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.”

This is proved by an article published in the Evening Independent Newspaper, April 4, 1979.

What the internet says:
“It was reported in 1946 that La Rue was concussed during a fight at a Hollywood party allegedly involving Lawrence Tierney, Diane Barrymore and a mannequin named Mona who was previously owned by Errol Flynn.”

What Ron says:
“Most Blogs have my uncle in a punch out with Lawrence Tierney at a party (not true). Fact: Tierney and his brother Scott Brady were ready to duke it out when my uncle got between them to prevent a fight and got tagged with a wild punch and flew out of an open window. The item in the papers ( he thought ) was good for his Image.”

What the internet says:
“He was discovered by director Howard Hawkes and brought to Hollywood to audition for the role of Rinaldo in a film called “Scarface” (1932). The film, unfortunately, proved to be the movie debut for George Raft who nabbed the role La Rue was vying for, mainly, because Hawke concluded La Rue was too tall for the part.”      

What Ron says:
"Hawks did offer my uncle a job, and R.K.O. SIGNED HIM A CONTRACT. When my uncle read the script and realized it was a parity on AL CAPONE'S life he did not want the role because he knew Capone and if he did not like it people disappeared. He told Hawks to give it to his friend RAFT. PAUL MUNI WAS 5'10" and my uncle was 6'0 this is an easy fix. How this height thing came about I don't know. The contracts the studio's were making paid the talent like they were on a salary WORK OR NOT. Soon they cancelled those contracts.

What the internet says:
La Rue is generally considered a "movie actor" and was in demand to play second fiddle gangster roles during the early 30s all the way to the late 40s.

What Ron says:
       "Now back in New York sometime in the 1940's. In 1947, I am 7 Years old and at the PALACE THEATER and I'm on the stage during a rehearsal doing a bit with my uncle. Again the blogs are wrong, most of this career life he was more in demand on broad way not in Hollywood. His last stage role was again with Mae West (in her late 70's or 80's). He never traveled with broadway show as he refused to live out of a suitcase, however this time he did because she his friend and the show was called SEXTET."

Other than his screen career, Lae Rue's personal life may have tainted some peoples view of him. Personally it didn't, his three marriages two ending in annulment and one divorce is not a good record but definitely lives up to my idea of a Hollywood leading man. However, by Ron's words it appears that La Rue rather than being the typical "bad guy" as his Hollywood roles suggest quite simply picked the wrong women to marry. Ron continues about La Rue's first and longest marriage to socialite, Connie Simpson.
"My aunt Connie (Simpson) wife #1 arrived in California after being presented to the Queen of England for Coming Out. She was a spoiled rich that arrived in California with her uncle father and brother. She was a socialite and my uncle was a Sicilian home body. It lasted for about seven years and then she divorced him. They stayed very closeduntil she pasted away. That was his first and only love."
La Rue and Connie Simpson
Ron's words that Connie was La Rue's "first and only love" probably account for his supposed behaviour when he followed her to Reno and commenced a very public argument at a hotel. It continued with La Rue later resisting arrest and police claiming he yelled,  “I’m the gangster you see in movies. I’m a tough guy.” Therefore, instead of being possessive and domineering as some may read into this account, maybe he just wanted her back.

La Rue's second wife Austrian Baroness Violet Edith von Roseberg - like I said in my first article - appeared to be a major mistake in the actor's life with the union lasting just over a fortnight.
"Aunt Edith, was another British subject with an Austrian title. She lasted aboutas long as it took to have dinner at mygrandmother's house. Uncle had it annulledstating that she was using him for a way into U.S. citizenship."
La Rue and Baroness von Roseberg 
His last marriage was to a woman who also was right for him.
"Ann Gordano had been married to my family's cousin, a doctor who had died a an early age. I think she had come to California  seeking him out. She tried to control him which workednot at all. Remember at this stage Uncle started refusing to read scripts his agent to him.He was in the restaurant business only except for a few occasions when friends called him to play acme; twice for Frank Sinatra, twice for Robert Vaughn and a stage production when Mae West wanted to have her last fling on stage."
Anne in 1936
For a Hollywood actor it is difficult to know for certain his relationships outside of marriage. There exists several photos of La Rue and actress Ida Lupino in the mid thirties with both looking happy and very much together but it is difficult to ascertain whether this was a studio orgestrated relationship. Lupino ended up marrying actor Louis Hayward in 1938.
La Rue and Lupino
La Rue and Lupino
Towards the end of the 1940's La Rue, as his record of films completed shows, became bored and frustrated with the Hollywood system and didn't remain in LA. Ron elaborates:
"At the time my uncles contract was cancelled he got a long term stage gig in London made one movie called  NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (Sp).
"He then landed back in New York for a while and then back to London until the Nazi's were bombing England.
“Joe Kennedy got him out of England on one of this cargo ships."
Ron also presented another interesting part of La Rue's past not available before on the internet. In his family records was an intriguing photo of the John Barrymore and artist John Decker with Decker holding up a portrait of La Rue. The story behind the picture is still unclear but both men appear to be holding playing cards with each man drawing one card. They are sitting in artist Decker’s studio with a picture commissioned by Barrymore in the background.  

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:  
1. Taking a Bath
Since silent films and the glorious Gloria Swanson, directors have been using swimming and bathing scenes as a source of decadence and undue exposure. Surprisingly, unlike other forms of Pre-code nudity, several male actors get into the act.  
What the code says:
3. Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.
Top Examples:
1) Tarzan and his Mate (1934) and Bird of Paradise (1933): Both these films include extensive nude swimming scenes with both Maureen O’Sullivan (or her body double) and Dolores del Rio taking the plunge with their male co-stars.

Tarzan and his Mate
2) Night After Night (1932) and Search for Beauty (1934): A little look at male nudity with George Raft taking a revealing bath in Night After Night and Buster Crabbe showering in Search for Beauty (1934).
George Raft in Night After Night
3) Sign of the Cross (1932): If the conservative Claudette Colbert knew what the camera was capturing at the time she would be shocked. The bathing scene pretty much shows all of poor Ms Colbert’s breasts.
Claudette Colbert in Sign of the Cross
4) Barbarian (1933): Although apparently in a nude coloured body suit, Myrna Loy bares all in this nude bathing scene.
Myrna Loy in Barbarian
5) Blonde Crazy (1932): Joan Blondell takes a bath with James Cagney in the room, its definitely Pre-code!!
Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy
6) Red Dust (1932): Jean Harlow cements her screen persona as a bombshell after she takes a bath in a barrel.
Jean Harlow in Red Dust
Honourable Mentions: Maltese Falcon (1931), Beauty and the Boss (1932) and King Kong (1933).     
Beauty and the Boss

2. Existent – but really non-existent – Clothes
Wearing clothes doesn’t necessary limited the chance of nudity in Pre-code films. In many cases, certain actresses became notorious for wearing clothes that covered little or appearing to wear no visible undergarments.

What the code says:
5. Transparent or translucent materials and silhouette are frequently more suggestive than actual exposure.
Top Examples:
1) Hells Angels (1930): Jean Harlow wears a slinky, thin dress for much of the film leaving nothing to the imagination.
Jean Harlow in Hells Angels
2) A Free Soul (1930): Norma Shearer in ‘that dress’.
Norma Shearer in A Free Soul
3) Tarzan and his Mate (1934): Maureen O’ Sullivan wearing a ‘barely there’ brown costume.

Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate
4) Search for Beauty (1933): Chorus girls in thin white costumes.
Search For Beauty
5) Smarty (1934): Joan Blondell teases her husband and ex-husband by strutting around in a very skimpy black dress and then has it ripped off.
Joan Blondell in Smarty
Honourable Mentions: Basically every other Jean Harlow film and shots from the deleted and unfortunately lost scenes of Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931). 
Greta Garbo in Mata Hari
3. In Musicals
Pre-code musicals are a great source for unexpected nudity. Film-makers and performers, such as, Busby Berkley, Eddie Cantor and Wheeler and Woolsey often used provocative clothing and situations accompanied by dance and music to titillate audiences.  

What the code says:
4. Dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden.
Top Examples:
1) Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933): Often used as a classic example of Pre-code at its best by film historians, Gold Diggers includes the notorious musical number Petting in the Park which features chorus girls clearly undressing behind a thin screen.

Gold Diggers of 1933
2) Murder at the Vanities (1934): A really confronting murder mystery/ musical film with a musical number titled Marijuana. It includes a number of scenes with barely clothed dancers and women with strategically placed objects.
Murder at the Vanities
4) Roman Scandals (1933): Eddie Cantor’s comedic nod to the ancient Roman civilisation Includes his usual frivolity, double entendres and women clothed only in their long blonde locks.
Roman Scandals

5) Hips, Hips Hooray (1934): A film that I believe probably escalated the coming of the enforced code, Wheeler and Woosley almost take it too far in this film. Lots of girls in bath tubs, suggestive leather costumes and more double entendres then I could catch in one sitting.

Hips Hips Hooray
6) Meet the Baron (1933): Pretty dull movie but includes a long musical number with chorus girls singing about having a shower while in the shower.   
Meet the Baron
4. In Silhouette (its art really)
With MGM’s logo “art for art sake”, directors used this to the maximum with the use of artist’s models and sculpture to show sneaky glimpses of nudity.  

What the code says:
1. Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
Top Examples:
1) Song of Songs (1933): Marlene Dietrich becomes an artist’s model with the artist using her physique to craft a full (and very lifelike) body sculpture.

Song of Songs

2) The Common Law (1931): This time Constance Bennett plays the model to painter Joel McCrea who poses her nude and semi-nude.
The Common Law

4) Sign of the Cross (1932): Although not art related, this film shows a poor Christian women tied to a pole, covered only in vines about to be attacked by a gorilla.
Sign of the Cross

5) Scarlett Empress (1933): I haven’t seen this film in ages, but I am told there is distant shots of nude women in silhouette.  
Scarlett Empress (from

5. While Dressing
It was difficult to narrow down a list of films for this category, its everywhere. Directors used this ploy in every film none of which were essential to the plot.

What the code says:
2. Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot.
Top Examples:
1) Under 18 (1931): The beautiful Marion Marsh becomes a model with many outfit changes.
Marion Marsh in Under 18

2) Footlight Parade (1933): Although a musical, this film includes lots of chorus girls in skimpy outfits as well as actresses doing quick costume changes between musical numbers.
Footlight Parade

3) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931): Miriam Hopkins spends an excessive amount of time undressing seductively for Fredric March and then hops into bed.
Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

4) If I Had a Million (1932): Another excessive undressing scene featuring Wynne Gibson before bed time.

Wynne Gibson in If I Had a Million

Honourable Mention: Every gangster film, musical, romance, and drama – pretty much every film with a female in it.

6. Blatant Exploitation
Some films shot during the Pre-code era were classified as part of the ‘exploitation’ genre. These, in many cases, used nudity to draw in audiences under the guise of educating people about topics like nudism and other cultures. Warning this films are shocking and blatantly exploit other cultures for financial gain.

What the code says:
1. The effect of nudity or semi-nudity upon the normal man or woman, and much more upon the young and upon immature persons, has been honestly recognized by all lawmakers and moralists.
2. Hence the fact that the nude or semi-nude body may be beautiful does not make its use in the films moral. For, in addition to its beauty, the effect of the nude or semi-nude body on the normal individual must be taken into consideration.

3. Nudity or semi-nudity used simply to put a "punch" into a picture comes under the head of immoral actions. It is immoral in its effect on the average audience.

Top Examples:
1) Elysia Valley of the Nude (1933): An ‘educational’ film about nudism and nudist societies; so, full of naked people.

Eylsia Valley of the Nude
2) Tabu (1931) and Blonde Captive (1932): Both films where so-called documentary crews travel to distant, exotic locations to film and study “savages”. Very dull and very offensive.
The Blonde Captive



Friday, 20 February 2015

Wild Bill Wellman and his resume of Precode Oscar ‘should-have-beens’

This is my entry to the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon hosted by Kellee, Aurora and Paula from Paula's Cinema Club. To check out the other posts from the blogathon as well as other great cinema related content click here  
Classic film fans – like flavours of ice-cream – are not all the same. They have different main tastes, like sweet or citrus. Prefer diverse additions, as conflicting as chocolate topping and nuts and some even have movie length preferences akin to the cone versus cup ice cream debate. Still comparing sweet treats and the film industry, if director William Wellman aka Wild Bill’s career was condensed into an ice-cream flavour it would be lemon gelato mixed with dark chocolate covered in sprinkles and dried apricots. Wild Bill, as his son William Wellman Jr later dubbed him, made films in pretty much every conceivable mainstream genre and all – except arguably his brief turn into musicals – proficiently. Looking for a great drama – think ‘Public Enemy’ (1931) or ‘A Star is Born’ (1937). An entertaining and fast-paced war film – ‘Wings’ (1927). A screwball comedy with the great Carole Lombard herself – ‘Nothing Sacred’ (1937). A western for a Sunday afternoon – ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ (1943). And even if you has a craving for a weird musical/ mystery film starring a barely clothed Barbara Stanwyck, Wellman offers ‘Lady of Burlesque’ aka ‘The G-String Murders’ (1943).
 Wellman said in a 1978 interview:
“I've only had one real desire in this business: to make every kind of picture that was ever made. And I did. I made musicals, I made kid pictures, I made romantic comedies, the whole list. I'm very proud of that. Now, how many directors have done that?”
I first noticed Wellman in the old fashioned credits of some of my all time favourite Precode films, like ‘Midnight Mary’ (1933), ‘Safe in Hell’ (1931) and ‘Night Nurse’ (1931). To me he seems a genius at creating fast-paced, hard-hitting Depression-era ‘social issue’ pictures. His ability at shooting action scenes and clear love and experience with planes came to my attention in ‘Wings’ (1927) which, despite its lack of sound, I simply loved. I wasn’t surprised to read, therefore, that ‘Wings’ (1927) received the Academy Award for Best Picture in the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.
Wellman seemed to make pictures for almost every taste and mood and exceptional pictures at that. But, looking into Wellman’s overall connection with the Oscars I was disgusted to read that Wellman never won an Academy Award for his directing achievements. He received a Best Writing Oscar for the original story for Star is Born and was otherwise nominated for Best Director for ‘The High and the Mighty’ (1954), ‘Battleground’ (1949) and ‘A Star is Born’ (1937) but lost.
Looking at his films, I couldn’t understand it. Wellman must have had a strange apathy for the system and the Academy that was then reciprocated. If you look at some of Wellman’s comments it is clear he hated the ego that went with the Hollywood system.
“I have never gotten along with actors. Oh, Joel McCrea was all right. And, like I said, Bob Taylor I was very fond of. But, you see, actors are different. Women look in a mirror all their lives to make themselves pretty and attractive and that's one of the reasons you fall in love with them. But a man looking in a mirror all the time, saying lines to himself, looking at his face to see which is the best photographic angle . . . Well, one of two things happens. Either he learns to love the son of a bitch that he's always looking at or he learns to hate him. All the actors I've known learn to love him.
“Did I like working with Wayne? Even though he's the greatest star this business has ever had, hell, no!... The problem is, he's a very set guy. Stubborn as hell. And he doesn't get along with directors, except for two. He gets along with Ford and he gets along with me. The only time we had trouble, I called him on it.”

“I am the director, not Mr. Wayne or Mr. Cagney or Mr. Colman. And they knew it. Women always used to hate working with me, because I wouldn't let them use make-up.”
“A lot of people will say, "How frightful to talk that way about the 'Art' of motion pictures." Well, whatever you want to call it, I had my own way of making a motion picture. I worked very fast; and no one ever over-acted in one of my pictures. That I couldn't stand. I had my own idea of making a picture and I made it my own way. And I got damn well paid. Certainly I wanted the money. I wanted to get to the point where I'd never have to work again if I didn't want to. When I got to that point, it wasn't as nice as I thought it would be. Now, I don't go to see many pictures because I don't want to get the fever again.”
Wellman could never be classified as egotistical, was definitely modest about his talents and generally didn’t take any crap from anyone. In Hollywood terms he probably wasn’t great at playing the game. Perhaps that is why his contemporaries at the academy did not give him the amount of critical acclaim that I believe he deserved.
Instead of focusing on his career as a whole, I have decided to highlight Wellman’s best Precode features none of which – other than Wings (1927) – received honours at the Academy Awards. Here’s my Wellman Precode top 5:    

5) Safe in Hell (1931)
This film is one of the best of the Precode era. It shows off a complete disregard for the code in almost every element of production especially its choice of trailblazer Dorothy Mackaill as leading lady. Mackaill plays Gilda Karlson, a New Orleans prostitute who is never ashamed nor conscientious about her employment. She seems utterly relaxed about her life of sex, alcohol and cigarettes until she is again confronted by Piet Van Saal (Ralf Harolde) her ex-lover and man responsible for turning her into a street walker. During the fight she attempts to shoot him but fails. Van Saal escapes and everyone assumes he was murdered with Gilda the clear perpetrator. About to flee herself, her old sailor boyfriend, Carl Erickson (Donald Cook) returns and smuggles her to safety to the Caribbean island of Tortuga in order to avoid extradition. After an unofficial wedding ceremony, Erickson leaves Gilda to return to his ship. She finds herself stuck in a hotel filled with criminals and degenerates. Desperately fighting to stay faithful to Erickson, she fends of countless men trying to seduce her. But poor Gilda seems to attract trouble and she falls into a trap of blackmail, lust and sweet wine.  
4) Wild Boys of the Road (1933):
‘Wild Boys of the Road’ is probably the grittiest and most confronting of all Wellman’s Precode social dramas. It examines the lives of seven young teens who without reliable families or social security to support them are forced to become hobos and live on the street. The main teens, Tommy Gordon (Edwin Phillips) and Eddie Smith (Frankie Darro) leave home with the aim of finding jobs to support their unemployed fathers and families. They hop aboard a freight train and meet other struggling teenagers along the way. They become attached to Sally (Dorothy Coonan) who is journeying to Chicago hoping that her aunt will give her a place to live. The three teens experience the harrowing facts of depression era America from police antipathy and brutality to rape, hunger, death and, for Tommy, the loss of a limb. Surprising the film manages to end on a high note with society rewarding the teens spirit, tenuousness and integrity.       
3) Midnight Mary (1933)
This films is Wellman and Loretta Young at their best and, like several Warner Bros dramas, highlights the effects of poverty and lack of opportunity on the futures of young people. On trial for murder, Mary Martin (Young) relives her childhood and life leading up to the crime. Through flashback the audiences experiences her beginning as a child rummaging through garbage at the dump, her short term in juvenile detention after unjustly being convicted of stealing a pocketbook and her involvement with gangsters. With no job or family to turn to, she becomes the girlfriend of gang ring-leader Leo and lives in luxury from the proceeds of their crimes. Fashion enthusiasts will drool over her beautiful, Art Deco Adrian creations she adorns as Leo’s kept woman. Mary soon realises her lifestyle is reliant on her remaining on Leo’s very short leash and becomes dissatisfied with her choices. During a heist she meets rich, playboy Tom (Franchot Tone) who falls in love with her and acts to drag her from her life of crime and Leo’s manipulation. Her relationship with Tom, brings Mary’s innate goodness to the surface and she has to make the choice between redemption and escape.
2) Wings (1927)
This movie is definitely worthy of the word, epic, and I would consider it in the same league as North and South or Gone with the Wind. It has romance, long fight scenes, mateship, and a significant historical event to cloud the lives of the character, just not sound. In 1917, Jack Powell (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) is a normal young man with dreams of becoming a pilot, his best friend is his neighbour the playful, boyish and reliable Mary (Clara Bow). Poor Mary is secretly in love with Jack but he is smitten by the belle of the region the delicate and beautiful Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston) who is, unfortunately, in a ‘sort-of’ relationship with David Armstrong (Richard Arlene). Soon, the war is upon the happy community and both David and Jack enlist in the aviation corp. They begin as enemies – both rivals for the love of Sylvia – but later bond over the training and develop mutual respect for each other. They are rapidly graduated flyers and begin patrolling the area. Later, Jack and David are back at the front. Strangely, David has a premonition of his own death and warns Jack to organise his belongings. During an air battle, David steals an enemy plane and takes flight. Jack is heading back to the base when he sees the enemy plane David is driving – but he does not see him and shoots it down. Wanting a souvenir of his victory, he lands near the site and recognises the dying soldier as his friend. In that moment Jack realises he has killed David. As well as the wonderful battle scenes, this film also includes an awkward man-on-man kiss and a brief vision of Clara Bow’s breasts to entice you.    
1) The Public Enemy (1931)
Probably the most well-known of Wellman’s Precode features, The Public Enemy (1931) has received a cult following in recent decades due to its examination of the quintessential depression era gangster and the iconic ‘grapefruit scene’. The plot progresses through from central character, Tom Powers’ (James Cagney) every life as a petty thief and criminal with is friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) onto his rise as the leader of a bootlegging gang to his fall and then death. Powers seems to excel and enjoy his life of crime but keeps the favour of his dotting mother (Beryl Mercer). Powers and Doyle are virtually inseparable as the move from a small gang into operating directly under gang leader Samuel ‘Nails’ Nathan (Leslie Fenton) as bootleggers. With their increasing wealth they attract girlfriends in Kitty (Mae Clarke) and Mamie (Joan Blondell) but Powers soon moves onto the attractive and gold digging Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow). With a prolonged prohibition, the bootlegging game becomes more lucrative. After the death of Nathan, a rival gang triggers an all-out war. This initiates kidnappings, gun battles and murder.