Happy 114th Birthday, Dorothy Mackaill!

Actress Dorothy Mackaill was born 114 years ago today in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, England. Here are 10 DM Did-You-Knows:

  • Mackaill’s parents separated when she was eleven, after which she lived with her father.
  • As a teen, she left home for London in pursuit of a career acting on the stage. After a short sting in Paris, she met a Broadway choreographer who convinced her to move to New York City.
  • That move paid off, as she was soon made a Follies Girl in the The Ziegfeld Follies and met actresses Marion Davies and Nita Naldi.
  • In 1920, Mackaill made her motion picture debut in a movie mystery, The Face at the Window, and also appeared in a number of comedies opposite actor Johnny Hines.
  • In 1921, Mackaill’s career received another boost when she was cast in Bits of Life, along with Anna May Wong, Noah Beery and Lon Chaney.
  • Mackaill’s star-making role came in 1924, when she appeared in The Man Who Came Back opposite leading man George O’Brien. She was also named, along with Clara Bow and eleven other starlets, a WAMPAS Baby Star.
  • The arrival of talking pictures didn’t appear to present a problem for Mackaill—she worked steadily in the early years of the sound era—but she was signed with First National Pictures, which merged with Warner Brothers in 1928, and when her contract ended in 1931, Warners declined to renew it.
  • Mackaill continued to work as a free agent, but the roles came less frequently—she made just eight pictures in the next six years before retiring in 1937 to care for her ailing mother.
  • In 1955, Mackaill moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, a locale she’d very much enjoyed while filming His Captive Woman there in 1929. She resided at the deluxe Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the beach at Waikiki, swimming in the ocean on a near-daily basis.
  • Mackaill acted just three times after 1937, making a single appearance on the anthology television series Studio One in Hollywood in 1953 and two guest spots (in 1976 and 1980) on Hawaii Five-O, which certainly made for an easy commute to work. When she passed away in 1990, her ashes were scattered off her beloved Waikiki beach.

Happy birthday, Dorothy Mackaill, wherever you may be!

Dorothy Mackaill

Happy 133rd Birthday, Texas Guinan!

Actress and Queen of the Nightclubs Texas Guinan was born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan 133 years ago today in Waco, Texas. Here are 10 TG Did-You-Knows:

  • Guinan was one of seven children. Her parents were Irish-Canadian immigrants. She attended parochial school at a Waco convent.
  • When Guinan was 16, her parents moved the family to Denver, Colorado. There she began to appear in amateur stage productions before marrying newspaper cartoonist John Moynahan at age 20. The pair moved to Chicago, where she studied music. She eventually divorced Moynahan and began to perform in vaudeville as a singer.
  • Guinan’s singing was reportedly no great shakes, but she had lots of pep and she soon found that she improved her prospects as a performer by regaling the audience with (perhaps exaggerated) tales of her “Old West” upbringing.
  • In 1906, Guinan moved to New York City, where she worked as a chorus girl before finding additional work in vaudeville and on the New York stage.
  • In 1917, Guinan made her movie debut and soon was a regular in western pictures. She is said to have been the first movie cowgirl (her nickname was The Queen of the West). Guinan would go on to appear in more than 50 features and shorts before she died in 1933.
  • With the passage of the 18th Amendment, Guinan became active in the speakeasy industry, serving as hostess and emcee for a long string of illicit (but very popular) nightspots. Her outsized, sassy personality and her skill at evading justice, despite her many arrests for operating a speakeasy, made her a legendary figure in Prohibition-era NYC.
  • Guinan’s speakeasies featured an abundance of scantily clad fan dancers and showgirls, but her penchant for pulling the legs of the rich and famous served her just as well. “Hello, suckers!” became her standard exclamation for greeting customers. Her well-to-do patrons she referred to as her “butter-and-egg men” and she coined the familiar phrase “Give the little ladies a big hand” while serving as emcee.
  • Texas Guinan’s nightclubs were often backed by gangster Larry Fay and such legendary bad guys as Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz frequented her establishments—alongside relatively “good guys” such as George Gershwin, Walter Chrysler, Pola Negri, Mae West, Al Jolson, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Irving Berlin, John Barrymore and Rudolph Valentino.
  • Ruby Keeler and George Raft both got their starts in show business as dancers as Guinan’s clubs, and Walter Winchell acknowledged that the inside access Guinan gave him to Broadway’s cornucopia of colorful characters helped launch his career as a gossip columnist.
  • Guinan died of amoebic dysentery in 1933, one month before Prohibition was repealed. She was just 49. Bandleader Paul Whiteman and writer Heywood Broun were among her pallbearers.

Happy birthday, Texas Guinan, wherever you may be!

Texas Guinan

Happy 134th Birthday, Bela Lugosi!

Bela Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos, Kingdom of Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), not far from Transylvania, 134 years ago today. Here are 10 BH Did-You-Knows:

  • Lugosi was the youngest of four children; his father was a banker. He dropped out of school at age 12 and began acting, playing small roles in regional theatre, just after the turn of the 20th century. He moved to Budapest in 2011 and began working (though still limited to minor roles) with the National Theatre of Hungary.
  • Lugosi volunteered to serve in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I; he served in the infantry, rising to the rank of captain in the ski patrol. He was injured three times.
  • Coming under scrutiny for his activism in creating an actor’s union in Hungary during the 1919 revolution, Lugosi fled the country, first to Vienna and later to Berlin. He soon came to the United States, landing in New Orleans in December 1920 as a member of the crew on a merchant ship.
  • Lugosi appeared in 12 motion pictures in Hungary 1917 and ’18 and in several more in Germany. Once in the United States, he made his way to New York, where he became active in Hungarian theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1922 in the play The Red Poppy. His American film debut came in 1923 in The Silent Command. He would soon make several other pictures, all filmed in and around NYC.
  • In 1927, Bela Lugosi was cast as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of a play adapted from Bram Stoker‘s novel. Lugosi was a sensation in the role, but he was not the top choice for the role of the Count as the play was being developed as a movie. Director Tod Browning hoped to cast Lon Chaney, a much bigger name than Lugosi and someone Browning had worked with frequently, in the role, but Chaney’s tragic death opened the door for Lugosi to play the role he’d made famous in the legitimate theatre.
  • The film was a great success, and Lugosi soon realized that the role of Count Dracula was both a blessing and a curse, as he found himself quickly—and permanently—typecast as a horror star.
  • Lugosi, who had worked to establish an actor’s union in Hungary, was one of the organizers of the Screen Actor’s Guild (he was member no. 28).
  • Lugosi was married five times, with only one of the marriages lasting more than three years (Lugosi and his fourth wife, Lillian Arch, remained together for just over twenty years). His third marriage, to a wealthy San Francisco widow named Beatrice Weeks, ended after just a few days when Weeks discovered he was carrying on an affair with actress Clara Bow.
  • By the late 1930s, Lugosi, who suffered from sciatic neuritis, was addicted to the painkillers morphine and methadone. He would struggle with his dependency on these drugs for the rest of his life, and his career would suffer because of it.
  • Though a rumor persisted of a feud between Lugosi and fellow horror star Boris Karloff, both men’s children insisted that, though the two men weren’t close, there were no hard feelings between them. The two actors appeared in seven films together: The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), You’ll Find Out (1940), Black Friday (1940) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

Happy birthday, Bela Lugosi, wherever you may be!

Bela Lugosi

Happy 117th Birthday, Colleen Moore!

Actress Colleen Moore was born Kathleen Morrison 117 years ago today (or was it 114 years—there’s some debate about that) in Port Huron, Michigan. She was one of the biggest stars of the silent era and made flappers safe for the average American. Here are 10 CM Did-You-Knows:

  • Her childhood was a happy one and her parents happy together, much in contrast to that other actress who was famous for portraying flappers, Clara Bow.
  • She was fascinated with motion pictures from childhood and dreamed even as a child of being a movie star.
  • When she was a teenager, her uncle, who was editor of The Chicago Tribune, arranged with D. W. Griffith, with whom he was acquainted, for his niece to be given a shot in Hollywood. Griffith agreed, giving Moore five small roles in her first year in Hollywood.
  • Moore had one blue eye and one brown one.
  • She was one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1922.
  • Moore was one of the women most responsible for popularizing the then-controversial bobbed haircut for women.
  • There were two stockbrokers among her four husbands, and Moore was quite savvy in investing her money. As a result, she was very comfortable financially throughout her life and even wrote an investment guide to advise and encourage women to become investors.
  • Moore’s hobby was building extravagant doll houses, the eighth of which became known as “The Enchanted Castle,” took a decade to build, employed dozens of craftsmen, toured the world to raise money for charity, and is now on public display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.
  • She claimed to have discovered actress Loretta Young and even to have suggested she change her name from Gretchen to Loretta.
  • After appearing in just a few talking pictures, Moore retired from motion pictures in 1934. She later was a partner in the investment firm Merrill Lynch.

Happy birthday, Colleen Moore, wherever you may be!

Colleen Moore

Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Six

The sixth chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker), includes anecdotes of such star clients as Ramon Novarro, Ernest Torrence, Jack Holt, Neil Hamilton and Lawrence Tibbett.

NARSISSIES

Ramon NavarroRAMON NOVARRO was a little stiff.
Why shouldn’t he be? He sleeps in a coffin.
That’s a fact. Ramon’s bedroom in the immense house he occupies with an old grandee of a Spanish father, his mother, and ten—count ’em—ten brothers—Ramon’s bedroom is a replica of the burial crypt of some saint in the Vatican City in Rome. The bed itself, high, narrow, and set on a pedestal, is a sarcophagus, under a purple canopy crowned with a wreath of thorns. A funny idea, this. All I can say is that Ramon seems to want to hurry his Cecil B. De Millennium.
Sylvia says that the daily massage she gave Ramon at 7 A.M.—waking him out of his embalmed slumbers with the laying on of her hands—always felt spooky. It was too uncomfortably like a miracle.
The boss promoted the job with Novarro herself, one day when she had finished touching up Elsie Janis and gone down into the Janis back yard to see what was going on in the swimming pool. Quite a bunch of actors were splashing about, showing off; and as Sylvia came along Ramon Novarro dived in and came up floating on his back. Right away the boss’s eagle eye noted something that promised a new customer and she thought up a salemanship scheme.
“Can you float like that indefinitely” she asked Novarro.
“As long as I want,” he modestly asserted.
“While you smoke a cigarette?”
He lit up and puffed away, and was good for ten minutes, stomach up, under a broiling California sun. Sure enough, when he puffed the last puff and called Sylvia to witness that he had accomplished the feat, the nice round central part of him was dried by the sun, making a cute little dry island in the middle of his bathing suit where it had been raised above water level by an undeniable protuberance.
Neat, what? All Sylvia had to do was kid him about the watermark and he had to say the expected thing and invite her to undertake the removal of the island.
“How could I help it?” he alibied. “I’m just back from a trip to Germany—and who can resist Münchener beer?”
 
ERNEST TORRENCE is a contrast to the soft and delicate Ramon Novarro, but not such a tremendous one as you’d think. What I mean is, all the boys get girlish and skittish when they have to take a professional interest in their looks, and Big Ernest is no exception.
Like all those oversize fellows, Ernest has a small, firm-minded wife who bosses him around as if he were a young St. Bernard. Elsie Torrence had been taking treatments from Sylvia, and she reported that her husband was threatened with nervous breakdown and ought to let Sylvia treat him.
“But he’s so shy,” Mrs. Torrence said, “and he just has fits when I suggest that he call in a female masseuse.” She set her jaw and added: “I’ll bring him round, though.”

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