Happy Birthday, Dan Duryea!

Given his screen persona, Dan Duryea, born 109 years ago today in White Plains, New York, might not strike the average movie buff as an Ivy Leaguer, but he was, in fact, a member of Cornell University’s class of 1928. He majored in English, but was interested in theatre, too. In his senior year, he even succeeded Franchot Tone as president of the college drama society.

Duryea went on to work in advertising for a bit until the stress got to be too much. A mild heart attack in his twenties convinced him to pursue an acting career instead, a move that paid off nicely. He appeared on Broadway in Dead End and The Little Foxes, and it was the latter play that provided his ticket to Hollywood. Though Bette Davis was named to replace his Broadway co-star, Tallulah Bankhead, in the role of Regina Giddens when Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to produce the cinema adaptation of the hit play, Duryea was retained to play her nephew Leo Hubbard, his cinematic bad guy (or, at the very least, his first weasel).

Dan Duryea

In an early 1950s interview with Hedda Hopper, Duryea claimed that his focus on playing bad guys was intentional, even planned:

“I looked in the mirror and knew with my ‘puss’ and 155-pound weakling body, I couldn’t pass for a leading man, and I had to be different. And I sure had to be courageous, so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies … strictly against my mild nature, as I’m an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father. Inasmuch, as I admired fine actors like Richard Widmark, Victor Mature, Robert Mitchum, and others who had made their early marks in the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden world of film noir; here, indeed, was a market for my talents. I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well-produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters.”

We’re not necessarily convinced that Duryea entered the movie business with that much foresight and wisdom, but it sounded good after the fact, and in any case, it’s certainly true that he came to be closely identified with the film noir genre and known for his memorable portrayals of sketchy (at best) characters, in classics such as The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945),Criss Cross (1949), and Too Late for Tears (1949).

For our money, Dan Duryea was a sort of poor man’s Widmark, but as we see it, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.

A nice guy and dedicated family man in real life, Dan Duryea was married to his wife, Helen, for 35 years until her death and was an attentive parent, serving as a scout master and PTA papa to his two sons.

But on screen, he was the sniveling creep you hoped would get his. And while he usually did, he gave as good as he got.

Happy birthday, Mr. Duryea, wherever you may be—you heel, you.

A Month of Mary Astor

Mary Astor was never the biggest of stars, but she was a venerable one and a darned good actress. The good folks at Turner Classic Movies are honoring her as their Star of the Month, devoting Wednesday nights (into Thursday mornings) throughout March to feature her impressive output.

And TCM has picked a worthy offering to begin their tribute: Dodsworth (1936), which airs at 8:00pm ET. Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton are the stars of this terrific picture, but Astor shines as “the other woman.” You can also catch one of Astor’s many silent pictures (her career dates to 1920) tonight at midnight: Don Juan (1926), in which she appears alongside such fellow luminaries as John Barrymore, Myrna Loy and even Hedda Hopper.

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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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Eight

The eighth 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 the tale of a run-in over Sylvia’s services between actresses Ina Claire and Alice White.

HIGH HAT

Ina ClairePHILOSOPHICAL observation: There comes a time in most lives when you begin to step on the gas; you make speed; also, you bounce!
Sylvia began bouncing the minute she went under contract to Pathé and began working on the sacred cows that were grazing on that lot. Dough, dough! But also trouble, trouble! Ooh, lots of trouble. In fact, Sylvia got hooked up professionally with all four of the following at once: Gloria Swanson, Ina Claire, Grace Moore, and Constance Bennett.
There’s a quartet for you! Maybe there’d be a fight if it was said flatly that those four were at the top of the Hollywood heap. There’s room for argument, with Greta Garbo left out—and Marlene Dietrich, and—oh well, write your own ticket. But nobody is going to dispute the statement that, in their own estimations, they are.
There was a queen of antiquity who used to protect her standing as the most beautiful woman in the world by a simple device. If any of the other lookers inside her borders got possession of some beauty secret, she would call out the head executioner and pay the rival a little call having for object a funeral and confiscation of the beauty preparation.
Since Cleopatra’s day thing have changed. Less cutting off of heads, but more beauty preparations. It has the career of the professional beauty much tougher. It was a lot simpler, maintaining supremacy by killing off the competition. It’s got so tough nowadays that a Queen of Beauty actually has to be beautiful. Not only that, but she has to stay that way. When you figure that, if left to her own devices, a woman stays at the top of her form only about three or four years (and those usually the years when nobody but her school-teachers and the neighbors’ boys are giving her a tumble), you can see what she’s up against. By the time her photographs are beginning to appear in the silver frames in jewelers’ windows, she doesn’t look like them any more.
The professional beauty has to watch two angles: building up her rep, and living up to it when she’s got it. I’ll say one thing for the girls that claw their way to the top. They they have their press agents to pull them and their beauty experts to push them, they do most of the work themselves. Being on the inside, where they are pulling all the strings and going through all the contortions of their beauty jobs—that’s excitement! To be behind the scenes and watch them feint, grab, and foul when the referee isn’t looking—that’s high comedy!
The opening scene of a sample of it is the Pasadena station of the Santa Fe Railroad, with the Chicago-New York train due in any minute. Choo-choo. Toot-toot. A general rush of press agents, cameramen, Path´ executives, porters, dogs, and dust. Who is this stranger who trips as lightly as may be from the drawing-room car?
It is Ina Claire. Look out, Hollywood!
 
THE famous Broadway actress came to Hollywood with a chip on her shoulder. They usually do. When they’ve been here a while—they get another chip and wear them symmetrically, one on each shoulder.
The boss had her first glimpse of the Eastern invader a short while later, after Ina had reported to the Path´ lot for work in her first sound movie, “The Awful Truth.” A three-alarm went out for Sylvia after the first test shots. Avoirdupois.
Hedda Hopper, our old reliable booster, was the messenger. She was on the phone with the S O S: “Ina Claire has to be taken down ten pounds in three days. Come and do it!”

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Celebrating a Century of Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartWe don’t know how we let it sneak by us, but Monday, July 5, was the 100th birthday of the wonderful Gloria Stuart, best known now for her work in James Cameron‘s Titanic, but a woman who’s led a remarkable life and was a pretty big movie star in the 1930s, to boot.

In 1999, when she was just a kid of 89, we got to interview Gloria on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, I Just Kept Hoping. The interview was conducted over the telephone, though we did get the chance to meet Ms. Stuart when she came to NYC for her book party.

We considered it quite a thrill, we don’t mind telling you, to get to interact with Ms. Stuart. After all, this is the women who starred opposite Claude Rains in James Whale‘s The Invisible Man, who appeared with Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton in The Old Dark House, who worked with greats such as Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Eddie Cantor, Ruth Etting, and dozens more.

So, to mark her centennial (a few days late, alas), we thought we’d share with the Cladrite Radio Clan the interview we did with her in 1999. Enjoy!

It’s been a long, eventful life for former and current movie star Gloria Stuart. She had her first go-around at stardom in the Hollywood heyday of the 1930s and ’40s; then, after taking off 30 years or so to pursue painting, travel, and political activism, she again began to act in the 1970s, eventually garnering a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Titanic. Still going strong today at the age of 89, Stuart has now added authorship to her list of achievements. Her candid memoir, I Just Kept Hoping, is peppered with anecdotes about such memorable figures as Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. I spoke to Gloria about her life, her two careers in the movies, and her secrets for living so long and so well.

An Interview with Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartYou made three films with director James Whale: The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House, and The Kiss Before the Mirror. What can you tell us about him?

I’m very happy I was in those films. You know, James is a cult figure in England. There are a lot of James Whale fan clubs. Actually, right after I had read for Jim Cameron for Titanic, I had booked a month in London. I went right away, and there were two wonderful James Whale organizations that I met with. He’s getting his due now, thanks to Gods and Monsters.

What did you think of Gods and Monsters? Was it, in your view, an accurate portrayal of Whale?

Oh, yes, it was. Ian McKellan captured James’s elegance, the beautiful manners, the beautiful tailoring, the precision, the whole thing. Of course, no one could be James, but he came awfully close.

The special effects in The Invisible Man hold up remarkably well today for a film that was made in 1933.

Yes, people who see it today—it runs every so often—they say, gee, it’s not an old hat movie at all.

I’m wondering—did the processes that went into creating those special effects slow down the pace of moviemaking at all?

It was never evident. Only James and the cameraman and I guess all the process people at Universal—the rest of us never had any inkling of what was going on. We did do a lot of shooting in front of black curtains. Now, I wasn’t on the set when the bandages came off or anything like that, so I have no idea about that. But it was very, very secret. I wasn’t on the set when they were finagling the bandages off, and so forth.

That would’ve been fun to see.

Humphrey Bogart and Mayo MethotYes, it would’ve! Claude [Rains] may have known [how it all worked] but he never said so.

You and your second husband, Arthur Sheekman, were good friends with Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot, his wife at the time. What can you tell us about Bogie that we might not know?
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