Saturday, August 29, 2020


This is fourth installment of this picture series, and some of these photos still are hard to look at. However, these are some of the last photos taken of our favorite stars...

Prior editions:

Final Pictures Of The Stars - March 28, 2012

Judy Garland on May 29, 1969. She died on June 22, 1969.

Ginger Rogers on July 6, 1994. She died on April 25, 1995.

Bing Crosby during lunch at his final golf match. He would die a few hours after this photo leaving the golf course - October 14, 1977.

Harry James at one of his last performances on June 10, 1983. He died on July 6, 1983.

Rudy Vallee around Christmas of 1985. He died on July 3, 1986.

Kaye Ballard at her documentary premiere on January 6, 2019. She died on January 21, 2019.

Sunday, August 23, 2020


Today we celebrate the 108th birthday of one of the greatest dancers of all time Gene Kelly. On a personal note, my Great Aunt babysat a young Gene when they were neighbors briefly. Kelly was born in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1912. He was the third son of James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman, and his wife, Harriet Catherine Curran. His father was born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Irish Canadian family. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Derry, Ireland, and his maternal grandmother was of German ancestry. When he was 8, Kelly's mother enrolled him and his brother James in dance classes. As Kelly recalled, they both rebelled: "We didn't like it much and were continually involved in fistfights with the neighborhood boys who called us sissies ... I didn't dance again until I was 15." 
At one time his childhood dream was to play shortstop for the hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. By the time he decided to dance, he was an accomplished sportsman and able to defend himself. He attended St. Raphael Elementary School in the Morningside neighborhood of Pittsburgh and graduated from Peabody High School at age 16. He entered Pennsylvania State College as a journalism major, but the 1929 crash forced him to work to help his family. He created dance routines with his younger brother Fred to earn prize money in local talent contests. They also performed in local nightclubs.
In 1931, Kelly enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics, joining the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. He became involved in the university's Cap and Gown Club, which staged original musical productions. After graduating in 1933, he continued to be active with the Cap and Gown Club, serving as the director from 1934 to 1938. Kelly was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Law School.

His family opened a dance studio in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. In 1932 they renamed it The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance and opened a second location in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1933. Kelly served as a teacher at the studio during his undergraduate and law student years at Pitt. In 1931 he was approached by the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Pittsburgh to teach dance, and to stage the annual Kermesse. The venture proved a success, Kelly being retained for seven years until his departure for New York.

Kelly eventually decided to pursue a career as a dance teacher and full-time entertainer, so he dropped out of law school after two months. He increased his focus on performing and later claimed: "With time I became disenchanted with teaching because the ratio of girls to boys was more than ten to one, and once the girls reached 16 the dropout rate was very high." In 1937, having successfully managed and developed the family's dance school business, he finally did move to New York City in search of work as a choreographer.Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, to his family home at 7514 Kensington Street by 1940, and worked as a theatrical actor.

After a fruitless search for work in New York, Kelly returned to Pittsburgh to his first position as a choreographer with the Charles Gaynor musical revue Hold Your Hats at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in April 1938. Kelly appeared in six of the sketches, one of which, La cumparsita, became the basis of an extended Spanish number in the film Anchors Aweigh eight years later.

His first Broadway assignment, in November 1938, was as a dancer in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me!—as the American ambassador's secretary who supports Mary Martin while she sings My Heart Belongs to Daddy. He had been hired by Robert Alton, who had staged a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse where he was impressed by Kelly's teaching skills. When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing, and dance in eight routines. In 1939 he was selected for a musical revue, One for the Money, produced by the actress Katharine Cornell, who was known for finding and hiring talented young actors.

Kelly's first big breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on October 25, 1939—in which, for the first time on Broadway, he danced to his own choreography. In the same year, he received his first assignment as a Broadway choreographer, for Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. Soon Hollywood was calling, and the rest was Hollywood history...

Saturday, August 15, 2020


One of my all-time favorite classic Hollywood movies was 1949's White Heat. The movie was nearly cinematic perfection. It included memorable roles for its stars: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, and Edmond O'Brien. Even fans of this movie genre may not know everything about the film. Here are five pieces of trivia that you may not know about the film...

1. If the surprise expressed by James Cagney's fellow inmates during "the telephone game" scene in the prison dining room appears real, it's because it is. Director Raoul Walsh didn't tell the rest of the cast what was about to happen, so Cagney's outburst caught them by surprise. In fact, Walsh himself didn't know what Cagney had planned; the scene as written wasn't working, and Cagney had an idea. He told Walsh to put the two biggest extras playing cons in the mess-hall next to him on the bench (he used their shoulders to boost himself onto the table) and to keep the cameras rolling no matter what.

2. The unusually close relationship between Cody Jarrett and his domineering mother was inspired by real life bank robbers Kate Barker (aka "Ma Barker") and her sons.

3. Edmond O'Brien was rather in awe of James Cagney. He found out how generous an actor and gentle a person Cagney could be. In a close-up the two were playing together, O'Brien felt Cagney standing with increasing pressure on the top of O'Brien's right foot, forcing the younger actor to move in that direction. O'Brien realized if he had not done so, he would have been out of frame and Cagney would have had the scene to himself. When the cameras were rolling, Cagney would look like "an angry tiger," but as soon as Raoul Walsh yelled cut, the star would quietly go up to O'Brien with a poem he had written and ask him in a whisper, "Would you mind telling me what you think of this?" When it came time to return to work, Cagney would plead, "Please, don't tell anyone about it."

4. Virginia Mayo revealed in an interview that James Cagney was hiding in a different spot than where she had been told he would be during the scene when they are reunited after he's been in prison. He then deliberately missed his cue, causing her shock and fear to be real. She said for a few seconds, she was actually afraid he was going to kill her.

5. In his autobiography Cagney by Cagney (1985), the actor said he found the script "very formula...the old knock-down-drag-'em-out again, without a touch of imagination or originality." Finding Cody Jarrett to be "just another murderous thug," Cagney said he suggested to the writers to pattern the character of Jarrett and his mother after the legendary outlaws Ma Barker and her boys and to make Cody a psychotic. It has also been said that Cagney improvised some of his dialogue and decided to play Jarrett as a man plagued by blinding migraines (that only his mother could soothe).

Monday, August 10, 2020


There were many great duos on radio and television, but I feel one of the best was Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson. In a time when people were subjected to extreme racism due to the color of their skin, Benny befriends Anderson on and off the screen.

The year was 1937, and the first role offered Eddie Anderson on The Jack Benny Program on radio was that of a Pullman porter. It was to be a one-time part, but there was something about the gravely-voiced African-American actor that led the producers to use him again — first as a waiter, and another time as a fellow who has an altercation with the star, Jack Benny. Benny realized that Anderson could be so much more than a stereotype.

Jack Benny changed the character of Rochester from a near stereotype to a much more positive and affirmative character, but in his own way he also stood up against segregation on behalf of Eddie Anderson. Once Eddie Anderson was denied a room in a hotel in St. Joseph, Missouri at which Jack Benny's cast and crew had planned to stay, Jack Benny told them, "If he doesn't stay, neither then do I." The hotel relented and gave Eddie Anderson a room. 

The South was not the only place where racism against Eddie Anderson took place. Once in New York, a couple at a hotel at which the cast and crew were staying complained about being in the same hotel as Eddie Anderson. The hotel manager tried to convince Eddie Anderson to move to another hotel. The show's producer and Mary Livngstone's brother, Hilliard Marks, told the manager that Eddie Anderson would be happy to move to another hotel. The following day the entire cast and crew, 44 people in all, checked out of the hotel.

In the end Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson became a comedy team, much in the same way that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or George Burns and Gracie Allen were. What made them a success as a team was not simply that they were two very talented men, but that they were also very close friends who were quite comfortable with each other. When Eddie Anderson had a heart attack in 1958, Jack Benny was visibly worried about him. When Jack Benny died in 1974, Eddie Anderson not only teared up during interviews about his former employer and comedy partner, but he openly wept at Jack Benny's funeral...

Saturday, August 8, 2020


From an early age, Sylvia Fine was determined to have a career in the theater business. Extremely gifted and hard working, she started her formal musical training at Brooklyn College at age fifteen. There she studied piano, composition, and general music. Fine was heavily involved in the production of revues and musicals, composing music and lyrics for songs, directing scenes, and playing piano. After graduating in 1933 at age twenty, she spent subsequent years working, often for free, for revues and musicals in New York City.

Although she rarely gave public performances from the 1940s through the end of her life, Sylvia Fine was an accomplished pianist. The early part of her career was a mix of performing and writing for off-Broadway revues. She was often tasked with both coaching the cast in rehearsal and playing for performances. She continued to perform after the 1940s, but only for special events such as charity fundraisers and her PBS show Musical Comedy Tonight.

In April of 1939, Sylvia Fine’s career path changed when she and Danny Kaye worked together on the musical revue Sunday Night Varieties—Fine composing music and playing piano, Kaye serving as a company actor. The show had financial and structural problems causing it to only run for three of its four scheduled performances. However, it marked the beginning of a performance duo that succeeded in nearly every area of the entertainment industry.

Most of Fine’s music was written with Danny Kaye’s unique talents in mind and this early example was one of the lasting successes. Kaye first performed the song, “Anatole of Paris,” about an eccentric milliner who makes outlandish hats for women in 1939 at Camp Tamiment. Soon after, it became the song that closed his act at the nightclub La Martinique in New York City. The song wove its way through his various stage shows, studio recordings, and was even featured in the Samuel Goldwyn film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).

Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine first met in a professional setting while working for musical revues; soon after their friendship quickly moved beyond a working relationship. On January 3, 1940, they were married during a vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just after they closed performances of The Straw Hat Revue in New York. Three years later, Kaye and Fine held a formal wedding in New York City on February 1943 for friends and family. Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine had only one child, Dena Kaye, born December 17, 1946. Kaye often referred to Dena in his television and stage shows, which allowed him to connect to the audience using a personal story. In the early 1950s, Kaye and Fine created a production company—Dena Productions—named after their daughter. This company co-produced his films and television shows thereafter.

In addition to writing material for Kaye, she also wrote music for two Otto Preminger films: The Moon is Blue (1953) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). The Man with the Golden Arm was a departure for Fine who generally wrote music for comedic performance. The film, starring Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Kim Novak, was a drama telling the story of a heroine addict’s struggles after being released from prison.

In addition to being a composer, lyricist, and producer, Sylvia Fine was also a scholar of the history of musical theater. In 1972 Fine taught a class on the subject, as a guest lecturer, at the University of Southern California. She later taught a similar course at Yale University. After these engagements, she used her research to create a 1979 PBS special, Musical Comedy Tonight. The show, a history of musical comedy, was narrated by Fine and included live performances by Broadway stars of scenes from musical productions. The special was such a success that two more shows were produced, in 1981 and 1985.

Sylvia Fine Kaye died of emphysema at the age of 78 in her Manhattan apartment in 1991. In the last three years of her life, she had been writing an autobiography, Fine and Danny, about her life with Kaye for Knopf Books .Danny Kaye died of heart failure on March 3, 1987, aged 76, brought on by internal bleeding and complications of hepatitis C. Kaye had quadruple bypass heart surgery in February 1983; he contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion...

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Jack Lemmon has always been one of my favorite actors. He made so many great movies in the late 1960s and 1970s, but I wanted to take a look and learn more about his early years in Hollywood. He had made movies for years before he got the fame that he deserved.

In the 1940s, Lemmon became a professional actor, working on radio and Broadway. His film debut was a bit part as a plasterer in the film The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949), but he was already appearing in television shows, which numbered about 400 from 1948 to 1953.

Lemmon believed his stage career was about to take off when he was appearing on Broadway for the first time in a 1953 revival of the comedy Room Service, but the production closed after two weeks. Despite this setback, he was spotted by talent scout Max Arnow, who was then working for Columbia, and Lemmon's focus shifted to films and Hollywood. Columbia's head Harry Cohn wanted to change Lemmon's name, in case it was used to describe the quality of the actor's films, but he successfully resisted.

His first role as a leading man was in the comedy It Should Happen to You (1954), which also featured the established Judy Holliday in the female lead. Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times described Lemmon as possessing "a warm and appealing personality. The screen should see more of him." The two leads soon reunited in Phffft (also 1954). Kim Novak had a secondary role as a brief love interest for Lemmon's character. "If it wasn't for Judy, I'm not sure I would have concentrated on films", he told The Washington Post in 1986 saying early in his career he had a snobbish attitude towards films over the stage. He managed to negotiate a contract with Columbia allowing him leeway to pursue other projects, some of the terms of which he said "nobody had gotten before". He signed a seven-year contract, but ended staying with Columbia for ten years. Lemmon's appearance as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), with James Cagney and Henry Fonda, for Warner Bros. gained Lemmon the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Director John Ford decided to cast Lemmon after seeing his Columbia screen test, which had been directed by Richard Quine. At an impromptu meeting on the studio lot, Ford persuaded the actor to appear in the film, although Lemmon did not realize he was in conversation with Ford at the time.

In the military farce Operation Mad Ball (1957) set in a U.S. Army base in France after World War II, Lemmon played a calculating private. He met comedian Ernie Kovacs, who co-starred, and they became close friends, appearing together in two subsequent films, as a warlock in Bell, Book and Candle (1958, a film he apparently disliked),and It Happened to Jane (1959), all three under the direction of Richard Quine. Lemmon starred in six films directed by Quine. The others were My Sister Eileen (1955), The Notorious Landlady (1962) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). Lemmon also began his collaboration with director Billy Wilder in with Some Like It Hot (1959), with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. His role required him to perform 80% of the role in drag. People who knew his mother, Millie Lemmon, said he had mimicked her personality and even her hairstyle.The critic Pauline Kael said he was "demoniacally funny" in the part.

Lemmon first role a film directed by Blake Edwards was in Days of Wine and Roses (1962) portraying Joe Clay, a young alcoholic businessman. The role, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, was one of Lemmon's favorite roles. By this time, he had appeared in 15 comedies, a western and an adventure film. "The movie people put a label attached to your big toe — 'light comedy' — and that's the only way they think of you", he commented in an interview during 1984. "I knew damn well I could play drama. Things changed following Days of Wine and Roses. That was as important a film as I've ever done." Days of Wine and Roses was the first film where Lemmon was involved with production of the film via his Jalam production company. Lemmon's association with Edwards continued with The Great Race (1965), which reunited him with Tony Curtis. His salary this time was $1 million, but the film did not return its large budget at the box-office, but some of his biggest roles would be in his future...

Sunday, August 2, 2020


It is hard to believe that we lost the great Regis Philbin on July 24th, 2020. He is an icon that never will be forgotten...