hero.  The film is also famous because for a very long time, it was one the most coveted completely lost films.  Every film historian that covered the silent era lamented the lose of the film, some even more than other famously lost films.  One of the reasons for it's fame, is precisely that it was a first in film history: it is now the oldest surviving feature length film from the United States, and I use "surviving" because a complete print was found in 1996 in Portland, Oregon.  It is now restored and has a soundtrack composed by famed film composer Ennio Morricone.  It is such an irony that both this film and the body of the historical Richard III were famously lost and found (something that I wrote about last year for a blogathon).  There are literally hundreds of films that have been produced from Shakespeare's work, and many, many of them were in the silent era, so it would be beyond the scope of this humble "Born Today" post to tackle, but follow links below for many more details on the writer and the films.  To my knowledge, the first sound film produced from his work came very early on in 1926 with a De Forest Phonofilm in Julius Caesar.  There was even a silent film from India based on Shakespeare's work:  Khoon-E-Nahak (1928).  The first full length sound film of one of his plays also came early on in The Taming Of The Shrew (1929) a Mary Pickford vehicle, featuring the Western Electric Sound System.  Close to two dozen projects are currently in the works based on his plays, but the most recently released film is a Turkish adaptation of Romeo and Juliet: Kirik Kapler Bankasi.  Shakespeare died in his hometown on the same day that he is thought to have been born April 23rd.  He would have just turned 52.  The cause of his death is just as mysterious as many missing historical moments from his life.  He was buried there two days later, near the alter of Holy Trinity Church there.  

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Born Today April 22: Henry Fielding


English novelist and law enforcement pioneer Henry Fielding was born on this day in Sharpham Park, Somerset, England into an impoverished noble family.  He is known internationally today as the man who gave us Tom Jones.  He was educated at Eton.  After getting into a dust up with the local authorities in Somerset, he relocated to London--it is at this time that his literary career began.  He then decided to study law in Leiden, Holland, but this venture was cut short when he ran short of funds.  He returned to London and began to write for the theater; because of his biting satire toward the government in his sketches, he coined the "pen name" Captain Hercules Vinegar, but most of these works were simply left anonymous.  In fact, the works were so explosive it is thought that the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was a direct response to these plays.  As a result, he was forced him to retire from theater writing work altogether.  So, he decided to renew his law career, eventually becoming a barrister.  Finances were at times hard for him and his young family during this period of time; but he did have a benefactor who would later be the inspiration for Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones.  Also Fielding had never stopped writing political satire during the time he spent as a barrister, so his writing craft was greatly honed during this period of his life.  It was also during this time that Captain Hercules Vinegar was introduced to the wider world in the form of political satire penned for periodicals.  Around the 1741, he just sort fell into writing novels--basically out of nowhere.  His first work that fell into that genre (sort of ) was Shamela, an ogling parody of Samuel Richardson's Pamela; the work was published anonymously.  He followed this up with Joseph Andrews.  Three more works followed between Andrews and Tom Jones, which is by far and away his most famous work.  Fielding was a lifelong friend of William Pitt the Elder; it was in part this connection that rewarded him with the appointment of Chief Magistrate of London in 1749.  He is almost as well known as a historical figure from his service in this capacity as he is in the literary world.  He, along with his half-brother John, started the Bow Street Runners, widely regarded as London's first police force.  Of course it would be Tom Jones that was first used for a film screenplay and that happened for the first time in the year 1917 with a film of of the same name, produced in the UK by Ideal, a company that wouldn't survive long into the talking era. It would another 43 years before another filmed production of that work would appear.  In 1960 an Italian production company, oddly enough, decided to film a television mini-series based on Tom Jones.  By far and away the most famous film made of his work came in 1963 with the Tony Richardson directed Tom Jones starring Albert Finney and Susannah York.  And, although some of his other works have made it into films, once again it is Tom Jones that represents the most recent adaptation of his work into film with a lavish British produced 5 hour mini-series, broadcast in 1997.  For Fielding, his work in the occupation of Magistrate and, basically first police commissioner of London, was just getting to it's most influential when his health began to decline.  Gout caused him to have to use crutches, but he also reportedly suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and asthma.  He was sent to Lisbon, Portugal in an attempt to improve his health, but he succumbed to his illnesses just months later on the 8th of October.  He is buried there in what is now Church of England St. George's Church.  He was 47 years of age.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Born Today April 21: Charlotte Bronté


Famed English novelist Charlotte Bronté was born on this date in Thornton, England (Yorkshire).  Her father, who was Irish, was an Anglican clergyman.  She was the third of six children.  Of course, she had two other sisters who were also famously authors: Emily and Anne.  Charlotte is known for "being the one who wrote Jane Eyre."  The family lost there mother Maria to cancer at very young ages.  The siblings were then left to be mothered by their maternal aunt: Elizabeth Branwell.  In 1824, their sent Charlotte, Emily, Elizabeth and Maria to a Clergy Daughter's School in Lancashire.  But the conditions there were less than ideal and in 1825 two of the sisters, Elizabeth and Maria (who were older) died of tuberculosis that they likely contracted at the school.  After this, their father Patrick removed her and her sister Emily from the school.  With what was left of the family, and Charlotte now being the oldest, the siblings all rallied around each other.  They also created multiple fictional worlds and constructed stories around the various characters that they peopled them with.  This was the beginning of the writing careers for them.  Of what survives of these adolescent manuscripts, there are quite complex and well written.  In 1831 and 1832 she continued her education and in 1833 she penned a novella The Green Dwarf under the name of Wellesley.  By 1835 she was teaching at the school she finished her education at.  She graduated to her first position of governess in 1839.  This would be one of many that she would have throughout her short life.  In 1842, her and her sister Emily enrolled in the boarding school and Brussels.  It was a private school, so in return for boarding and tuition they took up teaching positions.  Charlotte taught English.  However this venture was cut short, when in 1842, their Aunt Elizabeth died suddenly.  Charlotte did return to Brussels, though, in 1844.  Her first public publication came with a book of poetry that was penned by her, Emily and Anne in 1846 and published under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  Just as they had as children written together, these three sisters introduced their writing to the world in a collective.  The first manuscript that she penned and shopped on her own, The Professor did not find a publisher.  However, the famous sequel to that work Jane Eyre did.  It became an immediate success.  And it was that work that was first made into films in twice in the year 1910, the first of these was titled after the book, the second was The Mad Lady Of Chester.  In all, 11 films were made from her work in the silent era, almost all of them from Jane Eyre; though one Shirley (1922) was made from her novel of the same name.  The first sound film of Jane Eyre came in 1934.  Oddly enough the Val Lewton produced, Jacques Tourneur directed 1943 horror film I Walked With A Zombie was also based on Jane Eyre. The most recent major production of the work came in 2011 with Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.  The most recent film of the novel came in 2015 with National Theatre Live: Jane Eyre, which is a filmed live stage performance of the book.  By the time of a her death on the 31st of March 1855 at the age of 38, Charlotte was the only one of her siblings left alive.  There is confusion as to what actually caused her death, as she had recently married and quickly became pregnant and suffered from morning sickness, whatever the cause she was pregnant when she died.  She is interred in a family vault in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angel's Church.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Born Today April 20: Joseph Delteil


Twentyith century French poet and writer Joseph Delteil was born on this day in Villar-au-Val, France into a working class family.  He reportedly became interested in poetry at a young age.  In 1898, his father was able to purchase a vineyard plot in the Ocitan speaking area of Blanquette de Limoux, the family relocated there soon after.  He started his education in the area, and remained there until 1907, when he began attending the main school in the town of Limoux itself.  He then matriculated to a seminary college in Carcassone.  His first novel was published in 1922.  This attracted the attention of fellow writers Breton and Aragon.  He then began contributing to magazine work and turned his writing skills to pamphlets.  In 1925 he published Jeanne d'Arc, the work that we principally concerned with here.  He was by this time, living a comfortable life in Paris; however in 1931 he became gravely ill and he gave up writing literature and returned to the south of France to recuperate. When he did recover, he returned to writing and became a poet of international renown.  In 1928 his novel about Joan of Arc was made into an epic film.  The Passion of Joan of Arc  was directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer and starred French actress Maria Falconetti.  The film is considered a masterpiece and remains an extremely popular silent feature.  This remains the only time any of Delteil's work was committed to film.  Delteil died in Montpellier, Hérault, France on the 16th of April in 1978, just 4 days before his 85th birthday.  He is buried in the Pieusse cemetery.  

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Born Today April 19: George O'Brien


Handsome actor of the silent silver screen George O'Brien was born on this day in San Francisco, California.  His father Dan was a higher up in the San Francisco police department, who would go on to become Police Chief there.  As a matter of trivia from the silent era, it was George's father who ordered the arrest of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  Before turning his sites to Hollywood, George served in the first World War in the Navy as a submarine chaser.  He also was a volunteer stretcher bearer for wounded Marines during the war and was decorated for that service.  Always an athletic type, he became the Light Heavyweight boxing champion for the Pacific Fleet.  After the war, and in his early twenties, he left for Hollywood with the ambition of becoming a camera man.  And he did work as a assistant camera man at first.  He was known to have worked in that capacity on both Buck Jones and Tom Mix films, but the credits for those appear to be lost.  The one Tom Mix film that he has a credit for is Just Tony (1922), where he served as a Production Assistant; this may or may not be the first film that he ever worked on.  He quickly switched to acting, and the first film that he definitely acted in also came in 1922 as a "Sailor" in White Hands.  Also in 1922 he landed a bit part in a Rudolph Valentino film:  Moran Of The Lady.  Just two years later he was cast in his first starring role in The Man Who Came Back, where he received top billing.  This earned him the attention of director John Ford (who would become a lifelong friend), who cast him in his 1924 western The Iron Horse.  From there on out, O'Brien would enjoy top billing status throughout the rest of the silent era.  His acting took on depth that few would have thought possible when he first arrived in Hollywood, so his roles were quite varied.  In fact, he was chosen to star in a very early talkie in 1928 in duel roles in Noah's Ark, a Michael Curtiz and Darryl F. Zanuck project that starred Dolores Costello.  In the 1930's he mostly began to specialize in westerns, though he did have a few roles in other genres.  In the westerns, he would often appear with his own horse named Mike.  During World War II, he re-enlisted in the Navy, where he served as beachmaster in the Pacific; he was decorated multiple times.  He also remained in the Naval Reserve and in that capacity took on a project by the Eisenhower administration called "People to People" where he was project director for a series of Asian focused films, one of which he teamed with old friend John Ford to make.  He would continue acting until 1964, even at one point appearing in a Three Stooges film.  He retired from acting, with the role of Maj. Braden being his last in Cheyenne Autumn, another John Ford film starring Richard Widmark.  Today O'Brien is probably best remembered for his starring role in F. W. Murnau's Sunrise, one the earliest multiple Oscar winning films dating from the year 1927.  In his retirement, he relocated to Oklahoma, where he lived as a rancher for the rest of his life.  In 1981 he suffered a stroke with a heart event involved, this left him bed ridden for the last four years of his life.  He eventually succumbed to to the disease on the 4th of September.  Par naval tradition, he was buried at sea.  He was 86.

In Murnau's Sunrise along with Janet Gaynor.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Born Today April 18: Franz von Suppé


Opera composer Franz von Suppé was born on this day in Spalato, Dalmatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now part of Croatia) as Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere di Suppé-Demelli; this is why outside the German and English speaking world he is often credited Francesco Suppé Demelli.  His actual ethnicity was Italian-Belgian on his father's side, and Austrian on his mother's side.  He grew up in the then Dalmatian town of Zara (Zadar, Croatia).  His music education started very early and he was already composing before the tender age of 10.  Though his actual father gave no support for his interest in music, he had a sort of surrogate father in a local choirmaster that filled that role.  He also gained the interest of popular local band master.  He studied both flute and harmony.  The debut of his work came in 1832 with  Missa dalmatica, a Roman Catholic Mass that was performed at a Franciscan church in Zara.  At the age of 16, he relocated to Padua to study law, probably at the insistence of his actual father, but refused to give up the further study of music in addition to his legal studies.  There, he also began to perform as an opera singer.  Eventually he was invited to Vienna by a theater manager there, where he continued his music studies.  He was also invited to conduct in the theater as well.  He began to compose light operettas, and it these works that he is remembered for today.  He also became a producer of operas, at one point staging a successful production featuring opera sensation Jenny Lind.  His music has been featured in a surprising number of films, including the likes of Beetlejuice.  But the first time his work was featured in a film came in a "silent musical" from 1908.  Trio de Boccaccio was a Brazilian short that featured lyrics from one of his operettas on the title cards.  The first film to actually feature his music in sound was a very early talking musical short dating from 1927 in Bernado De Pace, a Warner Brothers film featuring sound by Vitaphone.  The first full length film that featured his compositions came in 1933 with the Swedish film Kära släkten.  The latest production to feature his music came in the Austrian television series Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker that features performances by the Vienna Philharmonic; televised in 2015.  Franz von Suppé died in Vienna on the 21st of May 1895 at the age of 76.  He is buried there in the Vienna Central Cemetery.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Born Today April 17: Francis Chamier


British military man and  stage actor Francis Chamier was born on this date in Nellore, Madras, India into a military family.  Not a great deal is known about his life history.  What is known is that amateur to professional acting with a keen hobby.  He appeared in only one film in his lifetime.  Henry VIII (1911)  was produced by the British company Baker Motion Photography.  He assayed the role of Capucius.  He lived a long life, dying in the London outskirts of Forest Hill, Lewisham on the 14th of January in 1952 at the age of 89.  There are no details on his burial.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Born Today April 16: Charlie Chaplin


Giant of the silver screen and silent megastar Charlie Chaplin (birth name Charles Spencer Chaplin) was born on this day in the Walworth area of London, England, UK.  His parents were music hall entertainers, so acting and the stage was literally in his blood.  Though his parents separated when he was very young and his mother's acting career was never successful, therefore, he grew up in poverty, and was even sent to a workhouse more than once.  Chaplin and his brother were sent to at least two schools for paupers, places that he later remembered as sad and soul crushing places to be "schooled."  Things only got worse when, while his mother was convalescing in a public mental institution, he and his brother were sent to live with their alcoholic father, who was so abusive that the National Prevention of Cruelty to Children even paid a visit--a rarity in that day.  His mother would recover, but only for a time and eventually was permanently institutionalized.  This period in Chaplin's life were particularly hard, especially after his brother entered the Navy.  He was a one point homeless and still a young teenager.  Still, by this time, he had also already started to perform on the stage.  In fact, according him, it was his mother that introduced him to the stage at the age of five.  Acting became an active interest to the youngster, something that his mother was said to have encouraged before her hospitalizations.  At 14, he registered with a theatrical agent in London's West End.  Things slowly began to turn around for him.  His first major role came in the play Sherlock Holmes in which he played the pageboy; the play toured nationally.  He stayed in the role until 1906.  By this time his brother Sydney was also pursuing an acting career and the two embarked on a comedy tour together entitled Repairs.  By the age of 18, young Charles had become a seasoned comedic actor with good reviews to his name.  In 1906, Sydney Chaplin had signed with the successful company owned by Fred Karno.  Sydney persuaded Karno to hire his younger brother.  Though Karno was at first reluctant; after Charlie's first performance, Karno was won over.  By 1909, he was a star at the company, and in 1910 he was given a new sketch Jimmy The Fearless, which turned out to be a huge success and had wide positive write-ups in the press.  It this that lead to the decision that Charlie would be one of the company's actors to tour on the vaudeville circuit in North America.  The tour lasted 21 months, and had wide spread positive reviews.  It's success brought another North American tour, and it was at this time that film work entered into Chaplin's life.  About half way through the tour, the New York Motion Picture Company, which operated Keystone Studios, invited him to join.  Though Chaplin didn't think all that highly of the slapstick comedies that Keystone produced, he knew it would be madness not to accept the offer.  Of course, it's history in the making and Chaplin would never have to worry about finances again.  He signed a contract with them for $150 dollars a week (roughly a little over $3600 in today's money). Chaplin arrived in Hollywood where the studio was located in December of 1913.  Despite that his boss Mack Sennett had concerns about Chaplin looking too young, Charles made is film debut in Making A Living in very early February.  He was off on the road to serious comedic history.  There is some confusion about what film came next; many sources site Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914), others that it was Kid Auto Races At Venice (1914).  Whatever the case, the later of these two films introduced his ultra-famous "Tramp" character.  During this period of time, though uncredited, he contributed a great deal to sketches--most of them Mabel Norman films; in fact, he has far more writing credits than acting ones.  He apparently didn't along very well with Norman and when he clashed with her on set, he was almost booted from his contract.  Nonetheless, he kept his contract  and made his directorial debut in Caught In The Rain in May of 1914--thereafter he would direct nearly all the films that he appeared in for Keystone (Tillie's Punctured Romance was notably not among them).  When his contract was up, he asked Sennett to up his weekly salary to $1,000 (around $24,200 in today's money); Sennett refused.  Chaplin was quickly snapped up by Essanay, for a whopping $1,250 a week and a signing bonus of $10,000.  This was December of 1914.  Here he would make some his most famous early silent films, including The Bank (1915) and The Tramp (1915), both of which he directed.  When his contract was up at Essanay at the end of 1915, Chaplin was well aware of his bankability and shopped his contract around, requesting a $150,000 signing contract.  The best offer came from the Mutual Film Company, with the giant sum of $10,000 a week.  He wound up with a contract with them that would pay him by the year at $670,000 a year!   He was just 26 years old.  Mutual gave Chaplin his own studio to boot. There he made such classics as Easy Street (1917)The Immigrant (1917), and The Adventurer (1917).  Chaplin would later recall that his time at Mutual was the happiest of his career.  However, when his contract was up, he chose to become a free agent--his own producer.  He founded Charles Chaplin Productions under the auspices of First National with an agreement to produce 8 films for them in exchange for $1 Million dollars.  He chose to build his own studio on Sunset Blvd.  Probably the well known film that he made under this contract was A Dog's Life (1919).  First National became frustrated with Chaplin's slowing pace in making films, so when Chaplin requested more money from them after making Shoulder Arms in 1918 (it would later be reissued in 1959 in a mono version), they refused any increase in funds.  Angry over this, Chaplin teamed up with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and famed director D.W. Griffith to form United Artists.  The first film that he made with this new arrangement was Sunnyside in 1919, which he also used to count toward his 8 films for First National (this film was also reissued in a Mono version).  Chaplin then could work in his own pace.  As his brother Syd had explained, Charlie wanted quality over quantity.  In 1921, he made The Kid with a very young Jackie Coogan later of "Addams Family" Uncle Fester fame--this was pure Chaplin gold.  Between this time and 1931, Chaplin would produce the silents he most famously associated with, even by those who don't know much about silent film.  Among them are: Idle Hands (1921)Pay Day (1922)The Gold Rush (1925) and the very, very late silent classic City Lights (1931).  At least a couple of these films were made to fully fulfill his contract with First National, but there was no doubt that having formed the United Artists partnership allowed Chaplin to work fully at his own pace during this time.  After 1923, began making full length films as well, with The Pilgrim being his last short (though at 47 minutes long, it's not really all that short).  He would not make another film until 1936, hewing very closely to his comedic silent acting style that he had so famously created.  Modern Times is listed as a Mono film, but recorded with the unique Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System; there is very little dialogue in it, rendering basically a very late silent type film.  By the late 1930's Chaplin's popularity had begun to wane and legal and personal problems were on the rise. When people started to remark that his on-screen appearance looking remarkably like the troubling leader of Germany: Adolf Hitler; Chaplin responded by making The Dictator in 1940.  He then gained the very unwanted attention of J. Edgar Hoover, who was determined to go after him because he believed Chaplin was (erroneously) a communist. It did not help that the Nazi party itself was under the misapprehension that Chaplin was Jewish.  He would  go on to make just four more films in his long lifetime, 3 of them in 40's and 50's, with the last coming in 1967.  A Countess From Hong Kong starred Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, with bit part for him and his brother Syd; the script was based one that he had written for his then 3rd wife Paulette Goddard.  By this time he had long been living in Europe, having been banned from re-entry into the United States in 1952.  Starting in the 1960's Chaplin's health began to seriously deteriorate, having had a series of small strokes.  In 1972 he was offered an Honorary Academy Award, that despite his ill health, he traveled back to the U.S. to accept.  He planned to write and direct more films in the 1970's, but he suffered several more small strokes and was confined to a wheelchair, with his communication abilities effected.  Chaplin died in his Switzerland home after suffering yet another stroke during the night on Christmas Day in 1977.  He was 88 years old.  He was buried in the Corsier Cemetery in Corsier-sur-Vevey Switzerland; his fourth and final wife Oona O'Neill Chaplin  (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill) would join him there in 1991.  In a bizarre event that occurred the following March, two Polish immigrants dug up his coffin and tried to ransom his body back to his widow; a scheme that she rejected, saying that her husband would found the whole affair absurd.  Eventually the police were able to recover it and it was re-interred with a cement vault added.  Chaplin was also knighted during his life-time being Queen Elizabeth II.  Several of his children have gone into various aspects of the entertainment industry as well.

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