The Original BEN-HUR (1925)

Ben-Hur 3

This month marks the release of the third version of BEN-HUR, using all the technical and computer wizardry of 2016. However this new version is received, the property has a long and successful history. It began as a novel written by General Lew Wallace in the 1880s. The book became a blockbuster bestseller and was no flash in the pan. It remained a top seller for many years thereafter. By 1899 the story was adapted into a hit play and featured live horses on stage for the chariot race. A one-reel film version (about ten minutes long) was made in 1907 that became famous but for a reason that had nothing to do with its popularity. The film company, Kalem, neglected to obtain permission from the book publisher and was sued for copyright infringement. The publisher, Harper Bros., won and the lawsuit became a landmark decision: the first time that a film company was sued for intellectual property violations. But the first feature-length production was made by MGM and released in 1925  at the height of the silent film era. After many problems, it too lived up to its heritage and became another huge blockbuster.

The film was riddled with production problems mainly due to the decision to make the picture in Italy. Although the Italian government promised its full cooperation, repeated labor strikes crippled the filming and finally the production was shut down and returned to California. BEN-HUR was completed in the good ol’ USA. Ultimately, the title role was played by Mexican actor Ramon Novarro. His treacherous friend Messala was played by veteran Francis X. Bushman who had been a film star since 1912!Ben Hur and Messala Final

Messala falsely accuses Judah of attempting to kill the Roman governor and he is sentenced to be a galley slave for life. The famous sea battle was filmed with full-sized ships on the Mediterranean. Novarro with Frank Currier playing the Roman general whose life he saved during the sea battle: Ben Hur on the sea Final

Lovely May McAvoy played Esther, the romantic interest of Judah Ben-Hur:BenHur1927

Idris, the slinky siren who helps Messala, was played by Carmel Myers:Ben Hur Messala adras

Idras attempts to seduce Judah before the great chariot race:movie_poster_ben_hur_1925_2-normal

Messala believes that Judah died as a galley slave and is shocked to find him alive and his chief rival in the chariot race. Talk about a grudge match!

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The chariot race took three weeks to film and employed 42 cameramen. Ben Hur autocolor 2

A behind-the-scenes photo:Ben Hur 5 Final Final

Intertwined with the fictional story of Ben-Hur was the Biblical story of Jesus Christ and how the two men met at crucial times in Judah’s life. Betty Bronson played the Blessed Virgin Mary:Betty Bronson copy_Final

A magazine ad for the film (color added):Ben hur (2) copy_Final

When sound films replaced the silents, BEN-HUR was re-issued in 1931 with a soundtrack of music and effects – and made another fortune!LC 3be

A number of artifacts from the film survive such as Messala’s helmet that Bushman wore for the chariot race:10657833_2

Watch the trailer (as enhanced by your blogmeister with music from the 1931 re-issue):

Best of all, the 1925 BEN-HUR is available on DVD today, complete with original Technicolor sequences,  and is shown frequently on Turner Classic Movies. Here is an original glass slide that was projected onto movie screens to advertise the film:Slide

 

Ben-Hur Banner

On the Set with Conrad Veidt

Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) was a legendary German film star who first gained attention as Cesare, the somnambulist killer in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919):
Conrad Veidt as "Cesare" in the film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". Photograph. 1921

Today Conny seems best remembered for one of his last films, CASABLANCA (1942). As the Nazi villain Major Strasser, Conny was fourth billed behind Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, and Claude Rains, but he was the highest paid actor on the film:
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Visiting film star Constance Talmadge seems to strike the same pose as Conny on the set of THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927), Veidt’s first American film. He played France’s King Louis XI to John Barrymore’s Francois Villon:
Constance Talmadge Jan 1927 copy_edited-Final_edited-1

Conny starred in several films for Universal in the closing days of the silent film era. Here makeup artist extraordinaire Jack Pierce, who later made up Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster and Lon Chaney, Jr., as the Wolfman, applies finishing touches to Veidt for THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928):
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Back in Germany by 1930, Conny effortlessly transitioned to sound films speaking in his native language:
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By 1933, Conny was making films in Britain as well as Germany and worked hard to master English. Here Veidt sits with pal Peter Lorre as they work on F.P.1 (Floating Platform 1), a science-fiction tale that anticipated aircraft carriers. Filmed in three languages, Conny played the hero in the English-language version, but not in the German or French versions. Lorre appeared only in the German version:
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Conny poses for his bust by sculptor Felix Weiss in Germany, circa 1935. With the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, Germany became an “unhealthy” place for Veidt to live. He listed himself as a Jew although he wasn’t. However, his wife Lily was Jewish so they decided to relocate to Britain in the mid 1930s:
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THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) would be Conny’s only Technicolor film but he looks terrific in it. Here he examines an ornate dagger and its scabbard:
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Conny as the villainous vizir Jaffar, commands the sky and wind in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD:
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This production photo from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD shows Conny on the left on the floor. The massive Technicolor camera holds three rolls of film that were photographed simultaneously through one lens. A prism split the image into three that was photographed on each of the three rolls sensitive to red, blue and yellow respectively:
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Filming the same scene from a back angle view. The camera is mounted on a crane to create a moving dolly shot:
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A stunning portrait of the evil Jaffar:
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Back in America by 1940, Conny donates much of his salary to the British and U.S. war effort, and adds radio broadcasting to his activities. Here on April 19, 1942, he reenacts his role in the 1941 MGM film, A WOMAN’S FACE on Screen Guild Theater. The stars who appeared on this show donated their fee to the Motion Picture Relief Fund:
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Listen to Conny on the actual live broadcast of April 19, 1942, with co-stars Bette Davis and Warren William:

American audiences weren’t too sure how to pronounce Conny’s last name so someone at one of the studios thought up this helpful rhyme: “Women Fight for Conrad Veidt.”
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Conrad Veidt would be surprised to know that his films are popular with new generations of the 21st century. Most of his top films are available on DVD, and a growing number on Blu-ray including THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS (a pioneering film on homosexuality), WAXWORKS, THE BELOVED ROGUE, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, ESCAPE, A WOMAN’S FACEand CASABLANCA. But Conny held no exalted view of himself: when invited to write his autobiography, he dismissed the suggestion by stating, “Who would be interested in my life? I’m just an actor.”

Golden Age Stars and Their Dogs

Film stars with their pets have always attracted attention and it’s rare that a major celebrity of the screen would decline an opportunity to pose with a four-legged friend. Sometimes the pet was as famous as the pet parent. Here are a galaxy of vintage stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood who seem only too happy to be upstaged.

First, Anna May Wong shows off her dachshund circa 1938:
ANNA MAY WONG w Dacshund_Final

Buster Keaton wants to be sure he can always find his canine pal circa 1930:
Buster Keaton and his Dog_Final_edited-1

John Barrymore shared some inspired comic moments with this St. Bernard at the beginning of MOBY DICK (1930):
Moby Dick 1930 Barrymore and Dog_Final_Final

Bette Davis seems entranced by this dog as she waits between filming scenes circa 1937:
Bette Davis and Dog_Final

Douglas Fairbanks Sr.evidently considers this German Shepherd his equal, circa 1920:
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W.C. Fields famously observed that “any man who hates kids and dogs can’t be all bad” but he got along nicely with his co-star in IT’S A GIFT (1934):
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Jean Harlow with one of her many dogs, circa 1935:
Jean Harlow w Dog

Rudolph Valentino inspired much grieving with his untimely death in August 1926. But none grieved more than his dog who was adopted by Rudy’s brother, Alberto. Regardless, the dog pined away for his master until his own passing some years later:
Rudolph Valentino and his Dog-Final

Warner Oland, famous as Charlie Chan, doted on his schnauzer Raggedy Ann and was a proud papa when she had this litter:
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Star meets Star: Al Jolson meets Rin Tin Tin on the Warner Bros. lot in 1928:
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Carole Lombard and friend in 1932:
Carole Lombard and Dog 1932_edited-Final

Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein wants to chat with Rin Tin Tin during his 1929 visit to the United States:
Rinty and Eisenstein 1929_Final

George Arliss seems perplexed as he juggles his wife’s dog and business papers, circa 1925:
George Arliss and his wife's Dog_edited-Final - Copy

Finally, a poignant photo commemorating the passing of Lon Chaney, the Man of 1,000 Faces, who left us much too soon in 1930 at the age of 47. The photo shows two of Lon’s most precious possessions – his makeup case and his dog:
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On the Set with Ronald Colman

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:
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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):
Winning Barbara Worth J G Scrugram_Final

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:
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This is a restored image from a newspaper supplement advertising BEAU GESTE (1926), a film that took Ronald Colman from star to superstar:
Beau-Geste supplement/>

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):
Two Lovers on the Set

A scene from THE TWO LOVERS (1928), the fifth and final Colman-Banky teaming:
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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):
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An unusual aspect of THE MAGIC FLAME is seeing Ronnie as a clown. Here he is unrecognizable under his makeup:
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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.
Colman circa 1928_Final
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!

Your Official 2014 Old Hollywood in Color Calendar Collection!

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):
Laurel and Hardy Calendar Final

La Swanson, Gloria that is, in ZAZA (1923):
Gloria Swanson Calendar

Ronald Colman in a fan photo circa 1929:
Ronald Colman Calendar_Final

Buster Keaton circa 1930:
Buster Keaton calendar Final

Clara Bow, who was dubbed “The It Girl,” meaning that she had “it.” Circa 1928:
Clara Bow Calender Final_edited-1

A debonair-looking Al Jolson in 1935:
Al jolson calendar

Greta Garbo with Nils Asther in WILD ORCHIDS (1929), one of her last silents:
Garbo Calendar

Mary Astor in ROSE OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1927):
Mary Astor Calendar 2014_Final

A calendar from a 1934 UK movie magazine highlighting Conrad Veidt:
Conrad Veidt Calendar_Final_edited-2 copy

Jean Harlow with Clark Gable in RED DUST (1932):
Jean Harlow Calendar

Lon Chaney Sr. as himself and as his character in THE MIRACLE MAN (1919), a lost film:
Lon Chaney Calendar

Rin Tin Tin and his mate Nanette in HERO OF THE BIG SNOWS (1926), another lost film:
Rin Tin Tin Calendar

King Kong006 copy_New Year

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:
Book Cover Published001 copy

This large 8.5×11 inch volume displays rare posters, photos, programs, and even paintings by Barrymore himself, in full color:
Painting 2

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:
Sea Beast LC 2

Our book features vintage souvenir programs such as this from DON JUAN (1926):
Photo035

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:
Beloved Rogue LC 1

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:
Moby photo004_edited-Final

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

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:
Pickford Esmeralda_edited-Final_Flat_edited-1

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:
The-Little-Shepherd-of-Kingdom-Come

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:
Johanna-Enlists

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:
A-Romance-of-the-Redwoods

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

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:
Dorothy-Vernon-of-Haddon-Hall

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):
Pickford Coquette

Mary co-starred with her husband Doug Fairbanks Sr. for his talkie debut in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1929):
Taming of the Shrew Final

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:
Radio021 Final_edited-1 - Copy

Mary was able to obtain top film stars for her show including Errol Flynn:
Radio012 Final_edited-1

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)

Rediscovering Bing Crosby

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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:

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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:
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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:
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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!
Going Hollywood

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Bing and Mary Boland in 1935’s TWO FOR TONIGHT

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 7:15 PM  Leave a Comment  
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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!
Jolson Ruth Roland Jack Oakie_Final Final

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:
Jolson and Ruby

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!

Old Hollywood in 3D Color

This site was established almost two years ago and dedicated to transforming old b/w photos of Old Hollywood into color by using modern software. Now we’re ready to take the next step by adding computer-generated 3D to our color transfers. Last month we inaugurated this process on our sister site, ArlissArchives.com by unveiling the first-ever 3D images of George Arliss. Similar to the extremely limited use of color photography in Old Hollywood, unfortunately the studios of that era also did not participate in the popularity of 3D or stereoscopic photography. That task is bequeathed to us in the 21st century. Today there are several different 3D processes but here we are using an original low-tech version that dates back to the 19th century. It is based on an optical illusion to trick our brain into believing it is seeing an object from two slightly different perspectives, hence the illusion of depth perception. Let’s start off with a very chic Myrna Loy circa 1935:
Myrna Loy New 3D_edited-1

If you see only two identical images of Myrna and no 3D effect, then you either need to use a viewer device or learn the simple knack of “free viewing.” The easiest way to obtain a viewer is to find one of the many books on old stereoscopic slides because these volumes include a simple fold-up plastic or cardboard viewer. Check your public library. Your blogmeister dispenses with using viewers (the “training wheels” of 3D) and relies on the technique of free viewing using only, pardon the expression, my naked eyes. Let’s give the 3D treatment to Rudolph Valentino in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924):
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To try free viewing, you need to guide each eye to focus on only one of the two images: the right eye on the right image, the left eye on the left image. At first your eyes won’t cooperate so by using the edge of your hand extended from your forehead to the tip of your nose, your hand will block the right eye from seeing the left image and vice versa with the left eye. A piece of cardboard or a business envelope will work as well as your hand. The next step is to relax and look “through” the images and you will notice (with a little patience) that the images start moving together to form one image. Once they fully merge you’re in 3D. Try it with Myrna and Rudy (each should line up easily) or give Strongheart and Lady Julie below (circa 1925) a try:
Strongheart_Lady Julie New 3D_edited-1

You’ll want to experiment with moving the images, i.e., the screen, anywhere from 9 to 13 inches from your eyes until the images start moving together. Also, smaller image size works easier than larger sizes so you if the images are not fully merging together, adjust your screen to make the images smaller. After a little trial and error, you’ll find a size and a focal length that works for you. Here is a photo that begged for 3D – Lon Chaney Sr. as Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923):
Chaney Hunchback 3D in PSE Free transform_edited-1

Once you’ve experienced the 3D effect of free viewing, you’ll know what to look for and subsequent 3D images will come through faster. Here, the Russian Revolution is about the break out in TEMPEST (1928) but Louis Wolheim (top) and John Barrymore find time to horse around in this photo that seems designed for 3D:
Barrymore Wolheim New 3D_edited-1

This photo has a lovely scenic perspective that enhances a 3D view – June Collyer and George Arliss on the set of ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931) wait for nightfall to film an outdoor scene:
Arliss Hamilton 2 New 3D_edited-1

Since today (April 1st) is Lon Chaney’s birthday (1883), here he is again with Norma Shearer in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), the very first film produced by the then-newly organized Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Shearer and Chaney remained top stars at MGM, Norma until her retirement in 1942, and Lon until his death in 1930:
Shearer Chaney New 3D_edited-1

It may be unkind to note that W.C. Fields’ nose always seemed to be in 3D even in 2D photos. At any rate, here’s an unusual portrait of Mr. Fields sporting a middle eastern look:
W C Fields New 3D_edited-1

Gloria Swanson and her co-star Rudolph Valentino pause in filming a scene for BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922). This film represents the only pairing of these two iconic stars and was considered a “lost” work for decades until a nearly-complete print turned up in the Netherlands just a few years ago and is now on DVD. Ironically, this scene below was among the missing footage in the rediscovered print:
Swanson_Valention Rocks New 3D

This striking portrait of Lon Chaney in character for OUTSIDE THE LAW (1921) seems to anticipate 3D:
Chaney Shadows 3D_edited-1

Clara Bow personified the “Roaring Twenties” perhaps more than anyone else. She was dubbed the “It Girl” and everybody under 90 knew what that referred to, and maybe people over 90 too. Some of her films were considered risque but her studio, Paramount, cancelled her contract in 1931 – even after her successful transition to talkies – when her private life was found to be racier than her films:
Clara Bow New 3D

Finally, before Hepburn & Tracy, Lombard & Gable, or Rogers & Astaire, there was Garbo & Gilbert, that is Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. They ignited the screen in films such as FLESH AND THE DEVIL, LOVE (both 1927), A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928), and the talkie QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933). Not surprisingly, they were lovers in real life, at least for a time in the late 1920s. Here is an iconic image of them from FLESH AND THE DEVIL given both the color and the 3D treatment:
Garbo_Gilbert New 3D

Future posts here will continue to be in color (the raison d’etre for this site) but we’ll be more sparing in using 3D. The stereographic effect is more welcome as a novelty from time to time than as a constant component of photos, or movies for that matter. Perhaps those folks back in Old Hollywood knew this all along.