Thursday, February 28, 2019

Silents On TCM--March 2019

March 11 12AM (1927) TCM Clip

March 19 11AM (Partial Silent 1929) TCM Clip

March 19 12:45PM (Early Talkie 1929) Clip--not great quality

March 19 2:15PM (Early Talkie 1929) Film on YouTube (no color, as far I can discern) 

March 25 12:15AM (1924) Trailer

March 26 6:45AM (1916 short) Full Film

The Mack Swain Short: Thirst (1917) March 26  11:45AM IMDb Info.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Born Today February 15: Arthur Shields


Irish born actor Arthur Shields was born on this day into a Protestant family in Dublin; he was the younger brother of character actor Barry Fitzgerald (William Shields).  Along with his brother, he began acting at the Abbey Theater in his home town when he was 17 years of age. Unlike his brother, he was much more involved with national and political action (which he no doubt got from their father who was a labour organiser).  This led to Arthur participating in and being captured/arrested during the 1916 Easter Rising--he was held in a prison camp in Wales afterward. After his release and return to his native country, he returned to the stage and eventually made his moving picture debut. He had a "largish" named role in Knocknagow, a crime film directed by Irish producer/actor Fred O'Donovan in 1918.  He appeared in just one other silent film; a comedic short Rafferty's Rise (1918)--this time O'Donovan was the lead actor and fellow Irishman J. M. Kerrigan directed.  Shields did not make an appearance in film again until 1936 when he turned up in the John Ford film The Plough and the Stars--he would subsequently have roles in other Ford films, and was, reportedly, well liked by the director (he has a credit for DeMille's The Sign of the Cross released in 1932, but he credit dates to material he added in 1944 for a re-release of the film). He would spend the rest of his acting career in the Hollywood area and, mostly, in front of camera.  He had a very early recurring role in a television series, when he was cast as "The Bookshop Man"--essentially the presenter--in Your Show Time, which premiered in 1949 on NBC.  He would also make appearances on Perry Mason, Bat Masterson, Bonanza and Death Valley Days (just four of many!).  Shields last filmed role came in the 1962 war comedy The Pigeon That Took Rome. He then retired and lived the Santa Barbara area until he passed some eight years later. Emphesema took his life on the 27th of April in 1970 in California; he was 74. His ashes are buried at Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin, next to his brother William (Barry).  

Friday, February 8, 2019

Born Today February 8: Charles Ruggles


Character actor of the large and small screen Charles (Charlie) Sherman Ruggles was born on this day in Los Angeles.  His initial career path in the life was to become a doctor, but he got himself "entangled" in stage acting and never looked back. An appearance in a 1905 production is marked as his stage debut. He was soon a stock player and even appeared in musicals. He made his Broadway debut in in 1914 and may have made his film debut this same year (his possible appearance in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)--a version of The Wizard of Oz--is unconfirmed).  In 1915 he appeared in two films in rapid succession; Peer Gynt is most often credited as his film debut, but Julia Crawford Ivers' The Majesty of the Law came out first. He appeared in one other film in 1915--The Reform Candidate--but found silent film work distasteful and returned to full time stage work.  He was persuaded to appear in one other silent film, The Heart Raider in 1923; but was only because it was directed by his kid brother Wesley Ruggles! With the coming of sound in the late 1920's, Charles plowed into film acting with gusto and made his career in front of the camera.  He appeared in three films in 1929, all of them early sound full talkies; and one, Battle of Paris was a Robert Florey musical to boot (the other two consisted of a Millard Webb melodrama & a domestic drama starring Claudette Colbert). In Roadhouse Nights (1930)--a film that featured Jimmy Durante & The Durante Orchestra--he took top billing with Helen Morgan.  By 1932 he was most often billed simply as "Charlie Ruggles;" and it was under this name that he is credited in Bringing Up Baby as Major Applegate--probably his most well known role (though many will also recall him in It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) as well).  In 1940, he even made his way into the Universal Monster world when he appeared in an "Invisible" sequel: The Invisible Woman.  In 1949 he made his small screen debut in an episode of The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre; it would mark the immediate beginning of a very, very long career in television, including a show crafted specifically for him, The Ruggles, which ran from 1949 until 1952.  Other notable series that he guested on include: Studio OneFather Knows BestThe Real McCoysThe Red Skelton Hour and The Munsters --to name just a few! He also got into voice work in the 1960's and was famously involved in the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" universe as the voice of Aesop; and he had a recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies that almost placed him as a permanent cast member.  His last acting job came on the The Danny Thomas Hour in the 1968 episode "One for My Baby".  He became ill with cancer and could no longer work; otherwise he certainly would not have retired! At the end of his career, which spanned well over 50 years, he had one of the longest acting stints in the history of Hollywood. The illness took his life two years later on the 23rd of December. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale (his younger brother would join him there two years later). 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Born Today February 7: Charles Dickens


The famed British writer was born Charles John Huffam Dickens in Portsmouth, England into a naval family; he was the second of 8 children.  By 11 years of age he had become a voracious reader.  His father was in and out of naval service, and when out the family lived in London, they had a tendency to live beyond their means.  When Dickens was 12, his father was forced into debtors prison; with his mother and youngest siblings joining him there.  Charles stayed with an old family friend.  In order help his family, he had to leave school and work at Charing Cross railway station.  When his work moved to Chadon street, there was a window facing onto a sidewalk, where people would stop and gawk at the children workers--a new embarrassing low for Dickens. This was an event that would leave a deep mark on him and was an inspiration for several characters and subjects in his writing.  When a family member died and left a legacy of £450, the fortunes of family turned; his father, John, could pay his debtors and leave prison.  However, his mother wanted young Charles to continue in factory work--leaving a deep and lasting emotional wound on the young man.  He was eventually sent off to school in Camden, and spent about 2 and half years there; after which he went to work as a law clerk.  During this time, he became a frequent attendee at the local theater--it became an obsession of his.  In his spare time he taught himself short hand, after which he went to work as a freelance reporter. This would be his first real writing.  At the age of 20, in 1832, he actually considered becoming an actor at one point and set up an audition, which he ultimately missed due to a short illness.  Before he could arrange another audition, he started writing short stories instead.  It was 1833 when he submitted his first story for publication.  He was then asked to work for a news publication that covered Parliament; so he went to work as political journalist.  In this capacity, he both covered parliamentary debates and travelled to cover campaigns in various locations in England. Eventually this situation lead to his first collected published work in 1836, Sketches by Boz. During this same period of time, he became friendly with music critic and musicologist George Hogarth, owed to Hogarth's work as a news paper editor. Hogarth, impressed with Dickens' work, invited him to contribute to the new evening edition of the Morning Chronicle, which Hogarth was hired to over-see. Dickens soon became a family friend, and enamored of Hogarth's nineteen year old daughter Catherine, who would become his wife (and with whom he would have ten children). This acquaintance lead to introductions, through a friendship with novelist Ainsworth, to a great number of luminaries of the time, including writers and politicians. It was amongst these group of men that he met his first publisher. This quickly lead to the publishing in a series of installments of The Pickwick Papers. The age of his novel writing career had dawned in his life; and he was quickly popular--with even the young Queen reading his works.  This also lead to a great deal of traveling into the early 1840's--what we would call today "book tours."  Obviously Dickens is one the most important literary AND social figures of the nineteenth century, it would be pointless to attempt a full biographical encapsulation here (there are links a plenty below!), but it is worth mentioning that due the immense figure that he cut in the world, it is wholly unsurprising that his work was amongst the earliest used for the purposes of narrative film making.  In 1897 the American Mutoscope Co. produced Death of Nancy Sykes based on Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. This film featured a very popular vaudevillian pair Charles Ross and Mabel Fenton.  The following year another film--Mr. Bumble the Beadle--was also made from the novel, this time in his native UK; produced by Robert W. Paul--the first of several films the producer and is company would make from Dickens' work--and the first in the author's birth country. These were the only two films made before the turn of the new century, but with the release of The Death of Poor Joe in 1901 (directed by the British film pioneer George Albert Smith), there was/is no lack of Dickens films and, later, television episodes produced from his work until well...whenever.  It worth noting that the first time that a film based on A Christmas Carol--arguably Dickens most popular, certainly most well known, work around the glob--was also produced in 1901; and was, in fact, the fourth film ever made from his work. It is just a remarkable that the film has survived! Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost was also a curiosity because the Victorian/Edwardian writer J. C. Buckstone had adapted the work for the stage and the film is as much based on his adaptation as it is Dickens' original. It would be the first of dozens of filmed renditions. And speaking of "dozens," there were also dozens of films during the silent era based various works by Dickens, including, somewhat surprisingly, works based on some of his longest novels. It is curious, though, that in the middle of the 1920's, the use of his work for films slowed conspicusouly, with only three films released between 1925 and 1930. Of these, two of them: Bleak House (1926) and Scrooge (1928) are curiosities of early sound. Both are productions of the British De Forest company, whose "Phonofilm" mechanism was one of the earliest contenders for selling sound to major studios (the last silent film made from his work was The Only Way released in 1926--which made history in it's own right for being the most expensive UK film to date and the first 10 reeler produced in the country). The first film made in the age of sound of Dickens' work came in 1931 with Paramount's Rich Man's Folly starring George Bancroft and Frances Dee; it was based on one of his lesser read novels Dombey and Son. The first adaptation for television came early on in 1938, with the made-for-tv short film Bardell Against Pickwick. Also not surprising, the first episode of an actual television series was based on A Christmas Carol as a 1948 episode of Repertory Theater.  Since the rising popularity of the television mini-series starting in the 1960's--the full use of his novels for filmed productions has only increased over the decades (the first actual mini-series in the form we have come to know it today was filmed in early in 1959 in the UK, in an eleven episodes based on Bleak House).  The most recently released production--again, unsurprisingly--is the 2018 An Evening of Dickens 'Round the Fire...A Christmas Carol--a video release.  The Personal History of David Copperfield--a UK production with Tilda Swinton & Ben Whishaw--is slated for release later in the year. A further six projects have been announced, four of them based on A Christmas Carol.  On the 18th of April 1869, Dickens suffered a stroke; and though slowed, he continued on with writing and speaking/reading engagements. On the 8th of June 1870, he suffered another stroke from which he would never wake--he apparently succumbed the next day, though the exact details as to when and where he passed are shrouded in mystery owed to the circumstances of his living with mistress half his age at the time.  One thing that is crystal clear; his wishes that he be buried in a simple fashion at Rochester Cathedral were not honored, and he was instead buried with full pomp and circumstance at Westminster Abbey where he was laid to rest in the Poet's Corner.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Born Today February 6: Katherine Lee


Child actress of silent films Katherine Lee (older sister of Jane Lee) was born on this day in Glasgow, Scotland. Though born in the UK, she, and her younger sister, made films in the U.S. Her film debut came in 1913, when she was just 4 years of age in the Gem Motion Picture produced, Universal distributed comedic short None But the Brave Deserve the --? in 1913 in the role of "Kitty."  She had over 50 acting credits to her name between the ages of 4 and 15 (1913 through 1924).  Her sister Jane was born sometime in 1912 and eventually the two became an acting pair; this occurred in 1914 when they both first appeared together in Herbert Brenon's The Old Rag Doll.  Katherine (often credited as Catherine) continued on in films alone for sometime after this, owing to his sister's young age; and it wasn't until that latter part of 1915 that the two became a regular acting pair, though Katherine continued to take "solo" roles in films. They both were subsequently put under contract at Fox. Perhaps the most famous film that they appeared in is the lost 1916 Fox melodrama Her Double Life which starred Theda Bara (they also appear in another of Bara's Fox films--a feature length rendition of Romeo and Juliet  also from 1916).  If anyone knows anything about early film controversy, chances are they've heard of The Daughter of the Gods, a Fox film from 1916 also directed by Herbert Brenon.  The film was a spectacle for more reason than one--for one thing it as 3 hours long! Another is that is contained actual nudity (the film is famously lost, but some of the stills, including some nude stills, survive). So it is a little shocking to see such a young actress' name associated with such a controversial title, especially given that actual nudity in major films at the time was virtually unknown at the time (I am aware that risque elements also occur is Griffith's Intolerance); but Lee is Nydia in the film. In 1917, Katherine and Jane took top billing for the first time in the Kenean Buel directed Two Little Imps; and by later in the year they were being promoted in their own right by Fox--the poster for Trouble Makers (1917), for example, has their names emblazoned across it. It is notable that by this time, her younger sister was getting the top billing in films written specifically to feature them.  Also notable, the last film that she made as a juvenile player--and the last silent film in which she appeared--she is again acting on her own. The Side Show of Life (1924) was another Brenon directed vehicle, but a production of Paramount. Katherine was 15 years old when it was released. She and her sister both were featured in Hollywood Screen Snapshots in 1922 and 1924 and they were the focus of the short Jane and Katherine Lee in 1927, but she would not appear in another film as performer until the coming of sound and the 1930's. Her last film appearance came, again with her baby sister, in the short Warner Bros music exposition Vitaphone Billboard in 1936. Katherine outlived her sister by 11 years (Jane died tragically young at 45 in New York City in 1957).  Katherine passed away at the age of 59 in Flushing, New York on the 22nd of October.  There is no information on the interment or other funeral arrangements for either of them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Born Today February 5: Maxine Elliott


Maxine Elliott was indeed an actress, but first and foremost, she was a successful businesswoman and investor. She was born on this day in Rockland, Maine--her birth name was Jessie Dermott and her father was a pretty-well-to-do sea captain.  As far as her acting career was concerned, she of course started on the stage, and it seems a way to escape her home life or troubled teenage past. She made her stage debut in 1889; it is also the occasion that she adopted her stage name, which would become the name that she was personally known by for the remainder of her life.  In 1895 she was hired by theater man Augustin Daly in a supporting role--this proved to be her big break. She, continuing to work with and for Daly, became a star of sorts.  She also proved to be a very shrewd business person, negotiating a contract for one play's profit that wound up handsomely benefiting her.  By 1905, she was living and working in London (it is worth noting here, that her younger sister was the wife of noted British actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson). She returned to the United States in 1908 and set up her own theater. Her theater--The Maxine Elliot (built expressly for her, demolished in 1960)--was the only theater in the country that was owned and operated by a woman.  While she continued with success in her chosen field, she also got into investments elsewhere with the help of financier J. P. Morgan (there were rumours of a relationship beyond business and friendship--but nothing has ever come of these--she was also linked, earlier, to the King of England romantically).  She was by 1910 a very wealthy and successful woman.  She made her film debut in 1913 in the Vitagraph short drama Slim Driscoll, Samaritan, but film acting was not to her taste and she only appeared in four more films between 1913 & 1919. Three of those films were in 1913, and one of these--From Dusk To Dawn--was a full feature running 1 and 1/2 hours and consisting of 4 reels.   She didn't appear in another film until 1917, when she was given a starring role in Alan Dwan's Fighting Odds, based on a play co-penned by Irvin S. Cobb and Roi Cooper Megrue.  Her last film appearance came just one year before she retired from acting altogether. She starred as "The Eternal Magdalene" in The Eternal Magdalene.  She was filmed in 1918 visiting Charlie Chaplin in his studio, and as of this date, it is the only film footage of her that has survived (there have been persistent rumours about Fighting Odds and a possible print abroad for years--nothing has ever come of is similar to London After Midnight in that respect).  Elliott's last stage performance came in 1920; she then retired to a life of wealth and social engagements. She had homes in the U.S., Britain, and France; but it was in France that she spent most of her time. She died there in Cannes on the 5th of March in 1940 at the age of 72. She was buried locally in the Protestant Cemetery. Though twice married and divorced, she never had any surviving children. Her wealth appears to have passed to the Forbes-Robertson side of the family.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

Born Today February 1: Lillian St. Cyr (Red Wing)


The Native American silent film actress who was simply known as "Red Wing" was born Lillian Margaret St. Cyr in Nebraska on this day. She was born a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Nebraska, better known to the rest of world as Winnebago (now formally the "Winnebago Tribe Of Nebraska" [not to be confused with the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin]), though her father was reputed to be of French Canadian & Native ancestry from the related tribe of Sauk peoples. The reservation where she was born, is located in the northeastern corner of the state and actually occupies a small portion of Iowa. She was raised on the reservation, before being sent to the infamous Carlyle Indian School in Pennsylvania, after which she moved to the Washington D. C. area to take up a domestic situation at a Kansas Senator's residence there.  It was here that she met J. (James) Younger Johnson (better known as James Young Deer), a native of the city, who was mixed race (African, Native & European) and a member of the almost completely decimated eastern tribe the Nanticokes (themselves a member nation of the Delaware Confederacy). The two married in 1906 and by two years later they were making films in New York. This came by way of the two of them performing in western acts in major cities in the northeast.  Her film debut came in Kalem's The White Squaw (1908)--billed as "Princess Red Wing" (because every damn actress, whether actually native or not, who played a native role had to be a "princess" something or other...also, I have to say, just typing the word "squaw" also ticks me off!).  The following year, she appeared in the Lubin production The Falling Arrow, which was directed by her husband under the name James Young Deer.  The two of them were subsequently hired by Bison. The first film at that production house that she appeared in A Cowboy's Narrow Escape in 1909 was not directed by her husband, despite his situation there; it was instead directed by Fred J. Balshofer.  The studio, by the way, dropped the "princess" tag on her name thankfully. Bison made the relocation from New York to California in 1909 and St. Cyr and Johnson Young Deer went with them. Though her husband worked at Bison, he never directed there, though he did act in some of the films that she made with them--all of them were instead directed by Balshofer (the only "stand out" in this period of her acting career came when her and her husband worked on D.W. Griffith's Biograh release The Mended Lute in 1909).  Young Deer departed for other companies that would allow him to direct.  At Vitagraph--the company her husband first moved to--she appeared in the first film that bore her name: Red Wing's Gratitude (directed by Young Deer) in 1909. Bison caught on to this and duplicated it for several films in 1910. Though the vast majority of the films in which she acted came before 1914, she is by far best remembered for her role in The Squaw Man (there's that word again!*) in 1914. It's a legendary film in so many ways: first film direction by Cecil B. DeMille, first feature length western filmed in Hollywood...and the list kind of goes on; I am not going to take up the production of the film here (another time, perhaps), but I will say that her portrayal of Nat-U-Ritch is considered one of the most revered in Hollywood history. For a town that came to demonize and stereotype Native Americans, and make barrels of money doing it, this was one production where at least two of the native actors had a real hand in shaping the way natives where portrayed!  She only appeared in four films after this, and in the last one, she went uncredited. By 1915 and 1916, the studios were condescendingly crediting her either as "Miss" or "Princess."  Her last film appearance came in 1921, some five years after her appearance in Clune Film's Ramona (1916); the film was the Paramount distributed-William S. Hart production White Oak (1921), an exploitation western that did feature Chief Luther Standing Bear (Mato Nanji), but other than that, the film shows the signs of stereotypes that would become the norm of westerns. It seems that she had truly had enough of acting in the late 1910's and that her appearance in one production in the 1920's in a small role signals that she was tired of the whole profession. She certainly was done with California, and I am not sure that she ever really liked the place to begin with. Couple that with a not-so-nice divorce, she retired from the industry for good and returned to New York City. She lived there for the remainder of her life, remarrying in 1925, only to get divorced again in 1929. She never had any children. She passed away in the New York City on the 13th of March in 1974 at the age of 91. Her remains where transported back to her reservation for burial at the St. Augustine Mission Cemetery there. She is buried under her birth certificate name and her film name of "Red Wing of the Silent Era"--most importantly, her Native Ho-Chunk name of Ah Hoo Sooch Wing Cah**.

*There are a number of theories as to whether the word "squaw" is Iroquoian or Algonquin, but there is no debate as to whether the term was meant, and sadly continues to be, derogatory.  There is strong evidence that the term is indeed derived from far eastern Algonquin languages, in which case it means "vagina"...or in other words "cunt." It's derogatory use, stemming largely from fur-trapping Europeans--basically meant "wife on the side." Don't expect a full reference here, a great deal of this notation is from my own memory...and experience. But please do see Wikipedia.

**She was a relative of Native American actor Vincent St. Cyr.