Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Born Today June 30: Madge Bellamy


Actress (and mainstay of the 1940's scandal sheets)  Madge Bellamy (birth name Margaret Derden Philpott) was born on this day in Hillsboro, Texas; she spent her earliest years in San Antonio, eventually growing up in Brownwood, Texas.  Her stage aspirations started when she was just a child and her parents allowed her to take dancing lessons as early as age 6, she made her stage debut at the age of 9 as a dancer in a local operatic production. When she was a teen, the family relocated again; this time out of state to Denver, Colorado. There she acted in local theater as a teen, and married at the age of 18 or 19, his last name was Bellamy (though she later claimed in an autobiography that the marriage had not happened and her agent suggested the name--public records say otherwise--though the marriage year of 1919 may not be correct, her divorce petition is). Realizing this was a mistake and badly wanting to pursue an acting career in New York City, she decided to file (eventually) for divorce and left (reportedly before her high school graduation). She found work on Broadway as a dancer, was noticed by a local theatrical agent, signed by him and began looking for work as an actual actress.  She get a huge break, when she replaced Helen Hays in a major role in a Broadway production of Dear Brutus, she later acted on the stage in Washington D.C. She quickly found her way into film and made her motion picture debut in 1920 in The Riddle: Woman in a named role. She was then signed to a a multi year contract at Triangle Film (Thomas Ince's newly formed venture), and her second film appearance became her first film for them:  The Cup of Life in 1921. Her most well known film while working for Ince was certainly 1922's Lorna Doone in which she starred with John Bowers and was directed by Maurice Tourneur (though her appearance in Hail the Woman in 1921 is also a milestone). Over the next couple of years she made a number of films with Ince affiliated productions, none of them really stand out. Her next big contract came with Fox Films, and her first film with them is actually one for the history books: John Ford's The Iron Horse. Not only did she appear in the film (released in October of 1924), she took the top female bill opposite George O'Brien. She didn't appear in another major production for them for a whole year. In the meantime, she appeared in a few minor films of importance, notably: Secrets of the Night a later Herbert Blaché film with James Kirkwood & Zusu Pitts, The Dancers another film featuring (as mustachioed) O'Brien and directed by Emmett J. Flynn, and the Edward Laemmle melodrama The Men in Blue.  In 1925, she again appeared in a John Ford film Lightnin'; a rare comedy for him starring Jay Hunt.  Though she began to run into difficulty with studio executives who wanted to have full say in how she was placed in films (she was later found to have a fiery temper...but I have to say, I can hardly blame her here, despite that she had an affair with at least one of them). They wanted her to take roles in big films, but she had gotten a taste for the lighter side of acting: not too much effort required--a lot of fun to be had (possibly egged on by her appearance in another Emmett Flynn film set in the modern "jazz age" Wings of Youth).  This is not to say that she was not in some fine Fox films, they were just not the big budget films execs had tried to push her into.  Films like LazybonesThe Golden Strain and Very Confidential had/have a lot to recommend them. The first film with sound that she appeared in was one that actually featured talking sequences, bit rare for its 1928 release--Mother Knows Best--which is believed--though never confirmed--lost in the 1937 Fox Fire. Her next film, Fugitives (1929)--also believed lost--was film with synched music sequences only. Her last film in the 1920's, was made for Universal utilizing the Western Electric Sound System for the full sound experience, had her starring opposite Robert Ellis in Tonight at Twelve, which was released in September of 1929.  She did not show up in another film until 1932, but if you are a classic horror film nut like me, it was quite the reappearance. Bellamy starred as the object of desire in White Zombie, which not only famously starred Bela Lugosi, but also Robert Frazer, with whom she almost shared a birthday. She only appeared in ten more films during the entire decade, after which she only acted in one other film in her lifetime. Notable, because in-between her last appearance in the 1936 Peter Lorre film Crack-Up in an uncredited role and her appearance as Mrs. Yeager in the Canadian Mountie drama Northwest Trail, released in November of 1945, she made headlines like she had never made before. In January 1943 she fired a small hand-gun three times as her former lover, a wealthy lumber executive, in San Francisco. They had indeed been having an affair for over five years, but he broke things off with her and subsequently married a younger model. She was given a six-month suspended sentence and a year's probation on gun possession charges. But...she was not done with him...no; later in 1943 she sued him for divorce in the state of Nevada, basically claiming common-law marriage; though the suit was summarily dismissed--he did eventually give her an undisclosed amount in settlement to end her complaints against him. After her appearance in the 1945 Action Pictures release, she briefly returned to the stage in 1946, after which she retired from show business altogether. She then took up writing, none of which, except for her autobiography (which contained a lot a dubious personal details) was ever published--and that was published posthumously. She also owned some real estate holdings. In later life, she was known to attend screenings of White Zombie after the film had gained cult horror status. Suffering from heart failure, she died at the age of 90 on the 24th of January in 1990.  She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. 

In Lorna Doone 1922 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Born Today June 29: Robert Frazer


Actor Robert Frazer made over 200 films in his relatively short lifetime, but one credit stands out amongst all the others: he was the first thespian to portray Robin Hood in this 1912 film made by Eclair. Frazer was born Robert William Browne on this day in Worcester, MA. He started as a stage actor, but his theatrical career was short lived before he moved on the film acting. His film debut in the 1912 Étienne Arnaud directed biblical drama The Holy City made for Eclair American.  Frazer, was in fact under contract to the company and stayed with them through 1914. Later in his career he was known as a western specialist--as has been pointed out in several short biographical accounts of his career--but what never seems to make it into these accounts, is that he also had specialized in westerns in the 1910's before he became a leading man of the silent cinema. Between 1912 and 1915 he appeared in several short westerns--usually in the lead (see for example, When Death Road the EngineThe Aztec TreasureTill the Sands of the Desert Grow ColdThe Line Rider & The Ghost of the Mine).  His first appearance in what we regard as a feature length film today came in the 1915 Edmund Mitchell written and directed The Lone Star Rush, a kind of Australian western and Michell's only directorial effort, which clocked in at 50 minutes. It was not long before his was a leading man in romantic and adventurous melodramas: The Dawn of Love (1916), Her Code of Honor (1919), Bolshevism on Trial (1919) and The Bramble Bush are all good examples. He does not show up in another film until 1921, when he took the lead opposite Anna Q. Nilsson in the Metro picture Without A Limit. He only made one other film in 1921--Love, Hate and a Woman. I can't find any information as to why there was such a lull in his career between 1919 and 1922 (a return to the stage perhaps??), but in 1922 his film career picked back and did not again abate. Interestingly, his first film appearance in 1922 was a western, Partners of the Sunset, in which he took the lead opposite Allene Ray. He spent the next two years in films produced by a number of different companies, even appearing in a Lois Weber film (A Chapter in Her Life) and a late J. Searle Dawley film (As a Man Lives). From 1924 through 1927, he appeared in films with a variety of actresses including: Pola Negri, Bebe Daniels, Elaine Hammerstein, Norma Shearer & Clara Bow. In 1928, he found himself in one of Warner's early sound efforts, the partial silent The Little Snob. The first full sound film that he acted in was The Drake Case in 1929, the film was released widely as a fully silent film, and only the silent version has come down to us today. His last film appearance in the 1920's came in the Allan Dwan film Frozen Justice, the now lost (one reel is supposedly stored in the Library of Congress) full sound singing adventure which had him playing opposite popular Broadway actress Lenore Ulric. His first film of the new decade was, fittingly, a western:  Beyond The Law (1930).  As mentioned above, he would become a player in b-westerns during the decade; as time wore one, he was increasingly a poverty row actor. Also in the 1930's he appeared in two now classic horror films, one with Bela Lugosi: White Zombie, and one with Fay Wray: The Vampire Bat. Like so many leading actors from the silent era, as his career waned on, he was increasingly relegated to bit or even uncredited roles. He continued, however, to work right up until his untimely death on the 17th of August from leukemia--he was only 53 years old. The last film released during his lifetime was the William Boyd film Forty Thieves, released in June of 1944; though he made an appearance in the independent Jack Irwin film Gun Cargo, which wasn't released until 1949.  He cremated remains are interred at the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. Frazer was married to silent film actress Mildred Bright

With Bebe Daniels in Miss Bluebeard (1925)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Born Today June 27: Thomas Kimmwood Peters


American film pioneer Thomas Kimmwood Peters was born on this day in Norfolk, Virginia. Though born in Virginia, he grew up on the west coast and attended elementary school in Los Angeles, eventually graduating high school there and moving on to college in Mexico (he would eventually earn a Ph.D.--but that would come much later in his life in 1939). He started his career as a still photographer within the brand new motion picture industry, and was hired--probably in 1899--by the French motion picture company Pathe Freres to actually work in their original European studio. He had a specialty of working on location films. After leaving the company and with his experience working on-location, he found work on film sets in a number of different locations in continental Europe and north Africa--principally Egypt.  Returning to the United States, had went to work for the Cosmos Film Company in San Francisco; which he would later have a large hand in transforming into the Exactus Photo Film Co. in 1914. The company, of which he was the both the president and manager of, specialized in educational films in all capacities: from production to exchange programs with schools. It was a grand scheme, but owed to bad management (in no small part by Peters himself) and board in-fighting, the company folded after just two years. Despite it's short lived existence, Peters did make advances film quality during the company's run.  He was able to take these and use them in further projects. In fact, he was specifically hired for his expertise in film preservation quality. Which brings us to the project that he is most closely associated with today. He was hired by Thornwell Jacobs for his famed Crypt of Civilization which is located at Oglethorpe University in the state of Georgia. His task was no small one, he was charged with creating microfilm for the time capsule that would last for 6,000 years! Of course, this all occurred in the late 1930's. Of film interest, beyond films and film stills of silent era that Peters worked on preservation for the project, Peters also made whole new "silent films" utilizing all kinds of still photographs and even cheap newsreels.  Most were recorded on two mediums, including a brand new paper thin metal transfer, in case the other medium did not survive.  This is how Peters became both a student and employee of Oglethorpe, where he stayed on as he worked as the university's photographic curator: in both acquisitions and preservation. He also eventually taught audio-visual classes after he obtained his Ph.D. According to at the university he filmed and photographed at least two important historical events (amongst a series of lesser historical events): the San Francisco earthquake/fire in 1906 and the building of the Panama Canal; but no evidence of either has ever been found. If the newsreels ever existed in the first place, they have long since been lost. If they did indeed exist, it would have made him one of the very first newsreel reporters to record on location shoots with a portable camera--something that we all really take for granted these days! Though Peters had several inventions to his name, including the very 1st microfilm 35mm camera; he only patented one invention design in his lifetime--but he patented several variations of it--ironically the devices had to do with rare earth gases and vacuum tubes. Peters died somewhere in his home state of California at some point in 1973--the precise details of his death are not known at the time of this writing. 

View of the Crypt of Civilization just before it was sealed in 1940, film cans put together by Peters can be seen amongst the rather odd collections of other mediums.

Library of Congress

New Georgia Encyclopedia

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Born Today June 25: Dorothy Bernard

[Photo portrait by: Thomas Steadeli]

Silent era actress Dorothy Bernard was born Nora Dorothy Bernard on this day in Port Elizabeth in what was then the British Cape Colony, now part of South Africa. Though she appeared in productions in the 1950's (almost all of them television), her film career ran between the years 1908 and 1921.  She worked as a child actress in theatrical productions, having got into the business via her theater manager father, a Kiwi ex-pat from New Zealand working in the Portland, Oregon theater district. She made her film debut in the D.W. Griffith Biograph written & directed A Woman's Way in 1908 [a print is reportedly held in the UCLA collection] (Griffith reportedly was acquainted with her father in some way). After this, she became a fixture in Griffith's films and remained so until late in 1910, when she was next directed by Frank Powell in the comedy Turning the Tables, also a Biograph production. Still, she continued to be a Griffith favorite, occupying medium sized roles in his later Biograph shorts (she appears, for example, in the surviving His Trust films, which are available on restored on disc to modern audiences). Despite this, she remained at Biograph after Griffith's departure, though her roles were much fewer and far between. By 1915, she too had left the company. She next shows up in a Kalem production directed by Kenean BuelThe Second Commandment; and returns to be directed by Powell, who was by this time working at Fox, in Princess Romanoff.  Aside from a film with Lubin and one with Famous Players, she stayed with Fox after her second outing with Powell as director.  There she found frequent roles in Oscar Apfel films. Her last outing in a silent film came in Cosmopolitan's The Wild Goose, a late Albert Capellani film, in 1921. In the late teens, she had returned to regular stage appearances and her film acting took a back-seat; she was reportedly a very reliable and talented stage performer...and who could blame a stage performer through and through for tiring of silent film acting after a time?  Her daughter with actor A. H. Van Buren who was affectionately known as Midge, was a long time employee of the Screen Actors Guild; this probably accounts to her return to acting on television in 1950's. She filmed several appearances on a number of series in 1955, many of which aired after her untimely death of a heart attack on the 15th of December of that year. She was 65 years old. Her family were long time residents of Hollywood and she was cremated at the famed Chapel of the Pines Crematory. 

Bernard with young daughter and their doggy


Find A Grave Entry

Monday, June 22, 2020

Born Today June 22: Billy Wilder


Director Billy Wilder needs absolutely NO introduction to classic film fans across the globe! He was one of the 20th centuries most iconic comedic and film noir directors, and a huge fixture in the "golden days" of Hollywood. What may be a little on a the vague side is his start in the film business. Born Samuel Wilder on this day to Austrian German speaking Jews in what was then Sucha, a town in the Gallicia-Lodomeria region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now a part of Poland), it was his mother who first nicknamed him "Billie." His parents were very successful bakers and owned a family bake shop in Sucha and tried to get both "Billie" and his older brother William--both of whom were enamored with screenwriting--to join the family business to no avail (although William would eventually get into the business, he first became a designer and manufacturer of purses in New York). Before getting directly into writing screenplays, he worked as both a stage entertainer and a writer of journalism in Vienna. It is hardly a surprise then, that his first screenplay was about journalism. Der Teufelsreporter (or Hell of a Reporter or The Daredevil Reporter)--a late silent film--was written completely by Wilder (as "Billie Wilder") and was produced in Germany by Deutsche Universal-Film, directed by Ernst Laemmle (nephew of Carl), and released in 1929.  Wilder also apperared in the film, which marked his only acting credit, if you don't count a cameo. In 1929, he also co-penned--principally with Curt Siodmak, but also his brother  Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer--the experimental film People on Sunday. The film was released in early 1930. He continued to work in Germany as a screenwriter for the next several years, but the rising power of Hitler and the Nazi Party necissistated his move to France to escape arrest and persecution. While in Paris, he formally directed his first film in 1934:  Bad Seed (Mauvaise graine), which he co-directed with fellow ex-pat Alexandre Esway (he also wrote a goodly portion of the screenplay).  He soon fled Europe altogether, setting up in Hollywood, changing the spelling of his nickname to "Billy" in the process. Wilder would, of course, go on to legendary greatness there--receiving a whopping 21 Oscar nominations, winning 8, including the prestigious Irving Thalberg Memorial Award, between the years 1940-1988.  Some of his scripts have been or are currently being remade, including Sunset Boulevard (which is itself based on an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical remake of Wilder's burning original starring Gloria Swanson...yes it's one of my favorites!). Some of his original work was also used in the live television performance in the 1950's series Lux Video Theatre. He is one of the few legendary directors whose works live on through his talent in writing--though he gets less attention for it. Wilder was smart to flee Europe when he did; several members of his family perished in the Holocaust, including his mother and stepfather at two separate death camps. Wilder himself lived a very long life, even becoming a cancer survivor. He eventually succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 95 in West Hollywood on the 27th of March in 2002. He is interred at Westwood Memorial Park (incidintly Milton Berle and Dudley Moore also died on that same day). His headstone reads "I'm a writer, but then nobody's perfect."  Wilder was also famous for a large, comprehensive modern art (and Asian figurines) collection that he emased over his many decades in the United States. Artists in his collection ranged from Picasso to Pollack; Joan Miro to Andy Warhol.  He was also a painter (mostly in oils) himself.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Born Today June 19: Meyrick Milton


Meyrick Milton, a relatively unknown silent film director, was born on this day in the Streatham area of London, England.  He is known to have directed at least eight films (three of which he had a hand in writing) and directly producing one late silent film in 1928.  His first known direction comes on the 1917 picture that his own production company bank rolled: The Profligate--a film that he adapted from the writing of Arthur Pinero.  The fact that he was working through his own production company at this point, and given his age, it is reasonable to assume that he was involved with the British film industry before 1917.  It is also quite possible that his directing skills were first learned in the theater. The films that are currently listed that he directed, span the years 1917 through 1925, with Die heiratsfähige Puppe  being the last. That film was made for the German speaking market in Austria and similarly featured a cast that was mostly Austrian, but was again made for Milton Films (it was also another one of his own adaptations, sourced from a Maurice Ordonneau play).  His production credit dates from 1928 and was made through British Gaumont. His House in Order was directed by Randle Ayrton and starred Tallulah Bankhead (it was a remake of a 1920 film by the same name directed by Hugh Ford, and both were based on another Pinero play). Milton has no other credits after 1928. Additionally there is no information as to what became of him, no death records can even be discovered in the few British documents that I've had the chance to look at. It also appears that none of his films have survived either. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Born Today June 12: Georges Demenÿ


French inventor,  pioneering photographer and filmmaker/inventor Georges Demenÿ was born on this day in Douai in the north of France. Demenÿ's main claim to fame was his contribution to Chronophotography, which--to be clear--he did not invent; far from it actually. He did, however, make significant advances in the technique, which is considered the direct predessor to actual moving pictures. Demenÿ was a student of the brillant French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey; and Demenÿ's main contribution lie in his personal invention of a superior projector that he dubbed the Stroboscope; it is where we get the term "strobe light"--so beloved in live musical performances...and discos of the 1970's. Again, Demenÿ didn't event the mechicnism on which his design was based (that is generally attributed to Belgian inventor Joseph Plateau which actually included what is probably the earliest animations), but rather utililzed the technology to fashion of projector of series photographs that projected onto surfaces that appeared to show normal motions (ie: "moving pictures"). Demenÿ worked with German inventor/photographer Ottomar Anschütz on this invention to use in scientific study--it was Anschütz who would take parts of the mechinism further and attempt to use them for entertainment purposes. For his part, Demenÿ is widly over-looked as a significant contributor to the invention of motion pictures due, in no small part, to his lack of interest or belief in the technology's use in such a capacity early on (he would come to regret this). There are a remarkable number of his experiments (some with Marey) that have survived--though only two seem to be regarded as "films" (a subject to address for sure!).  The first of these is Je vous aime, a film experiment of himself dating from 1891. The second, which dates from 1897, was actually a popular subject of the time..namely dance in film...and serpentine dances in particular. That film, Serpentine Dance: Loïe Fuller, featured American born dancer Fuller who had moved to France and made a second "career" out this particular dance (note: this dance was a big subject of film at Edison's studio as well!). Both of these films run under a minute in time (and both are embedded below, along with a couple of other experiments of his with Marey).  Demenÿ was what can only be called a "fitness nut"--which accounts for the physical nature of most of the film experiements that he worked on. His film Je vous aime was made at the request for a work for projection by a school of the deaf in Paris teaching lip-reading, which accounts for it's rather odd look and lack of any sort of exercise or sport; and the Serpentine Dance and an exemplary example of early hand coloring! Demenÿ lived until 1917, long enough to see a whole host of innovation in film and the birth of a brand new industry and art. He died in Paris on the 26th of October at that age of 67 and is buried at Montmartre. 

[source: Find A Grave]

[source: Find A Grave]

List of Publications--Wikipedia 

Find A Grave

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Born Today June 9: John Howard Payne


American writer and actor John Howard Payne was born on this date in New York City area (East Hampton). He was the one of nine children and spent his childhood in Boston, where he was educated (some sources cite Boston as his birth place-appears not to be correct). He apparently showed prowess and skill in dramatic acting from an early age (another story of parental disapproval of such talent--as he was set up with an apprenticeship at an accounting firm at the age of 13 by his father--possessing no head for figures, he had trouble concentrating on tasks at hand). His love for theater attendance--in any capacity--was an early passion and only grew stronger with age. He started his own published journal of theater criticism at the very young age of just 14!  In this regard, he got lucky. A very well off business man from New York who saw some of Payne's published work and offered to pay for him to attend college. While at college, he started yet another published paper, but this and his college attendance were cut short by the death of his mother and the failure of this father's business--he deteremined that the best way to assist his family would be to quit his education and started a career as a professional stage actor (this most probably was the excuse he had been waiting for--though Payne was one of the older children in the family--as working as an actor to support them was probably not the most lucrative avenue...). Payne made his professional stage debut on the 24th of February in 1809 in New York City.  It was a resounding success and soon sent him on tour, much to his and audiences delight. Ever the literary sort, Payne took a small amount of time to also establish a celculating library and reading room he called the Athenaeum.  Around this time, his father passed away and he gained the interest of a famous British actor who was known for his leading roles in the plays of Shakespeare: George Frederick Cooke (whom Payne appeared with in King Lear in New York at the Park Theater). This was the catalyst that took Payne across the Atlantic to London, which is where he eventually took up writing plays of his own. He was a success in Drury Lane, and spent time in France--picking up the French language quickly and compently enough to be paid to translate French plays to English back in the U.K.  He also tried his hand at theater mangament, which did not go well (perhaps his struggles with accounting contributed).  In 1823, he penned a play based on a proposal by the theater manager at Covent Garden, but issuses with the selling and production of the play necccesitated that it be altered for production--the result of this was an opera.  Turns out, Payne also possessed a talent for writing songs, along with the other copious writing skills that he began to explore. The end product was titled Clari; or the Maid of Milan. Within this work was a song entitled "Home, Sweet Home"--which was set to an old Italian folk song by English composer Sir Henry Bishop. I am going into all of this rather labourious detail, because, despite all of his written accomplishments in his life (he was also a very talented artist in drawing), it is for this one song that he remembered today. In fact, it was all he was remembered for by the year 1916, when the song was first used in a movie. To be fair, the song was an instant success and became known the world over whereever there was an English speaking population. 100, 000 copies were sold instantly upon publication.  It certainly made him a household name in the U.K. and back at home in the U.S. As mentioned, it is this work that was used in a film in 1916--a title directed by it's star...a woman no less (!), Cleo MadisonEleanor's Catch, a short comedy produced by the Rex Motion Picture Co. (the film not only survives, but has been restored by Kino--nearly 20 years ago--and has also been screened on TCM).  The song would feature in one additional silent film, The Chechahcos (or The Cheekchakos), a feature length adventure drama filmed on location in what is now Denali National Park in 1923 (what a feat!) [the film is included in the National Film Registry].  This would be the last fully silent motion picture to feature the song; the song would show up in three more productions in the 1920's, only one of which was a feature. The first was the experimental all sound short from the company that made sound an early specialty: Warner Brothers. The Wild Westerner was a short comedy (8 minutes) that utilized the Vitaphone sound machine dating from 1928. The song next shows up in an early Mickey Mouse cartoon (it's first use in any animation): When The Cat's Away (1929) [incidently, since we are talking sound, the animation uitilized the Powers Cinephone Sound System]. High Voltage (1929) is a parital silent crime drama, while So This Is College (1929) is a full on musical comedy centered around college football. The song was next used in an early incarnation of Ripley's Believe It Or Not in the 1930 short Believe It or Not #3.  The song made it's television debut in 1952 in the episode Huntin' For Trouble of The Roy Rogers Show. It's most recent use came in a made for television feature length documentary in 2013 entitled Secret Voices of Hollywood. After living for some 20 years in the UK, Payne returned to the United States in 1832. He became interested the Cherokee (Tsalagi) people through following their legal battle in the U.S. court system. He was eventually invited by Chief John Ross to his home in north Georgia and became a vocal opponent of the removal forced upon them. That leads to the next thing that he is remembered for, though these days it is most likely only recalled in Cherokee or other southern Native communities, that of coming up the theory that the Cherokee peoples were actually a lost tribe of Israel (rolls eyes, but seriously this was a "thing" in the 19th century that was applied at various times to native groups, espcially those forced onto the Trail of Tears). In 1842, he was appointed American Consul to Tunis, he served two separate terms there, eventually dying in Tunis on the 10th of April (some sources cite 9, but his memorial marker in Washington D.C. is engraved with the 10th) at the age of 60. He was buried at what was then just a cemetery called St. George's Protestant Cemetery--a church has since been built there--making it a graveyard.  Please follow the links below to a post by Matteo Giunti to view this remarkeable place. In 1883, his ashes were shipped from Tunis to New York and reburied at Oak Hill cemetery in Washington, D.C. (it's near Georgetown).  For me, the most intriguing part of Payne's life was his friendship Sam Colt (you know...the Colt Revolver). Payne became embroiled in Colt's brother's murder trial, conviction and imprisonment--the whole case was the "O.J. case" of it's time--follow the link for John Colt below to read all about it--facinating stuff! Payne is also cited as the great grandfather of actor and musical specialist John Payne--even though the elder Payne never married (I've tried to find information about children out of wedlock and came up goose-eggs--it is pure speculation that possibly the younger Payne was actually a great, great grand nephew??). 

His memorial marker at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Official Website of St. George's Anglican Church, Tunis

Monday, June 8, 2020

Born Today June 8: William J. Ferguson


Actor, primarily of the stage, William J. (Jason) Ferguson (W.J.) was born on this day in Baltimore, Maryland. He died the year that sound pictures became the mainstay of cinemas nationwide, which puts his film career completely within the silent era. But his film career aside, it is his stage acting that he is most remembered for today. That is because he was a cast member of the play Our American Cousin in Washington D.C. when our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was fatally shot at the Ford Theater on the 14 of April in 1865. At his death at 84, he was, in fact, the last surviving cast member of that production. He was just 20 years old at the time of the assassination. For an actor of that era, Ferguson made his film debut relatively late considering how long he had been acting. He was given the role of "servant" in the IMP produced/Universal distributed short melodrama His Last Chance in 1914. In all, Ferguson made at least 16 film appearances at the end of his long career and he worked well into old age. While he worked with several film directors who were well known at the time (Frank Hall Crane, J. Stuart Blackton, James Young among them), it wasn't until 1921 when he appeared in Dream Street, directed by D. W. Griffth, that his role in a film is known to have survived and was directed by a name that is well remembered today. His last film appearance came in the George Fitzmaurice directed "historical romance" To Have and to Hold in 1922 (the film sports a ridiculous plot based on the Jamestown colony in Virginia that in no way bears any relation to actual history). Ferguson then retired back to his home state of Maryland; he was 77.  He passed away in Pikesville, Md. on the 3rd of May, 1930--just about a month away from his 85th birthday. After extensive searching, I can find no information as to his burial. 

Wikipedia Page For The Play Our American Cousin

Update: 10 June 2020

An acquaintance on Twitter kindly sent me the following. Thank you Steven! (you can follow him @stevenlbarnes)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Born Today June 7: Albert Duvaleix (Not So Silent edition)


French actor Jean Albert Duvaleix was born on this day in the Bordeaux region of the country.  His career in film spanned between the years of 1928 and 1956; and in France is well remembered for his character roles in the 30's, 40's and 50's. He did make one appearance in a film in the 1920's, though it was an early short full sound film by directed Jacques Séverac.  Les rigolos was both Duvaleix and Séverac's debut into film and was one of the first fully talking films produced in France; it was released on the 24th of February, 1928. He did not appear in another film for some four years, when, in 1932, he acted in his first feature length film--Beauty Spot--a comedy based on a play by Georges Dolley.  His last film appearance also came in a comedy: The Whole Town Accuses (1956). That film marked the directorial debut of Claude Boissol.  Albert Duvaleix died in Paris on the 21st of December in 1962 at the age of 69. He is reportedly buried--along with his son, actor Christian Duvaleix--at the Cimetiere des Garches in Garches, Hauts-de-Seine in the Île-de-France region of the country. For much of his career he was credited simply as "Duvaleix." He, and his son, both were specialist in comedy extraordinaire

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Born Today June 6: Walter Abel


American actor Walter Abel was born on this day in St. Paul, Minnesota. His career choice was to become an actor, and he in fact studied to become one. His initial eye, of course, was toward the stage, but it did not take long after his graduation in 1917 from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts to find work in front of a motion picture camera. Though he immediately joined a touring company in 1917, he made is his film debut the following year in an uncredited role/extra in the Famous Players-Lasky production Out of a Clear Sky (1918), a romantic comedy directed by Marshall Neilan and produced and "presented" by Adolph Zukor. He did not make another film for two years, when he appeared in The North Wind's Malice in a credited role. This would be the end of this film career during the silent era. He did not re-enter the film business until the coming of talking films. In the meantime, he made a heck of a name for himself on Broadway.  In 1930, he appeared in the Frank Borzage directed drama Liliom. He again took time--5 years--off for his stage work, but when he did return to film it came in his most famous role: that of d'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1935).  After this, he was never far from a camera. Abel made his television debut fairly early in the medium in a 1948 episode of The Philco Television Playhouse (An Inspector Calls); he appeared again in the series the following year. After this, despite a few films here and there thorough the years (notable role for me personally: Mayor Adams in Silent Night, Bloody Night in 1972), he became a specialist in guest appearances on a variety of series. Some of them include:  Tales of TomorrowThe Ford Television TheaterThe Red Buttons ShowSuspicionPlayhouse 90, and Bob Hope Presents the Chyrsler Theatre.  In 1966, he went into to semi-retirement, but continued to make the odd appearance here and there in filmed roles; and he worked almost all the way up to his death. His last appearance came in 1984 the Katherine Hepburn film Grace Quigley.  Abel died three years later at the age of 88 on the 26th of March.  His ashes were scattered in Long Island Sound not long after. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Born Today June 3: George M. Scarborough


Writer George Moore Scarborough was born on this day in Mount Carmel, Texas. His family eventually settled in Waco, after a living in Sweetwater, Texas for several years. His father was a fairly prominent lawyer, and wanted his son to follow him in the profession; which he did after obtaining a law degree from the University of Texas. He joined his father's law firm in 1897 and stayed there until his father's death in 1905. After this, he moved to New York and had a change of career--this is when his writing started. He got a  job as a reporter and stayed in this line of work until 1909, when he went to work with the Secret Service--but continued to write while serving his country. In 1914, he left the service and devoted his life to full time writing, when one of his plays was made into a film. The Lure was adapted and directed by the grande dame of early cinema herself: Alice Guy.  He the became primarily a playwright, with subject matter drawn from his days in the secret service; though he also wrote short stories as well. He quickly hit stride with his material becoming motion pictures. In fact, the second film to feature his writing was also Ethel Barrymore's second film:  The Final Judgement  (1915).  Starting in 1917, he was added to Fox's "scenario staff" and he wrote the story that the J. Gordon Edwards directed film Under The Yoke (1917) was based on; it starred the darling of Fox herself: Theda Bara. He also had a number of works produced at the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation, the first of which was Her Only Way (1918).  As his career progressed in the 1920's, he began penning westerns, as a sort of sub-subject of his stories/scenarios.    Scarborough is probably most well known from his collaboration in both marriage and writing with his second wife, fellow playwright, Annette Westbay. Although they married in 1920 and wrote several successful plays together during the decade, they had only one of their collaborations (that we know of) adapted for film...but it is a well known one. The Boob is a 1926 MGM romantic comedy directed by legendary William A. Wellman, starring Gertrude Olmstead and George K. Arthur as Peter Good, or The Boob (the film also features one Joan Crawford).  The first full sound film to feature his work is also his last work on a film in the 1920's and also his only uncredited work--he provided extra dialog for the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle entitled The Locked Door a 1929 mystery thriller that featured sound by MovieTone.  The last film (to date) utilize one of his plays as source material came in 1932 in The Son-Daughter.  Addition to his work "making the pictures," many of his plays ran in New York both on and off Broadway (several of these were written with Westbay).  At some point along the way, he and Westbay had relocated to California. It's not known if they remained married until his death or not. It is not even completely certain when Scarborough passed away. He is thought to have remained in California after retirement, dying there. While some sources list is death date as "early 1950's," other sources place it as November 1, 1950; while yet another source puts his death at Mount Kisco, New York on the 16th of December in 1951.  It is not then a surprise that burial details are likewise unknown.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Born Today June 2: Johnny Weissmuller


Known as Tarzan in films from the 1930's and 1940's, Johnny Weissmuller (Jonas [Johann] Peter Wießmüller) was born on this day in Friedorf, Austria-Hungary (now Timisoara, Romania) to ethnic Banat Swabian Germans.  His parents immigrated to the U.S., passing through through Ellis Island, when he was just 7 months old. The family settled with a relative in Penslsyvania, becoming part of the community known here in the U.S. erroneously as "Pennsylvania Dutch."  Weissmuller contracted polio at the age of nine; one the therapies recommended to his family was swimming and water therapeutics.  This unfortunate event would end up being the foundation for his very long career in film and out. Around this time, the family relocated to Chicago, a location with a very large YMCA. At some point, he became so good, he was invited to join their swim team.  Eventually he would represent the United States in swim competition and water polo at the 1924 Summer Olympics games in 1924 (after some innocent fudging of his personal information)--winning 2 medals and setting a world record along the way. He also competed in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He medal total for both come to 5 gold medals and one bronze. For the rest of his life he credited swimming and a Dr. John Kellog's holistic lifestyle and diet for his success in overing his polio.  His success at the Olympics also made him famous. So, of course, the movies "came calling."  Though almost the lion's share of his film appearances were in the characters of Tarzan or Jungle Jim, that is not the case of the three films that he appeared in 1929.  His first feature film was actually a full talkie:  Glorifying the American Girl is a musical starring Mary Eaton and Eddie Cantor which feature a whole host of famous folks in cameo roles; Weissmuller was, fittingly, cast as Adonis--appearing in the film wearing only a fig leaf. The film was released in December of 1929. This cameo was his feature film debut, but Weissmuller was also in two documentaries in 1929; one of which is fully silent.  But, inadvertently, Johnny actually made his film debut in a 1925 German documentary film that is a prime example of early racist propaganda in the country. Although billed as a "drama," Ways to Strength and Beauty features a large number of archival filmed footage and photos--many of them Americans (the film is also the debut of one infamous film maker:  Leni Riefenstahl) . Though Weissmuller was indeed "German born"--hardly anyone knew that at the time, as he generally told people that he was actually born in Pennsylvania--he did have a Germanic last name...and he was the absolute epitome of the budding sense of racial purity and strength that Nazis perceived set them as a people apart from others....in other words: fascism.  The other two films in which he appeared are also documentaries, one of them a fully silent film. Water Wonders was a silent short that featured Weissmuller giving a swimming demonstration; while Crystal Champions was also a short sports themed film, it was shot with full sound by the small company Sport Pictorals and features some truly innovative underwater photography. He would not show back up in any sort of film until 1931, when he made a risqué short with Stubby Kruger. His big break, though, was just around the corner. He debuted as Tarzan in 1932 and never looked back. The film, Tarzan the Ape Man, marked the successful reboot of the Tarzan franchise in the new era of sound.  The Weissmuller "Tarzan yell" has since become the very idea of the character; it too also debuted in this film. Aside from a few shorts or cameo appearances, he wouldn't play another character in a film until 1946, when he appeared in the B-grade Swamp Fire. Then, two years later--with two more Tarzan films in-between--his new "wild man" character Jungle Jim in Jungle Jim.  In 1956 Jungle Jim was made into a television series.  After just one season, the show was cancelled and Weissmuller retired, moved to several locations, eventually ending up at a "Jungle Jim" tourist attraction in central Florida. He did appear in three more films in the 1970's, the last of which was Won Ton Ton: The Dog Saved Hollywood.  In the late 1970's he suffered  a series of strokes--he eventually moved with his last wife to Acapulco, Mexico where he died on the 20th of January, 1984 at the age of 79. He is buried there at the (in English) Valley of the Light cemetery.  Reportedly, when his coffin was lowered into the ground--his famous Tarzan yell was played three times.  During his lifetime, Weissmuller was married five times; the most famous of which was to Lupe Velez.

[Source: Flickr]

[Source: Greg Chard--Find A Grave]