Friday, September 28, 2007

Asides - Post 100!

Yep-I can't believe it, but this is my 100th post. I just want to thank all who have visited and commented and I hope you will continue to drop in from time to time. This post is not specific to any one actresss, but contains 13 newly scanned and cleaned up magazine cover images from our small but slowly expanding collection. Gee, deja vu all over again, we started with a small postcard collection and...

Click on the images for a larger size view.


Screen Secrets, September, 1929 - Lily Damita. Artist: Edwin Bower Hesser

Picture Play, May, 1932 - Frances Dee. Artist: Modest Stein

Silver Screen, September, 1931 - Marlene Dietrich. Artist: John Rolston Clarke

Motion Picture, October, 1933 - Adrienne Ames. Artist: Marland Stone

Photoplay, April 1932 - Norma Shearer. Artist: Earl Christy

Photoplay, July, 1930 - Jeanette Mac Donald. Artist: Earl Christy

Photoplay, October, 1932 - Irene Dunne. Artist: Earl Christy

Picture Play, March, 1930 - Mary Brian. Artist: Modest Stein

Modern Screen, October, 1932 - Constance Bennett. Artist: Uncredited

Motion Picture, June 1930, - Mary Nolan. Artist: Marland Stone

Hollywood, October, 1931 - Billie Dove. Artist: Edwin Bower Hesser

New Movie Magazine, September, 1931 - Marian Marsh. Artist: Rolf Armstrong

Photoplay, April, 1927 - Lois Wilson. Artist: Carl Van Buskirk

Thursday, September 20, 2007

William Wyler Blog-A-Thon

This is my contribution to Goatdog's William Wyler Blog-a-Thon. Click on the image to the right to visit the Blog-a-Thon main page to see all the contributions about the films and life of William Wyler.

As other Blog-a-Thon participants will no doubt note, William Wyler got his start around 1925 as a director of westerns. In fact he made about 30 oaters before expanding into other genres. My contribution to the Blog-a-Thon, true to this blog, looks at the actresses who appeared in his films of the late twenties and pre-code era. Unlike in his early westerns, the actresses with whom he worked during this period were all pretty well established.

We begin with the comedy Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (1928). It starred Bessie Love as Mitzi Lavelle. "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" was a popular British music hall song, originally titled "Kelly From the Isle of Man". It was adapted for American audiences by William McKenna in 1909 for the American musical The Jolly Bachelors. The song concerns an Irishwoman looking for her boyfriend. In 1926 it was made into an animated short of the same title, and in 1928 Wyler adapted it for his first non-western.

Search for Bessie on this blog to read more about her. The first image is the same as in my post about her because I love it, and the second image comes from the September 1929 issue of Photoplay. The interesting thing to note here is that Bessie had already been in over 70 films by the time this was made and she was only 30. She would appear in another 57 films before her retirement in 1983 at age 85.

Photoplay - September, 1929

Next we have The Shakedown (1929) starring Barbara Kent as Marjorie. I haven't been able to find much about the film, but the following is from "From Stars of the Photoplay" (1930), an annual of sorts from Photoplay magazine, and it gives a bit of info on Ms. Kent.

A real young veteran of pictures is Barbara Kent. She was born in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, December 16, 1909, and entered pictures in 1925 for Universal. After some years of service in Western pictures and comedies, Barbara came to much recognition as Harold Lloyd's leading woman in his first talkie, "Welcome Danger." Barbara, whose real surname is Klowtman, is 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 103 pounds Her hair is auburn and her eyes are blue. She was a Wampas Star of the 1927 crop. She attracted attention in the 1927 film No Man's Law by swimming nude; she wore a flesh colored bathing suit in scenes that were considered very daring at the time. The popularity of this film led to her selection as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars for 1927. She made a smooth transition into talking pictures, opposite Harold Lloyd in the comedy Welcome Danger (1929).

The photo caption is "Pretty Barbara Kent rises to tell the world about her new talkie, "The Shakedown" recently completed at Universal City." What the film has to do with a giant egg I'll never know.


The Love Trap (1929), Wyler's part silent-part talkie comedy, stars Laura La Plante (of The Cat and the Canary fame). She plays Evelyn Todd, a dancer who is fired from her chorus line job, cornered by a womanizer, and evicted from her apartment, all in a single day. In the depths of her despair, she is rescued by a handsome Peter Harrington (Neil Hamilton, the future Commissioner Gordon of Batman fame), who turns out to be a wealthy young businessman. They marry, but their newlywed bliss is threatened when Paul's uncle recognizes Evelyn from a wild party he had attended. Unable to explain her innocence, Evelyn sets an elaborate trap in hopes that she can regain the love of her husband.

Laura La Plante publicity still for Captain of the Clouds - 1930


As a throwback to his roots comes Wyler's Hell’s Heroes (1930), a western featuring Maria Alba as Carmelita. Maria is the exception to the statement in the intro about the actresses being well established. To be fair, it was basically a four man picture and Maria had a small , but pivotol role. When four men rob a bank, one is killed and the other three escape into the desert. Finding a woman (Carmelita) who gives birth, they are made godfathers only to learn that the baby's father was the man they killed in the holdup.

The images of Maria you see here are screen captures from my copy of "The Return of Shandu", a 1934 twelve chapter B-movie serial, in which she play the female lead. Most of the time she was under some kind of spell, hence the images or her sleeping or in a trance. Such was Maria's career.


With sand still in his boots, Wyler made another western, The Storm (1930), starring Lupe Velez (search this blog for more many Lupe images and info) as Manette Fachard. The plot seems perfect for Lupe, as she becomes stranded in cabin during a raging blizzard that is shared by two men who have been lifelong friends. You can guess what her arrival on the scene leads too.

Motion Picture Magazine - October 1933

A House Divided (1931) starring Helen Chandler as Ruth Evans was Wyler's next outing. In a small Pacific village, a widowed fisherman marries a girl young enough to be his daughter. Complications ensue when the new wife falls in love with her husband's son. I have no idea how many films Wyler watched during the early twenties but that plotline sounds more like a Tod Browning film of the time.

As to Helen Chandler, she was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1906. By the late 1920s she had become a hugely popular actress on the New York stage. That Hollywood should beckon was inevitable, but unfortunately whatever quality made Chandler a success on the stage did not survive the transition to film. Chandler is probably best remembered by movie fans as the fragile Mina, pursued and nearly vampirized by Bela Lugosi in the original "Dracula" (1931).


Tom Brown of Culver (1932) includes in its cast Betty Blythe as Dolores Delight. The role is quite small as this is after all a film about an all boys military academy. However, the character's name seems to fit Betty to a tea, as you can see in her images. A New York Times period review of the film can be found here.

Blythe began her career on the stage and entered films in 1918 at the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn and then she was brought to Hollywood's Fox studio as a replacement for Theda Bara. As famous for her revealing costumes as for her dramatic skills, she became a star in such exotic films as The Queen of Sheba and She. She is quoted as saying "A director is the only man besides your husband who can tell you how much of your clothes to take off."

Queen of Sheeba - 1921

Obeying her director's wardrobe commands.


Her First Mate (1933) is a comedy starrring Zasu Pitts as Mary Horner and Una Merkel as Hattie. Not much to say about the film as I can find little reference to it, but according to IMDB, UCLA Film Archives has a viewable print of this film.

Born in Parsons, Kansas in 1894, Zasu Pitts family moved to California in 1903 and Zasu attended Santa Cruz High School where she joined the school's drama department. She went on to cultivate what was once deemed her negative qualities by making a career out of her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies in scores and scores of screwball comedy treasures.

Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and was discovered two years later and made her debut in the silent film The Little Princess (1917), starring Mary Pickford. Pitts became a leading lady in Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed (1924); based on this performance, von Stroheim labelled Pitts "the greatest dramatic actress". Von Stroheim also featured her in his films The Wedding March (1928) and Walking Down Broadway (1933). These dramatic roles, however were not to be her life's calling.

Pitts enjoyed her greatest fame in the 1930s, starring in B movies and comedy shorts - teamed often with Thelma Todd. She also played secondary parts in many films. Her stock persona (a fretful, flustered, worrisome spinster) made her instantly recognizable and was often imitated in cartoons and other films. She starred in a number of Hal Roach shorts and features that were popular, and co-starred in a series of feature-length comedies with Slim Summerville.

Named "ZaSu" because her mother's two sisters, Eliza and Susan, both wanted her named after them. Her mother didn't want to disappoint either of them, so she formed the name from the last two letters of Eliza and the first two letters of Susan.

Born in Kentucky in 1903, Una Merkel bore a resemblance to Lillian Gish, and her resemblance allowed her to enter films in 1920, aged only 16, as Gish's double in the film Way Down East. Merkel appeared in a few films during the silent era, however she spent most of her time in New York City working on Broadway. She returned to Hollywood and achieved her greatest success with the advent of "talkies".

Una mostly played supporting roles as the heroine's no-nonsense friend, but with her broad Southern accent and her peroxide blond hair, she gave one of her best performances as a wise-cracking but not-so-bright chorus girl in 42nd Street (1933). She was an MGM contract player from 1932 to 1938, appearing in as many as twelve films in a year, often on loan to other studios. She was also often cast as leading lady to a number of comedians in their pictures, including Jack Benny, Harold Lloyd, and Charles Butterworth. Perhaps she is best remembered for her hair-pulling fight with Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939). In 1962, she was nominated for the Academy Award as best supporting actress in Summer and Smoke (1961).

Una Merkel has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Picture Play magazine - May 1932

I think it's safe to say that this is when Wyler hits the big time. Counsellor at Law (1933) was a hit in 1933 and holds up today as fine drama. This post is already massive, so I won't
say anything about the film except that its a must see - and is available on DVD.

The females in the cast include Bebe Daniels (search for more of Bebe on this blog) in the lead as Regina 'Rexy' Gordon, with Doris Kenyon as Cora, Isabel Jewell as Bessie, and Thelma Todd in the role of Lillian La Rue. All the actresses turn in fine performances. The following is from the New York Times Review 1933. "Bebe Daniels gives one of her best screen performances as the secretary. Doris Kenyon is attractive and convincing as Simon's wife. Melvyn Douglas appears to advantage as Roy Darwin, with whom Mrs. Simon is infatuated." Having seen the film I can attest to the fact that Isabel and Thelma are right up there as well.

Circa 1924

Bebe in Rio Rita - 1929

The daughter of a poet, Doris Kenyon, born in 1897, made her stage and screen debuts in 1915. She was often cast as a pleasant heroine in many silent films. She co-starred with popular silent actors like Rudolph Valentino. Due to her stage experience she made a smooth transition to sound. She could still be seen on television in the mid sixties. Note that Doris Day's mother named her daughter after her favorite silent screen star - Doris Kenyon. Many years later, Day would purchase a home in Beverly Hills that was not far from Kenyon's.

Isabel Jewel was born in Wyoming 1907. She began as a Broadway actress who achieved immediate success and glowing critical reviews in two productions, Up Pops the Devil (1930) and Blessed Event (1932). She was brought to Hollywood by Warner Brothers for the film version of the latter and appeared in a variety of supporting roles during the early 1930s. She played stereotypical gangster's women in such films as Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and Marked Woman (1937). Her most significant role was as the prostitute Gloria Stone in Lost Horizon (1937). By the end of her career she had appeared in more than one hundred films, between 1930 and 1971. Isabel has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Lastly, but of course not least, is Thelma Todd. Notorious in life and in her suspicious death in 1935, she was one of the most popular actresses of the time. There are many sources and books written about Thelma, but here is a link that provides a brief overview.


Let me close my post on William Wyler by saying that two of my all time favorite movies were directed by this most talented and energetic director. If by some strange circumstance you have never seen The Letter (1940) or The Little Foxes (1941), check out Wyler and lead actress Bette Davis at their best.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Janet Gaynor

Janet Gaynor was born Laura Gainor on October 6, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a child she and her parents moved to San Francisco, and then to Los Angeles where she enrolled in a secretarial school. However, once in LA, she caught the acting bug and managed to land unbilled bit parts in some comedy shorts and features. Then in 1926 she turned in a heralded performance as Anna Burger in The Johnstown Flood. Hollywood sensed a star on their hands and cast her in several other leading roles that year, including The Midnight Kiss and The Return of Peter Grimm. She was also named a WAMPAS Baby Star that year.

The next year she turned in acclaimed performances in two classic films, Seventh Heaven (1927) and Sunrise (1927). Based on the strength of those two films plus Street Angel (1928), Janet received the very first Academy Award for best actress. This was the first and only time an actress won the Oscar for multiple roles (i.e. her entire body of work for the year). Until 1986, she was the youngest leading actress to be awarded an Oscar. Note that Emil Jannings won for The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command for the best actor category that same year, also the only time this has happened.

When "talkies" arrived, Janet made a successful transition and was to become one of the biggest stars at Fox. She was teamed with Charles Farrell in 11 films and went from "the World's Sweetheart" to one of "America's favorite love-birds". Then came A Star is Born (1937). For her outstanding performance she was nominated for another Oscar, but lost to Luise Rainer's performance in The Good Earth (1937). After appearing in The Young in Heart (1938), she settled down to raise a family and didn't appear in another film until 1957's Bernardine (1957). She died in 1984, the aftermath of a car accident two years earlier.

Janet Gaynor - What do you think - Allure?

Personal Quote - on receiving the very first Best Actress Oscar.

"Naturally, I was thrilled but being the first year, the Academy Awards had no background or tradition, and it naturally didn't mean what it does now. Had I known then what it would come to mean in the next few years, I'm sure I'd have been overwhelmed. At the time, I think I was more thrilled over meeting Douglas Fairbanks."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Renée Adorée

Renée Adorée (September 30, 1898–October 5, 1933) was born Jeanne de La Fonte in Lille, France. A child of circus performers, by age five she was performing with her parents. In her teen years she began acting in minor stage productions and toured Europe with her troupe. Renée was performing in Russia when World War I broke out and she fled to London.

From London she went on to New York City where she continued theater work until the opportunity came to break into film.

In 1920, given the exotic French name Renée Adorée by her studio, she appeared in her first Hollywood motion picture, The Strongest, directed by Raoul Walsh. Despite her petite stature (5'2", 105 lbs.), Renée's exotic beauty and enticing eyes made for a compelling screen presence. She is most known for her role as "Melisande" in the The Big Parade. It became one of MGM's biggest hits of all time and is ranked as one of the best films of the silent film era.

Renée made 41 silent films before her successful transition films, but tradegy lay just four films into the sound era. In 1930 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was forced to retire from the pictures. After a long battle, she died shortly after her 35th birthday. Renée has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street.

Renée Adorée - What do you think - Allure?