Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sally Eilers

Sally was born Dorothea Sally Eilers in New York City on December 11, 1908. She studied dance in NYC before moving to Hollywood in her teens, where she attended Fairfax High School. After auditioning for a time she found work in several Mack Sennett comedy shorts. Exposure in those early films attracted notice and in 1928 she was voted a WAMPAS Baby Star.

A very popular actress, Sally was in 29 films from 1930 to 1935. These include Quick Millions (1931) opposite Spencer Tracy, A Holy Terror (1931), Bad Girl (1931), Disorderly Conduct (1932), also opposite Spencer Tracy, Made on Broadway (1933) with Robert Montgomery, and Alias Mary Dow (1935) with Ray Milland. Sally remained busy through the 1930s, and moved into character roles in the 1940s, the most intriguing of which was her characterization of Jimmy Lydon's mother in Strange Illusion (1945). Sally retired from moviemaking in 1951 after 68 films and (for all trivia fans) four husbands, all whose first names started with H; Hoot, Harry, Howard, and Hollingsworth.

During her final years, Eilers suffered poor health, and died from a heart attack in Woodland Hills, California on January 5, 1978, at the age of 69.

Click in images for a larger view.

Stars of the Photoplay - 1930 edition

Motion Picture Magazine - March 1930

Ross postcard - circa 1931

John Player & Sons cigarette card - from the Film Stars series

Bad Girl Poster - Version 1

Bad Girl Poster - Version 2

This is the book on which the movie is based. The dust jacket is kind of cheesy, but I love the typeface on the cover itself. It is a decent read, considering when it was written, but definitely of the time. Here is the text from the inside of the dust jacket.

Dot lived in the Bronx and Eddie in Harlem. He worked in a radio shop and she was a typist. They met on a Sunday night excursion on the Hudson, and immediately fell in love.

The story of Dot and Eddie is told with such amazing candor and vitality that it becomes the story of any two young people who live in one of our great cities - a world in which movies, Chinese restaurants and bare hallways provide the background for love and seduction and the impulse to marriage.

Here is a novel that presents a true American scene, caught with a fresh and undeceived eye by youth and for youth.

Publicity still for Quick Millions

Photoplay - February 1932

Publicity Still

Publicity Still

Screen captures from three films where Sally is the female lead.
The Black Camel (1931) - Central Airport (1933) - Pursuit (1935)

Sally Eilers - What do you think - Allure?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Asides - Magic Mirror

Once upon a time a queen sat at a window sewing, and while looking out at the snow, she pricked her finger with the sewing needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, “Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.”

Soon after she had a daughter who was as white as snow, red as blood, and with hair as black as ebony. She was named Snow-White. Sadly, the Queen soon died. After a year had passed the King took another wife. She was beautiful, but proud and haughty, and could not bear that anyone else should surpass her in beauty. She had a wonderful magic looking glass, and when she stood in front of it and looked at herself in it, and said— “Looking-glass, Looking-glass, on the wall, Who in this land is the fairest of all?” The looking-glass answered— “Thou, O Queen, art the fairest of all!” Then she was satisfied, for she knew that the looking-glass spoke the truth.

But Snow-White was growing up, and the next time the queen consulted the looking glass, Snow-White was named fairest of them all. The Queen was shocked, and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour, whenever she looked at Snow-White, her heart heaved in her breast, she hated the girl so much.

And so the story goes...

If you saw my previous post, you will have heard the queen in the marvelous Fleischer Brothers version of Snow White sing "Magic mirror in my hand, who's the fairest in the land. Here are some actresses, each with mirror in hand, who also would no doubt make the queen turn yellow and green with envy.

Double-click the images for a larger view.

Kay Francis

Joan Crawford - New Movie Magazine, January 1931
If I was the mirror, I wouldn't dare argue.

Katherine Hepburn

Jeanette MacDonald - New Movie Magazine, January 1931

Miriam Hopkins

Anita Page - Motion Picture Magazine, August 1931

A Mirror is where you find it.
Jean Harlow

Ann Sheridan

The chorus line has to make do with shared reflectors.
The queen would still not be amused.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Betty Boop

Betty Boop was born in NYC on August 9, 1930 and miraculously made her debut that same day in Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Max and David Fleischer's Talkartoon series. She was the pen and ink daughter of Grim Natwick, the Fleischer Studios animator who had an eye for popular singer Helen Kane and movie star Clara Bow. Unfortunately Betty was born mute and her screen voice was supplied by a number of actresses including Little Ann Little (Ann Rothschild), Bonnie Poe, and Mae Questel, the voice for the majority of Betty's 121 films.

As Betty quickly matured she became a hot property for Fleischer Studios, and in those pre-code days, a "hot" property on the screen with her short dresses, high heels, and garter belt. Betty is known as the first and most famous sex symbol on the animated screen, long before Jessica Rabbit, whose costume comes directly from Betty's wardrobe. However, by late 1933 the content of her films was affected by the National Legion of Decency and the Production Code, and cute replaced sexy for the balance of her films.

Our girl in her pre-code days.

You too can learn to be a cartoonist.

In case you thought character merchandising started with Star Wars.

Betty Boop as Snow White (1933). The most surreal cartoon you are likely to see.

The Inspirations

As to Natwick's inpirations, we all know about Clara Bow and what a major presence and influence she was on the flapper look of the twenties, but who was Helen Kane? Born as Helen Schroeder, she attended St. Anselm’s Parochial School in the Bronx. By the time she was 15, Helen, who had only appeared in school productions, was onstage professionally, touring the Orpheum Circuit with the Marx Brothers. Her first performance at the Paramount Theater in Times Square proved to be her career's launching point. She was singing "That's My Weakness Now", when she interpolated the scat lyrics “boop-boop-a-doop.” I guess that really grabbed Grim.

Helen Kane - boop-boop-a-doop!

Does Grim really love me?

Helen sings Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930)

The Voices

Ann Rothschild broke into show business in the 1925 "Greenwich Village Follies" and was named "Little Ann Little" because she was only 4'10" tall and weighed 76 pounds. After "Dizzy Dishes" premiered, Paramount, who distributed Fleischer productions, held an audition for a girl to do the voice for the new character. Ann was chosen from among many other girls and provided the voice for a few cartoons before going on the road with a Betty Boop vaudeville act. The act consisted, in part, of a drawing demonstration by Pauline Comanor, a "movie cartoonist" who drew Ann as Betty and handed out the drawings to lucky audience members.

Little Ann Little

Mae Questel's parents encouraged her to study dramatics and singing. Although she had offers to appear in stage productions, her protective parents felt she was too young at the time. She was still a teenager when she won a Helen Kane look alike contest and in 1931 Max Fleischer caught her act and asked her to do the voice for Betty Boop. Mae was Betty from the time she came to the studio until the series ended in 1939. She was also the voice of Olive Oyl for over 20 years, and used Zasu Pitts as her vocal inspiration.

Mae Questel

Surprise, I'm a star that nobody sees, but the pay is good.

Betty Boop - What do you think - Allure?

Some of the images in this post come from the out-of-print, but wonderful book, The Fleischer Story (1976), by Leslie Cabarga.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Anita Stewart

Brooklyn born on February 7, 1895, Anna May (Anita) Stewart began her acting career in 1911 in bit parts for Brooklyn based Vitagraph Studios while still attending Erasmus High School. Anita was one of the earliest film actresses and the public immediately took to her. She first appeared in a small role in the enormous box office hit adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, directed by William J.Humphrey, and including an all-star cast of Mabel Normand, Dorothy Kelly, Norma Talmadge and Maurice Costello, great-grandfather of Drew Barrymore. She then rapidly rose in the ranks to lead actress. Anita made an incredible 63 films for Vitagraph between 1911 and 1917.

However, in 1918, she left Vitagraph Studios to accept a contract with Louis B. Mayer. Mayer lured her away with a lucrative sum and promised her that she would head her own production company. In fact, during the next two years she produced seven films, starring in all of them. Vitagraph then sued Mayer for illegally stealing her away from them. Vitagraph won, and Anita went back to fulfill the terms of her contract. She then continued to make films throughout the 1920s, though at a slower pace and for a number of companies. Unfortunately, like so many of her silent film contemporaries, Stewart found the transition to sound film extremely difficult. After making just one musical short in 1932, Anita retired from the screen after 100 screen appearances, the majority as the female lead. Sadly, almost no footage of her performances remain.

Anita died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California in 1961. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6724 Hollywood Boulevard.

Anita's popularity can be seen by the number of magazines that featured her on the cover.
Click on the images for a larger view.

Motion Picture - May, 1917

Picture Play - September, 1918

Motion Picture - April, 1919

Photoplay - December, 1920

Publicity still from A Question of Honor (1922)

Portrait 1925

Stars of the Photoplay - 1924

Anita Stewart - What do you think - Allure?