Monday, September 1, 2014


One of my favorite articles to write for my blog is the “Born On This Day” stories.  I not only get to celebrate some of the great stars of classic Hollywood, but I also get the opportunity to revisit some of the stars that I have forgotten. One such star was Richard Arlen, who was born on this day on September 1, 1899.  Born Sylvanus Richard Van Mattimore in St. Paul, Minnesota, he attended the University of Pennsylvania. He served in Canada as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. His first job after the war was with St. Paul's Athletic Club. Then he went to the oilfields of Texas and Oklahoma and found work as a tool boy. He was thereafter a messenger and sporting editor of a newspaper before going to Los Angeles to star in films, but no producer wanted him. He was a delivery boy for a film laboratory when the motorcycle which he was riding landed him a broken leg outside the Paramount Pictures lot.

Impressed by his good looks, executives also gave him a contract after he had recovered. Starting as an extra in 1925, Arlen soon rose to credited roles, but the quality of his work left much to be desired. However, this was the silent era, which was more about looks than substance, and he continued on. His big break came when William A. Wellman cast him as a pilot in the silent film Wings (1927) with Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Clara Bow. The story of fighter aces would win the Oscar for Best Picture and Arlen would continue to play the tough, cynical hero throughout his career. Arlen appeared in three more pictures directed by Wellman, Beggars of Life (1928), Ladies of the Mob (1928) and The Man I Love (1929). In Wings he had a scene with a young actor named Gary Cooper. In 1929, he again worked with Cooper in the western The Virginian (1929), only this time Cooper was the star and Arlen was the supporting actor. While Arlen moved easily into sound, his career just bumped along.

At the age of 34, he was cast as a college student in the Bing Crosby musical College Humor (1933). The film did nothing to further Arlen’s career, but it was Bing’s second movie, and it made him a star. By 1935 he was working in such "B" pictures as Three Live Ghosts (1936). It was in 1935 that he became a freelance actor and his freelance career soon waned. In 1939, he signed with Universal and began working in its action films. In 1941 he moved to the Pine-Thomas unit at Paramount, where he appeared in adventure films. With the war on, most of his earlier films included war scenarios. By the end of the 1940s Arlen was becoming deaf and this seemed to signal the end of his career. However, he had an operation in 1949 that restored his hearing and he went on making a handful of adventures and westerns through the 1950s and working more in the 1960s. He made 15 westerns for producer A.C. Lyles, who worked with the old western stars.

Besides movies, Arlen also appeared on television and in commercials. After leaving the business in the late 1960s, he was coaxed back to the screen for three small roles in films that were released the same year that he died. Married three times, Arlen only had a son who also appeared in movies. Richard Arlen died on March 28, 1976 of emphysema in Hollywood… 

Friday, August 29, 2014


When Lauren Bacall died on August 12, 2014 at the age of 89, I did not report it on my blog. Due to the death of Robin Williams, I took a week of silence to mourn the comedian’s passing. I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of Lauren Bacall’s work, but I do feel that her passing is worth noting. I don’t feel Bacall was a great actress in the caliber of Bette Davis or Ingrid Bergman, but she was really a lasting screen goddess in the genre of film noir. Like fellow film noir actress Veronica Lake, Bacall made her best movies in the 1940s, and she never won an Oscar. Lauren was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2009 though.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 in New York City. Her parents divorced when she was five, and she never really had a relationship with her father. The young beauty started out as a model and appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In 1941, she took acting lessons with fellow student Kirk Douglas, and they would be lifelong friends. 

Bacall changed her name, and made her first movie To Have And Have Not (1944). During his screen test for the role, Bacall was so nervous that to minimize her quivering, she pressed her chin against her chest and to face the camera, tilted her eyes upward. This effect became known as “The Look” and became Bacall’s trademark. Also on the set of this first film, she started a relationship with the then married Humphrey Bogart. Bogart would get a divorce and marry the young Bacall a year later. They would stay married until Bogart’s death in 1957.

In the 1940s, Bacall was one of the best film noir actresses. She filmed some great screen roles during this time in movies such as: Confidential Agent (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1949). As the 1950s approached, Bacall became more famous for being Mrs. Humphrey Bogart than her own movies, but she did make some decent films. In Young Man With A Horn (1950), she starred as the bisexual wife of a trumpeter (played by friend Kirk Douglas), and she held her own in How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) starring along sex goddess icons Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

Bacall moved on to Broadway in the 1970s to great success, and while she was no longer a screen goddess Bacall seemingly did not age much. Even though she was nominated for an Oscar for The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996, she pretty much only played supporting roles in films like a small role in Misery (1989) and a wasted role as the wife of Jack Lemmon in My Fellow Americans (1995). Was Lauren Bacall a great actress – in my opinion maybe not a great actress. However, her iconic film noir roles defined an era of films in the late 1940s. Bacall died of a stroke nearly 70 years after her first movie, and the young movie goers these days do not have an attention span that goes that far back. Bacall's last performance was a voice appearance earlier this year on television's Family Guy! It was a sad last role for a great beauty. However, Lauren Bacall deserves to be remembered, not only as a beauty but another one of the fading true stars of classic Hollywood…

Monday, August 25, 2014


It is so rare to find true Hollywood love stories that last. However, in the classic years of Hollywood it was possible. One such great love story was the marriage of screen legend Jimmy Stewart and model Gloria Hatrick McLean.

In 1949, James Stewart, distinguished actor, trend setter and military hero, added one more part to his growing repertoire, that of a family man. He met Gloria Hatrick McLean in the summer of 1948 when he accepted a dinner invitation to the home of Gary and Rocky Cooper. The 31 year old Gloria stole Stewart’s heart. She was beautiful, outgoing, well educated and she liked to play golf. She loved animals and the outdoors, and she was not an actress. When Stewart married her on August 9, 1949, they had a ready-made family. Gloria had two children, Ronald then five and Michael, three, from a previous marriage. Stewart, for years considered one of the most eligible bachelors in Hollywood, was 41 years old. In the fall of 1950, the Stewarts learned they were to become parents of twins. On May 7, 1951, fraternal twins Kelly & Judy were born. The Stewarts lived in Beverly Hills where many other celebrities resided. Yet their son Michael says they “were raised with that small-town Christian Presbyterian ethic that nobody owes you a living. If you have bad breaks, get up and move on. That was the attitude of both my parents, and it never changed.”

The Stewart family lived on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, an area that was home to many of Hollywood's top stars. She was one of the few Hollywood types to plant and tend her own garden, and she would give the excess vegetables to Jimmy to take around to their neighbors. She and her husband also owned a ranch in Hawaii, returning to it every year for vacation when time permitted, to manage cattle and a macadamia nut orchard. They planned to build a retirement home there, but Gloria died before the house could be built in 1994. Jimmy never recovered and faded away after her death. He died in 1997, and his final days were spent dreaming of when he would be reunited with his beloved Gloria once again...

Sunday, August 24, 2014


LONDON (AP) — Acclaimed actor and Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough, whose film career on both sides of the camera spanned 60 years, has died. He was 90.

The actor's son, Michael Attenborough told the BBC that his father died Sunday. He had been in poor health for some time.

Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement calling Attenborough "one of the greats of cinema."

He appeared in a many major Hollywood films, directed a series of movies and was known for his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and other humanitarian causes. 

As a director, Attenborough made several successful movies, from Oh What a Lovely War in 1969 to Chaplin and Shadowlands in the 1990s. But his greatest success was Gandhi,a film that was 20 years in the planning and won eight Oscars, including best picture.

The generation that was introduced to Attenborough as an avuncular veteran actor in the 1990s — when he played the failed theme park developer in Jurassic Park and Kriss Kringle in a remake of Miracle on 34th Street — may not have appreciated his dramatic range.

A small, energetic man with a round face that remained boyish even in old age, he was perfectly cast at the start of his career as the young sailor or airman of British movies during and after World War II.

In his 1942 film debut as a terrified warship's crewman in In Which We Serve, a 19-year-old Attenborough made a small part into one of the most memorable roles in the movie, which won the best-picture Oscar.

In 1947, Attenborough gave one of the best performances of his career as the menacing teenage thug Pinkie in Brighton Rock, the film version of Graham Greene's novel.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila Sim, their son and a daughter. His one daughter and grand daughter died in the 2004 tsunami, and reportedly him and his wife were never the same again. He published his autobiography in 2008, and it ended with the death of his daughter and grand daughter and regrets of the time they never spent together. In October 2012, it was announced that Attenborough was putting the family home, Old Friars, together with its attached offices, Beaver Lodge, which come complete with a sound-proofed cinema in the garden, on the market for £11.5 million. His younger brother, David Attenborough, stated "He and his wife both loved the house, but they now need full-time care. It simply isn’t practical to keep the house on any more." In March 2013, in light of his deteriorating health, Attenborough moved into a nursing home in London to be with his wife, as confirmed by their son Michael. Attenborough died five days before his 91st birthday...

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Our Gang (also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals) is a series of American comedy short films about a group of poor neighborhood children and their adventures. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, the series is noted for showing children behaving in a relatively natural way, as Roach and original director Robert F. McGowan worked to film the unaffected, raw nuances apparent in regular children rather than have them imitate adult acting styles.

The first production at the Roach studio in 1922 was a series of silent short subjects. When Roach changed distributors from Pathé to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1927, and converted the series to sound in 1929, the series took off. Production continued at the Roach studio until 1938, when the series was sold to MGM, continuing to produce the comedies until 1944. The Our Gang series includes 220 shorts and one feature film, General Spanky, featuring over forty-one child actors. As MGM retained the rights to the Our Gang trademark following their purchase of the production rights, the 80 Roach-produced "talkies" were syndicated for television under the title The Little Rascals beginning in 1955...

More notable than the history of this children shorts is the fate that happened to many of the child stars. A lot of them met sad and tragic ends. Most of them did not have happy endings:

Pete the Pup – (? –1930) - An unknown assailant poisoned the original Pete.

Robert Hutchins "Wheezer" - (3/29/25 - 3/17/45) - Died in an airplane accident at the age of 19

William Robert Laughlin "Froggy" - (7/05/32 - 8/31/48) - Died in a bicycle accident at the age of 16.

Robert H. Young "Bonedust" – (9/15/17 - 9/10/51) - Died in a hotel fire, which started when he fell asleep smoking in bed

Dorothy Dandridge "Dorothy" – (11/09/23 – 9/08/65) - Committed suicide after an investment scheme caused her to go bankrupt
Harold Switzer "Deadpan" or "Slim" - (1/16/25 - 4/14/67) – As was the case with his brother, Harold was also killed following a dispute with another man.

Scotty Beckett "Scotty" - (10/04/29 - 5/10/68) – Died in a Hollywood nursing home after being severely beaten two days prior to his admittance. A bottle of pills and a note were found at the scene, however the coroner never determined the exact cause of death. He was just 38 years old.

Darla Hood "Darla" - (11/08/31 - 6/13/79) - Hospitalized for hepatitis in 1979, she soon died under what was later ruled to be "suspicious circumstances."

Kendall McComas "Breezy Brisbane" - (10/29/16 - 10/15/81) - Two weeks before his 65th birthday and apparent forced retirement from the U.S. Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California, he committed suicide.

Robert Blake "Mickey" - (9/18/33 - present) - On April 18, 2002, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakely.

Darwood Kaye "Waldo" - (9/08/29 - 5/15/2002) - Killed by a hit and run driver while walking on the sidewalk.

Jay R. Smith "Jay R" - (8/29/15 - 10/05/2002) - Stabbed to death and left in the desert by a homeless man he had befriended.

Carl Dean "Alfalfa" Switzer - (8/7/27 – 1/21/59) - Shot to death under mysterious circumstances.

As of June 2013, living Our Gang actors included Robert Blake, Sidney Kibrick, Jean Darling, Marianne Edwards, Dickie Moore, Jerry Tucker, Jackie Lynn Taylor, Lassie Lou Ahern, Mildred Kornman, and Leonard Landy...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


My wife has a funny story she tells everyone about Nathan Lane. We were going to the movies years ago to see the third Austin Powers movie (which starred comedian Mike Myers). Anyways Nathan Lane had a cameo in the film, and in the middle of the movie I yelled (way too loudly) "It's NATHAN LANE!". I admit I am a fan and everyone in the family knows it. I also tell everyone in the family that Nathan Lane should play Lou Costello in a film bio. From stupid movies like MouseHunt(1997) to musicals like The Producers(2005) to his great appearances on the television series "Modern Family", I think Nathan Lane is extremely talented and versatile.

Lane was born Joseph Lane in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 3, 1956, the son of Irish American Catholic parents. He was named after his uncle, a Jesuit priest. His father, Daniel, was a truck driver and an aspiring tenor who died from alcoholism when Lane was eleven; his mother, Nora, was a housewife and secretary who suffered from manic-depression, and died in 2000. He has two brothers, Robert and Daniel. His first Broadway appearance was in 1982 in a revival of Noël Coward's Present Laughter as Roland Maule (Drama Desk nomination) with George C. Scott, Kate Burton, Dana Ivey, and Christine Lahti. His second Broadway appearance was in the 1983 musical Merlin, starring Chita Rivera and magician Doug Henning. This was followed by Wind in the Willows as Mr. Toad, Some Americans Abroad at Lincoln Center, and the national tour of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound.

In 1992, he starred in the hit revival of Guys and Dolls, receiving his first Tony nomination, as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, playing the character who lent him his name, opposite Peter Gallagher and Faith Prince. The early 1990s began a stretch of successful Broadway shows for Lane. In 1993, he portrayed Sid Caesar-like Max Prince in Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, inspired by Simon's early career writing sketches for Your Show of Shows. In 1996, he starred in the hit revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, for which he won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

Lane won his second Tony Award for his portrayal of Max Bialystock in the blockbuster musical version of Mel Brooks's The Producers, as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. He later replaced Richard Dreyfuss in the role in 2004 at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane at the last minute, and went on to win the Olivier Award as Best Actor in a Musical. He recreated his performance for the film version, for which he received his second Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. He is best known for his roles as Mendy in The Lisbon Traviata, Albert in The Birdcage, Max Bialystock in the musical The Producers, Ernie Smuntz in MouseHunt, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and his voice work in The Lion King and Stuart Little.

In 2006, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2008 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. No matter what Nathan Lane is in, the production is better because he is a part of it. He has created many large and memorable roles in three mediums - Broadway, movies, and television. Watch some of his work and you will realize why whenever I see him in something I have to yell out "It's NATHAN LANE!"...

Monday, August 18, 2014


One of the most haunting numbers in early movie musical was a Ruth Etting number from the now forgotten Eddie Cantor movie Roman Scandals in 1933. Etting should of had more of a movie career, but because of her gangster husband Martin "Moe" Snyder, I think she alienated many people in Hollywood. Here is a great story on this film debut...

In his book book Ginger, Loretta and Irene Who? (1976), George Eells calls Ruth Etting, The Box-Office Bait. Samuel Goldwyn used her enormous popularity at the time to entice people to see the movie Roman Scandals and gave her only a very small part and one song, No More Love written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren. While her part may have been small, Roman Scandals marked Ruth Etting’s film debut, and was the highlight of her film career. She once again appeared with Eddie Cantor, her co-star in Broadway’s Whoopee, and her big number was a torch song she sang in a bathhouse full of nearly naked Goldwyn Girls.
Look carefully, and you can spot Betty Grable, Paulette Goddard, and Lucille Ball. In ‘Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop,’ Roy Hemming and David Hajdu describe her debut, “Inevitably it was a torch song with which Etting made her movie debut, in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals (1933), sobbing Warren and Dubin’s ‘No More Love’ in the movie’s famous Busby Berkeley-directed slave-market sequence {with dozens of chained chorines clothed only in long blond tresses...