The Cladrite Radio Gorillas Galore Giveaway

Gorillas Galore Giveaway of three Sons of Kong DVD setsIt’s time for one of our periodic sweepstakes, and we don’t mind telling you: We’re pretty excited about the Gorillas Galore Giveaway.

We’re giving away not one, not two, but three “Sons of Kong” boxed DVD sets to lucky Cladrite Radio followers. Each set comes with 10 movies on three discs, and a goofier gaggle of gorilla pictures you’d be hard-pressed to find.

Just check out these titles:

We’re confident you’ll agree that that’s one impressive assortment of simian silliness. And this bounty of cinematic missteps comes in pop-up packaging that you’ll be proud to display in your home!

How to enter? Easy. Just follow us on Facebook and Twitter (if you haven’t followed us on either or both of those platforms, now’s your chance to rectify that—just follow the links on the upper left), watch for our posts/tweets about the giveaway and share/retweet them with the hashtag #crgorillagiveaway. You can enter once per post per platform. The entry period ends at midnight ET on Wednesday, July 6. (Sorry, this giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.)

So don’t delay: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and get in the game! Sharing from our website is always appreciated, but to enter the giveaway, you’ll have to share/retweet on Facebook or Twitter!

Happy 133rd Birthday, Bela Lugosi!

It’s interesting to consider how sad a figure Bela Lugosi—born Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó 133 years ago to day in Lugos, Kingdom of Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania)—remains in the minds of so many today. After all, he enjoyed a long and largely successful acting career, enjoying stage success first in his native land and later in the United States.

He appeared in his first film in Hungary in 1917, but soon thereafter emigrated to Germany (where he made a few more films) before finally arriving in the U.S.

His acting career began just after the turn of the 20th century in provincial theatres before he moved to Budapest in 1911. There, he worked with the National Theatre of Hungary from 1913-1919 (with some time off to serve as an infantryman in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War).

Bela Lugosi quote

A union activist, he felt at risk in Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, so he left first for Vienna before settling in Berlin, where he continued to act. Eventually, he took an assignment as a merchant marine and made his way first to New Orleans and then to New York, where he underwent legal immigration inspection at Ellis Island in 1921.

In New York, Lugosi formed a stock company with a group of fellow Hungarians that toured the East Coast. He made his Broadway debut in 1922 and continued to work on the Great White Way for several years.

Lugosi first did film work in Hungary, and continued to appear in films in Berlin. His first American film work (he had previously appeared in movies in both Hungary and Germany) was in a 1923 melodrama called The Silent Command (and if you can believe it, he appeared in 48 pictures, all totaled, before Dracula).

In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role that would prove a blessing and a curse for the rest of his life in a Broadway production of Dracula, based on the Bram Stoker novel. The production ran for 261 performances before touring the country, and the acclaim Lugosi received in the role of the bloodthirsty count led to him being offered the same role in the Tod Browning picture (though it’s said in some circles that he wasn’t the first choice for the role; rumors have long had it that Lon Chaney was originally slated for the role before his premature death in 1930).

Dracula rocketed Lugosi to stardom, but thereafter he found it difficult to get any roles outside the horror genre. Not that he didn’t pursue non-horror roles—he did, in earnest—but they were not forthcoming, and by the mid-1930s, when horror films became less of a focus at Universal Studios, Lugosi found himself assigned to the studio’s non-horror B unit, which led to small roles in lesser pictures. As a result, he frequently accepted leading roles in low-budget thrillers produced by Poverty Row companies, roles that helped pay the bills but did little to broaden the range of roles to which he was suited in the eyes of producers and the moviegoing public.

To make it worse, Lugosi suffered badly with sciatica, which doctors treated with morphine and, later, methadone. So he endured a lengthy battle with addiction to those medications, and when news spread of his reliance on painkillers, his career suffered even more.

By the 1950s, Lugosi was reduced to playing the villain in very low-budget comedies (Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla) and the even lower-budget unintentional comedies churned out by legendary (if inept) auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr. Finally, on August 16, 1956, Lugosi’s heart gave out.

Lugosi seemed a goodhearted sort, and one certainly wishes his career (and personal life—he was married five times) had worked out more to his favor, but his pictures continue to bring joy (and chills) to movie lovers today (TCM is teaming with Fathom Events to screen Dracula, in a double bill with Universal’s Spanish language version of that film, starring Carlos Villarías, in theatres around the country on October 25th and 28th). That’s a legacy that anyone might envy.

Joe E. Brown, with Just a Touch of Marx Madness

We’ve dedicated ourselves to watching a few Joe E. Brown pictures of late, to see if he perhaps will grow on us (after seeing one or two of his films years ago, we had written him off).

Broadminded (1931), which we watched today, is our favorite so far, perhaps not surprisingly given that it was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, who did stellar work with the Marx Brothers.

Another thing this picture also has going for it (in addition to the presence of the always-welcome Thelma Todd—another Marx Brothers connection)? Béla Lugosi as something of a foil for Brown’s misadventures. Best of all, Lugosi plays a character named Pancho Arango who, when asked what country he’s from, responds, “South America!”

A movie poster from Broadminded, featuring Joe E. Brown and Thelma Todd

Who’s That Girl?

Can you identify the actress in this brief, dark, and not a little unsettling clip from an unnamed Bela Lugosi picture? (If we told you the title of the picture, it would be too easy to figure out the actress’s name.) We’ll tell you this much: The actress in question is definitely not someone typically associated with black-and-white horror pictures.

Any guesses? Leave them below in a comment!

Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the ads for the TCM Classic Cruises and thought, “That would be fun.”

But then we can’t help but think, “But it would have been much more fun ten or fifteen years ago.” The sad truth is, there just aren’t that many performers left from the 1930s and ’40s and, of course, there are even fewer that date back as far as the silent movie era.

In that latter category, there’s Mickey Rooney and Carla Laemmle (who was never a big star, but did appear in some big pictures, including Lon Chaney‘s Phantom of the Opera and the 1931 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi).

And then there’s Diana Serra Cary (née Peggy-Jean Montgomery), who was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, albeit at a very young age.

Cary, then known as Baby Peggy, made her film debut in 1921. She went on to make more than 150 shorts for Century Pictures before signing with Universal Pictures in 1923 for $1.5 million a year. Jackie Coogan, the top child star of the day, was growing up, and Universal was hoping Peggy, who would now be starring in feature-length pictures, pick up the slack left by his declining popularity.

Peggy is to have received more than 1.2 million fan letters during her relatively brief time in the spotlight, but by 1925, the bottom fell out of her career. Her father played it tough in negotiating with independent producer Sol Lesser, for whom she had made a couple of features, and Lesser not only declined to work with her any more, he used his influence in Hollywood to see that no one else would hire her, either. She made only one more silent movie, a small role in the 1926 film April Fool, and then began touring in vaudeville.

With the crash of 1929, Peggy’s family fortunes went in the tank. Her parents had spent most of her earnings, and what investments they had made were now worthless. She eventually stooped to doing extra work in the 1930s, but by 1938, at the age of 19, she was through working in pictures.

In later years, Peggy became a writer and author, publishing a number of books about Hollywood, including her 1996 memoir, Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?. She’s still active today, making personal appearances at film festivals and revival houses.

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Monday, December 3, Turner Classic Movies will air a new documentary about Peggy’s life and career, Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room (2012), and four of her pictures (most of which are lost films), three shorts—Carmen Jr. (1923), Peg o’ the Mounted (1924), and Such Is Life (1924)—and one feature, Captain January (1924).