Monday, July 27, 2015

SARAH BERNHARDT: THE FINAL YEARS

Sarah Bernhardt had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph Eugène Henri Georges Lamoral de Ligne (1837–1914), son of Eugène, 8th Prince of Ligne, with whom she bore her only child, Maurice Bernhardt (1864–1928). Maurice did not become an actor but worked for most of his life as a manager and agent for various theaters and performers, frequently managing his mother's career in her later years, but rarely with great success. Maurice and his family were usually financially dependent, in full or in part, on his mother until her death. Maurice married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska (see Jablonowski), with whom he had two daughters, Simone (who married Edgar Gross, son of a wealthy Philadelphia soap manufacturer) and Lysiana (who married the playwright Louis Verneuil ).

Bernhardt's close friends included several artists, most notably Gustave Doré and Georges Clairin, and actors Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen, as well as the famous French author Victor Hugo. Alphonse Mucha based several of his iconic Art Nouveau works on her. Her friendship with Louise Abbéma (1853–1927), a French impressionist painter, some nine years her junior, was so close and passionate that the two women were rumored to be lovers. In 1990, a painting by Abbéma, depicting the two on a boat ride on the lake in the bois de Boulogne, was donated to the Comédie-Française. The accompanying letter stated that the painting was "Peint par Louise Abbéma, le jour anniversaire de leur liaison amoureuse" (loosely translated: "Painted by Louise Abbéma on the anniversary of their love affair.")


In 1905, while performing in Victorien Sardou's La Tosca in Teatro Lírico do Rio de Janeiro, Bernhardt injured her right knee when jumping off the parapet in the final scene. The leg never healed properly. By 1915, gangrene set in and her entire right leg was amputated; she was required to use a wheelchair for several months. Bernhardt reportedly refused a $10,000 offer by a showman to display her amputated leg as a medical curiosity. (While P.T. Barnum is usually cited as the one to have made the offer, he had been dead since 1891.)

She continued her career, sometimes without using a wooden prosthetic limb, which she did not like. She carried out a successful tour of America in 1915, and on returning to France she played in her own productions almost continuously until her death. Later successes included Daniel (1920), La Gloire (1921), and Régine Armand (1922). According to Arthur Croxton, the manager of London's Coliseum, the amputation was not apparent during her performances, which were done with the use of an artificial limb. Her physical condition may have limited her mobility on the stage, but the charm of her voice, which had altered little with age, ensured her triumphs.

Sarah Bernhardt died from uremia following kidney failure in 1923. Newspaper reports stated she died "peacefully, without suffering, in the arms of her son." She is believed to have been 78 years old. She was the Meryl Streep of her generation even before Meryl Streep was even a thought...


Saturday, July 25, 2015

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: ART LUND

One of the unsung greats of the big band era was vocalist Art Lund. Many of the vocalists of that era (other than Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Jo Stafford) have faded into obscurity after the big band era was over. However, after Lund was done with the bands he had a varied and interesting career.

Born Arthur London on April 1, 1915 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Lund was a popular baritone of the Big Band era whose recording of "Blue Skies" was an enduring hit throughout the 1940s. At 6 feet, 4 inches and with rugged good looks under a mop of blond hair, Lund also had a dramatic career in films, stage and television. 

He was a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, and received his master's degree from the United States Naval Academy in aerological engineering. Lund was a high school math teacher in Kentucky who worked as a musician on the side. He left teaching to tour with Jimmy Ray and his band. He originally billed himself as Art London.

His recordings of "Blue Skies," "My Blue Heaven" and "Mam'selle" became the foundation of a career that began in the late 1930s with the Benny Goodman band. One of my favorite recordings Lund made during the big band era was the song "If You Build A Better Mousetrap" in 1941, a duet with fellow Goodman vocalist Peggy Lee. The song was taken from the Paramount movie The Fleet's In.


Lund was on Broadway first in the early 1950s in a musical adaptation of "Of Mice and Men" and later in "The Wayward Stork." He was seen across the country in touring companies of "Fiorello," "No Strings" and "Destry Rides Again." "The Most Happy Fella," the Frank Loesser adaptation of "They Knew What They Wanted," was one of Broadway's biggest hits of the 1950s.

In 1968, Lund moved into films as Frazier, biggest of "The Molly Maguires" in the picture about the Irish rebel miners. His other movies included "Ten Days Till Tomorrow," "Decisions, Decisions," "Bucktown" and "The Last American Hero."

On TV he was a frequent guest on "Gunsmoke," "Police Story," "The Rockford Files," "Little House on the Prairie" and "Daniel Boone."

Lund was still singing the 1980s. He was a frequent guest at Big Band nights in Southern California, toured with the Harry James ghost band and recently sang in Australia.

Art Lund died May 31, 1990 of liver cancer in Holladay, Utah...not far from where he was born. 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

FINAL RESTING PLACES: FRED ASTAIRE


"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Though that evaluation of Fred Astaire's first screen test may be more Hollywood legend than fact, Astaire proved them wrong by acting, singing and dancing his way through some of the best-loved and most memorable musicals ever made. (And he wore a toupee, so he overcame that "balding" problem, too.)

The son of an Austrian immigrant, Astaire started in show business in vaudeville and on Broadway, dancing with his sister, Adele. From 1917 to 1932, the Astaires were a successful Broadway dance team, appearing in such musicals as "Over the Top," "Lady Be Good," and "Funny Face." After Adele retired from the act in 1932 to marry Lord Charles Cavendish, Astaire headed to Hollywood. After his first film, "Dancing Lady" (1933), Astaire appeared in "Flying Down to Rio" (1933), which was his first pairing with Ginger Rogers. Astaire and Rogers made 10 films together, usually light comedies with even lighter plots which followed a standard format. But the slim plots were just an excuse for Astaire and Rogers to do what they do best - him in top hat, white tie and tails; her in a flowing, feathery gown, combining the elements of ballroom, tap and other dance styles in a seamless picture of grace and elegance. Most fans agree that "Top Hat" (1935) was their best film together.


Astaire danced with many other partners in his film career, including Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Melody of 1940," Rita Hayworth in "You'll Never Get Rich" (1941), Judy Garland in "Easter Parade" (1948), Cyd Charisse in "Silk Stockings" (1957) and Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face" (1957). Taking nothing away from his human partners, but Astaire could even make the coat rack he danced with in "Royal Wedding" (1951) seem graceful and elegant. Altogether, Astaire appeared in 54 films. In 1975, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "The Towering Inferno." Astaire was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1950, "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures." He was also a three-time Emmy winner.

Astaire married his first wife, Phyllis, in 1933, and had two children, Fred Jr. and Ava. Phyllis also had another child, Peter, from a previous marriage. Phyllis died in 1954. In 1980, the 81-year-old Astaire married jockey Robyn Smith -- who, at 35, was younger than both of his children. 


Astaire's gravestone is as you might expect it to be, simple and elegant: "Fred Astaire, I Will Always Love You My Darling, Thank You." And, for an entertainer with endless and timeless talent, it does not include the dates of his birth or death.

Throughout his life, Astaire was generally known as a very private person who kept close ties to his family. So it's natural that he is surrounded by the people he loved most. Buried near Astaire is his sister Adele Astaire Douglas (1897 - 1981) -- after her first husband died, she married Kingman Douglas. Next to Adele is Ann Astaire (1878 - 1975), Fred and Adele's mother. Next to Ann Astaire is Phyllis Livingston Astaire (1908 - 1954), Fred's first wife. Next to Phyllis are the graves of her aunt and uncle, Henry Worthington Bull (1874 - 1958) and Maud Livingston Bull (1875 - 1962). Fred had known Henry Bull for several years before he met Phyllis, due to their mutual interest in horse racing, and the two couples remained close throughout their lives.

In his will, which was signed less than two years before he died, Astaire requested "that my funeral be private and that there be no memorial service."

Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, NE. He died on June 22, 1987, in Los Angeles, CA. Fred was buried in Oakwood Memorial Park in California...


Monday, July 20, 2015

SARAH BERNHARDT: THE RISE TO FAME

Sarah Bernhardt's stage career started in 1862 while she was a student at the Comédie-Française, France's most prestigious theater. She decided to leave France, and soon ended up in Belgium, where she became the mistress of Henri, Prince de Ligne, and gave birth to their son, Maurice, in 1864. After Maurice's birth, the Prince proposed marriage, but his family forbade it and persuaded Bernhardt to refuse and end their relationship.

After being expelled from the Comédie Française, she resumed the life of courtesan to which her mother had introduced her at a young age, and made considerable money during that period (1862–65). During this time she acquired her famous coffin, in which she often slept in lieu of a bed – claiming that doing so helped her understand her many tragic roles.

Bernhardt then reverted to the theater, securing a contract at the Théâtre de L’Odéon where she began performing in 1866. Her most famous performance there was her travesty performance as the Florentine minstrel in François Coppé's Le Passant (January 1869). With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war performances were stopped and Bernhardt converted the theatre into a makeshift hospital where she took care of the soldiers wounded on the battlefield. She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s and was soon in demand all over Europe and in New York. In between tours Bernhardt took over the lease of the Théâtre de la Renaissance, which she ran as producer-director-star from 1893 to 1899.


In 1899 Bernhardt took over the former Théâtre des Nations on the Place du Châtelet, renaming it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt and opening on 21 January in one of her most admired parts, the title role in Victorien Sardou's La Tosca. This was followed by revivals of Racine's Phèdre (24 February), Octave Feuillet's Dalila (8 March), Gaston de Wailly's Patron Bénic (14 March), Edmond Rostand's La Samaritaine (25 March), and Alexandre Dumas fils's La Dame aux Camélias on 9 April. On 20 May, she premiered her most controversial part, the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in a prose adaptation which she had commissioned from Eugène Morand and Marcel Schwob. The play was greeted with rave reviews despite its running time of four hours. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title "The Divine Sarah"; arguably, she was the most famous actress of the 19th century.

Bernhardt also participated in scandalous productions such as John Wesley De Kay's "Judas." It performed in New York’s Globe Theatre for only one night in December 1910 before it was banned there, as well as in Boston and Philadelphia. In New York’s art scene of 1910 the story line of the play was nothing short of scandalous. Mary Magdalene, who at first became a lover of Pontius Pilate, then of Judas Iscariot, got involved with Jesus. Judas, after realizing that Mary Magdalene had given herself to Jesus, decided to betray his friend to the Romans. To top the provocation of New York’s theater lovers, Judas was played by the voluptuous Sarah Bernhardt.

In Paris, Bernhardt continued to direct the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt until her death, when her son Maurice took over. After his death in 1928, the theatre retained the name Sarah Bernhardt until the Occupation by the Germans in World War II, when the name was changed to Théâtre de la Cité because of Bernhardt's Jewish ancestry...


Saturday, July 18, 2015

CELEBRITY ADS: GINGERS ROGERS

Here is a great print ad featuring the beautiful Ginger Rogers (1911-1995). I never knew she was a model for Max Factor. This is a 1943 ad that also mentions the "new" Ginger Rogers movie Lady In The Dark...




Wednesday, July 15, 2015

JUDY GARLAND'S RUBY SLIPPERS STOLEN

Judy Garland is making headlines? Over 45 years after her death? Well, Judy Garland’s shoes are. The ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Ozhave been missing for almost 10 years, and a friend of Judy thinks it’s time they come back home.

The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota said the shoes were stolen from the museum 10 years ago. They were owned by collector Michael Shaw, who would deliver them to the museum once a year for display in a plexiglas case. Ten years ago, as Hurrican Katrina raged and no one was watching, police believe some youths did a smash-and-grab, taking the slippers.

A reward was offered, places were searched, including homes of other collectors. Judy Garland’s shoes never turned up.

When a fan realized the anniversary of the theft was coming up, they offered a reward of $1 million to get them back.


The reward specifies that the exact location of the slippers and the name of the person who stole them be divulged. Perhaps the hope is that, over the past 10 years, someone has gotten loose-lipped about having stolen the slippers. All it takes is for a former acquaintance of the thief to want to cash in and the theft could finally be solved.

John Kelsch, executive director of the Judy Garland Museum says the donor is a Judy Garland fan from Arizona.

“We didn’t think the offer was legitimate at first,” said museum spokesman Rob Feeney. “They wanted to remain anonymous. They only wanted to share that they are a huge Wizard of Oz fan, based in Arizona.”

There are three other pairs of the slippers used in the film. One pair is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Another is now owned by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences for its planned Oscars Museum.

Kelsch says the shoes were insured for $1 million, but could be worth $2 or $3 million now. It is unclear if the museum or original collector must give back the insurance money collected at the time of the theft if the shoes are recovered.

Apprehending the thief could be difficult, given the teleportation powers of the shoes...

Monday, July 13, 2015

SARAH BERNHARDT: THE EARLY YEARS

For some reason the name Sarah Bernhardt has been sticking in my head. She was one of the first "superstars" of acting. I have never seen an early movie she made, but I did a little research to learn more about her.

Sarah Bernhardt was a French stage and early film actress, and was referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known." Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, at the beginning of the Belle Epoque period, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the nickname "The Divine Sarah."

Bernhardt was born on October 22, 1844 in Paris as Rosine Bernardt, the daughter of Julie Bernardt (1821, Amsterdam – 1876, Paris) and an unknown father. Julie was one of six children of an itinerant Jewish spectacle merchant, "vision specialist" and petty criminal, Moritz Baruch Bernardt, and Sara Hirsch (later known as Janetta Hartog; c. 1797–1829). Five weeks after his first wife's death in 1829, Julie's father married Sara Kinsbergen (1809–1878). He had abandoned his five daughters and one son with their stepmother by 1835. Julie, together with her younger sister Rosine, left for Paris, where she made a living as a courtesan and was known by the name "Youle." Julie had five daughters, including a twin who died in infancy in 1843.

Sarah Bernhardt changed her first name and added an "h" to her surname. Her birth records were lost in a fire in 1871. To prove French citizenship—necessary for Légion d'honneur eligibility—she created false birth records, in which she was the daughter of "Judith van Hard" and "Édouard Bernardt" from Le Havre, in later stories either a law student, accountant, naval cadet or naval officer.


When Sarah was young her mother sent her to Grandchamp, an Augustine convent school near Versailles. In 1860 she began attending the Conservatoire de Musique at Déclamation in Paris and eventually became a student at the Comédie Française where she would have her acting debut (11 August 1862) in the title role of Racine's Iphigénie to lackluster reviews. Her time there was short lived; she was asked to resign after slapping another actress across the face for shoving her younger sister during a birthday celebration for Molière.

Much of the uncertainty about Bernhardt's life arises because of her tendency to exaggerate and distort. Alexandre Dumas, fils, described her as a notorious liar...