Happy 109th Birthday, James Stewart!

The great James Stewart was born 109 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He remains one of the most popular actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age (and a favorite here at Cladrite Radio). Here are ten JS Did-You-Knows:

  • James Stewart was the first prominent actor to enlist in the military during World War II. He joined the Army eight months before Pearl Harbor and served overseas for 21 months, where, as a pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd squadron, he flew 20 combat missions and rose to the rank of colonel.
  • Stewart held the highest active military rank of any actor in history. After World War II, he continued serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, ultimately attaining the rank of brigadier general.
  • James Stewart attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1932 with a degree in architecture.
  • Stewart was a member of Princeton’s Triangle Club, a musical-comedy theater group. A 1931 recording exists of Stewart performing the song Day After Day with the Princeton Triangle Club Dance Orchestra (regular listeners to Cladrite Radio have heard this recording).
  • Stewart played the accordion and hoped to do demonstrate his facility with the instrument in the 1957 picture Night Passage, but his playing was dubbed by a professional musician.
  • James Stewart wore the same hat in all of his westerns.
  • Stewart was very conservative, politically, supporting such presidential candidates as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
  • James Stewart was originally in line to play Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, but because Vertigo had not done well at the box office, director Alfred Hitchcock went with Cary Grant instead.
  • Stewart was a bachelor until age 41, but his marriage to former model Gloria Hatrick McLean was a happy one.
  • James Stewart’s Best Actor Oscar statuette (The Philadelphia Story, 1940) was on display in the window of his father’s hardware store for 25 years.
  • The word “Philadelphia” on that statuette was misspelled.

Happy birthday, Mr. Stewart, wherever you may be.

James Stewart

This story was first published in slightly different form in 2016.

Happy 113th Birthday, Cary Grant!

The great Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach 113 years ago today in Horfield, a suburb of Bristol, England. Here are 10 CG Did-You-Knows:

  • Grant’s parents worked in the garment industry—his father as a tailor’s presser; his mother as a seamstress. His older brother, William, died very young of tuberculous meningitis.
  • Grant showed an interest in performing at a very early age, and his mother, who was otherwise very cautious regarding his upbringing after the death of his older brother, encouraged him in pursuing this interest.
  • When Grant was just nine years old, his father had his mother placed in a mental institution, telling Grant she was away on holiday. He later told Grant that his mother had died—she had not. Grant didn’t learn she was still alive until twenty years later.
  • By his early teens, Grant was performing as a stilt walker with a touring group of acrobats. When he was 16, the troupe traveled to New York City, where it enjoyed nine-month run at the Hippodrome—at that time the largest theatre in the world—before touring the country in vaudeville.
  • When the time came for the troupe to return to England, Grant and a few of his fellow performers decided to remain in the U.S. Grant returned to NYC and continued to work, first in vaudeville and then the legitimate theatre, which eventually led to a contract with Paramount Pictures. He made his debut in 1932 in a comedy called This Is the Night that also starred Lili Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Thelma Todd.
  • Douglas Fairbanks was a key role model for Grant, who shared the star’s good looks and athleticism (Grant had met Fairbanks aboard ship when he first crossed the Atlantic bound for NYC).
  • Ian Fleming is said to have based the character of James Bond in part on Grant (we think he’d have made a great Bond), and Raymond Chandler once wrote, “If I had ever an opportunity of selecting the movie actor who would best represent [Philip] Marlowe to my mind, I think it would have been Cary Grant.”
  • A telephoned complaint from Grant, who was staying at the Plaza Hotel in NYC, to Conrad Hilton, who was in Istanbul at the time, convinced the hotel czar that the Plaza should serve two full English muffins with room service breakfasts, rather than the one-and-a-half they had been serving.
  • Grant donated his entire salary of $137,000 from The Philadelphia Story (1940) to the British War Relief Fund. Four years later, he donated his salary of $160,000 for Arsenic and Old Lace to British War Relief, the USO and the Red Cross.
  • Grant was a big fan of Elvis Presley and can be spotted in the audience and backstage in Presley’s concert documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970).

Happy birthday, Cary Grant, wherever you may be!

Cary Grant

Happy 123rd Birthday, Mae West!

Actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol Mae West was born Mary Jane West 123 years ago today in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Here are 10 MW Did-You-Knows:

  • West was delivered in her family’s home by her midwife aunt. Her father was a prize fighter and, later, a private investigator.
  • Her first public performance is said to occurred at the age of five, when, ironically enough, she entertained at a church social at a still-extant Queens establishment called Neir’s Social Hall (now Neir’s Tavern). After that, she performed in local talent shows.
  • West’s first Broadway appearance came in a 1911 revue called A La Broadway, which was mounted by her former dancing teacher and long-time impresario of juvenile theatrical acts, Ned Wayburn. The revue folded after just eight performances.
  • Her first review in The New York Times, when she was 18 years old, stated, “A girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing.”
  • West began writing risqué plays under the name Jane Mast, and her first starring role on Broadway came in a 1926 play she wrote called Sex. Conservative critics and church groups objected to the play, but the production was a hit. Eventually, the pressure put on by the groups led to West being arrested and placed in jail at Jefferson Market Courthouse (it’s now a public library).
  • West could have paid a fine and remained free, but she opted for a sentence of ten days in jail, figuring it would be good publicity (it was).
  • Of the twelve pictures West appeared in, she wrote or co-wrote nine of them.
  • From the 1920s forward, West was an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
  • West’s 1928 play, Diamond Lil, earned her a ticket to Hollywood (the play was eventually adapted for the screen as She Done Him Wrong and costarred Cary Grant). She was nearly 40 when she signed her first movie contract.
  • After strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in 1934, putting a damper on her popularity (a toned-down Mae West wasn’t as appealing to the public), West performed in nightclubs, mounted a Las Vegas revue, made records (something she’d been doing since the 1930s) and wrote books. Her final film, Sextette (1978), closed out a career that had spanned more than seventy years.
  • Happy birthday, Mae West, wherever you may be!

    Mae West

    Happy 92nd Birthday, Eva Marie Saint!

    The lovely Eva Marie Saint was born 92 years ago today in Newark, New Jersey. Here are 10 EVS Did-You Knows:

    • Saint attended Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, New York, graduating in 1942.
    • Saint won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her first theatrical picture, Elia Kazan‘s On The Waterfront, in which appeared opposite Marlon Brando. All 18 of her earlier credits were on television.
    • Just two days after winning the Oscar, Saint gave birth to her son Darrell.
    • Saint’s competition for the role of Edie Doyle in that picture was Elizabeth Montgomery. Saint won the role by a nose.
    • Saint graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1946. There is a theatre on the campus that is named after her.
    • Saint’s waist-length hair was cut short for her role as a seductive spy opposite Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest; the director insisted it made her more exotic. Hitchcock also personally chose Saint’s outfits for the film during a shopping trip to Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.
    • Her nickname in high school was “Bubbles.” She was the senior class secretary and also a cheerleader.
    • Saint was named after her mother, Eva Marie Rice.
    • Her favorite movie is Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night.
    • Saint has been married to writer-director-producer Jeffrey Hayden since 1951.

    Happy birthday, Eva Marie Saint, and many happy returns of the day!

    Eva Marie Saint