Articles on this Page
- 11/06/18--22:00: _Priscilla Dean
- 11/07/18--22:00: _Mary Poppins (1964)
- 11/08/18--22:00: _Theodore Roberts
- 11/09/18--22:00: _Photo by Warner Bros.
- 11/10/18--22:00: _Paul Muni
- 11/11/18--22:00: _Mary Miles Minter
- 11/12/18--22:00: _Clint Walker
- 11/13/18--22:00: _Wheeler & Woolsey
- 11/14/18--22:00: _The King of Kings (...
- 11/15/18--22:00: _Pauline Frederick
- 11/16/18--14:38: _Rolf Hoppe (1930-2018)
- 11/16/18--22:00: _Photo by Paramount
- 11/17/18--22:00: _Abbott & Costello
- 11/18/18--22:00: _New finds at the fair
- 11/19/18--22:00: _Constance Talmadge
- 11/20/18--22:00: _Claudette Colbert
- 11/21/18--13:33: _Dominique Blanchar ...
- 11/21/18--22:00: _The Sign of the Cro...
- 11/22/18--22:00: _Billie Burke
- 11/23/18--22:00: _Photo by RKO
- 11/06/18--22:00: Priscilla Dean
- 11/07/18--22:00: Mary Poppins (1964)
- 11/08/18--22:00: Theodore Roberts
- 11/09/18--22:00: Photo by Warner Bros.
- 11/10/18--22:00: Paul Muni
- 11/11/18--22:00: Mary Miles Minter
- 11/12/18--22:00: Clint Walker
- 11/13/18--22:00: Wheeler & Woolsey
- 11/14/18--22:00: The King of Kings (1927)
- 11/15/18--22:00: Pauline Frederick
- 11/16/18--14:38: Rolf Hoppe (1930-2018)
- 11/16/18--22:00: Photo by Paramount
- 11/17/18--22:00: Abbott & Costello
- 11/18/18--22:00: New finds at the fair
- 11/19/18--22:00: Constance Talmadge
- 11/20/18--22:00: Claudette Colbert
- 11/21/18--13:33: Dominique Blanchar (1937-2018)
- 11/21/18--22:00: The Sign of the Cross (1932)
- 11/22/18--22:00: Billie Burke
- 11/23/18--22:00: Photo by RKO
French postcard by A.N., Paris, in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 3. Photo: Universal Film.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 548/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 548/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.
David Wark Griffith
Priscilla Dean was born in 1896 in New York City as the daughter of theatre actors. Her mother was popular stage actress May Preston Dean.
From when she was four, Priscilla played in her parents' productions. As a child, she pursued a stage career at the same time as being educated at a convent school until the age of fourteen. By age 10, she was a seasoned professional.
Dean made her film debut and appeared in two short films, released in 1912. One of them was directed by D. W. Griffith for the Biograph company, A Blot under 'Scutcheon (1912).
Until 1928, she contributed to 68 American silent films, including many short films directed by Jack Dillon made in the mid-1910s for the Vogue Company.
From 1916 onwards, she worked for IMP, which was later merged with other film companies into Universal. She played the female lead in the Eddie Lyons& Lee Moran comedies, directed by Louis Chaudet for Nestor, another company which was merged into Universal.
In 1917 she acted in films by Lois Weber such as Even As You and I (1917) and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1917).
Her appearance in the action serial The Gray Ghost (Stuart Paton, 1917) opposite Eddie Polo propelled her to stardom, and she began appearing in many of Universal's most prestigious productions.
Greta de Groat at Unsung Divas: "Priscilla Dean was a very unlikely diva. Her photos show a plain but cheerful looking woman, with rather heavy features, a crooked grin, and an unfashionably curvaceous figure. But on screen her intensity is unmatched. "
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 548/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 549/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 549/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.
Priscilla Dean is best known for her participation, between 1918 and 1923, in nine Universal films by Tod Browning. These films include The Wicked Darling (1919) in which she played a s pair of pickpockets with Lon Chaney, The Virgin of Stamboul (1920) with Wallace Beery, Outside the Law (1920), with Lon Chaney, Under Two Flags (1922), and White Tiger (1923), with Raymond Griffith.
Browning unleashed her talent. Her performance in Outside the Law (1920) is "startlingly fierce", according to Greta de Groat. In the French Foreign Legion melodrama Under two Flags (1922) she played Cigarette, a role re-created in a sound version by Claudette Colbert.
In The Virgin of Stamboul and Outside the Law, Dean played together with Wheeler Oakman, who was also under contract at Universal an was for a time her husband.
After 1923, Dean worked for several companies: she did quite a few films at Metropolitan, a few shorts at Hal Roach such as Slipping Wives (Fred Guiol, 1927), with Laurel & Hardy, and one or two productions at Hunt Stromberg and Columbia.
The coming of sound damaged her career. By the early 1930s she was appearing in low-budget films for small independent studios. Dean retired permanently from the screen after five talking pictures (three shorts in 1931 and two feature films in 1932).
Her last film was Klondike (Phil Rosen, 1932) with Thelma Todd and Lyle Talbot. Great de Groat: "Her starring career was brief, but there was nobody else quite like her."
Priscilla Dean was first married to Wheeler Oakman but they divorced in the mid-1920s. In 1928, she married Leslie Arnold in Mexico. Arnold was divorced, but one court called this invalid, making him a bigamist, but in the end that verdict was overruled.
Lt. Leslie Arnold had made history by flying around the world in 1924. Dean and Arnold remained married until his death in the 1960s. They had no children.
In 1987, Priscilla Dean died at her home in Leonia, New Jersey, after the complications of a fall one year earlier. She was 91.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 518/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Unfilman.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1473/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Walter F. Seely, Los Angeles / P.D.C.
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 88.
Sources: Greta de Groat (Unsung Divas), Michael Barson (Encyclopaedia Britannica), Silent Hollywood, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia (Italian and English) and IMDb.
Vintage postcard. Photo: still from Mary Poppins (1964).
Spanish postcard by EdicionesTarje Fher/Ediciones Mandolina, 1964. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Still from Mary Poppins (1964).
Spanish postcard by Ediciones Tarje Fher/Ediciones Mandolina, 1964. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Still from Mary Poppins (1964).
In Edwardian London, 1910, Bert (played by Dick van Dyke), a Cockney chimneysweep, entertains a crowd as a one-man band when he senses a change in the wind. Afterwards, he directly addresses the audience, and gives them a tour of Cherry Tree Lane, stopping outside the Banks family’s home. George Banks (David Tomlinson) returns home to learn from his wife, Winifred (Glynis Johns), that Katie Nanna (Elsa Lanchester) has left their service after Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) ran away again.
Jane and Michael are returned shortly after by Constable Jones (Arthur Treacher), who reveals the children were chasing a lost kite. The children ask their father to help build a better kite, but he dismisses them. Taking it upon himself to hire a new nanny, the uptight Mr. Banks advertises for a stern, no-nonsense nanny. Instead, Jane and Michael present their own advertisement for a kinder, sweeter nanny. Mr. Banks rips up the letter, and throws the scraps in the fireplace, but the remains of the advertisement magically float up, and out into the air.
The next day, a number of elderly, sour-faced nannies wait outside the Banks' home, but a strong gust of wind blows them away, and Jane and Michael witness a young nanny descending from the sky using her umbrella. Presenting herself to Mr. Banks, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) calmly produces the children's restored advertisement, and agrees with its requests, but promises the astonished banker she will be firm with his children. As Mr. Banks puzzles over the advertisement's return, Mary Poppins hires herself, and convinces him it was originally his idea. She meets the children, then helps them tidy their nursery through song, before heading out for a walk in the park.
Outside, they meet Bert, working as a sidewalk artist. Mary Poppins uses her magic to hop the group into one of Bert's chalk drawings. While the children ride on a carousel, Mary Poppins and Bert go on a leisurely stroll. Mary Poppins later enchants the carousel horses, and participates in a horse race, which she wins. While being asked to describe her victory, Mary Poppins announces the nonsense word "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".
Embarking on a series of fantastical adventures with Mary and Bert, the children try to pass on some of their nanny's sunny attitude to their preoccupied parents. At the end of the film, the wind changes, meaning Mary Poppins must leave. With her work done, Mary Poppins flies away, with Bert bidding her farewell, telling her not to stay away too long.
French postcard by Les Presses de Belleville, Paris, no. 101. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
French postcard by Les Presses de Belleville, Paris, no. 103. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
French postcard by Les Presses de Belleville, Paris, no. 107. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
Giving his voice to Mary's talking umbrella
Julie Andrewsgot the prime role of Mary Poppins soon after she was passed over by Jack L. Warner and replaced with Audrey Hepburn for the role of Eliza Doolittle in his screen adaptation of My Fair Lady, even though Andrews had originated the role on Broadway. When Disney first approached Andrews about taking on the role, Andrews was three months pregnant and therefore was not sure she should take it. Disney assured her that the crew would be fine with waiting to begin filming until after she had given birth so that she could play the part.
Julie Andrews also provided the voice in two other sections of the film: during A Spoonful of Sugar, she provided the whistling harmony for the robin, and she was also among the chorus performing as the animated Pearly Band during Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
David Tomlinson, besides playing Mr. Banks, provided the voice of Mary's talking umbrella and numerous other voice-over parts (including that of Admiral Boom's first mate). During the Jolly Holiday sequence, the three singing Cockney geese were all voiced by Marni Nixon, a regular aural substitute for actresses with substandard singing voices. Nixon would later provide the singing voice for Hepburn in My Fair Lady and play one of Andrews' fellow nuns in The Sound of Music.
Andrews later beat Hepburn for the Best Actress Award at the Golden Globes for their respective roles. Andrews would also win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. Hepburn did not receive a nomination. Richard Sherman, one of the songwriters, also voiced a penguin as well as one of the Pearlies. Robert Sherman dubbed the speaking voice for Jane Darwell who played the 'Bird Woman', an old woman who sells breadcrumbs for the pigeons on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. It was to be her last screen appearance. Darwell's voice was too weak to be heard in the soundtrack and Sherman's voice is heard saying her only line: "Feed the Birds, Tuppence a bag."
Disney cast Dick Van Dyke in the key supporting role of Bert after seeing his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show. After winning the role of Bert, Van Dyke lobbied to also play the senior Mr. Dawes, but Disney originally felt he was too young for the part. Van Dyke eventually won Disney over after a screen test. In the end credits cast list, the actor playing Mr. Dawes, Sr. is initially shown as NAVCKID KEYD, then the letters unscramble themselves to show that this is a second role played by Dick Van Dyke. Although he is fondly remembered for this film, Van Dyke's attempt at a Cockney accent is regarded as one of the worst film accents in history.
The film was a major hit, worldwide, and quickly achieved the legendary status it holds today. Ben Burgraff at IMDb: "Mary Poppins is one of that select group of films that can truly be called 'Classic', a project conceived in love and filled with so much child-like wonder that it will never grow old or 'out-of-date'. Certainly the crowning achievement of Walt Disney's remarkable career, both story-wise and technically, the film remains an unsurpassed achievement!"
Dan Jardine at AllMovie: "The story's attack on the materialistic values and staid lives of turn-of-the-century England is undercut by the Disney-like romanticizing of the lives of the working class, particularly the chimney sweeps. The children give predictably too-cute performances, but the direction by Robert Stevenson keeps things moving briskly enough that we don't get stuck in sticky sweetness. The entire set was constructed indoors and it shows: the 'outdoor' scenes are bathed in a dull gray light. Still, there are a number of unforgettable song-and-dance sequences that stand the test of time, and the tale's overall subversiveness is distinctly appealing."
French postcard by Les Presses de Belleville, Paris, no. 104. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
French postcard by Les Presses de Belleville, Paris, no. 108. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
French postcard. Photo: Walt Disney Productions. Publicity still for Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964).
Sources: Ben Burgraff (IMDb), Dan Jardine (AllMovie), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 106. Photo: Albert Witzel, Los Angeles.
Theodore Roberts was born in 1861 in San Francisco, California, USA, as the son of a sea captain, Martin Rickard Roberts, and Mary Elisabeth Nowlin. He was a cousin of the stage actress Florence Roberts.
Roberts made his first appearance on stage in 1880. In the 1890s he acted with Fanny Davenport in her play Gismonda (1894) and later in The Bird of Paradise (1912) with actress Laurette Taylor.
In 1914 he made his film debut in the silent adventure-drama Call of the North (Oscar Apfel, Cecil B. deMille, 1914). It is based on a novel, The Conjuror's House; a Romance of the Free Forest by Stewart Edward White and its 1908 play adaptation The Call of the North by George Broadhurst. Robert Edeson starred in the play and reprised his role in this film.
Roberts became a regular on the Cecil B. DeMille team and appeared in 23 of DeMille's films, such as Joan the Woman (1916) with Geraldine Farrar, The Squaw Man (1918) with Elliott Dexter, Don't Change Your Husband (1919) with Gloria Swanson and Dexter, Male and Female (1919) with Swanson and Thomas Meighan, and The Affairs of Anatol (1921) with Swanson and Wallace Reid.
Roberts also acted in films by William DeMille, such as Miss Lulu Bett (1921) starring Lois Wilson, and Grumpy (1923), in which he played the title character.
British postcard in J.D. Walker's "World's Film Series". Photo: Lasky.
French postcard by Edition Paramount, Paris. Photo: Paramount.
Bitterness in his heart
Theodore Roberts is best remembered for his role as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's silent version of the epic The Ten Commandments (1923).
The religious, epic film, written by Jeanie MacPherson, is divided into two parts: a prologue recreating the biblical story of the Exodus and a modern story concerning two brothers and their respective views of the Ten Commandments.
Lauded for its "immense and stupendous" scenes, use of Technicolor process, and parting of the Red Sea sequence, the expensive film proved to be a box-office hit upon release. It is the first in DeMille's biblical trilogy, followed by The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927) and The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
Despite the success of the film, Roberts played in less films after 1923, until the end of the silent era. His final film was the silent romantic dram Locked Doors (William C. deMille, 1925) starringBetty Compson. The film is considered lost.
In 1928, Theodore Roberts died from uremic poisoning in Hollywood. He was 67. A well-known and well-loved actor, Roberts' funeral in Westlake Park was attended by nearly 2,000 people.
However, Roberts felt so much bitterness in his heart for his immediate relatives that he bequeathed his estate to a nephew (a commercial illustrator) in New York. The estate was valued at nearly $20,000, including a yacht valued at $10,000.
Several of Roberts' personal items were left to his friends William C. de Mille and his brother Cecil. Roberts claimed that during the worst times of his life, no one in his family offered a word of sympathy or any help at all. His only request was that he be laid to rest next to his beloved wife, actress Florence Smythe, who had passed away in 1925.
French postcard by A.N. Paris, in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 21. Photo: Paramount.
Source: Wikipedia and IMDb.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4440/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Warner Bros. Film, National. Al Jolson and his 'Sunny Boy' (Davey Lee) in the early sound film The Singing Fool (Lloyd Bacon, 1928). At the age of three, Davey Lee made his debut in one of the early talkies The Singing Fool (Lloyd Bacon, 1928). The Singing Fool remained Warner's most successful film for ten years. The theme song Sonny Boy became the first film song to sell over a million copies. Davey appeared in six films between 1928 and 1930. Then, his mother took him out of films so that he could have a normal childhood.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W. 709. Photo: Warner. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for his cold-eyed Machiavellian gangster roles, such as his star-making film Little Caesar (1931) as snarling, murderous thug Caesar Enrico ‘Rico’ Bandello.
Belgian collectors card by Chocolaterie Clovis, Pepinster, no. 40. Photo: Warner Bros. Collection: Amit Benyovits. After Little Caesar, the studio's next effort was The Public Enemy. It made James Cagney arguably the studio's new top star, and Warner Bros. made more gangster films.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 286. Photo: Warner Bros. During the 1930s, Paul Muni was considered one of the most prestigious actors at the Warner Bros. studio, and was given the rare privilege of choosing which parts he wanted. His acting quality, usually playing a powerful character, such as the lead in Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932), was partly a result of his intense preparation for his parts, often immersing himself in study of the real character's traits and mannerisms.
Dutch card. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, 1938). Errol Flynn achieved fame in Hollywood with his suave, debonair, devil-may-care attitude. He was known for his romantic Swashbuckler roles in Warner films like Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, 1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, 1938), often co-starring with Olivia de Havilland.
Torn from today's headlines
Warner Bros' first important deal was the acquisition of the rights to Avery Hopwood's 1919 Broadway play, The Gold Diggers, from theatrical impresario David Belasco. However, Rin Tin Tin, a dog brought from France after World War I by an American soldier, established their reputation. Rin Tin Tin debuted in the feature Where the North Begins. The movie was so successful that Jack signed the dog to star in more films for $1,000 per week. Rin Tin Tin became the studio's top star.
In the mid-1920s, the company ran into financial difficulties. Sam Warner persuaded his brothers to collaborate in developing a patent on a process (Vitaphone) that made the 'talkies' possible, revolutionising the film industry.
In 1927, Warner Bros. made cinematic history with the release of the first film with synchronised songs and dialogue, The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927). Thanks to the success of The Jazz Singer, the studio was cash-rich. Jolson's next film for the company, The Singing Fool (Lloyd Bacon, 1928) was also a success. With the collapse of the market for musicals, Warner Bros., under Daryl F. Zanuck, turned to more socially realistic storylines.
In the early 1930s the company started the craze for gangster films with Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931) with Edward G. Robinson, The Public Enemy (William A. Wellman, 1931) with James Cagney, and Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932) with Paul Muni. For its many films about gangsters; Warner Bros. soon became known as a 'gangster studio'.
In February 1933, Warner Bros. produced 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933), a very successful musical. Warner assigned Bacon to more expensive productions including Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, 1933), Wonder Bar (Lloyd Bacon, 1934), and Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933) that saved the company from bankruptcy. In the wake of 42nd Street's success, the studio produced profitable musicals. These starred Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and were mostly directed by Busby Berkeley.
In 1935, the revival of the musical was affected by Busby Berkeley's arrest for killing three people while driving drunk. By the end of the year, people again tired of Warner Bros. musical extravaganzas, and the studio — after the huge profits made by Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, 1935) - shifted its focus to Errol Flynn swashbucklers and dramas featuring such stars as Bette Davis,Humphrey Bogart, and John Garfield.
Films made at Warner Bros. have been historically associated with a distinctive style. Warner films have been described as contemporary stories 'torn from today's headlines' distinguished by a cynicism and hard-bitten realism in style, tone, and technique.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 285. Photo: Warner Bros. Olivia de Havilland co-starred with Errol Flynn in eight Warner films. For the classic Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), she received her first Oscar nomination. In 1943, de Havilland (whom Warner frequently loaned to other studios) sued Warner for breach of contract. Warner responded by sending 150 telegrams to different film production companies, warning them not to hire her for any role. Afterwards, de Havilland discovered employment contracts in California could only last seven years; de Havilland had been under contract with the studio since 1935. The court ruled in de Havilland's favour and she left the studio.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 288. Photo: Warner Bros. After George Raft had turned the role down, Warner Bros. gave Humphrey Bogart the role of 'Mad Dog' Roy Earle in High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941), which helped establish him as a top star. Following High Sierra and after Raft had once again turned the part down, Bogart was given the leading role in John Huston's successful 1941 remake of the studio's 1931 pre-Code film, The Maltese Falcon, based upon the Dashiell Hammett novel. Bogart's star continued to ascend with the Howard Hawks-directed Film Noir masterwork The Big Sleep (1946), and two consummate Huston films, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Key Largo (1948).
Dutch postcard. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946). Lauren Bacall became an overnight star as 'Slim' opposite Humphrey Bogart in her memorable film debut in To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1942). She became known for her distinctive husky voice and glamorous looks in Film Noirs as The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946), Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947), and Key Largo (John Huston, 1948).
Dutch postcard by Takken / 't Sticht, no. AX 343. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Tea for Two (David Butler, 1950) with Doris Day and Szöke Szakáll. Tea for Two was the first film for which Day received top-billing. Many popular musicals and a string of romantic comedies with Rock Hudson would follow.
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 610. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Captain Horatio Hornblower (Raoul Walsh, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo. Virginia Mayo is best known for her comedies with Danny Kaye, such as The Kid from Brooklyn (Norman Z. McLeod, 1946), and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947). She personified the dream girl or girl-next-door and audiences — particularly males — locked to theatres just to see her blonde hair and classic looks on-screen in Technicolor. It made Mayo Warner Brothers biggest box office money maker in the late 1940s.
Sustaining its trademark Film Noirs, dark dramas, and women's pictures
Among Warner Bros.’s best-known films of the 1940s were such classics as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) and Casablanca (Michael Curtis, 1942), both starring Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros. produced very few top hits during the post-war era, although it did sustain its trademark Film Noirs, dark dramas, and women's pictures. Bette Davis's star was rapidly falling, but former MGM diva Joan Crawford came out of retirement to star in several Warner Bros. hits, including Mildred Pierce (1945) and Humoresque (1946).
Warner Bros. continued to create new stars, including Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. They also made such successful films as A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951) with Marlon Brando, and Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) with James Dean.
During this period Warner Brothers also expanded into television with the premiere of the Western series Cheyenne in 1955. Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, was television's first hour-long Western. Two episodes were placed together for feature film release outside the United States.
In the tradition of its B movies, the studio followed up with a series of rapidly produced popular Westerns, such as writer/producer Roy Huggins' critically lauded Maverick (1957–1962) with Jack Kelly, James Garner and Roger Moore, as well as Sugarfoot (1957-1961), Bronco (1958), and Lawman (1958-1962). The success of these series helped to make up for losses in the film business.
As a result, Jack Warner decided to emphasise television production. Warner's also produced a series of popular private detective shows beginning with 77 Sunset Strip (1958–1964) starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Edd Byrnes, and Roger Smith, followed by Hawaiian Eye (1959–1963), Bourbon Street Beat (1960) and Surfside 6 (1960–1962).
With the success of the studio's film of Broadway play My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), as well as its soundtrack, Warner Bros. Records became a profitable subsidiary. The film Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966) with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was a also huge success. In November 1966, Jack gave in to advancing age and changing times, selling control of the studio and music business to Seven Arts Productions.
Two years later, however, Warner was sold to the Kinney Corporation, which was headed by Steven J. Ross. He transformed Kinney into the media and entertainment empire Warner Communications, and Warner Bros., Inc., as it was renamed, became a highly diversified subsidiary, venturing into such areas as music, video games, and comic books. Despite such expansion, Warner Brothers remained focused on films and television programs. In 1990 Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. to form Time Warner Inc., the largest media and entertainment corporation in the world.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. D 79. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for The Crimson Pirate (Robert Siodmak, 1952). Burt Lancaster took the lead in such popular successes as the Technicolor swashbucklers The Flame and the Arrow (Jacques Tourneur, 1950) and The Crimson Pirate (Robert Siodmak, 1952), and the Western Vera Cruz (Robert Aldrich, 1954). The films were produced by Lancaster's own company but distributed by Warner Bros.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 769. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955). James Dean played for Warner Bros in three films that defined his stardom are as troubled teenager. He was Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955) and surly ranch hand Jett Rink in Giant (George Stevens, 1956). After his death in a car crash, the only 24-years-old Dean became the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Vintage postcard, no. SP568. In the 1950s, Clint Walker with his broad shoulders and slim waist almost single-handedly started the Western craze on TV in his role as Cheyenne Bodie in Cheyenne (1955-1962). Cheyenne Bodie was a roaming cowboy hero in the post-American Civil War era. Cheyenne originally appeared as part of Warner Bros Presents rotating with adaptations of Kings Row and Casablanca. Cheyenne turned out to be the break out hit for Walker. While the series regularly capitalised on Walker's rugged frame with frequent bare-chested scenes, it was also well written and acted. It proved hugely popular for eight seasons. Walker's pleasant baritone singing voice was also occasionally utilised on the series and led Warner Brothers to produce an album of Walker doing traditional songs and ballads.
Spanish postcard by Archivo Bermejo, no. 5495. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Lafayette Escadrille (William A Wellman, 1958). With his blond, tanned, surfer-boy good looks, Tab Hunter was one of Hollywood’s hottest teen idols of the 1950s era. The American actor, singer, and author portrayed boy-next-door marines, cowboys and swoon-bait sweethearts, and had a huge hit with the song Young Love (1957). In 1958, the studio launched Warner Bros. Records.
Dutch postcard by Int. Filmpers, Amsterdam, no. 1306. Photo: Warner Bros. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964).
Sources: Encyclopedia Britanica, Film Reference, and Wikipedia.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 286. Photo: Warner Bros.
A cruel, explosive gangster
Paul Muni was born Frederich Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund in 1895 in Lwów Lemberg, Galicia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Lviv, Ukraine). His parents were Salli and Phillip Weisenfreund, both actors in a travelling Yiddish repertory company. He learned Yiddish as his first language. The family immigrated to America in 1899.
The Weisenfreund family settled in Chicago, where Paul grew up. He started his acting career in the Yiddish theatre with his parents. Naturally talented in acting, he wanted to become a professional actor but this was unacceptable to his father who wanted his son to become a musician. However, Muni was adamant and his father reluctantly agreed to let him pursue his passion.
As a teenager, he developed a skill in creating makeup, which enabled him to play much older characters. At the age of 12, he played the stage role of an 80-year-old man. He was quickly recognised by Maurice Schwartz, who signed him up with his Yiddish Art Theatre in New York in 1918. After 4 years, he moved to other Yiddish theatres until 1926.
Paul Muni was a very reserved and shy person in real life. In 1921, he married Bella Finkel, an actress in the Yiddish theatre. They remained married until Muni's death in 1967.
Muni began acting on Broadway in 1926. His first role was that of an elderly Jewish man in the play We Americans, written by playwrights Max Siegel and Milton Herbert Gropper. It was the first time that he ever acted in English.
In 1929, Muni was signed by Fox. His name was simplified and anglicised to Paul Muni (he had the nickname 'Moony' when he was young). His acting talents were quickly recognised and made his film debut in the drama The Valiant (William K. Howard, 1929) with Marguerite Churchill. For his portrayal of a murderer, he received an Oscar nomination, although the film did poorly at the box office.
In his second film Seven Faces (Berthold Viertel, 1929), he played seven different characters. He was given the nickname "The New Lon Chaney", but the film was again a financial failure. Unhappy with the roles offered to him, he returned to Broadway, where he starred in a major hit play, Counselor at Law (1931-1933).
Paul Muni soon returned to Hollywood to star as the cruel, explosive gangster Antonio 'Tony' Camonte in the original Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932), part of a cycle of gangster films at the time. The film was written by Ben Hecht, who based his screenplay on Armitage Trail's 1929 novel of the same title, which is loosely based on the rise and fall of Al Capone.
The plot centres on Camonte, who aggressively and violently moves up the ranks in the Chicago gangland world. A version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre is depicted. A man of 5'9" height (175.3 cm), Muni wore small lifts (adding three or four inches) and padding to appear more hulking and ape-like as Tony. The film was the basis for Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983) starring Al Pacino.
In the crime drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932), he played a wrongfully convicted convict on a chain gang who escapes to Chicago. For his role, Muni was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. Audiences in the United States who saw the film began to question the legitimacy of the United States legal system, and in January 1933, the film's protagonist, Robert Elliott Burns, who was still imprisoned in New Jersey, and a number of other chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States, were able to appeal and were released.
The acclaim that Paul Muni received as a result of this performance so impressed Warner Bros., they signed him to a long-term contract, publicising him as "the screen's greatest actor".
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 838. Photo: Warner.
British Real Photograph postcard, no. 108. Photo: Warner Bros. Vitaphone Pictures.
During the 1930s, Paul Muni became one of the most prestigious actors at the Warner Bros., and was given the rare privilege of choosing which parts he wanted. His reputation as a prominent stage actor prevented Hollywood from molding him into a marketable image or into a typical big-screen leading man. Muni’s film roles were diverse and generally superior to most Hollywood fare.
In 1935, Muni starred as a coal miner involved in a union dispute in Black Fury (Michael Curtiz, 1935) with Karen Morley, and for his performance he earned his third Oscar nomination (as a write-in candidate).
Muni persuaded Warner Bros. to take a financial risk by producing the historical biography The Story of Louis Pasteur (William Dieterle, 1935). Muni played the 19th century chemist who developed major advances in microbiology, which revolutionised agriculture and medicine, to prove that his medical theories will save lives. It was first of Muni's many biographical roles. The sudden success of Pasteur gave Warner's 'box office gold'. For his performance, Muni won an Oscar and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor from the Venice Film Festival.
Muni played other historical figures, including French author Émile Zola in The Life of Emile Zola (William Dieterle, 1937), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. The film won Best Picture and was interpreted as indirectly attacking the repression of Nazi Germany. He also played the lead role as the Mexican national hero Benito Juárez in Juarez (William Dieterle, 1939) opposite Bette Davis.
His acting quality, usually playing a powerful character, was partly a result of his intense preparation for his parts, often immersing himself in study of the real character's traits and mannerisms. He was also highly skilled in using makeup techniques, a talent he learned from his parents, who were also actors, and from his early years on stage with the Yiddish theatre in Chicago.
In 1937, Muni played a Chinese peasant, with a new bride, in a film adaptation of Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin, 1937). It co-starred Luise Rainer as his wife. She won an Academy Award for her part. The film was a recreation of a revolutionary period in China, and included special effects for a locust attack and the overthrow of the government.
Dissatisfied with life in Hollywood, Muni chose not to renew his contract. He returned to the screen only occasionally in later years, for such roles as Frédéric Chopin's teacher in A Song to Remember (Charles Vidor, 1945) with Merle Oberon. In 1946, he starred in a rare comic performance, Angel on My Shoulder (Archie Mayo, 1946), playing a gangster whose early death prompts the Devil (played by Claude Rains) to make mischief by putting his soul into the body of a judge. His new identity turns the former criminal into a model citizen.
In 1946, he appeared on Broadway in A Flag is Born, written by Ben Hecht, to help promote the creation of a Jewish state in Israel. This play was directed by Luther Adler and co-starred Marlon Brando. At London's Phoenix Theatre, in 1949, Muni began a run as Willy Loman in the first English production of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. He took over from Lee J. Cobb, who had played the principal role in the original Broadway production. Both productions were directed by Elia Kazan.
In Italy, he appeared in the drama Imbarco a mezzanotte/Stranger on the Prowl (Joseph Losey, 1952). Muni travelled to Italy to star in the film partly as an act of solidarity and support for blacklisted friends living there in exile.
A few years later, during 1955 and 1956, Muni had his biggest stage success in the United States as the crusading lawyer, Henry Drummond (based on Clarence Darrow), in Inherit the Wind, winning a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. In late August 1955, Muni was forced to withdraw from the play, due to a serious eye ailment causing deterioration in his eyesight.
His last film role was as a crusading doctor in The Last Angry Man (Daniel Mann, 1959), and he was again nominated for an Oscar. After that, Muni mostly retired from acting to deal with failing eyesight and other health problems.
Over the years, he became increasingly dependent on his wife, Bella, a dependence which increased as his failing eyesight turned to blindness in his final years. He made his final screen appearance on television, in a guest role on the dramatic series Saints and Sinners (1962).
Paul Muni died of a heart disorder in Montecito, California, in 1967. He was 71 and had made 22 films and also starred in numerous Broadway plays. He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood.
British cigarette card in the Third Film Stars series by John Player & Sons, no. 32. Photo: Warner - First National. Collection: Geoffrey Donaldson Institute.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Biography.com, Wikipedia and IMDb.
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. S. 63-3. Photo: Moody, N.Y.
British postcard by John Horn, London/Glasgow. Photo: Boltons-Mutual.
The Rival of Mary Pickford
Mary Miles Minter was born as Juliet Reilly in 1902 in Shreveport as the daughter of Jason Homer Reilly and Broadway actress Charlotte Shelby. Shelby wanted that Juliet and her older sister Margaret also became stage actresses. Margaret became known as the actress Margaret Shelby.
One night when there was no babysitter available, the 5-year-old Juliet accompanied her sister to an audition, was discovered. She got her first stage role in the play Cameo Kirby. She soon became noted for both her talent and visual appeal. Her greatest stage success was in The Littlest Rebel, with William Farnum and Dustin Farnum.
She made her cinema debut in the short film The Nurse (Pat Powers, 1912) credited as Juliet Shelby. In order to avoid the Child Labor Act, she took the name 'Mary Miles Minter' from an aunt who, along with her daughter, had died after unknowingly consuming apple cider contaminated with snake's venom. The aunt's daughter's birth certificate was passed off as Minter's own, allowing the ten-year-old to masquerade as a 17-year-old.
Under her new stage name, she got her first substantial lead in a feature film, The Fairy and the Waif (Marie Hubert Frohmann, George Irving, 1915). She played Viola Drayton, the fairy.
Minter's career steadily grew after that. She specialised in playing demure young women. She started to work for Metro Pictures, and in 1916 she moved on to Mutual Pictures. Minter always played the leads in her films, despite her young age. Her early pictures carried this theme with such titles as Lovely Mary (Edgar Jones, 1916), Faith (James Kirkwood, 1916) and Dimples (Edgar Jones, 1916).
With her innocent appearance, her photogenic features, blue eyes and curly blonde hair, Minter became popular and grew into a rival of Mary Pickford. In 1917 she moved to the American Film Company, where Henry King often directed her, and in 1918 she traded American for Paramount.
British postcard in the "Pictures" Portrait Gallery, London.
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 5.
An unresolved Hollywood Murder
In 1919 Mary Miles Minter made her most famous film, the comedy-drama Anne of Green Gables with director William Desmond Taylor. It is considered lost now. The film became a huge success. Mary quickly fell in love with Taylor against her domineering mother's openly hostile objections. According to Miles Minter, a romantic relationship developed between the 16-year-old star and her 30-years-older director. But Taylor had reservations from the outset and later curtailed the romance, citing the age difference.
William Desmond Taylor started to promote his young actress, so that she would grow into a legendary star. Several films with Miles Minter in the lead were made by their newly founded production company Realart Pictures, but distributed by Paramount. Taylor initially directed her there, but after a few films various other directors stepped in, such as Paul Powell and Joseph Henabery. Her films included Judy of Rogue's Harbor (William Desmond Taylor, 1920), Jenny Be Good (William Desmond Taylor, 1920) and The Little Clown (Thomas N. Heffron, 1921). Her salary, which started at $150 per week in 1915, increased to $2250 per week.
In 1922 Taylor was murdered in his bungalow in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. The ensuing scandal was the subject of widespread media speculation. Newspapers reported that coded love letters written by Minter had been found in his bungalow after his death. She had written them three years earlier, in 1919. Minter was at the height of her success, having starred in more than 50 films, but the newspaper revelations of the 20-year-old star's association with the 49-year-old murdered director effectually killed her film career.
The murder case was the third major scandal to present itself in Hollywood. The first two were the drug-related suicide of beautiful young actress Olive Thomas in 1920 and the Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle sex party outrage that ended in the death of actress wannabe Virginia Rappe.
In 1970, Miles Minter told in an interview that she collapsed when she saw the body of William Desmond Taylor in the morgue. In the long investigation of his murder, there were several suspects. Mary's mother Charlotte Shelby was long known as a suspect, but the perpetrator could not be found. In 1937, when the case was still unresolved, Minter demanded that she be given a prison sentence or that the case would be left alone.
After the death of Desmond Taylor, Minter made four more films for Paramount. Her last film was Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Charles Maigne, 1923) with Antonio Moreno and Ernest Torrence. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine is now considered lost.
After Mary's contract at Paramount was bought out for $350,000 in June of 1923, she was broached by other studios such as Ufa and Pathe with film offers, but the scandal took its toll on Mary and she emotionally wanted out of the public eye. She later said she was never happy in the times that she was an actress. In the late 1920s, Mary and her sister Margaret sued their mother Charlotte over mismanagement of their money and won substantial settlements. They eventually reconciled with their mother.
In 1957, Miles Minter married real estate developer Brandon O. Hildebrandt. They remained together until Hildebrandt's death in 1965. Minter told in interviews that she was much happier after her Hollywood years, although she was brutally beaten and robbed in her home in 1981. A former servant was charged with the crime. The 79-year-old Mary managed to recover.
In 1984, Miles Minter died of a stroke in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 82. All in all she had starred in some 53 films of which just a dozen survives. And in 1999 it was announced that one Ella Margaret Gibson admitted on her deathbed in 1964 that she had committed the murder of William Desmond Taylor. Not much later she died of a heart attack.
French postcard by A.N., Paris, in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 40. Photo: Film Paramount.
French postcard by A.N., Paris in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 114. Photo: Film Paramount.
Sources: Tony Fontana (IMDb), Wikipedia (English and Italian) and IMDb.
Spanish postcard by Raker, no. 1155, 1965. Photo: publicity still for Cheyenne (1955-1962).
Good looks and imposing physique
Clint Walker was born Norman Eugene Walker in 1927 in Hartford, Illinois. He was the son of Gladys Huldah (née Schwanda) and Paul Arnold Walker. He had a twin sister named Lucy.
At 16, Walker left high school to work at a factory and on a river boat, then joined the United States Merchant Marine at the age of 17 in the last months of World War II. After the war he worked his way cross country, including working in the oil fields in Brownwood, Texas, and wound up in California, where he worked as an undercover agent for a private detective agency on the Long Beach waterfront. After a while he took a job as a security officer at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
It was there that he met quite a few Hollywood people who told him that his size, physique and good looks would serve him well in Hollywood and that he should go to Los Angeles and give it a try. Walker became a client of Henry Willson, who renamed him Jett Norman and cast him to appear in the Bowery Boys film Jungle Gents (Edward Bernds, 1955) as a Tarzan-type character.
He was then hired by Cecil B. DeMille to appear in The Ten Commandments (1956). Someone from Warner Bros. saw the film, found out that Walker was under contract to producer Hal B. Wallis, and auditioned him for a new Western TV series.
Clint Walker's good looks and imposing physique helped him win the lead role in the TV series Cheyenne (1955). He was cast as Cheyenne Bodie, a roaming cowboy hero in the post-American Civil War era. Cheyenne originally appeared as part of Warner Bros Presents rotating with adaptations of Kings Row and Casablanca.
Cheyenne turned out to be the break out hit for Walker. While the series regularly capitalised on Walker's rugged frame with frequent bare-chested scenes, it was also well written and acted. It proved hugely popular for eight seasons. Walker's pleasant baritone singing voice was also occasionally utilised on the series and led Warner Brothers to produce an album of Walker doing traditional songs and ballads.
Spanish postcard by Raker, no. 1111. Photo: publicity still for the TV series Cheyenne (1955-1962).
Spanish postcard by Toro de Bronce, no. 77. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Yellowstone Kelly (Gordon Douglas, 1959).
The Dirty Dozen
Warner also cast Clint Walker in the lead of a Western feature film, Fort Dobbs (Gordon Douglas, 1958), but box office returns were modest. Warner tried him in another Douglas-directed Western, Yellowstone Kelly (Gordon Douglas, 1959), co-starring Ed Byrnes from another Warner TV show, 77 Sunset Strip. It was a minor success.
A number of Cheyenne episodes were cut into feature films and released theatrically in some markets and Walker guest-starred as Bodie in an episode of the TV show Maverick. Warner tried Walker in a third Western feature directed by Douglas, Gold of the Seven Saints (Gordon Dougals, 1961), this time co-starring Roger Moore, who was also under contract to Warner. Cheyenne ended in 1962.
Post-Cheyenne, Clint Walker had a supporting part in the Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedy, Send Me No Flowers (Norman Jewison, 1964). Frank Sinatra cast him in the war time drama None but the Brave (1965), the only film Sinatra directed. After doing some guest appearances in The Lucy Show he fought a grizzly bear in Paramount's Western, The Night of the Grizzly (Joseph Pevney, 1966) with Martha Hyer. He starred in a family adventure movie shot in India, Maya (John Berry, 1966).
Walker had his biggest hit to date when the played the meek convict Samson Posey in the war drama The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1967), starring Lee Marvin. Walker returned to Westerns with More Dead Than Alive (Robert Sparr, 1969) with Vincent Price, and had supporting roles in two comic Westerns, Sam Whiskey (Arnold Laven, 1969) and The Great Bank Robbery (Hy Averback, 1969). Walker was one of many names in The Phynx (Lee H. Katzin, 1970).
In May 1971, he was involved in a freak accident at Mammoth Mountain, CA, when the tip of a ski pole pierced his heart. He made an amazing recovery and was back at work filming in Spain two months later. He supported Telly Savalas there in the British-Spanish-American biopic Pancho Villa (Robert Sparr, 1972) and starred in the short-lived TV series Kodiak (1974), playing an Alaskan patrolman. He also starred in the made-for-television cult film Killdozer! (Jerry London, 1974).
His later films included The White Buffalo (J. Lee Thompson, 1977) starring Charles Bronson, Deadly Harvest (Timothy Bond, 1977) and Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women (Joseph Pevney, 1979). His later roles were mostly minor, but in 1998, he voiced Nick Nitro in the animation film Small Soldiers (Joe Dante, 1998).
Then he retired. Clint Walker was married to Verna Garver (1948-1968), Giselle Hennesy (1974-1994) and Susan Cavallari (1997-now). He has one daughter Valerie (1950) with Verna Garver.
Clint Walker died of congestive heart failure in Grass Valley, California, on 21 May 2018, nine days before his 91st birthday.
Vintage postcard, no. SP568.
American postcard by The American Postcard Co. Inc., no. 767, 1983. Photo: publicity still for Cheyenne (1955-1962).
Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.
British postcard in the Filmshots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio. Publicity still for So This Is Africa (Edward F. Cline, 1933). The Columbia Pictures release So This Is Africa was made during a contract dispute of Wheeler and Woolsey with RKO.
British postcard in the Filmshots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio. Publicity still for So This Is Africa (Edward F. Cline, 1933) with Bert Wheeler and Raquel Torres.
Albert Jerome Wheeler was born in 1895 in Paterson, New Jersey, USA. His mother died at the age of 17, when Bert was a baby. After becoming an orphan, he was raised by his father and aunt, and later by a step-mother.
Wheeler went to New York, where he tried to break into showbiz. He got his first break with Gus Edwards. Later, he worked as an actor in several shows, including The Gingerbread Man and When Dreams Come True.
During When Dreams Come True, he met his first wife, Margaret Grae, with whom he formed up a successful vaudeville team. Although being asked several times to make films, Wheeler stayed with vaudeville. In 1926 the couple divorced and Grae soon married another actor.
In 1927 Wheeler was signed by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. for his show Rio Rita, where he was teamed with Robert Woolsey. They clicked and when Ziegfeld sold the screen rights of Rio Rita to the newly formed RKO studio as their official debut, they were the only actors in the cast who repeated their stage roles in the film version.
Rio Rita (Luther Reed, 1929) starring Bebe Daniels, was a success and this convinced them to become a permanent team. From 1930 until 1937, they made a series of 20 very popular comedy feature films, all for RKO Radio Pictures - with the exception of the Columbia production So This Is Africa (Edward F. Cline, 1933).
Bob Woolsey was often the huckster, his big cigar and waggling eyebrows wafting him into the direction of a gigantic but adoring woman. Bert Wheeler was a bit more conventional, but specialised in a special line of willful innocence that sometimes went to extremes; his specialty was singing and eating at the same time.
David Boxwell in the film journal Bright Lights: "Exhaustively citing all the sexual innuendo in Wheeler and Woolsey’s best films would be virtually impossible, but here are a few choice examples. In Diplomaniacs, the sexually aggressive Fifi tries to assassinate Woolsey’s character by kissing him to death, but he survives and causes the vamp to drop to the ground, her body smoking. Wheeler asks him: “Hey, where’s your cigar?” Woolsey confidently claims: “She swallowed it.” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but never in a Wheeler and Woolsey film."
Bert Wheeler. British postcard in the Film Weekly series, London.
British cigarette card in the Stars of Screen & Stage series by Park Drive Cigarettes, Gallaher Ltd., London & Belfast, no. 6. Photo: Radio. Collection: Geoffrey Donaldson Institute.
British cigarette card in the Famous Film Scenes series by Park Drive Cigarettes, Gallaher Ltd., London & Belfast, no. 24. Photo: Radio. Publicity still for Triple Trouble/Kentucky Kernels (George Stevens, 1934) with Mary Carlisle. Collection: Manuel Palomino Arjona @ Flickr.
Robert Rolla Woolsey was born in 1888 in Oakland, California, USA. At the age of 7, his father died, leaving his mother and their six children in poverty. Four of the children died in their early years. To earn some money to support the family, Bob took odd jobs, before becoming a jockey. This career ended when the horse, Pink Star, the future Kentucky Derby winner of 1907, fell and broke Bob's leg.
Woolsey then went to work as a bellboy at the Hotel Sinton in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he came in contact with actors who saw possibilities for him as a comic in the theatre. He joined several vaudeville companies, and toured not only North America, but also the British Empire. In 1917, he married an eccentric dancer, Mignone Park Reed. The couple stayed together till his death.
In 1922, Woolsey appeared with W.C. Fields in The Blue Kitten, and he also wrote some plays. He hit it big, when he was signed for Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.'s Rio Rita in 1927, where he teamed up with Bert Wheeler. Due to their success, they were teamed up again in The Cuckoos (Paul Sloane, 1930), based on the Broadway show The Ramblers. It was another box office hit. Double-entendre gags were a hallmark of their comedies, although they were severely curtailed after the reconstitution of the Production Code in 1934. Dressing in drag and other forms of gender inversion were also staples of their films.
David Boxwell in Bright Lights: "Wheeler and Woolsey didn’t invent drag, but more than any other early sound comedy stars they cross-dressed with complete aplomb, and to hilarious effect. Wheeler often, but not always, plays femme to Woolsey’s butch, so he’s in drag more than the guy with the cigar, but Woolsey is dressed as a 'native girl' in a fetching leopard skin two-piece at the end of So This Is Africa— as he is abducted by a beefy “Tarzan” and taken into a hut for what will be a bout of unseen sex."
By 1931, Wheeler & Woolsey were so popular that RKO attempted to generate twice the Wheeler & Woolsey income by making two solo pictures - Too Many Crooks (William A. Seiter, 1931) with Wheeler, and Everything's Rosie (Clyde Bruckman, 1931) with Woolsey. This experiment failed, and they returned to films as a team. Among the pair's following features are Caught Plastered (William A. Seiter, 1931), Peach O'Reno (William A. Seiter, 1931), and Diplomaniacs (William A. Seiter, 1933).
Mark Sandrich directed them in Hips Hips Hooray (1934) and Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934), both co-starring Thelma Todd and Dorothy Lee. After Sandrich was promoted to the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, he was replaced by George Stevens. Stevens directed them in Kentucky Kernels (1934) with Mary Carlisle, and The Nitwits (1935) with Betty Grable. After Stevens left the series, the quality of Wheeler & Woolsey's output dwindled. In some of these later films, Wheeler and Woolsey didn't even appear as a team, but as strangers who encounter each other by chance.
Robert Woolsey's health deteriorated in 1936, and after struggling to complete High Flyers (Edward Cline, 1937) with Lupe Velez, he was no longer able to work. Bob Woolsey died on 31 October 1938 of kidney disease. After his death, Bert Wheeler continued to work off and on through the 1960s, mostly on the stage, but sometimes also on television. In later years he formed a team with a new, young partner, Tommy Dillon, with whom he worked in Las Vegas and Manhattan's Latin Quarter.
Bert Wheeler's last years were darkened with financial difficulties and failing health. Furthermore, two weeks before his own death in 1968 his only daughter Patricia Anne Wheeler died of cancer. Wheeler was 72. He married five times: to Margaret Grae (1915-1926), Bernice Wheeler (1928-1936), Sally Haines (1937-1939), Patsy Orr (1952-1956) and Olga Desmondae 'Des' Rieman (1961-1966 - her death).
Despite their great popularity in the 1930s, Wheeler & Woolsey are little known today. IMDb: "One of the reasons likely is the fact that their films were not packaged and sold to television in the 1950s, unlike The Three Stooges and Laurel & Hardy, who then went on to entertain new generations of fans. (...) Their shorts were geared towards adults, and even in the 1930s, they were considered vulgar, and thus would have been inappropriate on television in the 1950s as the comedy shorts of the Stooges and Laurel & Hardy were programmed for children."
Robert Woolsey. British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 514.
British postcard in the Filmshots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio. Publicity still for So This Is Africa (Edward F. Cline, 1933) with Esther Muir and Robert Woolsey.
Sources: David Boxwell (Bright Lights film journal), Stephan Eichenberg (IMDb), Pre-code.com, Wikipedia and IMDb.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/1. Photo: National Film. Dorothy Cumming as the Virgin Mary in Cecil B. deMille's The King of Kings (1927). Caption: Mary and the blind girl.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/3. Photo: National Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Mary Magdalene. The charioteer was played by Noble Johnson, while Jacqueline Logan played Mary Magdalene.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/3. Photo: National Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Jesus (H.B. Warner) resurrects Lazarus from the Dead.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/4. Photo: National Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) dries Jesus' feet.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/5. Photo: National-Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Caiaphas the High Priest of Israel (Rudolph Schildkraut).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/6. Photo: National-Film. Publicity still for King of Kings (Cecil B. De Mille, 1927). Caption: Caiphas accuses Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Victor Varconi as Pontius Pilate the Governor of Judea, H.B. Warner as Jesus and Rudolph Schildkraut as Caiaphas.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/8. Photo: National-Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: The Last Supper.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/9. Photo: National-Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Jesus (H.B. Warner) and his Mother (Dorothy Cumming).
Equal amounts of showmanship and reverence
Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "Having scored big-time box office with his first Biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1923), Cecil B. DeMille hoped to top this success with his 1927 The King of Kings.
Inasmuch as he was now dealing with the life of Christ, DeMille had to be careful to serve up equal amounts of showmanship and reverence.
The first creative challenge: how to "introduce" Christ in a tasteful manner? The answer: as a blind child is cured through Jesus' intervention, DeMille cuts to the child's point-of-view, slowly fading in on the kindly countenance of H.B. Warner as the Son of Man.
Still, DeMille remained DeMille, especially in his handling of the character of Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan). No longer a tattered streetwalker, Mary Magdalene is now a glamorous courtesan, replete with legions of gorgeous slave girls."
"Once he's gotten his box-office considerations out of the way, DeMille adheres faithfully to the particulars of Jesus' life, betrayal, trial, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. (Again, however, the director improves a bit upon his source material: the storm that follows the Crucifixion is of the same spectacular dimensions as the parting of the Red Sea in Ten Commandments, while the Resurrection is filmed in vibrant Technicolor).
To back up the authenticity of his images, DeMille -- with an assist from scenarist Jeannie Macpherson -- utilizes Scriptural quotes in his subtitles."
The King of Kings is the first film for which the still were made by a hand-held camera. Photographer William Mortenson made four hundred negatives that capture scenes as they were being shot, not posed afterwards.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/10. Photo: National-Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Jesus (H.B. Warner) and the Captain of the Temple Guards (Theodore Kosloff).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/11. Photo: National Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Jesus (H.B. Warner) on the way to Golgotha. The man helping to carry the cross could be William Boyd, who played Simon of Cyrene.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 86/12. Photo: National Film. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Under the Cross.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, unnumbered. Photo: DPG (Deutsche Photographische Gesellschaft). Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Caption: Pontius Pilate and his wife. Pilate was played by Victor Varconi, his wife Proculla by Majel Coleman.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, unnumbered. Photo: DPG (Deutsche Photographische Gesellschaft). Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927) with H.B. Warner as Jesus.
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5062. Photo: Cecil B. de Mille-Studio. Publicity still for The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Victor Varconi as Pontus Pilate.
French postcard, no. 492. Postcard for the American silent epic The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927). Jesus (H.B. Warner) between the Virgin Mary (Dorothy Cumming) and Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan).
Sources: David Fahey and Linda Rich (Masters of Starlight), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.
British postcard in the Cinema Stars series by Lilywhite Ltd., no. C.M. 14. Photo: Stoll Pictures.
British postcard in the Cinema Stars series by Lilywhite Ltd., no. C.M. 186. Photo: Goldwyn Pictures.
Sophisticated or demanding, classy women and femme fatales
Pauline Frederick was born Pauline Beatrice Libbey in 1883 in Boston, USA, as the daughter of a prosperous couple, Richard O. and Loretta C. Libbey.
Her father worked as a yardmaster for the Old Colony Railroad before becoming a salesman. Her parents separated when she was a toddler and Frederick was raised primarily by her mother to whom she remained close for the remainder of her life.
As a child, Frederick was already interested in show business. Inspired by the theatre, she took singing lessons, and at the age of 19, she was accepted at the Boston Music Hall. When she got the thread, she packed her suitcases and moved with her mother to New York City.
Then known as Pauline Libby, she changed her surname to 'Frederick'. All this to the displeasure of her father, who got his daughter removed from his will in revenge. She legally changed her name to Pauline Frederick in 1908. In New York, Frederick started as a choir girl, but soon she made her debut on Broadway. Her first breakthrough came in 1904 when as an understudy she had to replace the lead actress in It Happened in Norland.
Frederick's heart lay with melodramas, and in the end she chose to neglect the opera. In 1908, Frederick became infertile because of a serious car accident. A year later she married Frank Mills Andrews. During this two-year marriage she stopped acting. In 1913, she secured her success when she returned to the stage with the leading role in Joseph and His Brethren.
In 1914, Pauline Frederick was hired by the film studio Famous Players and made her film debut in The Eternal City (Hugh Ford, Edwin S. Porter, 1915), a religious drama that was shot in Rome just before the outbreak of the First World War. Frederick saw the film industry as a temporary get-away, but encouraged by the success of The Eternal City she signed a contract.
Although she had already passed 30, she became one of the biggest stars in the silent film period. She played mainly sophisticated or demanding, classy women and femme fatales.
On the set of Nannette of the Wilds (Joseph Kaufman, 1916), the film that critics have renamed the worst of her career, she met actor Willard Mack. They fell in love and married in September 1917.
British postcard in the Famous Players Stars Series, no. 2.
British postcard. Photo: Famous Players Film. Publicity still of Pauline Frederick in Lydia Gilmore (Hugh Ford, Edwin S. Porter, 1915).
A role model and style icon for elder women
In 1919, Pauline Frederick signed a contract with Goldwyn Pictures. Critics agreed that she was assigned roles here that were more suitable for her. The budget of her films was larger and the films were better received in terms of quality. Although her career ran smoothly, her private life was a disaster. Mack was a violent alcoholic and drug addict who regularly mistreated his wife. In 1919 she applied for a divorce.
As a result of the relocation of Goldwyn, Frederick moved to California in 1920. That same year she played in Madame X (Frank Lloyd, 1920), the film she became best known for. Despite the success she enjoyed at Goldwyn, she left the studio for a contract with Robertson-Cole, where she received a fixed salary of $7,000 per week. Her move to Robertson-Cole was a misstep in her career. Most films flopped and reviewers spoke negatively about them. In 1922 her contract was terminated and she returned to the stage.
In 1924, she was hired by the Vitagraph Company, where she achieved success in films such as Three Women (Ernst Lubitsch, 1924) with May McAvoy and Marie Prevost, and Smouldering Fires (Clarence Brown, 1925) with Laura La Plante and Malcolm McGregor. Frederick became a role model and style icon for elder women. After a short time she left the studio to go on tour. In March 1927, she received some of her better reviews when she appeared in the play Madame X in London.
After her return to Hollywood, she did not manage to become as successful as before, but the film roles kept on coming. In 1928, Frederick's first sound film, On Trial (Archie Mayo, 1928), was released. Her voice was poorly received, but film historians blame this on the bad sound techniques. Technological progress went smoothly and eventually the actress made a good transition to the new film medium. She was cast as Joan Crawford's mother in This Modern Age (Nick Grinde, 1931). In spite of this, Frederick lost her prestige. Actors were massively exchanged for new talent. Similarly for Frederick, who managed to get film roles only with difficulty.
In the 1930s, Frederick underwent one setback after another. She returned to Broadway in 1932 in When the Bough Breaks, but because of the Great Depression she had trouble getting roles. Frederick filed for bankruptcy in 1933. She was in several short-term marriages and in the autumn of 1934 her fifth husband, Joseph Marmon, died of cancer. In the meantime she took care of her mother, whose health seriously deteriorated.
After her last theatre appearance in New York in 1936, she returned to Hollywood. Her final film was Thank You, Mr. Moto (Norman Foster, 1937) with Peter Lorre in the title role. Her mother died in February 1938 and Frederick suffered from severe asthma attacks. She did not recover from this and passed away in September 1938 at the age of 55.
Greta the Groat writes about her: “Pauline Frederick is one of the most interesting and individual stars of the American silent screen. In an era of gentle and sweet heroines--even among the 'emotional actresses', Frederick stood out with her dramatic looks, commanding presence and worldly characters. While never a top box office draw, Frederick was always something of a connoisseur's star, and her subtle and cinematic acting technique was widely admired both by audiences and within the industry. Unfortunately for modern audiences, only a handful of her many silent films survive. Those survivors, however, appear to have been among her best and most memorable, though they give us a somewhat skewed and limited view of her career.”
British postcard in the 'Pictures' Portrait Gallery, no. 106.
French postcard in the 'Les Vedettes du Cinéma' series by Editions Filma, no. 71. Photo: Agence Générale Cinématographique.
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 77. Photo: Melbourne Spurr.
Sources: Greta the Groat (The Pauline Frederick Website), Wikipedia (Dutch, English and German) and IMDb.
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 221/69. Photo: publicity still for Spur des Falken/Trail of the Falcon (Gottfried Kolditz, 1968).
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 61/70. Photo: publicity still for Tödlicher Irrtum/Fatal Error (Konrad Petzold, 1970).
The typical Eastern Bloc countries' take on the Western
Rolf Hoppe was born in 1930 as son of a master baker in Ellrich, Thuringia, Germany - situated on the southern edge of the Harz. He started acting during his school time in FDJ (Free German Youth movement) amateur drama groups. After his apprenticeship as a baker, Rolf worked from 1945 to 1948, as a coachman. He then started an actors’ training at the in Erfurt.
Hoppe suffered from temporary vocal cord paralysis in 1950 and worked during this period as an animal keeper for Zirkus Aeros. He was later engaged at the Thalia Theater in Halle (Saale) and at the Young World Theatre in Leipzig. He acted at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, and the Salzburg Festival. He was internationally active in Switzerland, Italy, and China.
From 1964 on, Rolf Hoppe often appeared in films produced by the DEFA, the state-owned film studio in the German Democratic Republic (East-Germany). One of his first films was the drama Der Frühling braucht Zeit/The Spring Takes Time (Günter Stahnke, 1966), which was banned by the Communist authorities shortly after it was released.
He played villains in different ‘Osterns’ (the Eastern - the typical Eastern Bloc countries' take on the Western). An example is Spur des Falken/Trail of the Falcon (Gottfried Kolditz, 1968), starring Gojko Mitic as the Indian hero.
He also appeared in other Mitic films, Weiße Wölfe/White Wolves (Konrad Petzold, Bosko Boskovic, 1969), one of the most popular DEFA films ever, and Tödlicher Irrtum/Fatal Error (Konrad Petzold, 1970), also with Armin Mueller-Stahl. In 1971, Hoppe was awarded the National Prize of East Germany for artistic achievement.
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 29/70. Photo: DEFA. Publicity still for Weisse Wölfe/White Wolves (Konrad Petzold, Bosko Boskovic, 1969).
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 7/76. Photo: DEFA / Dassdorf. Publicity still for Ulzana (Gottfried Kolditz, 1974) with Rolf Hoppe and Alfred Struwe.
The hoax of the Hitler Diaries
In 1971, Rolf Hoppe won the GDR arts award for his portrayal of the dumb, but good-natured 'King Karl IV of Spain and both Indias' in Goya (Konrad Wolf, 1971) starring Donatas Banionis. Hoppe also appeared in the East-German Science Fiction film Eolomea (Herrmann Zschoche 1972) with Cox Habbema.
One of his most notable roles was that of General Tábornagy (Hermann Göring) in Mephisto (István Szabó, 1981), the film adaptation of Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrik Höfgen. The film was awarded the 1981 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
His later films include the crime film Ärztinnen/Woman Doctors (Horst Seemann, 1984), the drama Das Haus am Fluß/The House on the River (Roland Gräf, 1986) and the East German–Swiss drama Pestalozzis Berg/Pestalozzi's Mountain (Peter von Gunten, 1989) featuring Gian Maria Volonté. All three films were entered into editions of the Berlin International Film Festival.
Hoppe had a supporting part in the satire Schtonk! (Helmut Dietl, 1992), a retelling of the hoax of the Hitler Diaries, starring Götz George. He also played Gauleiter Julius Streicher in another German success of the 1990s, Comedian Harmonists/The Harmonists (Joseph Vilsmaier, 1997), about the popular German vocal group the Comedian Harmonists of the 1920s and 1930s.
He then appeared in the Neo-Noir Palmetto (Volker Schlöndorff, 1998), based on the novel Just Another Sucker by James Hadley Chase. The film stars Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue and Gina Gershon. Also interesting is the Jewish comedy Alles auf Zucker!/Go for Zucker (Dani Levy, 2004). Director Dani Levy, himself Jewish, made an ironic comedy about modern Jewish identity in present-day Germany. It was critically acclaimed in Germany and won a number of awards.
Hoppe also did a lot of TV work. He appeared in several Krimi series, including Tatort (1994-2003), Polizeiruf 110 (1996) and Donna Leon (2004). In 1998, Hoppe won the Grimme award for his portrayal of mafia don Heinz Baranowski in the crime series Sardsch (1997) with Hannes Jaenicke.
Hoppe was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit First Class in 2010. He returned to the big screen with turns in the Polish-German drama Swinki (Robert Glinski, 2009) and Wir wollten aufs Meer/Shores of Hope (Toke Constantin Hebbeln, 2012). While the Ken Follett TV adaptation Die Pfeiler der Macht/A Dangerous Fortune (Christian Schwochow, 2016) saw him as a strict patriarch and he also featured in two episodes of TV crime series Spreewaldkrimi his last appearance on the big screen next to Lars Eidinger and Jan Josef Liefers in Die Blumen von gestern/Bloom of Yesterday (Chris Kraus, 2016), once more as a funny professor.
In 2015, Rolf Hoppe was awarded the Deutscher Schauspielerpreis for his lifetime achievements. On 14 November 2018, the 87-years-old Rolf Hoppe passed away in his home in Dresden. Since 1962, he was married with Friederike, who had passed away a month earlier in October 2018. They had two daughters, Josephine and Christine. Christine Hoppe (1968), is also an actress.
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 65/70. Photo: DEFA / Blümel. Publicity still for Tödlicher Irrtum/Fatal Error (Konrad Petzold, 1970) with Armin Mueller-Stahl and Bruno O'Ya.
German autograph card. Photo: Hans-Ludwig Böhme. Signed in 2007.
Sources: Katharina Dockhorn (DEFA-Stiftung - German), Filmportal.de, Welt (German), Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.
Rudolph Valentino. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4685/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922).
Gary Cooper. German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. 5751/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930). Cooper was mistakenly credited as 'Garry Cooper'.
Marlene Dietrich. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6673/2, 1931-1932. Photo: Don English / Paramount. Publicity still for Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932).
Veronica Lake. Big Belgian card by Chocolaterie Clovis, Pepinster. Photo: George Hurrell / Paramount. Publicity still for This Gun for Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942).
Charlton Heston. Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 5183. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) with Heston as Moses. Moses' robe was hand-woven by Dorothea Hulse, one of the world's finest weavers. She also created costumes for The Robe, as well as textiles and costume fabrics for Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and others.
Famous Players in Famous Plays
Famous Players was created in 1912 by Adolph Zukor, a Hungarian immigrant who started in the penny arcade and nickelodeon business in New York in the early 1900s. Famous Players enjoyed early success producing and distributing multi-reel (feature-length) films and developing a star-driven market strategy.
With partners Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman, Zukor planned to make films which appealed to the middle class by featuring the leading theatrical players of the time ('Famous Players in Famous Plays'). By mid-1913, Famous Players had completed five films. Its first film was Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth/Queen Elizabeth (Henri Desfontaines, Louis Mercanton, 1912) which starred Sarah Bernhardt.
Meanwhile, three young filmmaking entrepreneurs, Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (later Goldwyn), and Cecil B. DeMille, launched a production company in Hollywood in 1913, Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. They scored a major hit in 1914 with their first feature production, The Squaw Man (Oscar Apfel, Cecil B. DeMille, 1914).
That same year, as the movies were rapidly becoming a major entertainment enterprise, W. W. Hodkinson formed a nationwide distribution company, Paramount Pictures, to release the films produced by Famous Players, Lasky, and others. Paramount was the first successful nationwide distributor. Until this time, films were sold on a state-wide or regional basis which had proved costly to film producers. Also, Famous Players and Lasky were privately owned while Paramount was a corporation.
Zukor and Lasky bought Hodkinson out of Paramount, and merged the three companies into one. The new company Lasky and Zukor founded, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, grew quickly, with Lasky and his partners Goldwyn and DeMille running the production side, Hiram Abrams in charge of distribution, and Zukor making great plans. With only the exhibitor-owned First National as a rival, Famous Players-Lasky and its Paramount Pictures soon dominated the business.
Because Zukor believed in stars, he signed and developed many of the leading early stars, including Mary Pickford, Pauline Frederick, William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, and Wallace Reid. With so many important players, Paramount was able to introduce ‘block booking’, which meant that an exhibitor who wanted a particular star's films had to buy a year's worth of other Paramount productions. It was this system that gave Paramount a leading position in the 1920s and 1930s, but which led the government to pursue it on antitrust grounds for more than twenty years.
The studio produced scores of top hits, ranging from Rudolph Valentino vehicles like The Sheik (George Melford, 1921) and Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922) to Western epics like The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923) and the DeMille spectacles The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927).
Pola Negri. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 939/5, 1925-1926. Photo: Paramount-Film. Publicity still for The Cheat (George Fitzmaurice, 1923).
John Gilbert. French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 478. Photo: Paramount. Gilbert as Prince Danilo in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).
Gloria Swanson. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1488/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Paramount / Parafumet. Publicity still for Stage Struck (Allan Dwan, 1925).
Clara Bow. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3510/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Paramount.
Charles Rogers, Nancy Carroll, and Jean Hersholt. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 111/1. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Abie's Irish Rose (Victor Fleming, 1928), which was based on a popular Broadway play.
A Movie Factory
In 1926, Adolph Zukor hired independent producer B. P. Schulberg, an unerring eye for new talent, to run the film studio. Paramount was one of the first Hollywood studios to release what were known at that time as ‘talkies’, and in 1929, released their first musical, Innocents of Paris (Richard Wallace, 1929). Maurice Chevalier starred and sung the most famous song from the film, Louise.
Eventually, Zukor shed most of his early partners. In 1935, Paramount went bankrupt. Zukor was bumped up to chairman of the board. In this role, he reorganised the company as Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was able to successfully bring the studio out of bankruptcy.
Paramount continued to emphasize stars; in the 1920s there were Swanson, Valentino, and Clara Bow. By the 1930s, talkies brought in a range of powerful new draws: Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Jeanette MacDonald, Claudette Colbert, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, band leader Shep Fields, famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel, and Gary Cooper among them.
Like the other majors, Paramount's house style was geared to a range of star genre formulas; but the studio was unique in that these generally were handled not by unit producers but by specific directors who were granted considerable creative autonomy and control. Examples are Josef von Sternberg's highly stylized Dietrich melodramas like Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932) and Blonde Venus (1932), and Ernst Lubitsch's distinctive musical operettas with Jeanette MacDonald such as The Love Parade (1929) and One Hour With You (1932).
While the key elements in these star-genre units were director and star, other filmmakers were crucial as well: writer Jules Furthman and cinematographer Lee Garmes on the Dietrich films, for example, and the production design by Hans Dreier on all of the films directed by both Lubitsch and von Sternberg during this period.
In this period Paramount can truly be described as a movie factory, turning out sixty to seventy pictures a year. Such were the benefits of having a huge theatre chain to fill, and of block booking to persuade other chains to go along. The studio's invested heavily in comedy during the early sound era, best typified perhaps by its run of the Marx Brothers comedies: The Cocoanuts (Robert Florey, Joseph Santley, 1929), Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman, 1930), Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, 1931), Horse Feathers (Norman Z. McLeod, 1932), and Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933). The first two films were shot at Paramount's Astoria, New York, studio.
W. C. Fields, George Burns& Gracie Allen, and Jack Oakie also contributed to this comedy trend, whose roots ran deeply into American vaudeville. In 1933, Mae West would add greatly to Paramount's success with her suggestive movies She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman, 1933) and I'm No Angel (Wesley Ruggles, 1933). However, the sex appeal West gave in these movies would also lead to the enforcement of the Production Code, as the newly formed organization the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened a boycott if it was not enforced.
Influential comedy directors were Leo McCarey with Belle of the Nineties (1934) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) with Charles Laughton, and, Mitchell Leisen with Easy Living (1937) with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland, and Midnight (1939) with Claudette Colbert.
W.C. Fields and Chester Conklin. Dutch card. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Fools for Luck (Charles Reisner, 1928).
Jeanette MacDonald. French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 796. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929).
Maurice Chevalier. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 531. Photo: Paramount.
Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Nancy Carroll. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5547/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Follow Thru (Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab, 1930).
Claudette Colbert and Henry Wilcoxon. French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 962. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Cleopatra (Cecil B. DeMille, 1934).
The end of the classic Hollywood studio system
In 1940, Paramount agreed to a government-instituted consent decree: block booking and ‘pre-selling’ (the practice of collecting up-front money for films not yet in production) would end. Immediately, Paramount cut back on production, from 71 films to a more modest 19 annually in the war years.
Still, with more new stars like Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and Betty Hutton, and with war-time attendance at astronomical numbers, Paramount and the other integrated studio-theatre combines made more money than ever.
At this, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department decided to reopen their case against the five integrated studios. This led to the Supreme Court decision United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. (1948) holding that movie studios could not also own movie theatre chains. This decision broke up Adolph Zukor's creation, with the theatre chain being split into a new company, United Paramount Theatres, and effectively brought an end to the classic Hollywood studio system.
With the separation of production and exhibition forced by the U.S. Supreme Court, Paramount Pictures Inc. was split in two. Paramount Pictures Corporation was formed to be the production distribution company, with the 1,500-screen theatre chain handed to the new United Paramount Theatres on December 31, 1949. Leonard Goldenson, who had headed the chain since 1938, remained as the new company's president.
Despite such setbacks, Paramount had a number of successes in the 1940s and 1950s, notably the satirical comedies of writer-director Preston Sturges such as The Lady Eve (1941) and Going My Way (1944), the cynical dramas and comedies of writer-director Billy Wilder like Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), the Road to-comedies of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour the Western Shane (1953), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) with James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
With the loss of the theatre chain, Paramount Pictures went into a decline, cutting studio-backed production, releasing its contract players, and making production deals with independents. By the mid-1950s, all the great names were gone. Only Cecil B. DeMille, associated with Paramount since 1913, kept making pictures in the grand old style. Despite Paramount's losses, DeMille would, however, give the studio some relief and create his most successful film at Paramount, a remake of his 1923 film The Ten Commandments (1956), starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. DeMille died in 1959.
Like some other studios, Paramount saw little value in its film library, and sold 764 of its pre-1948 films.
Charles Laughton. Vintage postcard. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Ruggles of Red Gap (1935).
Victor Mature. French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 358, 1954. Photo: Paramount Pictures Inc.. Publicity still for Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille, 1949).
Dorothy Lamour. French postcard by Viny, no. 13. Photo: Paramount.
Grace Kelly. French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 584, Photo: Paramount, 1954.
Yul Brynner. French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 831. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956). For his pursuit of the Israelites, Brynner in his role as Rameses II wears the blue Khepresh helmet-crown, which the pharaohs wore for battle.
High Concept Pictures
By the early 1960s, Paramount's future was doubtful. The high-risk movie business was wobbly; the theatre chain was long gone; investments in television came to nothing; and the Golden Age of Hollywood had just ended. Films of this period include Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
In 1966, a sinking Paramount was sold to Charles Bluhdorn's industrial conglomerate, Gulf + Western Industries Corporation. Bluhdorn immediately put his stamp on the studio, installing a virtually unknown producer named Robert Evans as head of production. Despite some rough times, Evans held the job for eight years, restoring Paramount's reputation for commercial success with The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968), Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), Love Story (Arthur Hiller, 1970), and The Godfather (Francis Coppola, 1972) and its sequels.
Evans abandoned his position as head of production in 1974. By 1976, a new, television-trained team was in place headed by Barry Diller and his associates, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson, who would each go on and head up major movie studios of their own later in their careers. The Paramount specialty was now simpler. ‘High concept’ pictures such as Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) and Grease (Randall Kleisner, 1978) hit all over the world, and Apocalypse Now (Francis Coppola, 1979) was also a huge hit.
Paramount's successful run of pictures extended into the 1980s and 1990s, generating hits like An Officer and a Gentleman (Taylor Hackford, 1982), Flashdance (Adrian Lyne, 1983), Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983), Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986) with Tom Cruise, and the Friday the 13th slasher series. Paramount teamed up with Lucasfilm to create the Indiana Jones franchise. During this period, responsibility for running the studio passed from Eisner and Katzenberg to Frank Mancuso, Sr. (1984) and Ned Tanen (1984) to Stanley R. Jaffe (1991) and Sherry Lansing (1992).
In 1994 Paramount was acquired by Viacom Inc. Titanic (James Cameron, 1997), made jointly with 20th Century Fox, tied the record for most Academy Awards and was the first film to earn more than $1 billion at the box office. More recent Paramount’s hits include both the Iron Man and Star Trek series, and The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013) starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Paramount is the last major film studio located in Hollywood proper. For a time the semi-industrial neighbourhood around Paramount was in decline, but has now come back. The recently refurbished studio has come to symbolize Hollywood for many visitors, and its studio tour is a popular attraction. The distinctively pyramidal Paramount mountain has been the company's logo since its inception and is the oldest surviving Hollywood film logo. In the sound era, the logo was accompanied by a fanfare called Paramount on Parade after the film of the same name, released in 1930. Legend has it that the mountain is based on a doodle made by W. W. Hodkinson during a meeting with Adolph Zukor. It is said to be based on the memories of his childhood in Utah.
Marlon Brando. American postcard by Classico San Francisco, no. 136-183. Photo: The Ludlow Collection. Publicity still for The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972).
Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek. American postcard by Classico, San Francisco, no. 105-117. Photo: Paramount Pictures, 1991.
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Vintage postcard. Photo: publicity still for Titanic (James Cameron, 1997).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Film Reference, Wikipedia and IMDb.
Dutch postcard, no. 950. Photo: Universal Film.
Bud Abbott was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1897, into a show business family. His parents, Rae Fisher and Harry Abbott, had worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Several years after the family relocated to Brooklyn, Abbott dropped out of grammar school and began working summers with his father at Dreamland Park on Coney Island.
When he was 15, Abbott signed on as a cabin boy on a Norwegian steamer but was soon forced to shovel coal. He eventually worked his way back to the United States after a year. His father was a longtime advance man for the Columbia Burlesque Wheel, and he installed Bud in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn. Bud spent the next few years in burlesque box offices.
In 1918, working in Washington, D.C., he met and married Jenny Mae Pratt, a burlesque dancer, and comedian who performed as Betty Smith. They remained together until his death 55 years later.
In 1923 Abbott produced a cut-rate vaudeville tab show called Broadway Flashes, which toured on the Gus Sun circuit. Abbott began performing as a straight man in the show when he could no longer afford to pay one. He continued producing and performing in burlesque shows on the Mutual Burlesque wheel, and as his reputation grew, he began working with veteran comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson. Abbott suffered from epilepsy starting from about 1926.
Abbott crossed paths with Lou Costello in burlesque a few times in the early 1930s when Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky's Burlesque shows and Costello was a rising comic. They first worked together in stock burlesque in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street, after an illness sidelined Costello's regular partner. They formally teamed up in 1936, and went on to perform together in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and stage shows.
In 1938, they received national exposure as regulars on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which led to roles in a Broadway musical, The Streets of Paris. In 1940, Universal signed the team for their first film, One Night in the Tropics (A. Edward Sutherland, 1940), starring Allan Jones. Despite having minor roles, Abbott and Costello stole the film with several classic routines, including an abbreviated version of 'Who's On First?' Their work earned them a two-picture deal with Universal.
During World War II, Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highest-paid stars in the world. Between 1940 and 1956 they made 36 films and earned a percentage of the profits on each. They had their own radio program, The Abbott and Costello Show, throughout the 1940s. In the 1950s, they introduced their comedy to live television on The Colgate Comedy Hour, and launched their own half-hour series, The Abbott and Costello Show.
Abbott was very supportive of his relatives. Norman and Betty Abbott, the children of Bud's older sister, Olive, started their careers working behind the scenes on Abbott and Costello films. Betty became Blake Edwards' longtime script supervisor, and Norman directed episodes of many television series, including Leave It to Beaver, The Jack Benny Program, Sanford and Son, and Welcome Back, Kotter.
Bud Abbott died of cancer at the age of 76 in 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.
Vintage collectors card, no. 7. Photo: Universal. Publicity still of Bud Abbott in The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (Charles Barton, 1947).
French postcard by Editions P.I., La Garenne, no. 227. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1949. Publicity still for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood ( S. Sylvan Simon, 1945).
Lou Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo in 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Helen Rege and Sebastiano Cristillo.He attended School 15 in Paterson and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was once the New Jersey state free throw champion. His singular basketball prowess can be seen in Here Come the Co-Eds (1945), in which he performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects. He also fought as a boxer under the name 'Lou King'. He took his professional name from actress Helene Costello.
In 1927 Costello hitchhiked to Hollywood to become an actor, but could only find work as a labourer or extra at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. His athletic skill brought him occasional work as a stunt man, notably in The Trail of '98 (Clarence Brown, 1928) featuring Harry Carey. He can also be spotted sitting ringside in the Laurel and Hardy film The Battle of the Century (Clyde Bruckman, 1927).
In 1929, with the advent of sound film, he headed back east intending to get the requisite stage experience. In New York he began working in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque wheel during the Great Depression.
In 1934, Costello married Anne Battler, a burlesque dancer. They would have four children, Patricia 'Paddy' (1936), Carole (1938), Lou Jr. 'Butch' (1942) and Christine (1947). In November 1943 his son, Lou Jr. drowned in the swimming pool of the family home just days before his first birthday.
After the Mutual Wheel collapsed, Costello went to work for the Minskys, where he crossed paths with Bud Abbott. In 1935 they first worked together at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City when Costello's partner failed to show. Abbott and Costello formally teamed up in 1936.
Abbott and Costello were signed by the William Morris talent agency, which succeeded in landing them featured roles and national exposure. Their second film, Buck Privates (Arthur Lubin, 1941), with The Andrews Sisters, was a runaway hit. It grossed $10 million on a $180,000 budget, what was then a company record.
They immediately became the No. 3 Box Office Stars of 1941. Their film successes include In The Navy (Arthur Lubin, 1941), Hold that Ghost (Arthur Lubin, 1941), Keep 'Em Flying (Arthur Lubin, 1941) with Martha Raye, Who Done It? (Erle C. Kenton, 1942) and Pardon My Sarong (Erle C. Kenton, 1942). During World War II, they were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world.
After the war followed hits like The Time of Their Lives (Charles Barton, 1946) and Buck Privates Come Home (Charles Barton, 1947), a sequel to their 1941 hit, Buck Privates. In both Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton, 1948), they encounter Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Subsequent films pair the duo with the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy.
By the mid-1950s Abbott and Costello's popularity waned, and after failing to come to terms with the team, Universal dropped their film contract in 1955. With radio, film and television vehicles, they suffered from overexposure, and were eclipsed by the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis who had taken their place as the cinema's hottest comedy team.
In 1956, after troubles with the Internal Revenue Service forced both men to sell their large homes and the rights to some of their films, Abbott and Costello made their final film together, an independent production called Dance with Me, Henry (Charles Barton, 1956). The film was a box-office disappointment and received mixed critical reviews. Abbott and Costello dissolved their partnership in 1957 amicably.
Costello went back to his roots of stand-up, including stints in Las Vegas, and sought film projects for himself. He appeared several times on Steve Allen's fledgling The Tonight Show, but most often in variations of his old routines, with Louis Nye or Tom Poston taking on the straight man role. Costello sought to be known as something other than the funny fat man in the baggy clothes, and played a dramatic role on The Tobias Jones Story episode of Wagon Train (1958).
Shortly after completion of The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (Sidney Miller, 1959) with Dorothy Provine, his only starring film appearance without Abbott, Lou Costello suffered a heart attack. He died at Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills on 3 March 1959, three days before his 53rd birthday.
American postcard by Western Publishing & Novelty Co., Los Angeles, Calif, no. 865. Captions: Home of Lou Costello, North Hollywood. Home of Bud Abbott, Encino, California.
American postcard by Universal Studios.
Sources: Ed Stephan (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.
French postcard. Sent by mail in 1903.
French singer and actress Polaire (1874-1939) had a career in the entertainment industry which stretched from the early 1890s to the mid-1930s, and encompassed the range from music-hall singer to stage and film actress. Her most successful period professionally was from the mid-1890s to the beginning of the First World War.
Italian postcard by Moneglia, Stab. Civicchioni, no. 404. Sent by mail in 1906.
Carolina 'La Belle' Otéro (1868–1965) was a Spanish-born dancer, actress and courtesan.
French postcard by Cautin et Berger, Paris. Caprion: Variétés.
Max Dearly (1874-1943) was a French actor, famous for his parts in 1930s French sound film but also for his previous career in Parisian vaudeville.
French postcard by VW, Paris, Serie 5060, sent by mail in 1909. Caption: Colette Willy - Nos actrices Parisiennes.
French novelist and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954) or simply Colette is best known for her novel Gigi, upon which Lerner and Loewe based the stage and film musical comedies of the same title.
French postcard by FA, no. 109. Photo: A. Bert. Publicity still for the production Le Martyr de St. Sebastien (1911).
Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960) was a Russian-Ukrainian ballerina of the Ballets Russes, choreographer, actress and maecenas from the Belle Epoque. After Rubinstein left the Ballets Russes, she founded her own dance company, the Ballet Ida Rubinstein, and had immediate success with Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911), with music by Claude Debussy, text by Gabriele D'Annunzio, choreography by Michel Fokine and sets and costumes by Léon Bakst. She also appeared in a few films, such as in the Italian drama La nave (Gabriellino D'Annunzio, Mario Roncoroni, 1921).
British postcard in the 'Pictures' Portrait Gallery, no. 94, by Pictures Ltd., London.
Edna Purviance (1895-1958) was an American actress during the silent film era. She was the leading lady in many of Charlie Chaplin's early films and in a span of eight years, she appeared in over 30 films with him.
French postcard in the Les Vedettes du Cinéma series by Editions Filma, no. 39. Photo: Films Mercanton. Publicity still for L'appel du sang/The Call of the Blood (Louis Mercanton, 1921).
Italian actress Desdemona Mazza (1901- ?) appeared in Italian and French silent films. She worked with such directors as Louis Mercanton, Julien Duvivier and Marcel L’Herbier.
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series by A.N., Paris, no. 62. Photo: Novion.
France Dhélia (1894-1964) was a French actress of the silent cinema. In 1918 she rose to stardom when playing Sultane Daoulah in La sultane d’amour (René Le Somptier, Charles Burguet, 1918). Around 1925 she was at the peak of her success. Dhélia was often paired with actor Lucien Dalsace, as in La maternelle (Gaston Roudès, 1925), Oiseaux de passage (Gaston Roudès, 1925), and Les petits (Marcel Dumont, Gaston Roudès, 1925).
German postcard by Ross Verlag G.m.b.H., Berlin. Photo: Sofar-Film-Produktion. Publicity still for Die freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1925) with Henry Stuart, Agnes Eszterhazy, Ilka Grüning, Karl Etlinger, and Robert Garrison. Caption: Hotel Carlton.
French postcard in the Nos Artistes series by Edit. Art de Comoedia, no. 33. Photo: Comoedia.
Georges Milton (1886-1970) was a French singer and actor. With his daring, merry songs Milton expressed the atmosphere of the French roaring twenties. He peaked in the French cinema of the 1930s as the character Bouboule.
Virginia Valli (1895–1968) was an American stage and film actress whose motion picture career started in the silent film era and lasted until the beginning of the sound film era of the 1930s.
French postcard by EDUG, no. 1506. Photo: Tobis-Films. Publicity still for La femme en homme/The Woman Dressed As a Man (Augusto Genina, 1932).
Armand Bernard (1893-1968) was a French actor, composer and band leader. With his heavy diction and his air of dignity he brought a comical note to many French comedies.
British postcard in the Film Stars and Their Pets series by Valentine's Postcards, no. 7113 F.
Canadian-born actress Ruby Keeler (1909-1993) was a Broadway star, when she was asked to play the leading role in the First National musical 42nd Street (1933). It was a smash hit and, she made a string of successful early musicals with Dick Powell. From 1928 to 1940, she was married to actor and singer Al Jolson.
Dutch promotion card by Paramount Pictures. Photo: Paramount Pictures. Publicity still for The Greatest Show on Earth (Cecil B. DeMille, 1952).
American actress Betty Hutton (1921-2007) was an energetic, 'blonde bombshell' of the 1940s. She appeared in successful musicals and comedies, including The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943), Red, Hot and Blue (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and The Greatest Show on Earth(1952).
American postcard by Colourpicture, Boston, Mass., no. P51738. Caption: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. In the wet cement of the world famous forecourt, Mr. Kirk Douglas becomes a movie immortal as a crowd including Donald O'Connor and George Jessel looks on.
Dutch promotion card bij Bovema / Imperial, Heemstede.
The Tielman Brothers was the first Indonesian band to successfully venture into the international music scene in the 1950s. They were one of the pioneers of rock and roll in The Netherlands, and are credited with releasing the first Dutch rock and roll single, Rock Little Baby of Mine in 1958. The band became famous in Europe for playing a kind of rock and roll later called 'Indorock', a fusion of Indonesian and Western music with roots in Kroncong. At the height of their career, in the 1950s and early 1960s, the band was hailed as one of the greatest live-acts in Europe.
Russian postcard, no 6216. Photo: G. Vajlja.
Handsome Vladimir Korenev (1940) is a Soviet and Russian film and theatre actor. In the 1960s, he became a sex symbol in the Soviet Union when he played the lead role of Ichthyander in the film Chelovek-Amfibiya/The Amphibian Man (1962). In 1961 he entered to the troupe of the Moscow Drama Theatre, where he is now a teacher. In 1998, Korenev was awarded the title 'People's Artist of Russia'.
British postcard by Lilywhite in the Cinema Stars series, no. CM 427 D. Photo: Walturdaw.
British postcard by Lilywhite in the Cinema Stars series, no. CM 427 F. Photo: Walturdaw.
Swedish postcard by Ljunggrens Konstförlag, Stockholm, no. 32.
British Real Photograph postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London.
French postcard by A.N., Paris in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 12. Photo: B. Frank Puffer / First National Location.
The Happy ending for a mountain girl
Constance Alice Talmadge was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1898 (some sources say 1897; and 1903-1973 is engraved on her tomb marker.) Her parents were Fred and Peg Talmadge and her older sisters were the future actresses Norma and Natalie Talmadge. Her father was an alcoholic, and left them when she was still very young. Reportedly, his daughter announced "We're hungry!" to him one Christmas morning when there was no money in the house, and no food in the icebox. "Okay, kiddies, I'll go out and buy some hamburgers," replied Fred, and he walked away from their Brooklyn apartment and never returned.
Peg Talmadge made a living for her family by doing laundry, giving art classes, and selling cosmetics and raised her three daughters alone. Constance was nicknamed 'Dutch' by her mother, because of her adorable blond good looks as a plump little girl. Greta de Groat at Women Film Pioneers Project: "Constance was a tall, gawky blond, not particularly pretty but with a face full of mischief."
When a friend recommended that Constance's mother use other sister Norma as a model for title slides in flickers, which were shown in early nickelodeons, Peg decided to do so. This led the three sisters into an acting career. In 1914, Constance made her film debut at Vitagraph on Avenue W in the Flatbush section of New York in the short silent comedy In Bridal Attire (Lee Beggs, 1914) with comedian Billy Quirk. From her earliest film roles, it was evident that Connie's film forte was going to be comedy, whereas Norma's would be drama.
Her first major part was a double role as the Mountain Girl and as Marguerite de Valois in D.W. Griffith's silent film Intolerance (1916). The three-and-a-half-hour epic was a colossal undertaking featuring monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. Griffith's masterpiece intercuts four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries. In the years following its release, Intolerance and its unorthodox editing would strongly influence European film makers.
Talmadge's tomboy character of the Mountain Girl in Intolerance was so popular, that after the release, Griffith filmed her character a new, happy ending instead of a death scene. In 1919 he released the Babylonian episode of Intolerance, as a new, separate film The Fall of Babylon, including the happy end.
Connie had success in the fast productions of the World War I era. Talmadge appeared in many comedies of manners, for which Anita Loos wrote the scripts. Her best known films of the 1910s include A Pair of Silk Stockings (Walter Edwards, 1918) with frequent co-star Harrison Ford, Happiness à la Mode (Walter Edwards, 1919), and Romance and Arabella (Walter Edwards, 1919) with Monte Blue.
With sister Norma. British postcard in the 'Pictures' Portrait Gallery by Pictures Ltd., London, no. 195.
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. S.79-6.
British postcard. Photo: Evans / Gaumont.
British Real Photograph postcard.
Quite delightfully funny
Constance Talmadge shared studios at 318 East 48th Street with her sister Norma. At the time, Norma was married to self-made millionaire and future producer Joseph M. Schenck, who managed both of them. He set up the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation in New York. Constance starred with her frequent co-star Harrison Ford in such films as Wedding Bells (Chester Withey, 1921), and The Primitive Lover (Sidney A. Franklin, 1922).
In a 1921 Moving Picture World poll, brunette Norma and blonde Constance Talmadge were voted the first and second most popular movie actresses in the country. They had sizable foreign followings as well. As both girls' film careers grew in stature, there was never any professional jealousy between the two sisters. They were lifelong friends and supported each other. They moved their operations to what the newspapers called Los Angeles but what soon was better known as Hollywood.
Connie worked for Paramount-Famous Players, and formed her own production company as well. One of her great successes was Her Sister From Paris (Sidney Franklin, 1925), in which a new British actor named Ronald Colman was her leading man. She usually played a wilful young woman who was constantly having misunderstandings with the men in her life.
Her sister Nathalie had married comedian Buster Keaton and Constance had a funny uncredited bit part in her brother-in-law's comedy classic Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925), as the girl driving a car who so distracts Buster that he crashes into a tree with his own car. She was also quite delightfully funny in another surviving comedy, The Duchess of Buffalo (Sidney Franklin, 1926) with Tullio Carminati. With the advent of sound film in 1929, Norma did make a handful of appearances in talking films.
In 1929, Time magazine reported that Constance had become bored with film making. Constance however refused to take the voice test for the new sound medium and made one last silent film in France, Vénus (Louis Mercanton, 1929) with André Roanne and Jean Murat, before retiring from the screen. Her adoring public never got to hear her voice. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: "The notion that they willingly abandoned their careers while very much on top does not quite ring true. Both she and Norma's pronounced and rather squeaky Brooklyn accent did not prove all that suitable for talkies (particularly for the dramatic Norma) and it's more likely that they left Hollywood on their own terms before they were shunned."
The three sisters retired all together, investing in real estate and other business ventures. In 1927, they had opened the Talmadge Park real estate development in San Diego, California, USA. Now known as the Talmadge district, the development contains streets named for each of the sisters. The district is located about one mile southwest of the San Diego State University campus. Like Norma and Natalie, Talmadge succumbed to substance abuse and alcoholism later in life.
Constance also had many failed affairs and relationships, and four marriages; all the unions were childless. Her first marriage, to John Pialoglou, a Greek tobacco importer, occurred in 1920 at a double wedding with Dorothy Gish and James Rennie; she divorced Pialoglou two years later. She married a Scottish officer, Captain Alastair William Mackintosh (grandfather of author Edward St Aubyn), in February 1926, divorcing him in 1927 on grounds of adultery. Then she married Townsend Netcher, a Chicago merchant, in May 1929, divorcing him in 1931. In 1939 followed her marriage to Walter Michael Giblin, which lasted until his death in 1964.
Along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and her sister Norma Talmadge, Constance inaugurated the tradition of placing her footprints in concrete in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. To make her panel unique, she walked across it leaving five footprints. Her panel is located directly behind the box office.
Constance Talmadge passed away in 1973 in California Hospital in Los Angeles. She was 73. Connie made 83 films between 1914 and 1929. Only a few of her films survive today. In 1978 writer Anita Loos published a memoir of Constance and Norma entitled The Talmadge Girls. She had written scripts for their film projects for several years in the 1910s and 1920s and was a confidante to Peg and the girls. A much earlier, and rarer, book was written by Peg Talmadge herself, The Talmadge Sisters: Norma, Constance, Natalie - An Intimate Story Of The World's Most Famous Screen Family (1924).
Greta de Groat: "In their own times Constance Talmadge was the lower-profile sister, but today she is more familiar than Norma, and her madcap antics may be seen as a precursor to the screwball comedies of the 1930s."
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 307.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 728/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Transocean Film-Co., Berlin.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3474/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Defina / First National.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4114/1, 1929-1930. Photo: United Artists.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4438/1, 1929-1930. Photo: United Artists. Probably a publicity still for Vénus (Louis Mercanton, 1929).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4781/1, 1929-1930. Photo: United Artists.
Sources: Greta de Groat (Women Film Pioneers Project), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), The New York Times, Golden Silents, Wikipedia and IMDb.
French postcard by Europe, Paris, no. 787. Photo: Paramount.
Spanish postcard by CM, no. 222.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 1018/1, 1937-1938. Photo: Paramount.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 1268/2, 1937-1938. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for I Met Him in Paris (Wesley Ruggles, 1937).
French postcard by Erpé, no. 603. Photo: Paramount.
Playing a duplicitous snake charmer
Claudette Colbert was born Emilie ‘Lily’ Claudette Chauchoin in 1903 in Saint-Mandé, an eastern suburb of Paris, where her father owned a bakery. Her parents were Georges Claude Chauchoin and Jeanne Marie née Loew.
In 1906 her family emigrated to New York. Though she did some acting in college, her primary interest was fashion design. She studied fashion when she met the writer Anne Morrison at a party who offered the 20-year-old student a small role in her play The Wild Westcotts (1923) on Broadway. She started to use the stage name Claudette Colbert.
British actor Leslie Howard, with whom she had a brief relationship in 1924, encouraged her and persuaded his friend the producer Al Woods to put her under contract. After signing a five-year contract with Woods, Colbert played ingenue roles on Broadway from 1925 through 1929. Despite personally good notices, she did not get into a major hit until The Barker (1927) with Walter Huston and Norman Foster. In The Barker she played a duplicitous snake charmer.
She and Foster, later a Hollywood actor and director, were married the following year during the play's London run. Their marriage remained a secret for many years while they lived in separate homes. In Los Angeles, Colbert shared a home with her mother Jeanne Chauchoin, but her domineering mother disliked Foster and did not allow him into their home. Colbert and Foster divorced in 1935 in Mexico.
Colbert's first film, For the Love of Mike (Frank Capra, 1927), was made during The Barker's Broadway run. The silent film is now believed to be lost. She was concerned that silent cinema failed to utilise her melodious voice, one of her greatest assets. The advent of talkies changed her attitude, and in 1929 she signed a Paramount contract.
Only two of her first 15 films - The Big Pond (Hobart Henley, 1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931), both co-starring Maurice Chevalier - were better than mediocre. Then Cecil B. De Mille asked her to play Nero (Charles Laughton)'s unscrupulous wife Poppaea in the Biblical epic The Sign of the Cross (1932). Her performance was acclaimed, while her bath in donkey's milk received immense publicity and has become a famous scene in Hollywood history.
Columbia offered her the role of a spoiled heiress in It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934). Colbert was initially reluctant to appear in the screwball comedy and demanded to be paid $50,000 - twice her usual pay - and that filming was to be completed within four weeks to allow her to take a planned vacation. Tom Valance in The Independent: “the role gave her the chance to work with Clark Gable, who had been forced by his studio, MGM, to do the film. Neither star initially expected much of the low-budget comedy which won five Oscars. Colbert was in fact boarding a train for New York on the night of the ceremony when she was stopped and rushed back to accept her Best Actress award from Shirley Temple.”
The madcap comedy was a mega-hit all across the country. Two more big hits consolidated her status. She played the title role in the lavish but inaccurate Cleopatra (Cecil B. De Mille, 1934). Then she starred in Imitation of Life (John Stahl, 1934), a trenchant study of racial intolerance. It was based on Fannie Hurst's novel about a young widow who becomes a millionairess marketing the pancake recipe of her black friend (Louise Beavers). While the widow and her daughter move into society, the friend insists on keeping in the background, and when her light-skinned daughter, who faces exclusion and prejudice where her counterpart has privilege and opportunity, tries to pass for white and disowns her mother, tragedy follows.
French postcard. Photo: Paramount. Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert in the romantic comedy La grande mare (Hobart Henley, 1930), the French language version of The Big Pond (Hobart Henley, 1930).
Dutch-German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/4. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932). Claudette Colbert as Empress Poppaea, bathing in donkey milk. On the back: Boekhandel Leonard Tijssen, Leeuwarden.
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 962. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Cleopatra (Cecil B. DeMille, 1934) with Henry Wilcoxon.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1606/2, 1937-1938. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch, 1938).
One of the top 10 money-making stars of 1935, 1936 and 1947
In 1935, Claudette Colbert was named one of the top 10 money-making stars, a position she was to hold again in 1936 and 1947. Fred MacMurray had his first major role in her next film, The Gilded Lily (Wesley Ruggles, 1935), and the two would go on to co-star in six more films.
Charles Boyer, co-star of Colbert's next film, Private Worlds (Gregory La Cava, 1935), and not yet fully conversant with the English language, would also acknowledge the support he received from the actress, who won a second Oscar nomination for her performance as a psychiatrist in this grim story of mental illness.
Wikipedia: “Colbert was a stickler for perfection regarding the way she appeared on screen. She believed that her face was difficult to light and photograph, and was obsessed with not showing the right side of her face to the camera, because of a small bump resulting from a childhood broken nose. She often refused to be filmed from the right side of her face, and this sometimes necessitated redesigning movie sets.”
Colbert's first marriage ended in 1935 while she was making She Married Her Boss (Gregory La Cava, 1935). The same year she married Joel Pressman, a throat specialist and surgeon at UCLA, who remained her husband until his death in 1968.
Colbert's role in Under Two Flags (Frank Lloyd, 1936), based on Ouida's tale of the Foreign Legion, was an unusual one for her, that of the tempestuous camp-follower 'Cigarette' who sacrifices herself for love of a soldier (Ronald Colman). For the same director she starred in Maid of Salem (Frank Lloyd, 1937), an account of the 1692 witch-hunts in Massachusetts.
Colbert never seemed entirely comfortable in period pieces, and both audiences and critics were happy when she returned to modern comedy with I Met Him In Paris (Wesley Ruggles, 1937) and Tovarich (Anatole Litvak, 1937), in which she and Charles Boyer were impoverished Russian nobility working as maid and butler in a Parisian household.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch, 1938) had a screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on a 1923 Gloria Swanson silent film, but it was a disappointment. After a promising start in which Colbert meets Gary Cooper in a Riviera store where she is trying to buy pyjama bottoms while he is trying to purchase just the tops, it becomes contrived and frantic rather than funny. Zaza (George Cukor, 1939), in which Colbert sang several songs as a French music-hall star, was another failure.
Then followed one of her greatest films, the Cinderella-inspired screwball comedy Midnight (1939), directed by Mitchell Leisen and brilliantly written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Colbert next appeared with Henry Fonda in the Western Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford, 1939), her first film in colour, as a farmer's wife coping with rugged conditions and hostile Indians.
Boom Town (Jack Conway, 1940) was one of her most popular films, due to its star-power of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr and Colbert.
British postcard by Art Photo, no. 8. Photo: Paramount Pictures Inc.
British postcard by Valentine's, no. 5904C. Photo: Paramount.
Belgian postcard by Les Editions d'Art L.A.B., Bruxelles, no. 1032. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Boom Town (Jack Conway, 1940).
Belgian postcard by Les Editions d'Art L.A.B., Bruxelles, no. 2016. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Boom Town (Jack Conway, 1940) with Spencer Tracy.
A warmly charming piece of Americana
Claudette Colbert cited as her own favourite film Arise My Love (Mitchell Leisen, 1940), set just after the Spanish Civil War. Tom Valance in The Independent: “it has some splendidly romantic, dramatic and comic moments as Colbert, playing a reporter, pretends to be the wife of a condemned soldier of fortune (Ray Milland) to save him from a Spanish firing squad, then inevitably falls in love with him. Brackett and Wilder's screenplay tried to keep pace with changing events in Europe (the story ends after the invasion of France) which resulted in some uneasy shifts of mood in an otherwise impressive work.”
Better still was Henry King's warmly charming piece of Americana Remember The Day (Henry King, 1941), in which Colbert gave a glowing performance as a school teacher who while visiting a now-famous former pupil recalls the past and her sweetheart who was killed in the First World War. Preston Sturges'The Palm Beach Story (1942) is one of the screen's greatest screwball comedies and contains the sequence Colbert later cited as her favourite comic scene. Having left her husband to find a millionaire to finance his inventions, she is climbing into a train's upper berth when she steps on the face and glasses of a rich passenger (Rudy Vallee).
During the Second World War, Colbert's husband, Joel Pressman, became a navy lieutenant and she spent much time selling war bonds and working for the war effort. Two of her major films were effective wartime propaganda: So Proudly We Hail (Mark Sandrich, 1943), a tribute to the nurses in Bataan, and Since You Went Away (John Cromwell, 1944), producer David O. Selznick's ambitious three-hour tribute to the families at home. Colbert considered hard before taking the role of the mother to two teenage girls, but it became one of her finest, most deeply felt performances, representing the women left to raise families while their husbands are at war. In one remarkably touching scene Colbert, who has taken a job at a munitions factory, converses with a refugee, now a naturalised American (Alla Nazimova). For the part, she received her third Academy Award nomination, but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944).
She appeared in such mild comedies as Practically Yours (Mitchell Leisen, 1944), and tepid dramas as Tomorrow is Forever (Irving Pichel, 1946) with Orson Welles. Colbert and Fred MacMurray had an enormous box-office hit with The Egg and I (Chester Erskine, 1947) as a city couple trying to run a farm, but the slapstick (lots of falling about in the mud) was far from the sophistication Colbert purveyed so expertly. Three Came Home (Jean Negulesco, 1950) gave her a strong dramatic role as Agnes Newton Keith, a true-life American authoress captured when the Japanese invaded Borneo in 1941. Her scenes with Sessue Hayakawa as the cultured prison camp commander were memorable in a gripping film which was too grim to be a major hit.
Colbert had appeared on radio regularly throughout her career, and in 1951 she made her television debut on The Jack Benny Show. Other appearances included The Royal Family of Broadway (1954), The Guardsman (1955) and Blithe Spirit (1956), with Noel Coward and Lauren Bacall. In 1951 she also returned to the stage, with a tour of Noel Coward's Island Fling (later known as South Sea Bubble).
She went to Britain to star with Jack Hawkins in The Planter's Wife (Ken Annakin, 1952) based on the native terrorism being faced by rubber planters. The film was a hit in Britain. The following year Colbert went to France to play a mistress of Louis XIV in Sacha Guitry's lavish Si Versailles m'était conté/Royal Affairs in Versailles (1953). She returned to Broadway in 1955, replacing Margaret Sullavan in Janus, then in 1958 starred in a new play, Leslie Stevens's The Marriage-Go-Round. The play was a hit and Colbert won a Tony nomination.
Her last film was Parrish (Delmer Daves, 1961), a soap opera in which Colbert played the mother of Troy Donahue. She continued to make Broadway appearances, among them The Irregular Verb To Love (1963), The Kingfisher (1978) and A Talent For Murder (1981), and she returned to the London stage in Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All? (1984) opposite Rex Harrison. For her television work in the mini-series The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (John Erman, 1987) she received a Golden Globe and a nomination for an Emmy Award.
Claudette Colbert spent much of her time at the 200-year-old plantation house she and her husband had bought long ago in Barbados, and she also had a flat in Paris and an apartment on the East Side of New York. After three strokes, she died in Barbados in 1996 at the age of 92.
Tom Vallance in The Independent: “It is no accident, surely, that she flourished at that most European of studios, Paramount, home of Lubitsch and Chevalier, Mamoulian, Von Sternberg and Wilder. Her distinctive high-cheekboned beauty and the throaty individuality of her voice were complemented by superb comic timing and fine technical skill honed by an extensive apprenticeship in the theatre. She could be warmly compassionate in romantic drama but was unsurpassable in sophisticated comedy.”
French postcard by Editions Chantal, Rueil-Malmaison, no. 34. Photo: Paramount.
Dutch postcard by J.S.A.. Photo: Columbia. Publicity still for Tomorrow is Forever (Irving Pichel, 1946).
Dutch postcard by S. & v. H., A. Photo: M.P.E.A.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 265. Photo: Paramount.
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht. Photo: Universal International.
Sources: Tom Vallance (The Independent), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Denny Jackson (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 136. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 83. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
Small West-German collectors card by Greiling Sammelbilder, Serie E, no. 93. Photo: Constantin-Film. Publicity still for Le secret de Mayerling/The Secret of Mayerling (Jean Delannoy, 1949).
Sources: Marlène Pilaete (La Collectionneuse), Wikipedia and IMDb.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/1. Photo: Paramount. Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. deMille, 1932).
Dutch-German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/4. Photo: Paramount. Claudette Colbert in Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932). On the back: Boekhandel Leonard Tijssen, Leeuwarden.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/6. Photo: Paramount. Elissa Landi and Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/7. Photo: Paramount. Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932). The title is indicated in French, German English and Dutch.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/8. Photo: Paramount. Fredrich March and Claudette Colbert in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/10. Photo: Paramount. Elissa Landi and Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 176/12. Photo: Paramount. Elissa Landi in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932), based on the original 1895 play by Wilson Barrett.
A famous milk bath
In 1932 – at the height of the depression, Paramount was in financial straits and Hollywood's output was mostly limited to small-scale dramas and bedroom comedies. However, Cecil B. DeMille decided to make an epic. Against all odds, he carryied the torch for grandeur and spectacle and produced and directed one of his best films, The Sign of the Cross (1931), a vivid retelling of the struggles of the first Christians.
The Roman Empire - First Century A. D. After burning Rome, Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar (Charles Laughton) decides to blame the Christians, and issues the edict that they are all to be caught and sent to the arena. The mad Emperor and his his vile Empress engage in every sort of vice and degradation. Wanton cruelty becomes a spectator sport and virtue and innocence are denigrated. Two old Christians are caught, and about to be hauled off, when Prefect Marcus Superbus (Fredric March), the highest military official in Rome, comes upon them. When he sees their stepdaughter Mercia (Elissa Landi), he instantly falls in love with her and frees them.
Marcus pursues Mercia, which gets him into trouble with the Emperor for being easy on the Christians and with Empress Poppaea (Claudette Colbert), who loves him and is jealous. When Landi's Mercia's friends are marched off to the arena to die, she wants to join them. Marcus sacrifices his career by demanding that the emperor spares her life. Nero agrees, but only if she renounces her faith... So, which will eventually triumph - the might of Imperial Rome, or the gentle ones who follow The sign of the cross?
Steffi-P at IMDb: "The acting in Sign of the Cross is a bit of a mixed bag, although it is of a higher standard than many of the DeMille talkies. Charles Laughton is hammily brilliant, laying down a blueprint for Emperor Nero which Peter Ustinov would follow to a well-deserved Oscar-nomination in Quo Vadis (1951). However Laughton's part is fairly small, and the screenplay makes Claudette Colbert the real villain. Colbert is fantastic, playing the Empress as an ancient world vamp, giving by far the best performance of the bunch. It's almost a shame that It Happened One Night re-invented her as a major romantic lead, because she really was at her best when she played villains."
Martin Kukuczka at IMDb adds: "Except for the cruel arena sequence, which is still entertaining in some way, any viewer will be surprised at one scene: Poppaea's famous milk bath. That's a moment that everyone should consider while watching the film. Her sexual bath is one of the best made moments that cinema has ever seen. It is totally filled with desire and sexuality. And all thanks to the great performance by Ms Colbert. No surprise Cecil B DeMille cast her to play Cleopatra two years later, in 1934."
As with many other pre-Code films that were reissued after the Motion Picture Production Code was strictly enforced in 1934, The Sign of the Cross (1932) has a history of censorship. In the original version, Marcus is unsuccessful in his desire to seduce Mercia. He then urges Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner) to perform the erotic 'Dance of the Naked Moon' that will "warm her into life". This 'lesbian dance' was cut from the negative for a 1938 reissue, but was restored by MCA/Universal for its 1993 video release. Some gladiatorial combat footage was also cut for the 1938 reissue, as were arena sequences involving naked women being attacked by crocodiles and a gorilla. These were also restored in 1993.
British postcard in the series Film Shots by Film Weekly. Photo: Paramount. Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
British postcard in the series Film Shots by Film Weekly. Photo: Paramount. publicity still for The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 2061. Photo: Elissa Landi in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 2062. Photo: Paramount. Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 2063. Photo: Paramount. Fredric March and Elissa Landi in The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932).
Sources: Steffi-P (IMDb), Martin Kukuczka (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co., London, no. 1024. Photo: Johnston & Hoffmann. (The photo studio of Johnston and Hoffmann was an important studio in Calcutta, India, at the turn of last century. Possibly Burke was photographed in the studio on a stage tour to India, or Johnston & Hoffmann also had a British studio.)
British postcard by Rapid Photo Co, London, no. 2216. Photo: Bassano.
British postcard. Photo: Sarony, New York. Billie Burke in the serial Gloria's Romance (Walter Edwin, Campbell Gollan, 1916), produced by George Kleine.
British postcard. Photo: Sarony, New York. Billie Burke in the serial Gloria's Romance (Walter Edwin, Campbell Gollan, 1916), produced by George Kleine.
The stage as a way to personally reach out to an audience
Billie Burke was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke in 1885 in Washington, D.C. Her father was the internationally famous English clown, Billy Burke, who had come to the U.S. with P. T. Barnum's circus, and her mother was and Blanche née Beatty. As a child she toured the United States and Europe with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Her family ultimately settled in London, where she saw plays in the city's West End, and decided she wanted to be a stage actress.
At age 18, she made made her first stage appearance in the Edwardian musical comedy The School Girl (1903) with Edna May and Marie Studholme, at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London and ran for 333 performances there. Her performances were very well received and her career was off and running. Other London shows included the comic opera The Duchess of Dantzic (1903) and the musical comedy The Blue Moon (1904), set in India during the days of the British Raj, and concerns the love of a singing girl for a young British army officer.
New York City was becoming the stage capital of the world, and Burke her luck on Broadway. In 1907 she starred there opposite John Drew in My Wife. She was 22 and the red-haired beauty became the toast of Broadway. Burke played the lead in numerous plays such as Mrs. Dot, Suzanne, The Runaway, The "Mind-the-Paint" Girl, and The Land of Promise. In 1914 she married theatrical impresario Florenz 'Flo' Ziegfeld, Jr., of Ziegfeld Follies fame. Two years later, their only child, Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, was born. The couple stayed together until his death in 1932.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling and in 1915 she signed a contract. She made her film debut in the lead role in Peggy (Charles Giblyn, Thomas H. Ince, 1916) opposite William Desmond. The $40,000 she was paid for eight weeks work was the largest salary ever paid up to that point to an actor for a single film. The film comedy was a hit, and later that year, she appeared in the 15-part serial Gloria's Romance (Walter Edwin, Campbell Gollan, 1916), which was also another popular and critically acclaimed. This time she received $300,000.
Of her next 14 films, she would make 13 in New York. Billie Burke starred primarily in provocative society dramas and comedies, similar in theme to The "Mind-the-Paint" Girl, her most successful American play. The star's girlish charm rivalled her acting ability, and as she dressed to the hilt in fashionable gowns, furs and jewelry, her clothes sense also won the devotion of female audiences. Among the films in which she appeared during this period were Arms and the Girl (Joseph Kaufman, 1917) with Thomas Meighan, The Mysterious Miss Terry (J. Searle Dawley, 1917), Let's Get a Divorce (Charles Giblyn, 1918), Good Gracious, Annabelle (George Melford, 1919) with Herbert Rawlinson, Away Goes Prudence (John S. Robertson, 1920) and The Frisky Mrs. Johnson (Edward Dillon, 1920).
In between films, she would return to the stage which was her first love, and where she had speaking parts. Billie considered herself more than an actress - she felt she was an artist, too. She believed that the stage was a way to personally reach out to an audience, something that could not be done in pictures. The actress's beauty and taste made her a major trendsetter throughout the 1910s.
In 1921, Billie Burke appeared as Elizabeth Banks in her last silent film, The Education of Elizabeth (Edward Dillon, 1921). After the film was released, she retired. With investments in the stock market and married to the Great Ziegfeld, there was no need to work anymore ...
British postcard by The Rapid Photo Printing Co. Ltd., London, no. 1289. Printed in Belgium.
British postcard by The Philco Publishing Co., London, Series 2125 C.
British postcard in the National series by Millar & Lang Ltd. Art Publishers, Glasgow and London, mailed in 1906. Photo: Lafayette.
British postcard by Milton, Woolstone Bros, London E.C. in The Milton Character Sketches series, no. 306, 1. Caption: A fair Samaritan.
Playing a scatterbrained high-society wife
On 'Black October' in 1929, Florenz Ziegfeld's and Billie Burke's stock investments were wiped out in the Wall Street Crash, which precipitated the Great Depression. Ziegfeld was a broken man and Billie had no choice but to return to the screen to support her family.
Movies had become even bigger than ten years earlier, especially since the introduction of sound. Her first role of substance was as Margaret Fairlfield in A Bill of Divorcement (1932). She played Katharine Hepburn's mother in the film, which was Hepburn's debut. As an artist, she loved the fact that she had dialogues. Tragedy struck once again when her husband died during the shooting of the film. Burke resumed acting shortly after his funeral.
One of her career highlights came with David O. Selznick's classic comedy Dinner at Eight (George Cukor, 1933), co-starring Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore and Jean Harlow. Billie turned in an outstanding performance as Mrs. Millicent Jordan, the scatterbrained society wife of a man (Lionel Barrymore) whose shipping company is in financial trouble and who was trying to get someone to loan his company money to help stave off disaster.
Her character loved to give dinner parties because a dinner affair at the Jordans had a reputation among New York blue-blood society as the highlight of the season. With all the drama and intrigue going on around her, her main concern is that she is one man short of having a full seating arrangement. The film was a hit and once again Billie was back on top. She had found the character that she would play the rest of her career: the hapless, feather-brained lady with the unmistakably high voice who would be more interested in little details than what was at hand.
MGM filmed a sanitised biopic of Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (Robert Z. Leonard, 1936), which won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actress (Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld's common-law wife, Anna Held). William Powell played Flo Ziegfeld and Myrna Loy played Burke, which infuriated Billie Burke because she was under contract to the studio and could have played herself. MGM considered her too old to cast in the part of her younger self.
In 1937, Billie Burke had one of her most fondly remembered roles in the comedy Topper (Norman Z. MacLeod, 1937), about a fun-loving couple (Cary Grant and Constance Cummings), finding that they died and are now ghosts, decide to shake up the stuffy lifestyle of a friend of theirs (Roland Young as Mr. Cosmo Topper). The film would ultimately spin off two sequels, Topper Takes a Trip (Norman Z. McLeod, 1938) and Topper Returns (Roy Del Ruth, 1941) for producer Hal Roach. Billie Burke played the twittering and daffy Mrs. Clara Topper with her usual fluffy performance, and all three films were box-office hits.
In 1938, Billie received her first and only Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Emily Kilbourne in Merrily We Live (Norman Z. MacLeod, 1938). This was probably the best performance of her screen career. She was destined to be immortalised forever as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in the classic The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), starring Judy Garland. She had previously worked with Garland in the film Everybody Sing (Edwin L. Marin, 1938), in which she played Judy's histrionically hysterical actress-mother.
The 1940s saw Billie busier than ever - she made 25 films between 1940 and 1949, including The Man Who Came to Dinner (William Keighley, 1942) with Bette Davis. On CBS Radio, The Billie Burke Show was heard on Saturday mornings from 1943 until September 1946. Portraying herself as a featherbrained Good Samaritan who lived "in the little white house on Sunnyview Lane," she always offered a helping hand to those in her neighbourhood. In the cinema, she started another series with Father of the Bride (Vincente Minnelli, 1950) featuring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, and the follow-up Father's Little Dividend (Vincente Minnelli, 1951). She next went to television with the TV series Doc Corkle (1952), but the series was cancelled after three weeks.
Her ageing became noticeable now. Burke wrote two autobiographies, both with Cameron Van Shippe, With a Feather on My Nose (Appleton, 1949) and With Powder on My Nose (Coward McCann, 1959). She was 75 when she made her final screen appearance as Cordelia Fosgate in John Ford's Western Sergeant Rutledge (1960) with Jeffrey Hunter and Woody Strode. Billie Burke retired for good and lived in Los Angeles, California, where she died at age 85 of natural causes in 1970. She was interred at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, USA.
British postcard in the Philco series by The Philco Publising Co., London, no. 3159 B.
French postcard. Photo: Paramount.
British postcard. Billie Burke in the serial Gloria's Romance (Walter Edwin, Campbell Gollan, 1916), produced by George Kleine.
British postcard in the 'Picture' Portrait Gallery, London.
Sources: Tony Fontana (IMDb), Denny Jackson (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.
Bebe Daniels and John Boles. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4812/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Radio Pictures (RKO). Publicity still for Rio Rita (Luther Reed, 1929).
Bebe Daniels and John Boles. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 51592, 1930-1931. Photo: Radio Pictures (RKO). Publicity still for Rio Rita (Luther Reed, 1929).
Dolores del Rio. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6495/3, 1931-1932. Photo: Radio Pictures (RKO).
Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. British postcard in the Filmshots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio. Publicity still for So This Is Africa (Edward F. Cline, 1933).
Katharine Hepburn. British Real Photograph postcard, no. 40.A. Photo: Radio Pictures.
The masterful tenure of David O'Selznick
In 1928, RKO Radio Pictures Inc. was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theatre chain and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company's sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone.
RKO (also written as R.K.O.) began production at the small facility FBO shared with Pathé in New York City while the main FBO studio in Hollywood was technologically refitted. The new company's two initial releases were musicals: Syncopation (Bert Glennon, 1929), which had been produced by FBO, and Street Girl (Wesley Ruggles, 1930), billed as RKO's first ‘official’ production and its first to be shot in Hollywood.
A few non-singing pictures followed, but the studio's first major hit was again a musical. RKO spent heavily on the lavish Rio Rita (Luther Reed, 1930), starring Bebe Daniels and the comedy team of Wheeler & Woolsey and including a number of Technicolor sequences. Opening in September to rave reviews, it was named one of the ten best pictures of the year by Film Daily.
RKO released a limited slate of twelve features in its first year; in 1930, that figure more than doubled to twenty-nine. Encouraged by Rio Rita's success, RKO produced several costly musicals incorporating Technicolor sequences, among them Dixiana (1930) with Bebe Daniels, and Hit the Deck (1930) with Jack Oakie, both again scripted and directed by Luther Reed.
Following the example of the other major studios, RKO had planned to create its own musical revue, Radio Revels. Promoted as the studio's most extravagant production to date, it was to be photographed entirely in Technicolor. The project was abandoned, however, as the public's taste for musicals temporarily subsided. From a total of more than sixty Hollywood musicals in 1929 and over eighty the following year, the number dropped to eleven in 1931.
Even as the U.S. economy foundered, RKO had gone on a spending spree, buying up theatre after theatre to add to its exhibition chain. In October 1930, the company purchased a 50 percent stake in the New York Van Beuren studio, which specialised in cartoons and live shorts. RKO's production schedule soon surpassed forty features a year, released under the names Radio Pictures and, for a short time after the 1931 merger, RKO Pathé. The Western Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles,1931), based on the novel by Edna Ferber and starring Richard Dix, would become the only RKO production to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Nonetheless, having cost a profligate $1.4 million to make, it was a money-loser on original domestic release.
The most popular RKO star of this pre-Code era was Irene Dunne, who made her debut as the lead in the musical Leathernecking (Edward F. Cline, 1930) and was a headliner at the studio for the entire decade. Other major performers included Joel McCrea, Ricardo Cortez, Dolores del Rio, and Mary Astor. Richard Dix, Oscar-nominated for his lead performance in Cimarron, would serve as RKO's standby B-movie star until the early 1940s.The comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, often wrangling over ingenue Dorothy Lee, was a bankable mainstay for years.
RKO's product was largely regarded as mediocre, so in October 1931 the studio hired twenty-nine-year-old David O. Selznick as production chief. In addition to implementing rigorous cost-control measures, Selznick championed the unit production system, which gave the producers of individual films much greater independence than they had under the prevailing central producer system. Wikipedia cites Selznick: "Under the factory system of production you rob the director of his individualism and this being a creative industry that is harmful to the quality of the product made."
To make films under the new system, Selznick recruited prize behind-the-camera personnel, such as director George Cukor and producer/director Merian C. Cooper, and gave 26-years-old producer Pandro S. Berman increasingly important projects. Selznick discovered and signed a young actress who would quickly become one of the studio's biggest stars, Katharine Hepburn. John Barrymore was also enlisted for a few memorable performances.
From September 1932 on, print advertising for the company's features displayed the revised name RKO Radio Pictures. Selznick spent a mere fifteen months as RKO production chief, resigning over a dispute with new corporate president Merlin Aylesworth concerning creative control. One of his last acts at RKO was to approve a screen test for a thirty-three-year-old, balding Broadway song-and-dance man named Fred Astaire.
Selznick's tenure was masterful: In 1931, before he arrived, the studio had produced forty-two features for $16 million in total budgets. In 1932, under Selznick, forty-one features were made for $10.2 million, with clear improvement in quality and popularity. He backed several major successes, including A Bill of Divorcement (George Cukor, 1932), Katharine Hepburn's debut, and the monumental monster adventure King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933).
Still, the shaky finances and excesses that marked the company's pre-Selznick days had not left RKO in shape to withstand the Depression. The studio sank into receivership in early 1933, from which it did not emerge until 1940. Cooper took over as production head after Selznick's departure and oversaw two hits starring Hepburn: Morning Glory (Lowell Sherman, 1933), for which she won her first Oscar, and Little Women (George Cukor, 1933), one of the studio’s biggest box-office successes of the decade.
Ginger Rogers had already made several minor films for RKO when Cooper signed her to a seven-year contract and cast her in the big-budget musical Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933). Rogers was paired with Astaire, making his film debut. Billed fourth and fifth respectively, the picture turned them into stars. Hermes Pan, assistant to the film's dance director, would become one of Hollywood's leading choreographers through his subsequent work with Astaire.
Along with Columbia Pictures, RKO became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. William A. Seiter directed the studio's first significant contribution to the genre, The Richest Girl in the World (1934). The drama Of Human Bondage (John Cromwell, 1934), was Bette Davis's first great success. George Stevens's Alice Adams (1935) and John Ford's The Informer (1935) were each nominated for the 1935 Best Picture Oscar—the Best Director statuette won by Ford was the only one ever given for an RKO production. The Informer's star, Victor McLaglen, also took home an Academy Award; he would appear in a dozen films for the studio over a span of two decades.
Fred Astaire. French postcard by Editions et Publications Cinematographiques, no. 89.
Bette Davis. Belgian collectors card by Chocolaterie Clovis, Pepinster. Collection: Amit Benyovits.
Victor McLaglen. French postcard by Ed. Chantal, Paris, no. 602. Photo: RKO.
Cary Grant. British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 609. Photo: R.K.O. Radio.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. German postcard by Netter's Star Verlag, Berlin. Photo: RKO Radio Film. Publicity still for Gunga Din (George Stevens, 1939).
The brief but notable tenure of production chief Sandro Berman
Lacking the financial resources of industry leaders MGM, Paramount, and Fox, RKO turned out many pictures during the era that made up for it with high style in an Art Deco mode, exemplified by such Astaire–Rogers musicals as The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich, 1934), their first pairing as leads, and Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935). One of the figures most responsible for that style was another Selznick recruit: Van Nest Polglase, chief of RKO's highly regarded design department for almost a decade.
In, 1935, RKO premiered the first feature film shot entirely in advanced three-strip Technicolor, Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935). Though judged by critics a failure as drama, Becky Sharp was widely lauded for its visual brilliance and technical expertise. In 1935, Cary Grant joined the studio's roster. Grant was a trendsetter, one of the first leading men of the sound era to work extensively as a freelancer, under nonexclusive studio deals, while his star was still on the rise. Ann Sothern starred in seven RKO films between 1935 and 1937, paired five times with Gene Raymond.
Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was the highest grossing production in the period between The Birth of a Nation (David Wark Griffith, 1915) and Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939). While the Disney association was beneficial, RKO's own product was widely seen as declining in quality. Then, Pandro Berman accepted the position of production chief on a noninterim basis. His brief tenure resulted in some of the most notable films in studio history, including the adventure film Gunga Din (George Stevens, 1939), with Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen; Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939), starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939). Charles Laughton, who played Quasimodo in the latter, returned periodically to the studio, headlining six more RKO features. For Maureen O'Hara, who made her American screen debut in the film, it was the first of ten pictures she would make for RKO through 1952.
After co-starring with Ginger Rogers for the eighth time in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (H.C. Potter, 1939), Fred Astaire departed the studio. The Wheeler and Woolsey comedy series ended in 1937 when Woolsey became ill and died the following year. B-Western star George O'Brien made eighteen RKO pictures, sixteen between 1938 and 1940. With The Saint in New York (Ben Holmes, 1938), RKO successfully launched a B-detective series featuring the character Simon Templar that would run through 1943. The studio soon had another new B-comedy star in Lupe Vélez: The Girl from Mexico (Leslie Goodwins, 1939) was followed by seven frantic instalments of the Mexican Spitfire series, all featuring Leon Errol, between 1940 and 1943.
Berman departed RKO in December 1939 after policy clashes with studio president George J. Schaefer. Schaefer was keen on signing up independent producers whose films RKO would distribute. In 1941, the studio landed one of the most prestigious independents in Hollywood, Samuel Goldwyn's productions. The first two Goldwyn pictures released by the studio were highly successful: The Little Foxes (William Wyler, 1941) starring Bette Davis, garnered four Oscar nominations, while Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) brought Barbara Stanwyck a hit under the RKO banner.
David O. Selznick loaned out his leading contracted director for two RKO pictures in 1941: Alfred Hitchcock's comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) with Carole Lombard, was a modest success and the thriller Suspicion (1941) with Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant, a more substantial one, with an Oscar-winning turn by Joan Fontaine.
That May, having granted twenty-five-year-old star and director Orson Welles virtually complete creative control over the film, RKO released Citizen Kane (1941). While it opened to strong reviews and would go on to be hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made, it lost money at the time and brought down the wrath of the Hearst newspaper chain on RKO. The next year saw the commercial failure of Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)and the expensive embarrassment of his aborted documentary It's All True. The three Welles productions combined to drain $2 million from the RKO coffers, major money for a corporation that had reported an overall deficit of $1 million in 1940 and a nominal profit of a bit more than $500,000 in 1941.
Many of RKO's other artistically ambitious pictures were also dying at the box office and it was losing its last exclusive deal with a major star as well. Ginger Rogers, after winning an Oscar in 1941 for her performance in the previous year's Kitty Foyle (Sam Wood, 1940), held out for a freelance contract like Grant's. Schaefer resigned and departed a weakened and troubled studio, but RKO was about to turn the corner. Propelled by the box-office boom of World War II and guided by new management, RKO would make a strong comeback over the next half-decade.
With Schaefer gone, Charles Koerner did the job and brought the studio much-needed stability until his death in February 1946. In June 1944, RKO created a television production subsidiary, RKO Television Corporation, to provide content for the new medium. RKO became the first major studio to produce for television with Talk Fast, Mister, a one-hour drama filmed at RKO-Pathé studios in New York and broadcast by the DuMont network's New York station, WABD, on 18 December 1944. Koerner sought to increase its output of handsomely budgeted, star-driven features. However, the studio's only remaining major stars were Cary Grant, whose services were shared with Columbia Pictures, and Maureen O'Hara, shared with Twentieth Century-Fox.
So RKO arranged with the other studios to loan out their biggest names or signed one of the growing number of freelance performers to short-term, ‘pay or play’ deals. John Wayne appeared in the comedy A Lady Takes a Chance (William A. Seiter, 1943) while on loan from Republic Pictures. He was soon working regularly with RKO, making nine more films for the studio. Gary Cooper appeared in RKO releases produced by Goldwyn and, later, the start-up International Pictures, and Claudette Colbert starred in a number of RKO co-productions.
Ingrid Bergman, on loan out from Selznick, starred opposite Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's (Leo McCarey,1945). The top box-office film of the year, it turned a $3.7 million profit for RKO, the most in the company's history. Bergman returned in the co-productions Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946) and Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950), and in the independently produced Joan of Arc (Victor Fleming, 1948).
RKO and Orson Welles had an arm's-length reunion via The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946), an independent production he starred in as well as directed. In December 1946, the studio released Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). While it would ultimately be recognised as one of the greatest films of Hollywood's Golden Age, at the time it lost more than half a million dollars for RKO. John Ford's The Fugitive (1947) and Fort Apache (1948), which appeared right before studio ownership changed hands again, were followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Wagon Master (1950); all four were co-productions between RKO and Argosy, the company run by Ford and RKO alumnus Merian C. Cooper.
Of the directors under long-term contract to RKO in the 1940s, the best known was Edward Dmytryk, who first came to notice with the remarkably profitable Hitler's Children (1943). Shot on a $205,000 budget, placing it in the bottom quartile of Big Five studio productions, it was one of the ten biggest Hollywood hits of the year. Another low-cost war-themed film directed by Dmytryk, Behind the Rising Sun (1943), released a few months later, was similarly profitable.
Much more than the other Big Five studios, RKO relied on B pictures to fill up its schedule. RKO had a history of making better profits with its run-of-the-mill and low-cost product than with its A movies. The studio's low-budget films offered training opportunities for new directors, as well, among them Mark Robson, Robert Wise, and Anthony Mann.
Robson and Wise received their first directing assignments with producer Val Lewton, whose specialised B-horror unit also included the more experienced director Jacques Tourneur. The Lewton unit's moody, atmospheric work — represented by films such as Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942) with Simone Simon, I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943), and The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise, 1945) — is now highly regarded. Johnny Weissmuller starred in six Tarzan pictures for RKO between 1943 and 1948 before being replaced by Lex Barker.
Film noir, to which lower budgets lent themselves, became something of a house style at the studio, indeed, the RKO B-Film Noir Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940) with Peter Lorre, is widely seen as initiating Noir's classic period. The studio's 1940s list of contract players was filled with Noir regulars: Robert Mitchum (who graduated to major star status) and Robert Ryan each made no fewer than ten film noirs for RKO. Gloria Grahame, Jane Greer, and Lawrence Tierney were also notable studio players in the field. Freelancer George Raft starred in two Noir hits: Johnny Angel (Edwin L. Marin, 1945) and Nocturne (1946). Tourneur, Mitchum, and Greer joined to make the A-budgeted Out of the Past (Edwin L. Marin, 1947), now considered one of the greatest of all Film Noirs. Nicholas Ray began his directing career with the Noir They Live by Night (1948), the first of a number of well-received films he made for RKO.
Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. British postcard in the Film Partners Series, London, no. P 268. Photo: R.K.O. Radio. Publicity photo for Love Affair (1939, Leo McCarey).
Maureen O'Hara. Dutch postcard by J.S.A. Photo: M.P.E.
Orson Welles. French postcard by Editions du Globe, no. 143. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Claudette Colbert. Dutch postcard by S. & v. H., A. Photo: M.P.E.A.
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. German collectors card. Photo: RKO Radio Film. Publicity still for Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946).
The capricious and fatal management style of Howard Hughes
RKO, and Hollywood as a whole, had its most profitable year ever in 1946. A Goldwyn production released by RKO, The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946), was the most successful Hollywood film of the decade. But the legal status of the industry's reigning business model was increasingly being called into doubt: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bigelow v. RKO that the company was liable for damages under antitrust statutes for having denied an independent movie house access to first run films—a common practice among all of the Big Five.
After Koerner's death, producer and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dore Schary took over his role. RKO appeared in good shape to build on its recent successes, but the year brought a number of unpleasant harbingers for all of Hollywood. The post-war attendance boom peaked sooner than expected and television emerged as a competitor for audience interest. Across the board, profits fell — a 27 percent drop for the Hollywood studios from 1946 to 1947.
The phenomenon that would become known as McCarthyism was building strength, and in October, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began hearings into Communism in the motion picture industry. Two of RKO's top talents, director Edward Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott, refused to cooperate. As a consequence, they were fired by RKO per the terms of the Waldorf Statement, the major studios' pledge to "eliminate any subversives". Scott, Dmytryk, and eight others who also defied HUAC — dubbed the Hollywood Ten — were blacklisted across the industry. Ironically, the studio's major success of the year was Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk, 1947), a Scott–Dmytryk film.
For her performance in The Farmer's Daughter (H.C. Potter, 1947), a coproduction with Selznick's Vanguard Films, Loretta Young won the Best Actress Oscar the following March. It would turn out to be the last major Academy Award for an RKO picture. In May 1948, eccentric aviation tycoon and occasional movie producer Howard Hughes gained control of the company. During Hughes's tenure, RKO suffered its worst years since the early 1930s, as his capricious management style took a heavy toll. Production chief Schary quit almost immediately due to his new boss's interference and within weeks of taking over, Hughes had dismissed three-fourths of the work force. Production was virtually shut down for six months as the conservative Hughes shelved or cancelled several of the ‘message pictures’ that Schary had backed.
Once shooting picked up again, Hughes quickly became notorious for meddling in minute production matters, particularly the presentation of actresses he favoured. The production-distribution end of the RKO business, now deep in the red, would never make a profit again. Offscreen, Robert Mitchum's arrest and conviction for marijuana possession — he would serve two months in jail — was widely assumed to mean career death for RKO's most promising young star, but Hughes surprised the industry by announcing that his contract was not endangered.
Of much broader significance, Hughes decided to get the jump on his Big Five competitors by being the first to settle the federal government's antitrust suit against the major studios, which had won a crucial Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. Under the consent decree he signed, Hughes agreed to dissolve the old parent company, Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp., and split RKO's production-distribution business and its exhibition chain into two entirely separate corporations — RKO Pictures Corp. and RKO Theatres Corp. — with the obligation to promptly sell off one or the other. While Hughes delayed the divorcement procedure until December 1950 and didn't actually sell his stock in the theatre company for another three years, his decision to acquiesce was one of the crucial steps in the collapse of classical Hollywood's studio system.
While Hughes's time at RKO was marked by dwindling production and a slew of expensive flops, the studio continued to turn out some well-received films under production chiefs Sid Rogell and Sam Bischoff, though both became fed up with Hughes's meddling and quit after less than two years. There were B Noirs such as The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949), which turned into a hit, and The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949), starring Robert Ryan, which won the Critic's Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks, 1951), a science-fiction drama coproduced with Howard Hawks's Winchester Pictures, is seen as a classic of the genre.
In 1952, RKO put out two films directed by Fritz Lang, Rancho Notorious and Clash by Night. The company also began a close working relationship with Ida Lupino. She starred in two suspense films with Robert Ryan— Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1952) and Beware, My Lovely (1952), a coproduction between RKO and Ida Lupino's company, The Filmakers. Lupino was Hollywood's only female director during the period; of the five pictures The Filmakers made with RKO, Lupino directed three, including her now celebrated The Hitch-Hiker (1953).
Exposing many moviegoers to Asian cinema for the first time, RKO distributed Akira Kurosawa's epochal Rashomon (1950) in the United States. The only smash hits released by RKO in the 1950s came out during this period, but neither was an in-house production: Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen (Charles Vidor, 1952) with Danny Kaye, was followed by Walt Disney's Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi a.o., 1953). Convinced that the studio was sinking, Walt Disney ended his arrangement with RKO and set up his own distribution firm, Buena Vista Pictures. Howard Hughes had to follow and the new owners became General Tire.
By 1956, RKO's classic movies were playing widely on television, allowing many to see such films as Citizen Kane for the first time. The $15.2 million RKO made on the deal convinced the other major studios that their libraries held profit potential — a turning point in the way Hollywood did business. The new owners of RKO, General Tire, made an initial effort to revive the studio, hiring veteran producer William Dozier to head production. In the first half of 1956, the production facilities were as busy as they had been in a half-decade. RKO Teleradio Pictures released Fritz Lang's final two American films, While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), but years of mismanagement had driven away many directors, producers, and stars.
The studio was also saddled with the last of the inflated B-movies such as Pearl of the South Pacific (Allan Dwan, 1955) and The Conqueror (Dick Powell, 1956) that enchanted Hughes. The latter, starring John Wayne, was the biggest hit produced at the studio during the decade, but its $4.5 million in North American rentals did not come close to covering its $6 million cost. After a year and a half without a notable success, General Tire shut down production at RKO for good at the end of January 1957. The Hollywood facilities were sold later that year for $6.15 million to Desilu Productions, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.
After numerous corporate reorganisations, the firm continued under the name RKO General, Inc., owning and operating radio and television stations, theatres, and related enterprises. Most of the films released by RKO Pictures between 1929 and 1957 have an opening ident displaying the studio's famous trademark, the spinning globe and radio tower, nicknamed the 'Transmitter'. It was inspired by a two-hundred-foot tower built in Colorado for a giant electrical amplifier, or Tesla coil, created by inventor Nikola Tesla. The studio's closing ident, a triangle enclosing a thunderbolt, was also a well-known trademark.
Finally we cite Wikipedia citing scholar Richard B. Jewell: "The supreme irony of RKO's existence is that the studio earned a position of lasting importance in cinema history largely because of its extraordinarily unstable history. Since it was the weakling of Hollywood's 'majors,' RKO welcomed a diverse group of individualistic creators and provided them...with an extraordinary degree of freedom to express their artistic idiosyncrasies.... [I]t never became predictable and it never became a factory.”
Robert Mitchum. British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 758. Photo: R.K.O. Radio.
Lex Barker. German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 449. Photo: Alex Kahle / RKO Radio Film. Publicity still for Tarzan's Magic Fountain (Lee Sholem, 1949).
Gloria Grahame. German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 791. Photo: RKO. Publicity still for Sudden Fear (David Miller, 1952).
Tab Hunter. British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 126. Photo: R.K.O. Radio.
Guy Madison. British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 815. Photo: R.K.O. Radio.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Film Reference, Wikipedia and IMDb.