Monday, March 30, 2009

Monogram Pictures

Monogram Pictures

Monogram Pictures Corporation was a Hollywood studio that produced and released films, most on low budgets, between 1931 and 1953, when the firm completed a transition to the name Allied Artists. Monogram is considered a leader among the smaller studios sometimes referred to collectively as Poverty Row. The idea behind the studio was that when the Monogram logo appeared on the screen, everyone knew they were in for action and adventure.

Monogram was created in the early 1930s from two earlier companies, W. Ray Johnston's Rayart Productions (renamed "Raytone" when sound pictures came in) and Trem Carr's Sono-Art Pictures. Both specialized in low budget features and, as Monogram Pictures, continued that policy until 1935 with Carr in charge of production. Another independent, Paul Malvern, released his Lone Star western productions (starring John Wayne) through Monogram.

The backbone of the studio in those early days was a father-and-son combination: Robert N. Bradbury, writer and director, and Bob Steele, cowboy actor, were on their roster. Bradbury wrote almost all of the early Monogram and Lone Star westerns. While budgets and production values were lean, Monogram offered a balanced program, including action melodramas, classics, and mysteries.

In 1935, Johnston and Carr were wooed by Herbert Yates of Consolidated Film Industries; Yates planned to merge Monogram with several other smaller independent companies to form Republic Pictures. But after a short time in this new venture, Johnston and Carr left, Carr to produce at Universal and Johnston to restart Monogram in 1937.

Monogram continued to experiment with series; some hit and some missed. Definite hits were Charlie Chan, The Cisco Kid, and Joe Palooka, all proven movie properties abandoned by other studios and revived by Monogram. Less successful were the comic-strip exploits of Snuffy Smith, the mysterious adventures of The Shadow, and Sam Katzman's comedy series co-starring Billy Gilbert, Shemp Howard, and Maxie Rosenbloom.

Later Monogram very nearly hit the big time with King Brothers Productions' Dillinger, a sensationalized crime drama that was a runaway success in 1945, and received Monogram's only major Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Screenplay. Monogram tried to follow it up immediately (with several "exploitation" melodramas cashing in on topical themes), and did achieve some success.
Allied Artists

Producer Walter Mirisch began at Monogram after World War II as assistant to studio head Samuel "Steve" Broidy. He convinced Broidy that the days of low-budget films were ending, and in 1946, Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists Productions, to make costlier films.
At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 (and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000), Allied Artists' first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000. Subsequent Allied Artists releases were more economical but did have enhanced production values; many of them were filmed in color.
The studio's new policy permitted what Mirisch called "B-plus" pictures, which were released along with Monogram's established line of B fare. Mirisch's prediction about the end of the low-budget film had come true thanks to television, and in September 1952, Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The Monogram brand name was finally retired in 1953. The company was now known as Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.

Allied Artists did retain a few vestiges of its Monogram identity, continuing its popular Stanley Clements action series (through 1953), its B-Westerns (through 1954), its Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (through 1955), and especially its breadwinning comedy series with The Bowery Boys (through 1957 with Clements replacing Leo Gorcey). For the most part, however, Allied Artists was heading in new, ambitious directions under Mirisch.

For a time in the mid-1950s the Mirisch family had great influence at Allied Artists, with Walter as executive producer, his brother Marvin as head of sales, and brother Harold as corporate treasurer. They pushed the studio into big-budget filmmaking, signing contracts with William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Gary Cooper. But when their first big-name productions, Wyler's Friendly Persuasion and Wilder's Love in the Afternoon were box-office flops in 1956–57, studio-head Broidy retreated into the kind of pictures Monogram had always favored: low-budget action and thrillers. Mirisch Productions then had success releasing their films through United Artists.

Monogram/Allied Artists survived by finding a niche and serving it well. The company lasted until 1979, when runaway inflation and high production costs pushed it into bankruptcy. The Monogram/Allied Artists library was bought by television producer Lorimar; today a majority of this library belongs to Time Warner.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie

April 8, 1912
October 12, 1969

Sonja Henie was born the daughter of a furrier, Wilhelm, and his wife Selma, April 8, 1912, in Kristiania, now Oslo, Norway. She learned to dance at four, and began ice-skating at five. At eleven, Sonja won the Figure Skating Championship of Norway, while wearing a flowing skirt designed by her mother, which at the time was considered risque. At thirteen, Sonja earned second place in the World Championships, and at fourteen she won the World Title, which she held on to for ten consecutive years.

Henie studied ballet and became known as the “Pavlova of the Ice” while she introduced new styles of dress, showmanship and dance that are today considered standard. Her elegant costumes, all designed by Selma Henie, and envied and copied by her peers and competitors around the world, got shorter and shorter. With her constant winning smile, her glamorous attire, and little white skating boots that later became a classic, Henie executed leaps on the ice previously performed only by men, and popularized a sport that was at one time considered boring and mundane.

Henie broke records and won gold medals in the Olympic Games of 1928, 1932, and 1936. During the 1936 Games, she raised her arm to Germany’s Fuhrer, shouting “Heil Hitler,” and a friendship between them ensued. That same year, while criticized for frolicking with Nazis, Henie was still loved and admired by her fans.Deciding to turn professional, tiny, five-foot-three, blonde Henie made her way to Hollywood where she undertook exhaustive beauty treatments to make her more appealing as the movie star she intended to be. Studio executives wanted to see the famed skater in movies, but they felt her asking price was outrageous. Sonja demanded that she be paid $75,000 to appear in a film, a fortune at that time, and insisted it be written specifically for her talents.

The studio balked at first. To prove her worth to them, Henie rented an ice rink and produced and starred in her own Hollywood Ice Revue, an enormously successful show, selling out to standing-room-only crowds, which with the backing of financier, director, producer, and owner of the Chicago Stadium Arthur Wirtz, continued to produce every year through 1950.

Soon, Henie made the first of her eleven films for 20th Century Fox, One In A Million (1937), alongside stars Don Ameche and Adolph Menjou. The successful movie led to her starring with Tyrone Power in Thin Ice that same year. Her films all capitalized on her marvelous and spectacular skating talent, and the stories usually took place at winter lodges with countless handsome men chasing her between elaborately staged skating numbers. Henie’s movie ice rinks were covered with a special type of freezable paint in order to hide refrigerator pipes. In Sun Valley Serenade (1941), the climax was a musical ballet number performed by Henieand a huge ensemble upon a stage of ice dyed vivid black.

On the very last day of filming, Henie fell and was covered in black dye. Instead of re-shooting the sequence, the director decided on a sudden, ludicrous cut to Henie happily skiing down a Sun Valley slope with costar John Payne. Sonja Henie’s beautiful beaded, velvet, satin, feathered and fur-trimmed costumes became more fantastic each year, and she was one of the biggest box-office draws in America. One of Henie’s’s dramatic entrances to the ice in her Ice Follies show in Chicago had her in a nine-foot jeweled-collar cape covered in a hundred huge, real foxtails ranging from white to pale blue to purple.

With keen business sense, Henie demanded revisions in her contract, and became the highest-paid star in the movie capital. However, her novelty began wearing off. After her film Wintertime (1941), and the advent of World War II, Fox dropped her contract. Published photos of Henie’s 1936 embrace with Hitler did not help her film popularity. After a few unsuccessful movies with other studios, Henie concentrated on skating in her scintillating ice revues, bringing even more costumed glamour to her audiences. She made a fortune.

Henie’s other films include Happy Landing (1939), My Lucky Star (1939), Second Fiddle (1941), Everything Happens At Night (1941), and Iceland (1943). In 1969, costumes and set pieces used in Henie’s shows, including original programs and photos which were stored in an Arthur Wirtz warehouse in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood, went on sale to the public, and it seemed as if everyone was walking around in costumes and beads.Later that year, when she died of leukemia October 12, 1969, on a plane from Paris to her native Oslo, Sonja Henie was one of the ten wealthiest women in the world.

Jim Edward "Fibber McGee" Jordan

Jim Edward "Fibber McGee" Jordan

Birth: Nov. 6, 1896
Death: Apr. 1, 1988

Actor and Radio personality. He is best remembered in the comic role of Fibber McGee of "Fibber McGee and Molly" (1935-1959) fame. He and his real life wife, Marian Driscoll Jordan, would pair together for the rest of their life as comic actors. Born James Edward Jordan in Peoria, Illinois, he met his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Marian Driscoll, in the local church. During World War I, he joined the US Army, and served in France. Upon his return from France and release from the Army, he married Marian on August 31, 1918; they would have two children: Kathryn and James. After doing odd jobs, the couple entered into the relatively new medium of radio in 1920, performing shows and doing small jobs in and around Peoria. In 1927, he and his wife began doing radio shows for Chicago radio station WENR, beginning with the "Luke and Mirandy" farm report, in which Jim played a farmer given to telling tall tales to his ever suffering wife. In the radio comedy "The Smith Family" Marian played the patient Irish wife of an American policeman. In late 1931, the Jordans teamed with writer Donald Quinn, creating the show "Smackout," (1931-1935) for Chicago radio station WMAQ.
The show revolved around a general store, with Jim Jordan playing its proprietor, Luke Gray, with a penchant for telling tall tales, and always lacking whatever his customers wanted to buy; he was always "smack out of it." Marion would play two roles: a customer named Marian and a little girl named Teeny. In 1933, the show was picked up by NBC Radio, and given national coverage, which greatly helped them in their next show. After "Smackout" ended, the team of Quinn and Jordan began a new show, with Jim Jordan continuing his homespun, tall tales storyteller role in "Fibber McGee and Molly."
The program showcased Fibber McGee and his ever patient wife, Molly, as caught between mundane tasks and hare-brained, get-rich-quick schemes, all the while antagonizing as many of their neighbors and friends as possible. Molly would lovingly indulge his foibles and then sooth him and pick up the pieces when his scheme failed. In Depression racked America, the comedy show became a natural hit; yet even after the Great Depression, the show continued to attract listeners up to its end in 1959, as television began to replace radio shows. Some of the show's catch-phrases entered into the American language, including "That ain't the way I heard it," "T'aint funny, McGee!" and "Oh, Heavenly Days!"
The show also introduced what is now one of the most commonly used sound effects: The Closet, as the gag became known, was always stuffed full with things, and when one of the characters would open it's door, an avalanche of items would fall out, always ending with a single item ending the avalanche.
The two Jordans would also play their Fibber McGee characters in four movies: in 1937 they played supporting roles in "This Way, Please" (1937), and when the radio show became especially popular in the early 1940s, they played the leading roles in "Look Who's Laughing" (1941), "Here We Go Again" (1942), and "Heavenly Days" (1944).
From 1953 until its end in 1959, due to Marian Jordan's health problems with cancer, the show was reduced to 15 minutes per episode, so that Marian could rest, but as the couple prepared to sign another radio contract with NBC, Marian suddenly died of her long term battle with cancer in 1961. Jim Jordan remarried the next year, to Gretchen Stewart, who remained with him the rest of his life. Jim Jordan died suddenly in Beverly Hills, California on April 1, 1988 from a blood clot in his brain. The following year, the show "Fibber McGee and Molly" was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Clutch Cargo

Clutch Cargo

Clutch Cargo is an animated television series produced by Cambria Productions and syndicated beginning on March 9, 1959. Notable for its very limited animation, yet imaginative stories, the series was a surprise hit at the time, and could be seen on 65 stations nationwide by 1960.

The stories centered around Clutch Cargo (voiced by radio actor Richard Cotting), described as "a writer and pilot with a muscular build, white hair and rugged good looks". As was typical of adventure serials, Clutch Cargo was sent around the world on dangerous assignments. Accompanying him on the assignments were his young ward Spinner and his pet dachshund, Paddlefoot. Actress Margaret Kerry, who provided the look, style, and movement of Tinker Bell in the 1953 Walt Disney Studios production of Peter Pan, provided both the voices and lips of Spinner and Paddlefoot. Live-action footage of an airplane was used as well, specifically that of a rare 1929 Bellanca C-27 Airbus. The attention to detail shown to the aircraft in the series is no doubt due to the fact that the creator of the series, Clark Haas, was a pioneer jet pilot.

Hal Smith, playing Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show, was the voice of Clutch's grizzled, pith-helmeted friend Swampy, as well as numerous other characters.

In all, 52 Clutch Cargo adventures were produced and then serialized in five five-minute chapters each. The first four chapters naturally ended in cliffhangers, with the fifth chapter concluding the adventure. Haas explained the format of the show: "Each story is done in five five-minute segments so the stations can run one a day on weekdays, then recap the whole for a half-hour Saturday show. It's flexible and works very well."

Because of budgetary limitations and the pressure to create television animation within a tight time frame, the show was the first to use the "Syncro-Vox" optical printing system. Syncro-Vox was invented by television cameraman, and partner in Cambria Studios, Edwin Gillette (1909-2003) as a means of superimposing real human mouths on the faces of animals for the popular "talking animal" commercials of the 1950s. Clutch Cargo employed the Syncro-Vox technique by superimposing live-action human lips over limited-motion animation or even motionless animation cels.

To further cut costs, Gillette and special-effects man, Scotty Tomany supplemented Syncro-Vox with other time- and money-saving tricks. Haas explained, "We are not making animated cartoons. We are photographing 'motorized movement' and — the biggest trick of all — combining it with live action. This enables us to produce film at about one-fifth what it costs Hanna and Barbera. Footage that Disney does for $250,000 we do for $18,000."
Gillette and Tomany simulated action not by animation but in the real-time movement of either the camera or the cel itself. Other live-action shots were superimposed as a means of adding a certain degree of realism and to keep production costs down. For example, footage of real smoke was used for explosions.

Gillette said, "We are constantly discovering new dimensions. We have used real balloons to simulate bubble gum, developed windmills that really turn - mechanically; and Scotty can come up with the darndest snowstorms you've ever seen - on a turning drum. With a camera capable of zooming, walkers that jog, and judicious cutting away from costly animated movement we manage to do things which otherwise would be impossible. With fewer than a dozen men we produce the equivalent of a half-hour film every week."

Occasionally traditional animation was also employed in the series, notably in the episode The Lost Plateau, in which brief segments of animated dinosaurs stood out. The character Paddlefoot, with his scratching and comical movements, was singled out as the most common cause of "skyrocketing" animation costs at Cambria.

The musical soundtrack to Clutch Cargo was, in its own way, as limited, and yet as inventive within those limitations, as the animation. Jazz musician Paul Horn provided a score using nothing more than bongos and a flute.
Haas summed up the lasting appeal of Clutch Cargo: "Let's face it, Clutch is a square. But there's a place for him. One thing about this kind of business: It's fun. That's because what you can do is limited only by your ingenuity."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Featured Today: Richard Widmark

Featured Today: Richard Widmark

Richard Weedt Widmark
26 December 1914 - 24 March 2008

Richard Widmark was one of the movies' all-time great tough guys. A handsome man, he could contort his face into something gruesome, a sneer conveying a ruthless hatred and sadistic intent -- the savagery to do great damage, the lack of conscience to enjoy it, and the clear intelligence to get away with almost anything. Before he was a movie star, Widmark was a movie buff. When he was four, his Scottish grandfather started taking the toddler to silent films, and he became a great fan of star Boris Karloff. As a teen, Widmark could smooth-talk his way out of trouble. He was elected class president in high school, and his intent was to become an attorney. When his college announced plans to stage Counsellor at Law, a then-popular play about a lawyer, the brash Widmark auditioned for the lead. He won the role, and he knew on opening night that playing a lawyer was more enjoyable than being one, so he decided to become an actor instead.

His first role came in 1938, when he joined the cast of Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, a popular daily 15-minute soap opera on the radio. He left that program to star in his own radio drama, as reporter Front Page Farrell. He also provided narration for Gangbusters, a true-crime show. In the late 1970s, long after he became a movie star, Widmark returned to radio as host of CBS Mystery Theatre.
He tried to enlist for service in World War II, but was rejected due to a perforated eardrum. He made his Broadway debut in 1943, but in plays he was always cast as charming, good-natured fellows. Even as his name became familiar on New York marquees, he was more famous and better paid for his radio work.

He cackled with laughter in 1947's Kiss of Death, as he shoved an old, wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. It was his first bad guy, and the director had not wanted Widmark, but his performance overshadowed the lead (Victor Mature) and made him a star. He was Oscar-nominated for the role, but lost -- and amazingly, he was never nominated again.

Over subsequent decades, Widmark perfected his haggard, haunting style, playing numerous psychotics, sons of bitches, and cold-blooded killers. Among his many memorable roles, he played a gangster in The Street with No Name with Ed Begley, Sr., a small-time hood in Night and the City with Gene Tierney, and framed an innocent man in Road House with Cornel Wilde. He triggered a race riot in No Way Out with Sidney Poitier, he played a pickpocket with potentially cataclysmic consequences in Pickup on South Street with Thelma Ritter, and he was the surgeon with a secret in Coma with Michael Douglas.

Proving he did not need to play evil to hold the screen, Widmark was excellent as the doctor battling bubonic plague in Panic in the Streets with Jack Palance, as the heroic Marine in Halls of Montezuma with Palance again, and as the prosecutor in Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg. He was also terrific as the blunt, quick-tempered detective Dan Madigan, in the 1968 movie and a few early-'70s TV sequels.

Perhaps Widmark's finest performance came in The Bedford Incident, a very effective thriller, now generally-forgotten. As the stern commander of a US Navy destroyer on cold war patrol, Widmark's crew detects a Soviet submarine in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and pursues the enemy vessel with dogged determination. In addition to starring, Widmark also produced the film, because he liked its ominous anti-war message.

A longtime liberal and equal rights advocate, Widmark says the only reason he was not blacklisted in the 1950s is because he was "never a joiner", so he had no memberships to disavow. He said he hated his role as the bigoted crook in No Way Out. The script had him saying terrible things to Poitier, and every time the director yelled "cut", Widmark would apologize to his co-star.

He lost the desire to act when his wife of more than fifty years, Jean Hazelwood, became ill in the early 1990s. Two years after her 1997 death, he married Susan Blanchard, the stepdaughter of Oscar Hammerstein and ex-wife of Widmark's longtime friend Henry Fonda. Baseball great Sandy Koufax was Widmark's son-in-law for the decade the Dodger was married to Widmark's daughter, Anne.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What do these celebrities have in common?

What do these celebrities have in common?

Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Johanna "Ann" (née Geilus ) and Frederic "Fritz" Austerlitz (b. September 8, 1868, in Linz, baptised as Friedrich Emanuel Austerlitz) who was a brewer. Astaire's mother was born in the United States to Lutheran German immigrants from East Prussia and Alsace, and Astaire's father was a Catholic of Jewish ancestry; Astaire became an Episcopalian in 1912. He was the younger brother of Adele Astaire.
After arriving in New York City, Astaire's father, hoping to find work in his trade, moved to Omaha, Nebraska and landed a job with the Storz Brewing Company. Astaire's mother dreamed of escaping Omaha by virtue of her children's talents after Adele early on revealed herself to be an instinctive dancer and singer. She envisioned a "brother-and-sister act", which was fairly common to vaudeville at the time. Although Astaire refused dance lessons at first, he easily mimicked his sister's step, and took up piano, accordion, and clarinet.

When their father became suddenly unemployed, the family moved to New York City to launch the show business career of the children. Adele and Astaire had a teasing rivalry but fortunately they quickly acknowledged their individual strengths — his being durability and hers greater overall talent. "Astaire" was a name taken by him and his sister in 1905, when they were taking instruction in dance, speaking, and singing in preparation for developing an act. Family legend attributes it to an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire".

Finally, their first act took shape and was called Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical Toe-Dancing Novelty. In it, Fred wore a top hat and tails in the first half and a lobster outfit in the second. The goofy act debuted in Keyport, New Jersey in a "tryout theater", and the local paper wrote, "the Astaires are the greatest child act in vaudeville."

After a short time, as a result of their father's salesmanship, Fred and Adele landed a major contract and they played the famed Orpheum circuit throughout the United States, including Omaha. Soon Adele grew to at least three inches taller than Fred and the pair began to look incongruous. The family decided to take a two-year break from show business, also to avoid trouble from the Gerry Society and the child labor laws of the time.

Their career resumed with mixed fortunes, though with increasing skill and polish, as they began to incorporate tap dancing into their routines. In this Astaire was inspired by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and John “Bubbles” Sublett. From vaudeville dancer Aurelio Coccia, they learned the tango, waltz, and other ballroom dances popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle.

Some sources state that the Astaire siblings appeared in a 1915 film entitled Fanchon, the Cricket, starring Mary Pickford, but the Astaires have consistently denied this.
While on the hunt for new music and dance ideas, Fred Astaire first met George Gershwin, who was working as a song plugger in Jerome H. Remick's, in 1916. Their chance meeting was to have profound consequences for the subsequent careers of both artists.

Astaire was always on the lookout for new steps he spotted on the circuit and was starting to demonstrate his ceaseless quest for novelty and perfection. Finally, they broke into Broadway with Over The Top (1917), a patriotic revue.

Charlie Chaplin

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977), Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London. His parents were both entertainers in the music hall tradition; his father being a vocalist and an actor and his mother, a singer and an actress. They separated before Charlie was three. He learned singing from his parents. The 1891 census shows that his mother, the actress Hannah Hill, lived with Charlie and his older half-brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth. As a child, Charlie also lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, including 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street and 39 Methley Street. His maternal grandmother was half-Gypsy, a fact of which he was extremely proud, but also described as "the skeleton in our family cupboard". Chaplin's father, Charles Chaplin, Sr., was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his half-brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress, Louise, at 287 Kennington Road where a plaque now commemorates the fact. The half-brothers lived there while their mentally ill mother resided at Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. Chaplin's father's mistress sent the boy to Kennington Road School. His father died of alcoholism when Charlie was twelve in 1901. As of the 1901 Census, Charles resided at 94 Ferndale Road, Lambeth, with The Eight Lancashire Lads, led by John William Jackson (the 17 year old son of one of the founders).

A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother. Hannah's first crisis came in 1894 when she was performing at The Canteen, a theatre in Aldershot. The theatre was mainly frequented by rioters and soldiers. Hannah was badly injured by the objects the audience threw at her and she was booed off the stage. Backstage, she cried and argued with her manager. Meanwhile, the five-year old Chaplin went on stage alone and sang a well-known tune at that time, "Jack Jones".

After Chaplin's mother (who went by the stage name Lilly Harley) was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum, her son was left in the workhouse at Lambeth in south London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell. The young Chaplin brothers forged a close relationship in order to survive. They gravitated to the Music Hall while still very young, and both of them proved to have considerable natural stage talent. Chaplin's early years of desperate poverty were a great influence on his characters. Themes in his films in later years would re-visit the scenes of his childhood deprivation in Lambeth.

Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after having been brought to the U.S. by her sons. Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother. The boy, Wheeler Dryden, was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.

WC Fields

W.C. Fields (29 January 1880 – 25 December 1946), was born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania. His father, James Dukenfield, came from an English-Irish family and it is claimed they were descendants of the lords of the manor of Dukinfield, Cheshire although no proof has been located. Contrary to widely held belief there was never a Lord Dukinfield although some later members of the family were baronets. Coincidentally or otherwise, false claims of royal lineage were recurring themes in several of Fields' films.

Fields's mother, Kate Spangler Felton, was also of British descent. James Dukenfield arrived in the USA in 1857 from Ecclesall Bierlow in Sheffield, South Yorkshire with his father John (who was a comb maker), mother Ann and his siblings. James was identified as a "baker" in the 1860 U.S. census and a "huckster" in the 1870 census, an enterprise in which the young William later assisted.

Fields left home at age 11 (according to most biographies and documentaries) and entered vaudeville. By age 21 he was traveling as a juggling act ('The Eccentric Juggler'), and eventually introduced amusing asides and added increasing amounts of comedy into his act, becoming a headliner in both North America and Europe. In 1906 he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy The Ham Tree.

Fields was well known for embellishing stories of his youth, but despite the legends he encouraged, the truth is that his home seems to have been a relatively happy one and his family supported his ambitions for the stage: his parents saw him off on the train for his first real stage tour as a teenager, and his father visited him in England while Fields was enjoying success in the music halls there.

Fields was known to his friends as "Bill". Edgar Bergen also called him "Bill" in the radio shows (Charlie McCarthy, of course, called him by other names). In Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, in which Fields played himself, his 'niece' called him "Uncle Bill", and in one scene introduced himself, "I'm W.C., uh, Bill Fields." In films in which he was portrayed as having a son, he sometimes named the character "Claude", after his own son. (Fields himself was also called "Claude" by friends sometimes.) In England he was sometimes billed as "Wm. C. Fields", presumably to avoid controversy due to "W.C." being the British abbreviation/euphemism for 'Water Closet', although it might be safely assumed that the earthy Fields was amused by the coincidence. His public use of initials instead of a first name was a commonplace formality of the era in which Fields grew up. That "W.C. Fields" more easily fit onto a marquee than "W. Dukenfield" undoubtedly was a factor in his choice of a stage name.

Cary Grant

Cary Grant (18 January 1904 – 29 November 1986), Archibald Alec Leach was born in Horfield, Bristol, England in 1904 to Elsie Maria Kingdom and Elias Leach. An only child, he had a confused and unhappy childhood, attending Bishop Road Primary School. His father placed his mother in a mental institution when he was nine and his mother never overcame her depression after the death of a previous child. His father had told him that she had gone away on a "long holiday" and it was not until he was in his thirties that Leach discovered her still alive, living in an institutionalized care facility.

He was expelled from the Fairfield Grammar School in Bristol in 1918. He subsequently joined the "Bob Pender stage troupe" and travelled with the group to the United States as a stilt walker in 1920, on a two-year tour of the country. When the troupe returned to England, he decided to stay in the US and continue his stage career.

Still under his birth name, he performed on the stage at The Muny in St. Louis, Missouri, in such shows as Irene (1931); Music in May (1931); Nina Rosa (1931); Rio Rita (1931); Street Singer (1931); The Three Musketeers (1931); and Wonderful Night (1931).

Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov (16 April 1921 – 28 March 2004), was born in Swiss Cottage, London. His father, Iona (Jona) Baron von Ustinov, also called "Klop", was of Russian, German and Ethiopian noble descent, and had served as a lieutenant in the German Air Force in World War I, worked as a press officer at the German Embassy in London in the 1930s, and was a reporter for a German news agency. In 1935 he began working for the British intelligence service MI5 and became a British citizen, thus avoiding internment or deportation during the war. (Peter Wright mentions in his book Spycatcher that Klop was possibly the spy known as U35; Ustinov says in his autobiography that his father hosted secret meetings of senior British and German officials at their London home.) Ustinov's great-grandfather Moritz Hall, a Jewish refugee from Krakow, and later a convert and collaborator of Swiss and German missionaries in Ethiopia, married into a German-Ethiopian family.

Ustinov's mother, Nadia (Nadezhda) Leontievna Benois, was a painter and ballet designer of Russian, French and Italian ancestry. Her father Leon Benois was an imperial Russian architect and owner of Leonardo da Vinci's painting Madonna Benois. His brother Alexandre Benois was a stage designer who worked with Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Their paternal ancestor Jules-César Benois was a chef who had left France for St Petersburg during the French Revolution and became a chef to Tsar Paul.

Ustinov was educated at Westminster School and had a difficult childhood because of his parents' constant fighting. While at school he considered anglicizing his name to "Peter Austin" but was counselled against it by a fellow pupil who said that he should “Drop the ‘von’ but keep the ‘Ustinov’”. After training as an actor in his late teens, along with early attempts at playwriting, he made his stage début in 1938 at the Players' Theatre, becoming quickly established. He later wrote, "I was not irresistibly drawn to the drama. It was an escape road from the dismal rat race of school."

ANSWER: ...They are all left handed...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Quiet Man (1952)

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

The Quiet Man (1952)
The Quiet Man is a 1952 American romantic drama film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Victor McLaglen and Barry Fitzgerald. It was based on a 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story by Maurice Walsh. The film is notable for its lush photography of the Irish countryside and the long, climactic, semi-comic fist fight between Wayne and McLaglen.

Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an Irish-American from Pittsburgh, returns to Ireland to reclaim his family's farm in Innisfree. He meets and falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara), the spinster sister of the bullying, loud-mouthed landowner "Red" Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). Danaher, angry that Sean outbid him for the land adjacent to his property, initially refuses to sanction the marriage until several town locals, including the parish priest, conspire to trick him into believing that the wealthy Widow Tillane wants to marry him, but only if Mary Kate is no longer living in the house. After learning the truth on Sean and Mary Kate's wedding day, an enraged Will refuses to give his sister her full dowry.

Sean, unschooled in Irish customs, cares nothing about the dowry, but Mary Kate is obsessed with obtaining it, the dowry representing her independence, identity, and pride. Angered and shamed by Sean's refusal to confront her brother and demand what is legally hers, she brands him a coward, and, despite living together, they are estranged as husband and wife. The truth about Sean, however, is known only to one other person in the village, the Church of Ireland minister "Snuffy" Playfair (Arthur Shields). Sean is a former boxer in the United States, a heavy weight champion known as "Trooper Thorn." After accidentally killing an opponent in the ring, Sean hung up his gloves, vowing never to fight again.
Later, in an attempt to force Sean to confront Red, Mary Kate leaves him and boards a train departing the village, although she continually looks around to see if he is coming after her. Infuriated, Sean arrives and drags her off the train, and, followed by the townspeople, forces her to walk the five miles to Red's farm. Sean demands that Red hand over her dowry. Red finally relents and gives him the cash, but to his horror, Mary Kate and Sean throw it into a furnace, showing that Mary Kate never cared about the money, but only that Sean stand up for his wife. Sean and Will slug it out through the village, stop for a drink, brawl again, then become best friends. Sean regains Mary Kate's love and respect, Red and the Widow Tillane begin courting, and all is well, at least in Innisfree.