Thursday, February 27, 2020

MUSIC BREAK: JANE FROMAN - THE FINGER OF SUSPICION

Monday, February 24, 2020

WHAT A CHARACTER: NED SPARKS

One of the giants of the deadpan approach to character acting was the marvelous Ned Sparks. Only film buffs would remember his name now, but he was great in every film he did. Ned was born Edward Arthur Sparkman on November 19, 1883. Born in Guelph, Ontario, Sparks left home at age 16 and attempted to work as a gold prospector on the Klondike Gold Rush. After running out of money, he won a spot as a singer on a traveling musical company's tour. At age 19, he returned to Canada and briefly attended a Toronto seminary. After leaving the seminary, he worked for the railroad and worked in theater in Toronto. In 1907, he left Toronto for New York City to try his hand in the Broadway theatre, where he appeared in his first show in 1912.

While working on Broadway, Sparks developed his trademark deadpan expression while portraying the role of a desk clerk in the play Little Miss Brown. His success on the stage soon caught the attention of MGM's Louis B. Mayer who signed Sparks to a six picture deal. Sparks began appearing in numerous silent films before finally making his "talkie" debut in the 1928 film The Big Noise.


He secretly married Mercedes Caballero, sister of Charles Caballero, head of Fox’s Purchasing Department, on Oct. 10, 1930, keeping quiet for months about it. They seldom appeared in public, but Sparks was never a social butterfly away from work anyway.

The marriage soured by 1933, with Mercedes suing for cash, claiming that he was making $6,000 a month. Sparks countersued, claiming Mercedes’ dog bit him and friends, and the dog chased him out of bed. He claimed she thought more of the dog than him. In early December, Sparks was ordered to pay her $200 a month.

In May 1934, Sparks was granted a “mutual consent” divorce in Juarez, Mexico, with the papers signed three months earlier. Mercedes turned around and sued him in September for a real divorce, and this time went for the jugular. She claimed he wouldn’t let her announce their marriage for six months, so people thought they were living in sin, as well as threatening to abandon her.

Almost a year later, Mercedes filed a civil suit for more money, wanting half of the $150,000 she claimed Sparks had earned. The suit stated Sparks had committed fraud by not reporting his true earnings as well as threatening her and promising to testify she used drugs. Her motion was denied in 1936. It would be his only marriage.


Some of his most notable films during the 1930s include Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), the role of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland (1933), and the role of the director alongside Bing Crosby, Stuart Erwin and Marion Davies in Going Hollywood (1933) for MGM. When Fatty Arbuckle was trying to resurrect his career by being a director after his trials, Ned Sparks was the first to volunteer to work for Arbuckle actually making several silent comedies for Arbuckle's company.

In the 1930s, Sparks became known for portraying dour-faced, sarcastic, cigar-chomping characters. He became so associated with the type that, in 1936, The New York Times reported that Sparks had his face insured for USD $100,000 with Lloyd's of London. The market agreed to pay the sum to any photographer who could capture Sparks smiling (Sparks later admitted that the story was a publicity stunt and he was only insured for $10,000). Sparks was also caricatured in cartoons including the Jack-in-the-Box character in the Disney short Broken Toys (1935), and the jester in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938), a hermit crab in both Tex Avery's Fresh Fish (1939) and Bob Clampett's Goofy Groceries (1941), a chicken in Bob Clampett's Slap Happy Pappy (1940), Friz Freleng's Warner Bros. cartoon Malibu Beach Party (1940), and Tex Avery's Hollywood Steps Out (1940). Sparks also voiced the cartoon characters Heckle and Jeckle from 1947 to 1951.

Sparks appeared in ten stage productions on Broadway and over 80 films. His last disagreeable Hollywood role would be alongside James Stewart in Magic Town (1947). He retired from films in 1947, saying that everyone should retire at 65. On April 3, 1957, Sparks died of an intestinal blockage in Victorville, California. Ned always looked crabby and angry in his movies, but he brought countless moviegoers laughter through his many roles...


Friday, February 21, 2020

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF MARTHA RAYE

Martha Raye was a larger than life entertainer and comedian. She also lived larger than life. I wanted to do a little research on Martha's seven husbands she had and to look into who they were. They came from all aspects of life...

Husband #1

1. HAMILTON WESTMORE (1918-1973), make up artist - He designed the Barbie doll.
    married from May 1937 to September 1937

2. DAVID ROSE (1910-1990), orchestra leader - He left Martha Raye for Judy Garland.
    married from October 1938 to May 1941

Husband # 3

3. NEAL LANG (1906-1981), business man - He owned a chain of hotels in California.
    married from May 1941 to February 1944

4. NICK CONDOS (1915-1988), actor - He was the father of Martha's only child - a daughter.
    married from February 1944 to June 1953

Husband #5

5. THOMAS J BEGLEY (1923-1982), dancer - They met while he worked on her variety show.
    married from April 1954 to October 1956

6. ROBERT O'SHEA (1927-1981), body guard - He was a former policeman and her personal body      guard.
    married from November 1956 to December 1, 1960



7. MARK HARRIS (1949-2018), self promoter - He fought with Martha's daughter over                        conservator ship of Martha Raye as her health faded.
    married from September 1991 to her death
 

Monday, February 17, 2020

GUEST REVIEW: LET'S DANCE

The great film guru Bruce Kogan is back for a look at the forgotten 1950 musical Let's Dance..

Let's Dance finds Fred Astaire teamed with Betty Hutton professionally in an act. And the plot of the story revolves around Astaire trying to make it a romantic partnership as well.

In fact he announces to the audience at a USO show during World War II that he'd like to marry his partner. Small problem though Hutton tells Astaire in the dressing room. She's already slightly married some months earlier in a whirlwind romance. The act gets broken up as well.

Flash forward to five years later. Hutton is a war widow raising her young son Gregory Moffett in some affluent Boston surroundings presided over by her husband's mother Lucile Watson. Watson is a wealthy WASP dowager who's just about gotten used to the fact that her son married an entertainer, but she insists that her grand kid be raised as a proper Bostonian. Not for Betty who's bored stiff with polite society. She takes off with Moffett. In New York she hooks up again with Fred, but it's romantic rocky road with a couple of detours for Fred it's Ruth Warrick and for Betty, Sheppard Strudwick.


I don't think that there was any surprise that there was no demand for the return of the team of Astaire and Hutton. They perform their numbers well although I agree with other reviewers that the film is tilted for Betty from the gitgo. The fact that this was her home studio of Paramount no doubt helped there. I do agree that composer Frank Loesser having dealt with Betty before wrote for her. He had already given her I Wish I Didn't Love You So from The Perils of Pauline. Loesser himself was getting his songwriting career into high gear. He had just had a big Broadway smash in Where's Charley and would the following year have his biggest hit of all with Guys and Dolls.


Nothing here was nominated for an Academy Award. Can't Stop Talking About Him is Betty's best number, definitely in her style. Fred looks a little silly trying to keep up with her. He's shown to best advantage in the piano dance, dancing on a Steinway and in a hoedown western style dance number with Betty in Them Dudes Were Doing Our Dance.

Some interesting casting here. Two guys who usually were villains in films play good guys with Barton MacLane as the gruff, but kindly club owner where Astaire and Hutton are playing and George Zucco as the judge before whom the custody battle is fought. Lucile Watson is her usual imperious self and has a crack legal team at her disposal with Roland Young and Melville Cooper.

Let's Dance was a good film for Betty Hutton. It didn't do too much for Fred Astaire however...

BRUCE'S RATING: 6 OUT OF 10
MY RATING: 7 OUT OF 10


Friday, February 14, 2020

HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND: JACK BENNY

URBAN LEGEND: Did comedian Jack Benny have a rose delivered to his wife every day even after he died.

STATUS: 100% True!


Comedian Jack Benny was so in love with his wife and his fellow performer Mary Livingstone that since they got married he sent her a red rose a day. Even if they were away performing or he was performing overseas, Jack always sent Mary a rose.

In December of 1974, Jack died suddenly of cancer at the age of 80. Mary was inconsolable. The day after the funeral, to her surprise, a single rose was delivered for Mrs. Benny.

After several days with the red roses continuing to arrive daily, Mrs. Benny went to the florist and said, “I don’t know if you realize this or not, but Mr. Benny passed away. I know it is kind of you, but you don’t need to do this any longer.”

The florist responded, “Mrs. Benny, you don’t understand. Jack made provisions years ago to provide you a single red rose every day you are alive.” And, the lovely red roses continued to arrive every day for the next eight years until Mary’s death, as a memorial to Jack’s devotion to Mary...


Monday, February 10, 2020

A TRIBUTE TO SHIRLEY TEMPLE - SIX YEARS LATER

Here is a short tribute I did in memory of Shirley Temple. One of the shortest superstars, she has been gone for six years now...








Thursday, February 6, 2020

HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY: BETTY GRABLE

Betty Grable was known for her million dollar legs, but she also was one of the most beautiful women that Hollywood ever captured on file. Here are some examples of her great moments caught in photos...





















Wednesday, February 5, 2020

RIP: KIRK DOUGLAS

Kirk Douglas, the son of a ragman who channeled a deep, personal anger through a chiseled jaw and steely blue eyes to forge one of the most indelible and indefatigable careers in Hollywood history, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 103.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” son Michael Douglas wrote on his Instagram account. “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the Golden Age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

Douglas walked away from a helicopter crash in 1991 and suffered a severe stroke in 1996 but, ever the battler, he refused to give in. With a passionate will to survive, he was the last man standing of all the great stars of another time.

Nominated three times for best actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — for Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956) — Douglas was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1996. Arguably the top male star of the post-World War II era, he acted in more than 80 movies before retiring from films in 2004.

"Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life, and I'm honored to have been a small part of his last 45 years," Steven Spielberg said in a statement. "I will miss his handwritten notes, letters and fatherly advice, and his wisdom and courage — even beyond such a breathtaking body of work — are enough to inspire me for the rest of mine."


The father of two-time Oscar-winning actor-director-producer Michael Douglas, the Amsterdam, New York native first achieved stardom as a ruthless and cynical boxer in Champion.

Perhaps most importantly, Douglas rebelled against the McCarthy Era establishment by producing and starring as a slave in Spartacus (1960), written by Dalton Trumbo, making the actor a hero to those blacklisted in Hollywood. The film became Universal’s biggest moneymaker, an achievement that stood for a decade.

Douglas was very particular in his role selection. “If I like a picture, I do it. I don’t stop to wonder if it’ll be successful or not,” he said in a 1982 interview. “I loved Lonely Are the Brave and Paths of Glory, but neither of them made a lot of money. No matter; I’m proud of them.”


His independent nature led him in 1955 to form his own independent film company, Bryna Productions. In the post-World War II era, Douglas was the first actor to take control of his career in this manner. Captaining his own ship, he soon launched a number of heady projects. Most auspiciously, he took a risk on a young Stanley Kubrick with Paths of Glory and Spartacus, films that feature two of Douglas’ finest performances. (He hired Kubrick for the latter after firing Anthony Mann a week into production.)

Indeed, Douglas backed his artistic and political opinions with action: His public announcement that blacklisted writer Trumbo would script Spartacus was a key moment in Hollywood’s re-acceptance of suspected communist figures.

Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in the industrial town of Amsterdam. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, raised seven children, and as soon as he was old enough, Douglas went to work to help support the family.

He put himself through St. Lawrence University by working as a janitor. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree, he moved to Manhattan where, as a result of a single reading for the head of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, received a special scholarship.


Soon after graduating from the academy in 1941, Douglas made his Broadway debut in Spring Again, starring Grace George and C. Aubrey Smith, playing a singing messenger boy. In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy, attending the Midshipman School at Notre Dame, and was commissioned an ensign. He served on anti-submarine patrol in the Pacific as a communications officer until 1944, when he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant.

A man of restless energy and various interests, Douglas supported many causes and worked in public service. During the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson eras, he toured widely for the U.S. Information Agency and the U.S. State Department as a goodwill ambassador, going on missions to South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

In 1966, on behalf of the State Department, Douglas visited six Iron Curtain countries: Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. He often regaled acquaintances about a visit to Yugoslavia, where he managed a private visit with President Tito, much to the chagrin of the British ambassador who had been waiting for weeks for such an opportunity.

In May 2017, the actor's 11th book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, was published. (His first was his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son.)

On his 99th birthday, Douglas and his wife donated $15 million toward a new $35 million care center at the Motion Picture Television Fund home in Woodland Hills...


Saturday, February 1, 2020

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: ODD PAIRINGS - 5TH EDITION

It has been a long time since we published this feature on odd classic Hollywood pairings. The older additions of the popular feature can be found here:

STILL MORE ODD PAIRINGS - JANUARY 20, 2017

EVEN MORE ODD PAIRINGS - JULY 12, 2014

MORE ODD PAIRINGS - JULY 16, 2012

ODD PAIRINGS - APRIL 19, 2011


Here now are some more of the oddest parings of stars and celebrities that can truly only come together in Hollywood...

David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor

Al Pacino, Lillian Gish, and Grace Kelly

Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin

Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, and Cary Grant

Michael Jackson and Danny Kaye

Edith Piaf and Carmen Miranda