Sunday, May 30, 2010

Asides - Serial Sisters.

The stepchild of the film business, the movie serial/chapter play/cliffhanger nonetheless thrilled and entertained audiences from the industry's earliest days. There were a staggering 277 silent serials, beginning in 1912 with Edison's What Happened to Mary? (12 ch.), through Pathe's 1929 Queen of the Northwoods (10 ch.) The advent of sound saw the production of 231 serials. The first was Universal's 1929 Tarzan the Tiger (15 ch.), and the last, Columbia's 1956 Perils of the Wilderness (15 ch.) This post concentrates on, no surprise, the thirties. During that decade 107 serials were produced, beginning in 1930 with Universal's The Indians Are Coming (12 ch.), released as a talkie and also as silent for theaters not yet equipped for sound, and ending with Republic's Zorro's Fighting Legion (12 ch.) in 1939.

One thing you can bet on is that practically every serial had an actress who was in peril in at least one chapter, and often in several. She was the daughter, the sister, the girlfriend, the reporter, the secretary, the rival, or just the sidekick along for the ride. What follows is a look at some of the thirties serials and mostly forgotten actresses who braved exploding buildings, collapsing rooms, buzz saws, raging rivers, out of control vehicles, including stage coaches, motorcars, and rocket ships, and just about any other peril the producers could conjure up.

All of the actresses have a link to their IMDb page, and they would love you to take a moment to drop by, they are so rarely visited these days. You will find that some had quite successful careers, but many had their 15 minutes at the dream factories and then vanished.

Double-click on the images for a large view.

Allene Ray, Virginia Brown Faire
Dorothy Gulliver, Edwina Booth*
Lucile Brown, Nora Lane
The asterisk indicates the link is to a page on this blog
because the actress has been featured.
Note: Both Edwina and Lucile appeared in the 1932 serial
The Last of the Mohicans as sisters Cora and Alice Munro.
Virginia was a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1923 and Dorothy was named one in 1928.

Dorothy Gulliver, Dorothy Gulliver
Cecilia Parker, Viva Tattersall
Lucile Brown, Evalyn Knapp*
Evalyn was named a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1932.

Gloria Shea, Verna Hillie
Lola Lane, Lucille Lund
Patricia Farr, Marion Shilling
Lola was sister to Priscilla and Rosemary Lane.
Marion was a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1931 and Lucille was named in 1934.

Maria Alba, Jean Rogers
Ula Holt, Claudia Dell
Joan Gale, Joyce Compton
Claudia is thought to be the original model for the Columbia pictures logo.
Joyce Compton was named a WAMPAS Baby Star for 1926.

Lois Wilde, Ruth Mix and Mae Busch
Lona Andre*, Jean Rogers
Jean Rogers, Ruth Mix
Ruth was Tom Mix's daughter. Lona was a WAMPAS Baby Star for 1932.

Joan Barclay, Mamo Clark
Kay Hughes, Jean Rogers,
Maxine Doyle, Joan Barclay
Mamo Clark appeared in two far more well known films, The Mutiny on the Bounty and The Hurricane. Maxine was married to one of the most prolific serial directors, William Witney.

Helen Christian, Frances Robinson
Lynn Gilbert, Kay Hughes
Jean Rogers, Betty Jane Rhodes and Evelyn Brent*
Evelyn was named a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1923.

Our cutoff is 1939, but Shelia portrayed the Dragon Lady in the 1940 serial Terry and the Pirates. Maybe she shot some scenes in '39...

Some members of the sisterhood, with a special nod to Jean Rogers who appeared in six serials during the thirties.

Who wouldn't want to return each week to see a new episode when they had chapters with names like these. Hmmmm... Collapsing Room, trash compactor, Star Wars, nah, just a coincidence.

Lastly, yup, for better or worse we have watched all these serials and about 100 more over the last 15 years.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Constance Cummings

Constance Cummings (previous post's Mystery Guest #5) was born Constance Halverstadt on May 15, 1910, in Seattle, Washington. As young girl she wanted to be a classical dancer, but in her mid-teens, after a walk-on bit as a prostitute in a summer stock production of Seventh Heaven, she left her ballet shoes behind and began acting and dancing in stage musicals. In only two years, accompanied by her mother, she was on Broadway. As was common at the time, movie moguls, in this case Samuel Goldwyn, scoured Broadway for those with potential for film, and Constance found herself in Hollywood.

Her first film was to be The Devil to Pay, with Ronald Colman. However, after a director change she was replaced by Loretta Young. That event allowed Columbia to offer her a contract and cast her as prison warden Walter Huston's naive daughter in Howard Hawks's 1931 The Criminal Code. Constance made five films that year, including The Last Parade and Traveling Husbands. 1932 found her in demand and another eight films were released including the very successful Movie Crazy with Harold Lloyd, American Madness, again with Walter Huston, and Attorney for the Defense with Edmund Lowe.

Big changes were ahead for Constance in 1933. While there were another five films made that year, including one of my favorites, The Mind Reader, with Warren William, and Billion Dollar Scandal, the big event was her marriage. She had met the British playwright and director Benn W. Levy, who was there to do a script. They were married that year and settled in London a year later. She had to win a court fight with Columbia to make movies in Britain. Her final Hollywood film before leaving permanently for England was the comedy-whodunit Remember Last Night? (1935), with Robert Young.

Though a good number of films appeared in the ensuing years, including Blithe Spirit (1945) with Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford, Constance was spending more of her time on the stage. Among her few films in the 1950's was The Intimate Stranger, AKA Finger of Guilt(1956), directed by blacklisted Joseph Losey (under the pseudonym Joseph Walton).

In 1974, Constance was made a Commander of the British Empire for her contributions to the British entertainment industry. In 1979, she won a Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance in the role in the play Wings. Constance has a star at 6211 Hollywood Blvd.

Constance died on November 23, 2005 at the age of 95.

Double-click on the images for a larger view.

Seven Sinners (1936) - a Gaumont (British) production

Undated publicity still.

Constance Cummings - What do you think - Allure?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mystery Guest #5

Welcome to Mystery Guest #5. As with Mystery Guest #4, this it will be a rolling post, with one new image and clue added over the next week or so to help you guess. Three previous mystery guests were identified, while one remained unidentified and I had to "give her up".

I am asking that if you you think you know who it is, post it to the comments, but since they are now moderated (thanks spammers), I will hold off on publishing comments until the end. I will post any wrong guesses and if any visitor guesses correctly, he or she will be given the proper accolades when time is up.

Here we go. Since this actress is not as obscure as previous guests we will start with a really minimal clue. She was born west of the Mississippi.

Here is the next clue and picture. This actress eventually did turn her career east of the Mississippi, in fact east of the Atlantic Ocean, but not until the 1950's.

This is a frame grab from her very first film. Unfortunately someone blocked out her name.

So far two folks have correctly guessed her identity. Clearly it was the picture, not the "clue" that gave it away.

Here is clue and picture #3 of our mystery guest. This screen capture is from her 13th film. The film itself introduces another actress who would become world renowned for years to come and the first breakthrough role for an actor known for tough guy roles.

We have had another guess, but unfortunately, incorrect. It is not E. Arden.

Here is our next clue and picture. I knew this guest was not going to be to difficult to identify because her career was quite successful and long lived. I have received a number of correct guesses, again I believe due to the pictures, not the actual clues. Today's clue should give those who still don't know her, with a little digging, the correct identity.

Our mystery guest was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1974 . Won the Tony Award, an Obie Award, and a Drama Desk Award in 1979, pointing to her talent and longevity.

Movie Classic, June 1934.

So here we go. I thought this might be too easy due the this actresses long career. That said, I must give congratulations to those who identified our mystery guest.

The first to answer correctly was Mary - who sent her comment the same day.
Two days later Carrie Liz properly identified our guest.
Peter0315 hit it on the head two days after Carrie.
71Duffy74 gave the correct answer that day as well.
Finally, the following day, R.J. submitted his guess. It was incorrect, but about a half hour later he tried again and got the answer.
For the others that guessed and came up short, thanks for trying.

And the answer is:

Constance Cummings

Now that you know, you can look to my next post for a more complete look at this talented actress. Still assembling some elements, but it should post soon.

I said the first frame grab above was from her first film, but that is incorrect (Too many folders, films and frame grabs) :-). You will see it properly identified in her "named post."