Film History: James Whale

Photographers Unknown, I Am Rather the Fallen Angel

“Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” 

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, 1818 

Born in Dudley, a town in the county of Worcestershire, in July of 1889, James Whale was an English actor and film and theater director, best remembered by many for his classic horror films. Known for his use of camera movement, he is credited with being the first director to use a 360-degree panning shot in a feature film.

James Whale was the sixth of seven children born to William Whale, a blast-furnace worker, and his wife Sarah, a nurse. He attended public education until his teenage years. Because the cost of his further education was prohibitive and his labor was needed to support his family, Whale took work as a cobbler. He used his early artistic ability to earn extra money by lettering signs for his neighbors; this additional income paid for classes at the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts located in the West Midlands.

In August of 1914, Whale enlisted into the Inns of Court Regiment of the British Army at the outbreak of the first world war; in July of 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. Taken prisoner of war in August of 1917 at the battle in  Flanders, Whale was held at the Holzminden Officers’ Camp in Germany and later repatriated at the war’s end to England in December of 1918. After an unsuccessful attempt to find work as a cartoonist in Birmingham, he embarked on a professional stage career in 1919. 

James Whale worked as an actor, set designer, stage manager, and director under the tutelage of director and actor Nigel Playfair at the Lyric Theater in Hammersmith. In 1922, he met stage and costume designer Doris Zinkeisen; they were considered a couple for a period of two years despite Whale’s living as an openly gay man. In 1928, Whale was given the opportunity to direct two private performances of writer Robert Cedric Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”, a play that gave a glimpse of British infantry officers’ experiences in the trenches of France during 1918. The two lead roles were given to actors Laurence Olivier and Maurice Evans. 

The initial two performances of “Journey’s End” were well received; and the play opened in January of 1929, with actor Colin Clive now in the lead, at the Savoy Theater in London’s West End. Critically acclaimed, the play after its three-week run was then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theater in Coventry Street, where it ran for the next two years. The rights to a New York production of “Journey’s End” were acquired by Broadway producer Gilbert Miller who chose James Whale, already experienced with the play, for its director. This production of the play premiered at Henry Miller’s Theater at Broadway and West 43rd Street and ran for over a year. 

Brought to the attention of movie producers by the Broadway success of “Journey’s End”, James Whale traveled to Hollywood in 1929 and signed a contract with Paramount Pictures to be the dialogue director for the 1929 film “The Love Doctor”. After the completion of the film, Whale met David Lewis, who became his longtime romantic partner; they lived together until 1952. David Lewis would later become a prominent film producer in the 1940s and 1950s, known for producing such films as the 1939 “Dark Victory” with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and the 1957  “Raintree County” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  

In 1931, James Whale began what is probably the best known part of his career as a producer. He signed a five-year contract with Universal Studios and received his first project, the 1931 drama-war romance film “Waterloo Bridge”, which starred actress Mae Clarke, who is remembered by many for playing Jame Cagney’s girl in “The Public Enemy”. Later in 1931, Carl Laemmie, Jr, the twenty-five year old head of Universal Studios, gave Whale his choice of which studio-owned property he wanted for his next shoot; Whale chose the script for “Frankenstein”. He casted Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Mae Clarke as Elizabeth Frankenstein, Henry’s wife, and chose the little known Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster. Shooting ran from August 24th of 1931 to October 3rd. After premieres on October 29th of 1931, “Frankenstein” had a wide release beginning on November 21st and instantly became a hit with critics and the public.

In 1932, Whale directed two films: the drama “The Impatient Maiden” and a thriller film with Karloff and Charles Laughton entitled “The Old Dark House”, which has been credited with reinventing the “old house” genre of horror films. Whale’s 1933 film, “The Kiss Before the Mirror”, a pre-Code mystery film, received little notice and was a box-office failure. With a script approved by author H. G. Wells, Whale returned to the horror genre and produced the 1933 “The Invisible Man” which the New York Times placed in their list of best films for that year. This adaption of Well’s book, whose special effects were done in utmost secrecy, broke box-office records in cities across America.

James Whale’s next major project was the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein”, a sequel to the original movie which he was initially reluctant to do for fear of being typecast as a horror director. The film, however, was a critical and commercial success; today it is regarded as the finest of all gothic horror movies and considered Whale’s masterpiece. Whale worked next on a comedy-mystery film entitled “Remember Last Night?” which resulted in divided reviews. After its completion, Whale started immediately on the project that had been in his mind for a long time, a film version of the stage production “Show Boat”. 

For the film version of this long-running romantic musical, Whale gathered as many members of the original show as he could; these included Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Sammy White, Irene Dunne, and conductor Victor Baravalle and orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett. Great care was taken by Whale to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for this film. Faithfully adapted from the original stage production, the 1936 “Show Boat” is considered the definitive film version of the musical by many critics. This film was the last of Whale’s films produced with the Laemmie family.

Jame Whale eventually retired from the film industry in 1941. Encouraged by his partner David Lewis to resume his artwork, he rediscovered his love of painting and built a studio for himself. In 1942, Whale made training films for the United States Army and created, in collaboration with actress Claire DuBrey, the theater group Brentwood Service Players. He returned to Broadway to direct the 1940 thriller “Hand in Glove” and directed his final film, a short subject entitled “Hello Out There”. Whale’s last professional engagement was the comedy play “Pagan in the Parlour”, which was forced to close early due to contract difficulties that happened during its opening tour in Europe.

While in Europe, Whale met and became infatuated with the twenty-five year old bartender Pierre Foegel. He made the decision to bring Foegel back to the United States as his chauffeur. In November of 1952 when David Lewis heard this, he ended their twenty-three year relationship, separated but still maintained a friendship. Foegel moved in with Whale in early 1953, returned for several months to France, and then in 1954  moved back permanently with Whale. In the spring of 1956, Whale suffered a small stroke, and was hospitalized several months later after suffering a second and more severe stroke. As his mental faculties were diminishing, he began to suffer from mood swings and depression. 

James Whale committed suicide, at the age of sixty-seven, by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on the 29th of May in 1957. He left a suicide note to David Lewis, who withheld it from the public until his own death. Whale was cremated per his request and his ashes were interred in the Columbarium of Memory at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. When David Lewis died in 1987, James Curtis, as his executor, had Lewis’s  ashes interred in a niche across from Whale’s internment site. James Curtis would later write the definitive biography of Whale, “James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters”, published in 2003.

Note: James Whale lived as an openly gay man throughout his career in the British theater and in Hollywood, which was virtually unheard of in that era. While he did not go out of his way to publicize his homosexuality, he made no effort to conceal it either.

Insert Images:
A— Photographer Unknown, “James Whale” (Profile), circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
B—”Frankenstein”, Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, 1931, Universal Pictures
C—”The Invisible Man”, Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart, 1933, Universal Pictures
D—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, Date Unknown
E—”Show Boat”, Paul Robeson, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, and Helen Morgan, 1936, Universal Pictures
F—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein, “The General Line (The Old and the New)”, 1929, The “Cream Separator” Sequence, Co-directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Cinematography by Eduard Tisse

Born in January of 1898 in Riga, Latvia, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was a film director, scriptwriter, film theorist, and a pioneer in the theory and development of montage. Using his technique of montage film editing, he portrayed the rapid developments of events on the screen, separating each scene into fragments and rearranging them into his preferred order.

Eisenstein studied engineering at the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering, leaving in 1918 to join the Red Army in the revolution. Still a member of the Red Army after the Bolshevik seizure of power, he took part in many theater productions and was eventually assigned to organizing productions and ensembles. In 1920 Eisenstein returned to Moscow and worked with the Proletkult Theater, becoming co-director and later the most noteworthy theater director in the USSR.

While still a theater director, Eisenstein wrote a manifesto, “Montage of Attractions,” for the literary journal “Lef”, rejecting the idea that dialogue is the dominant element in theater and claiming that all the elements function on equal terms, forming a fusion or montage that made the entire work. Montage in film, as Eisenstein understood it, means that a film should be constructed not in narrative fashion but from brief segments that serve to reinforce and counterpoint one another. The meaning of the film arises from the interplay of these elements, leading the audience into new recognitions.

In the spring of 1924, Eisenstein proposed that Proletkult undertake a series of films portraying the Russian revolutionary movements before 1917. Working with cameraman Eduard Tisse, a Latvian newsreel photographer who would go on to be the cameraman on all his films, he took on the making of “Strike”, the fifth film in the series. In 1925, Eisenstein made his second and probably his greatest film “Battleship Potemkin”, examining the  mutiny carried out by sailors of the Russian warship, Prince Potemkin, stationed in the Black Sea fleet near Odessa. 

Sergei Eisenstein’s film “The General Line”was an experiment in presenting the feeling of ecstasy in film. Directed by both Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov, the film, centering on a rural heroine instead of a group of characters, was a celebration of the collectivization of agriculture, a policy championed by Bolshevik Leon Trotsky.  Eisenstein used his montage method with great success in the filming of the milk coop, its sequence conceived as a enthralling spectacle of raptured faces and the triumphant introduction of new farm machinery. After Trotsky’s fall from grace, the film was quickly re-edited and released in 1929 as “The Old and the New”.

Eisenstein’s vision of Communism brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Stalin. Frequent attacks on Eisenstein and then subsequent rehabilitation would be a repeated pattern throughout his life. His popularity and influence in his own land thus waxed and waned with the success of his films and the passage of time. In 1930, Eisenstein was approached with offers from Paramount Studios for several films; however, because of his artistic approach and disagreements with scripts, the contract was declared void by mutual agreement. 

Eisenstein came back into prominence with the 1938 “Alexander Nevsky”, in which Eisenstein exchanged his montage style for one that focused and developed the individual characters to a greater extent. This was due to the rise of Socialist Realism in the arts which was becoming the cultural and artistic policy of the state. Well received, the film won Eisenstein the Order of Lenin and the Stalin Prize.  

Eisenstein’s 1944 “Ivan the Terrible, Part One”, a film presenting Ivan IV as a national hero, also won the approval of Stalin and a Stalin Prize. However, the sequel “Ivan the Terrible, Part Two, although finished in 1945, was criticized by the government and not released until 1958. All footage from the unfinished Part Three was confiscated by the state and mostly destroyed, with only a few scenes still existing.

Sergei Eisenstein suffered a heart attack in February of 1946, recovered, but died from a second heart attack in February of 1948, at the age of fifty. His body laid in state in the Hall of the Cinema Workers, was cremated two days later, and his ashes buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Sergei Parajanov

Sergei Parajanov, “The Color of Pomegranates”, 1969, Computer Graphics, Film Gifs

The 1969 Soviet art film “The Color of Pomegranates”, written and directed by Sergei Parajanov, is a visual, poetic treatment of the life of the eighteenth-century Armenian musician and poet Sayat-Nova. The film is presented in a series of chapters depicting the poet’s life in active tableaux, presented with little dialogue. Each chapter, framed through Sayat-Nova’s poems, is indicated by a title card: Childhood, Youth, Prince’s Court, The Monastery, The Dream, Old Age, The Angel of Death, and Death. Narration on the film was done by Armenian-born renowned actor Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, known for his role in the 1979 “The Meeting Place Can Not Be Changed”. 

Four actors took the role of Sayat-Nova at different stages in his life, with Soviet Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli, notably playing six roles in the film, both female and male. The film was shot at numerous historical sites in northern Armenia, many being medieval churches in the Lori Provence, including the Sarahin Monastery and the St. John church at Ardvi. Filming was also done at the Old City of Baku, Azerbaijani, and in the countryside near the David Gareja Monastary in Eastern Georgia. 

Objections were made by the Communist Party and the Soviet censors  to Parajanov’s poetic, stylized treatment of the poet’s life, citing that it failed to educate the public. As a result, the original title “Sayat-Nova” was changed to “The Color of Pomegranates” and any references to Sayat-Nova’s name was removed from the credits. The Soviet officials also objected to the amount of religious imagery in the film and removed a substantial portion of it. Although the State Committee for Cinematography initially refused to allow the film to be shown outside Armenia, it did allow the film, now with a seventy-seven minute running time, to premiere inside Armenia in October of 1969.

Filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich,  the 1962 People’s Artist of the USSR and a script-reader on the State Committee, recut the film by a few minutes to appease the authorities and created Russian-language chapter titles for easier understanding by the public at large. He also changed the order of some of the sequences in the film. This seventy-three minute version ultimately received only limited distribution in the rest of the Soviet Union. 

The digital restoration of “The Color of Pomegranates” was completed in 2014 by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation with the help of Cineteca di Bologna. It was re-edited as close as possible to the Sergei Parajanov’s original version, with its premier held at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. Parajanov’s film premiered in the US at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in September of 2014 and the 52nd New York Film Festival in October of 2014.

Busby Berkeley, “By a Waterfall”

Artist Unknown, Busby Berkeley,’s “By A Waterfall” Scene, Computer Graphics, “Footlight Parade” Film Gifs

Lyricist Irving Kahal and composer Sammy Fair had a sixteen year collaboration which started in 1926 and lasted until Kahal’s death in 1942. Among their many notable songs was the 1933 “By a Waterfall”, written for Warner Brothers Picture’s “Footlight Parade”, the third film in the 1933 Gold Diggers Trilogy. The vocal performances were done by actor-singer Dick Powell and actress-singer Ruby Keeler. 

Directed by Lloyd Bacon and presenting great cinematography by George Barnes, “Footlight Parade” contained opulent musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley whose routines contributed to the film’s success. Berkeley’s extravagant arrangement features his trademark human waterfall with its synchroniised water ballet of diving and swimming chorus girls, who produce elaborate, geometric patterns in the water.

One entire sound stage was filled with a twelve by twenty-four meter swimming pool with walls and floor made of glass. Two weeks were required for the one hundred chorus girls to practice their routines in it before shooting began. The six days of actual filming required that twenty thousand gallons of water per minute be pumped across the set to produce the required effects.

Besides the placement and movement of the dancers, the cameras also had to be positioned to film the entire scope of the choreography. Berkeley set his cameras in motion on monorails and custom-built booms to get the correct angle of shot. Since Berkeley was not hampered by the need to shoot multiple images at once for continuity, he was able to expand his creative potential by fluid camera motion and the use of intricate editing, creating fantasy out of the movement.. 

Samurai Champloo

“Samurai Champloo” is a Japanese anime series developed by the Japanese animation and production company Manglobe. The production team was lead by director Shinichiro Watanabe, character designer Kazuto Nakazawa and mechanical designer Mahiro Maeda. This series was Watanabe’s first directorial effort for an anime television series after his critically acclaimed “Cowboy Bebop”.  “Samurai Champloo” ran for twenty-six episodes from May of 2004 until March of 2005.

The series blended historical Edo-period backdrops with modern styles and references. The show dealt with the Shimabara Rebellion in Edo-era Japan, the restriction of Japanese foreign relations exclusive of the Netherlands, the art of ukiyo-e painting, and fictionalized appearances of real-life Edo-era personalities. Artistic license trumped accuracy and the music score used contemporary music.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of November,  Solar Year 2018

Blue Sky and Two Ravens

November 20, 1890 was the birthdate of American film actor Robert Armstrong.

Robert Armstrong, born in Bay City, Michigan, attended the University of Washington, where he studied law. He gave up his studies to manage his uncle’s touring company. In his spare time, Armstrong wrote plays, appearing in one when it was produced. In 1926, he traveled to London and appeared on the British stage for one season.

Robert Armstrong’s film career began in 1927 when he appeared in Pathé’s romantic silent film drama ”The Main Event”, produced by Cecil DeMille. He had a very prolific film career in the late 1920s and early 1930s, making nine movies just in 1928. Armstrong is best know for his role as film director Carl Denham in the 1933 monster adventure film “King Kong”. He reprised his role as Denham in the sequel “Son of Kong”, released at the end of 1933.

“King Kong” producer Merian C. Cooper used Armstrong in several more movies. Armstrong and Fay Wray starred in “The Most Dangerous Game”, filmed at night on the same sets being used during the day for “King Kong”. He worked throughout the 1930s and 1940s for several film studios, starring in the 1937 musical comedy “The Girl Said No”, released by Grand National Films. In 1940, Armstrong co-starred in the Universal Pictures film “Enemy Agent”, a story about A Nazi spy ring in the country.

In 1942, Armstrong teamed up with actor Richard Cromwell in the notable gangster B-movie “Baby Face Nelson”, playing “Doc” Rogers, the boss of ‘Baby Face’ played by Cromwell. Later he played another leading character role, similar to Carl Denham, as Max O’Hara in “Mighty Joe Young” released in 1949. This film, produced by Merian C. Cooper and directed by Ernst B. Schoedsack, became a stop-motion animation classic, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1950.

Armstrong appeared in the 1950s as Sheriff Andy Anderson on the syndicated wester-themed television series “State Trooper”. He also made four guest appearances on the long-running television series “Perry Mason”, playing the both title character and murder victim on one show, a defendant on another, and the murderer in “The Case of the Accosted Accountant”. Robert Armstrong died of cancer in Santa Monica, California, within sixteen hours of the death of the co-producer of “King Kong”, Merian C. Cooper.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 25th of October, Solar Year 2018

A Flair for the Orient

October 25, 1909 was the birthdate of American character actor Whitner Nutting Bissell.

Born in New York City, Whitner Bissell trained with the Carolina Playmakers, a theatrical organization associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in drama and English. Bissell also was in the Moss Hart play “Winged Victory”, produced by the US Army Air force during World War II as a morale booster and a fund raiser for the Army Emergency Relief Fund.

Whitner Bissell’s first role in film was in the 1943 “Holy Matrimony”, playing the valet Henry Leek in the comedy film. He regularly was cast in science fiction and horror films, appearing in the 1954 “Creature from the Black Lagoon” playing doctor Edwin Thompson who is severely injured by the creature. Bissell has an uncredited role in the 1956 “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as Doctor Hill, the psychiatrist in the film’s opening scene.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-1970s, Bissell guest-starred in many television series followed by more occasional roles in later years. He appeared in episodes of “Whirlybirds”, “Peyton Place and “The Brothers Brannagan”. He was also cast in the NBC education drame series “Mr. Novack” for the 1965 episode “May Day, May Day”. Bissell made four appearances on the “Perry Mason” series and played different roles in multiple episodes fo the long-running western series “The Rifleman” starring Chuck Connors.

Whitner Bissell often played silver-haired authority figures in many of the television series. His most prominent television role was that of General Heywood Kirk in thirty episodes of the 1966-67 season of the sci-fi series “The Time Tunnel”, establishing his screen persona of a man of military bearing, but in an annoyingly dominating way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters. This characterized persona  showed up in other series: “The Outer Limits”, “Hogan’s Heros”, and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”.

In 1960, Whitner Bissell appeared in George Pal’s production of “The Time Machine” as Walter Kemp,, one of the time-traveler’s dining friends. He also appeared in a 1978 television movie of Wells’ novel set in the modern era. Thirty-three years later, in the 1993 documentary film “Time Machine: The Journey Back” featuring the original stars of the movie, Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Bissell, he recreated his role as Walter Kemp. This was Bissell’s last acting performance.

Whitner Bissell served for many years on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild, and represented the actors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors. In 1994, two years before his death, he received a life career award from the Academy of Science fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

Laurent Durieux

Laurent Durieux, “Rear Window”, Date Unknown, Silk Screen

Laurent Durieux is a Brussels illustrator and graphic artist who has spent two decades as a designer and a teacher. His retro-futuristic movie posters have caught the world’s attention after the 2013 release of his “Jaws” poster. He considers illustrator Jean Girard, who drew the “Moebius’ and “L’Incal” comic books, and Belgian illustrator Luc Van Malderen as his mentors.

In 2011, Laurent Furieux was named one of the world’s Best Illustrations by the international advertising magazine Lurzer’s Archive. That same year, his short animated film “Hellville” was screened at several world film festivals.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of October, Solar Year 2018

Vertical Elements

October 19, 1903 was the birthdate of wrestler and actor Tore Johansson, known by his stage name Tor Johnson.

Karl Erik Tore Johansson was born in Brännkyrka, Stockholms län, Sweden. He was a professional wrester in Sweden, billed as the “Swedish Angel”. Johnson was a one-time Midwest Wrestling Association champion. In his persona as the “Swedish Angel”, he fought in a live event in Kansas City, Kansas, on December 3, 1943, winning and holding the title for six days. At that time in history, these major professional events were not televised.

Tor Johnson at his heaviest weighed 440 pounds, or 200 kilograms. He had a full head of brown hair; but he shaved it to appear more imposing and villainous in his wrestling bouts. After moving to California, Johnson started appearing in small parts in films starting in 1934. These roles were usually as a strongman or a weightlifter. Practically all of his roles in his early work as an actor were uncredited; however he made many appearances in some well known films.

Tor Johnson had a small role as the wrestler “Jack the Ripper” in the William Powell and Myrna Loy film “Shadow of the Thin Man” in 1941. He had an uncredited small role as “The Mauler” in the Errol Flynn 1942 boxing movie “Gentleman Jim”. Johnson had another uncredited small role in the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour comedy “Road to Rio”, in the role of Sandor. In 1949, he appeared in his persona of the “Swedish Angel” in two films: “Alias the Champ” and the classic film “Mighty Joe Young”. The year 1950 saw Johnson appearing as Abou Ben in the comedy “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion”.

During his career as an actor, Tor Johnson became friends with director Ed Wood, who placed him in a number of his films.  He appeared in Wood’s biggest budget film, the science fiction horror “Bide of the Monster” which finished filming in 1959, but was not released because of financial problems until 1964. His perhaps best known appearance was in Ed Wood’s 1959 now-famous cult classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, playing Inspector Daniel Clay in what was dubbed as “the worst movie ever made” by authors Harry and Michael Medved.

In reality, Tor Johnson was a big guy with a big heart, a very learned and eloquent man to those who knew him personally. He had a reputation of being a warm and friendly guy who would even have drinks with his opponents after his wrestling matches. He and his wife Greta would graciously welcome many guests to their home for Swedish-style dinners, along with homemade ice cream. Friends, after his death, would reminisce how Tor Johnson would manage to get his large size into his small foreign car. Tor Johnson died on May 12, 1971, in San Fernando, California, of a heart ailment at the age of sixty-seven.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 17th of October, Solar Year 2018

A Beautiful Morning

October 17, 1956, marks the release date of the film “Around the World in Eighty Days”.

“Around the World in Eighty Days” is a 1956 American epic adventure-comedy starring Cantinflas, the Mexican film actor and producer, and the English actor David Niven. It was produced by Michael Todd, who had never before produced a film, and released by United Artists. The screen play was based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name and directed by Michael Anderson, who had directed the WWII film “The Dam Busters” the previous year.

The film was significant as the first of the so-called Hollywood “make-work” films, employing dozens of film personalities. Besides Niven and Cantinflas as the main characters, Shirley MacLaine had the role of Princess Acuda, and Robert Newton played Detective Fix, his last role in film before his death. More than forty famous performers made cameo appearances, including Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, George Raft, and Frank Sinatra.

The filming of “Around the World in Eighty Days” took place in late 1955, from August 9 to December 20. The crew worked fast, shooting 680,000 feet of film in seventy-five days; the final film was edited down to just under 26,000 feet. The film cost just under six million dollars to make, using 112 locations in thirteen countries and 140 stage sets. The crew traveled to every country portrayed in the final film, including France, India, Spain, Thailand, and Japan. There were 68,894 people, including extras, in the final cast of the film; the photographers also used almost 8,000 animals in the shooting.

The famous bullfight scene in Spain with Cantinflas as the matador included ten thousand extras, using all 6,500 residents of the nearby town of Chinchon and another 3,500 from other nearby towns to fill the stadium seats. The scene of the collapsing train bridge was filmed partially with models; the overhead shot was full scale, but the bridge collapse was done using a large-scale model on a stage set. All the steamships in the first half of the movie are models, shot in an outdoor studio tank.

“Around the World in Eighty Days” premiered on October 17 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, of which it was awarded five, beating out its competitors: “Giant”, “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I”. It won Best Picture, Best Color Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, and Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay. Although not nominated for Best Song, the film’s theme “Around the World: became popular and a hit for Bing Crosby in 1957.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 10th of October, Solar Year 2018

The Magician

October 10, 1916 is the birthdate of American character actor Benson Fong.

Born in Sacramento, California, Benson Fong’s acting career resulted from a chance meeting with a Paramount Pictures talent scout. He was approached and asked if he would like to be in a movie. Fong was given an uncredited role as a guerilla soldier in the 1943 film “China”, a story occurring during the Japanese occupation of China. He was offered a ten week contract at $250 a week.

First appearing onscreen in “Charlie Chan at the Opera” as an extra, Benson Fong returned to the series and is best remembered playing Number Three Son “Tommy Chan” opposite Sidney Toler in six “Charlei Chan” movies between 1944 and 1946. Othe films in which he appeared included “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”; “The Keys of the Kingdom” as Joseph; “His Majesty O’Keefe”; “Flower Drum Song” as Wang Chi-Yang: and “Our Man Flint” in the role of Doctor Schneider. a mad scientist threatening the world.

Benson Fong’s career as an actor included appearances in several television series. He made four guest appearances on “Perry Mason”, seven appearances on “My Three Sons” as Ray Wong, and four on the “Kung Fu” television series. He also appeared in Walt Disney’s “The Love Bug” starring Dean Jones and Michele Lee.

While appearing in “Keys of the Kingdom” with Gregory Peck, a casual remark by Peck inspired Benson Fong to start a chain of restaurants. After two years of saving his own capital, Fong opened in 1946 his first Ah Fong’s restaurant on Vine Street in Hollywood. After the Vine Street restaurant’s success, Fong opened four more restaurants . He retired from the restaurant business in 1985..

Benson Fong died, at the age of seventy, of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, in 1987.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 8th of October, Solar Year 2018

Thumb in Briefs

October 8, 1910 was the birthdate of American actor Kirk Alyn, born John Feggo Jr.

Kirk Alyn was born to Hungarian immigrant parents in New Jersey. He started his career as a chorus boy for Broadway plays, appearing in musicals such as the 1930 “Girl Crazy” and Hellzapoppin” on Broadway in 1938. Alyn also worked as a singer and dancer in vaudeville acts before he went to Hollywood in the early 1940s to act for feature films. He was only successful in getting bit parts in low-budget movies.

Kirk Alyn was featured in movie serials, including the 1948 “Federal Agents Versus Underworld Inc”, the 1950 “Radar Patrol Versus Spy King” and the 1952 “Blackhawk”, a spy thriller based on a Quality comic book. In 1948 he had a role as a police officer in the Charlie Chan series film “The Trap”. In early 1948, Kirk Alyn achieved his fame when producer Sam Katzman of Columbia Pictures asked him to play Superman.

Alyn played Superman for the first live-action “Superman” movie serial, released in 1948. The serial consisted of fifteen episodes covering Superman’s arrival on earth, his job at the Daily Planet newspaper, and his meeting Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The series revolved around Superman’s battle with the arch criminal Spider Lady. Two years later another serial was released entitled “Atom Man Versus Superman”, featuring Lyle Talbot as the villain Lex Luthor.

In these serials, Kirk Alyn gave a different portrayal of Clark Kent, emphasizing the element of his disguise, a tradition of the older radio series. Superman’s flight was effected by Alyn jumping up, at which point an animated character made by rotoscoping flew away. Initially wires were used for the first serial but were clearly visible in the footage; so the animation was used instead.

Kirk Alyn was the Grand marshal of the Metropolis, Illinois Christmas parade and Annual Superman Celebrations many times. DC Comics named him in 1985 as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th anniversary publication “Fifty Who Made DC Great”. Alyn died in 1999 in The Woodlands, Texas, was cremated, and had his ashes scattered off the coast of California.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 2nd of October, Solar Year 2018

Hold and Ride

October 2, 1890 marks the birthdate of actor and comedian Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx, born Julius Henry Marx, was born in New York City. His father Samuel never had much success as a tailor, and the family struggled financially. His mother Minnie became a stage mother, guiding her children’s theatrical acts and even performing herself. The act eventually featured Groucho and his brothers Leonard, Adolph, and Milton.

Groucho Marx received his colorful nickname based on his personality from vaudeville performer Art Fisher, who also gave the brothers stage names: Leonard became ‘Chico’, Adolph became ‘Harpo’, and Milton became ‘Gummo’. Milton Marx left the act to fight in World War II and was replaced by the youngest brother Herbert, who became known as ‘Zeppo’.

By the 1920s, the Marx Brothers had become a hugely popular theatrical act. During this time, Groucho developed some of his famous trademarks; the long coat, the painted-on mustache, thick glasses, and the thick cigar. Groucho explained that the props were useful also: “if you forget a line, all you have to do is stick the cigar in your mouth and puff on it until you think of what you’ve forgotten”.

The Marx Brothers had a string of Broadway hits, starting with the 1924 “I’ll Say She Is”, which Groucho helped write. The following year, they returned to the stage with “The Cocoanuts”, a spoof on land speculation in Florida. The Marx Brothers hit it big again in 1928 with “Animal Crackers.”  Working with producer Irving Thalberg, the Marx Brothers created one of their most popular movies “A Night at the Opera”, released in 1935.

Even before the Marx Brothers split up, Groucho Marx had been exploring other career opportunities. He wrote the 1930 humorous book “Beds”, and followed it up in 1942 with “Many Happy Returns”, his comic attack on taxes. On the radio, Groucho worked on several programs before landing a hit in 1947 with “You Bet Your Life”. He hosted the quirky game show, which focused more on his quick wit than on contestants winning prizes.

Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” moved from radio to television in 1950, and Marx entertained America with his wisecracks for 11 years, also winning an Emmy in 1951. After that program ended in 1961, he appeared on “Tell It to Groucho”, a short-lived game show the following year. After the end of that game show, Grouch Marx retreated from the limelight, making only occasional appearances on television and film.

Groucho Marx died of pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital on August 19, 1977. The New York Times article on his passing stated: “He developed the insult into an art form. And he used the insult, delivered with maniacal glee, to shatter the egos of the pompous and to plunge his audience into helpless laughter”.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of September, Solar Year 2018

The Skateboard

September 29, 1907 was the birthdate of Orvon Grover Autry, known to film fans as the American cowboy Gene Autry.

Gene Autry was an American singer, songwriter, actor, musician and rodeo performer who gained fame as a singing cowboy on radio, film and on television.  Born in northern Texas, he worked on his father’s farm while attending school. After high school, Autry worked as a telegrapher for the Saint Louis-San Francisco Railway. He would oftern sing and accompany himself on guitar at local dances.

Autry went to New York in 1928 and auditioned for Victor Records. The company had just hired two similar sounding voices so he did not get a contract; but he did get the advice to sing on radio to gain experience. Autry started singing latter that year on the Tulsa radio station KVOO as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy”, eventually recording two duets with singer Jimmie Long for Victor Records.

Gene Autry signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1929. His first hit was in 1932 with “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”, a duet co-written and sung with Jimmy Long. Autry also recorded the classic Ray Whitley hit “Back in the Saddle Again” , as well as many Christmas holiday songs including “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer”, which became a big hit.  Autry’s own composition of “Here Comes Santa Claus”, which he wrote after the 1946 Hollywood Christmas Parade, was recorded in 1947 and became an instant hit.

Gene Autry and Pat Burnette, a recently returned Army Air Force veteran, were discovered by producer Nat Levine in 1934. Together, they made their film debut for Mascot Pictures Corporation in the western “In Old Santa Fe” as part of a singing cowboy quartet. Autry was then given the starring role by producer Levine in the 1935 twelve-part film serial “The Phantom Empire”, which combined western, musical and science fiction genres. This was Gene Autry’s first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.

Mascot Pictures was absorbed by the newly formed Republic Pictures Corporation, which continued making films with Gene Autry. He made forty-four more films with the company up to 1940, all ‘B’ Westerns, acting under his own name. Autry rode his horse Champion, had Pat Burnette as his regular sidekick, and had many opportunities to sing in each film. In the Motion Picture Herald’s Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Gene Autry held first place from 1937 to 1942 and second place, after Roy Rogers, from 1947 to 1954, when the poll ended.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 18th of September, Solar Year 2018

Morning Wake-Up Treat

September 18, 1951 marks the release the film “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is an American drama film adapted from Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play of the same name. Williams collaborated with screen writer Oscar Saul and Elia Kazan on the screenplay. Kazan , who had directed the Broadway stage production, also directed the black and white film. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden were all cast in their original Broadway roles; Vivien Leigh, who had appeared in the London theater production, was cast in the role of Blanche DuBois.

The play’s themes were controversial, causing the screenplay to be modified to comply with the Hollywood Production Code. In the original play, Blanche’s husband had committed suicide after he was discovered having a homosexual affair. This reference was removed from the film; Blanche says instead that she showed scorn at her husband’s sensitive nature, driving him to suicide. Other scenes were shot but cut after filming was complete to conform to the Production Code and later, to avoid condemnation by the National League of Decency.

The Production Code censors demanded 68 script changes from the Broadway staging, while the interference of the Catholic Legion of Decency led to even further cuts, most of them having to do with references to homosexuality and rape. In 1993, after Warner Brothers completed a routine inventory of ltheir archives, the censored footage was found and restored in an original director’s version.

The music score by Alex North was written in short sets of music that reflected the psychological dynamics of the characters. For his work on the film, North was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music Score, one of two nominations in that category that year.

Upon release of the film, Marlon Brando, virtually unknown at the time of the play’s casting, rose to prominence as a major Hollywood film star. The film marked the first of Marlon Brando’s four consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and earned an estimated $4,250,000 at the US and Canadian box office in 1951, making it the fifth biggest hit of the year.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” won four awards at the 24th Academy Awards. The film set an Oscar record when it became the first film to win in three acting categories, a feat later matched by the film “Network”. The awards the film won were: Vivien Leigh for Actress in a Leading Role, Karl Malden for Actor in a Supporting Role, Kim Hunter for Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Art Direction.

The Ghost Trees

Artist Unknown, (The Ghost Trees), Computer Graphics, Gif

“Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride on for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.”
Cormac McCarthy, Child of God