As the Great Depression took its toll in the early 1930s, film studios on both sides of the Atlantic came up with new marketing ideas to stem the tide of declining box office revenues. An idea that found favor with millions of cigarette smokers of that era were little premiums, about half the size of a typical baseball trading card, of prominent movie stars of the day. Each card was included in a pack of cigarettes and displayed a small but elegant drawing in color and a surprisingly frank biographical sketch reciting the star’s real name, humble origins and previous marriages.
The cards were meant to be collectors’ items and indeed many people did just that. The cards displayed here were printed by the British tobacconist John Player as part of its 1933 series. A special book was available by which fans could mount these cards as they would with a typical photo album.
Although talking pictures had brought many new personalities to the public’s attention, the stars included in this post had been well-established silent film stars and extended their popularity for many years and even decades thereafter.
Gary Cooper so successfully straddled the generations from the 1920s through the end of the 1950s that many of his younger fans were unaware that he was once a silent film heartthrob.
As the bio notes, Jean Harlow first attracted attention in silent films and appeared in several films with Laurel and Hardy.
Ramon Novarro was Ben-Hur to movie fans from 1925 until Charlton Heston took over the role in the 1959 remake.
Norma Shearer had quite a following by the late 1920s but her screen personality adopted to talkies effortlessly and she continued as a top star until she chose to retire in 1942.
William Haines gained popularity as a wisecracking boy-next-door type of character. In time he became more interested in a career as an interior decorator. Indeed, many of his former co-stars hired him to remodel their homes. His career as a leading man must have seem like it was in another lifetime because for decades he was known as “Billy Haines, Decorator to the Stars.”
Carole Lombard first attracted attention in the silent film comedies of Mack Sennett in the late 1920s. With sound she proved herself as both a dramatic actress and as a comedienne. Her tragic death in a 1942 plane crash while selling War Bonds has tended to obscure her fine films.
Jack Holt was a rugged type who seemed convincing simply because he actually lived the life of many characters he played. He was always an audience favorite from the silent era up through the early 1950s.
June 11, 1939: the British colony in Hollywood prepare to broadcast their welcome to the King and Queen of Great Britain on their first visit to the United States. From left to right are Greer Garson, Leslie Howard, George Sanders in the rear having a smoke, Vivien Leigh hiding her smoke under her script, Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, and Basil Rathbone:
It is was said that Ronald Colman’s voice was so beautiful that he could attract a crowd just by reading the phone book. Experience the “velvet voice” in this stunning radio performance from 1945:
Before sound films became popular, Ronnie was a top star of the silent screen. Here he chats with cinematographer J.C. Scrugram on the set of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1925):
BARBARA WORTH was not only a big hit for Ronnie, but made a star of Hungarian actress Vilma Banky in her American film debut. Not billed on this poster, the film was also a breakthrough for a lanky young actor named Gary Cooper:
This is a restored image from a newspaper supplement advertising BEAU GESTE (1926), a film that took Ronald Colman from star to superstar: />
Producer Sam Goldwyn starred Ronnie and Vilma Banky in a series of romantic swashbucklers during the mid-1920s just prior to the arrival of talkies. One of their best is THE NIGHT OF LOVE (1927), here they pose for the ever-present photographer (color transfer by Jeffrey Allan):
A scene from THE TWO LOVERS (1928), the fifth and final Colman-Banky teaming:
A top silent film had its own theme song available on records and on sheet music. Here is the striking cover for THE MAGIC FLAME (1927):
An unusual aspect of THE MAGIC FLAME is seeing Ronnie as a clown. Here he is unrecognizable under his makeup:
A striking image of Ronnie as he prepared to go his own way with the arrival of the talkies in 1929. Nobody could know then that his best films were ahead of him: A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935). LOST HORIZON and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (both 1937), RANDOM HARVEST and THE TALK OF THE TOWN (both 1942), and A DOUBLE LIFE (1948), for which Ronnie won the Best Actor Academy Award. Eventually, Ronnie focused more on radio and television where his work was always highly rated.
We chose today for this post because February 9th is Ronald Colman’s birthday (1891). His best films, both silent and sound, are readily available now on official DVD releases and much of his radio work can be heard over the Internet. We suspect that Ronnie would be pleased that he continues to have an audience in the 21st century!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Lt. Humphrey Bogart tells his men, “Boys, by my calculations the New Year should arrive at about midnight.” CHINA CLIPPER (1936)
Start the New Year off right with a gift from OLD HOLLYWOOD IN COLOR. Take your pick from any of these – or all of ‘em. Simply download and print out just as you would do with a photo. If you prefer a larger size or higher quality than home printers can provide, let me suggest that you copy the image to a thumb drive and take it to you local digital print retailer such as Kinko’s. With this in mind, let’s tour the 2014 collection.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, with Jean Harlow, in one of their last silent films LIBERTY (1929):
La Swanson, Gloria that is, in ZAZA (1923):
Ronald Colman in a fan photo circa 1929:
Buster Keaton circa 1930:
Clara Bow, who was dubbed “The It Girl,” meaning that she had “it.” Circa 1928:
A debonair-looking Al Jolson in 1935:
Greta Garbo with Nils Asther in WILD ORCHIDS (1929), one of her last silents:
Mary Astor in ROSE OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1927):
A calendar from a 1934 UK movie magazine highlighting Conrad Veidt:
Jean Harlow with Clark Gable in RED DUST (1932):
Lon Chaney Sr. as himself and as his character in THE MIRACLE MAN (1919), a lost film:
Rin Tin Tin and his mate Nanette in HERO OF THE BIG SNOWS (1926), another lost film:
It isn’t often that we have the opportunity to rediscover an old Christmas story that somehow has become forgotten in recent times. For many years during the 1940s, there was an annual Christmas radio broadcast of THE JUGGLER OF OUR LADY, adapted from a story by Anatole France. Ronald Colman narrated this tale in his rich “velvet voice,” while Nelson Eddy sang the role of a monk. This story was once as popular as “The Night Before Christmas” and I think you’ll agree that it’s a wonderful tale.
So let’s go back in time to December 21, 1942, to hear Ronald Colman and Nelson Eddy team up for this classic Christmas story on the Screen Guild Theater. The stars on this show donated their salaries to the Motion Picture Relief Fund:
Ronald Colman excelled in radio as well as motion pictures such as A TALE OF TWO CITIES and LOST HORIZON. You can see and hear why he was so popular:
Nelson Eddy was a popular singer, radio and movie star. He is perhaps best remembered for his series of musicals with Jeanette MacDonald such as ROSE-MARIE and MAYTIME:
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!