Rouben Mamoulian: Film History Series

Robert Mamoulian, “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, December 1931, Cinematography Karl Struss, Music Herman Hand/ Johann Sebastian Bach, Running Time 90 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Born in October of 1897 at the Georgian city of Tiflis in the Russian Empire, Rouben Mamoulian was a theatrical and film director noted for his contributions to cinematic art at the beginning of the sound era. Escaping the Soviet regime, he fled to England and later immigrated to the United States where he established his film career. 

Born to an ethnic Armenian family, Rouben Mamoulian studied criminal law at the University of Moscow. Interested in theater, he trained at the Moscow Art Theatre under theatrical director Yevgeny Bagrationovich Vakhtangov who produced some of the most original and bold productions of Russian theater after the Revolution. In 1918, Mamoulian founded a drama studio in his hometown of Tiflis, now Tbilisi. In 1920, he toured with the Russian Repertory Company to England, where he stayed to study drama at the University of London. 

Mamoulian began directing English stage productions in 1922. In the following year, he immigrated to the United States and became, at George Eastman’s request, the director of the American Opera Company in Rochester, New York. From 1925 to 1926, Mamoulian was head of Eastman’s School of Dance and Dramatic Action. During the late 1920s, he taught drama and directed productions at New York City’s Theater Guild. Mamoulian established himself in theatrical circles with his all-black cast production of Dorothy and Dubose Heyward’s 1927 “Porgy”. He would later direct George Gershwin’s 1935 Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess”. 

Rouben Mamoulian, in addition to his theater work, directed Paramount Pictures’s 1929 early sound film “Applause” at their Astoria Studio in Queens, New York. For his film debut, he decided that stylization would be better than realism if done with flourish and skill. For the opening scene of this story, Mamoulian employed a roving camera in a soundproof booth that tracked along a desolate street before turning to follow the sound of a marching brass band. A cutaway in the film then transports the audience to a band practicing in a seedy theater.

In addition to defying the wisdom of a stationary camera, Mamoulian recorded the dialogue on separate microphones and combined them in post-production. He also employed sounds at the end of scenes that anticipated the action about to happen. In order to impose spatial depth, rhythm and momentum to the film, Mamooulian overlaid scenes with sounds of train doors opening, car horns blaring and people singing in the background. This innovation, seemingly simple by today’s standards, made a bold cinematic statement in 1929 when the sound era was just developing.

In 1931, Rouben Mamoulian  directed “City Streets” for Paramount. This pre-code gangster film was written by famed detective-mystery author Dashiell Hammett; it featured Sylvia Sidney and the rising star Gary Cooper as the carnival worker who falls in love with the racketeer’s daughter. In the same year, Mamoulian directed the first sound version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Considered by many critics as Mamoulian’s masterpiece, the film is known for Fredric March’s transformation between characters, made possible by Mamoulian’s innovative makeup and lighting effects. March was a winner, along with Wallace Beery in Vidor’s “The Champ”, for the Best Actor at the 1932 Academy Awards.

Mamoulian directed two more films for Paramount; the 1932 “Love Me Tonight”, one of the most accomplished of the early musicals due to his seamless blending of action and songs; and the 1933 “The Song of Songs”, a melodrama with Marlene Dietrich that was not well received by critics. Working now for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Mamoulian directed Greta Garbo in the 1933 biography “Queen Christina” and had great success with the 1935 “Becky Sharp”, an adaption of the novel “Vanity Fair”, which was the first feature released in Technicolor. After three more films with MGM that were not well received by the critics, Mamoulian took his talents to Twentieth-Century Fox. 

Rouben Mamoulian directed two distinguished films for his new studio: the 1940 swashbuckler “The Mark of Zorro” with great performances by Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone; and the 1941 “Blood and Sand”, a pageant of the rise and fall of a bullfighter which reunited Power and Darnell and also starred Rita Hayworth. After Otto Preminger secured the rights to Vera Caspary’s novel “Laura”, Darryl F. Zanuck approved Mamoulian to direct the film with Preminger as the producer. When problems developed between the cast and director, Mamoulian was fired and Preminger reshot all the footage. 

Through his career, Mamoulian felt strongly that a director should be given creative freedom; he was never tolerant of creative interference. Disillusioned with Hollywood, he returned to Broadway where he directed two major musical hits, the 1943 “Oklahoma!” and the 1945 “Carousel”. Mamoulian directed just two more films for MGM: “Summer Holiday” in 1948 and the 1957 musical “Silk Stockings”, which starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, featured music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Although he was scheduled to direct the 1958 film version of “Porgy and Bess”, the position of director was given to Preminger. In 1963, Mamoulian began shooting the 1963 epic “Cleopatra”; however, after six days of shooting, he was replaced with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This was Mamoulian’s last involvement with a Hollywood film production.

Rouben Mamoulian was personally recruited in 1936 by the Directors Guild of America’s co-founder King Vidor to help organize fellow movie directors.  His strong allegiance to the Guild and unwillingness to compromise led to his being targeted in the 1950s Hollywood blacklisting. Mamoulian died of natural causes in December of 1987 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Note: Senses of Cinema, an online film site with interviews and extensive biographies of both actors and directors, has an interesting article on the 1929 “Applause”. Senses of Cinema can be found at: https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/cteq/applause/

Senses of Cinema also has an article on Mamoulian’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” which can be found at: https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/cteq/jekyll/

Top Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, Self Portrait, circa 1939, Vintage Black and White Print, 20.3 x 25.4 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Myrna Loy”, 1932, “Love Me Tonight”, Cinematography Victor Milner, 104 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Third Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Fredric March”, 1931, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Cinematography Karl Struss, 98 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Fourth Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney”, 1931, “City Streets”, Cinematography Lee Garmes, 83 Minutes, Paramount Pictures

Bottom Insert Image: Rouben Mamoulian, “Tyrone Power”, 1940, “The Mask of Zorro”, Cinematography Arthur C. Miller, 94 Minutes, Twentieth-Century Fox

James Searle Dawley: Film History Series

James Searle Dawley, “Snow White”, 1916, Silent Fantasy Film, Cinematographer and Producer  H. Lyman Broening, Running Time 63 Minutes, Starring Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale, Production Company Famous Players Film Company

Born at Del Norte, Colorado in October of 1877, James Searle Dawley was an American film director, screenwriter, producer, stage actor and playwright. During his career, he directed over three-hundred short films and fifty-six features with such actors as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, and John Barrymore. Dawley also wrote several Broadway productions as well as plays for repertory companies. 

The youngest of three sons born to James Andres Dawley and Angela Searle, James Dawley received his initial education in Denver and later attended the city’s Saxton College of Oratory. As a child, he permanently lost the vision in his right eye, an injury which challenged his later career as actor and film director. At the age of seventeen, Dawley had his first stage performance as François in the Lewis Morrison Company’s 1895 New York City production of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “Richelieu”. Three years later, now billed as J. Searle Dawley, he served both as performer and stage manager for the Morrison Company’s productions. 

Dawley left the Morrison Company and performed on the vaudeville circuit from 1899 to 1902. He returned to the theatrical stage as a member of the Edna May Spooner Stock Company based in Brooklyn. Actress and playwright Edna May Spooner and her family were a fixture in Brooklyn’s theater life and operated its Bijou Theater for several years. Recognized for his past production experience, Dawley both performed on stage and managed the company’s productions. He also wrote and produced fifteen plays during his five years with the company. 

In May of 1907, J. Searle Dawley made the decision to start a career in the rapidly expanding motion-picture industry. He was hired by Edwin Porter, the production head at Edison Studios, to serve as director for the company’s main film facilities in the Bronx, New York. His first project as director was the now-lost 1907 comedy “The Nine Lives of a Cat”. After experiencing some initial frustrations, Dawley quickly established himself as a reliable director who could produce a wide range of releases, often two or more films in a single week. Through his career with Edison Studios, he directed over two-hundred single-reel films. Among these were “Bluebeard”, adaptions of both “Michael Strogoff” and “Faust”, and “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest”, noteworthy for its special effects and an early screen appearance by film director D. W. Griffith.

By 1910, Dawley was directing increasingly elaborate productions for the Edison Company. Although they were still one-reel films, they included the 1910 Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and two presentations of historic naval battles: “The Stars and Stripes”, a depiction of John Paul Jones’s victory in 1779, and “The Battle of Trafalgar”, the story of British Admiral Lord Nelson’s 1805 triumph over the French and Spanish warships. In both of these productions, Dawley oversaw the creation of large maritime sets inside Edison’s Bronx studio, construction of the ships’ decks, and simulated views of the battles using small-scale models and silhouettes. 

In 1910, J. Searle Dawley was screenwriter and director for the longer running (fourteen minute) silent horror “Frankenstein”, the earliest known screen adaption of Shelley’s novel. Staged and filmed in three days at the Bronx studio in mid-January, Dawley used special effects for the creation of the monster. A burning papier-mâché human figure was shot on red film, separately and in reverse, and then spliced into the master negative for the final print. This reverse action produced a creation scene in which the monster forms slowly as it rises from a cauldron of blazing chemicals. 

In the same year, Dawley traveled to California and set up Edison Studios at Long Beach. This new arrangement required him to write more screenplays and direct film productions on both coasts. Dawley made several attempts to create films longer than the fifteen-minute one-reel film; however, Edison had little confidence in the attention span of the audience. In 1913, Edwin Porter hired Dawley to work with him at Adolph Zuckor’s new studio, Famous Players Film Company. Dawley directed its first thirteen releases, among which was the romantic comedy “An American Citizen”, the first feature film for actor John Barrymore.

After leaving Famous Players in May of 1914, James Searle Dawley, along with Frank L. Dyer and J. Parker Read Jr, established the film company Dyreda. In the fall of 1914, arrangements were made with World Film Corporation to distribute their releases; Dyreda would later merge with Metro Pictures, a forerunner of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Dawley returned in 1916 to Famous Players, later Paramount Pictures, for two years. During this period, he directed over a dozen films, including “Mice and Men” and “Snow White”, both in 1916; two 1917 films “”Bab’s Diary” and “The Seven Swans”; and the 1918 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a five-reel film produced by Adolph Zucker and Jesse L. Lasky.

Dawley freelanced as a director for several years before joining Fox Films in 1921. The last feature film he directed was the 1923 drama “Broadway Broke”, produced by Murray W. Garsson and distributed by Lewis J. Selznick. Months later, Dawley made his final directorial works in collaboration with the inventor of the first practical electronic amplifier Lee de Forest. Their two experimental sound films, “Abraham Lincoln” and “Love’s Old Sweet Song”, were both released in 1924. Dawley worked through the late 1920s and 1930s in radio broadcasting, journalism, and sound-film technologies. 

James Searle Dawley married Grace Owens Givens in June of 1918; the couple remained together over thirty years until Dawley’s death, at the age of seventy-one, in March of 1949. He died of undisclosed causes at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Dawley’s ashes were interned in the columbarium at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory. Silent film star Mary Pickford and director Walter Lang spoke at the service. Dawley’s personal papers, scrapbooks and several Edison production scripts are housed in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California. 

Note: Dawley’s 1916 “Snow White” was considered a lost-film destroyed in a vault fire. A substantially complete print with Dutch subtitles, albeit missing a few scenes, was located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1992. It was subsequently restored through the work of the George Eastman House, the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography.

Second Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “The Harvest Moon”, 1920, Film Poster, Six-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer Bert Dawley

Third Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “Frankenstein”, 1910, Film Poster, One-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer James White

Fourth Insert Image: James Searle Dawley, “A Virgin Paradise”, 1921, Film Poster, Eight-Reel Silent Film, Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg and Bert Dawley

Bottom Insert Image: “Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale”, Silent Film Clip Photo, “Snow White”, 1916, Five-Reel Silent Film Director James Searle Dawley, Cinematographer H. Lyman Broening

Sir Nigel Barnard Hawthorne: Film History Series

Born in the West Midland city of Coventry in April of 1929, Sir Nigel Barnard Hawthorne was an English stage, television and film actor. Among the many honors for his work, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1987 New Years Honors List, which highlights the good works by citizens of the Commonwealth. Hawthorne was later knighted in the 1999 New Years Honors List for services to Theater, Film and Television.

The second child of physician Charles Barnard Hawthorne and his wife Agnes Rosemary Rice, Nigel Hawthorne was three years old when the family moved to the Gardens district of Cape Town, South Africa. He attended Cape Town’s St. George’s Grammar School and later its Christian Brothers College. Hawthorne enrolled at the University of Cape Town where he acted in plays with fellow student Theo Aronson, who became biographer to England’s royal family and partner of historian Brian Roberts. Hawthorne’s professional theatrical debut was the character Archie Fellows in  the 1950 Cape Town production of British playwright Edward Percy Smith’s 1940 thriller “The Shop at Sly Corner”. 

Dissatisfied with life in South Africa, Hawthorne relocated to London where he pursued a career in acting. Through his performances, he gradually gained recognition as one of London’s great character actors. Starting in the late 1950s, Hawthorne appeared in various character roles in British television series. Seeking opportunities in the United States, he traveled to New York City where, in 1974, he was cast as Touchstone in Broadway production of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It” at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. Through the persuasion of British stage actors Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, Hawthorne joined the Stratford-upon-Avon based Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1970s.

In 1980, Nigel Hawthorne began his most famous television role of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs, in the BBC2 political satire series “Yes Minister” which ran from 1980 to 1984. He later portrayed the character of the Cabinet Secretary in its sequel “Yes Prime Minister”. For this role, Hawthorne won four British Academy Television Awards for Best Light Entertainment Performance. 

Hawthorne appeared as Mr. Kinnnoch in Richard Attenborough’s long delayed 1982 historical film “Gandhi”, which became the winner of eight Academy Awards and the third highest grossing film in the world for 1982. In the same year, he appeared as dissident Russian scientist Dr. Pyotr Baranovich in Clint Eastwood’s cold war thriller “Firefox”. Hawthorne returned to the New York stage in 1990 to appear as British writer C. S. Lewis in the Broadway production of William Nicholson’s “Shadowlands” performed at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. For that role, Hawthorne won the 1991 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. 

In 1991, Nigel Hawthorne played his most famous theatrical role, King George III, in playwright Alan Bennett’s fictionalized biographical study “The Madness of George III”. Bennett’s play toured the United Kingdom and the United States before returning to London’s Royal National Theater in 1993. For this role, Hawthorne won a Best Actor Olivier Award. He also appeared in the same role for the 1994 film adaption of the play, entitled “The Madness of King George”, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Actor.  

Hawthorne followed this success with the role of George the Duke of Clarence, playing opposite his friend Ian McKellen, in Richard Loncraine’s 1995 British period drama “Richard III” adapted by McKellen and Loncraine from Shakespeare’s play. He won his sixth BAFTA award for his role in the 1996 television mini-series “The Fragile Heart” and also drew praise for his role of Georgie Pillson in the London Weekend Television series “Mapp and Lucia”, based on the three 1930s novels by Edward Frederic Benson. Hawthorne next appeared in the film role of U.S. President Martin Van Buren in director Steven Spielberg’s 1997 historical drama “Amistad”, a story based on the 1839 events aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad and the legal battle that followed.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Nigel Hawthorne began work as a voice actor and appeared in several animated films. In 1978, he was cast as the voice of Campion in Martin Rosen’s “Watership Down”, a British animated adventure-drama film based on Richard Adams’s 1972 novel. Hawthorne was also cast in two Disney films: the voice of Ffiewddur Fflam in the 1985 dark fantasy “The Black Cauldron” and Professor Porter in the 1999 “Tarzan”, the first animated version of the novel. 

In 1968, Hawthorne met his life-long partner Trevor Bentham who at that time was the stage manager for the Royal Court Theater in the West End of London. Bentham later became a scriptwriter and wrote for John Irvin’s 1995 romantic comedy “A Month by the Lake” and “The Clandestine Marriage”. From 1979 until Hawthorne’s death, the couple lived together and acted as fundraisers for the North Hertfordshire Hospice and other local charities. 

In 2001 after undergoing several surgeries for diagnosed pancreatic cancer, Nigel Hawthorne was discharged from the hospital in time for the Christmas holidays. On the twenty-sixth of December in 2001, he died at the age of seventy-two from a heart attack at his home. His funeral, attended by many of his fellow actors, was held at St. Mary’s, the Parish Church of Thundridge, Hertfordshire; Trevor Bentham served as one of the pallbearers.

Notes: Nigel Hawthorne completed his autobiography just before he died. “Straight Face”, which covered his ambition to be an actor, his career, and his battle with cancer, was published posthumously in 2002 by Hodder & Stoughton. 

An interview with Sir Nigel Hawthorne and film critic Dan Lybarger, in which Hawthorne discussed King George III, director David Mamet, and the film “The Big Brass Ring”, can be found at the Lybarger Links website located at: http://www.tipjar.com/dan/hawthorne.htm

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nigel Hawthorne”, Studio Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print

Second Insert Image: “Derek Fowlds, Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington”, circa 1980, “Yes Minister”, Television Series Studio Shot, BBC2

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nigel Hawtorne”, Studio Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print

Fourth Insert Image: “Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren”, 1994, “The Madness of King George”, Film Clip Shot, Director Nicholas Hylner, Cinematographer Andrew Dunn

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nigel Hawthorne and Trevor Bentham”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print

 

Anton Walbrook: Film History Series

Born in Vienna in November of 1896, Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrück was an Austrian actor who settled in the United Kingdom under the name Anton Walbrook. He was descended from ten generations of actors, although his father, Adolf Ferdinand Wohlbrück, broke from the tradition and became a well known and successful stage clown. At the age of seven, his family relocated to Berlin. Wohlbrück left school in 1911, at the age of fifteen, to train as an actor under the prominent theater and film director Max Reinhardt. 

Wohlbrück’s talent was quickly recognized and he was given a five-year contract to work with the Deutsches Theater. Still under contract, he enlisted and fought on both the western and eastern fronts before he was captured in France in 1917 to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner. After his return home, Wohlbrück met actress and director Hermine Korner who became a lifelong mentor and co-actor in several highly-praised stage productions. Although he enjoyed the classics, he also appeared in new stage productions and became drawn to the rapidly expanding German film industry.

In the early 1930s, Adolf Wohlbrück was cast in some exceptional movies among which were the 1933 cross-dressing musical comedy “Viktor and Viktoria” and the international 1934 Austrian operetta film “Masquerade” which later won the Best Screenplay at the Vienna Film Festival. Wohlbrück’s character in the 1934 film was Ferdinand von Heidenick, a charming, rather well-mannered, and slightly dangerous man. His following was built on films with such a character role; however, he also succeeded in other diverse roles in such films as the 1935 thriller “I Was Jack Mortimer”, director Arthur Robison’s 1935 German horror film “The Student of Prague”, and the 1936 action-packed historical drama “The Czar’s Courier”, based on Jules Verne’s novel “Michael Strogoff”.

Widely known and respected as an actor in both theater and film, Wohlbrück built up his career and appeared alongside some of Germany’s best leading ladies. In 1936, he traveled to Hollywood to reshoot dialogue for the 1937 multinational film “The Soldier and the Lady”, director George Nichols Jr’s American version of “Michael Stogoff”. It was during this period in Hollywood that Wohlbrück changed his name to Anton Walbrook. Rather than return to Germany where, under the government’s law, he risked persecution due to being a homosexual and a person of mixed race in the first degree due to his mother being Jewish, Walbrook decided to settle in England.  He continued acting in England and appeared in many European-continental character roles. 

In the first six years of his film work in Britain, Anton Walbrook appeared in many film studies of men struggling to find their identities in a foreign land. These displaced person roles included Prince Albert in the 1937 “Victoria the Great” and its sequel, the 1938 “Sixty Glorious Years”; the role of Polish pilot and composer Stefan Radetzky in the 1940 “Dangerous Moonlight”; and the foreign domestic despot Paul Mallen in Thorold Dickinson’s 1940 version of the psychological thriller “Gaslight”. Walbrook also appeared on stage in the role of Otto in the first London production of “Design for Living” in January of 1939 playing opposite Diana Wynyard and Rex Harrison. 

Walbrook appeared in several more film roles in England during the late 1940s, including the dashing “good” German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff in the 1943 “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and the tyrannical impersario in Michael Powell’s 1948 ballet film “The Red Shoes”, which received many nominations, a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards. One of Walbrook most unusual films of this time was the 1949 Gothic thriller “The Queen of Spades” in which he co-starred with Edith Evans. This fantasy-horror film, based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin, used sets from original baroque designs by English stage designer Oliver Messel. Some critics considered it one of the true classics of supernatural cinema.  

After the end of the war, Anton Walbrook returned to his homeland Germany and accepted stage work in Munich. His most notable film performances for this early-1950s period are the two movies he did for German-French director Max Ophüls: the 1950 French film “La Ronde”, nominated for two Academy Awards and originally classified by New York film censors as immoral, and the 1955 historical romance film “Lola Montès”, the last completed film of Max Ophüls. Walbrook’s final film role was the duplicitous French army officer Major Esterhazy in the 1958 Dreyfus Affair dramatization “I Accuse!”, directed by José Ferrer. 

After his last film, Walbrook performed in stage productions, both in Britain and Germany, often with appearances in comedies and musicals. He continued acting until his death of a heart attack in Feldafing, Bavaria, Germany in August of 1967. In accordance with his last testament, Walbrook was cremated and his ashes were interred in the churchyard of St. John’s Church, Hampstead, London.  

Note: In 2020, author and archivist at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Department  James Downs published his monograph “Anton Walbrook: A Life of Masks and Mirrors”, the first Walbrook biography. Downs had previously written and presented conference papers on Walbrook and had curated the 2013 exhibition “Anton Walbrook: Star and Enigma” at the Bill Douglas Cinema Theater in Exeter, United Kingdom. More information on the biography can be found at: https://www.peterlang.com/document/1058817 

Top Insert Image: JDA Riga, “Anton Walbrook as Michael Strogoff, The Czar’s Courier”, 1936, Bromide Postcard Print, 13.7 x 8.6 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Second Insert Image: Anton Walbrook in “The Man from Morocco”, 1945, Director Mutz Greenbaum, Cinematographer Basil Emmett and Geoffrey Faithfull

Third Insert Image: Angus McBean, “Rex Harrison, Diana Wynyard, Anton Walbrook”, 1939, Gelatin Silver Print, 20.2 x 25.3 cm, Harvard Theater Collection, Harvard University

Fourth Insert Image: “Anton Walbrook as Jean Boucheron,The Rat”, “The Rat”, 1937, Director Jack Raymond, Cinematographer Freddie Young

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Anton Walbrook”, Date Unknown, Studio Photo Shot, 15.2 x 10.2 cm, Private Collection

John Dall: Film History Series

Photographer Unknown, “John Dall”, 1948, Publicity Shot for Universal International, Gelatin Silver Print

Born in New York City in May of 1920, John Dall Thompson was an American stage and film actor. The younger of two sons born to Charles Thompson and Henny Worthington, he moved with his family in the 1920s to Panama, where his father was employed as a civil engineer for airport construction. After performing at a local theater, Dall first gave thought to the possibility of acting as a career. Due to the death of Charles Thompson by suicide in 1929, the family chose to return to New York City.

John Dall attended the Horace Mann School, a private college-preparatory school in the Bronx, and enrolled at Columbia University with the intention of studying engineering. He soon left the university and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Theodore Irvine School of Theater. Dall also took theater courses in New Orleans at the Petit Theatre, a historic French Quarter playhouse founded in 1916. 

Dall performed for six years in various stock companies, primarily the Children’s Theater founded in New York City in 1924 by British actress and playwright Clare Tree Major. He also worked in several theater companies headed by such performers as Academy Award winner Aline MacMahon, actor Arthur William Byron, and stage and screen actress Edith Atwater. During the 1941-1942 season, Dall had small roles on Broadway which included the 1920 science-fiction play “R.U.R.” by Czech writer Karel Čapek. In 1942-1943, Dall had the lead role of Quizz Martin in the touring production of Maxwell Anderson’s “The Eve of St Mark” which later moved to Broadway. 

John Dall’s performance in the Broadway version of “The Eve of St Mark” caught the attention of the wife of Jack Warner, founder of Warner Brothers Pictures. This resulted in a film contract with the studio; a proviso was added to the contract that allowed Dall personal time for stage performances. Dall’s first film with Warner Brothers was director Irving Rapper’s 1945 “The Corn is Green”, a drama starring Bette Davis as a schoolteacher bringing education to a Welsh coal mining town.  Dall played the lead role of miner Morgan Evans and was nominated for the 1946 Academy Award / Best Supporting Actor. 

Impressed with the film rushes for “The Corn is Green”, Warner Brothers signed Dall to a new contract. He became one of the studio’s six contract players that were to be built into stars; the others included Lauren Bacall, Dane Clark, Faye Emerson, Robert Hutton and William Prince. In 1944, Dall returned to the stage with the lead role in playwright Norman Krasna’s highly successful “Dear Ruth”, which eventually ran for six-hundred and eighty performances. The film rights to the play, however, were purchased by Paramount Studio which cast William Holden in Dall’s original role. 

Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to John Patrick’s play “Hasty Heart” with the intention of giving the lead film role to John Dall. In 1945, Dall performed “Hasty Heart” on a three-month stage tour. However as it took several more years before the film was started, casting changes gave the lead role to Irish-British actor Richard Todd. In May of 1946, Warners released Dall from his contract after filming only one role for the studio.

Although Paramount Studio cited interest in signing Dall for an adaption of ”The Wayfarers” based on Becky Chambers’s series of books, Dall signed a seven-year contract with David Selznick’s Vanguard Films in May of 1946. He performed “Hasty Heart” during the summer theater season but was never given any roles by Selznick. Signing with Universal International, he played Canadian actress Deanna Durbin’s love interest in Irving Pichel’s 1947 musical comedy “Something in the Wind”. Dall next appeared in a supporting role in Michael Gordon’s 1948 post-Civil War drama “Another Part of the Forest”. 

Founded by Alfred Hitchcock and his longtime associate Sidney Bernstein at the end of World War II, Transatlantic Pictures chose John Dall for one of the lead roles in its first production. Dall and actor Farley Granger played the two killers who matched wits with James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Technicolor 1948 crime thriller “Rope”. On its theatrical release, the film performed poorly at the box office; screenwriter Arthur Laurents attributed the poor performance to audience uneasiness with the homosexual undertones between the characters played by Dall and Granger.

Dall did an hour episode for the ABC anthology radio series “Theater Guild on the Air” and then appeared on Broadway in an adaption of Jean-Paul Satre’s “Red Gloves” with Charles Boyer. In 1949, he made his television debut in The Chevolet Tele-Theatre’s production “Miracle in the Rain”. Dall appeared as one of the leads in Joseph H. Lewis’s 1950 crime film-noir “Gun Crazy” playing opposite femme-fatale actress Peggy Cummins. He later had supporting roles in the 1950 crime film-noir “The Man Who Cheated Himself”, playing opposite Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt, and in a revival on Broadway of the romantic drama “The Heiress”, playing alongside Basil Rathbone.

Throughout the 1950s, John Dall appeared in stock productions of such plays as “Gramercy Ghost”, “The Hasty Heart”, “Born Yesterday” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner”. He worked extensively in television and appeared in guest roles on such shows as Studio One in Hollywood, General Electric Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, The Clock, Broadway Television Theater, and Lights Out. In 1955, Dall returned to Broadway for writer and director Leslie Stevens’s “Champagne Complex”. 

Dall’s first film role after a span of eight years was that of the Roman soldier Marcus Glabus, based on the life of Roman military commander Gaius Claudius Glaber, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic historical drama “Spartacus”.  This film won four Academy Awards and had the highest ranking box office in Universal Studio’s history until “Airport” in 1970. Dall’s final film performance was as the villain Zaren in George Pal’s 1961 science-fiction film “Atlantis, the Lost Continent”. 

As to John Dall’s personal life, there is very little verifiable written record. According to music journalist Phil Milstein, at the time of his death Dall had lapsed into alcoholism and was living with his partner, actor Clement Brace. While visiting London in October of 1970, John Dall sustained a serious fall. He died three months later of cardiac arrest, a complication of myocarditis, at his Beverly Hills home in January of 1971 at the age of fifty. His body was donated to medical science. Dall’s papers and correspondence are housed at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California. 

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “John Dall”,  Date Unknown, Studio Publicity Shot, Gelatin Silver Print

Second Insert Image: Joseph A. Valentine, “John Dall, James Stewart and Farley Granger”, 1948, Film Shot from “Rope”, Director Alfred Hitchcock

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Donald O’Connor, Deanna Durbin and John Dall”, 1947, Pulicity Shot for “Something in the Wind”, Director Irving Pichel, Cinematographer Milton R. Krasner

Fourth Insert Image: Sol Polito, “John Dall and Bette Davis”, 1945, Film Shot from “The Corn is Green”, Director Irving Rapper

Fifth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “John Dall”, Date Unknown, Publicity Shot, Gelatin Silver Print

Bottom Insert Image: Russell Harlan, “John Dall”, 1950, Film Shot from “Gun Crazy”, Director Joseph H. Lewis

Clifton Webb: Film History Series

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in November of 1889, Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, known professionally as Clifton Webb, was an American actor, dancer and singer. He is known for his roles in films, his Broadway appearances in successful musicals, and for his stage appearances in the plays of English playwright and actor Sir Noël Coward.

Clifton Webb was the only child of Jacob Hollenbeck, a ticket-clerk for the Indianapolis- St. Louis Railroad, and Mabel Parmelee, the daughter of a railroad conductor. In 1891, the couple separated and Mabel took young Webb with her to New York City in 1892. After the divorce was finalized, Mabel married Green B. Raum, Jr., a copper-foundry worker and the son of a former U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue; the new family settled in New York City on West 77th Street. 

Webb, at the age of five, began dancing lessons; two years later, he made his official debut in Carnegie Hall as a member of the Children’s Theater in a performance of Canadian author Palmer Cox’s children series “The Brownies”. This was followed with a vaudeville tour in which Webb appeared in “The Master of Charlton Hall” and performed as Oliver in “Oliver Twist” and as Tom Sawyer in “Huckleberry Finn”. As a young teenager, he studied painting with Realist artist Robert Henri, a pioneer of the Ashcan School, and music with French operatic baritone Victor Maurel. His studies with Maurel led to Webb’s debut in 1906 with Boston’s Aborn Opera Company’s production of Ambroise Thomas’s “Mignon”.

Returning to New York, Clifton Webb teamed with Mae Murray in a ballroom dance act; they toured a chain of vaudeville theaters known as the Keith Circuit and performed in Manhattan restaurants. Webb had his Broadway debut in April of 1913 with the premiere of “The Purple Road” at the Liberty Theater, in which he played the role of Bosco for one hundred-thirty six performances. Between 1913 and 1917, Webb was continually on the Broadway stage and appeared in such vehicles as Sigmund Romberg’s “Dancing Around”, Ned Waybum’s all-star revue “Town Topics” , and Cole Porter’s comic opera “See America First”. 

In 1917, Webb was the sensuous dancing star of “Love O’Mike”, a musical comedy produced by Lee Shubert and Elisabeth Marbury, a theatrical agent who lived in an open relationship with actress and famous interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl. By the middle of the 1920s, Webb was one of Broadway’s highest-paid stars and reached his apex with the 1930 “Three’s a Crowd” and the very successful 1933 “As Thousands Cheered”, which featured the steamy torch song “Moanin’ Low” sung by Webb and actress Libby Holman. 

In 1935, Webb relocated to Hollywood where Metro Goldwyn Mayer, who hoped to make Webb a successful dancing star like RKO’s Fred Astaire, gave him an eighteen-month contract at three-thousand dollars a week. He was to star opposite Joan Crawford in a musical entitled “Elegance”; the picture was abandoned, however, Webb was paid all his money. For the next eighteen months, he was not offered any work but made many high-profile social appearances. He  often appeared wearing white gloves and a top hat, with his mother Mabel on his arm and his poodle Ernest, after Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, trailing behind on a leash.  

In 1938, Clifton Webb returned to New York’s Broadway in “You Never Know”, written by his longtime friend Cole Porter. The stage version of “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, starring the stage and film actor Monty Woolley, premiered in the fall of 1939. Webb was cast as the acidic character Sheridan Whiteside for its touring version, a role in which he remained for eighteen months. In 1941, he played the character Charles Condomine, a successful novelist curious about seances,  in the initial performances of Noël Coward’s comic play “Blithe Spirit”. 

Webb is probably best known today for his many film appearances. In his mid-fifties, he was chosen by director Otto Preminger, despite objections from 20th Century Fox’s Darryl Zanuck who though Webb too effeminate, to play the evil radio columnist Waldo Lydecker in the 1944 film noir “Laura”. Webb’s performance won him wide acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The Fox Studio signed him to a long-term contract, which provided Webb with work for the rest of his career. His first role under contract was as a suave villain in Henry Hathaway’s 1946 film noir “Dark Corner”. This was followed with his role of elitist Elliott Templeton, playing opposite Gene Tieeney, in the 1946 “The Razor’s Edge” for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 

Clifton Webb achieved stardom with his role of Mr. Belvedere, a snide know-it-all babysitter with a mysterious past, in the 1948 comedy film “Sitting Pretty”, based on the 1947 novel “Belvedere” by Gwen Davenport. This role became so popular that it was followed with two sequels: the 1949 box office success “Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” and the 1951 “Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell”.  In 1950, Webb and actress Myrna Loy played the roles of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the parents of twelve children, in the film “Cheaper by the Dozen” which made Webb one of the biggest stars in the United States. 

In addition to these comedic films, Webb played more serious character roles for 20th Century Fox. He starred in the 1952 Technicolor film biography of bandmaster John Phillip Sousa entitled “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Webb’s most dramatic role was the brave but doomed husband of Barbara Stanwyck’s Julia Sturges in the 1953 “Titanic”, the winner of the 1954 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The following year, he appeared as the novelist John Frederick Shadwell in the romance film “Three Coins in the Fountain”. Webb appeared in the 1956 British war film “The Man Who Never Was”, based on the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II, and as a sarcastic but self-sacrificing Catholic priest in the 1962 “Satan Never Sleeps”, his final film role. 

Clifton Webb was one of the few gay actors to appear in decidedly heterosexual character roles, most notably the devoted husband who fathered twelve children in “Cheaper by the Dozen”. Obsessively proper, correct and well-mannered, he lived his bachelor life as close to being openly gay as any leading actor in Hollywood could be. Although he lived with his mother until her death in 1960, Webb threw lavish parties and enjoyed the company of young men who gathered poolside at his pink stucco house in Beverly Hills. His friends included many member of the gay circles in the film industry: Noël Coward, Cole Porter, actor Monty Woolley, director George Cukor, stage and costume designer Oliver Messel, film director Irving Rapper, actors William Hanes and Jimmie Shields, among others.

Due to health issues, Webb spent the last five years of his life as a recluse at his home in Beverly Hills. He suffered a fatal heart attack, at the age of seventy-six, at his home on the 13th of October in 1966. He is interred in a crypt in the Abbey of the Psalms at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, alongside his mother. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Webb was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard. An archive of his papers, including typed manuscripts, notes, correspondences, financial records and Webb’s last will and testament, is housed at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

Note: Clifton Webb’s portrayal of the character Mr. Lynn Belvedere was the model for the “Mr. Peabody” character in the animated cartoon series “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”, which ran from November of 1959 to June of 1964.

Cecil Beaton

The Photography of Cecil Beaton

Born in January of 1904 in the Hampstead area of London, Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was a British portrait, fashion and war photographer. He was also a painter, an interior designer and a designer of stage set and costumes, for which he received two Academy Awards.

Cecil Beaton was the eldest of four children born to Ernest Beaton, a prosperous timber merchant and amateur actor, and Esther Sisson, the daughter of a Cumbrian blacksmith. His primary education was at Heath Mount School in rural Hertfordshire, where he was recognized for both his singing and artistic talent. Beaton received his initial instruction in photography and film development from his governess. When he considered his work acceptable, he sent photos to London society magazines under a pseudonym.

Beaton attended the prestigious Harrow School in Greater London and then entered St. John’s College at Cambridge, where he studied history, art and architecture. He continued his photographic work during his college years. Beaton, never having a strong interest in academia, left Cambridge without a degree in 1925. After a short period in the family’s timber business, he left and concentrated on a career in his main interest, photography. After a period of study under one of London’s youngest photographers Paul Tanqueray, Beaton set up his own studio in London. 

Through the patronage of English author and poet Osbert Sitwell, Cecil Beaton had his first photography exhibition at London’s Cooling Gallery at Southampton Row. This successful show in 1927 established him as one of the leading fashion and portrait photographers of his generation. Beaton was soon hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair magazine and both the American and British editions of Vogue magazine. He developed a style of portraiture where the sitter was merely one element of an overall decorative pattern, dominated by backgrounds of unusual materials. In addition to his fashion  and society work, Beaton traveledd to the United States and began to photograph many celebrities in Hollywood. 

Beaton’s celebrity portraits had a sparse composition and a sensual directness that in essence freed his subjects from their respective eras. Devoted to the social scenes he lived in and passionate for his individual subjects, Beaton was committed to capturing their charisma on film. Among the celebrities he photographed were the solemn looking, plain dressed Gary Cooper in 1931, Greta Garbo at the Plaza Hotel in 1946, and the boyish-looking Truman Capote in 1948. Beaton also took many portraits of the English and foreign elite, including Lady Diane Cooper, Winston Churchill, Caroline of Monaco, and Charles de Gaulle. He also shot a portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth in 1939 and in 1953, photographed her daughter Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day.

During World War II, Cecil Beaton served in the British Ministry of Information, as a leading war photographer covering the fighting in Africa and East Asia. During this period his style sharpened and the compositional range of his photographs widened. Beaton’s photographs taken during the the siege of Britain were published in 1942 in a collection entitled “Winged Squadrons”. After the war, he continued his portrait photography; his style however had mellowed due to his war experience and became less flamboyant. Beaton broadened his work at this time and began to design costumes and sets for both film and theater productions. 

One of Beaton’s first designs for the Broadway stage was a 1946 revival of Oscar Wilde’s comedy “Lady Windermere’s Fan” for which he designed costumes, sets, and lighting. In 1956, he designed costumes for the stage production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady”. The success of Beaton’s work led to designs for two of Lerner and Loewe film musicals, the 1958 “Gigi” and the 1964 “My Fair Lady”, each of which earned Beaton an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. For his many Broadway design works, he was the recipient of four Tony Awards. Beaton also designed sets and costumes for the New York’s 1961 Metropolitan Opera and London’s 1963 Covent Garden productions of Puccini’s “Turandot”.

In 1947, Cecil Beaton leased the historic Georgian manor Ashcombe House in Wiltshire after a visit accompanied by sculptor Stephen Tomlin and writer Edith Olivier. He employed architect Michael Rosenauer to make substantial renovations and alterations to the manor. At Ashcombe House, Beaton lavishly entertained such guests as Welsh painter and etcher Augustus John, English aristocrat Lady Diane Cooper, actress Tallulah Bankhead, artist Salvador Dali, and fashion illustrator Christian Bérard. In 1948, Beaton designed a fabric, still used among designers today, which he named “Ashcombe Stripe” after the manor. In 1947, Beaton bought Reddish House in Broad Chalke where he remained until his death.

In his personal life, Beaton had relationships with various men, including his two great loves, British arts patron Peter Watson and American art historian Kin Hoitsma, who was also a former Olympic fencer. He also had relationships with women, including Greta Garbo, the dancer Adel Astaire, and socialite Doris Castlerosse. In 1972, Beaton received the state honor of being knighted at the New Years Honors. Two years later, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. Although he adapted to the condition and continued his photographic work, Beaton became anxious about his financial security. Philippe Garner of Sotheby’s acquired Beaton’s archive, excluding work of the Royal Family and that held by Vogue, and oversaw its preservation and partial dispersal, which allowed Beaton an annual income.

Cecil Beaton’s health faded by the end of the 1970s. He died in January of 1980, four days after his seventy-sixth birthday, at his home in Broad Chalke; he is buried in the nearby churchyard. Beaton’s work has been shown in many exhibitions and retrospectives over the years, including at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and the Imperial War Museum in London, among others.

Note: An interesting article to read would be Sooanne Berner’s “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Cecil Beaton” located at the online magazine “AnOther” : https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/10296/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-cecil-beaton

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil beaton in Sandwich, England”, circa 1920s, Gelatin Silver Print, Cecil Beaton Studio Photos, Sotheby’s

Second Insert Image: Curtis Moffat, “Cecil beaton”, circa 1930, Gelatin Silver Print, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Beaton and Gary Cooper, 1931, Gelatin Silver Print

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Beaton and Stephen Tennant”, 1927, National Portrait Gallery, London

Bottom Insert Image: Jack Mitchell, “Cecil Beaton”, 1963, Silver Gelatin Print, Getty Images

John Kingsley Orton: “Ordinary Decent People”

Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Thirteen

Sir- As a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humor! Today’s young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back! Yours truly, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)

—John Kingsley Orton, Letter Sent for Publication under the Alias of Edna Welthorpe

Born in Leicester, England in January of 1933, John Kingsley Orton, known under the pen name of Joe Orton, was a working-class, gay playwright whose outrageous black comedies shocked, outraged, and amused theatre audiences in the 1960s. 

After attending secretarial classes at Clark’s College in Leicester from 1945 to 1947, Joe Orton worked as a junior clerk for three pounds a week. He began performing in theater productions beginning in 1949 and joined several groups, including the Leicester Dramatic Society. Orton was accepted for a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in November of 1950; however, due to appendicitis, his entrance was delayed until May of 1951. It was at the Royal Academy that Orton met the seven-year older Kenneth Leith Halliwell, who also was a struggling actor and writer. After moving into a West Hampstead flat, they quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers.

After graduation, Orton and Halliwell collaborated on writing several novels, which were unsuccessful at  publishing. Due to a lack of serious work, they began to amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. From January 1959 to May of 1962, Orton and Halliwell removed books from several local public libraries and began to modify the blurbs and cover art. One volume of poetry by writer and broadcaster John Betjeman was found with a new dust jacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, tattooed middle-aged man. Discovered by the authorities in May of 1962 and later found guilty of five counts of theft and malicious damage to seventy books, the two men served six months in prison. A collection of these altered book covers are now housed in the Islington Local History Center.

In 1959, Joe Orton wrote his only novel, which was  posthumously published as “Head to Toe”, and soon began to have success in his plays’ productions. His first play “Fred and Madge” was written in 1959; and “The Visitors” followed two years later. In 1963 the BBC purchased Orton’s radio play “The Ruffian on the Stair”, which was broadcast on August 31st of 1964 and, later in 1966, adapted as a stage play. 

By the end of August, Orton had also completed his play “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, which premiered on May 6th of 1964 to reviews which ranged from praise to outrage. Although it lost money on its short run, the play tied for first in the Variety Critics’ Poll for Best New Play, and Orton came second in the category for Most Promising Playwright. By 1965, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” was being performed in Spain, Israel, Australia, and New York, as well as being adapted into both a film and television play.

Written between June and October of 1964, Joe Orton’s next play was “Loot”, a wild parody of detective fiction, which added the blackest farce and jabs at established ideas on death, the police, religion, and justice. It underwent sweeping rewrites before it was judged fit for the West End. “Loot” was first staged in London on September 27th of 1966 to rave reviews. In November the play moved to the Criterion Theater where it ran for three hundred forty-two performances, won several awards and firmly established Orton’s fame.

Orton, over the next ten months, revised his “The Ruffian on the Stair” and his “The Erpngham Camp” for the stage as a double play entitled “Crimes of Passion”. He also wrote his television play “Funeral Games”, the screenplay entitled “Up Against It” for the Beatles music group, and his final full-length play “What the Butler Saw”, a play of seduction, blackmail, and cross-dressing, which came to the West End stage in 1969, eighteen months after Orton’s death.

On the 9th of August of 1967, John Kingsley Orton was bludgeoned to death by Kenneth Halliwell at their home in Islington, London, killed by nine hammer blows to the head. Halliwell then committed suicide with an overdose of Nembutal. Later evidence showed that Orton had earlier confided to a friend that he wanted to end his relationship with Halliwell; and it also showed that Halliwell had spoken to his psychiatrist three times on the day of the murder. Halliwell had felt increasingly threatened and isolated by Orton’s success, and had come to rely on barbiturates and antidepressants. The bodies, along with Halliwell’s suicide note, were found on the morning of August 10th by a chauffeur who had arrived to transport Orton for a meeting in London. 

The body of Joe Orton was brought into the chapel of London’s Golders Green Crematorium to a recording of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life”. Playwright and director Harold Pinter read the eulogy. After Orton’s cremation, his ashes and Halliwell’s ashes were mixed together and scattered in a section of the Garden of Remembrance at Golders Green; no marking memorial stone is erected there. A statue of Joe Orton was later installed in the city of Leicester and, in 1987, a film adaption of John Lahr’s 1978 biography of Orton was released under the title “Prick Up Your Ears”.

Note: For those interested in theater and gay history, an interesting article is Greg Buzwell’s 2019 “Homosexuality, Censorship, and British Drama During the 1950s and 1960s” located at the British Library site: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/homosexuality-censorship-and-british-drama-during-the-1950s-and-1960s

Virgilio Pinera: “The Waves of Music We Made”

Photographers Unknown, The Waves of Music We Made

Can it be they are going to kill?
Will they pierce the heart with a huge knife?
And with the sharpest scalpel empty the eyes?
And with the steeliest chisel break the skull?
And with the most hammer of hammers crush the bones?

Can it be that on the exotic table
–table of sex, table of love–
my love, you and I,
being startled one night
your heart spoke
when you were under my blood?
Can it be the same as it was
when it was an oath, and even more so,
your work, your word bled,
soaked by the soft perfume of kisses,
so as not to deny, to be one indivisible?
And can it be so blindly believed,
so blindly, that all the suns go dark forever
while the soul travels in darkness?
Can it be there never was a soul despite the waves of music
we made?
Soul that never was though you might be for an instant?

Renenber that instant when you were a soul and adored
me,
and then your own monster came suddenly
to take you to the place where being you were?

Can it be that after you are no longer,
when not being is merely a mound of dried out kisses,
you wil be by not being, instead of being love?

Virgilio Pinera, Poem to be Said in the Midst of a Great Silence, The Weight of the Island, 1967

Born in Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba in 1912, Virgilio Piñera was an author, playwright, poet, and essayist known for his avant-garde work, caustic wit, acid tongue, and bohemian lifestyle. He lived under the dual repression of the Catholic church and reactionary government leaders such as Argentina’s Juan Perón and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista. Piñera’s homosexuality and non-conformism led to his marginalization during a well-documented period of Cuban history when homophobia and petty bureaucracy stifled creative freedom

An avid reader from an early age, which included works by Marcel Proust and Herman Melville, Piñera drew his inspiration from different genres, a foundation which became fundamental to his distinctive work with its combination of Cuban vernacular and more refined language.At the age of thirteen, Piñera’s family moved to Camagüey, a municipality located in central Cuba, where he earned his high school diploma. After settling in Havana in 1938,  he received his Doctoral Degree in philosophy from the University of Havana in 1949. 

Piñera published in his poems in Havana’s literary magazine “Espuela de Plata” and, in 1941. wrote his first poetry collection, “Las Furias (The Furies)” and  his most famous play “Electra Garrigó”, which featured the choral structure of a Greek tragedy alongside distinctive Cuban elements. Staged both before and after the revolution of Castro and Guevara, this play later became a powerful symbol of the Revolution and was consciously performed before foreign and  notable public figures as  being emblematic of the transformed nation.

Following his founding of the magazine “Poeta” in 1942, Piñera wrote his collection of poems entitled “La Isla en Peso (The Weight of the Island)”. Drawing upon episodes in his personal life as well as the social interactions occurring inside Cuba, he explored the nebulous regions between sadness and beauty, and disillusion and reality. Published posthumously after Piñera’ death in 1979, “The Weight of the Island” was initially scorned by some poets and critics; however, the collection is now regarded as one of the classics of Cuban literature.

In 1944, Virgilio Piñera, along with writer José Lezama Lima and editor and critic José Rodríguez Feo, founded the prestigious literary and arts review “Origenes”, which provided a focal point for promising poets and critics in Cuba during the 1940s and 1950s. The journal published short stories, poetry, and critical essays on art, literature, music and philosophy. Among Piñera’s contributions were several poems, an essay on Argentinian literature, and an 1945 essay entitled “El Secreto de Kafka”, a work in which Piñera developed his theory on the creation of images into a literary surprise. 

Piñera lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a twelve year period from 1946 to 1958; it was  during this stay that he developed his voice as a writer. He worked as a translator and proofreader at the Cuban Embassy and became friends with writers Jorge Luis Borges and essayist José Bianco, who would write the forward to Piñera’s collection of short stories “El que Vina a Salvarme (The One Who Came to Save Me)”. Along with other writers, Piñera worked on the translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s 1937 controversial novel “Ferdydurke” into Spanish. 

Virgilio Piñera wrote two plays in Buenos Aires,  “Jesús” and “Falsa Alarma”, a fast paced, absurdist play of humor and anguish, to which he lengthened with dialogue for a later 1957 staging. His first novel, entitled “La Carne de René (René’s Flesh)”, was published in 1952 and told the dark story of a twenty-year old protagonist forced into a merciless life. After the closure of his literary review “Origenes” and the founding of his final magazine “Ciclón (Cyclone)”, Piñera left Argentina in 1958 to settle permanently in Cuba, where he arrived shortly before the Revolution. His work appeared in the newspaper “Revolución” and other numerous journals. In 1962, with the Cuban revolution in full motion, Piñera’s  most autobiographical play, “Airo Frio (Cold Air)”, a very personal celebratory work supporting the ouster of dictator Batista’s police and army, opened in Havana. 

Shortly after the opening of “Airo Frio”, Fidel Castro’s government made the decision that there was no room for any views other than those completely sympathetic to the Revolution. Intellectuals and other luminaries, as well as the religious and those youths not conforming to the revolution, were to face persecution. Virgilio Piñera, although never public about his homosexuality, was arrested under the revolutionary government’s clampdown on the prostitutes, pimps and homosexuals. By 1971, he was ostracized by the Cuban government and the literary establishment. As his career declined into obscurity. Piñera continued to write at n increased rate; however, his plays were no longer performed. 

In 1968, Piñera received Latin America’s most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Casa de las Américas, for his play “Dos Viejos Pánicos (Two Old Panics)”. Despite the award and acclaim, the play would not have its first performance in Cuba until the 1990s.  Leaving behind more than twenty plays, three novels, volumes of short stories and a vast number of poems, Virgilio Piñera, who lived the last years of his life in poverty, died of a cardiac arrest on the 18th of August in 1979, without any official recognition of his death. He is buried in his native town of Cárdenas.

As a way to redress some of the wrongs committed against Piñera in the past, Cuba declared the year 2012 as “El Añ0 Virgiliano”. In the month of June, a group of thirty researchers from countries, such as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Spain and the United States, came together in Havana to discuss the life, work and legacy of Virgilio Pañera, one of Latin America’s prominent writers. His two best known plays, “Airo Frio” and “Dos Viejos Pánicos”, were performed and a new ballet by choreographer Iván Tenorio, entitled “Virgiliando”, had its premiere. 

Note: The University of Miami Libraries contains the digital Cuban Heritage Collection which includes material on Virgilio Piñera. Included in the material are correspondence exchanged between Piñera and Adolfo de Obieta during the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a typescript of Piñera’s play “Una Caja de Zapatos Vacía” that he sent to his friend Luis F. González-Cruz, who published it in Miami in 1986. This material can be found at: https://merrick.library.miami.edu/cdm/search?collection=chc5278

Friedrich Dürrenmatt: “What Will the Future Bring?”

Photographers Unknown, What Will the Future Bring?

“What is going to happen? What will the future bring? I do not know, I have no presentiment. When a spider flings itself from a fixed point down into its consequences, it continually sees before it an empty space in which it can find no foothold, however much it stretches. So it is with me; before me is continually an empty space, and I am propelled by a consequence that lies behind me. This life is turned around and dreadful, not to be endured.” 

–Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Assignment: or, On the Oberving of the Observer of the Observers

Born in Konolfingen, Switzerland, in 1921, Friedrich Dürrenmatt was an author and dramatist who was a proponent of epic theater, a form of dramatic, political plays staged through documentary effects and audience interaction.  After studies in philosophy and German literature, he stopped his academic career in 1943 to become an author and dramatist. He became one of the more prolific writers in the German language on the crisis of the nuclear bomb and arms race.

Written when he was twenty-six,  Dürrenmatt’s first play. the 1946 “It is Written”, revolves around a battle, occurring in a city under siege, between a religious fanatic who takes scripture literally and a cynic who craves sensation. The play’s 1947 premiere resulted in fights and protests in the audience.  Between 1948 and 1949, Dürrenmatt wrote several sketches for Zürich’s anti-Nazi Cabaret Cornichon, a Swiss cabaret company opposed to fascism and Nazism. 

Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s first major success was the 1950 play “Romulus the Great”, an exploration of the last days of the Roman Empire presided over by Romulus, its last emperor. In the same year, he published a novel entitled “The Judge and His Hangman”.  Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “Der Besuch der Alten Dame (The visit of the Old Woman)” was a strange fusion of comedy and drama about a wealthy woman who offers a fortune to the people of her hometown if they would kill the man who jilted her years earlier.

During his youth, Dürrenmatt hesitated for a long time between a career as a writer and a painter. Although he chose writing, he continued to paint and draw, which he considered his passion. Dürrenmatt had some exhiibitons of his work in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1976 and 1985; he also had a show in Zürich in 1978. A permanent exhibition of his collective work, both artistic and literary, is on display at the Centre Dürrenmatt in Neuchâtel.

Throughout four decades, Dürrenmatt produced novels, novellas, radio plays, and theater performances. Among these were the radio plays “Incident at Twilight” in 1952 and “The Mission of the Vega” in 1954, the novella “The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel”in 1948, and the 1962 play “The Physicists: A Comedy in Two Acts” which dealt with scientific ethics and mankind’s intellectual responsibilities. 

In 1990, Friedrich Dürrenmatt gave two famous speeches, the first in honor of Václav Havel, the Czech statesman and former dissident, and the second in honor of Mikhail Gorbachev, who moved his country to more social democracy and promoted the policy of glasnot, or openness. Later that year, on December 14th, Friedrich Dürrenmatt died from heart failure in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Middle Insert Image: Frederich Dürrenmatt, “Minotaurus. Eine Ballade VII”, 1984 – 85, Ink on Paper, 40 × 30 cm,  Centre Dürrenmat Neuchâtel

Bottom Insert Image: Sabine Gisiger, “Friedrich Dürrenmatt”, from Gisiger’s  2016 documentary film “Dürrenmatt: Eine Liebesgeschichte”

Yuri Georges Annenkov

Yuri Georges Annenkov, Theater and Film Costume Design

Besides his renown as a painter and illustrator, Yuri Georges Annenkov was one of the top costume designers in French cinema from 1926 until the end of the 1950s. Born into a family of Imperial Russia’s cultural elite that suffered through the changes in political power, he was able to overcome the accusations of political radicalism that surrounded his family. This enabled Annenkov to study at the Stieglitz School of Art in Saint Petersburg, where Marc Chagall became one of his classmates.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Annenkov traveled to Paris for further study, and began illustrating books and designing for the stage. In the period immediately after the Russian Revolution, he returned to Russian and was active in the Soviet Theater and outdoor performance shows, and also worked as a portraitist. Annenkov emigrated to Paris in 1924 where he settled and began designing ballet sets for American ballet choreographer George Balanchine and Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine.

In 1926, Yuri Georges Annenkov began what was to become a two-decade long career in movies. He was first engaged in 1926 to design the costumes for German film director F. W. Murnau’s production “Faust”, which would be Murnau’s last German film. From 1945 to 1955, Annekov was the president of the French Syndicate of Cinema Technicians. 

Annenkov’s most important body of work in film were the costumes he designed for the post-war films of director Max Ophüls, which included “La Ronde”, a series of character vignettes with circular visual motifs, and the 1953 “The Earrings of Madame De. .”, a romantic drama for which Annenkov received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. 

The work Annenkov did as art director for Ophüls culminated with his brilliant costumes created for the director’s final film, the 1955 “Lola Montès”. The film is a deliberate exercise in overabundance and opulence, and here, guided by Ophüls, Annenkov’s use of the Baroque style is a subtle critique of excess. Filmed in Technicolor by cinematographer Christian Matras, “Lola Montès” had an important influence on the French New Wave cinema movement and has since become a cult classic.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 4th of November

The Heat of the Sun

November 4,1896 was the birthdate of American character actor Ian Wolfe.

Born in Illinois, Ian Wolfe worked in theater productions until 1934 when he started his career as a character actor in film and later television. Central to Wolfe’s appeal was the fact that, until he reached actual old age, he always looked considerably older than he actually was. His career lasted until the last years in his life, encompassing almost four hundred roles in television and film, including many classics.

Ian Wolfe appeared in many well known films: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” playing Robert in the film noir spy thriller; “Rebel Without a Cause” as Dr. Minton, the astronomy professor; the role of Maggs in the 1935 “Mutiny on the Bounty”; and George Lucas’s “THX 1138”, playing the prisoner PTO.

American at birth, Ian Wolfe, because of his experience in theater, had very precise diction which caused him to be often cast as an Englishman. He appeared in the 1943 film :Sherlock Holmes in Washington” , as an antique shop clerk. He also was in the final film of the Holmes series, the 1946 “Dressed to Kill” as the Commissioner of Scotland Yard. In Billy Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution”, Ian Wolfe played Carter, chief clerk to Sir Wilfrid, played by Charles Laughton.

Ian Wolfe guest-starred on many television series over the course of his career. The first season of “The Lone Ranger” had him playing a crooked small town doctor attempting to swindle a man. He  appeared on the episode “The Case of the Midnight Howler” of the 1966 “Perry Mason” series. Star Trek fans will recognize him in two episodes of the original series: the 1968 “Bread and Circuses” as Septinus, and the 1969 “All Our Yesterdays” acting in the role of Mr. Atoz.

Wolfe’s last film role, at the age of 94, was as Munger in the 1990 released “Dick Tracy”, produced and directed by Warren Beatty. Ian Wolfe died a year later at the age of 95 of natural causes in January of 1992.

“Mostly, they know the face, but they don’t know the name. Some people are funny. Some are nice. They don’t try to take up your time. They say, “I see you a lot and I sure enjoy you” and they’re gone. It’s my voice, too, that people recognize. I had no idea that my voice is distinctive in any way. But people will say, “I knew you by your voice”. – Ian Wolfe

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of November

The Revelation From On High

November 1st was the opening day of two of William Shakespeare’s plays.

On November 1, 1604, William Shakespeare’s tragedy play “Othello”, believed to have been written in 1603, had its first presentation in the Banqueting House at Whitehall. The story revolves around Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army, and his jealous and traitorous ensign, Iago. It is believed to  be based on the story “A Moorish Captain” by Giovanni Battista Giraldi, the Italian novelist and poet. However, the story also resembles an incident in the tale “The Three Apples” from the “Arabian Nights” collection.

Shakespeare, while following the story of Giraldi, departed from it in some details, such as adding minor characters. The major departure is the death of the heroine Desdemona. In his presentation, Shakespeare has Othello kill Desdemona by suffocation, toning down the violence. In Giraldi’s story, the “Moor” bludgeons his wife to death with a sand-filled stocking, described in gruesome detail. In Shakespeare’s play, Othello, commits suicide; and in Giraldi’s tale Othello is exiled and then pursued by Desdemona’s relatives who kill him.

Later performances of “Othello” occurred in April of 1610 at the Globe Theater and at Oxford in September of 1610. It also was performed at the Blackfriars Theater in London by the King’s Men, an acting company to which Shakespeare belonged for most of his career. “Othello” was one of twenty plays performed by the King’s Men during the winter of 1612, in celebration of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, the Electorate of the Palatinate region of the Holy Roman Empire.

On November 1, 1611, Hallowmas night, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Tempest”, believed to have been written 1610-1611, was first presented by the King’s Men before King James I and the English royal court at Whitehall Palace. This play was also one of the twenty plays performed to celebrate Princess Elizabeth’s marriage. The next recorded performance was at the Blackfriars Theater in 1669; this is supported by the stage directions written within the play script.

The “Tempest” differs from Shakespeare’s other plays, being organized in a stricter Neo-classical style. Shakespeare in the “Tempest” observed the three rules of drama: the play’s plot  should have one action that it follows, with minimal subplots; the action in the play’s plot  should occur no longer than a day’s span; a play’s plot should exist in a single physical space with the stage representing that place. Shakespeare’s other plays’s plots took place in multiple separate locations and over the course of several days or years.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of October

Zebra Stripes

October 24, 1882 was the birthdate of English actress Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike.

Sybil Thorndike was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and was educated at the Rochester Grammar School for Girls. She trained as a classical pianist, visiting London to attend lessons at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, an independent arts school. Thorndike gave her first public performance as a pianist at the age of eleven. However, in 1899, she was forced to give up playing due to cramps affecting the muscles in her hand and forearm.

Sybil Thorndike’s brother, the author Russel Thorndike, encouraged her to train as an actress under voice teacher Elsie Fogerty at her school, the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Thorndike was offered her first professional contract at the age of 21: an United States tour in actor Ben Greet’s company. She first appeared on stage in the 1904 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Shakespeare. Thorndike continued touring the US for four years doing Shakespearean repertory and playing 112 different roles.

In 1908, Thorndike was understudy for the role of Candida in a tour directed by George Bernard Shaw, who recognized her talent. It was on this tour that she met her future husband, Lewis Casson, a British actor and theater director. Later in 1908, she joined theater manager Annie Horniman’s company, playing various roles over a three year span. She joined the non-profit Old Vic Company in London, playing leading roles in Shakespeare and other classical plays.

From 1920 to 1922 Thordike and her husband starred in a British version of the French ghoulish and grisly “Grand Guignol” that was directed by Jose Levy. She appeared in the title role of “Saint Joan” in 1924, a play written specifically for her by George Bernard Shaw. It was a major success and was revived repeatedly until her final performance in that role in 1941.

During the second World War, Sybil Thorndike and her husband toured in Shakespearean productions on behalf of the Council for the Encouragement of the Arts, before joining Laurence Olivier for the 1944 season at the Old Vic Theater. After the war, it was discovered that she was listed in the Nazi “Black Book” as one of the Britons who were to be arrested and held after a future Nazi invasion of Britain.

Sybil Thorndike was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931. She was made a Companion of Honor, an award for outstanding achievements, in 1971. She and her husband, Lewis, who was knighted in 1945, were one of a few couples who both held titles in their own right. She is one of the principal characters portrayed in Nicholas de Jongh’s play “Plague Over England”, about John Gielgud’s arrest for homosexual acts in 1953. Sybil Thorndike passed in June of 1976 and her ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 14th of October

The Maroon Leather Armchair

October 14, 1893 was the birthdate of silent film and stage actress Lillian Gish.

After appearing for thirteen years with her sister Dorothy on the vaudeville stage, Lillian Gish eventually found her way onto the big screen. In 1912, she met famed director D. W. Griffith, who immediately cast her in what was to be her first film, the 1912 “An Unseen Enemy”. This was followed the same year by two more films: “The One She Loved”,  and “My Baby”. Gish would make a total of twelve films for Griffith in 1912.

After performing in twenty five films in the next two years, Lillian Gish’s exposure to the public was so great that she fast became one of the top stars in the industry, alongside “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford.. In 1915, Lillian Gish starred as Elsie Stoneman in Griffith’s most ambitious project to date, the 1915 “The Birth of a Nation”. Although the number of films that she now appeared in were not as frequent as her first years, she was popular and successful enough to be able to pick and choose the right films. In 1916, Gish appeared in another Griffith classic, “Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages”.

By the early 1920s, Gish’s career was slowing down; new actors and actresses appeared on the scene, replacing former stars. Lillian Gish did not appear at all on the screen again until the year of 1926. She appeared in “La Boheme” as Mimi and “The Scarlet Letter” in the lead role as Hester Prynne. As the 1920s ended, silent films were being replaced with the new sound films. At this time, Lillian Gish returned to stage productions which were acclaimed by the public and critics alike.

In 1933, Gish filmed “His Double Life” with Roland Young, and then didn’t make another film for ten years. When Gish did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, the 1942 “Commandos Strike at Dawn” and “Top Man” released in 1943. Although these roles did not bring her the attention she had in her early career, Gish still proved she could hold her own with the best of them. She later earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role of Laura Belle McCanles in the 1946 “Duel in the Sun”, but lost to Anne Baxter for her performance in “The Razor’s Edge”.

One of the most critically acclaimed roles of Lillian Gish’s career came in the 1955 thriller “The Night of the Hunter”, also notable as the only film directed by actor Charles Laughton. Lillian Gish made in 1987 what was to be her last motion picture, “The Whales of August”, a box-office success that exposed her to a new generation of fans. After a seventy-five year career in film, on February 27, 1993, Lillian Gish died at age 99 peacefully in her sleep in New York City.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 8th of October

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.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of September

The Roses and the Cross

September 30, 1919 marks the premier of Avery Hopwood’s play “The Gold Diggers’ in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers”, a play by Avery Hopwood, was produced by David Belasco, an American theatrical producer and playwright. Belasco, the first writer to adapt the short story “Madame Butterfly” to the stage, pioneered many innovative forms of stage lighting and special effects to the stage. He staged “The Gold Diggers” on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, now the oldest continuously operating legitimate theater in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers” popularized the term ‘gold digger’ to reference women who seek wealthy partners, as opposed to the earlier usage meaning gold miners. The plot centered on wealthy Stephen Lee, played by Bruce McRae, who is convinced that the chorus girl who is engaged to his nephew Wally, played by Horace Braham, only wants his nephew’s money.

The reviews for the play were mixed; but the opinions of the reviewers did not stop the play from becoming a hit. It opened at the Lyceum Theatre on September 30, 1919 and ran until June of 1921, with 720 performances. The long-running play then went on tour across the United States until 1923, earning almost two million dollars. One result of its long run was that after the other plays Avery Hopwood had written opened in 1920, Hopwood had four shows running on Broadway simultaneously.

Avery Hopwood was an American playwright of the Jazz Age in the United States, a period in the 1920s and 1930s when jazz music and dance styles rapidly gained popularity. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Hopwood graduated from the University of Michigan in 1903 and started out in journalism as a New York correspondent. However, within a year, he had a play, “Clothes”, produced on Broadway. He became known as the “Playboy Playwright”, specializing in comedies and farces, many considered risqué at the time. Among the plays were: “Ladies’ Night” in 1920,; the famous mystery play “The Bat”, later filmed in 1926; and the 1927 “Garden of Eden”, filmed in 1928.

In 1906, Avery Hopwood was introduced to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten. The two became close friends and sometimes sexual partners. In the 1920s Hopwood had a tumultuous, but abusive, romantic relationship with fellow Cleveland-born playwright John Floyd. Although Hopwood announced to the press in 1924 that he was engaged to dancer and choreographer Rosa Rolanda, it was confirmed later that it was a publicity stunt.

Avery Hopwood died of a heart attack while swimming on the French Riviera on July 1, 1928. The terms of his will left a substantial portion of his estate to the University of Michigan, establishing a Creative Writing Award, encouraging new, unusual and radical writing. Recipients of the award have included poet and essayist Robert Hayden, poet and social activist Marge Piercy,  playwright Arthur Miller, and gay novelist and essayist Edmund White.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of September

Infectious Smile

September 26, 1877 was the birthdate of character actor Edmund Gwenn.

In 1901 Edmund Gwenn went to Australia and acted on stage there for three years, not returning to London until 1904. There he took a small part in “In The Hospital”, which led to him receiving a postcard from George Bernard Shaw, offering him a leading role as Straker, the chauffeur, in Shaw’s “Man and Superman”. Gwenn accepted and the play was a success. He spent three years in Shaw’s company, performing in “John Bull’s Island”, Major Barbara”, “The Devil’s Disciple” and other plays by Shaw.

Edmund Gwenn made his first appearance on screen in a 1916 British short “The Real Thing at Last”, followed by a silent version of “The Skin Game” in 1920 as the character Hornblower. This role he would reprise in a talking version by Alfred Hitchcock, released in 1931. After these films, Gwenn worked steadily until the end of his life, appearing in English stage pays and films, eventually doing more and more on Broadway and in Hollywood.

In 1940 Edmund Gwenn played a delightful Mr Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice”, then played a completely opposite role as an assassin in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 “Foreign Correspondent”. He later played a comedic role in the 1941 “Charley’s Aunt”, in which he romanced Jack Benny, masquerading as a woman. Gwenn was in the 1945 “Bewitched”, “Of Human Bondage” released in 1946, and the 1947 “Green Dolphin Street”.

Then in 1947, Edmund Gwenn became a super star. Twentieth Century-Fox was planning the film “Miracle on 34th Street”. The studio had offered the role of “Kris Kringle” to Gwenn’s cousin, the well-known character actor Cecil Kellaway, but he had turned it down with the observation that the role was too whimsical. Twentieth Century-Fox then offered it to Edmund Gwenn, who immediately accepted. His performance earned him at the age of 71 an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor and, because it is rerun every Christmas season, Gwenn would become for many their all-time favorite screen Santa.

Though rotund, Edmund Gwenn didn’t feel he was rotund enough to look like the jolly old elf most people expected after having read Clement Moore’s “The Night before Christmas”, in which Santa “had a broad face and a little round belly”. Although it was suggested that he could wear padding beneath the Santa costume, Gwenn resisted as he saw the padding effect as too artificial. So he gained almost 30 pounds for the role, a fair amount for a man of his short stature, and added nearly five inches to his waistline.

Gwenn’s final days were spent at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California. Having endured terrible arthritis for many years, he had suffered a stroke, and then contracted pneumonia, from which he died at age 81 on September 6, 1959. His body was cremated, and his ashes are buried in a vault at The Chapel of the Pines in Los Angeles.