Happy 115th (or thereabouts) Birthday, Norma Shearer!

There seems to be widespread confusion regarding Norma Shearer’s date of birth. Some sources say she was born on August 10, others say August 11, and The New York Times​, in its 1983 obituary, cites August 15. The year is in question too: Was she born in 1900, 1902 or 1904?

We trying to cover all our bases by sharing this tribute on the 10th but using the 11th as her birthdate in the video. Whichever date you prefer, we hope you enjoy the video. Happy birthday, Ms. Shearer, wherever you may be!

Here are 10 things you should know about Norma Shearer…

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

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: Helen Morgan

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress and songbird Helen Morgan.
 

FANNY ON THE PIANO

Some people achieve fame by playing the piano. But this little lady got that way by sitting on one. HELEN MORGAN.
Caricature of Helen MorganShe never uses perfume.
Her favorite colors are black and flame red.
She was born in Danville, Ill. Uncle Joe Cannon‘s home town. When a baby he used to tickle her under the chin.
Her first job was as a cash girl in Marshall Field’s. Later was a telephone operator and a model. She attended twenty-six schools and finally managed to graduate from public school.
Can cook and sew but can’t knit. Used to cook when her mother took in boarders while they lived in Chicago. Her mother was a Sunday school teacher.
The only flower she will wear is the camellia. her life ambition is to play Camille.
Once won a beauty contest as “Miss Montreal.” Much to the embarrassment of the judges who later discovered that she had been living only three weeks in Montreal. In New York she was received by the Mayor and crowned the “Miss 1925.”
Buys at least four dresses a week. Often purchases a hundred pairs of stockings at one time. Always takes a man with her when she goes shopping.
Was discovered by Amy Leslie, critic of the Chicago Daily News. Miss Leslie brought her to Florenz Ziegfeld who gave her an audition. He placed her in the chorus of Sally, then on the road.
Her next dealing with Ziegfeld was some years later when, without having seen her work, he signed her to play in Show Boat. She was in Europe at the time.
She is crazy about mice. Has two live white mice for pets. Her stationary is monogrammed with a mouse. Her nickname is “Mousey.”
She rouges her lips between kisses.
First sat on a piano when working in The Backstage Club. The reason she took to sitting on a piano was because the night club was so crowded that it was the only place she could sit.
Once she adopted a baby. Only to have the mother, a chorus girl, kidnap it from her two months later.
Her favorite dish is potato soup as made by herself. It is made of potatoes with lots of cream and onions.
Likes to dress in men’s clothing. Often works about the house in overalls. She sleeps in fancy colored men’s pajamas. Sleeps with her head resting on so many pillows that she looks as if she were sitting up in bed.
Some years ago she appeared in a dramatic sketch with the Grand Guignol Players under the name Neleh Nagrom. Which is her name spelled backwards.
When she sings, “Why Was I Born,” she actually cries. Because she says she feels sorry for herself.
Reads all current novels. Her favorite author is Ernest Hemingway. She owns a copy of James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which was punctuated especially for her.
Is shy about exposing her body. Wouldn’t let her mother see her in Americana because she had to wear short panties in a dance number.
Necklaces and bracelets annoy her. Earrings give her a headache. The only jewelry she wears is a love altar. This was given to her by a titled Englishman who wanted to marry her.
She dislikes hearing her own phonograph records. At parties, whenever anyone plays them, she gets up and breaks them.
Always has her hair cut by the same barber. The coiffure is now known as the “Helen Morgan Haircut.” She combs her hair carefully. So as to make it look as if it hadn’t been combed.
Her most valued possession is a pitcher than an Atlantic and Pacific grocery store gave her in return for coupons when she was a kid.
The minute she enters a house she loosens her garters and walks about with her stockings hanging over the top of her shoes.
Is popular and very much sought after. But generally not by the man she likes. When singing “Someday He’ll Come Along, The Man I Love,” she means it.
She is fond of pets. Has two love birds, a dog named Mose, and one goldfish—the other died. She had two baby alligators. She kept them in the bathtub. Had to give them away because they snapped at her toes when she took shower baths.
Often wears a kimono, with a fur coat over it, when driving to the theater in her roadster.
She corresponds with William S. Hart regularly. This started after Bill Hart heard her sing, “My Bill.” He took it rather personally.
She has a possum claw birthmark on her right ankle.
If she were a man she’d be a sailor.

Times Square Tintypes: George White

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles George White, a theatrical producer who is perhaps not as well remembered today as the man who served as his primary competition in the 1920s and ’30s, Florenz Ziegfeld.
 

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

 
A HOODLUM was picked up on the streets of Toronto for raiding fruit stands. A stern judge saw that the law took care of him and said: “You’re a bad egg. No good will come rom you.” The bad egg was GEORGE WHITE.
He has 140 neckties. They are all black.
Weighs 140 pounds. Has never been known to eat fast or walk slowly.
His father was a Jewish garment manufacturer on Delancey Street. There were ten other children in the family. He stole fruit, blacked boots, danced, sold flowers and papers. As a kid he had no great ambition.
Delights in playing practical jokes on his stars. Almost to the point of ruining their performance in his own show.
He has a patent-leather hair comb. Pays great attention to his hair. Always carries a bottle of petroleum oil which he alternates between rubbing on his hair and drinking.
His début as a dancer was made in “Piggy” Donovan’s saloon on the Bowery. He was then “Swifty,” the messenger boy. Was delivering telegrams when he asked the piano player to let him hoof. He collected 12.30 which was tossed at him. He threw away the remainder of the telegrams. Two were marked: “DEATH—RUSH.”
Is thirty-eight years old. The first thing he notices about a woman is her legs. Then her form. After that her face. Is on the credit side of the matrimonial ledger and never expects to get married.
He has a Jap butler, Shei, who gets tight on his best Scotch. He won’t fire him. He likes his cooking.
Once was kicked out of a saloon by a singing waiter named Irving Berlin.
Was a stable boy and a jockey. He followed the horses around the country. Later, his love for the races cost him $850,000 in eighteen months. Once dropped $100,000 on one race. Then he swore off. Hasn’t been at a race track for the past five years.
He was the vaudeville performer to do a dance on skis.
Generally gets to bed at about four in the morning and is up at twelve. Spends a part of each day playing with the mechanical toys he brings back from his yearly trips to Paris.
His hobby is selling tickets in the box office. Some day he hopes to be able to tell Ziegfeld there is “Standing Room Only.”
Does things on the spur of the moment. Five minutes before he sailed for Paris a year ago he purchased a Park Avenue apartment house. Merely because he liked one apartment in the building. He lives in an apartment on Seventh Avenue because he doesn’t want to pay the Park Avenue rent he charges.
His middle name is Alviel which he uses only on checks.
Among his major hates are first nights, paper napkins, barbers with a selling complex and crowds—except at his own shows.
He owns a Rolls-Royce which can be seen standing outside of his own theater. He generally walks home between the car tracks in Times Square. He won the auto on a bet. On first hearing “The Birth of the Blues,” he bet a music publisher a Rolls-Royce it would be a song hit. It was.
Produced and operated six annual editions of his Scandals, each doing an approximate gross business of $1,250,000 without an office. In those days his office was in his pocket.
In selecting chorus girls he generally allows Lew Brown to help him do the picking.
He hasn’t read a book for as long as he can remember. He never attends a performance of a dramatic play. He sees all the musicals.
Cried only once in his life. That was when he read Burns Mantle’s criticism of his first show which said: “The Scandals of 1919 prove that a hoofer should stick to his dancing.”
His sole exercise is a walk around the Reservoir in Central Park. On these occasions he takes along a male companion or a thin walking stick.
Always wears blue serge suits, black shoes, white silk shirts and black ties. One day he wore a gray suit and the stage doorman, failing to recognize him, wouldn’t let him in.
His favorite meal is one consisting of caviar and champagne. He can eat a pound of caviar at a sitting. Is a very slow eater. It takes him an hour to consume a sandwich.
Not so long ago a women, Rose Janousek, sent him a package containing a revolver and a few rounds of ammunition merely because she admired him.
On Sunday nights he generally takes his best girl to the Roxy. While looking at the picture they hold hands.
When his ego rises, he modestly enough calls Broadway—The Great White Way—believing it was named after him.