Thursday, August 31, 2017

Born Today August 31: Arthur Shirley (II)


Silent Australian actor (and sometimes director) Arthur Shirley (not to be confused with the silent British actor of the same name) was born Henry Raymond Shirley on this day in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.  Though born Henry, he was christened Arthur.  He attended Catholic schools on the island and went to work as a young man, eventually becoming a clerk to a solicitor.  He was, however drawn to entertainment, and at the age of 16 basically "ran away to the circus" when he joined a traveling troupe of entertainers touring the area with a very modest caravan.  By 1904 he are relocated to Melbourne on the mainland and worked as a door to door salesman, enrolling later on in a seminary to Sydney.  Again, in 1905, he absconded to the entertainment industry, becoming involved in a theater.  He made his stage debut that same year back in Melbourne.  He spent the next two years as an actor in a company touring New South Wales and Victoria.  He then got involved with a couple of theater entrepreneurs, the first indication that he had some prowess as a salesman (obviously a hold over from his Melbourne days).  By 1909 he made a rather dramatic annoucedment that he would starring in a theatrical role written especially for him--though none of this has ever been confirmed.  It is known, that by 1913, he owed a considerable sum to at one individual--a woman known only as Miss Tindall--and declared bankruptcy by the end of the year.  His struggles with finances dogged him into the year 1914, the same year that he finally broke into the motion picture business.  He landed a named role in The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914).  This was quickly followed by The Shepherd of the Southern Cross (1914)--now a lost film--in which he had the starring role. (Note: he is often mistaken for the other Arthur Shirley in the British film from 1913 Sixty Years a Queen from 1913)  Both films were successes, though Maitland, much more so.  Shirley was still burdened by financial difficulties however; one of which resulted in his bringing suit against an employer and winning the case.  The money that he was awarded allowed him to settle his debts, but he felt that Australia had nothing further to offer him in regards to his acting ambitions.  In late 1914, he and his new wife, relocated to the United States and he was put under contract at Kalem in New York, where he apparently starred as a detective in a recurring role (I can find little information about this time in his life).  He eventually wound up at Universal in California where he starred in several films featuring Lon Chaney Sr.  He also had a role in the propaganda sequel to Birth of a Nation The Fall Of A Nation  in 1916.  He also ran his own business on Hollywood Blvd.--a photographic business that provided innovative photographic lighting solutions and specialized background pieces for photographic portraiture.  He continued to work in the American film industry for the rest of the 1910's (which comprised the bulk of his film acting career).  The last film that he made at Universal was The Triflers in 1920.  That same year, he returned to Australia.  Upon his return, he set up his own production studio, the venture ended with no films completed and sent Shirley again into bankruptcy.  He managed to recover enough to return to the stage in 1923 and to film acting in 1925 with The Mystery Of The Hansom Cab, a film that he wrote and directed.  He also wrote and directed The Sealed Room the following year.  In 1927, he relocated to London with the notion that he would promote his Australian films there and set a facility to make more.  This did not turn out according to plan; and again, the culprit was money woes.  By 1930, he was back in Hollywood; returning to Australia in 1934.  In the interim, he had managed to eek out a small role in a short early talkie in California in 1931:  The Champion.  He showed up in only two other roles during his brief time back in the U.S., both uncredited; the second of which would mark his last involvement in the film industry--the film was Pursued (1934), a Fox Film production.  He briefly got into politics in the 1940's, but spent most of the rest of his retirement either quietly in Australia or pursuing passions in archeology and ancient Egyptian interests.  Shirley died on the 24th of November in Rose Bay, New South Wales, Australia at the age of 81 and is buried in the Rose Bay cemetery there.

Poster for Alas And Alack (1915) a Hollywood production that Shirley acted in with Lon Chaney Sr. 



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Born Today August 30: Raymond Massey (Not So Silent Edition)


Actor of great talent and repute, Raymond Hart Massey, was born on this day in Toronto, Canada into a very wealthy established manufacturing family.  As a young man, he attended Upper Canada College and later matriculated to Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario, while there, he attended classes at the University of Toronto and later graduated from Balliol College Oxford (one of the oldest at the university).  He served in the Canadian Army during World War I; he returned with "shell shock" during the war.  This, ironically, would lead to his first acting experiences.  He was then made an instructor to American officers at Yale University, then later (1918) sent to serve in Siberia.  This is where he had his first encounter with the stage.  After the war (and recovering from injuries incurred during), he returned to Canada to work in the family business selling farm equipment and implements.  His experience in Siberia however had left him with a taste for the stage.  He managed to get work in that field and, in 1922, he appeared on the stage in London for the first time.  Before long, he had gained the interest of the film industry.  He made his first appearance in the film in a production in 1928 (premiering in 1929) in the UK war intrigue High Treason, the film was released in both sound and silent formats, with the sound version featuring the not so reliable British Acoustic system.  He had just a small part, but it was enough to send him on his way to wildly successful film career playing all types, with a bent toward character acting.  Massey next appeared in bit part in the UK partial silent The Crooked Billet (1929).  By this time in his career, he was directing stage productions in London, so it is no surprise that his next film role--solidly in the sound era--was one in which he had the starring role.  He was Sherlock Holmes in the 1931 The Speckled Band.  His next two films are personal favorites of mine, with the second marking his entry into the American film industry.  The Face At The Window (1932) was a British crime drama based on a Brooke Warren play.  And, The Old Dark House is the 1932 James Whale film that doesn't get a much attention as his other films do--it had an all star cast including Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton and Melvyn Douglas to name but a few (the film was lost for decades until 1968).  After this, Massey would return to making film appearances in the UK.  He would not return to the US film industry until 1937 with The Prisoner Of Zenda.  He returned again the UK and made a very, very early appearance in a British television program in 1938 in Picture Page, in that show's 12th episode.  Massey had continued to work on the stage all through out this time and had a surprise hit when assaying the historical role of Abe Lincoln.  He played Lincoln for the first of several times on film in 1940 with Abe Lincoln in Illinois (a filmed production of the play in which he starred).  It was a role that garnered his only Oscar nomination.  He would go on to have a distinguished career as both a leading actor and a supporting actor in several very well known films.  He also became a frequent actor on television as well.  He had recurring roles in both I, Spy and Dr. Kildare.  Massey continued to work up until about 10 years before his death.  His last filmed appearance came in My Darling Daughter's Anniversary (his second turn as Matthew Cunningham in a "Darling" film) in 1973, which was made for television.  Massey died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on the 29th of July, just before his 87th birthday.  He died the same day as David Niven, a sometime co-star of his.  He is buried in Beaverdale Memorial Park in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Leave Virtual Flowers @ Find A Grave

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Born Today August 29: Maurice Maeterlinck


French speaking symbolist Belgium playwright Maurice (Mooris) Polydore (Poidore) Marie Bernard (Bernhard) Maeterlinck was born on this day in Gent, Flanders, Belgium into a very wealthy family.  Naturally, he had a Catholic upbringing and in 1874 he was sent to a Jesuit college to study.  Mostly on the educational "menu" were religious studies and literature and immersion in French Romantic writing; the experience was not a good one for him.  In fact, it left him with a life-long distrust for organized religions in general and a strong dislike for the Catholic Church in particular.  He had, however, started writing on his own while he was in school; his volume of work was quite impressive--they included poetry and several short novels.  Though he clearly possessed a great talent for writing and preferred it as a line of work, his father insisted that he study the law instead.  He eventually finished his law degree in 1885 at the University of Ghent.  After this, he promptly left for Paris.  While there, he became acquainted with several members of the new Symbolism movement--an artistic philosophy that would have great influence over him.  This is when he began to write plays.  His first play made him an instant sensation in Paris.  As he wrote more plays, the themes became gradually darker and more symbolic--many of which included Death as a character.  His own personal experience of life tended toward the depressed, though he was diagnosed with an actual physical complaint in 1906--a condition that in modern times would be associated with actual physical pain caused by certain types of clinical depression.  Upon the diagnosis of what was then called Neurasthenia, he rented a partially ruined abbey in Normandy, France. He set about restoring the place to some extent (his rental of the space saved it from being turned into a chemical factory--a fact not lost on Pope Pius X, who bestowed a blessing on Maeterlinck despite his personal split from the church).  To move about the large property, he used roller skates.  During this period of time his writing took on a more socialist world view, and he, in fact, contributed personal monies to worker's unions and various socialist groups.  He then began to suffer from writers block apparently brought on by more bouts of depression.  He did recover eventually and began writing again, though his vigor as a writer was permanently compromised and the volume of his literary output dropped significantly.  His socialist standings on political matters landed him in trouble with The Vatican and by 1914 much of his work was placed on the official list of prohibited works by The Church.  Through it all though, when Germany invaded Belgium that same year, Maeterlinck's patriotism was stirred and he attempted to join the French Foreign Legion, but was refused due to his age.  So he lent his voice to the war effort instead, giving speeches lauding the bravery of his fellow countrymen fighting the invasion.  In 1919, he accepted an invitation by Samuel Goldwyn to write scenarios for film.  He left for the United States for this purpose and did produce a number of scripts.  None of them was ever used (what a shame) and only two are known to survive today.  After this, his writing turned back inward to subjects that he knew best: natural history, occultism and philosophical works based on ethics placed within these themes.  His writing powers, however, were of such a diminished capacity that he resorted to plagiarism by the mid 1920's (read more at the Wikipedia site link below).  During the 1930's he lived in a chateau in Nice, France.  By 1940 he was in Lisbon, from which he fled to the United States to avoid a yet another encroaching German invasion.  He stayed in the US throughout World War II, returning to Nice in August of 1947.  He lived there until his death in 1949 on the 6th of May of a heart attack. I can find no information as his burial or cremation.  Though none of his actual screenplays made it into production, films have been made from his work since the year 1910 (which, of course, pre-dates his short turn in the American film industry).  The first film made from his other work is based on the one work that he is largely remembered for today.  The Blue Bird was an UK production, based on his play of the same name.  In all, seven films were made from his writings during the silent era (which fell completely within his lifetime), with the UK production The Burgomaster of Stelmond of 1929 being the last.  One more feature length film was made during his lifetime:  20th Century Fox's The Blue Bird was released in 1940.  Shortly before his death, his work made it onto to early television in Brazil's Grande Teatro Tupi series in the episode Pelease e Melisande.  The most recent use of his work for a film came in 2012 with a made for television musical film in the German produced, French language Pelléas et Mélisande.

Still from Pelleas and Melisande 1913

Monday, August 28, 2017

Born Today August 28: Sheridan Le Fanu


Dramatic Irish gothic writer and lucid dreamer Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin, Ireland (than part of the UK) on this day.  He was born into a mixed heritage family of Irish, English and Huguenot ancestry (hence the surname); the family was a clan of writers, so to speak.   By 1826 the clergy family (hs father was ordained in the Church of Ireland) were living in country Limerick, and the children were being "taught" by a tutor, who was later dismissed for providing no education at all.  The result of this was that young Sheridan schooled himself by using his father's well stocked library.  Despite this, his clergy father was a rather rabid Protestant and raised the family in something like a Calvinistic tradition; as a result of this, Sheridan, who began writing poetry at the age of 15, shared the writings with his siblings and his mother, but never his father.  His father's "profession" would eventually land the family back in Dublin and in monetary straits, as there were so few actual Protestants in the country and the Catholics rebelled at paying government forced tithes to the Church of Ireland.  Sadly, when his father died, the family was forced to sell off his extensive library for money.  This enabled Sheridan to study law at Trinity College.  Because the educational system in Ireland at the time, home study was permitted and lecture attendance was not required.  This was the a situation the Sheridan took full advantage of, preferring to study at home.  He was actually called to the bar in 1839, but he never practiced law, opting instead to take up journalism.  It was not long before he began to contribute short stories to the Dublin University magazine.  This is where his first ghost story "The Ghost and the Bone-Setter" was published.  By 1840, Le Fanu owned several newspapers outright, the most prominent was the Dublin Evening Mail.  It was not long before he was married with a growing family.  By 1847, he and other newspaper men of means, took up opposition to the indifference of the government's position on, and lack of response to the potato famine, which had begun in 1845.  By mid-1850's his personal life had also become chaotic, with his wife demonstrating some sort of mental disorder that was, at the time, called neurosis.  What ever her complaint was, it claimed her life in 1858.  This sent Le Fanu, according to his diary entries, into a deep state of loss and guilt.  This caused him to leave off writing fiction.  He did not resume writing until after the death of his mother.  By 1861, he had become editor of the University magazine and took the magazine into "double publication;" serializing (serialising) it in Ireland and producing a copy intended for sale only on the English news stands.  By this time, he had also become a novelist.  He continued to write for the publication until his death. For more on his body of work, check out the Wikipedia link below.  Le Fanu died at the relatively young age of 58 on the 7th of February 1873 in Dublin.  In regards to film, several ground breaking early horror films have used his work, most notably Dreyer's Vampyr in 1932 (which is for all intents a partial silent film at best--very little dialogue); but his work was first used for a film in 1905.  The film was the UK produced Shamus O'Brien, or, Saved From The Scaffold.  One other silent film of the same work was produced in the U.S. in 1912. Vampyr would be the next occasion that he work was used, and really, the first time that his tales of horror were filmed.  His writing was first used in a television series in 1960 on The Dow Hour of Great Mystery in The Inn of the Flying Dragon.  From then, several horror films were made from his work Carmilla, which features lesbian vampire lovers, including the 1977 Alucarda, a Juan L. Moctezuma film.  Most recently the work was used to launch a gothic fantasy television series of the same name in Canada (the show priemered in 2014).  Another project Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla has been announced as a joint European production.  Sheridan was buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematoria in Dublin.

Leave Virtual Flowers @ Find A Grave

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Born Today August 27: Frances Carlyle


British born actor of the silent era Frances Carlyle was born on this day in Birkenhead, England.  His family immigrated to Connecticut when he was just a boy.  He apparently loved the stage and was talented enough to be hired on the touring circuit as a child actor.  While in regards to film he is best known for his appearances in the famous silent serial The Perils Of Pauline (1914), he actually got his relatively short lived film career started many films before this in the short drama The Angel Of The Slums in 1913.  His time in films was extremely short-lived, and, he no doubt had a successful stage career before this, as he appeared several times on Broadway (for more on this, follow the link below).  Until his turn in Perils, all the films that he appeared in were shorts.  He appeared in only one additional film after Perils, in Detective Craig's Coup, in which he had the starring role.  Carlyle died just two years later in Hartford, Conn. at the young age of 48.  There is no information as to his burial.  


Broadway Bio

Rest In Peace Tobe Hooper 1943-2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Born Today August 26: Ruth Roland


Silent movie and serial maven Ruth Roland was born into a theatrical family on this day in San Francisco, CA. It is no surprise then that she became a child actress in vaudeville, and eventually went on to tour the circuit as such, ending up in New York City.  She is one of the first California girls, having gone to Hollywood High School, to go on to be a movie star in the first studio system back east.  Her first appearance in film came under contract with Kalem in The Scarlet Letter in 1908 with silent star Gene Gauntier in the leading role as Hester Prynne.  She was not long after billed as one of the "Kalem Girls."  It was not long before Kalem sent her back to California to work in their brand new west coast production studio (they were one of the first studios to began that migration).  She stayed with the company through most of the year 1915, when she signed a lucrative contract with Balboa Amusement, this is when she went from darling of the short film to one of the queens of the early serial.  The first serial that she starred in for them was The Red Circle (1915) (having made one melodrama for them before this:  Comrade John 1915).  At Balboa she went from being a star to something like a true movie, or super, star.  In the most lucrative part of the her career--from the mid 1910's through the mid 1920's--she appeared in more than 200 pictures, though most of these for filmed before 1920.  She stayed with Balboa through the first part of 1918, then after making films for different companies.  The first film that she made after leaving Balboa was one for the history books.  Cupid Angling 1918 was made by the Douglas National Color Film Company and was shot in it's own proprietary color process called "Naturalcolor."  Having become accustomed to acting in serials, she eventually founded her own company Ruth Roland Serials in 1919.  The first production featuring her in the starring role that the company produced was The Adventures Of Ruth (1919).  After 1927, she was effectively retired.  The last film that she made during her active career is the now lost The Masked Woman (1927).  She appeared in just two more films during her lifetime.  She starred in the all sound Reno in 1930; her last film was From Nine To Nine in 1936.  Tragically she died the following year at the young age of 45 in Hollywood on the 22 of September from cancer.  She is interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale in the Mausoleum.  

Leave Virtual Flowers @ Find A Grave 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Born Today August 25: Henrik Hertz

1797 or 1798-1870

Danish poet and playwright Henrik Hertz was born on this date in Copenhagen, Denmark into a Jewish household.  His father died when he was an infant; making matters much worse, the family's property holdings were destroyed in the British bombardment of 1807.  As a result of this, he was brought up by a distant relative who happened to be a newspaper editor of prominence.  In 1817 he was sent to university where he studied law.  In 1825 he passed his law exam, but he had already showed a perference for literature; in fact, he had already begun to write.  In 1826 and 1827, two of his plays were produced.  By 1832 he had several plays in multiple genres produced and had moved on to didactic poetry.  And, by 1844, he had several volumes of edited poetry published, as well as a large number of produced plays.  In 1858 and 1859 he served as editor a literary journal:  Weekly Leaves.  Hertz continued to work on his plays and their productions right up until the time of his death.  The last play that he had produced was his final drama and was presented in 1969.  Hertz died in 1870 in Copenhagen on the 25th of February.  I can find no information on his burial.  Today, he is remembered for being a first rate writer of romantic drama and has left a lasting tradition in the Danish live theater.  A handful of films have made use of his work as source material, the first being King René's Daughter in 1913--a film made at Thanhouser (a print of which survives in the Library of Congress).  It would be 40 years befor another film was made of his work; this was based on the same material as the Thanhouser film, but this time it was a homegrown Danish production.  Kong Renés datter (1953) was made for domestic television (though released in other formats as well--including radio), and was a live play performance.  The most recent use of his work came in an installment of The Metropolitan Opera HD Live (a series started in 2006), in a 2015 performance of a Tchaikovsky operatti using that same work of Hertz's as a libretto.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Born Today August 24: Mary Newcomb


Early film actress Mary Newcomb was born on this day in North Adams, Massachusetts.  Newcomb started out as a stage actress and acted in from the motion picture camera mostly during the talking era, starting with one stint in the 1930's and then another in the 1940's.  She did however try her hand at silent film acting in 1921 in The Passionate Pilgrim.  Being a stage actress however, the experience must of been stilting and she did not return to films until 1932.  Her first sound film was Frail Woman (1932).  She worked sparingly in motion pictures in the 1930's--mostly in 1932--and then retired, only to come back in 1946 in Suspect, a very early made for television film.  She even had a supporting role in one of the earliest television mini-series in Mourning Becomes Electra in 1947, which was filmed in two parts.  In fact, all of the rest of her time in moving pictures came in films made for television in the 1940's (quite ground breaking).  Her last made for television film was Take Back Your Freedom in 1948.  She then retired.  She married an Englishman and immigrated to that country.  She died there at the age of 73 on the 26th of November in Dorchester.  Her burial is listed as unknown.  Her first marriage was to Robert Edeson.

Still from Passionate Pilgrim (1921)

Leave Virtual Flowers @ Find A Grave

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Born Today August 23: Albert Capellani


Silent era French director and screenwriter Albert Capellani was born on this day in Paris, France.  The penchant for getting involved in the brand new motion picture industry in the Capellani family was not just limited to Albert; he had two brothers that also got involved in various ways.  His son Roger was also a director and his younger brother was an actor and a sculptor.  He got into directing right away in the industry; he co-directed the fantasy short A Princess In Disguise in 1904 made for Pathé Frères.  He next film, The Strong Arm Of The Law (1906), was his first solo directorial outing.  As a director, he is best known for Aladdin and His Wonder Lamp (1906), featuring cinematography by the legendary Segundo de Chomón; and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1911), which featured an appearance by his brother Paul.  He added scenario writing to his list of accomplishments in 1907 with Harlequin's Story, which featured Max Linder in all three roles written for the script.  Drink, which came out the following year and based on the work of Zola, was a semi-major work from him in which he not only directed, but he also acted as cinematographer and was in charge of the art direction as well.  He added producer to his credits in 1910 with Veil Of Happiness, a film that he also directed.  He continued to have a in-house director's chair at the French Pathé throughout the period from 1906-1914, when he entered World War I.  He was quickly wounded and discharged from service (he also had serious health issues).  In 1915 Pathé moved him to their American Exchange studio, but he quickly found himself working for a variety of the earliest studios states-side.  The first American production that he is known to have directed was The Face In The Moonlight (1915) for the William A. Brady Picture Plays.  In 1918 he made a picture for Nazimova ProductionsEye For An Eye starring Alla Nazimova herself--a partnership that would prove fruitful, especially for Nazimova.  He had a hand, as a director, in making her one of the silent era's most recognizable faces (she also deserves credit for this in her innovation in the production field!).  By 1919, he had founded his own Albert Capellini Productions.  The first film made in his own production house was Oh Boy! (here he made his only "acting" appearance in a cameo as the orchestra leader...directors were doing this sort of thing long before Hitchcock!).  By 1920, he was confident enough to take on "presenting" one of his own works in The Fortune Teller; and by 1922 his was deemed important enough to include in Screen Snapshots, Series 3, No. 15.  Capellini, however, had no desire to relocate to the west coast to Hollywood, so far from the Atlantic where he could book passage easily enough back to this native France; so he chose, instead, to return home to Europe.  There, he expected it to be quite easy to start a production company and continue his directing career.  The reality proved otherwise; he was never able to revive his film career and the lost 1922 Marion Davis film The Young Diana would prove to be his last film.  His health also played a role in his inability to return to the industry.  A lifelong diabetic, the disorder got the best of him on the 26th September 1931 in Paris; he was 57 years of age.  I can find no information as to details of his burial.  In 2011 an Italian production came out with a look at his career from 1905 through 1911 in Un cinema di cinema grandeur 1905-1911.  

For More:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Born Today August 17: Axel Ringvall


Swedish Silent film actor Axel Wilhelm Leopold Ringvall was born on this day in Stockholm.  Ringvall was very much a man of the live stage, being not just an actor, but also a singer of both bawdy folk songs and operatti pieces alike.  He was known to be especially fond of the songs of Swedish librettist Eilias Sehlstedt.  Throughout the late 1890's he had steady work on the stage in Stockholm.  He was a permanent fixture of the Oscar Theater from it's opening in 1906.  He finally appeared in his first motion picture in 1908 with Dans ur Surcouf, a 4 minute short released in May of that year. In all he appeared in 10 films during his career; all of them in the silent era and all of them Swedish.  The jolly actor's last film appearance came in Hin och smålänningen in 1927, the year of his death.  Ringvall died on the 21st of December in Stockholm; he is buried in the Northern Cemetery there.  

For More:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Born Today August 16: Justus van Maurik


Dutch author (and, curiously, cigar maker/tobacconist) Justus van Maurik was born on this day in Amsterdam.  The son and grandson of a prominent family, he is actually best known for lending his name to a brand of hand rolled cigars. During his lifetime, he was better known as a writer of farces and off-color humorous plays.  Many of his works were illustrated by Dutch artist Johan Braakensiek.  In 1877, Maurik was also one a handful of people to found the trade paper De Groene Amsterdammer, which he served as editor for a periosd of time.  The paper is still published today.  He is written up here due to the fact that one film has been produced from his work, and that film came in 1913.  The film was Krates; it was made in his native Netherlands and was based on one of his books of a farcical nature.  Maurik died at the relatively early age of 58 on the 18 November 1904 in his birth city of Amsterdam.  I can find no information as his burial.

For A Listing Of His Works:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Born Today August 15: Ethel Barrymore


Famous stage and film actress, and Barrymore family member, Ethel Barrymore was born Ethel Mae Blythe on this day in Philadelphia.  She was the sister of actors John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore (the family surname was Blythe, but their famous stage acting father Maurice used "Barrymore" as a stage name).  The entire family, on both sides, were deeply involved with the theater.  When she was was five, she sailed with her family to England, where they remained for two years.  Maurice had ideas of staging in the Haymarket Theater there.  She recalled the two years in England as the happiest of her childhood.  Back in the United States, she determined that she wished to become a concert pianist.  Her (their) mother Georgia, however, was suffering from tuberculosis and eventually died in California on a health retreat--Ethel had accompanied her mother.  Georgie was only 37 years old; Ethel and Lionel were both in their teens at the time and they were forced to go to work, cutting their Catholic educations short.  Ethel made her Broadway debut in 1895 in a play that her uncle (her mother's brother) was starring in.  She would appear in at least one other play that he, John Drew Jr., was starring in as well.  In 1897 she was offered the opportunity to return to England and act in a play there.  She took the role with success; and as she was set to return to the U.S., she was offered a role in a play touring in the London area.  She chose this over touring a larger area with a troupe in the U.S.  She wound up at the end of the tour in a part that was specially written for her.  She gained the admiration of young men far and wide of greater London, including a younger Winston Churchill, who reportedly went so far as to ask her to marry him.  Upon returning to the U.S. she was cast in play that opened on the 4th of February in 1901 at the Garrick Theater.  One of her performances of this role would wind up being the only time that her father saw her act professionally--he was impressed.  By the end of the run, she was the undisputed queen of the stage.  Her popularity only grew from this point, and she was eventually dubbed "The First Lady of the American Theatre."  Throughout her career she was a strong supporter of the Actor's Equity Association.  By the time she achieved such stage success, she had already appeared in her first film; this came with what can only be called the most prominent uncredited role in How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the "New York Herald" Personal Columns a 1904 Edison comedic short. She would have one more film appearance in 1904 in yet another uncredited role, and would not return to the medium until 1914.  When she did, she was a star, and so she naturally got a leading role in a feature film.  The film was The Nightingale.  She appeared in several films during the 1910's--most of them in 1917.  Though after 1919 she would not return to film acting until 1926 and that was a "fancy."  It was a home movie of Dumas' Camille; amazing because it still survives!  It only 30 minute long and even features an appearance by Clarence Darrow.  She was the queen of theater after all, so it comes as no surprise that she did not appear in front of the camera again until the dawn of the talking era.  She starred, along side of her brother Lionel, in the 1932 Rasputin and the Empress made for MGM.  Though she was a lifelong stage actress of great skill, she continued to appear in front the camera almost right up to the year of her death.  She made her television debut in 1950 as the narrator in an episode of  NBC Television Opera TheatreDie Fledermaus.  Her last film appearance came in Johnny Trouble in 1957.  She also had a short lived radio career as well.  She died on 18th of June in 1959 from cardiovascular disease.   She is interred in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles that was near both of her brothers at the time (her brother John was subsequently removed, cremated and reburied next to their parents in Philadelphia by his son John [father of Drew]). The Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York is named for her.

For More:

Obituary in the New York Times

Leave Virtual Flowers @ Find A Grave

Monday, August 14, 2017

Born Today August 14: Horace G. Plympton


Edison studio executive and filmmaker Horace G. Plympton was born on this day in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.  He was a major studio executive at Edison's Bronx division.  He was also a pioneering cinematographer.  Though not a great deal of biographical material can be found on him, a great deal can be gleaned from his film contracts.  He actually got directly into movie making at the end of Edison's run as a movie studio (only part of it's massive business), which closed down in 1918.  He did have one lone writing credit dating from 1912 for What Happened To Mary (incidentally a film featuring the great Charles Ogle).  He didn't have another writing credit until 1917 (busy as he was the day to day studio workings) and that came with Her Scrambled Ambition.  He was directly involved in cinematography for the first time in 1918 with Why I Would Not Marry , which was actually made for Fox.  It seems that he was signed to a contract at Fox, so this would have been after the movie division of Edison had been phased out.  He directed his first film in 1919 with The Stream Of Life, under the auspices of his own production company, located in his own studio in Yonkers (note: I have no way of verifying this at this time, but it would appear that he may have bought or leased the property from Edison).  As a cinematographer he stayed at Fox through 1922, but as a director he seemed to have been more of a free agent.  The last three films that he is known to have worked on (as a cinematographer) was with companies other than Fox.  His last known or credited film came in 1925 with Play Ball, a serial that was made for Pathé Exchange and filmed at the famed Algonquin Hotel in NYC.  After this, history does not record (for now) what became of Plympton; there is not even so much as a death record for him.  Still he made a mark on the early film industry, especially behind the scenes at Edison, that deserves to some light shown on it.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Born Today August 13: Alfred Hitchcock


One of the world's best known directors of suspense and even horror, Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, was born on this day in Leytonstone, Essex, England (now part of London).  He was the son of shop merchant (greengrocer and poultry seller).  He was raised Roman Catholic and schooled in catholic institutions in the London area.  He had trouble with his weight from the start and often described this as an alienating factor in his childhood, despite that he was the sheltered youngest child of three.  It occasioned that despite this favor, his father could be quite cruel.  Hitchcock claimed that his father once sent him to the local police station with a note he had written asking that young Alfred by locked up for five minutes; this Hitchcock claimed instilled in him a life long fear and general negative view of police officers.  He was only five years old.  After graduating from engineering school he became a draftsman and an advertising designer--a skill that would serve him well later in life in his famous story-boarding of films.  When World War I broke out, he was called up to service with the army.  His weight, however, ultimately kept him from serving actively; he did, however, serve at garrisons at home.  In this capacity, he joined the regiment of Royal Engineers as a cadet.  It was when he was working at an electrical cable company as an advertising designer that he began to tinker with creative writing.  The company, Henley's, began an in-house publication called The Henley Telegraph in 1919.  Hitchcock began submitting short articles, his first piece "Gas" was featured in the first edition.  He had already developed a fascination with the motion picture industry.  That same year he was determined to enter the business, and he found work as a title card designer for the Famous Players-Lasky, which by then was a part of Paramount--Hitchcock worked for them at Islington Studios.  When Famous Players left the UK in 1922, Hitchcock remained on the studio's pay-roll as part of the staff.  It appears that the first film that Hitchcock actually worked on was The Great Day (1920) as a title designer while still a Paramount employee.  This is a fascinating part of Hitchcock's time in the film industry that gets little attention; at first blush, "title card designer" does not sound terribly exciting, but when one looks at the films he worked on during this time, one can find influences on his later work.  By 1922, he working on more than just title cards and had begun giving active input on art direction.  The first title that he is absolutely known to have worked on in this capacity is Three Live Ghosts, though there may well have been titles before this.  Also in 1922 came his first directing job on the unfinished project Number 13 made under what would become Gainsborough Pictures (the title is thought to be Hitchcock's personal working title for the film).  The budget for the production--two reels of which were shot--ran out and was thus shut down (Hitchcock was said to have raised some funds for the film from his own family); apparently the nitrate was then melted to extract the silver for re-use.  However, some production stills, in the form of photographs, do still exist--as does a photograph of Hitchcock directing it.  The film has become a legend of it's own in the last few decades, what with wholly unsubstantiated rumors of copies in mysterious private collections, right down to it's inspiring it's own film by the same name starring Dan Folger as Hitchcock--ironically, like it's original namesake, the film was never finished for many of the same reasons (hey...what if there is a "Number 13 curse"....doubt it).

Still from Number 13

First known photograph of Hitchcock directing.

Unknown to a lot of Hitchcock fans, he also has a fair number of original writing credits to his name dating from the early twenties quite apart from pictures that he would direct.  One of the earliest is the now lost Woman To Woman (1923), directed by Graham Cutts for Balcon, Freedman & Saville (who would rename themselves Gainsborough).  Hitchcock was famous for making cameo appearances in his own films; this practice actually started in his most famous silent film The Lodger (original title The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog).  In all Hitchcock would make/direct 12 films in the silent era (techinally 13 if you add in a filmed sound check), including one of the most important early sound films in Britain Blackmail (incidentally this is the film for which the 1 minute sound test was filmed; also there is a fully silent version that has been restored). [List of his silent films from the 1920's can be found below.]

Hitchcock's first film cameo

Hitchcock would, of course, go on to be one the most formative and well know film makers of twentieth century.  It is beyond the scope of this silent blog to tackle that, however, a few milestones in his life as a film maker and director can be easily pointed out without becoming too tedious. 

Scene from Blackmail (1929)

The first film that Hitchcock made in the 1930's was Murder! (1930) starring Herbert Marshall.  He experimented with extensive special effects in Number 17 (1932) (one of my favorites).  His The Man Who Wasn't There (1934) featuring Peter Lorre, would be a film he would remake in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.  His first U.S. production was Rebecca in 1940 for Selznick International Pictures.  His first actual horror film (a genre that he is well associated with today) was actually Psycho in 1960; despite that his Alfred Hitchcock Presents, of which he was the host, premiered on broadcast television in 1955--the show certainly touched on horror elements.  The Birds was a main influence on the late George A. Romero's 1968 The Night of the Living Dead, along with The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price. His next to last film, Frenzy (1972), saw him return to his native Britain for production.  His last film, Family Plot (1976), was a comedy thriller romp starring Karen Black and Bruce Dern.  It was made for Universal and saw his return to Hollywood.  During this period of time, he was intending on making another spy thriller entitled The Short Night, but due to his declining health, and that of his wife Alma, the project was never filmed.  Hitchcock eventually succumbed to full renal failure in his Bel Air home on the 30th of April, 1980.  After his funeral mass, his remains were cremated and scattered over the Pacific ocean.

Directing his lost film The Mountain Eagle.

Number 13 1922 (unfinished, lost)

Always Tell Your Wife 1923 (short)

The Mountain Eagle 1926 (famously lost)

The Lodger (1927)

The Ring (1927)

Easy Virtue (1928)

Champagne (1928)

The Manxman (1929)

Still from his last silent film The Manxman

For More: