Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Born Today September 19: Ernest Truex


Character actor of the large and small screen Ernest Truex was born on this date in Kansas City, MO.  Truex started acting very early in his life, making stage appearances from the age of 5.  He made his Broadway premiere in 1908 and by 1915 he was a bit of a fixture.  He made his film debut in the Mary Pickford comedy Caprice in a supporting role in 1913, which was directed by J. Searle Dawley during his time at Famous Players (the film is amongst the lost).  He did have steady work (probably as much as he would like--as evidenced by his not having to take any bit parts in silent films) during the silent era, but it would not be until the dawn of talking films that his on-camera career would really take off.  No surprise, given that he was a very successful stage actor.  By 1923, he had had enough of silent acting and retired from films--he would not reappear until 1933.  The last silent film that he starred in--and star in he did, as he had top billing--was Six Cylinder Love (1923), a film made at Fox. He spent the years in between on major stages in the US and in London.  The next film that he starred in was Whistling In The Dark, an MGM comedy.  He quickly settled into the character actor parts that required the steady, reliable--read boring--type, a typical foil in comedies.  For example, he plays a straight part as a fellow reporter in His Girl Friday.  Truex made his television debut in 1948, it was the beginning of what would be a very long "small screen" career.  Some of the notable shows on which her appeared include: The Twilight Zone, Hazel, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza and Petticoat Junction.  His second appearance in 1966 on Junction would be his last appearance in front of the camera.  He appeared in the episode Young Love, which aired on the 13th of September (his last film was Fluffy in 1965, a Tony Randall and Shirley Jones comedy).  Also in his career, he had one lone writing credit in films to his name; returning to the silent era, he wrote the comedic short The Bashful Lover in 1922--a film in which he also starred.  Truex died of a heart attack at the age of 83 on the Fallbrook, California.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.  

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Born Today September 18: Vernon Steele


Actor Vernon Steele was known as a "British actor," but he was, in fact, born in Santiago, Chile on this day in 1882.  He was the son of a music professor of Italian descent and an English mother, he was christened Arturo Romero Antonetti (he often used the "R" as an initial before Vernon--he is credited this way in some sources).  His family relocated to Great Britain when he was young.  He got his start on the stage and was a lifelong performer on Broadway.  He appeared in his first film in 1915, the Clara Kimball Young film Hearts In Exile, a full length feature (59 minutes) directed by James Young for World Film.  He appeared regularly in films up through 1923 ; he then had a hiatus in film appearances between 1924 (in which he acted in only two pictures) and 1929--years he spent on the stage, mostly Broadway.  When he returned, he had a role in the all sound Big News in 1929.  He then acted intermittently in film all through the 1930's and 1940's.  He last film appearance came in 1949 in Vincent Minnelli's Madam Bovary  in which he played the priest.  His last appearance in front of the camera came on an early television series The Life Of Riley in the episode Night School in 1949.  Steele died in Los Angeles 6 years later on the 23rd of July of a heart attack, he was 72 years old.  He was cremated and his ashes were placed in a vault at the Chapel of the Pine Crematory also in Los Angeles.  

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Born Today September 17: Frank C. Griffin

Griffin is the man sitting on the signing desk.


Silent film director Frank Charles Griffin was born on this day in Norfolk, Virginia.  Griffin started out as an actor in 1911 with a role in Susceptible Dad made for Solax and released as split reel with another comedic short Nearly A Hero.  In 1913, a scenario he penned was produced into a film at Biograph; the comedic short Mr. Spriggs Buys A Dog was directed by Dell Henderson.  The first film that he directed was A Brewerytown Romance a year later, it was made at Lubin Manufacturing, and was yet another comedy short that Griffin wrote.  Between 1914 and 1924, the year of his retirement, he had directed close to 30 films; most of these were what we consider "shorts" today.  In fact, the last film that he directed in the silent era, and before he hung up the director's chair, was his only full length film, and it was co-directed with Charles Hines.  Conductor 1492 was a comedy about a young Irish immigrant played by Johnny Hines, brother of Charles. Griffin did continue to writer for the pictures and contributed to the writing on Ella Cinders (1926).  He has two producer credits to his name from 1927, one of which was a George Archainbaud film.  He returned to directing in the early 1930's, taking up two shorts that he wrote, both starring Chester Conklin.  They represent his only work in direction in sound films.  He continued to write, and was a bit of an early script doctor, up through the mid-1930's.  The last film that he contributed to was Man On The Flying Trapeze (1935), a W. C. Fields film.   He seems to have retired completely after the year 1935; he died in Hollywood on the 17th of March 1953 at the age of 66.  There is no information as his memorial.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Born Today September 15: Louis J. Gasnier


French born director Louis Joseph Gasnier was born on this day in Paris.  Accounts vary greatly as to when he began his film career.  Gasnier himself claimed that his association with Pathé Frères went all the way back to 1899 (and he may well have been telling the truth--Pathé Frères was notorious for not giving credit space on it's early films.  The earliest film that he can be associated with is First Night Out in 1905.  The film is thought to also be the first film of  Max Linder--himself a very important comedian of the silent era.  The writing credits go to Gasnier.  He would not make another film (that anyone knows of) that year, and in fact, did not receive steady work from the company until 1908 (he did make a handful of Linder films in the interim time period).  By 1910, Gasnier had made a career of directing "Max" movies.  1911 brought the establishment of a Pathé studio in Fort Lee, NJ and Gasnier managed to get attached to it.  His first directing job came on a real hit, the serial The Perils Of Pauline, which was co-directed with Donald MacKenzie, was a raging success worldwide.  This propelled him into the executive vice-president position of the studio, but he resigned in 1916.  Not before putting Pearl White in another successful serial The Exploits Of Elaine; a serial co-directed, with one of the directors being George B. Seitz.  There are some sources that claim that between 1905 and 1914 Gasnier made more than 200 films.  The number of record is no where near this number; which suggests that it is likely a mixture of embellishment and truth--with some of his films (mostly French, but likely many Italian) that have gone uncredited and, indeed, uncounted.  Even the rest of Gasnier's silent catalog is unfortunately filled with lost films (some fortunately have been recovered in the last decade).  

At work directing

He next teamed up with George Seitz to form Astra Films (which used Pathé as their distributor).  The first film known to have been produced by the company was The Shielding Shadow in 1916 (a film which also featured direction from MacKenzie).  By 1919 the company had dropped Pathé as it's distributor and by 1920, Seitz was gone and the company was re-branded Louis J. Gasnier Productions--it was hopelessly short-lived.  It's first film(one of three) was the Lew Cody vehicle The Butterfly Man (1920), co-directed by Ida May Park.  Gasnier was then picked up by to direct for Preferred Pictures by B. P. Schulberg, his time with the production company were his most productive and memorable.  His name received headline status on posters and other promotional materials.  He stayed with the company, often bringing in people he had worked for in the 1910's, such a Pearl White, until the company went bankrupt in 1925.  In his time with the company, he worked with many up and coming actors (Clara Bow starred in Parisian Love, a film that was lost until a copy turned up in the 1990's). The only work that he could find after the bankruptcy was at the second rate Tiffany Pictures. His first film there was Pleasures of the Rich in 1926 (like so many of his films, this is not surprisingly lost).  He was then plucked from relative obscurity (possibly by Schulberg) to go to work for Paramount, making one film--Fashion Madness (1928)--for Columbia along with way.  His first major film for Paramount, Darkened Rooms (1929), hit a big snag when star Gary Cooper--who really didn't like Gasnier--had to be replaced by Neil Hamilton.  The film also marked Gasnier first sound film--with full sound by MovieTone. He continued to work for Paramount into the 1930's.  His contract, though was not renewed, so he found work with film producer George A Hirliman.  The produced a film called Tell Your Children (probably in 1936) that later became infamous under the title Reefer Madness (it was basically not screened until 1938).  Hirliman was able to launch his fledgling production venture into a full operating studio and Gasnier, nearing his retirement age, elected to stay on.  The last film that he directed before he retired at age 65 was Stolen Paradise.  He retired in his adopted California, but did not find life easy.  Nearly destitute by the 1950's, he took to taking bit, uncredited acting roles as an elderly Frenchman in big productions to make money.  They last of these appearances was in Hell Is For Heroes, a 1962 Steve McQueen war film.  Gasnier died on the 15th of February 1963 in Hollywood at the age of 87.  There is no information as to his burial or cremation.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Born Today: J. B. Buckstone


British comic, actor and writer J. B. Buckstone (John Baldwin) was born on this day in London.  He was first sent to school at Walworth Grammar School and had a brief apprenticeship with the Navy at age 10, but promptly returned to school thereafter and eventually wound up studying the law.  He did for a time work for a solicitor but had turned to acting by the age of 19.  He joined a traveling troupe of actors in 1821 and toured for 3 years.  He found a mentor in the renown Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean; this helped facilitate his first appearance on the stage in London on 30 January 1823.  In 1824, he found his first success as an actor and also began to write plays himself during this year.  In 1826 one of his own plays debuted; and the following year he debuted at the famed Adelphi Theater; he remained there until 1833.  During this period of time, he wrote the bulk of his own plays, many of which were produced at the Adelphi.  As he gained more and more success with his acting career, time did not permit that he continue to write on a regular basis.  1833 saw him appear for the first time a the Haymarket Theater (Royal Theater), the venue for which he famous for to this day owed to the general acceptance that he haunts the place.  Several of his plays dating from his most prolific writing period became big hits at the theater, and he would go to to become the manager.  After moving around quite a bit in the 1840's--including a return to the Adelphi and a not so successful try of fame in the U.S., Buckstone returned to the Haymarket 1848.  By 1856 he was the theater's lessee and continued on in this until 1877.  He did still carry on writing small plays and farces for production at the theater--all of which had  a comic bent--all quite popular with audiences.  It was Buckstone who introduced the the 2PM matinee at the theater in 1873--an innovation that stuck.  Though he had known great success during his career, his health had begun to fail him; and, in fact, at the time of his death, he had been ill for a number years already.  By the mid 1870's his company began to break up; by 1877 he was bankrupt and had to relinquish the theater--an event that could only have added to his illness.  Buckstone died two years later from his ill-health on the 31st of October in 1879 (for those of us Halloween nuts, this is seemingly fitting!).  I can find no information as his burial, but he has long been reported as ghost that the Haymarket, with Sir Patrick Stewart seeing him in the wings during a recent production of Waiting For Godot.  Two of Buckstone's children also became actors and appeared in early films.  The reason for his inclusion here stems from two silent films that were produced using his plays as scenario material, both of which were UK products.  The first of these was a production of Jack Sheppard in 1912.  The second dates from 1921: Married Life was produced by Ideal.  To this date, these are the only two films that have ever been made using his writing as source material.  In all, during his period of writing, Buckstone wrote over 150 plays.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Born Today September 10: Al St. John


Actor and stunt man (comic side kick) Al St. John was born on this day in Santa Ana, California.  He was the nephew of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was his mother's brother.  In all likelihood his uncle helped secure him jobs at Mack Sennett's early studio, however his multi-talent in both acting and in stunt type slapstick work is what got him noticed quite on his own.  He was known for being a very able acrobat as a young man and he also possessed great comedic timing.  St. John became a foil for some of Arbuckle's "clueless" roles--he was the trickster character that tumbled (literally) around Arbuckle's characters lack of understanding of surroundings.  St. John was also an original member of the Keystone Kops

A still from the 1919 Love. A good example of his mad-cap approach to character mischief.

He became in demand for these types of roles providing both comic relief and character tension, pretty quickly after he started acting, but exactly when he got his start is still a bit of a mystery.  It is thought that his first film was The Jealous Waiter in 1913--a Mack Sennett film that starred Fred Mace.  While working for Sennett, St. John also got to work with the up and coming Charlie Chaplin.  When Arbuckle left Sennett's studio to start his own production company, he took his nephew with him.  At the company, Arbuckle began to make films with another up and comer Buster Keaton.  Both St. John and Keaton were played off of one another as a vehicle for "Fatty" to slapstick his way through to the film's climax.  St. John also possessed talent for writing, he wrote some 8 film scenarios that were actually produced, the first of which was Speed, a film that he also directed.

Keaton (left) and St. John (right) in Out West (1918); Fatty weilds the preverbial break-away bottle.

St. John actually turned out to be as important to Arbuckle as his uncle likely was for him.  When Arbuckle was basically framed for a death he nothing to do with, he was blacklisted from business (despite his multiple acquittals), he secretly was able to direct his nephew under a pseudo-name through out much of the 1920's and even into the 1930's before his untimely death.  St. John himself, though not having any real live stage experience was able to make the transition to talking films with relative ease.  In the late 1920's he would find himself working with the likes of Tom Mix at Fox.  His first sound film was She Goes To War in 1929, a Henry King world war drama with a mono version and silent version.  His next film, The Dance Of Life (1929) was presented with full sound by MovieTone and had one sequence in the 2-Strip Technicolor process.  The first film he made in the 1930's--Hell Harbor--was another King film featuring the tragic Lupe Velez in the leading role, with St. John forming one part of a comic duo of Bunion and Blinky (played by Paul Burns).  St. John continued to play comedic rube types, increasingly with a western bent (it should be noted that he was a very capable stunt man!).  He took on the character of "Fuzzy" in Billy the Kid films (he was often credited as "Fuzzy St. John" after this) and created the character of Stoney (which was much more well known as a character played by other actors).  It would be Fuzzy, however, that would be his movie fate, even after the Billy the Kid movies had run their gambit.  Though St. John acted on film until the early 1950's, he never did make a television debut.  The last film that he appeared in was The Frontier Phantom, a Lash La Rue film in which he played Fuzzy Q. Jones in the film and was billed Fuzzy St. John in the credits.  He did not stop entertaining however.  For the next ten years or so, he appeared in various Wild West shows, finally ending up in a regional show in the southeast.  He suffered a major heart attack while waiting to take the stage in Lyons, Georgia; he was 70 years old.  His remains were cremated at Vidalia, GA and his urn was reportedly sent to the Double F. Ranch (a horse farm) in Homossasa Springs, Florida.  In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art showcased many of St. John's films in a 56 film retrospective on his ill-fated uncle Roscoe.  


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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Born Today September 9: Paul Capellani


French born actor Paul Henri Capellani was born on this day in Paris.  He was the younger brother of Albert Capellani and the uncle of director Roger Capellani, Albert's son.  Interested in the dramatic arts (and art in general), Paul studied at a drama conservatory run by Charles Le Bargy from 1897 to 1901; he made his stage debut in 1902.  By 1904, he was acting in Shakespeare plays on the stage.  He made his film debut at Pathé in 1908 in Engulfed in Quicksands, a film directed by his brother.  Paul was also interested in sculpture and was quite the promising young artist in this regard as well.  Between 1908 and early 1915 he appeared in a large number of films under the Pathé umbrella, very many of them directed by his brother Albert.  He also dabbled in writing--mostly adaptations of existing literature into film scripts--however he had one original scenario produced in 1910 with Les caprices de Marion. In 1915, he followed his brother Albert to World Pictures in the U.S., and appears in Albert's film Camille (1915) starring opposite of Clara Kimball Young. Mostly following his brother's career Stateside, he increasingly became disillusioned with the cinema acting experience in the U.S., especially after his brother's--and hence his--contract was up at World Film.  He returned to France in 1919 to continue his stage career; though he also resumed his French cinematic career as well.  He continued to act sporadically in films from 1919 to 1922, when he reignited his interest in working in sculpture.  He was only in three more films after this point, two of them 1930's mono talking pictures.  The last film in which he appeared was La lettre (1930).  Paul Capellani remained an artist for the remainder of his life, after having moved to Cagnes-sur-mer France in 1930.  He died there on the 7th of November in 1960 at the age of 83.  I can find no information as to his burial.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Born Today Sept. 8: Kenneth MacDonald


American actor Kenneth MacDonald (sometimes spelled "McDonald") was born Kenneth Dollins on this date in Portland, Indiana.  Like so many actors of the day, he started out on the stage and is well known for his rising popularity in the 1930's Hollywood scene; but he was in at least one film during the silent era dating from 1923.  He starred in the Western dramadey Slow As Lightning (which for the time being is available on Amazon Prime); the film features some action sequences that look a great deal like slapstick, despite that the plot is of a more serious bent than straight physical comedy.  This would serve him well later on, as he is probably best remembered to fans who are not hard core western aficionados, as being the villainous foil in the Three Stooges shorts.  He has been associated with other silent westerns in the 1920's but it is unclear if he is the same person that appears in these films, or another actor with a similar or identical name (it would be great if someone could get to the bottom of this one). Though his voice was sometimes compared to Boris Karloff, he found a much more comfortable niche in character acting throughout the bulk of his career, which included many television roles and appearances. When he began to appear in pictures for a living in the early 1930's, he at first toiled in bit parts.  His first sound film, for example, was Dirigible in 1931, starring Jack Holt and Fay Wray, his role as Lt. Fogarty went uncredited.  Throughout the 1930's he had a few credited roles, but it was not until after 1938 that his fortunes in this regard changed (though, he was known to take up smaller roles in films throughout the classic Hollywood period).  MacDonald made his television debut in 1950 on The Gene Autry Show; by 1952 he was a bit of a television fixture.  A goodly number of shows that he appeared in were indeed westerns.  The last appearance the MacDonald made in front the camera before his sudden death was in the episode The Test in the series The F.B.I..  Though he had been suffering from lung cancer that had recently spread to his brain, and he was living as a result of this in Motion Picture & Television Country House (located in Woodland Hills) and Hospital, MacDonald died suddenly of a heart attack on the 5th of May in 1972 at the age of 70.  He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Woodland Hills) Hollywood Hills location.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Born Today September 7: Émile Chautard


Director and actor Émile Chautard was born on this day in Paris, France.  He started acting on the stage of Paris and quickly transitioned to film--one source gives that he entered films in 1905, but there is little recorded information to back this up.  He is known for sure to have appeared in Fouquet, l'homme au masque de fer (1910) an historical short in which he played King Louis XIV of France.  The film was a Pathé Fréres production.  He is credited with his first directorial outing that same year as well; Barberine--a comedic short--was produced under the original Eclair company (which started in the 1900's as a French production company)--this would wind up being an important connection for Chautard.  Chautard continued on as an in-house director for Eclair, directing numerous shorts for them between 1910 and 1913!  In a few of these, he directed himself; and at least one title, An Accused Inheritance (1911), he both wrote and acted in the film that he also directed (though he had been writing since 1910--his first filmed scenario was After the Fall of the 'Eagle' (1910)). In 1913, Chautard became the head of film production for the entire French Eclair studio, but the call of film from across "the pond" was too strong and he left for the United States in 1914, landing at World Film at the end of that year.  The last film that he made in France was L'indépendance de la Belgique en 1830 in late 1914.  His first English language US production was The Arrival of Perpetua in 1915.  By this time World Film had amassed a whole staff of French auteur directors and Chautard's managerial experience helped  propel him into a role of mentor at the company (his most well known apprentice was Josef von Sternberg).  By 1918 he was free and clear of contractual obligations at World, he worked for various other production companies, eventually starting his own, short lived, production venture.  The one film that he managed to get produced on his own was The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1919).  Chautard remained in the director's chair through 1924, with Untamed Youth being his last turn as a director.  Chautard remembered his early acting roles with fondness and turned back exclusively to acting in 1926 in Paris At Midnight, a film featuring Lionel Barrymore.  He continued to act well into the talking era, with Marianne being his last silent film appearance in 1929 (ironically a remake of a film that he had appeared in that had sound [see below] in 1929 (1929/II on IMDb)) .  He had already worked on films featuring sound, however.  He worked on several partial silents, with Lilac Time in 1928 apparently being the first.  His first full sound film also came early, with Marianne--the original to the remake mentioned above (he also acted in the early sound horror House Of Horror in 1929 that had two versions--one with sound, the other silent). He continued to act well into the 1930's; in fact, right up until the time of his death.  Chautard died on the 24th of April in 1934 in Los Angeles of organ failure at the age of 69 (at least one source erroneously gives his birth year as 1881--which would have put him at just 53 when he died--this is ridiculous considering that he was, for a time, the step-father of George Archainbaud).  The last film that he appeared in was Villa, Villa! in 1934.  He is interred at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Born Today September 6: June Marlowe


Actress June Marlowe was born Gisela Valeria Goetten to German immigrant parents in St. Cloud Minnesota.  She was best known for her role of Mrs. Crabtree in the Our Gang series in the early 1930's, where she donned a blond wig to match the hair of child star Jackie Cooper; but she actually made the majority of her film appearances in the 1920's.  Her first film Fighting Blood, dating from 1923, saw her in such a minor role that it went uncredited.  Her first credited role came in 1924 in the role of Kitty Reid in When A Man's A Man.  She was in several films in both 1924 and 1925, including opposite both Rin Tin Tin (yes, Rin Tin Tin!) and later John Barrymore.  One of the Rin Tin Tin films that she appeared in was Clash Of The Wolves (1925), which was nearly lost to history but survives today thanks in no small part to the National Film Preservation Society.  She was one of the WAMPAS Baby stars of 1925 (one can assume that being in this situation, she was "presented" with a "proper" screen name by one of the male studio big-wigs that ran these virtual harem of young girls in the mid-1920's on).  Marlowe did not possess what the studios thought was an acting voice pleasing in the dawning sound era,  and this must have greatly effected her confidence.  Probably as a result, in late 1929, when more and more of the largest studios--like Universal--were experimenting with full sound films, Marlowe made two films for a German production company under the studio umbrella of Universal--both were silent pictures.  Her first sound film--The Lone Defender (1930)--was another Rin Tin Tin film in which she played the Hispanic Dolores Valdez.  She then fell into making shorts with the like of Charly Chase, which landed her the role that she is known for today in 1930 in Teacher's Pet.  Hal Roach also paired her up with the budding film sensation that was Laurel and Hardy.  By this time, her interest in continuing an acting career waned; her last appearance in front of the camera came in 1932 as Mrs. Crabtree one last time in Readin' and Writin'.  She then quit to become a housewife, having married a Hollywood businessman in 1933.  She remained content with this life; though later in life, she became a writer of children's stories.  She died from complications due to Parkinson's in Burbank on the 10th of March in 1984 at the age of 80.  She was originally buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery, but was later moved to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which has a mausoleum in it's basement.

Original marker buried with her brother Louis at San Fernando

Niche in Mausoleum at Lady of the Angels

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