Monday, 9 November 2015

Lili Damita Striptease in 'This is the Night' (1932)

   A scene from This Is The Night (1932) featuring the divine and delightful Lili Damita (aka Mrs Errol Flynn I). It’s not a ground breaking film and is a little dated mostly due to the stilted, play like direction. However, with a great performance by Lili, a hilarious few scenes from comedy genius Thelma Todd, a couple of talented wits in Charles Ruggles and Roland and an oh-too-handsome idiot played by Cary Grant, it’s a pretty decent film. If you loved Norma Shearer’s Private Lives (1931) you’ll love This Is The Night (1932).    

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

'He peed on the cadets': Lee Tracy in Mexico

In most tales from Hollywood history, the truth will never really be found. The passing of time and the death of key players as well as the problem of preserving positive legacies, keeps some facts buried forever. Surprisingly with the strange arrest of Lee Tracy during the filming of Viva Villa in late 1933, the facts were never confirmed. With the allegations never going to trial plus the alleged rumour mongering of compulsive liar - namely director Howard Hawks - and the disgruntled, face-saving Mexican authorities there was more accounts of the incident than hours in the day. Despite all the confusion and interested parties, the explanation from Tracy and most of the media seem to support one another with most of the details. Nonetheless, the prevailing story at the time is not the story that has permeated into contemporary pop culture.

The truth (or the closest account to what actually happened)
The short version of the account is that on November 20, 1933 during filming of 'Viva Villa' in Mexico, Tracy got heavily intoxicated; appeared on the balcony of his hotel room; and made some kind of obscene gesture to a crowd of people below. This included a parade of cadets, which was taken as a massive insult to the Mexican people. He was arrested, then let go and then rearrested the following day. Authorities then gave Tracy permission to return to the US. According to media reports, Tracy was initially charged with "violation of public morals and insulting the government, the result of a personal appearance, informal and undraped on a hotel balcony". These charges were dropped. Despite media reports, all up Tracy spent seven hours in jail.
Tracy's own account after the event substantiated this view:
"Tracy freely admitted that he was 'feeling the drinks' after a cabaret party when he hailed a Mexican parade from his hotel balcony. He denied he was unclothed. 'The whole thing started with a grand cabaret party when I came off location Saturday, celebrating the finish of the picture Viva Villa ' Tracy told United Press correspondent in El Paso. 'I heard a parade going by. I ran out on the balcony, waved and shouted 'via la parade. I had on pajama pants. Some of the guys in the parade saw me waving my arms and shouting and they hollered back at me to shut up. I was feeling pretty high so I shouted back as loud as I could, 'Why don't you go to hell'. But I was just helping them celebrate."
Charles Clark, who also worked on the film as a cinematographer, made this comment about the event in his autobiography titled Highlights and Shadows: The Memoirs of a Hollywood Cameraman. His view of the event is even more complimentary of Tracy's actions than the actors own story:
"As in all parades, there were frequent holdups, and during these many of the paraders would shout for 'Wally Bee-ery'. He and Lee Tracy eventually came out on the balcony of their room and responded to the cheers of their fans. All of the paraders were not ardent fans, however, and some of them would make obscene gestures… Our boys, in innocence, may have laughingly returned a gesture or two, but if so, I did not witness it. I thought it was nice of them to make an appearance and that they must have thrilled many of the country boys…In a short time, our government liaison connections rushed down to the hotel and stated Lee Tracy had to be gotten out of the country immediately. They said that the papers were coming out that afternoon with a story to the effect that Tracy had insulted the Mexican flag, Mexican motherhood and the nation in general."

It was not until November 21 after Tracy was released for the first time that reports surfaced alleging Tracy was in fact naked on the balcony. A newspaper article printed on November 21 by a Mexican paper brought forward the eye witness account of a local man and his daughter:
"Heraclio Rodriguez, acting prosecutor of the federal district, said Tuesday that he was ordering the police of all border towns to arrest Lee Tracy, American movie actor, who left here some hours earlier by train for Laredo, Tex. The American actor had departed by permission of the police after being held in custody twice since Sunday and questioned on a complaint that he had "offended public morals". No explanation was made of the apparent divergence of opinion on the action. The case passed to Rodriguez when Tracy was arrested for the second time Monday on the complaint of a lawyer, Alfonzo Esparza, who said he and his 12-years-old daughter saw Tracy standing unclothed on a balcony of his hotel. Tracy was told that he had to remain in the city after he was released on his own recognisance following the arrest, but he left Tuesday morning, apparently with permission…A delegation requested Present Rodriguez to refuse to allow the film, already made, to be taken from Mexico."
A memo was later sent to the US authorities from the US ambassador to Mexico which mentions Tracy as being 'unclad':

"A memo sent to the State Department by the American ambassador to Mexico, Josephus Daniels…: Tracy appeared on a balcony of the Hotel Regis, unclad and using very profane and insulting language at the moment when the military cadets marching in the parade of November 20 were passing in front of the hotel."

It was also reported:

"Mexican officials declared he wore only a robe that slipped from his shoulders during his outburst."

The aftermath

The outburst from Mexican authorities and media was enough pressure to make MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer to sack the actor from both the film and the studio. On November 23, he made a public and private apology to Mexico:

"The insult offered by this actor to the Mexican cadet corps has embarrassed and shocked the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer organisation fully as deeply as it has the Mexican people. As a result of this actors deplorable behaviour, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has removed him not only from the film 'Viva Villa' but has dismissed him entirely from its employ and cancelled his long term contract."
 Tracy with H. W. Waller of El Paso upon his return to the US
On Tracy's return to the US where he was greeted by girlfriend and actress Isabelle Jewel, he made more statements to the media regarding the incident. With the legal issues resolved, Tracy's focus was now on the future of his movie career.

"…Tracy said he had no plans but that he was mighty sorry it all happened. 'I do feel a bit bad about the whole thing', Tracy said when he arrived by train from El Paso, 'It seems to me I should be given a chance to tell the studio my side of the story.' 'Why, I like the place,' he cried, waving his hands, 'I stood at the balcony and cheered the boys. You know how those things area. Somebody shouted up at me and I shouted back…I'll still keep on working. The whole thing is a misunderstanding and I want most to straighten it out so everybody will be happy again.'"

Seven days after the incident occurred film industry magazines reported Stuart Erwin was announced as taking over Tracy's role in the film. He was an experienced actor but by no means as famous or talented as Tracy. As the initial shock and interest of the event died down, speculation as to the future of Tracy's place in the film industry began. A shock to the film industry, Tracy came out on top and almost unscathed:

Stuart Erwin with Wallace Beery
"Despite the fact that MGM have given Lee Tracy the proverbial spanking his fans are still loyal. Last evening I attended a preview of Lee's most recent cinematic effort –Advice for the Lovelorn - and the applause that greeted Mr Tracy was breath taking." Also that the San Fran theatre is doing capacity business. "And so you can easily understand that Lee's offers have been numerous for both screen and stage." (December 6, 1933)

"Lee Tracy is not through in motion pictures…If the women should turn thumbs down on Tracy, then he'll be through. They are too powerful to combat…Tracy has lost contracts before due to off-the-screen activities. But always there has been another major studio ready to hire him. And there are studios ready to sign him now." (December 14, 1933)

The urination situation

Claims are still circulating that instead of making 'obscene gestures' or even appearing 'unclad', Tracy urinated on the crowd. Although having no evidence in newspaper articles or eye witness accounts, some articles still insinuate that this occurred. But where did it come from? Biographers and historians seem to agree it was the films first director, Howard Hawks, who spread the rumour.  According to Bob Herzberg in his book Revolutionary Mexico on Film: A Critical History, 1914-2014, Hawks said Tracy, "peed on the Chapultepic Cadets during the Independence Day parade in Mexico and got in the can." Apparently, actor Dezi Arnaz who was involved in the making of the film, also wrote in his autobiography (admittedly I have not read it) that Tracy did indeed urinate on the crowd.

The juries out whether Tracy in fact urinated on the crowd. It is strange, however, that if it was the case why the Mexican newspapers did not report it. The country was openly against the production and would have used any and every opportunity they had to send the cast and crew packing. I agree with Herzberg, the rumour Tracy urinated on the crow most likely did not occur.

More troubles

Despite the Tracy incident, the film was riddled with problems and controversies. Around the time Tracy was fired, Hawks also left the production. There are several reported reasons for this including the assertion that Hawks was removed for standing up for Tracy and another that Hawks left due to unsafe working conditions.  Actress Mona Maris also began working in the lead female role but was replaced by Fay Wray. The film also causes several controversies between US and Mexican authorities with no Hispanic cast in the film and an actor typecast as a villain in the main role.
Adding further to the drama of the production, a plane carrying reels of film from Viva Villa crash landed in El Paso on November 22, 1933. A newspaper stated:

"J.J. Ingram, pilot, of Los Angeles jumped to safety today from his airplane which crashed in flames in an El Paso residential section. The plane was carrying films of Viva Villa in which Lee Tracy…was playing. Ingram suffered severe burns on the face and legs before he could be extricated. What caused Ingram's plane to burst into flames was not revealed. Howard Hawks, director, estimated the destroyed film was worth $100,000."

Somehow the film was completed and released on April 27, 1934 approximately three years after filming originally began. With a budget of just over $1million the film was an expensive production for MGM and had a poor gross taking of about $1.109 million. Despite the setbacks, the film was a critical and popular success with three Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Writing Adaption and Best Sound Recording) and one win for John Waters as Best Assistant Director. Viva Villa (1934) is proof that no matter what troubles a film has during production, it has no bearing on its future success. The same of which can be said about actors, ie. Lee Tracy.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Never Films: Jealousy (1929)

This is the first in what I hope will be several posts on lost and, now, forgotten films of the Pre-code era. For more information on lost films and film preservation go to the National Film Preservation Foundation
 Publicly known as Jeanne Eagle’s 'obituary', Jealousy (1929) became one of the most significant insignificant films of the year. It was directed by Frenchman Jean de Limur whose only other talking film credit was also Eagles speaking debut in The Letter (1929). The first film Eagles and de Limur made together proved to be a commercial and critical success. Eagle’s talents as a screen actress as well as a stage actress were cemented as she was also nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture for the controversial film about adultery and murder without punishment. In 1929, Eagles was at the height of her Hollywood success. During that year Paramount announced Eagles would star in another melodrama:

"Jeanne Eagles, star of Paramount's all-talking picture The Letter, has begun 'Jealousy' her second film at the studio in Astoria. The picture will be directed by Jean de Limur - who directed The Letter - and the production will be under the general charge of Monta Bell, production executive of the studio. Alfred Gilks is cameraman."

Nothing much is written about the production which commenced on March 1929 except for the change of the leading man from British actor Anthony Bushell to Fredric March at Eagles insistence. The decision was made after all Bushell's scenes were completed, so extensive reshoots were ordered. Another tragedy plagued the set with co-star, British actress Hilda Moore, dying on May 18 before production was completed. She was just 43. It was believed she caught a streptococcal infection from her 5-year-old son and died after being ill for six days. An autopsy gave the official cause of death as blood poisoning. The final cut was completed with a length of just 66 minutes.

Before the film’s release date, trade and fan magazines wrote glowing accounts of the performances of the actors as well as the behind-the-scenes crew while others called it a disappointment compared to The Letter:
"Jealousy said to be a greater production than The Letter with Jeanne Eagles in the starring role, will be featured at the Fox-U O Theatre in the near future according to the announcement of the management. In this all-talking picture is the brief drama of a woman who loved and lost through jealousy. It portrays how the lives of three persons were changed by one spoken word. The screen version of the stage play has been elaborated in settings and augmented in cast. Characters originally only referred to by two players now appear in the persons of Halliwell Hobbes, former lover of the woman; Blanch Le Chair, his mistress; and Henry Daniell, her lover. Miss Eagles' leading man is Fredric March. "
"After The Letter any appearance of Jeanne Eagles is important for she is always arresting, intelligent, provocative, individual. She is all these in Jealousy, but the picture doesn't coalesce into a strong attraction, and certainly not one strong enough for Miss Eagles. One of the reasons lies in the fact that the play was written for two characters only - Yvonne, the mistress of a rich old man, and Pierre, the poor young artist whom she marries…The result is a somewhat rambling narrative lacking distinction or marked sympathy for any of the characters. But it is worth seeing for the sake of Miss Eagles who makes Yvonne a fascinating figure far from the conventional heroine with a "past"."

After the film premiered, Eagles underwent eye surgery in New York City as well as treatment for breathing issues and neuritis. Her health had never fully recovered after she began using heroin and abusing alcohol in the mid-1920s. On October 3, she suffered a collapse when visiting her doctor. She began convulsing and died. Her death was officially attributed as to an overdose of sedative 'chloral hydrate'; however, autopsy and toxicology reports also found Eagles had alcohol and heroin in her organs at the time of her death. She was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Kansas City on October 7.

Advertising and reviews of the film altered after her death. In one article it describes the marquees as reading,
"Outside - bright lights, life and movement. Inside - last respects to a great actress. It is more than merely a picture you watch at the Enright this week. It is a swan song of a woman, dead now for months, who climbed from tent shows to Broadway heights to the vivid, living climax of a career that has embraced everything from poverty to fame and fortune" 
Another review wrote:
"Jealousy is Jeanne Eagles obituary. It is a worthwhile epitaph for a worthwhile career."

It is this 'swan song' that will probably never be enjoyed by modern audiences. Although reviews weren't as favourable as the more popular and successful The Letter, Jealousy was still a part of Pre-code history as well as being the last film for both Jeanne Eagles and Hilda Moore.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Life and Death of Marjorie White

Like most Pre-code starlets not much is known about their lives before and after stardom. The tiny star, Marjorie White, was no different. She breezed into Hollywood in 1929 when motion picture audiences demanded high energy all dancing, all singing films and tragically passed away just five years later. She came to the public's attention after scoring a major role in Sunnyside Up (1929) and continued her success in futuristic film Just Imagine (1930). However, the blonde fire cracker never received the level of stardom her talent deserved perhaps due to her early death aged just 31.
The first born of a grain merchant, Marjorie Ann Guthrie was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on July 22 1904. Showing an early interest in performing, White capitalised on the huge success of vaudeville by joining the Winnipeg Kiddies troupe aged about 10. The group toured around Canada and the United States during the war years, with White reportedly being one of the standout singers and dancers of the troupe.

When she reached 16, White went to San Francisco and met Thelma Wolpa who would later become her vaudeville partner. After touring for a time, they pair changed their last names to White and became a successful duo act named, "The White Sisters". Thelma also went onto to have film successes most notably as Mae in the exploitation drama Reefer Madness (1935). Coincidently, after both Thelma and Marjorie become actresses, fan magazine claimed both were biological sisters.

Happy Days
In mid-1924, White aged 20 married Eddie Tierney and begin appearing in musicals on Broadway. With the coming of sound, White and Tierney moved to Hollywood where White was recruited to Fox studios. She didn't change much from her vaudevillian persona for Hollywood, except for her age which was bumped down to 21 instead of her real age of 25. She received a starring role as Margie in musical Happy Days (1929).

White hit the big time in her following film, co-starring with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in Sunnyside Up (1929). Gaynor was just coming off an Oscar win for her collective work in 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928) and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and was a major global icon. Not to be outdone by the more popular star, critics and audiences alike commended White’s performance. She was described by fan magazines as a "sensational find" as well as a "rare comedienne, with a dynamic personality that marks her as a real actress". Another continued:
One of the most promising of the younger talent, Marjorie White, who made a snappy Bee in Sunnyside Up, and brought in her basket full of chortles in Happy Days. Marjorie prefers to do comedy parts and apparently has no hankering after drama.
Her star on the rise, White scored major roles as Vera Fontaine in New Movietone Follies of 1930 (1930) and as D-6 in the quirky futuristic comedy/ musical Just Imagine (1930).
More Happy Days
Just Imagine
However, like so many talented starlets, her true potential was never realised. In her four remaining years, White appeared in small parts in both A and B films. She appeared as Sadie in one of the cult Charlie Chan films, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) and followed this with small roles in Broadminded (1931) and alongside Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in drama Possessed (1931). She managed to complete a cameo appearance in all-star short Hollywood Halfbacks (1931), before being involved in a car accident on December 17, 1931. An omen of events to come, she and Tierney were seriously injured when a taxi in which she was riding collided with another car. According to Tierney, White was appearing at a Philadelphia theatre and was going from the theatre to a radio station when the crash happened. She suffered three broken ribs and bruising.
After the accident, White took a short break from films, breaking her hiatus with an appearance in the racy Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, Diplomaniacs (1933). She appeared on screen two more times - once in Three Stooges Woman Haters (1934) - before another car accident ended her life.
White and the Stooges
On August 20, 1935, in Santa Monica, White was a passenger in a car driven by Marlow Lovell that sideswiped a couple, Mr and Mrs Charles Marchesi, who had been married only an hour before. The car overturned and White was the only person seriously injured. Doctors initially thought she was not in danger, however, her condition worsened rapidly and she died of internal haemorrhaging the next day at a Hollywood hospital. She was buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. It was found that Lovell's reckless driving was to blame for the accident. Her husband, her parents Robert and Nettie, and siblings Orville, Morley, Stewart, and Belva survived her. Another example of a beautiful, talented actress that never received the credit or stardom due to them.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Top 5 Luxurious Precode homes

Despite the passing of over 80 years, nothing much in the lifestyles of Hollywood’s greatest stars has changed. Like their seemingly incapable wages, Hollywood stars of the Precode era also liked to lash out on cars, parties, clothes and let’s not forget property.

Here is the top five Precode mansions:

5) Clark Gable



Monday, 6 April 2015

Jack La Rue: the Internet versus the Truth

It turns out that there is more to Jack La Rue than meets the eye. Even more interesting that most of the information available on La Rue on the internet and even in several newspaper articles were wrong. Now, I can believe that Wikipedia and IMBD got facts wrong but some were even more long term and in grained. Thanks to the help of La Rue's nephew, Ronald Cognata, for ensuring I get my information correct and even revealing an interesting picture and story never seen before on the internet.
For those not familiar with Jack La Rue, he was born Gaspere Biondolillo in New York City, New York on May 3, 1902. He began acting in the early 1920’s when he was offered a role as an extra. He began trying to land more film roles but moved into stage work and debuted at the Empire Theatre in 1921 in a production of “Blood and Sand”. He was discovered by director Howard Hawkes who auditioned him for the role of Rinaldo in “Scarface” (1932). He was unsuccessful; however, subsequently received roles in “Night World” (1932) and “While Paris Sleeps” (1932). His first break-through role was in the Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes film “A Farewell to Arms” (1932). His next big break and first starring role would come the following year as Trigger in Paramount’s controversial film, “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933). Jack La Rue’s was married three times. First to socialite Connie Simpson then briefly to Austrian Baroness Violet Edith von Roseberg lastly to Anne Giordano. He died January 11, 1984 from a heart attack.
For a full biography check out my original post here.

Now lets delve into it:

What the internet says:
“Jack La Rue…is the father of actor Jack La Rue Jr.”
IMDB also states that ‘Jack La Rue Jr’ appeared in Crypt of the Living Dead (1973) and The Young Nurses (1973).

What Ron says:
“Jack La Rue did not have ANY CHILDREN. I will not tell you the name of the person known as Jack La Rue Jr. however this person was married to Kim Darby (for a short time) after her divorce from James Stacy. Do some research.”

Monday, 2 March 2015

Pre-code Nudity Update and Film Guide

Nudity whether in glimpses, through clothes, in silhouette or in the distance was strictly banned by the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code. According to the code nudity in any form was “immoral” and should be completely avoided. Despite this, Pre-code films are full of it. Instead of straight “in fact” nudity, directors became sneaky but attempting to make the nudity tantalisingly quick or part of the plot. Several actresses, like Jean Harlow and Norma Shearer created screen legends based on what they or didn’t wear. Thankfully, this clever film making has been preserved and audiences today can view scenes that Joseph Breen and code makers would later ban from cinemas for over fifty years. Let’s take a look at the methods this generation of Hollywood directors, writers, cinematographers and actors used to bypass the code: