Thursday, August 20, 2020

Born Today August 20: Marguerite Gabrielle Courtot


Ingenue actress of silent cinema Marguerite Gabrielle Courtot was born on this day in Summit, New Jersey to French speaking immigrant parents.  She is yet another actress from the silent era that we have many high quality photographs of because she started out as a model when she was nearly 15 years of age.  It was not long before her image also made it's way into film.  She was hired by Kalem in the spring of 1913 and made her film debut in a Robert Vignola short shot in Jacksonville, Florida:  The War Correspondent .  She made 12 film appearances in that year alone. Some three-fourths of her relatively short film career were spent at the Kalem company, with whom she stayed through part of 1916. At the company, she acted in nearly 40 films, the last of which was The Dead Alive in which she took top billing.   A few stand outs from her time with the studio include The Vampire (1913) in which she plays the sweetheart to Alice Hollister's  vamp Sybil, the niece in the Tom Moore directed early science fiction film  The Secret Room (1915) [as well as appearances in a few of Moore's films for the studio each based on one of the ten commandments], and a series of short adventure films that were packaged by Kalem as The Ventures of Marguerite. Before her next studio contract, she made one film for the American wing of Gaumont, starring in (and with a prominent poster to match!) the feature length melodrama Feathertop loosely based on a Nathaniel Hawthorne story.  She next landed at Famous Players right around the time of it's merger with the Lasky company in 1916; her first film with them was  Rolling Stones, directed by Dell Henderson. Her appearances in films by the ever changing name of the company that would become Paramount were interspersed with independent company productions by the likes of Charles H. France, Arrow Films and Guy Empey Productions--even one very late Edison.  In 1920 she joined George B Seitz's company to make serials, the first of which was Pirate Gold.  Without a doubt the most famous film (to us today, that is) she appeared in was Down to the Sea in Ships, though she and her husband to be Raymond McKee  were in the lead roles, one Clara Bow virtually dominates the film as the daughter. The film is so well known to us today because it has come down to us intact and has been fully restored (and is readily for viewing)--at the time that it was made, however the film was bit of a curiosity (produced by the Whaling Film Corp).  Courtot married McKee in spring of 1923 and she appeared in just four more films after Ships.  She was the female lead in all four and the headliner in one--so she was definitely in demand, but she wanted to retire to a home life, which she did in 1924.  Her last film was Men, Women and Money released in August of 1924 and produced by the independent Lester Park Productions.  She then retired from acting altogether.  The couple lived in Long Beach, California at the time of their deaths. MeKee passed away in 1984 and Marguerite followed him two years later on the 28th of May at the age of 88. They are both buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.  

[Source Graving Queen of the OC (Find A Grave)]



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Born Today August 19: Lawrence D'Orsay


British stage and film character actor Lawrence D'Orsay was born Dorset William Lawrance on this day in Peterborough, England (located in Cambridgeshire). He started acting on the stage in 1877 and was by the 1880's quite popular; he was reportedly very good in comedic roles. His most famous stage role however came in the early 20th century and in the US; in 1903 he starred off Broadway in the comedic role of "Earl of Pawtucket" at the Manhattan Theater.  D'Orsay also acted on Broadway in New York and was well regarded by American audiences and considered a specialist in playing "upper crust" types. He acted well into old age and his stage career lasted one year longer than his film career, which was short in comparison. His eight appearances in film came between the years 1913 and 1926.  The first film in which he appeared was the independent western The Border Detective in 1912.  His second film role was a reprise of his famous Earl role from the stage; The Earl of Pawtucket  (1915) was filmed entirely at the new Universal Studios in Hollywood.  His last film appearance came in D. W. Griffith's The Sorrows of Satan in 1926. Though his entire film career was in the U.S., when D'Orsay retired, he returned to the U.K. He died there at the age of 78 on the 13th September in 1931  in London.  I can find no information as to his burial.  

Still from The Earl of Pawtucket 




Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Born Today August 18: Emperor Franz Joseph


[apologies...again, this time not for my mistakes (which I make a lot of 😀), but for Google blogger issues with spelling. I did not mean a misspelling of curious to be "translated" as copious and so on]

Emperor Franz Joseph of the Habsburgs (Hapsburg) was born Franz Joseph Karl von Habsbug-Lothringen (of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) in Vienna, of the Austrian Empire. There is little point of going into any sort of history here (and as always, I have provided links below, and in the body of this post, for curious reading for the curious), but suffice to say that Franz Joseph was the next to the last Emperor of Austria and was the longest serving ruler of Austria/Hungary (he ranks among the longest reigning monarchs--at 68 years--in history). He was the grandson of the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II.  During his life a number of deaths of his family members were brought about as a result as political unrest and the desire for independence both in eastern Europe and in the New World. These deaths included, his wife Empress Elisabeth who was stabbed to death by a disgruntled Italian assassin, anarchist Luigi Lucheni, looking for a different royal altogether; and the execution of the his brother Maximilian  in Mexico by that country's first indigenous president Benito Juárez.  And, of course, the most famous of them all, the death of his nephew and heir-presumtive Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the hands of a Bosnian Serb assassin Gavrilo Princip in June of 1914, the event that caused the alliance cascade that would bring on World War I (not to mention the suicide of his son and heir in what is known as The Mayerling incident).  Franz Joseph outlived them all.  During his lifetime, and as an old man,  he appeared in 10 short films and/or newsreels from 1896 through 1914.  The first of these was the short film produced in Hungary entitled Emperor Franz Joseph Opening the Millenial Exhibition in 1896; the film was shot by Arnold Sziklay, who is considered to by the very first filmmaker in Hungary.  The first film of the Emperor made in Germany came two years later with the meeting of three monarchs, Franz Joseph, Kaiser Wilhelm II and King Albert of Saxony -- the little film was produced Messters Projektion. Three films were made of him at various activities in 1902, two of them by the American company Edison Manufacturing; the other was a production of the German arm of The Mutoscope & Biograph company.  All of the other films were produced as actual newsreels by Páthe Frères as part of their Páthe Weekly reels--he appeared (in a least two with soon to be murdered nephew) in reels No. 29, 30 and 35 in 1913 and reel No. 48 in 1914, which was the last time that he would be filmed during his lifetime. The Emperor died at the age of 86 on the 21st of November after contracting pneumonia a week prior. He was interred at the Imperial Crypt [Kaisergruft], famously located at the Capuchin Church in Vienna, laid to rest in a elevated tomb between to his murdered wife and tragic son.  He was succeeded to the throne by his grandnephew Charles (Karl) who only reigned until 1918.   

[Source: David Conway (Find A Grave)]

(Source: Frantisek Zboray (Find A Grave)]


Encyclopedia Britannica   

More About The Imperial Crypt 

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House of Habsburg

Monday, August 17, 2020

Born Today August 17: Samuel Goldwyn


For fans of film history and those who even casually watch silent films, Samuel Goldwyn needs no introduction! Goldwyn is the G in MGM. Born Shmuel (Schmuel) Gelfisz on this day in Warsaw, Poland when it was still a part of the Russian Empire (the year of his birth has been a matter up for question for decades--but for our purposes, 1879 will do). He grew up in a Hasidic household; he was the eldest child and his father was a struggling furniture dealer (mostly of second hand goods). After his father's untimely death--and the weight of the family fell to his young shoulders, he fled to Hamburg, Germany. The greater family had relatives living in the UK (England) and Shumel had plans to make his way to them. In the meantime, he trained as an apprentice to a local glove maker. Eventually saving up enough funds to make his way to his relatives in Birmingham, England--it was his relations there who changed his name to "Samuel Goldfish"--in part to disguise his origins. He didn't remain with them for long, before getting money (reportedly by any means necessary) to sail to the North American continent. He sailed out of Liverpool either for Canada or the east coast of the U.S. (probably the former) on the 4 of January 1899 (accounts of Goldwyn's time with his relatives in England vary--some having him in the country as early as 1895--though the later date of 1898 appears correct).  Goldwyn (Goldfish) arrived either in Canada or the US a couple of weeks later and was in Philadelphia by the 19th of the month. He then made his way into the upstate New York garment industry located around Glovesville (it was called that for a good reason, as it was the "capital" of glove-making in the U.S. at the time).  It turned out that Samuel had prodigious talents has a salesman and marketer. It did not take him long to rise in the company. He eventually was named vice-president of the Elite Glove Company, and after spending nearly five years in that position in upstate, his money allowed him to relocate to New York City. There is NO mystery as to how Goldfish made it into motion pictures. In 1910, he had wed one Blanche Lasky, who was the sister guessed it....Jesse Lasky. Lasky had long been involved in performance, he had gone from being a popular vaudeville performer to successful Broadway producer, meeting the DeMille's along the way--it was only natural for Lasky and Cecil B. De Mille to want to venture into films....but they needed a capital investment--hence the involvement of his brother-in-law--the newly rich Samuel Goldfish (mind you, there are plenty of stories that have Samuel pressuring the two stage producers into films--either way, the rest is history).  The new company that was set up was The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company.  Goldfish was involved in the film business years before any official credit came to his name. The ground breaking and history making film The Squaw Man, which lays serious claim to being the first feature length film made in Hollywood was the company's out of the gate picture--it was co-directed by De Mille and Oscar Apfel (another founder at Lasky Feature Play).  

Promotional put together by Samuel, bearing his original Anglicizied name and his titles at Lasky.

Way, way back in the day, the company that we now know as "Paramount" was in it's earliest days a fledgling distribution company--it was initially a exhibition house involved in nickelodeons, that got into film exchanges (or brokering) between companies. Ever the businessman and from rags to riches European immigrant himself, Adolph Zukor, had been in a film distribution deal with the company for some time. In June of 1914 Lasky also penned an agreement with with Paramount. As essentially the only production houses providing films to Paramount, it was only a matter time before the two companies merged. This occurred two years later in June, thus creating one the biggest actual film studios to thus far exist (it was more than likely this merger that put the nail in the coffin of the Edison film production house, which closed it's film making facilities for good in 1918). The company was Famous Players-Lasky, but Zukor, in a basically dirty tricks move had also been secretly purchasing stock in Paramount--he pulled a coup just before the merger of Player and Lasky. Ousting everyone at Paramount and replacing them with his own people, and putting the Lasky people in charge of the newly merged entity, it was also only a matter of time before tensions flared. Cutting a very long story a little short, this lead to Goldfish forming his own company and producing his own films. Again returning to Broadway to find capable producers and directors, he convinced the famous Selwyn brothers to come in with him forming Goldwyn Pictures. It was not long thereafter that Goldfish legally changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn (stuff of legends now, I suppose). Absolutely the most famous thing that Goldwyn Pictures introduced was is logo/marketing mascot "Leo the Lion."  One the production houses first films as Polly of the Circus in 1917; a Mae Marsh film, of which the newly "minted" Goldwyn was the executive producer.     


Between 1917 and 1924, he racked up the vast majority of his direct production credits, with roughly the other 1/4 or 1/3 coming with his new independent company established in 1924. During the company's existence, a sampling of directors who worked for them include George Fitzmaurice, Tod Browning, George Loane Tucker, Wallace Worsley, Albert Parker, Allan Dwan and western specialist Clarence G. Badger. In 1924, Goldwyn Pictures was acquired Marcus Loew's company Metro in April--his company having already acquired a small production company out in California called "Mayer"--thus creating the famous MGM that we know today, despite his name in the company logo, Goldwyn himself never had any position with the famous company. Goldwyn, though, was never out of pictures however, not even for a day.  He established Samuel Goldwyn Production in 1923, it would become the premiere independent film production house in Hollywood's golden age.  

The company actually came "online" in 1923, before the finalized sale of Goldwyn Pictures to Metro. The first film produced was Potash and Perlmutter, directed by Badger, who had come with Goldwyn to his new company. While the company had most of it's biggest successes out of the silent era, it did have at least a couple of notable titles to it's name in the 1920's. Biggest among them was most certainly Stella Dallas in 1925 (in 1925 Goldwyn himself [not his company] was involved personally with the production of  Ben Hur). The company was also responsible for the reboot of Bulldog Drummond character, bringing the hard boiled literary character to sounded film for the first time in 1929 (Ronald Colman as Bulldog).  By 1926, a full studio facility had been built in Hollywood on Santa Monica Blvd. and films like the comedy Partners Again (1926) were filmed completely on site there.  Among the directors working for this new Goldwyn company were Fred Niblo, Henry King, Victor Fleming and Herbert Brenon. In fact it was a Fred Niblo film that first contained sound produced at the studio: Two Lovers, a historical romantic drama that contained sound effects and a musical score by Western Electric, the film starred Vílma Banky and Ronald Colman (in a funny bit of trivia--Colman's character uses an alias...."Leatherface" 😆).  The Herbert Brenon directed adventure romance (also starring Coleman) The Rescue was the first full talkie for the studio--released in January 1929.  The company's last release in the 1920's was a full on talking melodrama, filmed partially on location on the Santa Catalina Island and starring....yes...Ronald Colman.  Condemned! was released on the 3rd of November. 

There first release of the brand new decade (the company's most successful 10 years!) was the cat burglar "crime romance" Raffles, released in July of 1930 and starring....yes...Ronald Colman again. The studio also quickly got into the musical business starting with Whoopee! (October 1930) starring funny man Eddie Cantor; and added King Vidor to their list of directors who made pictures with them with Street Scene starring new-comer Sylvia Sidney being his first.  But it was with Arrowsmith  in 1931 that the studio hit pay-dirt, the film was directed by John Ford was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture ( starred, you guessed it! Ronald Colman).   It was the first of several films to be nominated thusly during the 1930's. The studio's best investment was in the hiring of director William Wyler, though he was replaced by Howard Hawks on Barbury Coast, his Dodsworth was not only nominated for 7 Oscars, it won for Best Art Direction. Other Goldwyn produced Wyler films that garnered Oscar nominations include Dead End (1937) again with Sylvia Sidney, Wuthering Heights (1938) with Merle Oberon (which won for Best Cinematography) & Little Foxes (1941) with Bette Davis. The production company also remade it's Stella Dallas in 1937, directed by Vidor--it too was nominated for Academy Awards. Goldwyn himself would go to be honored by the Academy in 1946 with the Irving B. Thalberg Memorial Award, an irony given that Thalberg was famous as head of production for MGM. Goldwyn was the 8th recipient of the award. His last production credit came in 1959 with Porgy And Bess starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Danridge, Pearl Bailey and Sammy Davis Jr.--nominated for 4 Academy Awards, it won for Best Score. Goldwyn's next-to-last producer credit came on his only foray into television on the made-for television science fiction film The Unexplained based on a Ray Bradbury story (teleplay by Raphael Hayes)--it aired on the 10th of July in 1956.  He then retired to his home on Laurel Lane. He died in the home on New Year's Eve in 1974 at the age of 94. He was buried in a sort-of unmarked grave (in Hasidic tradition) in a special private garden with no public access at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.  Goldwyn's second marriage was to actress Frances Howard, who had a very short career. Their son followed his father into the business, as hae several grandchildren have gotten into the business in various capacities. Unfortunately, a number of his family members left behind in Poland died at the hands of the Nazi's during the Holocaust, despite the family's best efforts to get them out of Europe.                                    

[Source: Dennis Svoboda and Anneabe (Find A Grave)]



Sunday, August 16, 2020

Born Today August 16: Jane Gail


Actress of the early silent era Jane Gail was born Ethel S. Magee on this day in Salem, New York. Her entire career in film was not only encapsulated within the silent era, it is almost completely contained to the 1910's.  She is well known from her appearances during this time, curiously in a series of science fiction roles; though she also appeared in melodrama and crime films and was very talented in a surprising number of short comedies.  Before appearing in pictures, she, was like so many early actual actors in films, an actor of the stage; she even had a brief run on Broadway. While she is very famous as the imperiled fiancee opposite King Baggot's Dr. Jekyll in the 1913 Herbert Brenon directed version Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, she actually made her film debut a year earlier as an extra in yet another version of Dr. Jekyll directed by Lucius Henderson for Thanhouser.  She quickly got a named role in her very next film: Her Heart's Refuge (1912), a romantic short made by Lubin Manufacturing. She actually appeared in 11 films between her two Dr. Jekyll films--a goodly number of them were narrative comedies and/or romances--though most are not remembered even in film history.  A couple of sources cite that she is best known for her role in George Loane Tucker's "white slavery" film Traffic in Souls, but that probably has as much to do with the fact that the film has indeed survived and is widely available to purchase, as it does with anything--though it was the very first feature length picture in which she appeared (and it would not be her only appearance in a Tucker directed feature, probably the most famous among them is his Prisoner of Zenda in 1915, but there is also The Difficult Way from 1914 which had a running time of 1 hour and 15 minutes). For me personally though, her turn as "Child of Nature" in the 1916 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the performance that stands out. The film is the first adaptation of the famous Jules Verne novel and was ground breaking in that it was the first motion picture filmed under water, done with done with reflective techniques by the Williamson Submarine Company based in The Bahamas where the film was shot.  She would only remain in films another three years, with 1917 being the boom year--appearing in over 10 films. She did not make a film at all in 1919 and had just one appearance each in 1918 and 1920. All of these films were shorts, save for her final film appearance, which was in the independent, shot on location (Florida everglades), film. She took the lead role opposite John Charles (who would die soon after the film's release). She was only 30 years of age when she decided to retire. Apparently the Florida area was to and her husband's liking, and they settled in the St. Petersburg area. She passed away there on her birthday in 1963 at the age of 72. She was, however, interred near her birth place at Ferncliff in Hartsdale, New York under her married name of Hill, along with her husband--a newspaper man and documentarian Edwin C. Hill--and a relative that I am assuming is her sister who is interred under their birth name of Magee. 

[Source: Ginny M (Find A Grave)]

 Below are two still from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)



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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Born Today August 15: Mary Nash


Stage and screen actress Mary Nash, born Mary Honora Ryan, was born on this day in Tory, New York (part of that state's "capital region").  Primarily a stage actress (she was famously on the New York stage with Ethel Barrymore--with whom she shares a birthday--in 1905), most sources cite her film career as beginning in 1934, but she was in fact in three films in 1915 and 1916; and not in bit parts.  Her first film was The Unbroken Road (1915) in the lead role; it was an independent film with tinting by the Commercial Motion Pictures Co. She next appeared in Balboa Amusement's Tides of Time, a strange little short about the evils of greed displayed by the rich and powerful; it manages to work in some Edgar Allan least in the form of book prop of his Conqueror Worm. Finally she appeared in the lead role Astra Films' Arms and the Woman (penned by Ouida Bergére, the future Mrs. Basil Rathbone) in 1916.  Like so many accomplished stage actors of the time, Nash found silent film acting not to her taste (and really, who can blame them??); she returned to the stage and did not return to film until well into the sound era in 1934.  The film that a lot of sources cite as her motion picture debut is Universal's Uncertain Lady--released on April 3rd.  She would appear in 22 more films during her career. Probably the best known of these is the George Cukor directed remarriage comedy The Philadelphia Story in 1940.  Her last film appearance came in Swell Guy in 1946.  She then retired, but stayed in Los Angeles.  Nash died in her Brentwood home in her sleep at the age of 92 on the 3rd of December in 1976.  She is interred at St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, New York--near her birth town.  She was the sister of actress Florence Nash. She was also briefly married for a time to French actor José Ruben.  

Nash in A Philadelphia Story


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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Born Today August 13: Mary Duncan

Stage and silent screen actress Mary Duncan was born Mary Annie Dungan on this day in Luttrellville, Virginia. She studied acting as a young child and actually made her Broadway debut in 1910 at the age of 15! She then went on to study for a time at Cornell, and would further go on to study acting with the famed French Cabaret singer Yvette Guilbert of Moulin Rouge fame. Though she is known for her roles in Hollywood films by people who follow talkies and pre-code films, she actually started in films in the late 1920's. While she may not be well known on lists of silent actors, she made quite the mark when first arriving in Hollywood. Her first film was in the Fox romantic comedy Very Confidential  starring Madge Bellamy in 1927.  She next turned up in another Bellamy comedy in the lead supporting of Loran Estabrook in Soft Living, also starring Johnny Mack Brown. Without a doubt her most famous turn in a silent film came in the first of two F. W. Murnau films that she would act it.  Duncan was cast in the now famously lost 4 Devils (1928); she is not famously attatched to this title because she took the lead--that went to Janet Gaynor. Duncan has been famously associated with the film ever since film historian and archivist William K. Everson claimed in 1974 that she was solely responsible for the lose of the film. She supposedly convinced the studio, years after it's release, to allow her to have a copy of the film to show to her friends at her palatial Florida home--it was, Everson said, the only copy of the film and, of course, it was nitrate. The story is that for some reason she threw it in the ocean (why??). In any case, how true every detail is to this account, no really knows, what is known is that it is one of the more famous lost Murnau and Fox films. She went on to appear in three more films before the end of the decade--all of them partial or full sound movies.  She had top bill starring roles in both The River (1928) and Thru Different Eyes (1929). The last of her 1920's films was the romantic western Romance of the Rio Grande directed by Alfred Santell.  Probably the best known film that she appeared in was another Murnau film and the first one of the 1930's (one of only two):  City Girl.  It would be her last starring role in what would turn out to be the short rest of her career. Despite that she was hailed as a super talent on the stage at such an early age, her talents did not translate well in Hollywood at all.  Her roles slowly diminished in importance and screen time and after her last film appearance in 1933, she gave up the profession altogether to marry a wealthy man and international polo star and become a socialite in Palm Beach, Florida.  Her last film appearance was in a very early Katherine Hepburn film Morning Glory (released August 1933).  She died there many, many years later at the age of 98 on the 9th of May at her Florida home. She is interred in a unique family plot at Green Hill Cemetery in Amsterdam, New York.

[Source: Emma Headstone (Find A Grave)]

[Source: Emma Headstone (Find A Grave)]



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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Born Today August 12: Kenneth Hawks


Younger brother of famed filmmaker Howard Hawks, Kenneth Neil Hawks was born on this day in Goshen, Indiana. He was the middle of three boys, with brother William (later a successful producer) being three years his junior. The trio also had two sisters.  Unlike his two brothers, his film career was far too short. Kenneth had served his country in World War I in the brand new Army Aerial Air Service; he would become a lover planes ever after. After his return from the war, he attended and graduated from Yale. He then moved out to Hollywood, where his older brother had already relocated. He quickly gained work at Fox as a writer, though his first credit came in the form of a script supervisor on  More Pay - Less Work a 1926 Fox comedy directed by Albert Ray and adapted by Rex Taylor.  His first official writing credit came in 1927 on another comedy Ankles Preferred , where he shared the credit with three others.  He would eventually be listed with only one other writer credit, though Ankles remains his only official such credit; he is one of two "script doctors" that were said to have cleaned up the script for anther Albert Ray film Thief in the Dark  (1928).  He has two additional credits as a supervisor, one as an editor and three credits as a director (co-direction on Masked Emotions 1929, the Fox talkie Big Time 1929, and Such Men Are Dangerous--released approximately two months after his death).  He was also an active supervising producer on the World War One drama True Heaven (1929). While directing--from the air--the aerial scenes of Such Men on the 2nd of January, which required two planes, he and 9 others were killed instantly when the two air craft collided over the Pacific Ocean, plunging into the water in a fiery ball. His body was eventually recovered and cremated and scattered over the site of the crash. He was just 31 years of age at the time. At the time of his death, he was married to movie star Mary Astor, the two had wed on the 26th of February, 1928.  

   Both Kenneth and his brother Howard served in the Army Air Service in World War I


United States Army Air Service

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Born Today August 11: Hobart Bosworth


Prolific (!) actor and director Hobart Bosworth was born in Marietta, Ohio on this day in 1867.  His birth name was Hobart Van Zandt Bosworth; the "Van Zandt" name coming from his mother's side of the family, giving away that she was descended from the Van Zandt's of New York fame--one of the original families of "New Amsterdam." On his father side of the family, he was reportedly descended (at least according to Bosworth himself) from two lines that came over on the Mayflower.  His mother died when he was quite young; his father's remarriage caused trouble for the youngster from the get-go. He revealed later in life that he had run away from home while just a lad and wound up on the east coast in New York City. He found work on board ship sailing the dangerous route to and fro the west coast.  He also told interviewers that he had spent time as a child laborer on board arctic whalers. As he got older, he added boxing to his list of job titles, something he was determined to turn pro at; that not working out, he said he wound up in ranching, mostly in Mexico. He tried a number of things in  various lines of work, I would suppose, given his circumstances. The important thing is that they were all on the west coast, which eventually lead to his trying out the theater in San Francisco. At first working in the managerial side of theatrical work, he would drift into acting. With his acting skills improving, he would eventually end up in a touring company.  And, he was still not quite 20 years of age! The acting gig wasn't one continuous career for him however, by way of mines in Utah, he wound up a touring stage performer in Mexico (if his personal account of his life's early exploits are to be completely believed, he must have been at least somewhat proficient in Spanish). I have no idea how true most of his accounts of his life outside of acting are true or "truish"--his work in San Francisco and touring company information can be verified.  As can his work back east afterward.  By 1888, he made it all the back to New York (more ship work??). Already proficient with Shakespearean material, he was able to find pretty easy stage work there, even touring Europe for a time. Bosworth then contracted tuberculosis, then a life long condition (if you survived it at all!), which forced him to scale back acting engagements. He was eventually well enough to finally make his Broadway debut some time after the turn of century. His health condition forced him to abandon New York City all together and return to the desert southwest (I can only imagine what a nightmare the air conditions were in New York at the time, even for the healthy!!).  Despite his health issues, he would go on to live a full life, brimming with work for us to enjoy today. Back on the west coast, where he moved due health concerns, he made his way into acting in the earliest film efforts out there; making his film debut in a Selig film that made some history:  The Count of Monte Cristo in 1908.  The film is thought to be the very first motion picture made in Los Angeles (well...greater L.A.).  He next showed up in one of my favorite genre's "early horror" in another history making film as the first filmed version of Stevenson's (by way of the stage) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1908. He quickly moved on to more literary depictions in Rip Van Winkle and Damon and Pythias. He subsequently became a mainstay at Selig.  He stayed with them through the first half of 1913, when he left to start his own production company: Hobart Bosworth Productions. During his time at Selig, he made dozens and dozens of films; in fact the lion's share of his appearances in silents came in shorts produced at the company. In 1910 he played one of his claimed ancestors in the film named for another one; he was "John Alden" in The Courtship of Miles Standish (one of his co-stars in this was a very young Bebe Daniels); and he played Cotton Mather in one of his last Selig films In the Days of Witchcraft in 1913. His last film for the compnay was In the Midst of the Jungle -- a three reeler released in October. When he formed his own company, the focus was on two things: one was principally to produce films based on the writings of Jack London, and two, was to make those films feature length. The company's very first production is now amongst one of the more famous lost films. The Sea Wolf; directed by Bosworth and a featuring London himself as a member of the cast; he played the lead himself (it was released on the 7th of December of 1913).  The company produced five such films, before branching out a bit in mid-1914, by also agreeing to produce a film by important film maker Lois Weber; that short was The Traitor in which Bosworth personally appeared.  Four Jack London pictures later, his production company then produced a script that he had written himself.  The Country Mouse, also directed and starring Bosworth. This marked the beginning of his company moving on to other authors.  Eventually the company would be successfully folded into Paramount. [It's last named production was The Sea Lion in 1921 (starring Bosworth, of course).] In 1915, Bosworth took the lead in a film produced by Universal that was directed Otis Turner, whom he first worked with at Selig: The Scarlet Sin had him acting opposite Jane Novak.  A Little Brother of the Rich (1915) had him doing the same.  In 1916, he became a frequent player in westerns, allowing his ranching experience from his childhood to be of use.  Also in the later teens he showed up in films by directors as diverse as Marshall Neilan to Norval MacGregor; Phil Rosen to Cecil B. DeMille (he was in several of his films and DeMille's Joan the Woman is still widely available, Bosworth's role was Gen. La Hire).  In the 1920's he was back to acting full time; he mostly starred in B-level pictures, though he did appear in a few films by noted directors, but as the 1920's wore on, he largely occupies supporting roles (at least one notable exception to this was John Ford's Hearts of Oak). Still from the shear number of credits that he had during that decade it is clear that he was a bit of a workaholic (I mean that in a good way of course 😊). In 1928, he appeared in the lead role of an all talking Warner Bros. short entitled A Man Of Peace (it's copyright title was Hobart Bosworth's in A Man of Peace), it was his first talkie--sound by Vitaphone. And though he was among the throng of stars featured in Show of Shows in 1929, there was little need to introduce his voice; after A Man of Peace, he never appeared in a fully silent film again--in fact most of the films in which he acted in 1928 and 1929 were full talking pictures. This may offer a clue why he was able, as a much older actor, able to make the successful transition to acting in the 1930's, when so many younger, more famous actors did not. During the 1930's he did work with a number of directors of later Hollywood success, including Frank Capra and Michael Curtiz and a few a past Hollywood superstardom, like D.W. Griffith--he mostly had supporting roles in lesser films. To his credit, however, almost all of his roles were solidly in the supporting category and were named parts (so many players from silent films that did act into the era of sound were relegated to "uncredited" appearances). He acted into the 1940's; in fact, he had kept acting until his health forced him to quit at the age of 75. I am quite sure, if he could have, he would have kept on if he could. He passed away at the age of 76 in Los Angeles on the 30th of December, having succumbed to pneumonia--but far outlived so many others who had contracted lung illnesses in the early 20th century. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His first marriage was to actress Adele Farrington.  In the end, he had almost 300 acting credits to his good name. He had also contributed a great deal to the production side of films, though he wasn't remembered long for it.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Born Today August 10: Bertram Bracken


Prolific silent film era director Bertram Bracken was born on this day in San Antonio; "Bert" as he was affectionately known, grew up in Lampass, Texas.  Ivy League educated, he started his career in banking; quite the feat for the son of southern grocery store owners. He also served in the United States military for a time. The biographical information on him does not record how he became involved with film making, but his acting career started in Chicago on the stage in the 1890's (a few other individuals have actually become interested in acting during military service--so that is always a possibility).  He quickly went from actor to owner of his own stock company, which he apparently ran until he was hired by Star Film (the Gaston Méliès' company) in 1910.  He made his acting debut with them in 1911 in the short historical western The Immortal Alamo starring Francis Ford.  There is ample evidence that his acting filmography is not complete; Star Film listed him a being directed by Gaston Méliès--one of Georges Méliès' older brothers--in several films that we do not have credits for Bracken acting in. It is possible that a few films for the G. Méliès Gaston Méliès produced and in but Bracken both directed and acted in are mistaken for actually having been directed by the Frenchman. A good example of this is The Castaway; which is currently listed as Bracken's directorial debut released in December of 1912.  His wife at the time, Mildred, was a frequent star of his early directions. He next went to work for Lubin; it was the first time he was hired by a company for his directing capabilities. His debut effort for them was The Mysterious Hand in 1913; the film starred Henry King who would go on to be a very prolific director in his own rite.   At Lubin, he would turn out dozens of short films; it would take until the mid-teens, when he would go to work for Balboa, for him to direct a feature. One of his first features has turned out to be pertinent to what we are currently living through right now:  Beulah (1915), a film in which a young doctor has to deal with, among many other things, an epidemic.  One of his films from his Balboa days that is known to have survived is Comrade John, a copy of which has been preserved at Cinematheque Francais. His most well known studio contract, though, came at Fox; and, he started off there with a bang, so to speak. In 1916 he directed Theda Bara in The Eternal Sappho opposite James Cooley (like so many of Fox's films from the silent era, it is a lost); he would become one of that studio's most prolific directors in 1916 and 1917. The last film that he made for them was The Moral Law (1918).  He next landed at National later in 1918: And A Still Small Voice, a gambling melodrama, was his first picture there. His best remembered film in this two year was The Confession  (1920), based an a Hal Reid play and sporting a plot that would be reused in several different guises in many films to come (even Hitchcock's similarly titled I Confess).  He next turned to making films with Selig, but in the early 1920's he began suffering from a debilitating eye complaint and he largely went back to directing shorts for a time.  He made just three features between 1920 and 1925.  Some of his shorts, though, featured very famous players, including: Lewis Stone and Wallace Beery were frequent leads, not to mention the presence of his second wife, actress Margaret Landis.  With his permanent return to feature film directing in 1925 with Heartless Husbands, he made just six more films, all but one of them in the 1920's.  His last silent film was Fire and Steel, released in July of 1927.  He made just one talking picture, released in October of 1932, The Face on the Barroom Floor was a poverty row crime film: it was partially written, or more properly adapted by Bracken, from a story by Aubrey M. Kennedy (it was Kennedy's production company that was responsible for the making of the film as well).  Bracken then retired to work in radio and write mystery novels (Bracken had been writing since the teens, and written film scenarios for his own direction as far back as 1916). He died in Los Angeles on the 1st. of November of 1952 at the age of 73 (I need to point out that 10 August 1879 appears to be his correct birthday--the 1880 year, even though it appears on his grave marker, is a mistake).  And speaking of his grave marker, he is buried at Welwood Murray Cemetery at Palm Springs, California.


Find A Grave entry

[please excuse the lack of proper editing, allergy eye has a hold of me again]

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Born Today August 9: Dorothy Jordan


American actress, largely of the pre-code era, Dorothy Hendricks Jordan was born on this day in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Jordan's career was quite short by Hollywood standards and she made her debut at the very end of the 1920's. Although Jordan did appear in films that had silent versions, she never acted in a fully silent film, having made her first motion picture appearance in George B. Seitz's Fox melodrama Black Magic in 1929; the film was a partial silent, with music and sound effects by MovieTone. Jordan would go on to have parts in three more films in 1929; one of them an important supporting role and the other was a leading role.  The first of these was the Fox extravaganza that was the musical comedy Words and Music, that despite it's billing as a "song and dance' film also had a fully silent version...and an appearance by a young "Duke Morrison" aka John Wayne.  She next appeared as Bianca in the all talking Sam Taylor directed adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. She then moved on to the lead opposite Ramon Novarro in MGM's romantic fancy with music Devil-May-Care.  Without skipping a beat, she was cast again in the lead role opposite Novarro in the musical romance In Gay Madrid, and again in Call of the Flesh, both released in 1930.  She went on to appear in 17 more films between 1930 and 1933. During this time she acted along side Robert Montgomery, Marie Dressler, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, Mary Astor, Lewis Stone, Will Rogers, Richard Bathelmess, Lionel Barrymore and Bette Davis.  In May of 1933 she married famed King Kong producer/director Merian C. Cooper and left pictures. She did have two screen tests for the roles in Gone With The Wind, including for the lead role of Scarlett; but, of course, the part went to Vivian Leigh. She instead raised a family of of two sons and a daughter. She briefly came out of retirement in the 1950's as a favor to family friend, director John Ford in the 1950's. Of the three films that she made for Ford, two of them starred The Duke himself--John Wayne. They included the extremely famous Wayne western The Searchers (1956) and the last film that she appeared in The Wings of Eagles in 1957.  She then retired for good and went back to her family life. She lived in Los Angeles the remainder of her life, dying there at the age of 82 of congestive heart failure on the 7th of December in 1988.  She was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines and her ashes were scattered at sea (reportedly in the same location that her husband's ashes were scattered in 1973).