Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Born Today March 16: Elsie Janis


American performer (musician/actress/screenwriter/composer) Elsie Janis was born Elsie Bierbower on this day in Marion, Ohio. She started in performance, most likely due to her mother, at a very early age--becoming a well known fixture in mid-western vaudeville by the time she was in her double digits. By the time she reached her adult years, she had moved on to more serious roles on the stage, eventually making her Broadway debut in New York and her West End debut in London. She was a bonafide star by the early years of the 20th century. She starred in several stage hits on both sides of the Atlantic; which, of course, eventually led to her debut in a motion picture. In 1915 she made her first first film appearance in the feature length The Caprices of Kitty, a comedy directed by Phillips Smalley and produced by Hobart Bosworth.  She also wrote the picture, actually a much bigger deal than the starring in it part. She did not have a very long or prolific film acting career, but what she did have, mostly during the teens, she also wrote nearly ALL of the scenarios for.  Of her seven film acting credits, four of them came in 1915 alone.  Aside from The Caprices of Kitty, she also wrote and starred in:  Betty in Search of a Thrill (co-directed by Lois Weber), Nearly A Lady, and 'Twas Ever Thus.  All of them productions of Hobart Bosworth's company and distributed by Paramount.  She did not appear in a film again until 1919, when she co-wrote and starred in the crime feature The Imp; a Selznick Pictures production, it was directed by Robert Ellis. Janis co-wrote the project with Edmund Goulding, himself a man of the vaudeville stage.  She did appear in one other film in 1919, her last in the silent era, in A Regular Girl, a comedy penned by Goulding with Francis Marion. Her involvement with films of the silent era, however, was not at end when she quit acting in films in 1919.  She was responsible for the principle adaptation for the romantic comedy Oh Kay! starring Colleen Moore in 1928; it was a fully silent film produced at First National.  She was also the co-author of the story upon which the scenario for the fully sound musical Close Harmony in 1929 was based on. In addition, she appeared on film in full sound as herself in 1926 performing in the early Warner's musical short Behind the Lines using the Vitaphone system; it was a recreation of a performance that she gave while entertaining troops during World War I. One of her songs was also used in the Gloria Swanson talkie The Trespasser in 1929 (though the film was also shot in a fully silent version as well); that film was also written and directed by Goulding. She contributed to three more scripts in the 1930's, the most significant of which was the comedy musical Madam Satan; written entirely by women, and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.  She made one more film, appearing at the top of the bill in Women in War in 1940, after which she was thoroughly done with film acting. Her songs, however, continued to be used in film scores and soundtracks--both during her life and after her death. Principle among the music is from the film Paramount on Parade, which she co-produced in 1930; it was Paramount studio's revue for the year and was written by Joseph Mankiewicz. The most recent use of that music came in the 2004 Scorsese film The Aviator. After living in Ohio until her mother's passing, she moved for a time to Sleepy Hollow, New York--just "up the street" from Broadway.  Janis eventually moved full time to Los Angeles, where she died in her home on the 26th of February, just shy of her 67th birthday.  She is interred there at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.  Janis was the very first female announcer on NBC radio in 1934.

[Source: AJM (Find a Grave)]

[Source: AJM (Find a Grave)]


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