Sunday, January 31, 2021

Silents on TCM February 2021

 


 All Times EST

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 1 Feb. 12AM [Year: 1925] Filmstruck Clip

 

Three Alice Guy Films:

 


 8 Feb. 2AM [Year: 1913] Library of Congress Information Sheet

 


 8 Feb. [Year: 1912] Film Information

 


 8 Feb. [Year: 1913] Film Information

 

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 15 Feb. 12:45AM [Year: 1931] (Partial Silent) Trailer

 

22 Feb. 12AM [Year: 1928] TCM Intro
 

 

Others:

 


16 Feb. 9AM [Year: 1939] Trailer

 

 

Born Today January 31: Gypsy Abbott

 


 1896-1952
 
Stage and silent film actress Gypsy Abbott was born on this day Atlanta, Georgia. Her career started in vaudeville before she was ten; she showed a remarkable talent for comedy and stayed with the genre for her entire acting career. By the time she was in her teens, she had also moved into regular stage work; eventually working for E.H. Sothern's company (Sothern was a famous Shakespearean specialist). She later worked on a touring production of the musical Little Johnny Jones, written and produced by Broadway man George M. Cohan.  She entered the film business at just the age of 17 (nearer 18) in the Balboa Amusement short The Path of Sorrow (December 1913).  She met actor Henry King, who was ten years her senior, on the set and would marry him the following spring. They would go on to have three or four children and remain married until her untimely death in the early 1950's.  Both of their careers acting in film would not out last the silent era, though Abbott's film career didn't last past the end of the decade, with her active years in the business were 1913 through 1917.  Abbott is most well known for her time spent with the Mutual Film distribution company, working under the production house of Vogue Motion Picture Company making short comedies with the likes of Ben Turpin; but she did not start working with them until half way through 1916.  In the meantime, she continued to make films (mostly) at Balboa. Almost all were shorts, but she also appeared in the odd serial, and one of her better known films from the era was St. Elmo (May 1914) directed by J. Gordon Edwards who would go on to famously direct a number of Theda Bara films at Fox. She also had a role in The Man Who Could Not Lose, released in November of 1914, and directed by Carlyle Blackwell.  As far as her serial work is concerned, the six hour long Who Pays? from 1915 is notable, because he husband wrote it and was one of the directors, in addition to being a member of the cast. King would go on to be one of Hollywood's most prolific directors, working into the early 1960's.  Abbott and King continued to work in films together in the mid-1910's, appearing with a few others of note including: Dorothy Davenport, Ruth Roland and Ed Brady who became well known later on in poverty row films of the 30's. The pair even appeared in one film--Letters Entangled--with Mary Gish, the mother of Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Abbott did act during this time sans her husband as a cast member, the melodrama Beulah (May 1915) being a prime example. Her first appearance in a Mutual film was not in one their signature comic shorts, but rather in a melodrama, Vengeance Is Mine!--made by David Horsely and Centaur and staring Crane Wilbur in 1916.  Her first turn in the signature Vogue Mutual comedy short with Turpin came in For Ten Thousand Bucks, released later that year at the end of July. Mutual is very well known as a company that distributed a number of Chaplin shorts; and another frequent co-star of Abbott's in these little comedies was the Irish born Paddy McGuire who also appeared in a number of Chaplin shorts in the 1910's. In her Vogue short, she appeared with both Turpin and McGuire in When Ben Bolted (April 1917) directed by actor/director Robin Williamson. Her last film role altogether was as Lorelei in the melodrama with fantasy elements Lorelei of the Sea starring Tyrone Power Sr. She then retired to raise her growing family, content with being the wife of an up and coming director. Abbott died at the just the age of 56 in Hollywood on the 25th of July in 1952 (cause of death undisclosed). She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. 

Abbott with Crane Wilbur in Vengeance Is Mine!

[Source: AJM (Find A Grave)]

 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Born Today January 30: Greta Nissen

 

1906-1988

 

Norwegian born actress Greta Nissen was born Grethe Rüzt-Nissen on this day Oslo.  As a young child she studied ballet seriously, becoming a professional ballerina in 1922 at just the age of 16.  She made her film debut the very next year in the Lau Lauritzen directed Danish comedy  Daarskab, dyd og driverter (September 1923) in the leading role basically playing herself in the role of "Grethe."  She also appeared in another Lauritzen film that same year: Lille Lise let-paa-taa (March 1923) as "Lise."  Nissen made her Broadway debut in 1924, which is how she wound up in American made films in 1925. Jesse Lasky personally had a hand in signing her to Paramount after seeing her perform in New York.  She was promptly cast as the star of Lost:  A Wife in (July 1925), a William de Mille and Clara Beranger film. Most of her films at Paramount were romantic comedies or dramas in which she was near or at the top of the ticket.  In early 1926 she was "loaned out" to Universal to appear in the John McDermott directed romantic drama The Love Thief with Norman Kerry and Marc McDermott (no relation); she was replacing another Greta in the part of Princess Flavia Eugenia Marie--Greta Garbo.  In her time at Paramount she acted along side the likes of Adolphe Menjou, Bessie Love, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Florence Vidor and Ricardo Cortez. In 1928, she moved over to Fox Film and was cast in Fazil, a partial silent directed by Howard Hawks; this is important to note, not only because it was her first film at Fox, but also because it lead directly to her being cast in the Howard Hughes film Hell's Angels. It was her involvement with the insanely large production in 1928 that meant that she didn't make many other film appearances between then and the early 1930's.  She did appear in the comedy The Butter and Egg Man with Jack Muhall in 1928, but that was it.  Hughes actually finished Hell's Angels as a fully silent film, but with the coming of sound systems at the majors, Hughes decided to re-shoot the film for sound, pushing the release date to 1930. Nissen had a thick Norwegian accent and Hughes famously replaced her with Jean Harlow. For many, her near appearance in the film is all they have heard of Nissen. As a result of her time spent on the Hughes project, her actual film credits jump in years from 1928 to 1931, when she appeared in the Fox comedy Women of All Nations (May 1931) with Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe. The following year on the set of the mystery The Silent Witness she met and fell for a fellow cast member; she appeared with Lionel Atwill and Weldon Heyburn, who would become her first husband. In 1933, she left the U.S. and relocated in England; while there she continued her film career. Red Wagon, released in December of 1933, was her first British film performance. In 1937, she retired from acting altogether. Her last film was the British thriller Danger in Paris (January 1937) directed by Paul L. Stein (who had directed Red Wagon). She remarried in 1941 and had a child, a son Tor Bruce Nissen Eckert. She and her husband eventually relocated back to California, purchasing a home in Montecito. She died in that home from complications due to Parkinson's on the 15th of May in 1988 at the age of 83. She was cremated.  Nissen was extremely photogenic and was a favorite for staged promotionals and lobby cards. Though she was never a model (as far as I know), she certainly could have been!

 

 



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Friday, January 29, 2021

Born Today January 29: Ernst Lubitsch




1892-1947

One of my own personal all time favorite directors Ernst Lubitsch was born on this day in Berlin, Germany.  Lubitsch's father was quite the successful tailor and wanted his son to follow him in the business. Ernst, having had a love of the theater from a young age, balked heavily at this and eventually entered theatrical work as an actor. Before long--by 1911--at the very young age of 19--he was a member Max Reinhardt theatrical company at the Deutsches Theater, under Reinhardt's full management.  This is important because, though not discussed often, the two men undoubtedly had an effect on each other in regard to film (topic for an interesting essay/article!).  Reinhardt was seen as very much a "theater man" through and through--his management business was a wild success. But in truth, Reinhardt had a deep interest in directing films; this no doubt was imparted to Lubitsch (Reinhardt would go on to actually direct a few films, no doubt spurred on by Lubitsch's success in the industry before him: tit-for-tat).  Given his beginnings in the theater, it then comes as no surprise that Lubitsch entered the film business in the capacity of an actor, which he did just a year after his full membership at the Deutsches. He appeared as "Speilman" in the medieval mystery The Miracle, an English language/UK production shot in Austria, in 1912 (the 1913 German film The Ideal Wife is often cited at Lubitsch's film debut).  It was not long before he also directed his first film, which he also wrote and starred in. The film was Miss Soapsuds (Fräulein Seifenschaum) was produced in 1914, when Lubitsch was just 22 (in the meantime, he made acting appearances in more the half dozen films).  In his earliest directing efforts, it was common for him to direct himself in prominant roles (it was almost as common for him to have personally written the script, many of which were comedic in nature).  This arrangement came to end when he started getting directing jobs on feature length films, around 1918. Though  The Eyes of the Mummy (1918), starring the delightful Pola Negri, is often cited as his break out film as director, it was pretty clear by his handling of the direction of The Ballet Girl (with the film I Don't Want To Be A Man separating them) that he had arrived as a director of serious merit.  By the time his Carmen, also starring Negri, was released later in 1918, he had well and truly arrived one the world stage as a serious talent in the crafting of films (it was only a matter of time before Hollywood took notice, though with some considerable help from the director himself). He would not make his Hollywood move until 1922, and he made a number of important features between Carmen and his Hollywood debut with Rosita in 1923.  Negri was a frequent lead and light fantasy elements were common. One of his surviving films from the time was The Doll; released in December of 1919 the film was based on an E.T.A Hoffmann story.  Another of his surviging German films is the over two hour long Deception (original title Anna Boleyn) starring Henny Porten and Emil Jannings based on the life of Henry VIII's ill-fated second wife.  But it was The Loves of Pharaoh (Das Weib des Pharao) in 1922 that was his crowning achievement during this portion of his career. Again starring Jannings in the lead, as the Pharao Amenes, the film was the first and only film made by his own production company Ernst Lubitsch-Film (the film was the subject of one of the most complicated restoration projects of the early 2000's).  He made just one more German film before making a permanent move to California. A much shorter production, The Flame (Die Flamme) was a melodrama based on a Hans Müller play released domestically in September of 1923.  
 

 

 
Despite that Lubitsch's Hollywood films would become wildly popular and highly regarded (garnering him Oscar nods by 1930), his relocation there was not seamless. Lubitsch had been intensly interested in making films in the U.S. ever since he saw an exdous of various European directors after World War I; he made a fact finding trip in 1921 and saw for himself the superiority of the equipment and facilities as compared to the increasingly struggling German film industry; but he was burdened with a heavy German accent (and completely ignoring his Jewish ancestry...), was not at all to the liking of Americans fresh off a war they had been drug kicking and screaming into. Lubitsch, however, was persistent and managed to get his foot in the door a couple of years later.  His first American film is a well known one. Rosita, which stars Mary Pickford, with Holbrook Blinn and Irene Rich in top supporting roles (the film exists and has been restored, no thanks to it's star; Pickford so disliked the film that she allowed her own personal copy of the film, the only known print at the time--to decay on purpose--a copy was found in Russia in 1960's however).  Though made for Pickford's production company, it was under the umbrella of United Artists for distribution, a connection that would be of help to him later on. He next moved over to Warner's to direct Florence Vidor in the comedy The Marriage Circle (February 1924); and the melodrama Three Women (October 1924) starring Pauline Frederick, May McAvoy and Marie Prevost. He finished up the year at Paramount (Famous Players-Lasky) directing the comedy Forbidden Paradise (November 1924) starring his old muse Negri. 

Lubitsch directing Forbidden Paradise [source: Paramount Pictures]

Continuing with his track of bringing comedic plays to the screen, he made two films in the vein in 1925 for Warner's. The first of these was Kiss Me Again (August 1925), starring Marie Prevost and Monte Blue, based on the play
Divorçons by Victorien Sardou and Emile DeNajac (the film is now considered lost). He next directed a version of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, the film that many consider his silent masterpiece. The film stars May McAvoy and Ronald Colman with Irene Rich as the cunning and coy Mr. Erlynne. Wilde would not be anyone's first choice for source material in a silent film...his brilliant word play is what makes Wilde...well, Wilde right? This is what makes this film such a feat of direction on the part of Lubitsch. It's expertly done, story in-tact and superbly shot...and it is very much still with us today! 

Rich and McAvoy

Just one of the many rather perfect fades in Lady Windermere's Fan

In 1926, he next turned his directorial attentions to Halévy/Meilhac play Le Reveillon for his "roaring twenties" dance film (without the song) So This Is Paris starring Patsy Ruth Miller and Lilyan Tashman as a true to form "flapper," with a return performance by Monte Blue (Myrna Loy is also a cast member). Basically a remarriage comedy, the film features the extremely popular dance of the time the Charleston.  The New York Times voted it one of the best films of 1926.  

Lubitsch with his Paris cast.

Lubitsch's last silent film was The Student Prince in Old Heidleberg, a romance pairing up Ramon Novarro with Norma Shearer. Based on the popular Wilhelm Meyer-Förster adapted play Old Heidelberg, the film was made for MGM and Lubitsch was offered production credit.  For his first sound film, he moved over to Paramount to direct The Patriot, a partial silent, filmed completely as a silent with sound added in post-production. And talk about casting...Emil Jannings, Lewis Stone, Florence Vidor, Neil Hamilton....it's a strange line up. It also received multiple nominations for the Academy Awards, including for Best Director (it won for writing achievement). The film is also considered lost; in fact it is the only film within the Best Picture nominations list to have been lost. His next film, Eternal Love, was also a partial silent; with John Barrymore and Camilla Horn in the lead roles, it was produced by Joe Schenck's company and distributed by United Artists. This film survives and is availble; many fans of both Lubitsch and Barrymore cite it as a favoirite film. 
 



 

Lubitsch's last film of the decade was also his first full sound film. Back at Paramount, he produced and directed The Love Parade, not only his first full sound picture, but also a musical to boot. It would be the first of several for him. It was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture. 
 
The Love Parade [source: MoMA]

 
The Love Parade

His first two films of the new decade were musicals, Monte Carlo (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), he returned to non-music laden film making in 1932 with Broken Lullaby a story of war redemption starring the other Barrymore, Lionel. Form there, he returned to the musical form in his next film One Hour with You (1932). When I was growing up with morning and afternoon films on TBS, I remember watching his next film Trouble in Paradise (October 1932),  it was my introduction to Lubitsch, though I didn't know it at the time, I just knew I loved the film.  The other film that I also was introduced to on TBS was Ninotchka, a Lubitsch film starring Greta Garbo from 1939. I was introduced to these films just weeks apart, but in Lubitsch's career he had directed several films in the years in between, including Angel with Marlene Dietrich in 1937.  The lighthearted The Shop Around the Corner, with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (and Frank Morgan!) was his first film of the 1940's. He made four films through mid-decade, including To Be or Not to Be, which would turn out to be Carole Lombard's last film. He did not have any films released between the years 1943 and 1946. His romantic war comedy Cluny Brown was released post-war June of 1946 and he then went to work on another musical starring Betty Grable. The Lady in Ermine, which also featured Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Cesar Romero would not only be his last film, it would be left unfinished at the time of his death. Lubitsch died of a sudden heart attack on the 30th of November in 1947. He was just 55 years old. Director Otto Preminger finished his last film, which was released on the 25th of September of 1948, nearly a year after his death. Hollywood was truly stunned by his death, a town that he had spurned him in beginning of his overtures had become a place that, for a moment, could not live without him.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. 
 

[Source: AJM (Find a Grave)]




 
 
 
 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Born Today January 28: Charles Morton

 

1908-1966

 

Charles Morton was an actor of stage, screen and tube; both and leading man and a supporting character actor during his long career; he was also a stunt man for a time. He was born on this day in the state of Illinois, where specifically is a matter of mystery. We do know that he grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and started acting on the late vaudeville stages around the age of seven. From there he graduated up through theater appearances while still in school all the way through attending the University of Wisconsin; eventually making his professional stage debut in the 1920's. He was handsome and athletic, so it is hardly surprising that the studios took early notice of him. And, he, for his part, was also determined to break into pictures. It's a bit unusual for someone born in 1908 to get their start in silent cinema, but this is precisely what Morton did in 1927. He was cast in the top supporting role of the Fox comedy Rich But Honest, with the now almost unknown "flapper" Nancy Nash and actor John Holland, who had a very short lived film career.  He quickly graduated to leading man, appearing next in Colleen (July 1927) opposite Madge Bellamy.  He finished off his debut year in films with the human male lead in Wolf Fangs, starring Fox's answer to Rin Tin Tin: Thunder the Dog in the animal male lead. He was next cast in his first big Fox production and his first sound film, John Ford's Four Sons (1928) as the son Johann.  This film is a partial silent with musical scoring and war sound effects by Movietone; it had to be one the first Fox films with a orchestrator and music arranger, even if they did go uncredited (it also had an props guy that went without a credit....a young man that went by the name "Duke" Morrison, aka John Wayne). Morton appeared in two more fully silent films, Dressed to Kill (1928, with Mary Astor) and None But the Brave (1928, with Sally Phipps), before he appeared in his next film with sound: Murnau's famously lost 4 Devils, with Mary Duncan in a late "vamp" role.  He followed this by again appearing with Mary Astor in the partial silent New Year's Eve in 1929; next landing the leading role The Fall Call, a full talkie. His role opposite Janet Gaynor in Christina, released in December of 1929, brought to a close the number of films that he made during the decade; the fact that it was a partial silent also underscores how late Fox as studio was in the race to bring full sound to films.  His first film in the new decade, the southern period melodrama Cameo Kirby, saw him in a supporting role, with J. Harold Murray in the lead. It would be an indication of how his career was headed. Morton was a strange case, in that he became a late silent era star whose career began to falter with the coming of the sound era in the 1930's. It's really unusual for a popular actor entering films so late in the 1920's to have their career so negatively impacted by the coming of sound, but Morton was never a genius actor and he also had a number of personal problems that began to mount into the early 30's...that certainly could not have helped. He had no high profile leading roles in the 1930's and after 1933, he had trouble even getting larger supporting roles. Soon enough, he was put into tiny uncredited roles, such as "Party Guest" in Universal's The Invisible Man (November 1933). He had no roles (even in stunt work) for 1934 or 1935, returning to work in a bit part in the short crime film Foolproof in 1936.  Every single role that he had during the rest of the decade went without a formal credit; even the stunt work, which he started in 1938, was uncredited. He appeared in nearly 40 films during the 1940's, never once getting a named role. The same went for his work during the 1950's. Morton made his television debut in 1955 in the season 3 episode The House Always Wins of the variety show "Four Star Playhouse," which aired on the 28th of April--again uncredited as a "gambler."  It was in the 1950's when he managed to get a bit "type cast" by playing bartenders in a string of films; this is something that continued into the 1960's, even appearing as such in several episodes of series such as "Tate" and "Maverick." And, it was in the role of "bartender" in 5 episodes of "F Troop" in 1966 that represent his last acting role. Morton's stunt had cone to an end four years earlier. Charles Morton died of heart disease at the age of just 58 on the 26th of October in Hollywood. He was cremated and interred in an in ground grave left unmarked at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.


A publicity shot used by Fox and dating from 1927


 

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Born Today January 27: Karel Lamac


1897-1952

Prague born actor and director Karel Lamac (sometime credited as "Carl") was born on this day in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire in the cosmopolitan city of Prague. His mother was a well known opera singer, and his father was a successful pharmacist. As a child he had interests in both pharmacology and stage work. His first foray into the work of camera operations came as an apprentice to a German camera manufacturing company in Dresden; it would not only mark his beginnings as a photographer, but also his long association with Germany as a country. His work at the company came to close with the outbreak of World War I, during which he became an in-field combat photographer. After the war, he made his first steps toward becoming the well known director he is today remembered for; he went to work at a film laboratory as a technical director. He made his debut in films in the year 1919, his debut as director (in which he was also an actor) in the Czech language Akord smrti (August 1919) would have been his first professional film credit, if he had not first acted in the comedy Aloisuv los, which was released in February of 1919. He would act in five films before taking up the director's chair again in 1920. One of those films was the Joe Jencik film Palimpsest (1919) which had Lamac (credited as "Carl") acting opposite Anny Ondra--a fateful pairing, as he would go on to have both a personal and deep professional relationship with, becoming both her life partner, and her business partner for several years. His next turn in the directing chair was also his first solo outing as a director (a film that also saw his first screenplay produced); Gilly poprvé v Praze (1920) was comedy also starring Lamac and Ondra with Václav Prazsky as the only other cast member. In between this and his next directing job, he and Ondra appeared in several films together, including the Jan S. Kolár fantasy horror picture The Arrival from the Darkness (October 1921) based on novel by Czech language fantasy writer Karel Hloucha. Lamac was added to the direction of Kolár next film, the science fiction crime drama about an illusionist Otrávené svetlo in 1921, which he and Kolár also wrote. By the mid-1920's he was adept at directing himself and Ondra in a variety of different styles and genres, and had even written a book on how to write a good screenplay--which he called film librettos (love that!)--in 1923. An excellent example of his work during this time occupying actor/writer/director is Bíly ráj (White Paradise), which sported some scenes that were carefully tinted. 
 
In White Paradise with Anny Ondra and Czech actress Sasa Dobrovolná as the mother.

 Lamac was equally at home (and probably more talented at) directing comedies and goodly portion of his films from the 1920's in Czechoslovakia were indeed comedy productions. They ranged from farces written directly by Lamac, to screen adaptations of successful plays. Also during this time, screenwriter Václav Wasserman became a writing partner. In 1926 he was the co-founder of a physical film studio in Kavalírka, where he made films until it was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1929.  During this time, the studio housed his personal production company that simply used his name as the company logo. Starting in 1928, he and Ondra also began making joint productions between Germany and Czechoslovakia, with Evas Töchter (April 1928) being the first. His very next film, Der erste Kuß (September 1928) was a fully German affair.   Also in 1928, the pair had a run away success with Suzy Saxophone, an intensely physical comedy that was filmed very much like a musical without the actual singing; made all the more so with art direction by Carl Ludwig Kirmse (the film was remade twice by the pair in 1932/1933--one version in German, and the other in French).  His last film of the 1920's was the fully silent German production The Virgin of Paris (Die Kaviarprinzessin), released in December of 1929.  His first film in the decade, was also his first full sound film:  Das Mädel aus U.S.A. another comedy and the last film that Lamac made before founding another familial production company. In early 1930, he and Ondra founded the company Ondra-Lamac-Film, releasing Fair People in August of that year.  The two would only remain a together for as a couple for a few years after this.
Though, the pair did continue to work together, and their production company remained in existence as well. His first film after their split was, I believe, his very first full sound Czech film Dobry tramp Bernásek in late 1933, starring...Karel Lamac.  Ondra would go on to marry famed German boxer Max Schmeling...this is how Ondra, and by association Lamac, came to be associated with the Nazi cinema.  The overtures made by the Nazi regime to the newly married couple are famous, many of the breath taking number of films Lamac made during the 1930's were in Germany or Austria and have become associated with the rising Nazi threat to the rest of Europe. But he also continued to make films in his native Czechoslovakia during this time; and, increasingly in France as well.  Lamac, though, had to flee his home land for The Netherlands when the Nazi's occupied Czechoslovakia and he made one film there (I love train films and it sports one of my favorite film posters!): De spooktrein (September 1939) [The horror genre was not new for him, he was well known for making an expressionistic version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1937.] He then went to the U.K. where in wound up in the RAF from 1941 until 1946 and served, in part, by making war documentaries. He also made commerical films in Britain, the first of which was It Started at Midnight in 1943. He next directed James Mason in the mystery thriller They Met in the Dark (1943). After his discharge from the RAF, he left for post-war France, where he made Rita in 1947. Between 1948 and 1952, he spent time in the United States specifically studying innovations in color filmming and learning how to shoot with new color films, but he never made a film during his tenure in the States.  He returned to the German speaking world, specifically to what was then West Germany, to make The Thief of Bagdad in 1952; all indications were that he wished the film to be a color extravaganza, but it wound up in black and white, most likely due to the state of the film industry there at the time. His last completed film, The Comedian, was released in November of 1953 in West Germany, posthumously. Lamac had died from cardiac arrest brought on by some sort of long lasting kidney ailment on the 2nd of August of 1952 in Hamburg. He was just 55. He is buried at the Ohlsdorfer Friedhof there. Six years after his death, some of his short film material was included as a segment in Unsterblicher Valentin (1958).  Lamac never did get the chance to make that post-war color film he was working on.
 

 

 
 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Born Today January 26: Geoffrey Kerr


1895-1971

British stage actor, turned film actor, turned writer Geoffrey Kerr was born Geoffrey Kemble Grinham Keen on this date in London.  Geoffrey was the son of legendary character actor Frederick Kerr (it was his father who first used the surname "Kerr" as a stage name); the younger Kerr, however, did not appear on the stage until after college, after which he got his start in several of his old man's productions. All of this was cut short by the out break of World War I, which saw Geoffrey commissioned into service with the Shropshire Light Infantry. After being sent to the trenches, a frightened and miserable younger Kerr and a very worried older Kerr were fortunate enough to have an acquaintance from the theater to help to facilitate a transfer a the brand new Royal Flying Corp. In this capacity, he was wounded, but recovered enough to spend the rest of the war in the position of a gunnery instructor for troops. After the war ended, Kerr left for New York City, where he soon made his Broadway debut. From 1920 on, he spent his time divided between The States and his native UK.  During the 1920's, he had also had a film career of sorts in Britain. Despite that most of his film appearances came after his Broadway introduction, he did have a small part in a Meyrick Milton melodrama in 1917:  The Profligate, which marked his film debut. He next appeared with his father in the mystery melodrama 12:10 in 1919; directed by Herbrt Brenon, which marked the very first release of the British & Colonial Kimematograph Company. After this, he appeared in just six films produced in the United Kingdom, none of them of any significant note (unless you want to include The Great Day from 1920, which was the very first release of Famous Players-Lasky British Producers/Paramount British...that...and the fact that Alfred Hitchcock did the title designs). Kerr did not make an appearance in American film until 1926 (his last of the decade), making his last British film appearance in the 1922 melodrama The Man from Home; directed by George Fitzmaurice and sporting a screenplay by Ouida Bergère, it did have deep ties to the U.S. In between that time, he spent several successful years on the Broadway stage, even having one of his own plays--in which he appeared--produced. His American film debut came in the Richard Barthelmess romantic drama Just Suppose in 1926 directed by Kenneth Webb; the film was based on a stage play by A. E. Thomas in which he had appeared on Broadway (a copy of the film survives in the collections at UCLA Film archives). It was his last silent roll and his last acting role of the decade. Kerr did appear in the all sound 1929 short Night Club in a song and dance routine filmed in New York, featuring the likes of Fanny Brice, Pat Rooney, Ann Pennington and Percy Helton--all figures on Broadway, and directed by Robert Florey. Kerr picked up his film acting career again in 1931, with three film appearances that year, leaving off acting in motion pictures for good there after. The second of these three was the romantic comedy The Runaround (August 1931) in which he took the top bill opposite Mary Brian. His last film role came in Once a Lady (November 1931), a drama starring fellow Brit Ivor Novello in one of his attempts to take Hollywood by storm. Kerr's career in films however did not come to end with his retiring from acting, he started a whole new career as a writer that included screenplays.  He was responsible for the scenario adaptation of the Robert Donat comedy with horror elements The Ghost Goes West in 1935. In addition to working directly on screenplays, Kerr also had a number is plays adapted for the screen as well (see Cottage To Let aka Bombsight Stolen). His script directly for the screen was the 1949 adaptation for Fools Rush In, a comedy based on a Kenneth Horne play; and, his work first reached television, when one of his plays was adapted for the film The Monster of Killoon in 1952.  While he and fellow writer James Leasor provided script material for the now lost television series "My Husband and I" (1956). These represent the extent of his writing credits during his lifetime; but, in 2016 an ambitious student film entitled Kenopsia was produced that used one of Kerr's stories as source material. The film represents the only use of his writing as source material after his death. During his lifetime, Kerr also continued to act on the stage, especially Broadway, into the early 1950's. After he retired from acting altogether, he continued to write, producing one fantasy novel in 1954. Kerr eventually retired back to his native England, passing away in Aldershot (located in Hampshire) on the 1st of July in 1971 at the age of 76. There is no information about his memorial or burial, but there is a family tradition of cremation. Both his famous father and his son were cremated and his father has a memorial plaque at Golders Green Crematoria in Greater London. Kerr was married to actress June Walker; they had a son, John, who also became an actor. 

Kerr with Walker


 


Monday, January 25, 2021

Born Today January 25: Ruth Dwyer

 

[Source: Wikimedia Commons (location: University of Washington, Special Collections)]

 1898-1978

 

Film actress Ruth Dwyer is famous for starring opposite Buster Keaton in his 1925 comedy feature Seven Chances, but she got her start in the film business in 1919.  Dwyer was born in Brooklyn, New York on this day; and despite being a New York girl, she was associated from the beginning with actions roles and cowgirl parts. She made her debut in the five part serial The Lurking Peril in 1919 made by Wisteria Productions and directed by George Morgan. She next appeared in another action serial in 1920, The Evil Eye; an early Hallmark production, it had 15 episodes (all of which are considered lost) with direction by Wally Van and J. Gordon Cooper (a director that mostly worked as an assistant director during his career).  Her first turn in a feature came in the Christy Cabanne director melodrama The Stealers (1920), featuring amongst other players, one Norma Shearer. Her next two features were not only directed by now well known directors, but represent the first two roles in the which she took the female lead. In 1921, she acted opposite Eugene O'Brien in the George Archainbaud directed Clay Dollars.  Skipping a year in film acting, she next took the female lead in the William A. Wellman directed Fox production Second Hand Love (1923) opposite western star Buck Jones.  Her film career was, of course, not all made up of action serials or rustic roles; she appeared in films across genres, including:  His Mystery Girl (a comedy from 1923), Dark Stairways (a mystery from 1924) and Cornered (a crime drama from 1924). A year before her appearance in the Keaton film, she had a leading role in another comedy with Reginald Denny:  The Reckless Age (August 1924) directed by Harry A. Pollard. Of course it is her role as "His Girl" in Seven Chances, acting opposite the superstar that was Keaton (who also directed the film), for which she best remembered. After appearing with Keaton in Seven Chances she went right back to action roles, acting in White Fang (based on the Jack London novel of the same name) with World War I veteran Strongheart the Dog (yup, he was a vet!), the very first German Shepard star actor of the flickers. In 1926 and 1927, she acted in several Johnny Hines films, all directed by his brother Charles. She effectively retired from acting in 1928, though she made a handful of film appearances in tiny parts after. Her last film in the 1920's was Alex the Great (May 1928), a little known comedy actually produced by Film Booking Offices of America (FBO). She appeared in just one film in the 1930's and five films in the 1940's--all of her appearances went uncredited. Her absolute last film role came in Slightly Dangerous, a Lana Turner romantic comedy released in 1943.  Her and her actor husband Bill Jackie then went into business for themselves as talents agents, founding the Ruth Dwyer Agency, with Jackie becoming one of the best agents in town for a time. The two remained married until Jackie's death in 1954; to my knowledge, Dwyer never remarried. She passed away in Woodland Hills on the 2nd of the March in 1978 at the age of 80. Her burial is currently unknown.

 

With Buster in Seven Chances

 


IMDb

Find a Grave entry