Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Born Today November 8: Ethel Clayton


Silent film actress Ethel Clayton was born on this day in Champagne, IL into a catholic family.  She had a private religious education and became interested in acting on the stage at an early age.  After finding work in small roles, she eventually was able to join a professional touring company.  She managed to work her way up through the acting ranks and eventually to star in some productions.  Unlike many a stage actor, Clayton was fascinated by motion pictures and the increasing number of people who were being hired to act in them.  She made her film debut in 1909.  There are squabbles over whether Justified or Gratitude (Essanay studio) should be counted as her film debut; they were both made at the same time with the same director, Tom Ricketts. However, Justified, was released first.  Liking the the finished product, she agreed to appear in more films.  She juggled he stage career with movie appearances in the first few years that she was gaining popularity as a film actress (as has been mentioned before, this was around the time that actors were just beginning to have credits in films the same as they had for the stage).  Her stage specialty was musicals and she became a "girl" for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1911; her stage work also included work in staged choruses or choirs.  Obviously, only the dancing was going to be any kind of help to her in film work of the time.  By 1912 she was working at Lubin Manufacturing,  and her first film for them was For The Love Of A Girl.  She stayed with Lubin through 1915 and made the bulk of her films dating from the 1910's with them.  By 1916, she wound up at Peerless, which of course was a World Film company.   This was around the time that many of these studios were making serious inroads into opening operations on the west coast and many film careers in the original New York area were in flux.  Her feature length film The Web Of Desire (World Film release in 1917), directed by Émile Chautard, is one her most lamented lost films (it is in the top 20 of many a wish list for people hoping for a surprise film recovery).  She gets top billing in the film, over her male counterpart Rockliffe Fellowes (what a name!).  After working under the World Film studio umbrella, she also worked for Famous Players Lasky and Paramount.  By the mid 1920's, she made films for Fox as well.  At some point along the way, she made the move from New York to the Los Angeles area as movie work moved there exclusively by the late 1920's.  In 1926 she made a couple of films for DeMille Productions, certainly filmed in California.  Despite that she is often pointed to as an example of an actress who lost a career due to the coming of sound and some silent players were not equipped for that change, this was not completely the case with Clayton.  The first sound film that she is listed as having a small role in came in a very early talkie--Mother Machree--in 1928.  To be fair, this was a partial silent and there was a silent version released.  Her next film was a full talkie and she had a full named credit; Hit The Deck was a Jack Oakie picture shot in 1929 and released in early 1930.  Sometimes, it was simply that a person's association with stardom in silent films, especially women/actresses, was enough to cause studios and/or audiences to sour on them.  The was only heightened by the Great Depression.  With the stage talent that Clayton possessed when she was a young actress, it unlikely she would have had trouble with the sound transition.  Nonetheless, he career flagged significantly with the coming of talking films.  After taking a few named roles in the very early 1930's, she was down to taking bit parts or uncredited roles by 1933.  She did not, however, quit acting altogether.  She continued on in roles that mostly went uncredited right up until she decided to retire.  It was an irony, since, she had never had uncredited roles early on in her film career--most young actresses did--that the last 1/2 of her career was spent in such roles.  Her last role was a small, and at the time of premiere, uncredited role as Lady Montague in Show in the 1947 The Perils Of Pauline; another irony, given that this was no remake of the famous silent serial of 1914, but rather the film was a biopic of it's star, silent actress Pearl White.  She retired and stayed in California.  She passed away in 1966 on the 11th June in Oxnard at the age of 83.  She is buried in Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura County.  

Wikipedia (date of death is incorrect here)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Born Today November 7: King Baggot


Famed silent film actor King Baggot was born William King Baggot on this day from St. Louis, MO.  His father, William, was an immigrant from Ireland and became a prominent real estate agent in the St. Louis area.  In his youth he went in big for sports at his Catholic school, worked for a time in Chicago for a family member and wound up playing semi-professional soccer back in St. Louis.  He also got involved in with a church amateur acting group, he found he liked acting and he was good at it, so he was able to join the secular Players Club of St. Louis, all the while continuing to work at a sports arena and in the family real estate business.  His love of acting, though, lead him to turn to it as a profession.  He was involved in several touring companies, including a Shakespearean troupe.  Eventually, one of the plays that he was acting in was booked onto Broadway and opened for a run in 1906.  This would put him into the geographical orbit of the earliest studios in the New York area--aware of the industry, most stage players were dismissive of motion pictures at the time at best (it was considered a lowly profession by real actors working in theater).  It would be another 3 years before he made his film debut; in the mean time, he returned to St. Louis and continued to act on the stage, including play that Cecil B. DeMille was involved with (either as a player or a producer or both) in an off-seasoning touring group.  Back in New York he met up with film director Harry Solter who was involved in Carl Laemmle's company at the time.  Solter convinced Baggot to accompany him to a film set, and, eventually convinced him to give it a try.  There is a bit of confusion as to which Solter film was actually his debut.  Baggot appeared in two romantic shorts of his in the year 1909.  While The Awakening of Bess is listed as his debut--and film that featured on George Loane Tucker in what was most likely his film debut; Baggot also appeared in Solter's Love's Stratagem in close time proximity to Awakening, of the two marks his entrance into film history.  Both films were produced by Laemmle's Independent Motion Pictures Co. of America.  It doesn't seem that it took all that long for the film bug to bit Baggot in a big way.  This was also around the time when film actors were starting to get billing similar to theatrical productions; King Baggot is listed among the first actors to become a "movie star."  It didn't take long for him to become interested in all aspects of "the business."  By 1911, he had written his first film screenplay; known because it was made into a film that year as The Rose's Story (1911).  Between his debut and his appearing in his first penned film, he had made many, many shorts for Independent Motion Pictures.  Baggot made his directorial debut just the next year with The Power Of Conscience in 1912.  Just 3 years into the new motion picture industry and it's first studio system and Baggot was in for it all.  Not that he ever really left the stage.  He continued to act on the stage, mostly on Broadway, for the rest of his life.  Baggot remained a huge star in the 1910's appearing in mostly short, but very popular, films.  He did headline feature length films during this period as well.  Probably the most historically notable of these is Ivanhoe a 1913 Herbert Brennon film--it was a sensational film for the time, having been shot on location in the United Kingdom (his film Ansinthe, a lost Brennon directed title was also filmed on location in Europe).  Baggot, in fact, was so influential with his fame that he is basically regarded as the founder of the Screen Club in New York, a club dedicated for the first time just to and for people in the movie industry.  At this point he was certainly man about town!  In 1916, he made Half A Rogue which was produced by Universal Film; it appears this was his first film outside of Independent's production studio that he was an actor in under the direction of someone other than himself.  As a director, he had made a few films with Universal in 1914 and 1915.  He was still with Independent at the time, however as an actor through 1916.  After this point he became a kind of free agent.  With the 1920's dawning, he was basically as well known in the industry as a director as he was an actor.  In fact, he spent more time in the early 1920's in the director's chair than he did in front of the camera.  He didn't act at all in 1922.  As a director, he gave Marie Prevost her start in film.  He also directed Reginald Denny, Lillian Rich, and made Gladys Walton a star for a time.  He even directed Baby Peggy, who turned 99 this past October 29!  Up until 1925 he had been directing mostly under the Universal house; ib 1925 he broke out, starting his own production company called King Baggot Productions that was under the Universal umbrella.  The first film that he made under this arrangement was The Home Maker, a film starring Alice Joyce and Clive Brook.   That same year, he directed what is probably his best know and remembered film, a western about the Oklahoma gold rush entitled Tumbleweeds (this sometimes even appears on Amazon Prime).  By this time he was not really acting at all--he made an appearance in one film in 1923 (The Thrill Chaser), he then didn't often appear before the camera for the rest of the 1920's.  His directing took up all of his time; this came to an abrupt end in 1928, however, in 1928, with the last film he directed being the silent Romance Of A Rogue.  He would not direct a film with any sort of sound.  His life growing more difficult--having long since made the move from the east coast to west--he went back to acting in the 1930's.  He first real acting part since the early to mid 1920's came in a small part in the first talking picture that he worked on: Czar of Broadway (1930) directed by William James Craft.  Baggot was back working as an actor for Universal.  He worked prolifically as an actor all through the 1930's, picking back up more or less where he had left off ten years earlier.  He stage career meant that he there was no trouble with his plunging head long into all sound films, but his private life was starting to come apart.  He apparently had a drinking problem, so most of his roles were in small parts--very many of them went uncredited.  This would continue to be the case for the rest of his career.  His was living in very modest conditions in the mid-1940's and even made it into some gossip snippets--mostly by the biter of Hollywood herself, Hedda Hopper.  Baggot worked right up until a year before his death and barely missed a chance to work in the small, but growing field of television which was gaining popularity in the late 1940's.  His last film appearance came in a small role in the MGM film Good News in 1947.  King Baggot died on the 11th of July at the age of 68 from a stroke.  He is buried at Los Angeles' Calvary Cross. His only son became a cinematographer who died tragically while shooting a Disney film in Hawai'i, one of his sons, Stephen King Baggot, also became a cinematographer who shot movies for Cheech and Chong and Oliver Stone (he was also a reporter on the scene of the Sharon Tate murder site--one of a few that wound up having to testify at the Charles Manson's trial). 

King Baggot as Dr. Jekyll in the 1913 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 

[Source: Larry Luna (Find A Grave)]


Monday, November 6, 2017

Born Today November 6: Adolphe Belot


French Playwright Adolphe Belot was born Louis Marc Adolphe Belot in La Harve, France on this date; the son of a prominent lawyer in the court of Pointe-á-Pitre (which is sometimes listed as his birthplace). He would eventually study the law and take up the board in 1854; before this he had undertaken several trips to the New World (the Americas) and found the experience enlightening to the point of inspiring writing.  By 1855, he was no longer content to remain just a man of letter and began to write plays. He wrote a couple of comedies and eventually got one of his plays produced in 1859.  The run was a success and wound up being performed over 500 times in one theater alone.  From this point until about 5 years before his death he turned out a number to plays, all with relative success.  He was also a semi-prolific writer of both short stories and novellas/novels.  For most of his career in the theatrical world of Paris, he was associated with the Odéon theater.  One of his two (known) daughters became an actress there.  In regards to film, only 3 movies have been made using his work as source material, two of which were silents.  The first were both, ironically, based on one of his rare full novels.  The first of these was the US produced The Stranglers Of Paris, which had been adapted into a play by the British Arthur Shirley.  The film was remade in 1920 as The Grip Of Iron in the UK, based on the same adaptation of Shirley's, only in this case, Shirley was brought in to write the screenplay for the film as well.  The only sound film to be produced from his work was released in 1934.  Sapho has been the only home grown French production to take on his writing for source material.  To date, no other films have been made using his work, and no productions are currently in the works.  One major reason likely being that his plays are very nineteenth century, and reading him as long since gone out of fashion.  Belot died at the relatively young age of 61 on the 18th of December in Paris.  There is no information on his burial.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Released On This Date: Eerie Tales (1919)

This little known German silent horror thriller had both a silent version and a sound version, quite the feat for the year of it's release 98 years ago today.  It stars a then little known actor by the name of Conrad Veidt... Below is the silent version of the film. 

Born Today November 5: Joel McCrea


Known mostly for his appearances in westerns, actor Joel Albert McCrea, who was born on this date, actually had a career that started at the end of the silent era and spanned all the way into the 1970's; and, he had roles in just about every genre of film along the way.  He was born in South Pasadena, CA. into a well off family (his father was an oil and gas executive).  His boyhood paper route was along a route that had him delivering to film insiders, even to Cecil B. DeMille.  This, along with any early opportunity to see D. W. Griffith's epic Intolerance, gave him the acting bug.  He managed to his find stunt work as teenager.  He is uncredited, but he worked as a stunt double on three films when he was a young man.  The first of these was Pernod and Sam in 1923, when he was 18.  In the meantime, he had graduated from high school and went on to attend Pomona College.  While in college he took courses in drama and voice and worked in stage appearances.  This led to two acting jobs in two films in 1927, a year before he graduated from college.  The first of these was The Fair Co-Ed with Marion Davies and Johnny Mack Brown.  His first credited role came in 1928 in Cosmipolitan's all sound musical The Five O'Clock Girl in the role of Oswald.  In late 1928, he was signed to a contract with MGM (he had previously appeared in that studio's late Lillian Gish silent The Enemy in 1927).  His first starring role came in 1929 in The Jazz Age, a partial silent, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  He spent the rest of 1929 in mostly bit parts, aside from Dynamite, which was directed by his former paper route customer DeMille.  With the dawn of the 1930's, his star began to steadily rise, with his last minor uncredited role coming in Framed in 1930.  Though it would be a goodly number of years before he became associated with westerns; the early 1930's found him acting in almost every genre but that one, including a turn in the Fay Wray horror The Most Dangerous Game (1932) (ironically his last uncredited appearance came in a western: Scarlet River with Tom Keene and Lon Chaney Jr. a genre he was by no means associated with at the time).  By the mid-1930's he was a top-star, appearing opposite actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck and Maureen O'Sullivan (he had also created a stir with his scenes in King Vidor's 1932 Bird Of Paradise with Delores del Rio).  By the late 1930's he was becoming the western star that he is known for today, though he continued to appear in a variety of films from comedy to intrigue.  He was the star of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Foreign Correspondent and had a very memorable turn as David Fielding in the 1945 creepy film noir The Unseen.  McCrea came late to television, accepting a starring role in the 1 season western Wichita Town, which ran in 1959 and 1960 and co-starred his son Joel and would mark his only foray into the world of the small screen.  His acting began to slow after the show's cancellation and two early 1960's film appearances, one of which was Sam Peckinpah's Ride The High Country (1962).  He was in one additional minor film in the 1960's and made just three film appearance in the 1970's (two in 1970).  He last film appearance came in 1976 in Mustang Country featuring Robert Fuller and John Wayne's son Patrick.  He then retired to his working ranch.  He was active in his land management from that point on (he had regarded his real job as a rancher and once listed acting as a hobby).  McCrea died in 1990 in the Motion Picture & Television Country House & Hospital, where he was battling pneumonia.  He died on the 20th October at the age of 84, just shy of his 85st birthday.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.  In addition to a star of the Walk of Fame for his motion picture career, he also has a star for his work in radio.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Born Today November 4: Will Rogers


Famed humorist, vaudevillian and radio personality and actor Will Rogers was born William Penn Adair Rogers on this date on the Dog Iron Ranch near the Cherokee (Tsalagi) town of Oologah in what was then "Indian Territory" (now located in Okalahoma in a county named for Rogers).  Both of Rogers' parents were Tsalagi (Cherokee), with his mother being from the Paint Clan; he was named for the Cherokee Colonel William Penn Adair [Note: there will be NO talk of blood quantums here (!)--for that please see Wikipedia].  Rogers often told people that he was born in Claremore (which is where his memorial is placed) because "only an Indian could pronounce 'Oologah.'"  Rogers' forays into public life span so many different outlets it's hard to name them all, especially considering that he died in his mid-50's.  Of course, he wouldn't be here on this blog if it were not for his silent film acting; but before this, he was: a cowboy (both entertainment and real), a circus performer, a vaudevillian (he was a member of Ziegfeld Follies), a bonafide stage actor and newspaper man.  His first film appearance is listed as dating from 1918 with the starring role in Laughing Bill Hyde.  After this he was given a contract by Samuel Goldwyn for 3 years at a substantial increase from his current Broadway pay.  Rogers moved to the west coast and purchased a ranch.  He settled into the film business, despite that he found the medium stifling.  He was first and foremost a comic with a voice.  He did find an outlet in title card writing, but it wouldn't be until talkies came along that his film acting really came into it's own.  He did have a substantial impact on silent comedies, despite his viewing the medium as stunted.  He wound up with a contract with Hal Roach in 1923 for a year that was good for a dozen comedic shorts that became some of his best remembered silent work.  He took a movie acting hiatus starting in 1924, having become a star and tired of the grind of over-acting without his voice; he took to the tour circuit, traveling the all over the U.S. and eventually to Europe.  It was in the UK that he next turned up in film in the British National Film produced Tiptoes in 1927.  He was in just one additional silent film in his career, before appearing for the first time in the all sound musical Happy Days in a small minstrel role; it was filmed in 1929 but not released until 1930.  The first full sound film that the public got to see him in was actually filmed after Happy Days, but released in September of 1929.  He was the full-fledged star of They Had To See Paris, a Fox film in which he played as mechanic from--of all places--Oklahoma, Pike Peters.  The film brought him a whole new level of stardom.  From this point on he would appear in a variety of big Hollywood films along side the likes of Janet Gaynor, Mickey Rooney, Myrna Loy and Ray Milland, just to name a few.  He even appeared with Boris Karloff.  In many of these roles, he was basically playing himself.  In addition to becoming a kind of movie star, he also became a huge star of the radio, with people tuning in coast to coast to hear his humorous rants and rambles.  All of this was cut short when a small prop plane that he was traveling on, piloted by aviator Wiley Post, crashed close to Point Barrow Alaska, killing both men instantly.  Rogers had become an aviation enthusiast and was on the plane when it was being tested by Post on multiple flights for the Lockheed Co.  The date was the 15th of August 1935 and Rogers was 55 years old.  He was first interred in Forest Lawn in Glendale, where so many other famous luminaries had been laid to rest.  In May of 1944 his body was exhumed and moved to it's current burial place in the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma (the town that he had joked about being born in).  The Rogers family tomb is there, adjacent to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum.  During his time in silent films, he appeared in nearly 50 comedies.  Please consult links below for so much more!  Wado (thanks) for reading!

Funeral 1935 in Glendale, California

Memorial in Point Barrow, Alaska--dedicated in 1982

Friday, November 3, 2017

Born Today November 3: Evelyn Greeley


Evelyn Greeley's death certificate states that she was born Evelyn Huber somewhere in Austria, probably on the 3rd of November.  She has been wrongly called the granddaughter of newspaper man Horace Greeley, and she was not born in Lexington, Kentucky.  She was a big star of silent film with her peak year being 1918; at the time anti-Germanic sentiment was high, and with no need to hear her voice, the studio system decided to disguise her background, and did so with little trouble.  The result of this is that her early life is a bit of a mystery. What is known for sure, is that she started her acting career on the stage, touring with Sylvester Z. Poli's "Poli Players." It was not long before she was working in pictures in small parts for Essanay.  She most likely worked in several of their films, but the only early credit that she has for her time with them is the comedy The Fable of One Samaritan Who Got Paralysis of the Helping Hand in 1914; which appears as her first film credit.  She bounced around from production to production until coming under contract at Peerless (owned by World Film) in 1917.  She appeared in The Social Leper for them, along with Carlyle Blackwell, June Elvidge and Muriel Ostriche.  This would be the first of several film for World/Peerless that she would star in opposite Blackwell.  Under this studio contract, she would become a star; actually one of the bigger movie stars of her day. She was more popular for a time than other actors and actresses that have gone on to be much better remembered today.  When her contract with World was up in 1920, she then became a free floating name, making films at a number of different film production studios including Fox.  Her contract ending with World would also spell the beginning of the end of her career.  She would make just 4 more films after 1919, with the last being an early Bulldog Drummond film in 1922 made in London: Bulldog Drummond directed by Oscar Apfel.  She then retired to become a married homemaker, which she managed to do through 3 marriages.  She passed away in retirement in West Palm Beach, Florida on 25 March at the age of 86.  Her burial details are unknown.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Born Today November 2: Fred J. Balshofer


Influential silent film cinematographer and director Fred Balshofer was born on this date in New York City.  Balshofer became interested in photography at an early age; this intense interest eventually led him to a job as a stereo-scopic slide photographer.  In 1905, he landed a job at the Lubin Studios, which was located in Philadelphia.  He worked there until 1908.  In 1909, he was hired for a job at the New York Motion Picture Co.; it was at this company that he directed and shot his first film: Disinherited Son's Loyalty that same year.  Balshofer was one of the first in-house studio directors to be sent west by a studio, shifting his varied genres in film to a specialty in westerns (though to be sure, he directed, as many Fort Lee directors of the mid teens did, his fair share of westerns in New Jersey--his 1909 Davy Crockett-In Hearts United is believed to be the first Davy Crockett film ever made).  The western branch of the New York Motion Picture Co was Bison--a company that soon attracted Thomas Ince.  It's not clear if this had anything to do with Balshofer jumping ship or shop, so to speak, but in 1914, he left the company to head up the Sterling Motion Picture Co, a recent west coast subsidiary of Universal.  This meant that he did not direct any films at all in that year (the last film that he wholly shot himself was In The Heart Of The Sierras in 1911).  He managed to return to directing with just one picture in 1915 after Sterling closed it's doors and he ended up at Quality Pictures--which was owned by Metro; the film was Rosemary. From that point one, he got back into the director's chair and stayed there until 1920, when his filmmaking career began to seriously take a back seat (again) to his studio management position--having been promoted at Quality in 1916 to general manager and president.  He directed one film in 1922, The Three Buckaroos, after founding his own company Fred Balshofer Productions.  The company made two more films with him directing in 1927.  The only sound picture that he made, came in 1930 with the Spanish language film La jaula de los leones.  The rest of his career was spent solely as a studio executive.  In addition to photographing his films and directing, Balshofer, early on in his career, served as his own scenario writer.  In his late 60's, he co-authored an important book with cinematographer Arthur C. Miller principally about the shift of the motion picture industry from the east coast to the west entitled One Reel A Week.  Balshofer died on the 21th of June in Calabasas, New York at the old age of 91.  Details on his burial are unknown.

Screen cap from his 1909 Dove Eye's Gratitude

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Born Today November 1: Caroline Harris


19th century stage actress Caroline Harris, who is best known as the mother of actor Richard Barthelmess, also had a silver screen presence herself in the early twentieth century.  She was born today in Brooklyn, New York.  Her first appearances in films apparently started in 1909 with two roles that were uncredited, the first of which was in the D. W. Griffith film The Necklace.  Her first confirmed appearance in a film came in 1914 in The Claws Of Greed. Her film career didn't last long; she was active through the years 1914 and 1917, with her last appearance coming in The Gulf Between in 1917.  She seems to have retired, at least from film acting, at the age of 51.  Harris died in New York City in 1937 (23rd of April) at the age of 70.  In her obituary, she is credited with teaching Alla Nazimova (who was born in the Crimea in the Russian Empire) English.  She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.  At the time, her son Richard was her only survivor.