Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ann Pennington

Born Anna Pennington (December 23, 1893–November 4, 1971) Ann was nicknamed both "Penny" and "Tiny". She was a 4"10" actress, dancer, and singer who starred on Broadway in the 1910's and 1920's, notably in the Ziegfeld Follies, where she debuted in 1913. She became famous as what was, at the time, called a “Shake and Quiver Dancer,” and was noted for her variation of the “Black Bottom”. She was also noted as an accomplished tap dancer; her shoe size was 1 1/2!

During her years in the Ziegfeld Follies she appeared alongside the likes of Bert Williams, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Fanny Brice (who became her closest friend), Marilyn Miller, and W.C. Fields. Ann was romantically linked to several men during her lifetime, and at one time was engaged to boxer Jack Dempsey. However, she never married.

Ann's official film debut was in Susie Snowflake. The New York Times review was as follows:

"Many of those who went to the Broadway yesterday for the first showing of Susie Snowflake will be inclined to endorse this particular nomination. Miss Pennington is obviously put forth as a diminutive star of the Marguerite Clark variety, a style enormously in vogue at the moment. She is little and cunning on Mr. Ziegfeld’s stage and little and cunning on the screen. She has youth, a Mary Pickford like harum-scarum way with her and, except in the trying close-ups when her expression is somewhat adenoidal, she is pretty.

Of course she dances. As her frisky little dance is her sole claim to fame at the moment, it could no more be omitted from her first scenario than the “pump and washing tubs” in Mr. Crummles’s theater. So as a child of the music halls adapted into a staid, old New England community, Susie Snowflake disrupts a church sociable by doing her Follies dance there in her terse Follies costume."

While continuing to be primarily a stage performer, Ann went on to appear in 19 films between 1916 and 1941, most of them lost or impossible to find. There is however a clip on YouTube of Ann dancing. She appears about 1 min. 30 sec. into the number.

The following first set of images with accompanying copy comes from the January 1927 issue of Photoplay, where Ann instructs Felix the Cat on how to do the "Black Bottom". Dancing With the Stars - Look Out!

Felix decides that the Charleston is passé and goes to Ann Pennington for a lesson in the Black Bottom. In the first step, Ann points her left foot to the side, raising the left heel from the floor, bending both knees and slanting her body backwards.

Second step. "Now, Felix," says Ann, "straighten the body, lower the left heel and point your toe up from the floor. And, Felix sing that song, 'The Black Bottom of the Swanee River, sometimes likes to shake and shiver.' A little more pep, please!"

"Come on, cat! All set for the third step. Face forward, Felix, and bend that left knee slightly, pointing the left paw toward the floor. This is the way we make 'em sit up and take notice when we dance the 'Black Bottom' in Mr. White's 'Scandals' ".

"Snap into the fourth step, funny feline. Stamp that left mouse-catcher on the floor and bend that left knee.Stamp it good and hard. And sing that song - 'They call it Black Bottom, a new twister They sure got 'em, oh sister!' ".

"Now Mr. Cream and Catnip Man, after stamping forward, drag the left paw back across the floor. This is one of the most important principles of the dance. Then for step five, raise both of your hands from the floor and slap your hip. Like this!"

"Kick your right paw sidewards, old back-fence baritone, and keep slapping your hip. Now run along and practice your steps in someone's backyard. Little Ann must hurry and keep a dinner-date. See you at the 'Scandals' ".

Ann with Jacqueline Logan and Billie Dove

While at the Ziegfeld Follies, she was photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston. This image was taken from the recently published book "Jazz Age Beauties - the lost collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston".

Ann Pennington - What do you think? Allure

Friday, December 14, 2007

Asides: Earl Christy Was On A Roll In Early 1932

F. Earl Christy (1883-1961), who has been mentioned on this blog in the past, was one of the most prolific illustrators of the early half of the twentieth century. Christy studied commercial art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His work was found on or in practically every movie magazine published in the 1920's and 30's and in advertisements, sheet music, postcards and general publications as early as 1906.

He was particularly busy providing covers for Photoplay. I generally like the work he did for Photoplay, but occasionally he seemed to miss the mark in capturing the essence of his subject - probably because he was turning out so much work. I am sure at the height of the depression it was rare that he turned down any assignment.

However, I think the first three Photoplay covers of 1932 are wonderful examples of his best work. The colors are vivid, the expressions of the actresses capture their allure, and the easy, yet stylish approach are a pleasure to view. Click on the images for a larger view.

Photoplay - January 1932

Photoplay - February 1932

Photoplay - March 1932

And if you are wondering "How Garbo's Fear of People Started" - well guess what, some came from what we hear about everyday now, paparazzi, though that term wasn't yet coined in 1932. From the article, "Every time Garbo tried to take a quiet walk in Central Park she was dogged by reporters and cameraman."

For a bit of history, here two Christy postcards from 1906.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lilian Harvey - Second of two postings

As I mentioned in my first post, in 1933 Lilian got an invitation and contract from Fox to come to Hollywood. She made four films, but abruptly dissolved the contract, walking out on a role that was then filled by then-unknown Alice Faye. She returned to Germany and Ufa in 1935 to be with director Paul Martin, with whom she was romantically involved.

The Fox films themselves weren't big hits, but were generally well received as we can see from the original reviews that appeared in the New York Times. I think for whatever reason (including her romance with Paul Martin), Lilian just didn't fit in the Hollywood film community and grew homesick. Of course, we know that her return to Germany was ill-timed as she ran afoul with the Nazi Regime and actually returned to the states until the war's end.

The Times Reviews (condensed)

My Weakness (1933)
Reviewed September 22, 1933
The vivacious and charming Lilian Harvey, an English actress who has spent several years in Germany, is now to be seen at the Radio City Music Hall in the first of her two Hollywood productions to be released. It happens to be known as "My Weakness," and was produced by B. G. DeSylva. It is a fluffy piece of work with no more of a story than most musical comedies. It is, however, handsomely staged and virtually all the members of the cast contribute highly satisfactory performances, but as the scenes come to the screen it is disappointing to hear so many silly and antiquated jokes and painful puns.

But Miss Harvey's presence atones for most of the shortcomings. She sings and she prances about the various settings in a blithe and happy fashion. And the audience at the first exhibition of this film laughed heartily even over several none too original ideas, such as Looloo Blake (Miss Harvey) falling down several steps and the sudden shrinking of a taxi driver's trousers.

My Lips Betray (1933)
Reviewed November 4, 1933
With crossed fingers and a prayer, the authors of "My Lips Betray" have invented a mythical kingdom for their setting. That was no epochal feat of the imagination, to be sure, but with S. N. Behrman on the dialogue, Lee Garmes on the photography and Lillian Harvey on the screen, even a mythical kingdom ought to be less energetically commonplace than Ruthania. As a romantic comedy, the new film has an unhappy talent for seeming slightly flyblown on the first count and a good deal less than hilarious on the second. In fact, El Brendel, the king's antic chauffeur, raises "My Lips Betray" to its comedy high by addressing his master as "Your Mee-ajesty," and if that is comic, after the sixth repetition, then Miss Harvey's picture is a magnificent and heart-warming adventure.
...A likable and occasionally lyric comedienne, her (Lilian Harvey) efforts to enliven a heavy-handed and humorless script result in a performance stuffed with that particular form of girlish charm which drives strong men to dipsomania and homicide.

I Am Suzanne (1933)
Reviewed January 19, 1934
With the valuable support of Signor Podrecca's marionettes, Lilian Harvey's new picture, "I am Suzanne," which is now at the Radio City Music Hall, succeeds in being quite a fascinating diversion. If its story is inconsequential, the frailties are forgotten when the puppets strut their stuff. Not that Miss Harvey is any less appealing than she has been in other films, or that Leslie Banks, Georgia Caine, Halliwell Hobbes and, in some respects, Gene Raymond, do not contribute their share to the entertainment, but merely that the inanimate cast affords many an opportunity for original touches and delightful streaks of fantasy.

BTW, I found a copy of this film on Ebay and while the print is pretty bad, the film is quite a delight.

The Only Girl - aka Heart Song (1934)
Reviewed June 6, 1934
A quite charming pictorial musical extravaganza, produced under the aegis of the Ufa and Gaumont-British, is now sojourning at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse. Over here it is known as "Heart Song," but in Britain it was released as "The Only Girl." The feminine players include Lilian Harvey, Mady Christians and Friedel Schuster, and its unimportant romance is cast against a background of the Third Empire.

Out of this frail fable the producers have made a refreshing screen work, with agreeable musical compositions supplied by Franz Wachsmann. Miss Harvey makes the most of her opportunities and Miss Christians is attractive and competent. M. Boyer does fairly well by the part of the Duke.

Silver Screen Magazine from January 1934 was a little late in featuring Lilian.

Postcard of Lilian in I Am Suzanne

Publicity still of Lilian in I Am Suzanne

Publicity still from My Weakness

No idea what this was from, but she's a good looking dish! (ouch)

Lilian Harvey - What do you think - Allure?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lilian Harvey - First of two postings

Lilian Harvey, known at the height of her career as the "sweetest girl of the world", was born Helene Lilian Muriel Pape on January 19th, 1906 in Hornsey, North London. Her mother was English and her father German. At the beginning of World War I they were living in Magdeburg, Germany, and unable to get back to England, Lilian was sent to live with an aunt in Switzerland.

In 1923 she attended the dancing and singing school of the Berlin State Opera and then worked in theater before debuting in her first UFA film "Der Fluch". After several silent outings, UFA found Lilian’s acting, dancing, singing and language skills a perfect fit for the “talkies”. A series of operetta’s, usually co-starring Willy Fritsch, with whom she made 11 films, made them the darling’s of romantic European cinema. These productions were usually made in three different languages at once. The cast would be switched around her for the various takes in German, French and English (Laurence Olivier had his first film role in one of her vehicles).

Her most successful film, 1931's “Congress Dances" led to a contract with 20th Century Fox and Lilian came to Hollywood. Though groomed for stardom here, she wasn’t to become anywhere near the star she was in Europe and after four pictures (more on these in the second post), she returned to Germany and UFA. Unfortunately, the Nazi regime had come to power in her absence and Lilian found it difficult to work under Goebbels. Because she maintained friendships with several Jewish colleagues, she came under observation of the Gestapo and eventually had to flee Germany, losing a great part of her fortune. She went first to France and then back to the United States.

The following appeared in the June 23, 1941 issue of Time.

“Blonde, British-born Cinemactress Lilian Harvey, 34, onetime bright star of German films, hobbled off the Atlantic Clipper on crutches, rattling like a busy bar glass with outsize jewels. She couldn't take any money to speak of out of Europe, but on her neck and hands she wore $100,000 worth of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, topazes.”

After the second World War she returned to Paris. During the following years, she traveled as a singer through Scandinavia and Egypt. In 1949 she came back to Germany (having renounced her citizenship during the war years) and performed on stage.

Lilian Harvey made 56 films from 1925-1940. She died on July 27, 1968 in Juan-les-Pins, France.

As a testament to her popularity, there were more
than 150 different Lilian postcards produced.

Lilian Harvey - what do you think - Allure?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Asides - Happy Thanksgiving

I would just like to say Happy Thanksgiving to all who have visited this little section of the web. So... for a little Thanksgiving treat, here is a collage of some photo postcards. Have some holiday cheer and then see how many you can identify. Double-click on the image to actually be able to see anything.

A cornucopia of images.

Because the book shown below didn't arrive in our mailbox until after my Edwina Booth post, I am posting it now. What you are looking at is the book tie-in for Trader Horn (1931). The book originally released in 1926, but this edition came out to help promote the movie and includes stills from the film.

The dust jacket.

The inside front cover and facing page.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Edwina Booth

Edwina Booth was born September 13, 1909, as Josephine Constance Woodruff in Provo, Utah. Entering films in 1928, she made only seven pictures before her career was cut short through illness contracted during shooting Trader Horn (1931), her hoped for breakthrough film.

Filming for Trader Horn took place on location in East Africa. The crew was not experienced filming in such a challenging environment, and problems were magnified by MGM's last-minute decision to shoot the film with sound. Director W.S. Van Dyke and many of the crew contracted malaria and were treated with quinine. Two fatal mishaps occurred during the filming: a native crewman fell into the river and was eaten by a crocodile, and a native boy was killed by a charging rhino - this mishap appears in the film. Other misfortunes also plagued the production, including flash floods, sunstroke, swarming locusts, and tse-tse fly and ant attacks.

Booth herself, only 21 at the time, contracted malaria during shooting. Her role in the film as Nina Trent, "The White Goddess", required that she be very scantily clad, probably increasing her susceptibility. Additionally, production went on for several months longer than anticipated.

Despite all the problems, Trader Horn was a success, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Edwina, however, fared much worse, taking six years to fully recover physically. She sued MGM for over a million dollars, claiming she had been provided with inadequate protection and inadequate clothing during the African shoot. She also claimed she had been forced to sunbathe nude for extended periods during filming. The case was eventually settled out of court, the terms not disclosed. By the way, her salary for Trader Horn was $75.00 per week.

Although she appeared in a few subsequent serials, Booth's acting career never recovered. She withdrew completely from the public eye. There were many false rumors and reports of her demise until her death in 1991.

Since Edwina never got the chance to prove herself, I've included a good number of images to pay homage to this actress. Click on them for a larger view.

The New Movie Album 1931 - Published in April, two months
before Trader Horn was released.

Trader Horn publicity still

German tobacco card - Edwina and friend with a large egg.

Edwina and local Trader Horn extras

Frame captures from our copy of The Vanishing Legion (12 chapter serial), starring Edwina and her Trader Horn co-star Harry Carey. This serial released just ten days after Trader Horn. I'm guessing it was shot before Trader Horn, but I can't verify that.

From a photo shoot with the famous photographer George Hurrell -
more evidence that Edwina was being groomed for a successful career.

Publicity Still

The phonograph that was taken on location when filming Trader Horn.

Edwina Booth- what do you think- Allure?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Asides - Cruel and unusual punishment for as low as 50 cents

One of the interesting aspects of collecting film magazines of the twenties and thirties, aside from the pictures, articles, and film reviews of the day, are the ads. While several companies and products like Maybelline, Lifebuoy (who by the way coined the term "B.O." in an ad campaign) and Listerine, still exist, there were dozens if not hundreds of other products designed to provide the woman of the day the hope of enhancing her allure. While many of the products and ads could be described as quaint, a number of them seem downright dangerous. What follows is a head to toe look at some of the products available to the reader of the day who was looking to emulate their favorite screen star. Click on the images for a larger view.

Masion Jeunesse offered Waveen for only $.50 a bottle.
Screen Play Secrets magazine, April 1930

Imagine your significant other rolling over and getting a gander at that contraption.
Screen Play Secrets magazine, April 1930

And if Anita's product didn't do it for you,
try Dr. Josephs Nose Corrector.
Screen Play Secrets magazine, April 1930
(only one page away from the Anita ad)

Science comes to the rescue with Kolor-Bak.
Photoplay magazine, October 1930

Antimole - who knows what was in this stuff from
the beauty capital, Lincoln, Nebraska
Photoplay magazine, October 1930

Chin up, you too can have that perfect profile.
There is a Dorothy Gray product available today and users swear by it. Looks like she had her own building!
Photoplay magazine, October 1930

Photoplay magazine, October 1930

These products seem to enter the danger zone - just bleach your face to beauty.
Movie Classic magazine, June 1933

Too big - write Doris Kent.
Hollywood magazine, April 1933

Too small, write Marie Dunne.
Hollywood magazine, April 1933

Forget panty hose - use gum rubber hose, great on a summer day.
Photoplay magazine, October 1930

Marchand's Golden Hair Wash - leg and arm hair that is.
Again, just bleach it!
Movie Classic magazine, June 1933

Never mind, forget the bleach you Airedale. This stuff destroys
body hair without that blue look!
Movie Classic magazine, June 1933

And finally, I don't really know what to say about this product, except that Irene Delray finds it a pleasure to use. Manufactured by the Connecticut Telephone and Electric corporation and available in several colors, I wonder how many different uses Ms. Delray found.
Photoplay magazine, October 1930