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.

The Spirit of Christmas Past in Old Hollywood


Nowhere was the Holiday spirit kept better than in Old Hollywood. As a sign of those times, when Bing Crosby first recorded “Silent Night” in 1935, he thought it was wrong to accept payment and donated his fee to charity. There is a wealth of vintage carols and old time broadcasts available on the Internet but here at OHIC we are pleased to present some rare material that you are not likely to find elsewhere. In the links that follow we will hear unscripted Christmas greetings from President Franklin Roosevelt, a live session with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra just two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, plus a young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney providing unscripted commentary of the Christmas Parade along Hollywood Boulevard, and much more.

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

First let’s begin our trip back in time by returning to December 24, 1940, as FDR concludes his Christmas greetings by making a suggestion involving the White House Christmas Tree that has been followed to this day:

Christmas 1941 was unlike any before or since. Barely two weeks earlier the United States was suddenly thrust into the Second World War, which had been raging in Europe for two years already. America had been officially neutral but all that changed when the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941. Outwardly, the 1941 Holiday season seemed the same as past years but everyone knew that the New Year would bring dramatic changes in their lives as the nation converted to a war footing.

None were fated to be more affected than popular bandleader Glenn Miller, who would be lost flying over the English Channel just days before Christmas 1944. Of all the celebrity war casualties such as Leslie Howard and Ernie Pyle, none would be mourned more than Miller. So let’s return to Christmas Eve 1941 to hear Glenn and his band broadcasting live on his bi-weekly 15-minute Chesterfield Time:

Lionel Barrymore (grand uncle of Drew Barrymore) seemed to own Christmas from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s with his annual portrayal on the air of Ebeneezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Even now, it is easy to surf the web and hear several different performances of Lionel as Scrooge.

But here at OHIC we give you Lionel Barrymore in A MODERN SCROOGE that was presented by the U.S. Treasury on Christmas Eve 1942 with Fredric March in support. Think of Scrooge if he had lived during WWII America and asked to buy War Bonds, and you’ll have the basic idea behind this energetic little play:

Jack Benny didn’t exactly “own” Christmas the way Lionel Barrymore did, but the holiday spirit of gift-giving conflicted perfectly with his cheapskate character. Year after year from about 1934 through the 1970s, a Jack Benny Christmas Show meant an unsentimentalized treatment of the holidays from a tightwad’s viewpoint.

Trying to select one Benny show from among the decades is difficult because there’s not a clinker in the lot. But the holiday broadcasts from 1938 are particularly caustic and this particular one from December 11, 1938 is a classic of sarcasm. Besides Jack, the show’s regulars are announcer Don Wilson, Mary Livingston (who was Jack’s wife in real life but plays a sort of gal Friday on the show), bandleader Phil Harris (who developed into a very fine comedian), and of course, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, who gets the biggest laughs of all. It is to Jack’s eternal credit that he didn’t care who got the big laughs on his show as long as there were big laughs:

Let’s conclude this visit to Christmas Past with something truly rare. Long before Barrymore as Scrooge or Benny as a gift-giving cheapskate helped to define the Holiday season, it seemed that Christmas did not officially arrive until Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink sang “Silent Night” at the stroke of Midnight. This Austrian-Czech contralto was considered one of the finest opera singers of her day – in the 19th century! She was popularly called Mother Schumann-Heink because she had seven children (by three husbands!) and one stepson. She became an American citizen in 1905, but had sons fighting on both the American side and the German side during the First World War (1914-1918). Her loyalties were unabashedly American and she sang tirelessly at the camps throughout that war.

By the 1920s, the radio networks would combine and across the land at Midnight on December 25th was heard the distinctive voice of Mother Schumann-Heink singing “Stille Nacht” like an angel from on high. She even had her own weekly radio show in 1934 (sponsored by Gerber Baby Foods, of course) where at the age of 73 she handed out lots of advice to her listeners between songs. Many people who lived back then felt that Christmas was never the same after her passing in 1936 but we like to think that she would be pleased to know we can still hear her proclaim Peace on Earth in the 21st Century:

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?

Hollywood Party at Twentieth Century-Fox – 1938 Live!

A few weeks ago we visited MGM for a Hollywood Party so now let’s give equal time to one of Metro’s rival studios – the fabulous Twentieth Century-Fox. The “hyphen” in the name acknowledges a merger between the then-recently formed Twentieth Century Pictures (1933) and the more venerable but ailing Fox studio. The occasion of this particular radio party is to launch the new film, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, but since all the film’s songs were written by Irving Berlin, the broadcast is called “A Tribute to Irving Berlin,” who not only appears on the show but sings too.

This all-star broadcast is kicked off by newspaper columnist Walter Winchell who turns over the proceedings to master of ceremonies Al Jolson. Among the legendary entertainers you’ll hear are Ethel Merman, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, Connie Boswell, Paul Whiteman, and Tommy Dorsey. The show then switches gears when movie mogul Darryl Zanuck presents a radio preview of ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND with its stars Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. All of this was performed live to millions of listeners on the evening of August 3, 1938, so if you want to join the party just click below and within five seconds you’ll be transported back in time to spend a full hour in Old Hollywood:

The following are thumbnail sketches of some of the celebrities appearing on the broadcast. Irving Berlin and Al Jolson went a long way back. Both became famous by 1911: Al popularized Irving’s songs and Irving’s songs helped make Jolie a star. Here they are golfing in 1929:

Sophie Tucker was known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” during her career that lasted over a half century and spanned vaudeville to television:

Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson were friendly competitors both professionally and personally, on the stage, in movies, on radio and in vying to be the first to sing Berlin’s new songs. Listen to their ad-lib arguing while singing with Irving Berlin:

Irving takes the stars of ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND through their paces prior to filming: Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche, who grew a mustache for the film. All three were newly-minted stars with only a couple of hit films behind them. No doubt they are genuinely happy to have the composer onboard their new film:

Sheet music was a popular movie tie-in during the days of Old Hollywood. See the movie, go home and play the songs on your piano – an all but forgotten way of interacting with the film:

Connee Boswell was part of the successful Boswell Sisters but when her two siblings decided to retire in 1936, she continued alone and became one the best female jazz vocalists of her era. Unknown to the public, Connee was wheelchair-bound, not unlike President Franklin Roosevelt. She originally spelled her first name as “Connie” but later changed it to “Connee” because it made signing autographs easier:

Bandleader Paul Whiteman was a big figure, literally and figuratively, in American music during much of the first half of the 20th century. He commissioned George Gershwin to write “Rhapsody in Blue” and Ferde Grofe to compose “Grand Canyon Suite,” championed jazz as a serious form of music when it was commonly dismissed as degenerate, and through his concerts, broadcasts and recordings introduced the public to Bing Crosby, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Mildred Bailey, Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, and many others:

Darryl Zanuck receives the very first Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award during the Academy Awards ceremony in March 1938. Silent screen star and producer Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the presenter. This special “Oscar” is still given each year to honor outstanding film executives. The legendary Thalberg had died over a year earlier; Doug Fairbanks would die the following year and Hollywood would never be quite the same:

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND is readily available on dvd and is one of the most enjoyable musicals of the 1930s.

Bonus: Irving Berlin was inducted into the Friars Club in 1911 and, in lieu of the customary speech, he wrote and sang a very funny song just for the occasion. It was such a hit that Irving was persuaded to privately record the song on January 24, 1914. Here it is performed by the composer himself:

Humphrey Bogart in Shakespeare’s HENRY IV – Live

As a sort of tribute to this week’s celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, here at OHIC we are adding a bit of Will Shakespeare to our usual offerings. The summer of 1937 saw the two major radio networks, NBC and CBS, in a dueling Shakespeare competition. NBC offered John Barrymore in “Streamlined Shakespeare” each Monday night during that long-ago summer. Directly conflicting was CBS’s impressive array of Hollywood stars stepping out of their usual screen personas to play famous Shakespearian characters in hour-long adaptation of eight of the Bard’s plays. So join us for a Monday night in late August 1937, when listeners from coast to coast could hear HENRY IV broadcast live from Hollywood, starring Walter Huston in the title role, Brian Aherne as the Prince of Wales (Prince Hal, successor to the throne), Humphrey Bogart as Harry Hotspur (one of the rebels against the King), Walter Connolly as the comical Sir John Falstaff, and Dame May Whitty as Mistress Quickly, the tavern proprietor. She was 71 at the time of this broadcast and appeared in films right up until her death at the age of 82.

Please click the arrow button below and within five seconds you will be transported to August 23, 1937, to hear a celebrated group of Golden Age film stars strut their stuff in HENRY IV. All are quite good but Bogart is clearly the actor that attracts our attention in what appears to be his one and only foray into Shakespeare:

We have not found any photos of this broadcast, but the following images show Bogie as he was in the mid and late 1930s at the time of the HENRY IV broadcast.

Although he had been making movies since 1930, Bogart’s breakthrough film did not occur until 1936 when he and Leslie Howard (pictured here with Bette Davis) repeated their stage roles in the hit film, THE PETRIFIED FOREST. Bogie later repeated his role of escaped bank robber, Duke Mantee, on television in 1955:

Bogie and Bette Davis were also co-starred on radio in the late ’30s:

During those years Bogie played the bad guy in films opposite James Cagney, and also Edward G. Robinson, pictured here in BULLETS OT BALLOTS (1936):

Years later, a sombre Bogart, with Robinson, attend funeral services for his HENRY IV co-star Walter Huston on April 11, 1950:

Another portrait of the youthful Humphrey Bogart in 1937, when his iconic roles in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and CASABLANCA (1942) must have seemed a long way off:

Jean Harlow – Live!

I suppose the first time any of us hears the name Jean Harlow, we learn two things at once. First, that she was a beautiful blonde movie star of the 1930s, and second, that she died at the age of 26. Thus, Miss Harlow rarely has a chance to be “living” for us, if you know what I mean. After all, Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo (see our previous post) were contemporaries of Harlow who left their screen careers circa 1940 and basically disappeared. Both enjoyed very long lives post-Hollywood, so why couldn’t we have the same expectation for Jean? But no, her name is barely introduced to us and it is embraced by tragedy. Yet, like Rudolph Valentino before her, or Marilyn Monroe after her, through her films Jean Harlow proves to be an endlessly fascinating embodiment of love and mortality. Perhaps to put it more bluntly, an irresistible combination of sex and death.

The Warner Bros. Archives released a terrific dvd set of Jean’s films earlier this year but, after all, films are carefully rehearsed, reshot if there are mistakes, and carefully edited to delete other shortcomings. So while Jean certainly was living when she made her movies, we know there’s no “anything can happen” possibility of a truly live performance. That brings us to our current post on OHIC – a rare, truly live performance by Jean Harlow on the Lux Radio Theater in December 1936 less than six months before her death. Jean did little radio work and this broadcast seems to be the only one that has been preserved. The story is MADAME SANS-GENE, based on a popular 1890s play, turned into a famous opera by Giordano, that Gloria Swanson made into a successful (and now lost) silent film in 1925.

In the 1960s, Sophia Loren starred in a remake of this story of a feisty young woman during the French Revolution who confronts washing laundry and dealing with Napoleon with equal disregard.

This network radio broadcast was heard live by at least 30 million listeners from coast to coast, and by shortwave around the world. The host is Hollywood pioneer director Cecil B. DeMille, and Jean Harlow’s co-star is Robert Taylor. It was no coincidence that their new film, PERSONAL PROPERTY, was just going into movie theaters for the holidays. The imposing-voiced Claude Rains plays Napoleon with the same authority as he did earlier in 1936 in the Marion Davies film, HEARTS DIVIDED.

Here then at just a click of the button below is the complete hour-long live broadcast of MADAME SANS-GENE as heard on December 14, 1936:

A rare photo of the prinicipal cast rehearsing for the broadcast – from left to right Robert Taylor, Jean Harlow, Claude Rains, and C. Henry Gordon:

While you’re listening, enjoy some OHIC color transfers of Jean Harlow:

Jean seems more concerned with that overhead microphone than with the famous and feared gossip columnist Louella Parsons:

Later in 1937, Louella Parsons published this souvenir biography:

Jean and Clark Gable heat up the screen in RED DUST (1932), the first of several films they made together. Gable has the strange distinction of starring in the final films of the two most famous “goddesses” in film history: SARATOGA (1937), Harlow’s last film, and THE MISFITS (1961), Marilyn Monroe’s last film. It was also Gable’s last film, in fact he predeceased Marilyn:

Jean seems dressed for playing horse polo here. I can’t place the film but it may be from BLONDE BOMBSHELL (1933), a pre-Code satire on a sexy Hollywood star who looks just like Jean Harlow:

On the set of CHINA SEAS (1935) with co-star Wallace Beery and his daughter, Mary Ann, who had a small part in the film, and director Tay Garnett:

A promotional coin from Popsicles:

Jean Harlow made quite a number of good films during her brief life but legend will always claim first and foremost that her most memorable performance was as the sultry vixen in Howard Hughes’ First World War epic, HELL’S ANGELS (1930). Incidentally, it is the only film with color footage of Jean. Although she was virtually unknown at the time, look who dominates the poster art:

Garbo on the Air – Sort Of

The 1930s and 40s are known collectively as the Golden Age of Radio for several reasons. Among them is the fact that virtually every major Hollywood film star appeared on radio broadcasts. A few, such as Bing Crosby and Edward G. Robinson, starred on their own weekly shows. During the Second World War (1939-1945) even the few holdouts among the movie stars joined in to boost morale. Perhaps the only major star who never broadcast was the reclusive Greta Garbo. Her voice would be heard via radio only when it was lifted from her movie soundtracks and broadcast to promote her films.

Of course, the Divine Garbo never appeared in a color film either, but we can rectify both her colorless image and her absence from radio here at OLD HOLLYWOOD IN COLOR. First, the radio broadcast: “Garbo Laughs” was the ad line on her 1939 hit film, NINOTCHKA, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The following year, radio’s Screen Guild Theater broadcast an adaptation starring Spencer Tracy in the role played by Melvyn Douglas on the screen, and Rosalind Russell playing Garbo’s role, the title character. Roz Russell was a versatile actress who became even more accomplished in her later years. But tackling a role so recently impressed in everybody’s mind by Garbo herself seemed risky if not foolhardy, even on radio.

But Roz surprised everyone by not merely giving a believable performance as the cynical Soviet operative, but by pulling off a dead-on impersonation of Garbo herself. Anyone tuning in late to the show would have sworn they were listening to Garbo in person. Here then is the closest that OHIC believes we will ever come to hearing the Divine Garbo on radio, courtesy of Rosalind Russell.

Click the Play arrow below to hear the complete half-hour live show, NINOTCHKA, on Screen Guild Theater, exactly as broadcast on April 21, 1940, starring Spencer Tracy and Rosalind Russell as “Garbo.”

While you’re listening, these color transfers may be of interest. Garbo’s first American film was TORRENT (1926) and is available today on dvd:

With Lucy Beaumont

A late 1920s portrait in the then-typical soft focus:

An iconic photo of Garbo and her offscreen lover John Gilbert in FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1927):

An unusually modernistic poster design for 1928:

An exotic Garbo in Java with Nils Asther in WILD ORCHIDS (1929):

And a decade later in NINOTCHKA (1939):

An original color poster

Spencer Tracy made his first color appearance in the glorious Technicolor outdoors epic of 1940, NORTHWEST PASSAGE. He would not appear in color again until the 1950s:

An original color poster

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