Here are 10 things you should know about John Gilbert, born 123 years ago today. He was a huge star in the silent era, but his career waned quickly with the ascent of talkies and he died far too young.
Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock was born 117 years ago today in Leytonstone, East London. Few directors in the history of cinema have carved out so distinctive a niche as did Hitch. Here are 10 AH Did-You-Knows:
- Hitchcock’s parents were both of half-Irish and half-English ancestry. His father was a greengrocer.
- Hitchcock was the youngest of three children, born seven years after his sister, Eileen.
- Hitchcock always wore a suit and tie while directing his pictures.
- He found eggs revolting and claimed never to have eaten one.
- When he was a child, his father asked the local constabulary to lock up young Alfred, telling him, “This is what happens to people who do bad things.” Though his stint in jail lasted just ten minutes, Hitchcock had an aversion to the police for the rest of his life and used the phobia to explain why he never learned to drive (no driving, no dealing with traffic cops).
- Though he was nominated five times, Hitchcock never won the Best Director Oscar. He was, however, presented with the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award at the 1967 Academy Awards ceremony.
- The speech he gave in accepting the award was the shortest in Academy Award history: “Thank you.”
- In 1980, Hitchock was named an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (honorary because he had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956).
- His favorite among his pictures was Shadow of a Doubt (1943).
- Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, was one day younger than he was (a belated happy birthday to you, Alma).
Happy birthday, Alfred Hitchcock, wherever you may be!
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!
Today marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of Norma Shearer.
Shearer’s not as well known to the average person today as, say, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, but she was a huge star in her day until, like Greta Garbo, she opted to slip out of the spotlight, after making two pictures in 1942, rather than allowing the public to see her grow old on the screen (Davis and Crawford clearly had no such qualms, and more power to them).
Some insist to this day that Shearer hit it big in large part because she was married to Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind of MGM, but we don’t buy that. She’d appeared in at least 34 movies by the time she and Thalberg tied the knot. Their union did her career no harm, to be sure, but she was gritty and determined and talented, and she’d have done just fine without him, we’re convinced.
We like that she didn’t let the fact that she was a bit cross-eyed prevent her from hitting it big. We like that, when she was told by her own husband that she wasn’t sexy enough for the title role in the Pre-Code classic The Divorcee (1930), she took the initiative to have some sexy photos taken by soon-to-be-prominent photographer George Hurrell to prove him wrong.
She got the part and negated her good-girl image for all time. Thereafter, she was allowed to play a wide range of roles, but had it been left to Thalberg, she’d have stayed locked into her previous prim-and-proper image.
So here’s to Ms. Shearer, another talented gal who knew what she wanted and set out to get it.