The Classic John Barrymore Swashbucklers of the 1920s

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:
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This large 8.5×11 inch volume displays rare posters, photos, programs, and even paintings by Barrymore himself, in full color:
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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):
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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:
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Our book features vintage souvenir programs such as this from DON JUAN (1926):
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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:
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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):
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Jack reprised his role of Captain Ahab in THE SEA BEAST talkie remake, MOBY DICK (1930) with Joan Bennett:
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The back cover of our book with a painting of John Barrymore from TEMPEST (1928), a story of the Russian Revolution:
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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:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1481166549/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d1_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=0EEDG1R8J2NGF1G6KZ4T&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1630072202&pf_rd_i=507846

On the Set with Colin Clive

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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:
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Universal publicists were eager to take a number of photos of Colin and Boris Karloff taking breaks on the BRIDE set:
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A playful Colin hugs Valerie Hobson somewhere on the backlot of Universal during the making of BRIDE during January-February 1935:
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Another BRIDE publicity shot – the Monster is supposed to hate fire but perhaps that doesn’t apply to lighting his cigarettes:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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.

THE BIG PARADE (1925) – New on Blu-ray

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:
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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:
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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:
http://www.amazon.com/Big-Parade-Blu-ray-Book/dp/B00D9BNOKK/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1381899698&sr=1-2&keywords=the+big+parade+1925

An Interview with Mary Pickford at Pickfair

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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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):
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Mary co-starred with her husband Doug Fairbanks Sr. for his talkie debut in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1929):
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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:
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Mary was able to obtain top film stars for her show including Errol Flynn:
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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.

(Pickford Interview courtesy of the Internet Archives at https://archive.org)

Happy July 4th – Will Rogers Style

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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.
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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:
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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:
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The role of Katrina Van Tassel was charmingly played by Lois Meredith, a New York-based actress:
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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:
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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.
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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!

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On the Set with Al Jolson

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.
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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:
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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:
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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!
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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):
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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:
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Al was a sportsman and proudly displays his day’s catch:
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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:
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Al and his third wife Ruby Keeler in 1929, singing songs over the air to promote his new film, SAY IT WITH SONGS:
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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!

Silent Screen Stars on Radio: Part 2

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):
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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):
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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.
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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.
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John in one of his spectacular swashbucklers of the silent screen:
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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:
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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:
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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.

On the Set with Warner Oland

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).

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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).

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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):
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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:
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Elaborately costumed as an unscrupulous Frenchman in WHEN A MAN LOVES (1927):
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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:
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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:
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Offscreen, Warner was a doting papa to his schnauzer Raggedy Ann:
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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:
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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):
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Two visiting Chinese doctors on their way to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore stop by the set of OPERA to check Warner’s pulse:
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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:
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Celebrity-endorsed products are nothing new. Here is Warner and apparently Charlie Chan recommending the new 1938 Desoto:
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Today, many of Warner’s films, silent and sound, are readily available on DVD including all of his surviving Charlie Chans.

On the Set Again with Karloff & Lugosi: A New Halloween Tribute

Last Halloween and thereafter, we received quite a number of hits on our tribute to those unsurpassed masters of the macabre, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Since there’s plenty more, we decided to salute our horrific heroes again for this Halloween. Admit it, we know that we’re in the presence of the masters when reciting a single line such as, “I never drink – wine,” from DRACULA (1931), or “I dislike to be touched,” from THE MUMMY (1932), can be more blood curdling than the goriest of chainsaw massacres.

On the DRACULA set, Bela Lugosi greets Horace Liveright who produced the Broadway play version that brought stardom to Lugosi. The film’s director Tod Browning stands to the left of Bela:

Boris Karloff has survived the rigors of makeup and costuming as he checks the script before filming a scene for THE MUMMY (1932):

But nothing was as arduous as sitting for hours as makeup artist Jack Pierce literally made a Monster out of Boris. Judging by the status, I’d say they were only at the beginning of the procedure:

By contrast, Bela Lugosi’s greatest makeup challenge as Dracula was to make himself look as handsome as possible:

The boys would vary their horror film appearances with an occasional non-horror movie where they still gave audiences the creeps. Here Bela Lugosi as a medium matches wits with Warner Oland as Charlie Chan in THE BLACK CAMEL (1931), the only Charlie Chan movie filmed on location in Hawaii. Bela and Warner are standing in the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel:

Boris Karloff plays an anti-Semitic Prussian nobleman whom George Arliss has outwitted in THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934):

Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein shares a tea and cigarette break with Boris on the set of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935):

It was inevitable that Boris and Bela would be teamed, but the real surprise is that they worked very well together. The first and arguably the best of their co-starring vehicles is THE BLACK CAT (1934), a film that had nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe, and almost nothing to do with cats either:

Their third pairing is a personal favorite of your blogmeister, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936), a stylish sci-fi yarn that seamlessly blended in the Gothic horror elements of their earlier films. Here Dr. Karloff has been poisoned by his discovery of Radium X, and appeals to Dr. Lugosi for help. You just know this will turn out badly:

These guys seem to be holding their own Halloween party. On the set of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) they are really celebrating Boris’ birthday – from left to right, Boris, director Rowland V. Lee, Bela, and Basil Rathbone:

Halloween Bonus! Hear Boris Karloff and John Carradine on INFORMATION PLEASE, a live and unrehearsed radio show exactly as broadcast on February 20, 1942:

Silent Screen Stars on Radio

We’re celebrating the publication of our new book, OLD HOLLYWOOD IN COLOR 3: WHEN SILENT STARS SPOKE, so this seems like a good time to devote a post to this particular topic. There’s a lot of Hollywood mythology surrounding the fate of silent movie stars when they made talkies, and even such hit films such as SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) only served to reinforce those myths. The fact is that most silent screen stars did just fine in talkies and the ones who stand out because they didn’t do well are a distinct minority. You can read more about it in the book (a shameless plug) but here let’s actually listen to the silent stars themselves when they broadcast on radio.

Let’s take a look at, well, really listen to, three silent stars who never made any talkies: Theda Bara, William S. Hart, and Rudolph Valentino. Strange to say, as talkies supplanted the silents beginning in 1928 and finishing the job by 1929, some stars just walked away from their fame and fortune. Some like Constance Talmadge had become independently wealthy while others married into money or went into business, especially southern California real estate. Perhaps the most famous of early screen stars – we’re referring to the 1910s – was Theda Bara, the movies’ first sex goddess or “Vampire” as they were called then:

Theda’s name is supposedly an anagram for “Arab Death” but I have no idea of its significance. Her real name was Theodosia Goodman and by all accounts, she was nobody’s fool. Here’s an effective study of light and shadow:

By now you’re probably wondering how Bara came by her reputation, at least based on these two photos. OK, here’s one of the most iconic photos of Theda Bara from the lost film, CLEOPATRA (1917):

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, just click below to hear Theda Bara on the November 9, 1939 broadcast of Texaco Star Theater. You’ll hear host Ken Murray, comedian Irene Ryan (who later played Granny on TV’s “Beverly Hillbillies”), and singer Kenny Baker who asks Theda a very good question:

William S. Hart was film’s iconic cowboy star in the 1910s into the early 20s. A New York stage-trained actor – he played Messala in BEN-HUR in 1899 – he transferred his genuine love of the West into a lucrative movie career as a star, writer, producer and director:

Bill Hart retired before talkies came in but he recorded a beautifully spoken prologue to his last film, TUMBLEWEEDS (1926) when he reissued it in 1939.

But Hart occasionally made an appearance on radio in the 1930s to recite his own poem, “Pinto Ben.” Here is Rudy Vallee introducing him on the December 13, 1934 broadcast of the Fleischmann’s Hour:

Rudolph Valentino was the super star of such silents as THE SHEIK (1921), BLOOD AND SAND (1922), and MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924) among many other hits.

Sadly, Rudy didn’t live to make a talkie but he was broadcasting in 1923, long before most of his movie star colleagues were.

None of Rudy’s broadcasts were recorded but he did make two commercial recordings in 1923, thus preserving his singing voice.

At any rate, he carries a nice tune and the timbre of his voice at least suggests that Rudy had a good chance of success in the talkies:

Mae Murray was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who enjoyed a successful film career from the mid-1910s through the 1920s:

Mae can be easiest described as a successor to Theda Bara although instead of having an exotic sort of mystique like Bara, Mae was a straightforward American gal with a frank sex appeal:

By now you probably want to see one of Mae Murray’s iconic photos to understand her appeal of nearly a century ago:

Unike Theda Bara, Mae did make a few talkies but not successfully. So her appearance on the December 6, 1939 Texaco Star Theater is noteworthy. Host Ken Murray gets in some laughs by the fact that he and Mae have the same last name:

Mary Astor was still in her teens when she played leading lady opposite such celebrities as John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. She is all of 17 here in BEAU BRUMMEL (1924):

By the 1940s it seemed that Mary Astor had been around forever although she was still a relatively young woman. She transitioned superbly to sound films, so much so that many people would forget that once she was a silent film star. She ably added radio broadcasting to her list of accomplishments:

We’re in luck because next we have a complete performance by Mary in the popular half-hour suspense show called, well, “Suspense” that was broadcast live on February 16, 1943:

Lillian Gish’s career in silent films preceded everyone else listed here, having made her first films in 1912 working for director D.W. Griffith. And she was still starring in films through 1987 with THE WHALES OF AUGUST.

Lillian made her best-remembered films during the 1920s such as WAY DOWN EAST (1920), ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921), both directed by D.W. Griffith, THE WHITE SISTER (1923), LA BOHEME (1926), THE SCARLET LETTER (1926), and THE WIND (1928), among many others.

Gish made her first talkie in 1930, ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT, but didn’t care for the new medium. She moved to New York where she continued her career in the theater, on radio, and occasionally, in films such as DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), and eventually on television. Among her more unusual broadcast appearances are as a guest panelist on the popular quiz show, “Information Please.” No, Lillian wasn’t slumming because only the brightest and best of celebrities were permitted to appear on the show. Here is Lillian Gish on the October 11, 1938 live broadcast of “Information Please”:

We have barely scratched the surface of exploring silent stars on radio. Perhaps in a future post we can hear from Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge, Richard Barthelmess, John Barrymore, Conrad Veidt, and even D.W. Griffith. Do you have any requests?