Happy Birthday, Janet Gaynor!

Janet Gaynor, born Laura Gainor 109 years today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is not as well remembered today as she should be. (Yes, we old movie buffs know her and love her, but the general public has largely forgotten her.)

There were few bigger stars in 1920s and early ’30s, and her screen partnership with Charles Farrell had fans dreaming that he’d leave his wife for her.

Janet Gaynor made any number of terrific films, but our two favorites are F. W. Murnau‘s silent masterpiece, Sunrise (1927), and the first A Star Is Born (1937), directed by the great William Wellman (A Star Is Born can be viewed for free by Amazon Prime members).

A few TV appearances aside, Janet Gaynor retired in 1938, but she left an indelible mark on the motion picture industry (she won the very first Best Actress Oscar on May 16, 1929, about which she said, “Naturally, I was thrilled, but being the first year, the Academy Awards had no background or tradition, and it naturally didn’t mean what it does now. Had I known then what it would come to mean in the next few years, I’m sure I’d have been overwhelmed. At the time, I think I was more thrilled over meeting Douglas Fairbanks.”

Here’s wishing you a happy birthday, Ms. Gaynor, wherever you may be.

Janet Gaynor quote

365 Nights in Hollywood: Just a Girl in Pictures

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “Just a Girl in Pictures” from that 1926 collection.

JUST A GIRL IN PICTURES

 
 
(A Life Story)
 
Yes, that’s what I was—just a girl in pictures. And the accent was on the just. But all of this was three long years ago.
Now I’m a real star and have a press agent all my own n’everything. I know you’ve seen me on the screen and you will try to figure out who I am.
Well, I’ll tell you about myself—as much as I dare. I’ve only been a star about—well, it’s nearly two and one-half years now.
Maybe I’m a brunette and maybe I’m a blonde—I’ve been both. And this is about all I’d better tell—right now. I promise you a lot of intimate stuff in the story which follows, but I must use fictitious names.
It was just three years ago this June that I kissed Mother and Dad goodbye on Pier Number Nine of the Pacific Steamship Company, San Francisco. I had just finished at a girls’ school in San Raphael that year, and having nothing to do—I got the movie craze.
I begged Mother to write her friend Betty in Los Angeles and ask if I could spend a month or so with her. And at the same time try my hand at being an actress. Mother and Dad were both good sports and they decided to let me try it—for a little while, at least.
Betty Thorne, Mother’s friend, was a bit older than myself, but she knew the ropes and could put on make-up to perfection. She even looked younger than I at times. And then too, she was a divorcee, which made it more interesting.
I noticed three very good-looking chaps on the boat together and I decided that I was going to have a very pleasant trip. I wandered down to the ballroom—so did they. I knew I was in for a good time.
An hour passed and I was calling them by their first names. I had the instinct of the modern flapper, you see. They, too, were moving to Hollywood for a try at clicking cameras and the vamps of Movieville.
One of them, Harry was his name, always wanted to share his troubles with everyone. So I nick-named him Big-Hearted. He had a gift of gab that would make a press agent turn green with envy. And funny! That boy was a five-reel comedy all by himself. What a laugh he was! And he always laughed at his own jokes, which I later learned was the habit in Hollywood.
I had these three would-be Romeos all the way down. they say there’s three women to every man. Well, I cheated eight women out of a good old time for a day and a night anyway. I’m terribly selfish,—especially with men. I love ’em all—but not too much.
About ten-thirty the next morning, after dancing and flying around most of the night, we saw San Pedro and Wilmington. And as we docked we saw a crowd on a much smaller boat going to Catalina. Immediately Harry wanted to go.
The gang-plank was shoved on board and then came the fun of everybody trying to get off at once. This, I believe, is one of the rules of sea-going etiquette.
Finally, after being bounced from one side to the other, I found myself standing on one of Harry’s newly polished oxfords. I know he was most delighted to find me there. I could tell by the strange expression on his handsome face.
As I was standing there gazing into his deep brown eyes and giving him my address—as if I didn’t think I should—Betty gushed up and smeared lip-stick all over my face.
Al, one of the three, upon seeing Betty, immediately ceased to hunt for my baggage and dashed over for an introduction. I gave it, very coldly, but he warmed up to Betty and before I knew it he was thanking her for a dinner invitation that night.

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Eleven

The eleventh 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), tells of a close call experienced in treating actress Norma Shearer.

FAT CHANCE

Norma ShearerGLORIA runs quite an establishment—butlers, footmen, and the rest. Down on the Pathé lot she rolled up her sleeves and did her day labor like an old trouper. But at home she was La Marquise de la Falaise et de la Coudraye, and had the big soft rugs, uniformed servants, and all the dog to prove it.
The house staff gave Sylvia the works, which is to say that she passed through about ten pairs of hands, to land finally in an upstairs den. There time passed in great chunks without any sign of Gloria Swanson. The boss was dead tired and had to pinch herself to keep awake. Whereupon a footman ambled in with a clinking tray, and she tried just one for luck and was sunk.
She had no idea what time it was when, presently, someone shook her out of a sound sleep and said: “Here I am—all ready for you.”
It was Gloria in her nightie. A clear case of overwrought nerves, with the inevitable results of facial lines and general puffiness. The treatment for that is delicate. If you start in pounding and pummeling at the start, the subject’s nerves get worse and worse, and the result you’re likely to get is the kind of weight reduction that is ruin—a stringy, jumpy body and a cavernous, drawn look about the face.
In the first few minutes Gloria admitted that the new sound-movie racket had her half-crazy. It took the boss two hours of gentle, soothing rubbing to get the overexcited star to sleep. Meanwhile she was that the job would take time; that, for a start, she’d have to reconcile herself to getting maybe a little fatter than she was; that the real work on her hips, chin and arms would have to wait. Gloria saw the point and said:
“Then I’ll have to have you all the time. You’ve got to give up your other people and work for me alone.”
Right away the boss remembered how that hook-up had worked out with Mae Murray—and even with Mary Duncan. It meant having to build up her clientele all over again when the contract died.
 
The offer from Gloria was flattering enough. But the boss had got past the point where the name of a movie star, whispered, was enough to jerk her out of a sound sleep. She was able to keep her head when Swanson made her offer, because, for one thing, the savings account was doing nicely, and, for another, she had just taken on Norma Shearer, whom she had been angling to get for months.
Hedda Hopper steered Norma Shearer into Sylvia’s hands. At that, the boss nearly lost the M.-G.-M. star after the first treatment, which was given in Shearer’s home. Norma had been playing a lot of tennis, and had got stringy and muscular and jumpy, the way women always do when they go crazy about any sport. The first thing to do was to calm her down and get her to sleeping regularly as a preliminary to softening her. So the boss rubbed her for nearly two hours and left her sleeping like a child. The next morning we got a phone call from Hedda Hopper, who said:
“I don’t know what you did to Norma Shearer, Sylvia, but my name is mud in the movies if you’ve ruined her.”

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Times Square Tintypes: Patrick Cain

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Patrick “Patsy” Cain, a man who made a living storing the scenery from closed Broadway shows.

NOT A SHOW IN A CARLOAD

An author spends months writing a play. A producer stakes everything on it. Days and nights of weary rehearsals with stars sweating. The play opens. Evening dress and silk hats. Speculators selling tickets on the sidewalk. Everybody is so happy. A few months later a truck backs up at the stage door. The path of glory leads but to Cain’s.
Caricature of Patrick CainPATRICK CAIN is the owner of that theatrical storehouse. Everybody calls him Patsy.
He attended P. S. 32. Bows his head shamefully when admitting that he didn’t have the honor of receiving a diploma.
His father, John J. Cain, a former policeman, started the trucking business forty-two years ago. He used to help his father just for the ride.
Seldom goes to an opening night. Producers, considering him a jinx, shoo him away. He has attended more closing nights than any other man in the world.
Has a broken nose. This he received in his youth during a block fight.
His warehouse is located at 530 West Forty-first Street. Directly opposite is an old brewery with a statue of a fallen man holding a schooner of beer. He seems to be saying to those show entering their final resting place: “Here’s to Better Days.”
Is happily married and the proud possessor of four children. Has his own home in Flushing. It was built especially for him by a stage carpenter.
He doesn’t drink, smoke or use profane language.
Rarely eat in restaurants. Has breakfast and dinner at home. Has lunch at his sister’s, who lives two blocks from his place of business.
The storehouse consists of five stories and a basement.
The fifth floor is for the shows of Aarons and Freedley, Schwab and Mandel, Gene Buck and the personal belongings of W. C. Fields and Laurette Taylor. The fourth floor holds the last remains of Florenz Ziegfeld‘s Follies and George White‘s Scandals. Their mighty efforts for supremacy rest in peace. The third floor is for Sam H. Harris, Douglas Fairbanks, A. L. Erlanger and the Paramount Theatre. The second floor is occupied by Richard Herndon and others. The basement is for the canvas “drops.” They are rolled neatly and lie row on row. Their tombstone is an identification tag on which is scrawled in pencil: “Garden Drop—Follies—1917.”
He drinks two chocolate ice cream sodas every day. On Sunday evenings he takes the entire family to the neighborhood drug store and treats them to sodas.
Employs only four men—a night watchman, a day watchman, a bookkeeper and a superintendent. He hasn’t a secretary. But the superintendent, attired in greasy overalls, takes great pride in referring to himself as “Patsy’s typewriter.”
He hires his help by the day. Employs exactly the number he needs for that day’s work. While on a job if the men eat before three o’clock they must pay for the meal. If they eat after three he must. Every day he phones his men at exactly one o’clock and says: “Boys, I think you ought to knock off now and get yourselves a bite to eat.”
He has eight gold teeth in his mouth. They make him look dignified.
Reads only two things. They are the dramatic reviews and the cartoons in the New Yorker.
Has the same amount of strength in his right hand as in his left. He can write just as unintelligibly with both.

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Times Square Tintypes: A. H. Woods

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles theatrical producer A. H. Woods.
 

SAMUEL HOFFENSTEIN’S CREATION

A. H. WOODS. His real label is Albert Herman. Without knowing a thing about numerology, he made his name initials. Then added the tag of Woods, taking it from N. S. Woods, an actor whom he worshiped.
Caricature of A. H. WoodsHe greets everyone, regardless of sex, with: “Hello, sweetheart.”
Was a billposter. His real entry into show business was when he took a piece of lithograph paper to Theodore Kremer. Commissioned him to write a play about it. The picture was of the Bowery. Kremer had the measles at the time. The finished product was The Bowery After Dark.
His favorite combination of colors is yellow and black.
All his business correspondence ends with: “With Love and Kisses.”
Owen Davis used to write two plays a week for him. Still considers Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl and Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model, the two best plays Davis ever wrote. Davis doesn’t.
Believes any play Samuel Shipman writes in Atlantic City is worth reading.
He hired his own Boswell in the person of Samuel Hoffenstein, who now does things in praise of practically nothing. Instead of recording the actual doings Hoffenstein allowed his imagination to write the life of Woods. Thus a character was created. One which he often tries to live up to. He believes what he read.
He sits with both feet resting on the chair.
Wore a dress suit only once in his life. It was at the opening of the Guitrys. He hired it for the occasion. Is very proud of the fact that Otto Kahn said he looked good.
He believes in luck and does most everything by hunches.
William Randolph Hearst practically produced The Road to Ruin for him without knowing it. Hearst gave him $500 to move out of one of his buildings. With this he started anew.
Will get up from his desk after a day’s work and depart for Europe with all the thought and preparation that you give to going to a movie.
Has made numerous trips to Europe with only a toothbrush in his pocket. While on the ship he occasionally worries where he is going to get the toothpaste.
He reads six plays a day. Will often buy a play by merely hearing an outline of the plot.
Once walked into Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater. Saw a pretty girl on the stage. Became quite enthused. Decided that a girl so beautiful deserved to be starred in a legitimate play. The girl was Julian Eltinge. He went through with it anyway.
Has a clay statue of a negro youth in his office for luck. In the hand of this youth he always places a copy of the script of his latest production.
Walter Moore is his best friend. For this there is a penalty. He is his companion on most of the sudden trips.
He uses the most profane language without quite realizing what it means. The rougher his language the better he likes you. When he talks pleasantly keep away.
His office is decorated with artificial flavors.
Every month he orders a thousand cigars. He chews a cigar more than he smokes it. Everybody always knows what part of the building he is in. He leaves a trail of ashes.
He knows George Bernard Shaw personally and calls him Buddy. There is no record of what Shaw calls him.
Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin worked for him before they entered the movies. He let them go because they wanted more money. He let them go because they wanted more money. Chaplin was getting twenty-five dollars a week and asked for thirty.
His favorite eating place is his office. Every day he has vegetable soup, apple pie and milk sent to him from the Automat. The actual time it takes him to eat this is one minute and twelve seconds.
In the summer he sits on a camp stool outside of his theater, the Eltinge, watching the audience enter.
A good script, he considers, is one that makes him forget his cigar has gone out.
During the rehearsals of The Shanghai Gesture, the cussing, hard-boiled Mr. Woods blushed and had the author tone down some of the lines.
Buttons are always missing from his overcoats.
Once considered producing Shaw’s Back to Methuselah. This play takes three days for one showing. He rejected it saying: “I’m too nervous. I’ve got to know the next day if I’ve got a hit.
At the foot of his desk there is a cuspidor. He generally misses.
He is afraid of the dark. He sleeps with the lights on.