Happy 114th Birthday, Norma Shearer!

There seems to be widespread confusion regarding Norma Shearer’s birthday. Some sources say she was born on August 10, some say August 11, and The New York Times, in its obituary for her, cites August 15. The year is in question too: Was she born in 1900, 1902 or 1904? Biography.com lists her birth as occurring in 1900 and 1902.

We’re going with August 10, 1900, but we cannot promise that’s correct….

Norma Shearer was born Edith Norma Shearer 114 years ago today in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Here are 10 Did-You-Knows about the former Queen of MGM:

  • Shearer, who won a beauty contest at 14, moved to NYC with her (stage) mother and sister Athole (who would later marry legendary director Howard Hawks) four years later. After Florenz Ziegfeld passed on casting Shearer in his Follies, she got some small roles in movies.
  • Irving Thalberg saw some of her early movie work and in 1923 signed Shearer to a contract with with Louis B. Mayer Pictures, a precursor of MGM, where he was vice-president.
  • Shearer made eight—count ’em, 8!—feature pictures in 1924.
  • Shearer converted to Judaism to marry Thalberg in 1927 and continued to observe the faith after his death and for the rest of her life.
  • Norma’s brother, Douglas, won twelve Academy Awards for his work as a sound designer. The pair were the first brother-and-sister tandem to win Oscars.
  • At a point in her career when she appeared in only prestige productions, she played a part in The Stolen Jools (1931), a star-studded short subject intended to raise money for a tuberculosis sanatorium, as the owner of the titular “jools.” Also in the film were such luminaries as Wallace Beery, Buster Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Laurel and Hardy, and members of the Our Gang cast.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have based one of his stories, “Crazy Sunday,” on one of Shearer’s parties and the story’s protagonist, Stella Calman, on Shearer herself.
  • Weak eye muscles gave Shearer a slightly crossed eye; she worked with eye doctors to improve it and cameramen to disguise it.
  • She was the third woman to win the Best Actress Oscar and the second of three consecutive Canadians to win it (Mary Pickford won it in 1929 and Marie Dressler in 1931).
  • Among the roles she is reported to have turned down were Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind), Mrs. Miniver, and Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard). Of Scarlett, she said, “Scarlett O’Hara is going to be a thankless and difficult role. The part I’d like to play is Rhett Butler.”

Happy birthday, Norma Shearer, wherever you may be!

Norma Shearer

Happy 106th Birthday, Claire Trevor!

The great Claire Trevor was born Claire Wemlinger 106 years ago today in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She grew up in Larchmont, New York, and after graduating high school, spent six months studying at NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Art before beginning a theatrical career, first in stock theatre and later on Broadway.

Claire Trevor

In the early 1930s, Trevor appeared in short films for the NYC-based Vitaphone studios before moving into feature films in 1933. Over the next six years, she kept very busy, averaging six pictures per annum. In 1937, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Dead End.

Trevor appeared in a number of Westerns over the years, frequently costarring opposite John Wayne. In one of those oaters, 1954’s The High and The Mighty, she received the third of her three Best Supporting Actress nominations.

But it was in the genre of film noir that Trevor made her most indelible mark. In films such as Murder, My Sweet (1944), in which she costarred with Dick Powell; Born to Kill (1947), in which she appeared opposite Lawrence Tierney Raw Deal (1948), with Dennis O’Keefe, she played hard-boiled dames with hearts of gold, and her work in these dark and gritty pictures made her one of the queens of that genre. It was in Key Largo (1948), in which she costarred with Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that she earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, playing Gaye Dawn, gangster’s moll and former nightclub singer,

Trevor also enjoyed success in radio and television in a career that spanned six decades, winning an Emmy for her work in a 1957 small-production of Dodsworth. Late in life, Trevor was generous in her support of the arts, and the University of California-Irvine named its School of Performing and Visual Arts after her. Her Oscar and Emmy statuettes are on display in the Arts Plaza there.

Claire Trevor died in 2000 in Newport Beach, California, at the age of 90.

Happy birthday, Ms. Trevor, wherever you may be.

Happy Birthday, Edward G. Robinson!

Edward G. Robinson, born Emmanuel Goldenberg 122 years ago today in Bucharest, Romania, is an actor we’ve long felt doesn’t receive his due. Sure, he’s still remembered, but it’s as a movie star, not an actor—a cliché, almost, who played nothing but gangsters and delivered his lines with a sneer. (“We’re doing things my way, see, or it’ll be just too bad for you, see..”) [Please note: The preceding was not a line of dialogue Mr. Robinson ever actually delivered; we made it up.]

But Edward G. Robinson was very much capable of nuanced and moving performances, and it’s almost a shame that he was so effective in tough guy roles. They made him a star and no doubt put a lot of money in his bank account, but they have colored the public’s perception of Robinson’s talents to this day.

Edward G. Robinson

In movies such as Double Indemnity, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, he plays not tough guys, but intellectuals, men who rely on brains rather than brawn or bullets, and in two of those pictures (and in others he appears in), there is a gentleness, even a meekness, to his characters that causes them to be taken advantage of, even victimized.

It’s ironic that Robinson came to be identified with tough guy roles, as in real life he was refined and cultured. He was a serious art connoisseur and a man of the theatre. He even co-authored a play with Jo Swerling.

But nowadays, when a comic attempts to reference the gangster movies of the 1930s, it’s usually Robinson they mimic (whether they realize it or not), and it’s Little Caesar and an assortment of other gangster roles that Robinson is remembered for. Not that he didn’t play them well—he obviously did—but he had much more range as an actor than he is given credit for today, and that’s a shame.

Happy birthday, Mr. Goldenberg, wherever you may be!