Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter!

Let's celebrate the upcoming holiday -- FF + SS style, of course!

Mary Carlisle is cute as a button bunny.

H B Warner is Cecil B DeMille's King of Kings (1927).
[image courtesy Criterion]

Little Mary and a big rabbit.

Speaking of rabbits and eggs...
Jack Barrymore writes to Dolores Costello.
(The little sketch kills me!)

From the Manger to the Cross (1912)
[image courtesy icollector]

Have a very Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Who Is That?" #1: Louise Closser Hale

There's always that one face -- you know what I mean, that one person that seems to follow you through every movie you watch.  The one constant that pops up so often that you finally throw up your hands (dramatic, I know) and say "WHO IS THAT?"

First one out of the box is this regal lady:

(image courtesy Cinema Fantastic)

Louise Closser Hale's face is well-known to 1930s film nerds: No More Orchids, Faithless, Shanghai Express, Movie Crazy, and Dinner at Eight (among others) all feature her.  She had, however, already enjoyed a long, varied career by the time she played her delightfully acid roles onscreen.

Hale was born in Springfield, Massachusetts (some sources say Chicago, Illinois) in 1872, and studied acting at both the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City as well as Emerson College in Boston.  Although she had her first stage appearance in 1894, it wasn't until Candida on Broadway in 1903 that people took notice -- and not until the London production of Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch in 1907 that she became a theatrical household name. (Aside: what is it with Wiggs? Seems like every 20s/30s actor got their start in a production of that.  Must investigate.)

(image courtesy Moviesville)

Hale was also an author, penning such works as The Actress, Her Soul and Her Body (later made into a play), and a popular series of travel stories illustrated by her husband Walter Hale.  She was prolific; in
addition to her books, Cliff Aliperti at Immortal Ephemera states she wrote over 150 short stories.  Her signature even graces a former Greenwich Village bookshop door, now treasured as a veritable time capsule of 1920s bohemian literati.

Louise Closser Hale was well into her character-acting incarnation when she had a stroke, possibly brought on by heat exhaustion.  She was rushed to the hospital, where she suffered another stroke -- this one fatal -- the next day.  She was 60.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Breezy, the Littlest Cowboy

Ben-Hur would be nothing without its climactic chariot race, and that race would've been nothing without second unit director B. Reeves Eason.  His technical precision (using 42 cameras to film it) elevated it from mere action scene to nailbiting classic.

Like most people in the business, Eason started as an actor, and he had a son who, for a short time, followed in his footsteps.

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

B. Reeves Eason Jr, known as "Breezy" onscreen, was born on November 19, 1914.  An adorable, tousled-haired boy, he was featured in movies alongside Theda Bara and Thomas Meighan -- but his real specialty was Westerns, where he was billed as "Universal's Littlest Cowboy".

(Photoplay, March 1921, courtesy the MHDL)

It was right after completing one such Western, "The Fox" with Harry Carey, that Breezy was hit by a truck while playing right outside his home.

Allan Ellenberger recounts the tragic details:

Harry Carey was notified about the accident shortly after it happened. [...] Carey and Breezy had appeared in two films together and the actor had become very attached to the youngster. When he heard about the accident, Carey left the filming and raced to the hospital to be with Breezy.

For the next four days, Carey never left the hospital or Breezy’s side, holding his hand until the end. Despite the surgeons attempt, little Breezy died from his injuries on Tuesday, October 25, 1921. [Allan Ellenberger, "Breezy Eason Jr at Hollywood Forever", HOLLYWOODLAND]

Universal shut down the day of his funeral. 

(Photoplay, January 1922, courtesy the MHDL)

 Little Breezy was a month shy of his seventh birthday.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lost Colleen Moore Silents Found!

The two silents are being restored as we speak.  Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project:

Colleen Moore's final silent, WHY BE GOOD? (FN/'29) was long believed to be lost. About 10 years ago while introducing one of my Vitaphone shows at NYC's Film Forum, I mentioned I had just acquired the Vitaphone disks (music and effects) for this feature but, sadly, the film was lost. Film historian Joe Yranski was sitting in the front row and yelled out "No it's not! I know where it is!". The crowd cheered, and so began a decades-long effort to get the film back to American and restored...[t]he print of Moore's next to last silent with Vitaphone track, SYNTHETIC SIN (also thought lost) is also being repatriated now and restored.

Fantastic news!  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Myrtle Gonzalez, La Primera Estrella

(Motion Picture Story, August 1913, courtesy the MHDL)

Miss Myrtle Gonzalez (Mrs Allen Watt), one of the famous outdoor girls of motion pictures, daughter of an old Spanish family and native of Los Angeles, died yesterday of heart disease at the home of her parents.  [Los Angeles Times, “Myrtle Gonzalez Dead”, Oct 23 1918]

Only…she didn't.   Miss Gonzalez was one of many felled by the Spanish Flu epidemic.  So why would the obituary say otherwise?  We’ll get to that in a minute.  But first:

Myrtle Gonzalez was California born and raised, athletic, the epitome of what we’d call today the “all-American girl”.  Her entry in the Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1918 makes a point of mentioning she “swims and rides”, and the January 1916 Photoplay lists she is "a star at basketball and tennis".

(Photoplay, May 1917, courtesy the MHDL)

The daughter of Manuel Gonzalez, a grocer, and Lillian Cook, an Irish former opera singer (whose lovely soprano she inherited), much was made of Myrtle’s upper-class Spanish ancestry.  “Please remember to spell my last name with a ‘z’ twice…because that is aristocratic Spanish,” she (supposedly) told Motion Picture Story in their March 1914 issue.  The same article attributes her acting success to her “temperamental, fiery” background.  That success was unusual; in the teens, Hispanics/Latinos were often represented as villains, imposing and dangerous:

Most Latino characters in the 1910s weren't afforded the occasional sympathy shown toward other minorities, with most Latinos depicted as dastardly "greasers"…[g]enerally, Mexicans were depicted as lazy and deceitful…when [Mexican filmgoers] responded by boycotting Hollywood, American filmmakers responded by carefully applying the negative stereotype to all Latinos, not just Mexicans. [Eric Brightwell, ­¡Silencio! – The Hispanic & Latino experience in the silent era – Amoeblog]

This is where Gonzalez’s Irish heritage made the difference; with her pale skin, light brown hair, and hazel eyes, she didn’t look the way the average 1910s American audience expected. She was even referred to as the “Virgin White Lily of the Screen”.  This led to her being featured in over 75 pictures for Western Vitagraph and Bluebird (the more artistic division of Universal).  She was best known for the six-reel drama “The Chalice of Courage”, before her untimely death in 1918.

(Moving Picture Weekly, January 13 1917, courtesy the MHDL)

Which brings us back to her obituary. Why did the LA Times list her cause of death as heart disease?  The same reason a lot of trade papers/fan magazines, while mentioning influenza, tempered it with additions of a heart ailment or stunt injury: fear.  Or more correctly, an attempt to comfort readers from thinking it could happen to them by giving other reasons for her demise.  Photoplay openly addressed the state of Hollywood and the rest of the US:

You know what it did to your family and to every family in the neighborhood.   You all had it.  And the big movie family wasn’t immune.  […] Few companies, east or west, escaped the scourge.  [“Plays and Players”, Photoplay, January 1919]

(Yet they, too, list her death as “complication[s] of heart trouble and influenza…said to be indirectly due to a fall received a year ago while riding for a ‘stunt’ picture”.)

Yes, Myrtle Gonzalez was a victim, but this young lady wouldn't want that to be her legacy.  Instead, remember her as a wife, mother, singer, actress, and trailblazer:  the first Hispanic/Latino movie star.

(Motion Picture Story, May 1915, courtesy MHDL)