New Book: We’re proud to announce the first-ever pictorial review of the classic John Barrymore swashbucklers. These productions energetically displayed the talents of “America’s Finest Actor” and remain among the most captivating adventure films ever made:
This large 8.5×11 inch volume displays rare posters, photos, programs, and even paintings by Barrymore himself, in full color:
Before the Academy Awards were instituted, top films of the year were recognized by other organizations. Here Rudolph Valentino presented his own Valentino Award to John Barrymore for BEAU BRUMMEL (1924):
Rare lobby cards restored to their original colors are among the highlights of the book such as this one from THE SEA BEAST (1926), Barrymore’s first version of MOBY DICK:
Our book features vintage souvenir programs such as this from DON JUAN (1926):
Lost and Found: THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927), one of the most imaginative films made by Hollywood during the 1920s was considered lost for decades but is now on DVD and streaming video:
John Barrymore would not be the only star of swashbucklers – think Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, among others – but Barrymore was the only star whose films spanned both the silent and sound film eras. Here is his first talkie, GENERAL CRACK (1930):
Jack reprised his role of Captain Ahab in THE SEA BEAST talkie remake, MOBY DICK (1930) with Joan Bennett:
The back cover of our book with a painting of John Barrymore from TEMPEST (1928), a story of the Russian Revolution:
Bonus material includes 3-D photos and a link to Barrymore’s 1937 radio broadcast of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. Our book is available exclusively from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle ebook editions:
Colin Clive (1900-1937) is forever immortalized as Henry Frankenstein in the first two Universal FRANKENSTEIN films. His real forte as an actor was playing angst-ridden neurotics – meaning that he was perfectly cast as Henry Frankenstein – and when portraying a driven nervous energy character he didn’t seem to be acting. Much has been written about Colin’s health issues including a tubercular condition and alcoholism that eventually brought him to an early death. But here we’d like to celebrate his unique persona and compelling voice that made him so unforgettable even though his career was relatively brief. As you scroll down to the images, listen to his rare “lost” radio performance of November 14, 1935. Colin is introduced by host Rudy Vallee:
Colin takes a tea break with co-star Valerie Hobson on the set of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). They seem to be in the middle of filming their first scene when Henry Frankenstein is brought back home on a stretcher and his fiance Elizabeth believes that he is dead:
Universal publicists were eager to take a number of photos of Colin and Boris Karloff taking breaks on the BRIDE set:
A playful Colin hugs Valerie Hobson somewhere on the backlot of Universal during the making of BRIDE during January-February 1935:
Another BRIDE publicity shot – the Monster is supposed to hate fire but perhaps that doesn’t apply to lighting his cigarettes:
When Colin worked for 20th Century Pictures in late 1934, the studio did a publicity shoot at his apartment at the Hollywood Tower located on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles:
At Warner Bros. filming THE KEY (1934), a story of the Irish Rebellion. To Colin’s right are director Michael Curtiz and the film’s star William Powell:
Colin and girlfriend Iris Lancaster out on the town circa 1935. It is believed that Iris paid the expenses of his funeral. She worked as an actress in films until 1944 and thereafter vanished from public life:
On the roof of the Hollywood Tower (still in operation today offering luxury apartments), Colin looks out over the LA landscape towards the “Hollywood” sign in the distance:
If you are only familiar with Colin’s work in the FRANKENSTEIN films, you definitely will want to check out his performances in CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933) with Katharine Hepburn, MAD LOVE (1935) with Peter Lorre and Frances Drake, and HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937). with Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer.
When the First World War ended in November 1918, the public was not only sick of war, they were sick of movies about the war. It’s no exaggeration to say that the last few war movies released at the end of 1918 and early 1919 died the proverbial death of a dog at the box office. For many years thereafter Hollywood wouldn’t touch a war story. But the public’s mood was changing by the mid-1920s and the world war was beginning to be placed in an historic perspective as folks moved on with their lives – or tried to. The newly-formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided the time had arrived to produce a new film every bit as epic as its subject:
Perhaps due to the recent Academy Award-winning film, THE ARTIST (2012) – which is only the second SILENT film to ever win the Best Picture Oscar – a new gold standard has been established for the home video release of silent films with the release a few weeks ago of THE BIG PARADE on both DVD and Blu-ray in HD. To set the film’s mood, click below to hear the 1926 recording, “My Dream of the Big Parade.”
The sixteen pages that follow comprise the complete original souvenir program of THE BIG PARADE when it premiered in 1925. Click on each image to enlarge:
Hopefully, support for the Blu-ray release of THE BIG PARADE will encourage more state-of-the-art releases on home video of landmark silent films. I bought my copy from Amazon (below) but this film is widely available from many retailers both online and brick-and-mortar:
Mary Pickford (1892-1979) was a multi-talented film star and producer, a founding partner of United Artists in 1919, and a co-founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927. For all of that, she was a wonderfully unassuming person and everyone who ever met her instantly liked her. On May 25, 1959, Mary gave this wide-ranging interview at her legendary home, Pickfair, located near Los Angeles. She discussed her early life and family in Toronto, her start in films, and her impressions of many of the greats she worked with including D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, Ernst Lubitsch, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and others. Click below to spend 45 minutes with one of the most accomplished women of the 20th century:
Mary began appearing in films in 1909 and quite a number of her early films survive. Below, a still from ESMERALDA (1915), one of the lost ones:
Mary’s younger brother Jack became a silent screen star in his own right but his troubled private life was riddled with substance abuse and he would not fulfill his early potential. Mary helped Jack in every way she could:
Pickford was tireless in her fundraising efforts to sell war bonds during America’s involvement in the First World War. This extended to her making propaganda films to support the war effort such as this 1918 release:
Mary speaks about director Cecil B. DeMille in our interview. She made two films for him, THE LITTLE AMERICAN and A ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS (both 1917), but the collaboration was not a happy one:
Despite widespread resentment against Germany and Germans after the First World War, Mary brought famed German director Ernst Lubitsch to Hollywood to direct her in his first American film. But Mary was used to directing her director by then and the film, ROSITA (1923), was an unhappy experience as she observes in the interview:
ROSITA was a departure from Mary’s screen character and she went further in the plush costume drama, DOROTHY VERNON OF HADDON HALL (1924), based on a popular novel of the time:
The arrival of sound films in the late 1920s shook the status quo of the studios but Mary won the Best Actress Academy Award for her first talkie and most financially successful film, COQUETTE (1929):
Mary co-starred with her husband Doug Fairbanks Sr. for his talkie debut in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1929):
Mary pursued numerous projects during the 1930s including radio broadcasting. Here she runs through the script with bandleader Al Lyon, director of the Coconut Grove Orchestra, for the debut of Mary’s show, Parties At Pickfair, on February 9, 1936:
Mary was able to obtain top film stars for her show including Errol Flynn:
Mary Pickford received a second, special Academy Award in 1976, which was presented to her at Pickfair. She passed away in 1979 and was survived by her third husband, actor and bandleader Charles “Buddy” Rogers, whom she married in 1937 following her divorce from Fairbanks. Despite her plans for turning Pickfair into a museum as she discusses in the interview, after her death it was eventually sold to Pia Zadora in 1988, who had it torn down claiming termite infestation. Years later, Zadora stated that Pickfair wasn’t razed due to termites, but because of ghosts.
Can this smiling lad really be Bing Crosby? This Bing is a far cry from the elderly gent who sang “The Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie, not to mention “White Christmas.” The older Bing looked like a man who disapproved of parties, while the young Bing looked like a guy who loved parties. Bing Crosby (1903-1977) would emerge as an iconic figure in the entertainment world during the 1940s through the 1970s. He wore his icon status pretty well, but I think it also wore him out. That’s a whole different story. Instead, let’s travel back in time to the 1930s when Bing just wanted to be a popular singer, not an icon.
Devoted Crosby fans will let you in on a little secret: Bing sang his best during the 1930s and, not only that, but he sang in a higher key and took chances. His singing style became “branded” in the 1940s when he adopted a lower register. For example, if you’ve heard “White Christmas,” you can almost guess his approach to most other songs from the 40s on. The public of that day loved it and loved him too but remember, all those people became fans of Bing Crosby during the 1930s and never stopped. Picking up the Crosby story in his later years, which is how most folks know of him today, is like starting a novel in the middle of the book. So what was all the excitement about? Your blogmeister is happy to show you.
Let’s hear Bing’s very first radio broadcast from September 2, 1931. Bing sings but never speaks and the announcer (Harry von Zell) mentions that Bing’s radio debut had been postponed because of laryngitis. But the truth is that he was scared to death to go on the air. It was a monumental case of “mike fright” but he eventually conquered it – Bing would broadcast every week from 1931 to 1962!
Just click on the link below to hear a 28 year-old Bing Crosby sing three of his biggest hits of 1931. His first song nicely sums up the theme of this post: “Just One More Chance.”
Bing made his first recording in 1926 with a pal from his native Washington State, Al Rinker. The following year the great Paul Whiteman, the proverbial “King of Jazz,” hired Bing and Al for his big band and dubbed them “The Rhythm Boys.” Adding pianist-singer-songwriter Harry Barris to the group, the Rhythm Boys became popular recording artists with Bing clearly spotlighted as the star. When the Boys went their separate ways in 1931, Bing signed on with Gus Arnheim’s Coconut Grove Orchestra at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and became a west coast sensation. Here is one of the most popular sides that Bing made with Arnheim, with quick tempo changes that are still remarkable. Incidentally, future film star Fred MacMurray is playing the sax, and Bing’s ill-fated rival, Russ Columbo, is violinist.
“I Surrender Dear” Victor 22618, recorded January 19, 1931:
By 1932, Bing was being starred in feature-length films but with plenty of other talent onboard as box office insurance. In fact, Bing would thereafter add one, two or even three co-stars to his films. His first film also started a two-decades long relationship with Paramount Pictures: THE BIG BROADCAST highlighted Bing’s established hit recording of “Please.” Here is that record with Bing backed by Anson Weeks’ Orchestra, with future band leader Xavier Cugat on the violin.
“Please” Brunswick 6226, recorded September 16, 1932:
The Great Depression had a devastating effect on record sales. Many big name recording artists could no longer command the big salaries they had earned just a couple of years earlier. Bing was one of a handful of reliably profitable recording stars in the early 1930s but just as he enhanced his films with popular co-stars, he did the same thing with records by cutting sides with Duke Ellington, the Boswell Sisters, Guy Lombardo, the Mills Brothers, and others who were best-selling recording artists in their own right. Perhaps as a sign of his status, sheet music offered Bing in expensive color covers:
Bing’s weekly radio program was heard by as many as 50 million people and helped promote his new records and his new movies. He became a much more confident broadcaster especially when it is remembered that everything he did on the air went out live. This photo circa 1937 shows Bing when he was hosting the Kraft Music Hall:
Finally, let’s listen to a full-length 30-minute show that kicked off Bing’s 1934-35 season on the air. Although he played a romantic eligible bachelor in his movies, Bing is very proud to discuss his twins that were born over that summer:
Woodbury Broadcast September 18, 1934
For more info on Bing, your blogmeister has three recommendations. First, you should visit Bing’s official website http://www.BingCrosby.com that is authorized by the Crosby family. Bing also has a Facebook page with over 94,000 members.
Second, I can highly recommend Gary Giddins’ thoroughly researched and beautifully written biography, BING CROSBY, A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS: THE EARLY YEARS 1903-1940, published by Little, Brown.
Third, and this just in, a few days ago the Warners Archive released Bing’s 1933 hit film, GOING HOLLYWOOD (1933), co-starring Marion Davies. This MGM musical shows the Crosby persona long before he played Father O’Malley in GOING MY WAY!
Last year we paid tribute to those Yankee Doodle Boys James Cagney and George M. Cohan (it’s still available on this blog if you missed it). This year we recognize another Red, White, and Blue American – Will Rogers (1879-1935). Born and raised in Oklahoma before it became a state, Will was part Native American and would quip to the Blue Book 400, “Your ancestors might have come over on the “Mayflower,” but mine were standing on the shore waiting to greet them.” You just gotta love a guy like that!
Will Rogers became famous in the Ziegfeld Follies during the 1910s, along with Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Marion Davies, and Eddie Cantor, among others. Before that he traveled the world exhibiting his cowboy riding and roping tricks, first touring in South Africa around 1902. As the new century progressed, Rogers adapted his laconic style successfully to every new media: silent films, radio, and talkies. He eventually left off his cowboy routine and focused on his folksy wit and wisdom.
Even FDR cracked up when Will Rogers observed, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
One of Will’s earliest silent films was based on Washington Irving’s famous tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Retitled, THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN, this 1922 silent film was a good vehicle to showcase Will’s personality and is available today on DVD:
Playing Ichabod Crane, Will had to submerge his ingratiating personality to be faithful to the prig character created by author Irving. Still, his winning ways came through as the this frame grab suggests:
The role of Katrina Van Tassel was charmingly played by Lois Meredith, a New York-based actress:
This well-known story of Americana was filmed on location in the Hudson River Valley, New York, near where Irving had lived and wrote in Tarrytown. THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN is historically important as the first feature film to use the new panchromatic film stock. Unlike the old orthochromatic film stock that did not photograph certain colors such as blue, and missed clouds entirely (with clear skies looking gray), panchromatic film brought out all the details as these frame grabs indicate:
The story’s climax where Ichabod meets up with the title character is well-handled in an early Halloween frightful style. Faithful to the Irving original, Crane vanishes from Sleepy Hollow thereafter, but word would come that he had established himself quite well elsewhere.
Will Rogers made many silent films although most of his earliest ones, such as LAUGHING BILL HYDE (1918), are lost. During the 1920s, he decided to finance his own series of two-reel comedies but went broke doing it. Happily, when sound films came along in 1929, Will became a huge film star thereafter.
Now let’s hear Will Rogers speak for himself in this April 21, 1935 radio broadcast that sounds very much like our own political situation today – our Government is spending money faster than it can take it in and everybody has a plan to fix it. Although we have restored the sound somewhat, it’s a bit rough to our 21st century ears but Will’s insights are right up to date. Will talks extemporaneously with only a few speaking points to guide him so his style of speaking may take a minute or so to get use to. Enjoy the full ten minutes!
This time we turn the spotlight on Al Jolson (1886-1950) who by sheer force of his personality became known as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” It’s said that he bestowed the title on himself but the point is that nobody disputed it.
There were four great male pop singers during the 20th century and in chronological order they were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. They all excelled in singing love songs but two of them were gentlemen – Crosby and Presley – and two of them were tough guys – Jolson and Sinatra:
Al isn’t glaring at the camera in this production shot from WONDER BAR (1934). His scorn is directed towards an off-camera Ricardo Cortez who plays a gigolo in the story:
The New York premiere of THE SINGING KID in April 1936. Al is partially hidden behind the microphone while Mrs. Jack Oakie speaks into it as her husband looks on. On the left is none other than Ruth Roland, the serial queen of the silent screen. After retiring from films, Ruth made a fortune in real estate. No wonder she’s smiling!
Jolson played only one historical role in films – other than himself, that is. Al’s characterization of E.P. Christy, the minstrel man of the 19th century, won critical praises and stole the show. That’s Don Ameche as Stephen Foster and Andrea Leeds as his long-suffering wife in the Technicolor production, SWANEE RIVER (1939):
Jolson was active in the Republican Party during the 1920s, campaigning for Warren Harding and even writing a song for him. Here Al visits President Calvin Coolidge at the White House in October 1924:
Al was a sportsman and proudly displays his day’s catch:
A deleted scene from ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE (1939), a nostalgic musical of the 1920s, which even in 1939 seemed like a long time ago:
Al and his third wife Ruby Keeler in 1929, singing songs over the air to promote his new film, SAY IT WITH SONGS:
After Broadway and Hollywood, Jolson became a major radio star during the 1930s and thereafter. But what’s the point in talking about Al – let’s listen to him. Click below to hear the Colgate Tooth Powder Show of January 5, 1943. Right smack in the middle of the Second World War, this show has plenty of jokes to keep up morale in dealing with the wartime challenges of rationing and shortages. Broadcast live from New York City, Al’s guest, Monty Woolley (The Man Who Came To Dinner) was such a hit that he became a regular on the show. Al performs a terrific medley of George Gershwin songs at the end:
All of the Jolson movies mentioned in this post are now available on DVD. Of course, the film that Al is primarily remembered for, THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), is also out on Blu-ray. Check ‘em out!
This site was established almost two years ago and dedicated to transforming old b/w photos of Old Hollywood into color by using modern software. Now we’re ready to take the next step by adding computer-generated 3D to our color transfers. Last month we inaugurated this process on our sister site, ArlissArchives.com by unveiling the first-ever 3D images of George Arliss. Similar to the extremely limited use of color photography in Old Hollywood, unfortunately the studios of that era also did not participate in the popularity of 3D or stereoscopic photography. That task is bequeathed to us in the 21st century. Today there are several different 3D processes but here we are using an original low-tech version that dates back to the 19th century. It is based on an optical illusion to trick our brain into believing it is seeing an object from two slightly different perspectives, hence the illusion of depth perception. Let’s start off with a very chic Myrna Loy circa 1935:
If you see only two identical images of Myrna and no 3D effect, then you either need to use a viewer device or learn the simple knack of “free viewing.” The easiest way to obtain a viewer is to find one of the many books on old stereoscopic slides because these volumes include a simple fold-up plastic or cardboard viewer. Check your public library. Your blogmeister dispenses with using viewers (the “training wheels” of 3D) and relies on the technique of free viewing using only, pardon the expression, my naked eyes. Let’s give the 3D treatment to Rudolph Valentino in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924):
To try free viewing, you need to guide each eye to focus on only one of the two images: the right eye on the right image, the left eye on the left image. At first your eyes won’t cooperate so by using the edge of your hand extended from your forehead to the tip of your nose, your hand will block the right eye from seeing the left image and vice versa with the left eye. A piece of cardboard or a business envelope will work as well as your hand. The next step is to relax and look “through” the images and you will notice (with a little patience) that the images start moving together to form one image. Once they fully merge you’re in 3D. Try it with Myrna and Rudy (each should line up easily) or give Strongheart and Lady Julie below (circa 1925) a try:
You’ll want to experiment with moving the images, i.e., the screen, anywhere from 9 to 13 inches from your eyes until the images start moving together. Also, smaller image size works easier than larger sizes so you if the images are not fully merging together, adjust your screen to make the images smaller. After a little trial and error, you’ll find a size and a focal length that works for you. Here is a photo that begged for 3D – Lon Chaney Sr. as Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923):
Once you’ve experienced the 3D effect of free viewing, you’ll know what to look for and subsequent 3D images will come through faster. Here, the Russian Revolution is about the break out in TEMPEST (1928) but Louis Wolheim (top) and John Barrymore find time to horse around in this photo that seems designed for 3D:
This photo has a lovely scenic perspective that enhances a 3D view – June Collyer and George Arliss on the set of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) wait for nightfall to film an outdoor scene:
Since today (April 1st) is Lon Chaney’s birthday (1883), here he is again with Norma Shearer in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), the very first film produced by the then-newly organized Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Shearer and Chaney remained top stars at MGM, Norma until her retirement in 1942, and Lon until his death in 1930:
It may be unkind to note that W.C. Fields’ nose always seemed to be in 3D even in 2D photos. At any rate, here’s an unusual portrait of Mr. Fields sporting a middle eastern look:
Gloria Swanson and her co-star Rudolph Valentino pause in filming a scene for BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922). This film represents the only pairing of these two iconic stars and was considered a “lost” work for decades until a nearly-complete print turned up in the Netherlands just a few years ago and is now on DVD. Ironically, this scene below was among the missing footage in the rediscovered print:
This striking portrait of Lon Chaney in character for SHADOWS (1922) seems to anticipate 3D:
Clara Bow personified the “Roaring Twenties” perhaps more than anyone else. She was dubbed the “It Girl” and everybody under 90 knew what that referred to, and maybe people over 90 too. Some of her films were considered risque but her studio, Paramount, cancelled her contract in 1931 – even after her successful transition to talkies – when her private life was found to be racier than her films:
Finally, before Hepburn & Tracy, Lombard & Gable, or Rogers & Astaire, there was Garbo & Gilbert, that is Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. They ignited the screen in films such as FLESH AND THE DEVIL, LOVE (both 1927), A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928), and the talkie QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933). Not surprisingly, they were lovers in real life, at least for a time in the late 1920s. Here is an iconic image of them from FLESH AND THE DEVIL given both the color and the 3D treatment:
Future posts here will continue to be in color (the raison d’etre for this site) but we’ll be more sparing in using 3D. The stereographic effect is more welcome as a novelty from time to time than as a constant component of photos, or movies for that matter. Perhaps those folks back in Old Hollywood knew this all along.
Some months ago your blogmeister posted a thread called “Silent Screen Stars on Radio” that proved very popular. I promised a possible sequel so here it is. Radio during the 1930s became a veritable haven for silent screen stars, regardless of whether they were successful in talkies. Let’s start our tour with one the most popular stars of the silent screen, Norma Talmadge. Norma made only two talkies then decided to retire from the screen in 1930 with her wealth intact. Here is Norma in her final film, DUBARRY, WOMAN OF PASSION (1930):
She was married to George Jessel for several years during the ’30s and appeared with him on his weekly variety show, “Thirty Minutes in Hollywood.” Legend claims that Norma left sound films because of a pronounced Brooklyn accent but fortunately her radio work vindicates her vocally. Here Norma co-stars with Gilbert Roland in her first talkie, NEW YORK NIGHTS (1929):
Let’s listen to an excerpt from the March 6, 1938 broadcast with Jessel and a ten-year singing prodigy, Josephine, who asks Norma about her film career:
Gloria Swanson was one of the greatest stars of the 1920s and her transition to talkies was not only successful but revealed her excellent singing voice. However, times were changing quickly in the early 1930s and the fickle public shifted its attention to newer attractions. La Swanson produced her own films and by 1934 she realized it was time to move on to other pursuits. But she was never gone from the public scene for very long, which may explain her spectacular return to films in SUNSET BLVD. in 1950. Here is Gloria making a very early broadcast circa 1928:
Let’s join Gloria as guest on Eddie Cantor’s show on March 9, 1938. This being a live broadcast, the performers keep rolling, mistakes and all:
Now for something completely different. Conrad Veidt was one of the most popular international stars during the silent film era, first gaining notice in the groundbreaking THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919). Connie, as he was called, traveled from Germany to Hollywood in 1926 at the request of John Barrymore, who wanted him to play the crafty King Louis XI in Barrymore’s new epic, THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927). Here is an original autographed portrait of Connie taken about the same time:
Veidt returned to his native Germany in 1929 where he continued his career, by then starring in sound films, until he fled his homeland in 1933 with the rise of Hitler. His career continued uninterrupted in Britain, though he struggled mightily to learn English, and eventually returned to Hollywood in 1940 where he donated most of his earnings to the American and British war effort. One of his most impressive films at that time was A WOMAN’S FACE (1941) with Joan Crawford in the title role:
Connie said that this film was his favorite, even more so than CALIGARI, and described his role as “Satan in a tuxedo.” The public agreed because he was asked to recreate his film role not once but twice on radio. Here is the first broadcast, a half-hour version from April 19, 1942, with Bette Davis playing the Joan Crawford role, and Bette’s old co-star from her early days at Warner Bros., Warren William. All three stars donated their salaries to the Motion Picture Relief Fund:
The great director D.W. Griffith was rarely heard on radio but made an exception when another great director, Cecil B. DeMille, asked him to appear on DeMille’s show, Lux Radio Theater. The 1930s were a difficult time for Griffith although he was regarded by the film industry as the most influential of the pioneer filmmakers. He was given a special Academy Award but would have much preferred to be given a film to direct instead. No doubt he would have been pleased with this commemorative stamp issued in his honor decades later:
Let’s join D.W. on June 29, 1936 as Cecil B. DeMille welcomes him:
Marion Davies is remembered today as the mistress of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and as the inspiration for the character of Susan Alexander, the untalented mistress of Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941). Welles would spend his later years explaining that he felt Marion Davies was one of the most talented stars of Hollywood, in both silent and sound films, and he made the Susan Alexander character untalented so nobody could claim that she was suppose to be Marion, but alas, it didn’t work out that way.
Let’s hear Cecil B. DeMille again as he converses with Marion Davies and Brian Aherne at the conclusion of the November 29, 1937 Lux broadcast of PEG O’ MY HEART that Marion had made as a film in 1931. I believe this broadcast turned out to be her last professional appearance, after having made what proved to be her final film earlier in the year. Also, it was said that Marion spoke with a stammer, something that was never heard in any of her sound films. However, you can hear that she is having some difficulty getting through her scripted remarks:
Finally, we have not one but two Barrymores, John and Lionel. The brothers started making films back in 1912 and possibly earlier, to supplement their theater earnings. By the 1920s, the Barrymore Brothers were starring on the New York stage and in big budget films too, although they worked separately during the silent era. Here is one of their joint stage appearances in 1919 in THE JEST, which F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalized in his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
John in one of his spectacular swashbucklers of the silent screen:
The talkies held no fear for either Lionel or John, in fact Lionel directed as well as starred in them. Alas, this talkie comedy from 1930, with John and a very young Loretta Young, is lost:
By the early 1940s each of the Barrymore Brothers had his own weekly radio show but Lionel also made guest appearances on John’s Sealtest Show, which headlined Rudy Vallee, who was responsible for hiring John for the show:
The Sealtest Show was a slapstick comedy series where the stars and guests were satirized. But just to let listeners know it was all in fun, John and Lionel took time out to perform a scene from Shakespeare’s RICHARD III. Here Rudy Vallee introduces the scene on the May 1, 1941 broadcast:
I passed over shows with all-but-forgotten silent screen stars such as Bert Lytell and Aileen Pringle but just let your ol’ blogmeister know of any requests. And thanks for stopping by.
Today, the name Warner Oland (1879-1938) is synonymous with Charlie Chan, the fictional Honolulu detective created by Earl Derr Biggers. But Mr. Oland was much more than a talented character actor. He spoke several languages and, with his wife Edith, made the first English language translations of plays by August Strindberg. Born in Sweden, his family emigrated to the United States when Warner was 13 years old. He gravitated from the stage to films in the 1910s and first attracted attention playing the villain in Pearl White’s legendary movie serial, THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1914).
In those days the craft of acting included the ability to credibly portray characters of different nationalities or ethnic origins, and even different races. We are much more parochial today about these things but Warner Oland was the first actor to successfully portray a Chinese hero in American films. How successful? He starred in seventeen Charlie Chan films at 20th Century-Fox from 1931 through 1937 (technically, 18 films if we count an uncompleted one begun in January 1938 but abandoned as Warner’s health deteriorated).
Boris Karloff co-starred with Warner in CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA (1936)
Warner had already established himself in a variety of ethnic roles during the silent film era, most notably as Cantor Rabinowitz in THE JAZZ SINGER (1927). He also impersonated an Austrian Archduke in the lavish DON Q, SON OF ZORRO (1925):
DON JUAN (1926), the first feature film to use synchronized sound, had Warner in the historical role of Cesare Borgia. Here is Warner on the DON JUAN set with Montagu Love on the right, and seated left to right, Helene Costello, Estelle Taylor, and Myrna Loy:
Elaborately costumed as an unscrupulous Frenchman in WHEN A MAN LOVES (1927):
By 1929, sound films revealed Warner to have a rich and soulful voice. Here he plays an American gangster in THE MIGHTY (1929) with Raymond Hatton (standing) and George Bancroft:
By 1931, Warner switched tracks from villain to hero with CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON, one of four lost Chans. The film became an unexpected hit and the second film in the series, THE BLACK CAMEL (also 1931), was actually filmed in Hawaii. Here, Warner looks as menacing towards Dorothy Revier as Bela Lugosi in THE BLACK CAMEL:
Offscreen, Warner was a doting papa to his schnauzer Raggedy Ann:
Back at work, Warner takes time out for a Ouija Board on the set of CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET (1936), a story that involved spiritualism and seances:
Producer John Stone (left) confers with director H. Bruce Humberstone as Warner and William Demerest listen on the set of CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA (1936):
Two visiting Chinese doctors on their way to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore stop by the set of OPERA to check Warner’s pulse:
Author Earl Derr Biggers wrote six Chan novels and based Charlie Chan on a real life Honolulu detective named Chang Apana. Warner met Apana when he was in Hawaii filming THE BLACK CAMEL. It’s worth noting that Warner Oland admired Charlie Chan because the character had many qualities that Warner lacked. Chan was a non-smoker and a teetotler whereas Warner was a heavy smoker and (later) a heavy drinker. Chan had eleven children but Warner, who liked kids, was childless. Eventually, Warner remained in the character of Chan even when not filming and signed his name on legal documents as Chan.
Keye Luke played Chan’s son Lee in several of the later Oland entries in the series, here in OPERA. The two actors became good friends offscreen:
Celebrity-endorsed products are nothing new. Here is Warner and apparently Charlie Chan recommending the new 1938 Desoto:
Today, many of Warner’s films, silent and sound, are readily available on DVD including all of his surviving Charlie Chans.