Monday, December 4, 2017

Born Today December 4: Lillian Russell

1860 (or 1861)-1922

Born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton, Iowa, the operatic singer/vaudevillian that the world came to know as Lillian Russell was raised in Chicago, Illinois.  She was born into a fairly prominent family--father a print-executive and mother a prominent social feminist (which she would later take up herself). She is not known from silent film primarily however; rather, she is known from her stage fame and later activist work on social issues that were progressive on the one hand and isolationist on the other.  She was a talented singer who was discovered around the age of 18 when her mother moved her and her sister to New York City when her parents marriage broke down.  She became a very successful operatic singer of "low opera" and musical shows (she was in many an American production of Gilbert and Sullivan, both on an off Broadway and on tours).  She also appeared in numerous vaudeville acts and was quite the accomplished stage actress from natural talent.  She also possessed a love (many would say too much of a love) of the "finer things" in life and was known to be a show boater. She was married several times and conducted numerous affairs with "men of means," including a forty year affair with one wealthy man that kept her in solid comfort.  Nevertheless, by the mid-1890's she was a what we would term a "super star."  She, for example, was the first voice heard on the very first long distance song call made when Alexander Graham Bell introduced it to world in an 1890 call out of New York to Boston and Washington D.C..  It could be said that in the world of the first mass media environment (communications around the globe), Russell was one of the first persons to be famous because of her fame...not unlike the Kardashians today.  While she is well known in the world of silent film for her appearance in the 1915 World Film production of Wildfire, which she had starred in on the stage in 1908, she had made minor film appearances before this (her first dramatic role--1 of only 3--came in a filmed short of the play La Tosca  in 1911)  She mostly appeared in film as herself in documentary shorts, the first of which was the 1906 short about her, and named for her, Lillian RussellWildfire was a major film project for World, starred Lionel Barrymore, and was filmed at the Peerless Studio lot in Fort Lee (the film survives in part, though it's missing key parts and so far the missing third reel has yet to turn up).  A highly sanitized version of her life was made into a film in 1940 starring Alice Faye also simply called Lillian Russell.  Russell retired to private life not long before her death (she had previously been so very well known on the lecture circuit).  She returned from a trip abroad (that had supposedly been a fact finding mission for President Harding) injured in some way; these injuries were said to have developed into complications which lead to her death on the 6th of June in 1922 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She was 61 years old.  She was given a military funeral, whether she deserved it or not (she had recruited for the Marines and raised money during World War I).  Thousands of people turned out to line the street on the day of her funeral procession, and the president sent of wreath that adorned her casket.  She was interred in the private family crypt/mausoleum in the Allegheny Cemetery located in Pittsburgh.  The trip that apparently led to her death, also directly--and shamefully-- led to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924--banning all immigration from Asia, highly restricting immigration from Europe (especially eastern Europe) and was a contributory factor in the lead up to the second world war.  

Wikipedia (the only known recording of her singing can be heard here, the recording was made in 1912--by 1904 she had begun to experience voice degradation in her singing, so it is not a good example of a voice that many lauded as excellent.)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Born Today December 3: Lee Beggs


Silent actor and director Lee (short for Leonidas) Beggs was born on this day in Omaha, Nebraska.  He made his on screen acting debut in Solax's 1911 An Interrupted Elopement opposite Marian Swayne.  Beggs directed for the first time, along side Alice Guy, the following year with Hubby Does The Washing.  It would be the first of 35 directing credits that he would rack up before the end of 1915.  Beggs was a favorite and in-house staple at Solax-- and he stayed with the company until the bitter end--which resulted in his acting in only two films in 1913, unheard of for a successful actor of the time!  After the demise of Solax, he landed at Vitagraph--both acting and directing for them.  The first film that he made with them was Her Great Scoop in 1914.  He stayed with them through 1915, often working with Maurice Costello; in fact, the last film that he acted in for them with Costello and Leah Baird was A Question Of Right (1915) (note: as of this writing, anyone who would like to see Lee Beggs in action, both as an actor and a director--his comedy The Egyptian Mummy is currently on Amazon Prime to stream).  He then disappeared from the world of film until the early 1920's.  He next shows up in the Roy William Neill film The Iron Trail in 1921.  And, then, he is gone again until 1924, popping back up in the role of Samuel Adams in the D.W. Griffith's America.  This was not his last role in the historic vein, he also appeared as Benjamin Franklin in Janice Meredith (1924)  starring Marion Davies as his very next film.  He would appear in two more films in 1924, one of them a short.  His final silent film role came in 1926 as Boss O'Brien in Charles Hines' romantic comedy Stepping Along.  He acted in just 3 more films in his life, all them in 1934, with two of the roles going uncredited. One of those roles came in Lazy River (1934), his first talking role.  His last film appearance came in Tailspin Tommy.  He then retired from the business.  Upon his retirement, he returned to the east coast to the New York area, where most of his career was spent in the first studio systems there.  He died in New York City on the 18th of November 1943 at the age of 72.  Beggs' son Malcolm Lee Beggs was also a successful actor of screen and stage. They are both buried together at Kensico cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

Released On This Date--Silent Horror

The silent film starring Lon Chaney Sr. and directed by Wallace Worsley for Goldwyn was released on this day in 1922.  The film is one of the silent horror films that Chaney is not well remembered for, that is because the film is lost.  Here's to hoping that it will turn up somewhere soon!  Meanwhile here is a look (fan tribute) to the film from YouTube.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Born Today December 2: Alec B. Francis


Actor and sometime director of the silent era Alec Budd Francis was born on this day in London, England, UK.  Francis was originally in the law profession, practicing in his birth country, but by chance he got into acting in the 1890's. His path to getting there included serving in the British Royal Artillery (posted to India) and in the Spanish-American war as medic nurse for the US Army, after which he moved to Iowa intending on becoming a gentleman farmer--but found the stage instead.  His change of profession eventually led him back east and into film acting and he made his on camera debut in Troublesome Secretaries (1911), a Ralph Ince film for Vitagraph starring Mabel Normand.  Not long after this, he directed his first film, The Sheriff's Friend (1911); he also starred in the film as well (according to currently film history, he only directed one other film the following year).  He was in several Maurice Tourneur films made in Fort Lee, NJ. Once introduced to film acting, he was never out of work.  Despite that he was only in his 40's, he most often played a older man (in many cases much older) who occupied the wise character in a variety of situations (many of them comedic) in which younger characters were acting out their youth and badly needed a guiding hand.  He worked prolifically throughout the silent era; by the time 1930 rolled around, he had appeared in over 200 films.  One of my personal favorite late silent comedies in which he had the role of Joan Crawford's father came in the Harry Langdon film Tramp, Tramp, Tramp released 1926.  He also appeared as Dr. Redmayne in the breakthrough horror film The Terror in 1928--the film featured an all sound version that is now recognized as the first all talking horror film (a silent version was released to a much wider distribution); this introduced the world to his British speaking voice--his transition to sound was all but in the bag.  [He had appeared in the Lloyd Bacon's partial silent/talkie The Lion and the Mouse earlier in the year.]  The Terror was followed by his appearance in the last completely silent film of his career: Companionate Marriage in 1928.  His turn in The Bishop Murder Case with Basil Rathbone in 1930 was a big hit, and he was never snagged in the studio system purge of silent stars.  With these types of speaking roles, he slowly became the "older British man" character in a number talkies, eventually appearing in films based on British literature.  His health though began to take a turn and this started to slow his appearance in front of the camera; though he continued to work right up until his untimely death.  The last film that he appeared in was Outcast Lady a 1934 Constance Bennett film, which premiered in September, two months after his death.  Francis had complications due to a hemophilia, and died suddenly after undergoing emergency surgery in a Los Angeles area hospital on the 6th of July in 1934.  He was 66 years old.  There is not information on his burial.

Wikipedia (mostly just a filmography)

Scrooge or Marley's Ghost (1901)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Born Today December 1: T. Hayes Hunter


Silent director T. (Thomas) Hayes Hunter was born on this day in Philadelphia.  His career spanned from the time of the first golden age of film into the era of early talkies.  Hunter got his start in the live stage performance arena, first as a stage manager--then, later, as a director.  He entered the film industry in 1910 and directed his first film in 1912:  Papa's Double.  He added scenario writing to his resume the following year in one of the genre game changing films The Vampire, co-written with director Robert Vignola, starring Alice Hollister in an early Vamp role (the two collaborated on a remake in 1914 entitled The Vampire's Trail, again featuring Hollister).  During his career, he directed films at Biograph and was a supervising producer for two smaller production houses under their umbrella; though he had only two direct production credits to his name, both in the 1920's--the first of which was The Light In The Clearing in 1921 for Dial Film. He also directed at least one early horror film here in the U.S. with The Crimson Stain Mystery (1916), a film centering on the experiments of a "mad scientist" gone awry, with his potions create monsters that band together--a theme that would be revisited many, many times in decades to follow.  By the late 1920's, he was working for studios in the UK, in fact the last silent film that he directed was for the UK company Welsh-Pearson: The Silver King in 1929.  The first sound film that Hunter directed came in 1931 with The Man They Couldn't Arrest for the UK studio Gainsborough.  He is responsible for an early sound adaptation of an Edgar Wallace play in 1932 with White Face The Fiend.  He is also the director of the much sought after Boris Karloff/Cedric Hardwicke horror film The Ghoul (1933) made for the British arm of Gaumont and filmed at Lime Grove Studios--the film was considered lost until a copy was found in Prague and restored (it is currently on Amazon Prime).  The last film that he directed was the comedy Josser On The Farm for Fox, filmed at the Stoll Studios located in the Cricklewood area of Greater London.  He then retired from the business, but stayed in the United Kingdom.  He did not have much time to enjoy his retirement however, passing away in London on the 14th of April in 1944 at the age of 59. There is no information as to his burial or cremation.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Born Today November 8: Ethel Clayton


Silent film actress Ethel Clayton was born on this day in Champagne, IL into a catholic family.  She had a private religious education and became interested in acting on the stage at an early age.  After finding work in small roles, she eventually was able to join a professional touring company.  She managed to work her way up through the acting ranks and eventually to star in some productions.  Unlike many a stage actor, Clayton was fascinated by motion pictures and the increasing number of people who were being hired to act in them.  She made her film debut in 1909.  There are squabbles over whether Justified or Gratitude (Essanay studio) should be counted as her film debut; they were both made at the same time with the same director, Tom Ricketts. However, Justified, was released first.  Liking the the finished product, she agreed to appear in more films.  She juggled he stage career with movie appearances in the first few years that she was gaining popularity as a film actress (as has been mentioned before, this was around the time that actors were just beginning to have credits in films the same as they had for the stage).  Her stage specialty was musicals and she became a "girl" for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1911; her stage work also included work in staged choruses or choirs.  Obviously, only the dancing was going to be any kind of help to her in film work of the time.  By 1912 she was working at Lubin Manufacturing,  and her first film for them was For The Love Of A Girl.  She stayed with Lubin through 1915 and made the bulk of her films dating from the 1910's with them.  By 1916, she wound up at Peerless, which of course was a World Film company.   This was around the time that many of these studios were making serious inroads into opening operations on the west coast and many film careers in the original New York area were in flux.  Her feature length film The Web Of Desire (World Film release in 1917), directed by Émile Chautard, is one her most lamented lost films (it is in the top 20 of many a wish list for people hoping for a surprise film recovery).  She gets top billing in the film, over her male counterpart Rockliffe Fellowes (what a name!).  After working under the World Film studio umbrella, she also worked for Famous Players Lasky and Paramount.  By the mid 1920's, she made films for Fox as well.  At some point along the way, she made the move from New York to the Los Angeles area as movie work moved there exclusively by the late 1920's.  In 1926 she made a couple of films for DeMille Productions, certainly filmed in California.  Despite that she is often pointed to as an example of an actress who lost a career due to the coming of sound and some silent players were not equipped for that change, this was not completely the case with Clayton.  The first sound film that she is listed as having a small role in came in a very early talkie--Mother Machree--in 1928.  To be fair, this was a partial silent and there was a silent version released.  Her next film was a full talkie and she had a full named credit; Hit The Deck was a Jack Oakie picture shot in 1929 and released in early 1930.  Sometimes, it was simply that a person's association with stardom in silent films, especially women/actresses, was enough to cause studios and/or audiences to sour on them.  The was only heightened by the Great Depression.  With the stage talent that Clayton possessed when she was a young actress, it unlikely she would have had trouble with the sound transition.  Nonetheless, he career flagged significantly with the coming of talking films.  After taking a few named roles in the very early 1930's, she was down to taking bit parts or uncredited roles by 1933.  She did not, however, quit acting altogether.  She continued on in roles that mostly went uncredited right up until she decided to retire.  It was an irony, since, she had never had uncredited roles early on in her film career--most young actresses did--that the last 1/2 of her career was spent in such roles.  Her last role was a small, and at the time of premiere, uncredited role as Lady Montague in Show in the 1947 The Perils Of Pauline; another irony, given that this was no remake of the famous silent serial of 1914, but rather the film was a biopic of it's star, silent actress Pearl White.  She retired and stayed in California.  She passed away in 1966 on the 11th June in Oxnard at the age of 83.  She is buried in Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura County.  

Wikipedia (date of death is incorrect here)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Born Today November 7: King Baggot


Famed silent film actor King Baggot was born William King Baggot on this day from St. Louis, MO.  His father, William, was an immigrant from Ireland and became a prominent real estate agent in the St. Louis area.  In his youth he went in big for sports at his Catholic school, worked for a time in Chicago for a family member and wound up playing semi-professional soccer back in St. Louis.  He also got involved in with a church amateur acting group, he found he liked acting and he was good at it, so he was able to join the secular Players Club of St. Louis, all the while continuing to work at a sports arena and in the family real estate business.  His love of acting, though, lead him to turn to it as a profession.  He was involved in several touring companies, including a Shakespearean troupe.  Eventually, one of the plays that he was acting in was booked onto Broadway and opened for a run in 1906.  This would put him into the geographical orbit of the earliest studios in the New York area--aware of the industry, most stage players were dismissive of motion pictures at the time at best (it was considered a lowly profession by real actors working in theater).  It would be another 3 years before he made his film debut; in the mean time, he returned to St. Louis and continued to act on the stage, including play that Cecil B. DeMille was involved with (either as a player or a producer or both) in an off-seasoning touring group.  Back in New York he met up with film director Harry Solter who was involved in Carl Laemmle's company at the time.  Solter convinced Baggot to accompany him to a film set, and, eventually convinced him to give it a try.  There is a bit of confusion as to which Solter film was actually his debut.  Baggot appeared in two romantic shorts of his in the year 1909.  While The Awakening of Bess is listed as his debut--and film that featured on George Loane Tucker in what was most likely his film debut; Baggot also appeared in Solter's Love's Stratagem in close time proximity to Awakening, of the two marks his entrance into film history.  Both films were produced by Laemmle's Independent Motion Pictures Co. of America.  It doesn't seem that it took all that long for the film bug to bit Baggot in a big way.  This was also around the time when film actors were starting to get billing similar to theatrical productions; King Baggot is listed among the first actors to become a "movie star."  It didn't take long for him to become interested in all aspects of "the business."  By 1911, he had written his first film screenplay; known because it was made into a film that year as The Rose's Story (1911).  Between his debut and his appearing in his first penned film, he had made many, many shorts for Independent Motion Pictures.  Baggot made his directorial debut just the next year with The Power Of Conscience in 1912.  Just 3 years into the new motion picture industry and it's first studio system and Baggot was in for it all.  Not that he ever really left the stage.  He continued to act on the stage, mostly on Broadway, for the rest of his life.  Baggot remained a huge star in the 1910's appearing in mostly short, but very popular, films.  He did headline feature length films during this period as well.  Probably the most historically notable of these is Ivanhoe a 1913 Herbert Brennon film--it was a sensational film for the time, having been shot on location in the United Kingdom (his film Ansinthe, a lost Brennon directed title was also filmed on location in Europe).  Baggot, in fact, was so influential with his fame that he is basically regarded as the founder of the Screen Club in New York, a club dedicated for the first time just to and for people in the movie industry.  At this point he was certainly man about town!  In 1916, he made Half A Rogue which was produced by Universal Film; it appears this was his first film outside of Independent's production studio that he was an actor in under the direction of someone other than himself.  As a director, he had made a few films with Universal in 1914 and 1915.  He was still with Independent at the time, however as an actor through 1916.  After this point he became a kind of free agent.  With the 1920's dawning, he was basically as well known in the industry as a director as he was an actor.  In fact, he spent more time in the early 1920's in the director's chair than he did in front of the camera.  He didn't act at all in 1922.  As a director, he gave Marie Prevost her start in film.  He also directed Reginald Denny, Lillian Rich, and made Gladys Walton a star for a time.  He even directed Baby Peggy, who turned 99 this past October 29!  Up until 1925 he had been directing mostly under the Universal house; ib 1925 he broke out, starting his own production company called King Baggot Productions that was under the Universal umbrella.  The first film that he made under this arrangement was The Home Maker, a film starring Alice Joyce and Clive Brook.   That same year, he directed what is probably his best know and remembered film, a western about the Oklahoma gold rush entitled Tumbleweeds (this sometimes even appears on Amazon Prime).  By this time he was not really acting at all--he made an appearance in one film in 1923 (The Thrill Chaser), he then didn't often appear before the camera for the rest of the 1920's.  His directing took up all of his time; this came to an abrupt end in 1928, however, in 1928, with the last film he directed being the silent Romance Of A Rogue.  He would not direct a film with any sort of sound.  His life growing more difficult--having long since made the move from the east coast to west--he went back to acting in the 1930's.  He first real acting part since the early to mid 1920's came in a small part in the first talking picture that he worked on: Czar of Broadway (1930) directed by William James Craft.  Baggot was back working as an actor for Universal.  He worked prolifically as an actor all through the 1930's, picking back up more or less where he had left off ten years earlier.  He stage career meant that he there was no trouble with his plunging head long into all sound films, but his private life was starting to come apart.  He apparently had a drinking problem, so most of his roles were in small parts--very many of them went uncredited.  This would continue to be the case for the rest of his career.  His was living in very modest conditions in the mid-1940's and even made it into some gossip snippets--mostly by the biter of Hollywood herself, Hedda Hopper.  Baggot worked right up until a year before his death and barely missed a chance to work in the small, but growing field of television which was gaining popularity in the late 1940's.  His last film appearance came in a small role in the MGM film Good News in 1947.  King Baggot died on the 11th of July at the age of 68 from a stroke.  He is buried at Los Angeles' Calvary Cross. His only son became a cinematographer who died tragically while shooting a Disney film in Hawai'i, one of his sons, Stephen King Baggot, also became a cinematographer who shot movies for Cheech and Chong and Oliver Stone (he was also a reporter on the scene of the Sharon Tate murder site--one of a few that wound up having to testify at the Charles Manson's trial). 

King Baggot as Dr. Jekyll in the 1913 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Monday, November 6, 2017

Born Today November 6: Adolphe Belot


French Playwright Adolphe Belot was born Louis Marc Adolphe Belot in La Harve, France on this date; the son of a prominent lawyer in the court of Pointe-á-Pitre (which is sometimes listed as his birthplace). He would eventually study the law and take up the board in 1854; before this he had undertaken several trips to the New World (the Americas) and found the experience enlightening to the point of inspiring writing.  By 1855, he was no longer content to remain just a man of letter and began to write plays. He wrote a couple of comedies and eventually got one of his plays produced in 1859.  The run was a success and wound up being performed over 500 times in one theater alone.  From this point until about 5 years before his death he turned out a number to plays, all with relative success.  He was also a semi-prolific writer of both short stories and novellas/novels.  For most of his career in the theatrical world of Paris, he was associated with the Odéon theater.  One of his two (known) daughters became an actress there.  In regards to film, only 3 movies have been made using his work as source material, two of which were silents.  The first were both, ironically, based on one of his rare full novels.  The first of these was the US produced The Stranglers Of Paris, which had been adapted into a play by the British Arthur Shirley.  The film was remade in 1920 as The Grip Of Iron in the UK, based on the same adaptation of Shirley's, only in this case, Shirley was brought in to write the screenplay for the film as well.  The only sound film to be produced from his work was released in 1934.  Sapho has been the only home grown French production to take on his writing for source material.  To date, no other films have been made using his work, and no productions are currently in the works.  One major reason likely being that his plays are very nineteenth century, and reading him as long since gone out of fashion.  Belot died at the relatively young age of 61 on the 18th of December in Paris.  There is no information on his burial.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Released On This Date: Eerie Tales (1919)

This little known German silent horror thriller had both a silent version and a sound version, quite the feat for the year of it's release 98 years ago today.  It stars a then little known actor by the name of Conrad Veidt... Below is the silent version of the film.