Sunday, January 27, 2008

Asides - Now you see it, now you don't

Beauty marks were highly regarded during the 18th century and creating false ones became common. They were often in fanciful shapes such as hearts and stars. And while many people today, famous and not so famous, have beauty marks (think Cindy Crawford and some woman I saw in the mall a couple of weeks ago), they were a well used device by a number of actresses in the twenties and thirties. They often moved around the face to suit the whim of the wearer or a role being played. Here are a few images of actresses we have already covered, with and sans beauty marks. Two of the leading actresses of the day, Jean Harlow and Clara Bow, aren't featured here because firstly, I haven't covered Jean yet and secondly, they both had so many beauty marks in so many different facial locations, they would require their own separate beauty mark post. Click the images for a larger view.

Greta Nissen unadorned in the center, but well marked for her role in The Lucky Lady (1926) opposite Lionel Barrymore.

I'm pretty sure that Gloria Swanson's beauty mark was natural, but there are as many pictures of her without a mark as with.

I've only seen one image of Joan Crawford with a beauty mark
and it was part of the makeup for Rain.

I guess Anita Page or her publicist thought she should have at least
one picture of her sporting a beauty mark.

Pola Negri had one of those moving beauty marks.

Alice Terry, wears two marks for what I believe was her role as
Aline de Kercadiou in Scaramouche (1923).

So if beauty marks are to your liking, go out and get one today, they were all the rage way back when.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

June Vlasek (Lang)

Born Winifred June Vlasek on May 5, 1915 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June, who changed her last name to Lang after five of her 40 films, originally trained as a dancer. She made her film debut with Fox in 1932 and her most well known role during that period was in the Chandu the Magician. She then began to be seen fairly frequently in B-movies, usually in a secondary, but prominent role. In 1934, she appeared with Laurel and Hardy in Bonnie Scotland (1935), with Warner Baxter and Fredric March in The Road to Glory (1936), and as Shirley Temple's mother in Wee Willie Winkie (1937). She also co-starred with fellow Fox player Lynn Bari in Meet the Girls (1938), a short-lived attempt to promote a series of "smart girl/dumb girl" comedies.

A comfortable, if not totally successful career was unfortunately cut short after the 1940 marriage to her second husband, convicted mobster John Roselli. Fox released her from her contract that year so as not to be associated in any way with the "criminal element". Although she divorced Roselli a year later, she found it difficult to secure work. It should be noted that at the time of the marriage, June was not aware that Roselli was a mafia boss; he had passed himself off as an aspiring movie producer. By 1943, she was playing unbilled bits in films like Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Up in Arms (1944). June Lang's last film was Lighthouse (1947).

June died at age 90 in Valley Village, California.

Two June Lang images from Movies magazine - January 1934. They are included in an article bylined by June where she discusses the importance of a good complexion.

Studio promotion still

June Lang - What do you think - Allure?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gilda Gray

Gilda Gray (October 24, 1901 – December 22, 1959) was born Marianna Winchalaska in Kraków, Poland. Her birth parents were killed in a revolution and she was adopted from an orphanage. She escaped from Poland with her foster parents just before Krakow was taken over by Russia prior to World War I. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gilda began her career singing and dancing at local pubs.

She became famous in the US for popularizing a dance called the "shimmy" which became fashionable in 1920s films and theater productions. Although the shimmy is said to have been introduced to American audiences by Gray in New York in 1919, other sources say that her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics. She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own when she was asked about her dancing style, she replied in a heavy Polish accent; "I'm shaking my chemise," which sounded to the English-speaking audience like shimmy. This account stands somewhere between truth and urban myth.

Her desire to continue her foot light career prompted Gray to move to Chicago where she was noticed by talent agent Frank Westphal who introduced her to his wife, singer Sophie Tucker. It was Tucker who prompted her to change her name to Gilda Gray. After being seen by Florenz Ziegfeld, she appeared in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies where she was enormously popular with the public.

In 1923 she took her successful act and persona to Hollywood and between 1919 and 1936 she made several movies, shimmying on the screen in each one. Her first appearance was uncredited, but her second role was a small part in Girl with the Jazz Heart. Gilda then made Aloma of the South Seas, which grossed $3,000,000 in its first three months. The success of this film was enhanced by Gilda's personal appearances doing the shimmy as a promotion. In 1927, she made two more films, Cabaret and The Devil Dancer (co-starring Anna May Wong, with whom she would appear in 1929's recently restored and released Piccadilly).

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Gilda Gray lost most of her financial assets, but she managed to get a job dancing at the Palace Theater in New York for $3,500 a week - not bad in those depression years.

In 1936 she was signed to play herself in the movie, The Great Ziegfeld, but unfortunately her scenes were cut from the picture. She left Hollywood and continued her stage act well into the fifties, but was basically penniless at the time of her death from a heart attack at age 58.

Picture Play Magazine, January 1926 - A beautiful illustration by Hal Phyfe and the image that has been adorning this blog's banner for the past couple of months.

This illustration accompanied the text below. It appeared in the January, 1926 Picture Play

The Shimmy in Celluloid.

Don Ryan (Who i believe became a screenwriter)

It is a keen disappointment to Hollywood that "Aloma of the South Seas" is being filmed in the East. For Hollywood remembers the merry times we had when Gilda Gray was among us on her stage tour.

It was during that time that I held my one and only salon, which was a howling success. The crowning glory of the evening-as the society reporter might have said-was the $769.74 worth of shimmy generously donated by Gilda.

Miss Gray was getting $15.000 a week for her shimmy. That is what her percentage in Los Angeles amounted to. For this amount she was doing three fifteen-minute shows, in which her actual shimmying time was two minutes each. At this rate she received $178.51 a minute. For us she performed exactly 4.2 minutes. I held the watch myself.

Which figures down to $769.74 worth of shimmy that we received free, gratis, without let, hindrance, or encumbrance-$769.74 worth of glittering motion, which Cecil De Mille would have given his right eye to have incorporated in an ancient Egyptian sequence.

The later years.

Gilda Gray - What do you think - Allure?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett (April 22, 1891 - November 4, 1932) was born in Milaca, Minnesota and is not related in any way to the other Bennett’s, Joan and Constance. Her father owned a circus and it was there Belle got her start. He trained her to be a trapeze performer. She eventually made her way to Broadway and appeared in theatrical productions staged by impresario David Belasco.

She went west and began appearing in minor Hollywood films like A Ticket to Red Horse Gulch (1914). Her break came when Samuel Goldwyn selected her from among seventy-three actresses for the leading role in Stella Dallas (1925). The film has been ranked as one of the finest movies of all time. Interesting note: While filming the movie her son, sixteen-year-old William Howard Macy, died. William had posed as Bennett's brother for some time because of her fear that her employers might find out her true age. She was actually thirty-four rather than twenty-four, which she had claimed to be.

After playing the mother role in Stella Dallas, Bennett was typecast for the remainder of her film career. She appeared in Mother Machree (1928), The Battle of the Sexes (1928), The Iron Mask (1929), Courage (1930), Recaptured Love (1930) and The Big Shot (1931).

She survived the transition to sound but sadly, Belle developed cancer and died in 1932, ending what may have been an important “talkie” career. Belle Bennett appeared in 87 films and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This picture of Belle is from the 1930 edition of Stars of the Photoplay, a hardcover book published by Photoplay magazine. The text accompanying the picture was:
In 1925 a new screen mother found fame among the fans-a young and modern mother in the person of Belle Bennett. “Stella Dallas" Was the picture that brought her nation-wide acclaim. Miss Bennett had waited long for success. Born in 1891, in Coon Rapids, Iowa, she trouped for years in stock and appeared in pictures in their early days. She was divorced from William Macy, her first husband. They had one son who passed away when he was sixteen. She married Director Fred Windemere in 1924.

Belle Bennett - What do you think - Allure?