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?