10 Things You Should Know About Donald Crisp

Here are 10 things you should know about Donald Crisp, born 137 years ago today. Crisp tended to play characters who were forthright and true, but offscreen he had few equals as a teller of tall tales. He claimed he was born in Scotland (he wasn’t), that he was a British spy in Russia right after World War I (nope), that his father was Royal Surgeon to the King (he wasn’t even a physician)—we could go on and on.

We think we have the facts straight for this video tribute, but don’t hold it against us if we get a detail or two wrong. Blame Crisp!

Nora Bayes: Paying Tribute to a Legendary Performer

Nora Bayes, 1912A few dozen pop culture aficionados gathered in the Bronx on Saturday, April 21, 2018, to pay tribute to entertainer Nora Bayes, who was once one of the biggest stars in America.

If you’re thinking you’re not familiar with Bayes, think again. You could almost certainly hum a few bars of at least a couple of her biggest hits: Shine On, Harvest Moon, which she cowrote and had a big hit with in 1908, and George M. Cohan‘s Over There, which she popularized in 1917 during the buildup to the USA’s entry into World War I.

Bayes, a popular vaudevillian and Broadway star, was a larger-than-life figure, a diva ahead of her time. One of the highest-paid women in the world at the peak of her career, Bayes, a featured performer in the Ziegfeld Follies, was a rival to Sophie Tucker, a fellow Follies performer who is arguably better remembered today.

While she was still living, Nora Bayes had a West 44th Street Broadway theatre named after her, and her life story was told in a posthumous biopic, Shine on, Harvest Moon (1944), in which she was portrayed by Ann Sheridan (Frances Langford played Bayes in the 1942 Cohan biopic, Yankee Doodle Dandy).

Sheet music for 'Over There' with Nora Bayes picturedBayes’ personal life was also memorable: She married a succession of five men in an era when divorce was still scandalous (and not easily achieved).

When Bayes died of cancer in 1928 at age 48, fans thronged the sidewalks outside her Manhattan townhouse to watch as she was carried away in a silver casket. She was taken to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, but wasn’t buried right away; instead her remains were stored in a receiving tomb, a temporary resting place typically used only for a short period of time while burial arrangements are being made.

But arrangements for Bayes’ internment weren’t immediately forthcoming; in fact, she remained in that receiving tomb for 18 years, until 1948.

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Happy 107th Birthday, Ruby Keeler!

Actress, singer and dancer Ruby Keeler was born Ethel Ruby Keeler 107 years ago in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Here are 10 RK Did-You-Knows:

  • Her father was a truck driver who moved his wife and six kids to New York City when Ruby was three years old in search of better pay.
  • Ruby’s family couldn’t afford dance classes for the aspiring hoofer, but she took occasional lessons at the parochial school she attended.
  • When she was 13, Keeler lied about her age (the law required chorus girls be at least 16) and attended a cattle call audition for a Broadway producer. She was hired for the chorus in George M. Cohan‘s The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly (1923). A year later, she was working in the chorus at a Tex Guinan speakeasy called El Fay.
  • After appearing in a few more Broadway shows, Keeler married Al Jolson and moved west to Hollywood with him. Though the marriage lasted eleven years, it was not a happy one and Keeler was hesitant to discuss it in later years. When a biopic was made about Jolson’s life in 1946, Keeler refused permission to use her name in the movie.
  • Her first credited movie role was in 42nd Street (1933), in which she played a young Broadway chorus girl who gets her big break with the star of the show breaks a leg (literally).
  • Keeler’s greatest success in pictures came in a string of Busby Berkeley musicals in which she starred opposite boyish crooner Dick Powell.
  • Keeler retired from show business in the 1940s, but made a triumphant return to the Broadway stage in 1971 in a revival of the play No, No, Nanette. The production ran for 861 performances.
  • Keeler was one of several Canadian actresses who were stars in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s, including Mary Pickford, Marie Dressler and Norma Shearer.
  • Keeler’s movie career was brief; she starred in just eleven feature-length motion pictures from 1933 to 1941. She later made the occasional cameo appearance in movies and on television, but these were few and far between.
  • Keeler’s nephew was Ken Weatherwax, who played Pugsley on the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family.

Ruby Keeler

Times Square Tintypes: Jed Harris

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles theatrical producer Jed Harris.

IN GOD’S IMAGE

He is Mrs. Horowitz’s little boy, Jacob. But in the bright lights of Broadway, it’s JED HARRIS.
Caricature of Jed HarrisFour years ago he knew where the Automat was but he didn’t have the nickel. Today he is worth over a million dollars. In the days when he didn’t have a penny he told everybody he could make a fortune whenever he was ready.
He wears only the top part of his pajamas.
Was born in Vienna and came to this country at the age of three. He has three sisters and one brother.
His personal appearance is a minor thing with him. He has had the same hat since he’s been in the show business. If it isn’t the same hat it looks the same.
Is, however, particular about his shoes. They must always look like new. Every other week he purchases a new pair.
The script of Broadway, originally titled Bright Lights, was rejected by almost every theatrical manager. George M. Cohan turned it down because he didn’t like the characters. William A. Brady because he couldn’t get Tex Guinan to play the hostess. A. H. Woods refused, writing these noble words across the title page: “Not with my money, sweetheart.” On a first reading even Jed Harris rejected it. Six months later, reading it for the second time, he bought it and became famous.
He carries very little money with him. Generally allows someone else to grab the check.
He hates to shave due to the fact that he has “tissue paper” skin. No matter how careful the barber is, his face always bleeds after a shave.
Seldom does he drink. He likes to pretend that he is drunk.
His ambition is to have his own ocean liner.
During rehearsals of a play he is a mad man. For the first couple of weeks he has no confidence in the script. After he has passed through that period he believes he has the greatest play in the world.
Every Friday evening he visits his parents and has noodle soup. They still live in the same house in Newark.
He plays the violin well and is quite adept at card tricks, which he learned from a vaudeville magician. At parties he entertains by reciting complete acts of his plays.
Does most of his work between midnight and four in the morning in the office.
His favorite meal is one consisting of beans, hash, pickles and near beer.
He was fired from the publicity job of a Jewish charity organization by a man who is now doing theatrical interviews for a leading metropolitan newspaper. He has issued a standing order that this man must never be permitted to interview him. He is careful, however, that this interviewer receives aisle seats for all his shows.
With the money he made from Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em he got married.
No matter who the author or star is, if he doesn’t like the play, he closes it out of town. He tried for two years to get Ina Claire to appear in a play for him. Then he closed that play, The Gaoler’s Wench, forty-eight hours before it was due on Broadway.
He possesses the intuition of a woman.
Once he talked a college chum into taking him to Europe. Quarreled with the chap in Paris. After bumming about London he worked his way back to America in the stokehole of a boat.
He is afraid of old age.
His favorite photograph is the one in which he is sitting on a table with his hands carefully folded in his lap. His shoulders are rounded and his eyes have that faraway look—like a genius.
He can talk anybody into anything.
Works on the script of every play he produces. Always suggests new situations to be written into the play. Twenty-four hours later he telephones the playwright to inquire if the suggested bit has been written. If it hasn’t he merely says: “If you’ll do that you’ll make me very happy” and hangs up.
Dreads the impact of cold water. Whenever he goes to the seashore he sits on the sand all day without going into the water.
He does everything in high gear. Worries about things. Delays doing them until he has worked himself into an emotional state. Then he is a tornado. Nothing can defeat him.
Lives in a duplex apartment in Sutton Place. His second ride in the elevator in that building cost him exactly $212.
Recently in a restaurant a waiter wishing to impress the people at his table pointed and said: “See that man. That’s Jed Harris. He shaves and it comes right out again.”
Noel Coward calls him “Destiny’s Tot.”
On the opening night of his plays he is home sleeping. Whenever he wishes to break an appointment or avoid a tense situation he goes to bed.
His favorite character in all history is Jed Harris.