Tag Archives: Hollywood

Classic Hollywood #51

James Cagney & Boris Karloff – 1940

James Cagney Boris Karloff 1940Movie Stars Twinkle At Own Party
Hollywood, Calif. – It was a dead heat when Boris Karloff (right) and James Cagney, screen menaces, exchanged leers on meeting at the first annual gambol of the Screen Actor’s Guild held here March 14. Credit line – Acme 3/16/40

Useful / Useless tidbits

The French Society of Mental Sciences in 1937 asked Boris Karloff to fill out an extensive 58 page questionnaire about his own mental health. The psychiatrists who put together the questionnaire were trying to determine how all the horror versus sympathetic roles Karloff had played on screen had affected his real life. Continue reading

Los Angeles’ First Snowstorm – 1932

The First Time It Snowed In Hollywood (and Los Angeles)

Hollywood First snowstorm ever Jan 15 1932Hollywood woke up early yesterday morning (Friday January 15)to welcome the first real snow storm in Southern California’s history. Judith Wood, Paramount screen player who is recovering from an automobile accident, forgot the doctor’s orders and dashed out into the storm shortly after five o’clock. (photo – Paramount, January 15 1932)

Los Angeles Times Jan 16 1932 (click to enlarge)

Los Angeles Times Jan, 16, 1932 photo coverage of storm (click to enlarge)

When you think of snow, you usually don’t think of Los Angeles. But 84 years ago today Los Angeles residents awoke and were shocked to discover a city covered in snow.

The surprise snowstorm began at 5:00 a.m. and continued for over two hours. The Los Angeles Times said it was “the first official snowfall recorded in the United States Weather Bureau’s fifty-four year existence in the city.”

Snow had fallen before in Los Angeles but never in measurable quantities. Claude Luce, a Los Angeles resident since 1875,  said he remembered one inch of snow falling in 1880. Continue reading

Classic Hollywood #48

Frank Sinatra And Family At The Stork Club – 1947

And the story of when Frank Sinatra met The Godfather author Mario Puzo.

Frank Sinatra and Family at Stork Club 1947

New York – FAMILY HARMONY – Dispelling the rumors of a rift, crooner Frank Sinatra takes time off to entertain his wife and their children Frankie Jr., and Nancy, with dinner at The Stork Club. 10 -17-1947

Despite the news caption that harmony had returned to the Sinatra marriage, it would be only three years later that Frank’s wife Nancy filed for legal separation. The two were divorced in 1951 and Frank immediately married Ava Gardner.

During December Turner Classic Movies has featured Frank Sinatra as its star of the month in honor of what would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday.

One movie that TCM will not be showing as part of their Sinatra tribute will be The Godfather. Though Sinatra does not appear in the movie, the character of singer/actor Johnny Fontane was assumed to be based upon Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra and his lawyers were wary at the inclusion of the mob-affiliated Fontane character in the book and later the movie. The lawyers wanted to see a manuscript before the book was published. The request was refused.

In the book, Puzo thought he portrayed the Fontane character sympathetically. But Puzo also realized that if Sinatra thought the character was himself, he might not like it – the book  – or Puzo.

This turned out to be a very astute assumption: Sinatra was not pleased when he read the book.

After the publication of The Godfather in 1969, at Elaine’s restaurant in New York, Puzo had a clear indication he was not on Sinatra’s buddy list. Host and owner Elaine had asked Sinatra if he would like to meet Puzo who was dining there at the same time as Puzo. Sinatra emphatically said, “no.”

As Mario Puzo described in his 1972 book The Godfather Papers, (G.P. Putnam Sons) Puzo finally met Sinatra in August 1970 In West Hollywood, California at the famous Chasen’s restaurant. Continue reading

Classic Hollywood #30

The Strange Tale Of How Obi-Wan Kenobe (Sir Alec Guinness) Eerily And Accurately Told James Dean He Was Going To Die In His New Car

James Dean Ursula Andress 1955 8 29 ph Earl Leaf

James Dean and Ursula Andress attend a benefit, one month before Dean’s death in a auto crash

James Dean is seen here talking to one of his “girlfriends,” the 19-year-old Swiss actress Ursula Andress. This photograph was taken at a benefit for the “Thalian’s Ball” on August 29, 1955 at Ciro’s in Hollywood and shows them in a non-combative mood. The sexually ambiguous Dean may have been set up on dates with Andress by the studio publicity department. Regardless, press accounts at the time refer to Andress and Dean as dating one another.

Even though Andress spoke very little English, their relationship was considered very stormy.  At one time it was reported by a tabloid that Dean was said to be taking German language lessons so that they could “argue in another language.” Andress would go on to fame as Honey Ryder, the first “Bond Girl” in 1962’s Dr. No.

Dean, an avid auto racer, agreed to purchase a new sports car on September 21 1955, a silver Porsche 550 Spyder that he nicknamed “Little Bastard” which was then painted on the car.

Two days later on September 23, Dean was eating at the trendy Villa Capri Restaurant on McCadden Street in Hollywood and spotted actor Alec Guinness trying to get a table without any success. Guinness was exhausted having just arrived from London on a 16 hour flight for his first trip to Hollywood. As Guinness and his companion, screenwriter Thelma Moss exited the restaurant, Dean ran after them to intercede. Continue reading

The Little Girl Harpo Marx Was “Crazy About”

Harpo Marx Loved A Little Visitor To The Set So Much, He Seriously Wanted To Buy Her

Harpo Marx with Shirley Temple in the studio commissary during the filming  of Duck Soup 1933

Harpo Marx with Shirley Temple in the studio commissary during the filming of Duck Soup 1933

Maybe today this would be considered kind of creepy, but anyone who knew Harpo Marx would have said it was not, because it was “so Harpo-like.”

The story sounds apocryphal, but according to Groucho Marx as told to Richard Anobile in The Marx Brothers Scrapbook it is true.

In the midst of the Great Depression during the production of the Marx Brothers film Horse Feathers in 1932, Harpo Marx would see this adorable girl who was about four-years-old along with her parents watching the Marx’s work on the set. During breaks in the filming, Harpo starting talking to the child and her parents. Groucho says, “Harpo was crazy about this girl.” He became so enchanted with this little girl, that he offered to adopt her and give her parents $50,000 as compensation.  They of course refused.

Shirley Temple with Shirley Temple doll 1934

Shirley Temple with Shirley Temple doll 1934

This all happened before the little girl was in a single film and would go on to become the biggest child movie star of all-time – Shirley Temple.

The photograph at the top of this article was taken a year after Harpo’s offer. By that time, Shirley Temple had still not made a feature film, but appeared in many ten minute shorts. Shirley was just beginning to become known to the public when she revisited Harpo while in the studio commissary.

Shirley Temple died in Woodside, CA, Monday February 10, 2014 of natural causes. She retired from motion pictures at the age of 21 in 1949. Shirley was happily married for 55 years to Charles Black. She became a United States ambassador and by all accounts had a very happy and fulfilling life.

Because Harpo’s wife Susan Fleming was unable to have children, Harpo did eventually adopt four children who all say he was the most wonderful father in the world.

Classic Hollywood #28

Norma Talmadge

portraits Norma Talmadge on set

Norma Talmadge, was one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. She was born on May 26, 1894 in Jersey City, NJ, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Norma had two sisters, Constance Talmadge, also a major star, who was in 83 films and Natalie Talmadge who appeared in nine films.

Norma appeared in over 200 silent pictures, most of which are now considered lost films. In 1916, Norma married film producer Joseph Schenck who became head of United Artists and would go on to become the chairman of 20th Century Fox.

As with many of the silent stars, Norma’s career ended with the advent of sound. By 1928 her career had already stalled to one film per year. There was talk in 1928 of reissuing her favorite film Smilin’ Through (1922), but Norma was staunch in her refusal to re-release it. Norma said, “I thought it was a lovely picture and the fans liked it. Why reissue it? I would rather people only had the peasant memory of it.” This attitude was similar to the screen’s biggest star Mary Pickford, who had said she would never allow any of her films to be released again.

Norma made two sound films, New York Nights (1929) and Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930). The Du Barry film was widely panned by critics and public alike. Norma then waited for the right script for her next movie. She said she was “favoring playing a comic role.” She never appeared in another film.

Instead, Norma Talmadge travelled the world and invested wisely in real estate, becoming very wealthy.

Legend has it that Norma Talmadge has the distinction of being the first to leave her handprints, footprints and signature at the would famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The apocryphal story Continue reading

Classic Hollywood #24

W.C. Fields In A Rare Color Photograph Circa 1940

WC Fields color

W.C. Fields or Bill Fields to his friends, was one of the most talented comedians of the first half of the 20th century. He began his show business career in vaudeville as a juggler and worked his way up to top billing in the Ziegfeld Follies for a ten year stretch. From there he went on to become a major film star during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Today, upon viewing his films, many people do not understand why he was considered funny. But I assure you there is a subtle brilliance in Fields’ portrayals of the henpecked husband, disreputable man and misunderstood misanthrope.

One of the more popular, yet apocryphal stories about Fields, was that he had hundreds of bank accounts spread across the country, many under ridiculous pseudonyms such as Otis Criblecoblis; Mahatma Kane Jeeves; Aristotle Hoop; Ludovic Fishpond; Figley E. Whitesides and so on. After Fields died in 1946, his mistress Carlotta Monti claimed that there was over $1.3 million in unclaimed funds in banks under the fake names. An assistant hired to solve the dilemna of Fields estate found only 24 accounts all under Fields real name.

J.P. McEvoy’s profile of Fields in the July 26, 1942 Los Angeles Times revealed some things about Fields and his money:

Bill agrees in part, with Arthur Brisbane, who said that to keep a comic good was to keep him poor. Bill has no intention of becoming poor so that people will think he is funny, but he refuses to let photographers snap him in his big cars or silhouetted against his Hollywood mansion. “People won’t laugh if they think I’m rich,” he says. “They’ll snarl, ‘That so and so. Trying to be funny, eh? I could be funny too if I had all that dough.’ ”

“All that dough” are the words for it, for Bill has been in the big money for years. But he’s never invested, bought a stock, or even owned a house – he’s salted it away in cash and Government bonds. It is reliably reported he had $400,000 cash in the New York Harriman bank in ’29 and got all of it out before it folded in the crash. When he toured the world he banked his salary in every country  – and got it all over here before trouble started. “Bill will feed you, clothe you and house you,” says an old pal, “but he won’t lend you a nickel.”

My favorite story about Fields was told by Groucho Marx. In the early 1940’s Groucho visited Fields at his house on DeMille Drive in the Laughlin Park section of Los Angeles.

Fields took Groucho up to the attic where he showed Groucho his stash of liquor. It was literally thousands of cases of assorted booze. Groucho was shocked and said “Bill what do you need all this liquor for? Prohibition is over.”

Fields looked at Groucho and half seriously replied, “Well, it might come back!”

Classic Hollywood #21

Carol Hughes, Marie Wilson and June Travis Take A Stroll On The Beach Circa 1938

Carol Hughes Marie Wilson June Travis

Warner Bros. young stars in training, Carol Hughes (1910-1995), Marie Wilson (1916-1972) and June Travis (1914-2008) take a walk on the shore in this studio publicity photograph.

Although they never all appeared together in a film, Warner Bros. had high hopes for each of the starlets in the 1930’s and set up this photograph to showcase their assets.

But none of the women ever achieved the stardom that the studio had planned for them.

Carol Hughes appeared as a supporting player in many films beginning in 1935 until retiring in the early 1950’s.

The 5 foot 5½ inch Marie Wilson was known for her beauty and stunning figure. Her film and television career spanned from the 1934 at age 18, until her death from cancer in 1972 at the age of 56. Of the three actresses pictured here, her career was probably the most successful having starred in My Friend Irma (1950), A Girl In Every Port (1952) with Groucho Marx  and Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation with James Stewart (1962).

June Travis started her acting career in 1934 and made many B-films. In 1940 she married a Chicago businessman and left Hollywood and her film career behind for good making only two more movies over the remaining 68 years of her life.

Film Director Joseph H. Lewis On Why Films, Hollywood & L.A. Changed For The Worse

Observations On Hollywood Trash

Director Joseph H. Lewis

Peter Bogdanovich early in his career was a film writer for magazines. Over the years he interviewed many people in the film industry and continued to do so even after becoming a successful director himself.  The interviews with directors are compiled in a great book: Who The Devil Made It Conversations With Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich (Knopf; 1997).

He interviewed director Joseph H. Lewis (1907-2000) an adept filmmaker best known for his 1950 movie Gun Crazy, a precursor to Arthur Penn’s landmark film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Bogdanovich asked Lewis in 1994, to “define the change that had happened in Hollywood.”

Lewis was able to clearly answer him:

“Yes, I define it one way. When I was a little boy I worked at MGM: I loaded film; from there I became an assistant camera boy; from there, an assistant cutter; from there, the head of a cutting department; from there I became a director. These things don’t happen today. A guy comes up and, yes, he has a script- he wrote it; he’ll let them do it, providing he can direct it. And they go for it.” Continue reading

I Just Paid $13,530 For Some Rags

OR…Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Memorobilia Auction

Well, I didn’t pay that kind of money. But somebody did.

When movie star Debbie Reynolds abandoned her long-time dream of having a museum to showcase the history of Hollywood, the treasures which she had been accumulating for decades, went to the auction block. A good portion of the nearly 600 lots sold for significantly more than their high estimate.

Charlton Heston’s robe from Planet of the Apes (1968) went for $13,530 (all prices include buyers premium). Yes it is the costume Heston’s character Taylor wears during much of the film, but it really is a rag isn’t it? There were fantastic costumes that were available and I suppose if you wanted to own movie history and you had a budget to adhere to, this raggy robe was as good as anything. I’d like to see the new owner actually wear it. In public. Continue reading