Happy Birthday, Elsa Lanchester!

Elsa Lanchester, who was born 113 years ago today, enjoyed a long and varied career in show business, but she’s so strongly associated with her role in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) that we wonder if she ever got tired of being asked about it.

We suspect she did.

Elsa Lanchester quote

Born in London to “bohemian” parents, she studied dance as a child with Isadora Duncan (we wonder if she encountered young Preston Sturges, whose mother was bosom buddies with Duncan during those years) and eventually began to work in cabaret and the theatre.

Her unconventional marriage with Charles Laughton began in 1929 and lasted until his death in 1962; the pair were to appear in 12 movies and a great many theatrical productions together.

Though most people immediately think of her role as the Bride when the name Elsa Lanchester is mentioned, she enjoyed an impressive and lengthy motion career, appearing in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), David Copperfield (1935), The Spiral Staircase (1945), The Razor’s Edge (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), The Big Clock (1948), Mary Poppins (1964), and Murder By Death (1976); she even appeared in an Elvis Presley picture: Easy Come, Easy Go (1967). Lanchester was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Come to the Stable (1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

Lanchester also worked frequently on television, appearing as a guest star on programs such as I Love Lucy, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Elsa Lanchester died at age 84 in Woodland Hills, California, on the day after Christmas, 1986.

Happy birthday, Ms. Lanchester, wherever you may be!

A Century of W. C. Fields

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of W. C. Fields making his motion-picture debut, and TCM is celebrating tonight by airing four of his pictures.

The fun begins at 8 p.m. ET with The Bank Dick (1940), followed at 9:30 p.m. by It’s a Gift (1934), You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man at 11 p.m. and at 12:30 a.m., David Copperfield (1935), in which Fields plays Wilkins Micawber, a role that was initially earmarked for Charles Laughton.

W. C. Fields quote

Celebrating a Century of Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartWe don’t know how we let it sneak by us, but Monday, July 5, was the 100th birthday of the wonderful Gloria Stuart, best known now for her work in James Cameron‘s Titanic, but a woman who’s led a remarkable life and was a pretty big movie star in the 1930s, to boot.

In 1999, when she was just a kid of 89, we got to interview Gloria on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, I Just Kept Hoping. The interview was conducted over the telephone, though we did get the chance to meet Ms. Stuart when she came to NYC for her book party.

We considered it quite a thrill, we don’t mind telling you, to get to interact with Ms. Stuart. After all, this is the women who starred opposite Claude Rains in James Whale‘s The Invisible Man, who appeared with Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton in The Old Dark House, who worked with greats such as Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Eddie Cantor, Ruth Etting, and dozens more.

So, to mark her centennial (a few days late, alas), we thought we’d share with the Cladrite Radio Clan the interview we did with her in 1999. Enjoy!

It’s been a long, eventful life for former and current movie star Gloria Stuart. She had her first go-around at stardom in the Hollywood heyday of the 1930s and ’40s; then, after taking off 30 years or so to pursue painting, travel, and political activism, she again began to act in the 1970s, eventually garnering a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Titanic. Still going strong today at the age of 89, Stuart has now added authorship to her list of achievements. Her candid memoir, I Just Kept Hoping, is peppered with anecdotes about such memorable figures as Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. I spoke to Gloria about her life, her two careers in the movies, and her secrets for living so long and so well.

An Interview with Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartYou made three films with director James Whale: The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House, and The Kiss Before the Mirror. What can you tell us about him?

I’m very happy I was in those films. You know, James is a cult figure in England. There are a lot of James Whale fan clubs. Actually, right after I had read for Jim Cameron for Titanic, I had booked a month in London. I went right away, and there were two wonderful James Whale organizations that I met with. He’s getting his due now, thanks to Gods and Monsters.

What did you think of Gods and Monsters? Was it, in your view, an accurate portrayal of Whale?

Oh, yes, it was. Ian McKellan captured James’s elegance, the beautiful manners, the beautiful tailoring, the precision, the whole thing. Of course, no one could be James, but he came awfully close.

The special effects in The Invisible Man hold up remarkably well today for a film that was made in 1933.

Yes, people who see it today—it runs every so often—they say, gee, it’s not an old hat movie at all.

I’m wondering—did the processes that went into creating those special effects slow down the pace of moviemaking at all?

It was never evident. Only James and the cameraman and I guess all the process people at Universal—the rest of us never had any inkling of what was going on. We did do a lot of shooting in front of black curtains. Now, I wasn’t on the set when the bandages came off or anything like that, so I have no idea about that. But it was very, very secret. I wasn’t on the set when they were finagling the bandages off, and so forth.

That would’ve been fun to see.

Humphrey Bogart and Mayo MethotYes, it would’ve! Claude [Rains] may have known [how it all worked] but he never said so.

You and your second husband, Arthur Sheekman, were good friends with Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot, his wife at the time. What can you tell us about Bogie that we might not know?
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