Monday, July 28, 2008

Joan Marsh

Nancy Ann Rosher, first appearing as Dorthy Rosher and ultimately Joan Marsh, was born July 10, 1913. She was the daughter of Charles Rosher, the first cinematographer to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematographer in "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans". Because of her father's profession she found herself in 15 films (mostly uncredited) by the time she was eight, several starring Mary Pickford. These include The Little Princess (1917), Daddy-Long-Legs (1919), and Pollyanna (1920).

After some formal schooling, Joan returned to the screen. In the 1930's Joan had supporting roles in a number of films whose headliners were Garbo, Crawford, and Loretta Young. Some critics believed she stole Three Girls Lost (1931) from Young. She had a couple female lead roles, Maker of Men (1931) and High Gear (1933), but often was cast as the pretty, but second or third featured actress. In fact, some have conjectured that her good looks kept people and critics from appreciating her certainly credible acting ability.

In the late 30's and early 40's she made a comeback of sorts, but the roles were in films you won't find on the AFI list. These included one of the best Chan outings, Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937) where she met and married the film's screenwriter Charles Belden, and a well made Republic serial, The Secret Service in Darkest Africa (1943). The last two of her 68 films were Bowery Boys vehicles, clearly an indication it was time to retire. Joan had a successful small business career after retiring from films. She died in Ojai Ca. on August 10, 2000.

Click on the images for a larger view.

Motion Picture magazine - August 1931

Picture Play magazine, October 1932 - Artist: Modest Stein

Publicity Still

The Wet Parade, Chan on Broadway and Manhunt/Secret Service frame captures.

Publicity Still

Joan Marsh - What do you think - Allure?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lillian Roth

Born Lillian Rutstein on December 13, 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts, Lillian was six years old when her mother took her to Educational Pictures, where she became the company's trademark, symbolized by a living statue holding a lamp of knowledge. The following year
she made her Broadway debut in The Inner Man. Together with her younger sister Ann, she toured as "Lillian Roth and Co." when and wherever permitted by the Gerry Society. At seventeen, Lillian made the first of three Earl Carroll Vanities. This was soon followed by Midnight Frolics, a Flo Ziegfeld production.

Her Ziegfeld performance led to Ernst Lubitsch's invitation to Hollywood for his musical The Love Parade (1929) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Then Paramount cast her in Honey (1930), in which she debuted her signature standard "Sing You Sinners." Other roles included Trixie in Cecil B. DeMille's Madam Satan (1930) and as Margaret Dumont’s daughter in the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers (1930). She occasionally made films for other studios, such as Warner’s Ladies They Talk About (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck. Unfortunately, the sudden death of her fiancé in the early 30's devastated Lillian and fairly quickly led her to a lifetime of alcohol addiction.

While tragic endings were often the case with so many young actresses of the time, Lillian was eventually able to pull herself back up from the depths of alcoholism and mental illness when, in the late 40’s, she met and married former alcoholic T. Burt McGuire, Jr., who introduced her to AA. With his support, Lillian revived her career and began singing again, receiving glowing reviews and making a number of recordings.

Her searing autobiography “I'll Cry Tomorrow” (1954) was made into a hit film the following year starring Susan Hayward, who was nominated for an Academy Award. Lillian continued to work on and off, including stints on Broadway, until her death in 1980 due to a stroke.

The inscription on her marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, reads: "As bad as it was it was good."

Click on images for a larger view.

Stars of the Photoplay 1930

Photoplay magazine - May 1930

Undated photo still by Seymour

The Love Parade (1929)

Publicity still for Honey (1930)

Animal Crackers (1930)

Madam Satan (1930)

Publicity still for Madam Satan

Lillian Roth - What do you think - Allure?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Claire Windsor

Claire Windsor was born Clara Viola Cronk in 1897 (though some records show 1892) in Marvin, Kansas. In her late teens (after a short lived marriage that produced a son) she moved to Seattle with her parents where she entered and won a beauty contest. She then headed to Hollywood in the hopes of launching a film career.

Claire's credited film debut was in To Please One Woman (1920) following four uncredited roles. Her break came when she was spotted by Paramount's director and producer Lois Weber, who signed her to co-star with Louis Calhern in The Blot (1921). Then in 1922 the newly formed Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers named Claire a WAMPAS baby star. That same year she signed a contract with Goldwyn Pictures Corporation.

Throughout the twenties, Claire's career progressed rapidly and she was often cast as a denizen of high society. Interestingly, this is in stark contrast to her role in The Blot as the daughter of a lowly paid professor living on the poorer side of town. She was cited for her sophisticated fashion sense, and became a trend-setter of twenties fashion. Her films included Born Rich (1924) and A Son of the Sahara (1924), both co-starring Bert Lytell, whom Claire would marry in 1925 and divorce two years later, Dance Madness (1926) with Conrad Nagel, and as a jewel thief opposite Victor Mclaglen in Captain Lash (1929). Unfortunately, Claire did not fair well with the advent of talkies. Of her 58 films, only seven were made after 1930, with none to any acclaim. In her later years, Claire devoted herself to painting.

Claire died in 1972 Los Angeles, California. She has a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.

Photoplay magazine - May 1922

Frame captures from The Blot

Photoplay magazine - June 1927
A bit ironic to see Claire hawking wedding rings the year of her second divorce.

Stars of the Photoplay - 1930

Undated postcard

Claire Windsor - What do you think - Allure?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Asides - Some covers and comments

Presented in this post are five Photoplay "pre-talkie" covers, one where the portrait painting misses the mark, for me at least. I have also included two letters to the editor I find interesting - both discuss censorship, and show that even 80 years ago some folks weren't afraid to challenge the system. Enjoy - click on the images for a larger view.

Dorothy Gish - Photoplay, April 1922 - Artist: J. Knowles Hare
Known for his drypoint etching portraits and his magazine cover
illustrations, John Knowles Hare (1884-1947) was born in Montclair, New Jersey. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York.

Betty Compson - Photoplay, May 1922 - Artist: J. Knowles Hare

Rene Adoree - Photoplay, November 1926 - Artist: Carl Van Buskirk

A letter to the editor from Elizabeth Van Deusen, New York, N. Y.

I do not agree with the spokesman of the reformers, Canon Chase. To me, pictures are neither moral nor immoral. Human beings are the only ones to whom the word "moral" may be rightly applied.

It is the obvious intention of some producers to subvert motion pictures to a base appeal, and many beholders will see evil in pictures whether or not it is there—we are so apt to find what we look for. But it is a happy fact that such producers and beholders are a small minority.

The hearts of men may need to be purified, but that is the job of the church. I don't believe in censorship, even when called regulation. "All constraint except what wisdom lays on men is evil."

Pictures may not be true to life. They are an escape, a surcease, between life's reality. I cannot imagine filling out one of Canon Chase's score cards. If I tried to write down my analysis of "The Big Parade" I would feel that I was dissecting the body of a friend.

My advice to those—with special emphasis for the co-workers of Canon Chase—who attend motion pictures with the idea of searching for " off " coloring, is—stay away. Pictures can not be worth the price of admission to such people. As regards sex, keep in mind there are only two sexes, and cheer up.

The producers are often mistaken as to "what the public wants," but the public doesn't know seven-eighths of the time. Pictures are the gift of God to the lonely transient, and we are, each one of us, at some time, and some of us at all times, lonely transients.

Dolores Costello - Photoplay, October 1927 - Artist: Charles Sheldon

A letter to the editor from John Irwin Zellner, Greensburg, PA.

I happen to be only one of the thousands of unfortunate movie fans who must live in the State of Pennsylvania. Coming here from Ohio less than a year ago, I soon discovered why the censors of this state are razzed more than those of any other state. Practically every picture shown here is cut to some extent; in fact, I have yet to see one picture in its entirety. If the action is not cut, then the titles are substituted and everyone knows what excellent title writers the censors are!

The first picture I saw here was "Variety," a picture I had looked forward to seeing for a long time. Words fail to express my disgust with the picture I saw. I felt like suing the theater manager for showing such a picture and announcing it as "Variety." But I could not blame him for the hodgepodge I saw. When "Flesh and the Devil" was shown here, it was but another example of what a censor can do. The stars were not allowed one kiss and the action was cut so badly that it was difficult to follow the story.

Recently I saw "Captain Salvation" in Washington, D. C., and I hate to think what the censors will do to it. Why, oh why, must we sit meekly by while a few feeble-minded persons do their best and worst to spoil our taste and lower our respect for the greatest form of amusement in the world?

Joan Crawford - Photoplay, December 1927 - Artist: Charles Sheldon

It is stated in the table of contents that Charles painted this from life, but I have a hard time seeing the young Joan in this picture. Once in a while a quick sideways glance will almost convince me. What do you think, am I just missing something.