Wednesday, 18 May 2016

She's got legs - Fabulous photos of Joan Blondell's greatest asset

Probably the hardest working actor of the Pre-code era, Joan Blondell, appeared in about 40 films and took thousands of other press photos during that five years. To me she will always be the queen of the 'Cheescake’ photo. In almost every photo I see of Joan she is either in a swimsuit or showing off a fair amount of leg. I think her large and amazing photographic portfolio is one of her legacies and not one to be forgotten. Take a look of a collection of images I compiled on her best 'leggy' shots from the Pre-code era:

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Never Films: Honor of the Family (1931)

                The second 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
Although he was initially brought to Hollywood in early 1931 to appear in Expensive Women (1931) with Dolores Costello and H.B. Warner, Honor of the Family (1931) will always be recognised as Warren William's first speaking role. In the romantic melodrama based on a play by Balzac, William was cast as the romantic lead Captain Boris Barony, who apparently wowed audiences with his charm, striking good looks and skill when fencing without wearing a shirt. I say 'apparently' because this film is now lost and not available for viewing by modern film audiences. Nevertheless, Honor of the Family provided William's breakout Hollywood performance with many more hits to come, including Under 18 (1931) later that year.

Despite William being undeniably perfect for the role, newspaper articles from the period show that Walter Huston was initially contracted to star in the film. Newspapers, such as, Film Daily reported Huston as appearing in the film from around June 1930 until approximately January, 1931. An example of a press article includes:
"James Ashmore Creelman is writing the adaption and dialogue for 'The Honor of the Family' from the Otis Skinner stage play which First National will use as a vehicle for Walter Huston."
An article in the Evening Independent on December, 15 1930 said Huston would be returning from Europe in January to complete the film. In the resources available, the film's lead is not mentioned from late January until April 24 when William is announced to be leading man:
"Warren William who made his debut on the talking screen by playing opposite Dolores Costello in "Expensive Women" for Warner Bros will play opposite Bebe Daniels in "The Honor of the Family"."
To make things easier, here is a timeline of the making of the film:

Film Timeline:
          - June 17 1930: Walter Huston announced as lead in new film

          - July 18 1930: Lenore Coffee assigned to adaption

          - January 18 1931: James Ashmore Creelman named as writer

          - March 30 1931: Bebe Daniels named as female lead

          - April 3 1931: Lloyd Bacon named as director. Film now discussed as a 'Bebe Daniels vehicle' instead of a 'Walter Huston film'

          - April 24 1931: Warren William announced as lead

          - April 30 1931: "Bebe Daniels leave on the Century today for Hollywood to begin work in "The Honor of the Family" for First National

          - May 7 1931 - Pending the beginning of rehearsals of "The Honor of the Family" the next Bebe Daniels vehicle, Warren William, well-known Broadway actor, is lending a hand at the First National dramatic training school, assisting Ivan Simpson."

          - May 7 1931 - Margaret Fielding announced as appearing in a "prominent role". She however was not in the final cast.
          - May 10 1931 - Dita Parlo has been assigned to First National "The Honor of the Family". It will be her first English speaking role.

          - May 14 1931 - "Production has begun at First National studios on "The Honor of the Family", the next Bebe Daniels starring vehicle.

          - May 25 1931 - "Blanche Friderici and C. Henry Gordon are late additions to the case of "The Honor of the Family" now in production at the First National studios.

          - June 7 1931 - "Honor of the Family" completed.

          - July 4 1931 - "The First National production of "Honor of the Family" recently completed at the West Coast studios with Bebe Daniels in the leading role, will be previewed at a theatre near Los Angeles next week. The cutters have finished with the film and it will soon be nationally released. Miss Daniels and her husband, Ben Lyon, are still vacationing in Hawaii. In "Honor of the Family", Warren William, a recent importation from the Broadway stage, will be seen opposite the stage in a role adapted from that which Otis Skinner played for several seasons in the stage version of this play."
          - October 17 1931 - Film released.

According to film critics, the film bore little resemblance to the original play. The final cut was seen as a romantic melodrama with a hint of comedy. As Laura, Daniels plays the typical Pre-code role of a 'bad girl' treated sympathetically. She is the mistress/ nurse of a wealthy Hungarian man, Paul Barony (Fredrick Kerr), who is intent on marrying her. His nephew Captain Boris Barony (Williams) sweeps in before plans can be made and pressures Laura into running away. Obeying his uncle’s request, Boris Barony follows her and finds Laura with her lover Tony Revere (Alan Mowbray). Boris Barony tricks her into returning to the castle and gives her an ultimatum. To do as he says or he will destroy his uncle's will in which she is sole beneficiary. Despite their hatred, Laura and Boris Barony start falling for each other. In order to remove Tony, Boris Barony goads him into a duel and kills him. When Boris Barony sends Laura away, Barony begs him to bring her back which he agrees to if Barony gives him money. Paul signs a blank check. Boris Barony stops Laura, who has been driving outside the house in her car. He joins her in the car and they ride away together. 
At a little over an hour, the film was jammed packed with action. Although it was not considered a 'serious' film, many critics praised it's entertainment value as well as performances from the two leads. One said, ""don't overlook this naughtiest picture of the month".

Others said:

"There is a touch of the swashbuckling days of Doug Fairbanks and a bit of the romantic glamour of the handsome Chevalier in Warren William, who plays with gusto the hero role…He is an ardent lover - one of the 'treat 'em rough' variety. And he is mannish enough to satisfy the male customers. He does his fighting with swords and pistols…Bebe Daniels is the incentive in the love scenes to which may be credited some of William's success in that direction, for Miss Daniels is at her best."

"It presents some startlingly interesting characters and succeeds in being melodrama, comedy and romance at the same time."

"Masterpiece of the stage becomes the masterpiece of the screen…Full of action and vim, guaranteed entertainment, too charming to be naughty and too naughty to be missed."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Shirley Temple and Baby LeRoy get a taste of the Nightlife

There was nothing more studio publicity machines liked more than match-making for a bit of public attention. Even Paramount’s youngest star, Baby LeRoy, had the chance to find love with the equally famous pint-sized Shirley Temple. Photoplay magazine in 1934 took the opportunity of documenting the first date between the two-years-old LeRoy and six-years-old Shirley. A candid cameraman (disguised as Cupid), secured this fascinating record of that memorable evening between the two youngsters as they experienced the best of Hollywood’s night life:

The Drive: 
“Oh boy, nothing can compare with a spin down Hollywood Boulevard in the moonlight with a beautiful girl like you.”

The Drinks:
“That ride in my open roadster made me thirsty, didn’t it you? Besides, there’s nothing better than a drink of good old milk to help people to get better acquainted.”

The Movie:
“Two of the best seats in the house, Mister. There’s nothing too good for my girl. And after the show we’re going dancing at the Coconut Grove.”

The Dinner:
“Well, here we are at the Grove at a chummy table all by ourselves. Isn’t it swell to think we can relax and forget movie cares and have a good time just like grown-ups do.”

The Dancing:
“Dancing is fun all right, Shirley, and I’m glad you’re having a good time, but boy, oh, boy 
my feet hurt.”

The Aftermath:
    “Gosh, Shirley, I’m sorry, but I guess I simply can’t take it. After all, bed is the best place for a little fellow like me at this time of night.”
    “Think nothing of it, LeRoy, I had a lovely time – and if your mother has a spare crib I think Ill sleep here too. This night life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think LeRoy and Shirley had a second date, but they did make a cute couple.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Lilyan Tashman's top 5 famous feuds

Despite being mostly forgotten today, actress Lilyan Tashman was a powerful figure in Precode era America. Her popular film and stage performances were eclipsed only by her fabulous lifestyle and reputation as the "best dressed woman in Hollywood". 
She was the reigning Queen of Glamour in the late 20s and early 30s taking over from the silent mega-star Gloria Swanson. Her marriage to actor, Edmund Lowe which lasted until her death was dubbed 'perfect' by fan magazines with their house Lilowe reaching an equal level of design perfection with opulent furnishings and architecture. 
Edmund and Lilyan during a 'private' moment
Tashman's wardrobe received even more public interest and press attention with her glamourous and stylish outfits and accessories creating envy from women all over the world. Like so many other stars on the top, Tashman's life was cut short when in 1934 aged only 37, she died of cancer. (For more information about Tashman's life and career see this great article from Shadows and Satin blog.)
However, another side of Tashman's private and public life shows the woman was not a person to start a fight with. Feuds between the actress and other Hollywood figures became fodder for fan magazines and newspapers. In these incidents, Tashman rarely came out second best. She always fought hard for her reputation and her integrity and didn't pull any punches. For five of her best feuds see below:

5) Eleanor Boardman
Like most of Tashman's public feuds, her little tiff with silent actress Eleanor Boardman was about fashion. According to reports, there had been a "coolness" between the actresses who at the time were both employed by Paramount. 
Eleanor Boardman
The magazine reported that a comment of Tashman's about Boardman's dress sense started the argument. This was continued when Tashman believed Boardman had copied the interior design of her red and white themed house by using green and white as base colours. Although, it turned out costume designer, Adrian, was responsible for the decorating, the similarity between both didn't help the tension between the women. The magazine continued that this "coolness" was resolved after a chance meeting and:
          "Lilyan dashed right up to Eleanor and said graciously,
          "Your house is lovely!"
          Eleanor smiled. "I hope you like it better than my dresses-"
          Lilyan laughed gaily. "Now, Eleanor-"
          And being two intelligent women all was forgotten and they're as chummy as before."

4) Lupe Velez
Nothing represented the public's view of the unrestrained, egotistical Hollywood elite of the late 20s and early 30s more than the feud and reported cat-fight between Tashman and passionate, voluptuous actress, Lupe Velez. 
Lupe Velez
The extent of the conflict and the events leading up to their supposed 'tussle' is unclear; however, author of Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood's Mexican Spitfire, Michelle Vogel, believes the tension had been mounting for some time before it became public knowledge. She explained the rivalry in her book:
"One time, while Lupe was dining at the Embassy club, she spotted Lilyan Tashman from across the room. Lilyan was wearing long white gloves, so Lupe proceeded to wrap napkins around her arms and make fun of her for all to see. People snickered at Lupe's impromptu show but Lilyan wasn't laughing. On that occasion, both ladies were retrained before a physical altercation could happen. But sarcastic, bitchy remarks flew back and forth between Lupe and Lilyan for ages. Then came the culmination of years of pent-up frustration and the feisty pair came to blows on the power room floor in the Montemarte Cafe in Hollywood. They clawed, punched and kicked each other and by all accounts, Lupe won a clear decision."

3) Hedda Hopper
The public fight between Hedda Hopper and Lilyan Tashman proved that some leading figures of Precode Hollywood just didn't care bad publicity.
Hedda Hopper

These two press staples didn't hold back when a feud started over who was a better authority on the current fashion. It all began when Hopper wrote a piece on Tashman's wardrobe commenting that she "wears the theatre on her back" and that her over-the-top outfits were both excessive and gaudy. These statements didn't go down well with Tashman who fired back at Hopper's clothing and even making remarks about the columnist and former actresses age. It was followed by a heavily reported incident when both Lilyan and Hopper were invited to judge an Easter fashion show at the Agua Caliente Casino. Both refused taking the opportunity to continue to attack each other's fashion knowledge in a very passive and hilarious way. But don't just take it from me, it's best to read conflict in the words of both ladies:
Lilyan said:
“If she were an authority on clothes, I would pay some attention to her criticism. But, of course, it’s really too absurd. One is either smart – or one simply isn’t smart. One is chic – or one is not chic. Unfortunately, Miss Hopper is not noted for her chic. I am very fond of Hedda and I think she looks quite nice in her things. One would place her as a very respectable aunt from the Middle West. But chic? No. She simply does not have an affinity for clothes. And, of course, I would be foolish to pay the slightest attention to her remarks on a subject which she is so ignorant.”
Hedda said:
“Understand, any remarks that I make about Lilyan’s clothes are not a reflection on her personally. I like Lil. I adore her. .  .  . She wears very beautiful clothes. She dresses in the latest style – often far ahead of it, in fact! I wish I could afford clothes like hers. I wish I could have as many clothes as she has – but if I did, I certainly would not try to wear them all at the same time!
"Lil has a flair for the spectacular. She pays simply appalling prices for very simple little tailored suits that are the last word in chic - and then spoils the effect with jewellery. I wish, my dear, that you could have seen Lil as she arrived from one of her New York trips. She wore a tailored suit and four diamond clips on the lapel of her jacket. Four clips, mind you. Imagine that, if you can! I have always been taught that it is - well - not the best taste.”
Lilyan said:
"At least, my diamond clips are set with real diamonds!"
Hedda said:
"I'm really astonished that Lil should be hurt or angry at what I've said. In criticising her dress, I certainly would not have her think I am criticising her personally. She is very witty and so amusing! The fact that she overdresses is really not of terrific importance. What if she does wear such charming little suits and then drapes her neck with six or seven strands of pearls…?"
Lilyan said:
"I really do not care to discuss Miss Hopper. I consider that I have been very kind and given her all the publicity that even she could want. Knowing how badly she needs publicity. I have been very tolerant but of course there is a limit."
Like all Tashman's feuds, the fire cooled but both women never returned to a cordial relationship before the actress’s early death.
2) Constance Bennett
Although, I suspect most of what is written in the public forum is at the least exaggerated, it is not difficult to see where this feud between Constance Bennett and Tashman started. 
Constance Bennett
In the early 30's both women were in the running for the coveted title of 'best dressed woman in Hollywood'. A 1931 Photoplay identified this as the key to the contempt between the women with Tashman fearing the arrival of the glamorous Bennett in Hollywood would take over her position:
"And then Connie Bennett slithered upon the scene of action. Connie with her fine European ways, her fascinating background, her last-word clothes, threw everybody into a dither. Connie got talked about. Connie got quoted. And Lilyan didn't like that. Lilyan didn't like that and a lot of other things that we can't go into here."
The article continues with a 'passive argument' between the pair at the Embassy Club where, when seeing Tashman enter, Bennett and her friends blatantly left, one-by-one in disgust. A February 1933 Picture Play article supported the claims, saying:
"Constance Bennett does not like Lilyan Tashman and Lil holds for Constance about the same affection. They almost came to blows a year or so ago, according to the grapevine telegraph from Malibu. They will not appear together in a picture."
Even more shocking and - what I consider to be - a completely fabricated, over-the-top account is one from biographer Darwin Porter in his book 'The Secret Life of Humphrey Bogart'. He describes a scene at a party hosted by Basil Rathbone and his wife Ouida Bergere in (I believe) August 1929. As it was a dress-up affair Tashman was dressed as Lady Diana Mayo from The Shiek and Bennett as Maid Marian from Robin Hood. The book argues that Bergère deliberately instigated a conflict by placing both simultaneously in front of press cameras.

Despite wild rumours and strange, outlandish accounts from some authors, it is clear Tashman and Bennett did not get on. Whether they actually came to blows will never truly be known.

1) Alona Marlowe
The only one of Tashman's conflicts to reach the courts was her notorious alleged 'cat fight' between herself and Alona Marlowe (sister of actress, June Marlowe). 
Alona Marlowe
Marlowe brought forward battery charges on May 9, 1931 after an incident which supposedly occurred at the studio offices of Tashman's husband, Edmund Lowe. She alleges that she called in to Lowe's office and that, "Miss Tashman found her there and struck and scratched her. Lowe was not present." Lowe and Tashman both denied ever knowing Marlowe. Lowe was even reported as commenting that, "it is a most fantastic tale". Two days later newspapers announced the case had been dropped but the affair still remained in the minds of film-lovers and the pages of fan magazines.

Marlowe later said that the case was dropped - not because it lacked truth - but because the parties had made an out-of-court settlement. Her attorney said the agreement was made before the court date and that Marlowe, "had received a fair amount of damages for injuries she suffered". The opposing attorney came out against this remark saying, "only a nominal amount was paid. Such a trifling amount as to be insignificant". The settlement signalled the end of the conflict. Despite this the story has continued through history with the usual factual problems and exaggerations. One major problem that even made its way into reputable newspapers was that it was June not Alona who was involved in the incident. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

When an actress disappears…

Where is Edna Mae Cooper? It was a headline grabbing mystery that caught the public's attention and imagination decades before the famous disappearance of Agatha Christie and infamous kidnappings of Patty Hearst and Frank Sinatra Jr dominated newspaper headlines. It happened late February 1931 around Monterey, California. Tram car operator, Melvin Wickman, reportedly saw a woman who resembled Cooper and gave her directions to the Santa Monica canyon. This would be the last anyone would see of the actress and aviatrix for five days.
By the time of her disappearance, Cooper was a household name. At age 18 she began her film career at Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and featured in several popular films such as Rimrock Jones (1918) with Wallace Reid, Old Wives for New (1918) and Sauce for the Goose (1918) with Constance Talmadge. Her roles were mostly walk on or supporting but she was soon being teamed alongside famous stars in even more famous films for example, Cecil B. DeMille's Male and Female (1919) with Gloria Swanson and Why Change Your Wife? (1920) with Gloria Swanson and Bebe Daniels. Her career slowed in 1922 when she married writer and cinematographer, Karl Brown, a man widely known for his connection with director, D. W. Griffith.
Edna Mae Cooper in 1919
Cooper stayed out of the headlights for a period, focusing on forwarding her husband's career until a handful of roles came her way in the mid 1920's. She never snagged a leading role but was credited in more A pictures including Grounds for Divorce (1925) with Florence Vidor and Sally, Irene and Mary (1925) with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford. These roles would sadly bring the peak of Cooper's varied screen career.

In her late 20's, Cooper turned to another pursuit - flying. With Charles Lindbergh's successful solo Atlantic flight in 1927 and the growing celebrity of Amelia Earhart, aviation was an attractive hobby for wealthy and ambitious women. Early 1931, Cooper and a friend, aviator Bobbi Trout, made plans to break the two person endurance record. Trout was not newcomer to headlines being named the first woman to fly all-night, breaking the women's solo endurance record and breaking the light class aircraft altitude record all in 1929. Their first attempt at the record on January 1 failed due to technical problems but their next attempt proved more successful with the woman flying 122 hours and 50 minutes straight. The pair covered over 7,370 miles and only stopped due to the lack of fuel and were named the record holders.
Bobbi Trout
This success put Cooper on a high. It would be short-lived, however, with a mystery incident or illness causing her to become a national missing person only a month later. It would be Trout alongside Cooper's mother, Mary Cooper, who were the first to speculate on the cause of her disappearance. Newspaper reports from February 28 claimed,
"Mrs Mary Cooper said her daughter, worried over the finances, may have gone to a rest home or hospital. Miss Bobbi Trout said Miss Cooper had often spoken to her of a banker admirer who had rented the upper floor of the Cooper home for a time last year and intimated she might marry him. Miss Trout suggested they may have eloped."
Cooper in her flying gear
It seemed, despite the strange nature of her disappearance, both her mother and her friend believed this it to be of her own choosing. Police investigating the case released details the same day of jewellery found at a Los Angeles pawn shop that they believed belonged to Cooper. Newspapers reported police found $4,500 worth of jewellery Cooper was wearing at the time of her disappearance. They reportedly believed Cooper had either voluntarily parted with the items or was kidnapped and robbed.

On March 2, newspapers broke the news: "Noted Actress, Aviatrix Found in Hospital". According to reports Cooper had been registered at a Monterey hotel under the name of Caroline Hope for several days. Hotel staff noticed she was suffering an illness and called a doctor to attend to her. Dr Hugh Dormody who treated Cooper said she had an abrasion on the back of her head which was possibly a week old as well as bruises and contusions. She was removed to the local hospital where she was identified by old acquaintances, Mrs Gouverneur Morris and former actor Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle as Edna Mae Cooper. Newspapers continued that Cooper told authorities that she believed she was in Santa Monica. A cab driver later came forward claiming he had picked Cooper up while she was wandering aimlessly in Carmel, a nearby art colony.
The following day more strange information came to light. Apparently, Cooper - in desperate need of a rest - took off in her plane for Santa Monica. She told newspapers that she remembered nothing else. What happened after Cooper's plane left the ground is a mystery. The mostly likely answer, and the dominant opinion at the time, was that under intense mental and physical stress, Cooper experienced temporary amnesia. It seems likely and reasonable yet what happened to her during her disappearance still remains a mystery.
Regardless of the publicity the incident afforded Cooper, she only appeared in one more film as a 'Woman of the Court' in The Ten Commandments (1956). She retired to a private life and remained married to Mr Brown until her death aged 85 on June 27, 1986.
Karl Brown in 1980

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Precode Pants Parade

Ever since Marlene Dietrich’s controversial and breathtaking appearance in a tailored black tuxedo and top hat in Morocco (1930), dressing in typically masculine clothing became the rage for film actresses in the early thirties. From the distinctly feminine (Myrna Loy, Constance Cummings) to the classically androgenic (Katharine Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins), it seemed all Precode screen icons were getting into the craze of dressing up like men. Have a look at the best examples below:   

The Original - Marlene Dietrich:

Anna May Wong:

Sally Blane:

Miriam Hopkins:

Mary Pickford:

Myrna Loy:

Joesphine Baker:

Fred and Adele Astaire:

Dorothy Mackaill:

Leatrice Joy:

Louise Brooks:

Constance Cummings:

Katharine Hepburn:

Bebe Daniels: