Here are 10 things you should know about Edward Arnold, born 131 years ago today. Arnold specialized in playing men possessed of authority, influence and wealth.
The great Preston Sturges was born Edmund Preston Biden 118 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois. We consider him one of the true giants of American comedy filmmaking. Among the pictures he wrote or directed are The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night, The Great McGinty, Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve, and The Palm Beach Story—classics, every last one of them. Here are 10 PS Did-You-Knows:
- His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey (though she would be known by many names), an eccentric character worthy of inclusion in one of Sturges’ films, was close friends with dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan; in fact, it was a scarf Dempsey gave to Duncan that led to the dancer’s infamous death.
- Sturges’ mother was married several times, but it was her third husband, a wealthy Chicago stockbroker named Solomon Sturges, who was a true father to Preston. He adopted him when Sturges was 4 years old and provided guidance and support to him throughout his life.
- Prior to launching his writing career, Sturges was employed as a runner on Wall Street and worked for his mother’s cosmetics company, even inventing a kiss-proof lipstick.
- In 1917, Sturges enlisted in the Army Air Service, serving at Camp Dick in Texas without ever seeing action. Three Hundred Words of Humor, a humorous essay he wrote for the camp newspaper, was his first published work.
- Sturges claimed to have introduced the club sandwich to Germany.
- His first success came on Broadway with a play he wrote called Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote the play in just six days, it ran for 16 months (a very lengthy run in 1929), and he was working for Paramount Pictures soon thereafter.
- He worked for a decade as a studio screenwriter, and though he wrote some terrific movies during that time, he was often frustated by the final product.
- So eager was Sturges to direct his own scripts that he sold the rights to The Great McGinty to Paramount for just one dollar (some reports say the fee was $10), with the stipulation that he would be allowed to direct it. He would go on to win the very first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for that script.
- Sturges amassed a troupe of actors that he used repeatedly in his films, and when the studio objected, fearing the actors’ faces would become too familiar to the audience, Sturges responded, “These little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”
- In the 1940s and ’50s, he owned and operated a nightclub called The Players on the Sunset Strip.
Happy birthday, Preston Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs!
We recently read John Oller’s biography of Jean Arthur, who was born 115 years ago today, and it was a little disheartening. For all her success and acclaim, Arthur, born Gladys Georgianna Greene in Plattsburgh, New York, seemed rarely, if ever, to find contentment. She was prickly in dealing with others and seemed generally dissatisfied with her lot, even if, to those of us assessing her life and career from the outside looking in, she had it pretty darned good (but of course, we’re in no position to truly know).
Eccentric and difficult as Arthur may have been, her voice was a comedic gift from the gods. Director Frank Capra once described it as “a thousand tinkling bells.” Susan King in the Los Angeles Times termed it “an almost undescribeable blend of a squeak and froggy croak.” And strange as it may seem, they’re both right—sort of.
Arthur developed a sense of comic timing that was nearly unparalleled, and we wish she’d been paired at some point with the great Preston Sturges (she did star in Easy Living , a movie Sturges wrote, but Mitchell Leisen ably handled the direction of that delightful picture).
But seriously, consider the roster of comedy classics that Arthur starred in; few actors could top it: The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), If You Could Only Cook (1935), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Devil and Miss Jones, The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943)…the list goes on.
Jean Arthur is one of the few actors whose name in a cast list is enough to convince us to watch a movie we know nothing else about. If you’re not familiar with her work, a fine place to start is George Stevens‘ The More the Merrier, which has the added bonus of Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn starring opposite Arthur, and features the sexiest scene you will ever see in a 1940s romantic comedy. We won’t spoil the surprise, just watch it. You’ll know it when you see it.
Happy birthday, Jean Arthur, and thanks for the laughter!
The great Preston Sturges would have been 116 today; alas, he made it not much past halfway to that age, dying at 60 in 1959.
But the mark he left of cinematic comedy is indelible and undeniable. He was a much-in-demand screen writer for many years before he ever sat in the director’s chair (among the classic movies he wrote but didn’t direct: The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night), and when he finally did began to direct, he upped his game to heights rarely, if ever, equaled.
In a perfect world, you and I could meet for a beer and go see a Sturges comedy tonight. In a theatre with an appreciative audience is the best way to experience his work (as it is, let’s face it, with all funny movies), but since that’s not going to happen, we urge you to cancel your plans and rent any of the aforementioned titles, or any of those below: Sullivan’s Travels, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Unfaithfully Yours, The Palm Beach Story…
You might also pick up his memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His was a life as entertaining and as unlikely as the most outlandish of his pictures, and he tells his story with characteristic panache.
Happy birthday, Mr. Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs.