Friday, July 28, 2017

Born Today July 28: Tula Belle


Silent actress Tula Belle was born Borgny Erna Bull Høegh in Kristiania, Norway (now part of Olso) on the day. Her first film appearnace was in the short drama Mercy On A Crutch in 1915.  She did not work past the 1910's, save for her last film and the only one that she appeared in during the 1920's.  Her most important film appearances came in 1918 and 1919. The first of these was the Maurice Tourneur fantasy film The Blue Bird and Deliverance, which to my knowledge was the first biographical film made about the Helen Keller story (not partially lost). Her last film was Old Dad (1920), a joint Chaplin/Mayer production.  She then retired from the film business.  She stayed in California, however, and died in Newport Beach on the 13th of October at the age of 86.  There is no information available as to burial.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Born Today July 23: Harry Cohn


Producer and a studio mogul of the most abrasive sort Harry Cohn was born on this day in New York City.  Early in his life, he first worked as a streetcar conductor, and later as shipping clerk and  promoter for a sheet music business.  His older brother Jack had managed to find work at Universal, so he convinced the studio to hire his younger brother as well.  In 1919 the two, along with friend Joe Brandt, founded CBC (standing for Cohn Brandt Cohn) Film Sales Corporation.  In 1919, he also entered into active film production.  His first producer credit came on the Vitagraph film Passing The Buck.  Harry headed off to Hollywood to manage production there, while his brother Jack stayed in New York to handle the finances.  He quickly gained a reputation as crude, misogynistic, and aggressive.  Brandt was the first to fall victim to the stresses that Harry caused and eventually sold his share to Harry--leaving him 2/3rds owner over his brother, which pleased him, since he resented growing up in Jack's shadow (the is ample evidence that Harry raised the funds for the buyout with the mob).  When Harry took over as president of the studio, the company name was changed, and thus Columbia Pictures was born.  There is so much that one could write on the life of Harry Cohn which I will avoid as much as possible here (leaving that for the links).  Sticking to the silent era, I will point out that the vast majority of his direct producer credits date from that time period; with the later part of his life being spent as a straight out studio boss with way too much power.  After his first foray into the producer role with Vitagraph, he produced a slew of shorts, mostly with Hall Room Boys Photoplays in 1919.  Starting in 1920, C.B.C. started distributing these shorts.  The first of these was Oh, Baby! (1920).  The first film to tangentially carry the name "Columbia" was when CBC was in transition mode, during Harry's buy-out process in 1922; the film was More To Be Pitied Than Scorned.  The first full fledged, all out Columbia picture also came in 1922 with Only A Shop Girl, a feature length drama--it was an Estelle Taylor film.  By the later 1920's Columbia was increasingly sporting a list of impressive talent that even included the likes of director Frank Capra.  It would take Columbia until the second half of 1928 to began experimenting with sound.  For Cohn, his first production credit on a film that featured any sort of sound came with The Scarlet Lady, which featured a mono musical score by Western Electric.  His next production credit was an all silent film that features sequences with the 2-Strip Technicolor:  Court-Martial (1928).  For the most part though, Columbia, under Cohn's direction, tended to stay with the old black and white silent films longer than most other studios of the day.  Cohn's first full sound production credit came in 1929 with The Donovan's Affair, a Frank Capra film with sound by MovieTone.  But the studio would make several more partial sounds films, before abandoning them altogether in late 1929.  Cohn has a large number of production credits in 1930 and 1931; but they start to slow by 1932, crawling to a trickle by the mid 1930's.  By 1935 through 1938, he only had 1 credit for each of those years.  In 1939, he abandoned direct production work and set to being the tyrant mogul that he would become famous for.  Cohn was responsible for the Three Stooges filmed shorts that would make the studio a great deal of extra money.  In fact, he insisted that the studio continue to make Two-Reelers and serials long after other studios had given them up for out-dated.  He called these, fondly mind you, "those lousy little "B" pictures."  He had one more production credit to his name in 1947 on Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai; he served as executive producer on the film directly.  This probably had more to do with actress Rita Hayworth's appearance in the film than it did with Welles' known insistence on pure directorial freedom (though, to be sure, that must have been a factor as well).  He and Hayworth had a long, very acrid working relationship, and he never missed a chance to attempt to antagonize her.  Cohn died while visiting Phoenix, Arizona on 27 February.  He suffered a massive heart attack at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel after finishing a dinner there; he died in the ambulance en route to the hospital, he was 66 years old.  He was taken back to to Los Angeles for a funeral and burial.  There were many people at the funeral who apparently made it clear that they were there just to confirm that Harry Cohn was, indeed, dead.  He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Born Today July 22: Vivian Martin


Stage and silent film actress Vivian Martin was born on this day in Sparta, Michigan.  Martin got into acting as a child, appearing on stage in Lew Fields.  Her first film appearance came in 1914 in The Wishing Ring: An Idyll Of Old England, a Maurice Tourneur directed early feature.  It survives and has long since been incorporated in Before There Was Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, NJ.  After appearing in mostly Shubert  and World Film pictures in 1915.  She then appeared in a few Fox films and films mostly for Pallas in the next couple of years, before signing her first contract with Famous Players Jesse L Lasky.  The first film she made while under contract with them was The Girl At Home in 1917.  At the company, she was deliberately set up in the media as a "rival" to Mary Pickford, but the stunt wasn't really all that "explosive," and nothing came of it.  By the early 1920's Martin had started her own production company and secured an agreement that her films would be distributed through Goldwyn.  The first of these that she personally starred in was Pardon My French (1921).  After this she intended to retire from film acting and return to the stage, which she did; however she made an appearance in Fred Windemere's Soiled in1925.  She would appear in front of the camera just two more times in her life.  The first was Life In Hollywood No. 6 a documentary short in 1927.  Her last appearance came in 1935 in the comedic musical Folies Bergère de Paris, her only talking picture.  Upon returning to the stage, she eventually moved to New York, where she became involved in with Professional Children's School there, along with becoming a patron of the arts and benefactress to younger actors, as well as getting involved in charitable works.  She died there at the age of 93 on the 16th of March in 1987.  She was cremated and her ashes were urned.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Born Today July 21: C. Aubrey Smith


Sir Charles Aubrey Smith (who went professionally by the name of C. Aubrey Smith), sportsman, stage & film actor, was born on this day in London, England.  Smith's father was a medical doctor in London.  Smith's education included the Charterhouse School and St. Johns College Cambridge.  Before becoming a professional cricket player, he spent time in South Africa as a gold prospector (as a matter of trivia: he came down with pneumonia while there and was wrongly pronounced dead).  He had played cricket while at Cambridge and would eventually played with in South Africa, assisting the English team there to a victory over the South African team, despite the home field advantage.  Later on in life, he would found a cricket club in Hollywood (a number of British expats were fast members, amongst them Boris Karloff).  He was considered one the very best bowlers in the game, and his odd curved bowling landed him with the nickname "Round the Corner Smith." Smith began acting on the London stage in 1895.  He did not land in movies until 20 years.  The first film that he appeared was made on the east coast in the USA: The Builder of Bridges (1915) was made for Frohman Amusement and filmed in Atlantic City. He remained at Frohman stateside until 1916, when he returned to the UK.  The first UK film that he appeared in came in 1918 Red Pottage made for Ideal.   He remained in the English film industry through 1924, though the number of films he made diminished by the year (I'm guessing as a stage actor, silent film acting was restricting).  He then show s up in the American film The Rejected Woman in 1924.  He wouldn't show up in another film until 1928 when he had a very small part in King Vidor's very famous partial silent Show People--the age of the talking film was dawning.  Show People would be the last film that he made in the 1920's.  His first full sound film came in a British made mono entitled Such Is The Law.  After making one more British film, he then found very, very steady work in Hollywood.  He frequently played polite military types.  And, he wound up in a number of very big productions: Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), and the 1937 version of The Prisoner Of Zenda (which is based on the same play that launched him to popularity on the stage in the 1890's).  Smith worked all the way up to the time of his death; with his last film Little Women (1959) being released after his death.  His died in Beverly Hills on the 20th of December 1948 of pneumonia.  He had requested that his remains be cremated and then buried in his mother's grave in St. Leonard's churchyard in Hove, Sussex.

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This really puts in my mind to one of my favorite songs by Roy Harper "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease"

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Born Today July 20: Christian Molbech


Danish writer Christian Molbech was born on this day in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He was known for a large array of writings from poetry, novels, history, and literary critique.  He was educated at the Sorø Academy (though born in Copenhagen, he grew up in Sorø).  Upon graduation, he immediately went to work for the Royal Danish Library.  He then had a chair at the University of Copenhagen teaching literature.  In 1839, he became one of the founders of the Danish Historical Society, he was also a founder of Historisk Tidsskrift, which remains the world's oldest continuously published scientific historic journal.  Additionally, he did have actual experience in the theater as well, serving as manager of the Royal Danish Theater from 1830-1842.  As a literary critic, he was known for scathing reviews of works that would later become classics.  Only two films have been made utilizing his work as source material.  The first dates from 1927: Heart Of An Actress, a film based on his novel and adapted and directed by break-through French feminist director Germaine Dulac.  The only other film to use his work came in 1948 with Each Heart Has It's Own Story--a Swedish film.  Molbech died at the age of 66 in Copenhagen on the 20th of May, two months to the day of his 67th birthday.  There is no information as to his burial.

Still from the Dulac film

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Born Today July 19: Gottfried Keller


Swiss poet Gottfried Keller was born on this day in Zurich.  Despite that his childhood was impoverished, his mother managed to provide him with a solidly happy upbringing (his father died when he was quite young).  He would later write about this is thinly veiled autobiographical novel.  The only area that seem to make him unhappy was his education; he did not like school and clashed with authorities there.  In the area of art, he first showed interest in painting; and after being expelled from Zurich over political matters, her became an apprentice to Rudolf Meyer, before setting off to Munich to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  When he returned to Zurich in 1842 he inexplicably took up writing, publishing his first poems in 1846.  Although he is primarily remembered for his poetry today, he also wrote novels (in the style of literary realism) and short stories.  By the year 1848 he had taken up studies at the University of Heidelberg--he stayed there through 1850.  He then worked in Berlin until 1856 and it was during this period that he finally decided to devote his career aspirations solely to writing.  In 1861, upon his return to Zurich, he became First Official Secretary to the Canton of Zurich.  He retired from the position in 1876, having not produced much in way or writing during his tenure, except for a book on the early Christian era.  After his retirement, his literary out-put was greatly boosted--and this continued until his death.  Throughout his life, he had been known as a person that was hard to get along with, bad at interpersonal relationships and tended toward the anti-social.  This may be the reason he never married.  Though in his later years he softened quite a bit--living as a bachelor with his sister.  Keller died in Zurich at the age of 70 on the 15 of July--four days before his 71st birthday.  Today he is remembered in his native Switzerland with a foundation that bears his name founded in the 19th century by the daughter of one of Keller's patrons.  He is buried in the Friedhof Sihlfeld in Zurich.  He is included here due to one lone silent film that was released in 1927 and was based on some of his stories--Regine, die Tragödie einer Frau was a German film released in May of 1928.  All the rest of the films based on his work have come during the sound era.  The first of these is Regine (1935) a remake of the silent work by the same German director Erich Waschneck.  Almost all of the films made from his work have come out of Germany; the most recent is a made for television film entitled Ich gehöre dir in 2002. 

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Born Today July 18: Lupe Velez


Tragic Mexican-American actress Lupe Velez was born María Guadalupe Villalobos de Vélez on this day in San Luis Potosi Mexico.  Her mother was a performer, of that we can be sure; there have been conflicting reports that her mother was either an vaudevillian singer of some considerable talent or, alternatively, a opera singer.  Given where they were located it was probably both.  The family was reportedly well-off and living in a large home in the prominent northern city.  Her father was a colonel in the army (under Diaz), and she had siblings, albeit all them male, that had college educations.  At the age of 13, she was sent by her family to what is now Our Lady Of The Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.  There she learned how to dance, performed for the first time and learned English.  This was cut short when the Mexican Revolution broke out and she was sent to Mexico City, where she worked to support her family in a large department store (her father, was, of course, called back into active military duty).  It was there that she got her professional start, performing in revues there in the early 1920's.  She initially performed under "Villalobos," but that being her paternal name, her father strenuously objected after returning from the war and finding out that his daughter had decided to become a performer.  From that time on, she chose to perform under maternal name of Vélez.  At various dance and performance companies, she became one of the premiere vaudeville performers in Mexico by the mid-1920's.  She sometimes was fired for having such a fiery personality; but then again she had also learned this sort of behavior brought the press around.  Seems to be one of those learning lessons that "there is no such thing as bad press."  Indeed, this paid off--perhaps more than she expected it to--as it wasn't just theaters in Mexico who were paying close attention to her. She had come to the attention of famed stage director Richard Bennett, who invited her to audition in Los Angeles for a play he was staging that needed a Mexican actress (she had be planning to tour in Cuba, but changed her plans when the offer came up).  However by the time she arrived in L.A., the part had been given to another actress.  Not wanting to just flee, she stuck around long enough to met comedian Fanny Brice who took a liking to her and wanted to help promote her career, being particularly impressed with Vélez's dancing (Brice was obviously a person in her short life that Lupe admired and respected highly).  Brice secured for her an actual job in New York City with famed Broadway giant Flo Ziegfeld, but before she left for New York she found herself in film work first.  There is some confusion as to which of the first two films that she appeared in came first--over-whelming evidence points to Sailors, Beware! in 1927, a Hal Roach film starring Laurel and Hardy.  Harry Rapf, of MGM, had reportedly called her personally to screen test for the film. She next appeared in What Women Did For Me  (1927) a silent Charley Chase film.  She next was screen tested for an upcoming Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.) film; he took an immediate shine to her and cast her straight away; that movie was the hit The Gaucho.  He star in the industry was quickly rising, and as a result of this, her next film was the Cecil B. DeMille produced Stand And Deliver, starring Warner Oland.  The first film that had sound in did feature some talking sequences and a musical and singing score--Lady Of The Pavements (1929) an early sound film by D. W. Griffith--did not feature her voice.  Her next two films that featured sound were partial silents in the purest definition of the term.  Studios seeing the rapid on-coming of the sound era discarded many of their actors with accents of any sort, especially accents that clearly came from other countries (though many American colloquial accents didn't fare much better!)--it was just assumed that Velez would not survive the dawn of the talkie.  She proved them spectacularly wrong.  In 1929, they took a gamble on (or what they saw as a gamble) putting her into an early full talkie Tiger Rose.  Her co-stars? Monte Blue & Rin Tin Tin.  The film was a run-away hit and her continuance in the film industry was assured.  The bulk of her film appearances date from the 1930's, when she starred along side of the likes of Jimmy Durante and his complete opposite Ramon Novarro.  She did finally make her Broadway debut in 1932 with Florenz Ziegfeld--it was delayed by years, but when it came, it was a success.  During the mid-1930's she also spent time in England, appearing in at least two films there.  She appeared on and off the stage all during the decade, making her final Broadway appearance in 1938 (the tour of the production did not go well--her fiery temper effectively ended the tour).  That same year, she returned to Mexico to make her first film there.  She was greeted with throngs (thousands, actually) of screaming fans.  The film was a huge hit and she was slated to star in 4 more Mexican films, but instead returned to Hollywood and made a series of films that had elements of Mexican stereo-type in them.  Her personal life was always tumultous and ever increasingly out of control.  She had been linked to several well known actors from the time of her arrival in Hollywood and would go on to have troubled relationships with men that included a high-profile relationship with Gary Cooper to a trouble marriage that had all sorts of terrible stories attached to it, including pet killing.  Things only got worse from there, with her finally ending up in a relationship with a much younger newly arrived Hollywood actor from Austria.  When, at the age of 36, she found that she was pregnant and things apparently blew up between the two of them.  On the 13th of December, she had dinner with two friends, one of whom was Estelle Taylor, afterward consuming 75 Seconal pills with a glass of brandy, leaving behind a two sided suicide note.   She was found dead the next morning by her secretary.  When she was released for burial, she was given a funeral in Los Angeles after the coroner's office concluded that she had meant to do away with herself.  Her body was then shipped to Mexico City and given another funeral and buried in Mexico's famous Panteon Civil de Dolores cemetery. The death caused a great deal of publicity and, in many cases, outrage from various sectors.  Rumors also immediately began to fly as well.  Everything from questioning whether she really meant to kill herself, to the paternity of her child (a real question in the case of Gary Cooper).  The most outrageous was no rumor at all--just a made up story by none other than Kenneth Anger, vulgarly claiming (with not a shade of proof) that she actually drowned in a toilet after stumbling to the bath room to vomit.  Seconal is an extremely fast acting drug, even in small doses--75 pills would be enough to take the life of a 5 foot tall women very, very quickly--especially when mixed with brandy.  Let's hope she has found peace.  

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Born Today July 17: Conrad Diehl


New York state politician and prominent doctor Conrad Diehl was born on this day in Buffalo, New York. Diehl graduated from medical school in 1866. From 1870 to 1878 he was a major surgeon at Buffalo General Hospital and a member of the New York National Guard.  In 1897, he was elected mayor of Buffalo; he served through 1901.  During his tenure the first transmission of electricity from Niagara to Buffalo took place. Also under his time as governor Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition, and it is the opening of this event that has him included here on this blog.  The Edison Company, filmed a newsreel of the event--which occurred in 1901--, in which he appeared.  The short is entitled Opening of the Pan-American Exposition Showing Vice President Roosevelt Leading the Procession (1901).  The film depicts happier times that would be shattered, when President McKinley, who was visiting the exposition in hopes to make speeches to kick-start a run for a second term, was shot by an anarchist on the 6th of September; Diehl was standing right next to the President when he was shot.  McKinley died on the 14th of September from infected wounds.  Diehl had no wish to continue in politics after the incident and did not seek re-election; opting instead to return to his medical practice.  Diehl died on the 20th of February 1918 in Buffalo at the age of 74.  His burial location is unknown.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Born Today July 16: Barbara Stanwyck


One of the most popular movie stars ever to grace the big and small screen, Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens today in Brooklyn, New York.  Her childhood was not ideal, as her mother died under tragic circumstances when she was just four, and her father took a job digging the Panama Canal and disappeared--thought dead--shortly after her mother's death.  Fortunately for Ruby and her brother Byron, their eldest sister Mildred was quite a bit older and she was able to care for the pair for a while.  However, when she was forced to get a job, Ruby and Bryon were placed in a series of foster homes.  Ruby made it a habit to run away from these situations.  Mildred's profession was as a showgirl, and at the age of 9, Ruby was back with her sister, who was by this time touring in the entertainment industry.  For two years Ruby traveled with her, often practicing her sister's routines backstage.  She was also a big fan of silent serial specialist Pearl White, which made her determined to become a performer of some sort.  Ruby dropped out of school at the age of 14 to take a wrapping job at a Brooklyn department store, never attending high school (though some made up biographical material was circulated when she was gaining in popularity as an actress, that she performed while attending a famous Brooklyn high school).  She next took a filing job that paid much better than the department store; this allowed her to live independently.  She saw both jobs as a means to an end, and disliked them both; for her they were necessary to enter the entertainment industry.  She briefly worked for Vogue magazine, but was fired do to her lack of experience in cloth cutting; so she went to work as a typist for a music company, this was reported to be the first job that she actually enjoyed.  Despite that her sister had repeatedly tried to keep from attempting to become a performer, Ruby auditioned in 1923, just before her 16th birthday, for a job in chorus at a night club that operated above New York's famous Strand Theater in Times Square.  A few months later found her dancing for the Ziegfeld Follies.  For the next several years she worked hard evening to dawn as a night club dancer.  In 1926 she was introduced to stage producer Willard Mack, for whom she auditioned and gained a part in a play that he was casting as a chorus girl played by a real chorus girl.  The play opened but was not initially successful, so Mack actually decided to expand Ruby's part as the chorus girl, giving her significantly more lines.  When the play reopened, it became a hit and quickly made it's way to Broadway.  It was at this time that one of her mentors (not known exactly which one) suggested to Ruby that she change her name: thus Barbara Stanwyck was born.  Under this name, she quickly became a huge star on Broadway.  In 1927, she was given a screen test for the upcoming silent Broadway Nights. She did not get the main part (that went to Lois Wilson), but she was given a bit part as a fan dancer, thus Stanwyck made her silver screen debut (see the film's entry at IMDb).  This would be the only silent film that Stanwyck acted in.  In 1928, she married a fellow actor whom she had met on the wildly successful Broadway run of the play Burlesque; the couple promptly relocated to Hollywood.  The first full sound film that she acted in came when she starred in The Locked Door in 1929, with mono sound by MovieTone.  She next starred in and received top billing in Mexicali Rose also in 1929, this time with sound provided by Western Electric.  Though neither film stood out in any way, other than being talkies, a curiosity at the time, they were enough for her to get the attention of directing giant Frank Capra, who gave her the starring role in his 1930 Ladies Of Leisure.  It's a cliche, but it's true to say, the rest is history.  She made her television debut in 1956 on the Ford Television Theatre in the episode Sudden Silence.  In the late 1950's her film career began to wane, she made the decision to specialize in television, at one point having her own show The Barbara Stanwyck Show.  Her role on The Big Valley made her one of the most popular actors in television history.  After making a television movie in 1973, she retired from acting full time and didn't make another appearance in front the camera until making one appearance on Charlie's Angels.  She then had recurring roles in 3 additional television series (one a mini-series), including Dynasty.  Her last role was a large one, she agreed to actually star in the Dynasty spin-off The Colby's.  in 1982, while filming the mini-series The Thorn Birds she contracted a very seriously case of bronchitis, due to special smoke effects on the set, the fact that she had been a serious smoker since before the age of 10 only made this worse.  So, it is not surprising that in the late 1980's she began having trouble with COPD, this in turn brought on congestive heart failure.  Stanwyck died of the ailments on the 20th of January 1990 at the age of 82. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered, via helicopter, over Lone Pine, California--where she had found memories of filming some of the westerns that she starred in.  

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Born Today July 15: A. Lloyd Lewis


Silent cinematographer Atwood Lloyd Lewis was born on this day in 1887--location unknown.  Lewis is basically a complete unknown.  What is known is that he started work shooting films at Fox in 1916 on the film Slander which starred Bertha Kalich.  In all he is credited with just 6 films that he served as cinematographer on; he appears to only have been active from 1916 thru 1918.  His next film featured an appearance by Marian Swayne in The Tortured Heart (1916).  The other films that he shot were: The Straight Way (1916) starring Valeska SurattThe Victim (1916) another Suratt film, The Blue Streak (1917) and finally Just For Tonight which starred Tom Moore and was the only film that he made for Goldwyn.  It appears that during his time at Fox he worked almost exclusively for director Will S. Davis.  There is zero information as to what befell Lewis after 1918, not even a death date.  

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Born Today July 14: Robert Brower


Giant of the stage and very early silent narrative film star Robert Brower was born on this date in Point Pleasant, New York. Brower was a veteran of the 19th century stage; he was persuaded to join the Edison Company after they started making narrative films, as opposed to actualities and newsreels.  He made his first film in 1909 with the J. Searle Dawley directed A Rose Of The Tenderloin.  He signed a contract with the company in 1911.  Probably the first film that he made under contract was Silver Threads Among The Gold (1911), directed by Edwin S. Porter--and one of the first films ever to require a live band to place set pieces.  The first full length film that he is thought to have made an appearance in, albeit in an uncredited role, was the 50 minute long The Quest Of Life (1916) made for the Famous Players company (which, incidentally, featured a small appearance by a very young Rudolph Valentino).  He had a credited role in the more than 5 hour long action adventure serial The Mystery Of The Double Cross (1917) made for Astra Film.  His next feature length non-Edison credited role came in 1918 in the comedy A Burglar For A Night.  In the 1910's he worked steadily, with the vast majority of his film appearances coming during this time--most of these were in Edison shorts.  He film work slowed in the 1920's, but he was still quite the actors actor during the time.  He even managed to work into the era of early talkies!  He had a supporting roles in Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 Adam's Rib and in Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg (1927); and the first film that he worked on that had sound was a William A. Wellman film from 1928: Beggars Of Life, a partial silent.  The first fill sound film that he acted in was D. W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln in 1930--his role was uncredited.  In fact, all the rest of his film appearances would be in uncredited roles, including a bit part in James Whale's The Invisible Man in 1933.  The last film in which he appeared was released after his death; The Silver Bullet premiered on 11 May 1935.  Brower had passed away in West Hollywood on the 8th of December 1934 from a heart attack, he was 84!  There is no information as to his burial or cremation.  

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Born Today July 13: Jewel Carmen (Sorted Edition)


Silent film actress Jewel Carmen was born Florence Lavina Quick in Danville, Kentucky (this despite her death certificate vaguely stating that she was simply born in Oregon) on this date most probably in 1897.  Quick/Carmen's career in Hollywood was fraught with troubles and scandals from the get-go.  She went be a surprising number "stage" names for someone so young in the business.  Her first appearance in a film came in 1912 in The Will Of Destiny in a rare American Méliès Co. production under the name "Florence L Vinci;" presumably she would have been 15 years of age.  This is probably correct, but things get a bit twisted up here in regards to biography.  In 1913, she started appearing in films produced by Keystone--the first of which is The Professor's Daughter under the name Evelyn Quick--things quickly got out of hand.  On the 30 of April of that year, she filed a complaint to the police that two car salesmen had forced her into non-payment debt (listed on the report as delinquency) and reported that she was only 15.  Investigations into the matter quickly got sorted, as it turned up evidence of blackmail and "white slavery" (sex trafficking) ring in which she was involved under the name "Evelyn Quick."  Though no Keystone people were ever named in the case; disturbingly, a very large number of their actors and directors fled to Mexico because of the investigation.  It was later "determined" that "Evelyn Quick" was actually 23 years of age and the case was dropped.  All the Keystone people returned promptly after.  What is equally disturbing is that they felt they needed to flee in such numbers in the first place; and also, though it's not out of the question that Quick could have lied about her age--she did live a very long life eventually dying from lymphoma at the age of 86 (if she had been born in 1897)--adding 7 more years to age, meant that she would be been 93 at death.  That seems unlikely given that she retired from acting before the end of the silent era.  Also, given the number alias' that she seemed to have, it does seem likely that something very wrong was taking place.  Where there's smoke, there is usually fire.  Carmen, also would not remain a stranger to legal suits either.  In 1917, she signed a contract with Fox, after spending a stint at Fine Arts Film Company, where the name Jewel Carmen was credited (she also had a very, very small part in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance in 1916).  Her first film for Fox was A Tale Of Two Cities, based on the Dickens novel.  She found the deal personally unacceptable to herself, so, without breaking the contract, she entered into a contract at Keeney Corp. two years later in 1918.  Fox promptly sent Keeney a sort "cease & desist" letter--warning them of her existing contract with them, and warning them of a pending suit against them if they assisted her in breaking her Fox contract.  Carmen responded by filing two personal law suits against Fox: 1) to essentially break her contract with them, 2) attempt to essentially "counter sue" them for attempting to interfere in her contract with Keeney--though Fox had not actually filed any suit of it's own against the rival company.  A lot of legal gobbly-gook took place with her having only a partial victory, ending up with a legal loophole that let her walk away from Fox free and clear.  She never did make a film for Keeney.  The first film that she appeared in after this legal mess was The Silver Lining (1921), directed by Roland West, whom she had married in 1918 (he would go on to marry Lola Lane).  She would go on to appear in just three more films, two of them associated with her husband.  The last film that she appeared is one of my personal favorites, The Bat in 1926 based on a play by Avery Hopwood.  Though she had retired from acting, scandal was not done with her.  Her then estranged husband had an affair with Thelma Todd with whom he was also a business partner in the 1930's.   On the 16th of December 1935, Todd was found dead in her garage.  Though the death was eventually ruled accidental (with possible suicidal tendencies) by carbon monoxide, with the detectives concluding she likely was trying to stay warm on a very cold night after having been locked out of her current abode.  There was, however a murder investigation as Todd had no reason to commit suicide and--owed to the fact that gangsters frequented Todd's restaurant--there were also no lack of suspects with real motives.  One of them was Carmen herself, who once reportedly threatened to kill Todd after Carmen's personal investment in her restaurant began to lose money.  Carmen did not stay under suspicion for long, but her husband Roland West did, as he was a partner in the venture.  No one was ever charged, but persistent gossip about the death drove Carmen into personal seclusion thereafter.  She died, probably at the age of 86 in San Diego, California on the 4th of March 1984.  She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered.

Carmen in The Bat (1926)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Born Today July 12: Linda Arvidson


Silent film actress and first wife of D. W. Griffith, Linda Arvidson was born Linda Arvidson Johnson in San Francisco, CA on this day.  She met Griffith in 1905 while they were both acting in the same play on the stage; and they wed the following year in May.  She was the star of his earliest films.  Her first film appearance came with the American Mutoscope and Biograph (of course!) produced Mr. Gay And Mrs. in 1907.  She next worked under director Wallace McCutcheon, at Biograph, acting along side her husband.  The first film she is absolutely credited with in one of his films came in The Princess In The Vase in 1908.  The two also worked with Wallace McCutcheon Jr. (see At The Crossroads Of Life (1908), which Griffith also penned).  The first time she was directed by her husband came in The Adventures Of Dollie (1908), which is a rather famous surviving silent and marked Griffith's directorial debut (she was often credited as Linda A. Griffith going forward in her movie acting career).  She added scenario writing to her list of credits in 1911 with How She Triumphed, a film she wrote for her husband to direct.  In all, she has 5 writing credits to her name, two the most important to history are the two Enoch films that Griffith made.  The vast majority of her acting career did come under the direction of her husband at Biograph; however around 1912 or so, the two separated (they didn't formally divorced until 1936).  When this event took place, she then signed a contract as the leading lady with Kinemacolor Company and company that had built it reputation on it's own early color film process; the first film that she made for them was A Christmas Spirit in 1912.  The contract lasted only for one year. She next went to work at Klaw & Erlanger, a company that had a partnership with Biograph; ultimately winding back up at Biograph.  She appeared in her last film in 1916, and that came in Charity a film on white slavery, directed by Frank Powell under the umbrella of his own production company.  She then retired from film acting altogether.  In 1925 she published a memoir When Movies Were Young, it has since be reprinted several times.  Arvidson died in New York City on the 26 of July 1949 at the age of 65.  She is buried in the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California under the name Linda A. Griffith in a family plot.

[Source: Sue (Find A Grave)]

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Born Today July 11: Benjamin H. Kline


Long serving cinematographer and sometime director Benjamin Harrison Kline was born on this day in Birmingham, Alabama.  He started his very long career as a cinematographer at Universal in 1920 on the picture The Red Lane.  Throughout his career, he worked on almost as many television programs as he did films--he was also known as one of the principle cinematographers for The Three Stooges.  During the silent era, his most prolific years were 1920-1923.  He also directed 8 films, the first of which came in 1931 with The Lightning Warrior, a Rin-Tin-Tin picture.  He made his television debut in 1949, photographing an episode of The Silver Theater.  In all he worked on more than 350 films and television shows through the span of his career.  He also worked almost right up to the time of his death.  The last director of photography credit that he had was a made for TV movie The Bull Of The West starring Charles Bronson.  I am personally a fan his work on the B-Film Noir Detour (1945).  Kline was the brother-in-law of director Phil Rosen and the father of cinematographer Richard H. Kline.  Benjamin died in Hollywood on the 7th of January, 1974.  He is interred in the mausoleum at The Hollywood Forever cemetery.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Born Today July 10: John Gilbert


Actor (okay Movie Star...uh um Super Star?), mostly of the silent era--but probably best remembered for his talkie roles--John Gilbert was born John Cecil Pringle on this day in Logan, Utah.  His last name "Gilbert" was from his step father--he was unaware until later in his life that "Pringle" was his birth surname.  His nickname was "Jack" and he was often credited in films as "Jack Gilbert" early on.  Though he was born into a show business family--his parents were traveling actors--his childhood was not a happy one.  He suffered greatly from being forced from one school to another.  Despite this, it's hardly surprising that he got into acting himself.  He appeared in his first film in 1915 in the Bison Production of The Mother Instinct--a short drama.  He then made a few pictures for Kay-Bee Pictures, before being snapped up by Thomas Ince, who worked at both Kay-Bee in scenario writing, as well as owning his own production company.  The first film he appeared in for the Thomas H. Ince Corp. was Civilization in an uncredited part.  Several of the films that he had supporting roles in in 1915 & 1916 starred Frank Keenan.  He had steady work all through out the rest of the 1910's, albeit in many small roles--but he did work his way up through the ranks and by 1920 he was noticed by director Maurice Tourneur.  It was with Tourneur's help that Gilbert would add writing and directing credits to his name.  In 1921, he both wrote and directed Love's Penalty (he also aided in the editing of the film as well).  He was then signed to a three year contract at Fox Films, hired to play romantic leads.  This brought him his first taste stardom.  But it wasn't until he made the move to MGM in 1924 that he would become a movie star to rival even the likes of Rudolph Valentino.  There he was directed  by the likes of King Vidor, Victor "Seastrom" (that'sVictor Sjöström), and Erich von Stroheim.  It was reportedly on the set of The Merry Widow (1925), directed by von Stroheim, that Gilbert's birth father introduced himself, this is supposedly when he found out that his original last name was Pringle.  By this time he was one of the biggest stars that Hollywood had ever seen.  In 1926 he starred in The Flesh And The Devil with Greta Garbo; this ignited a torrid affair between the two that MGM made sure got out into the press. They even actually marketed one of the pairs films--A Woman Of Affairs  (1928) around the affair on the film's poster! There were even plans to marry, but ultimately, Garbo broke his heart.  He had other troubles as well.  His entire tenure at MGM included frequent run-ins with studio boss Louis B. Mayer.  The two had frequent and very heated arguments over all manner of subjects to do with the running of the studio--this spilled over into clashes over social matters (in one case, Gilbert may have struck Mayer over a crude remake that he made about Garbo--historians disagree whether this actually took place).  The animosity between the two would prove to be the beginning of the end of Gilbert's career.  By early 1928, Gilbert had a small in King Vidor's Show People, a partial silent--sound was making it's way permanently into film.  His next film, The Masks Of The Devil--a Sjöström movie--had two versions, one mono and one that was partially silent.  His first full sound mono film came next, with the above mentioned 1928 Garbo film.  It's not that Gilbert had an off putting voice, he didn't and was even greatly praised for his turn in The Hollywood Revue Of 1929 along side Norma Shearer; it would seem that Mayer wanted to use to transitional period to get rid of Gilbert.  There was a persistent rumor that Mayer ordered Gilbert's voice altered to sound much higher than it really was, and Mayer also had the power to put him inferior talkies.  He also must have begun to suffer the beginnings of the ailment that would eventually claim his life.  He did manage to grab one fairly prominent role in 1931, when he was cast in The Phantom Of Paris in a role meant for Lon Chaney Sr.; Chaney died in 1930 and Gilbert was handed the part.  His career, however was already in decline and the film did nothing to stop that.  Not even a part in the Garbo film Queen Christina (1933), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, stemmed the decline.  His last film came when Columbia cast him in The Captain Hates The Sea in 1934.  He had been suffering from premature heart failure for some time, not helped by depression or alcohol abuse, and a severe heart attack in 1935.  On the 9th of January he had a mild heart attack, but it was enough to take his life, as his heart was so weak.  He was just 36 years old.  [This, unfortunately still happens today, famed True Blood actor Nelsan Ellis passed away just two days ago from the same ailment at the age of 39].  During his time in Hollywood Gilbert was known to be quite the ladies man, he was linked with a number of starlets.  At the time of his death, he was seeing Marlene Dietrich.  He was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

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