Happy 118th Birthday, Preston Sturges!

The great Preston Sturges was born Edmund Preston Biden 118 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois. We consider him one of the true giants of American comedy filmmaking. Among the pictures he wrote or directed are The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night, The Great McGinty, Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve, and The Palm Beach Story—classics, every last one of them. Here are 10 PS Did-You-Knows:

  • His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey (though she would be known by many names), an eccentric character worthy of inclusion in one of Sturges’ films, was close friends with dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan; in fact, it was a scarf Dempsey gave to Duncan that led to the dancer’s infamous death.
  • Sturges’ mother was married several times, but it was her third husband, a wealthy Chicago stockbroker named Solomon Sturges, who was a true father to Preston. He adopted him when Sturges was 4 years old and provided guidance and support to him throughout his life.
  • Prior to launching his writing career, Sturges was employed as a runner on Wall Street and worked for his mother’s cosmetics company, even inventing a kiss-proof lipstick.
  • In 1917, Sturges enlisted in the Army Air Service, serving at Camp Dick in Texas without ever seeing action. Three Hundred Words of Humor, a humorous essay he wrote for the camp newspaper, was his first published work.
  • Sturges claimed to have introduced the club sandwich to Germany.
  • His first success came on Broadway with a play he wrote called Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote the play in just six days, it ran for 16 months (a very lengthy run in 1929), and he was working for Paramount Pictures soon thereafter.
  • He worked for a decade as a studio screenwriter, and though he wrote some terrific movies during that time, he was often frustated by the final product.
  • So eager was Sturges to direct his own scripts that he sold the rights to The Great McGinty to Paramount for just one dollar (some reports say the fee was $10), with the stipulation that he would be allowed to direct it. He would go on to win the very first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for that script.
  • Sturges amassed a troupe of actors that he used repeatedly in his films, and when the studio objected, fearing the actors’ faces would become too familiar to the audience, Sturges responded, “These little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”
  • In the 1940s and ’50s, he owned and operated a nightclub called The Players on the Sunset Strip.

Happy birthday, Preston Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs!

Preston Sturges

Happy Birthday, Elsa Lanchester!

Elsa Lanchester, who was born 113 years ago today, enjoyed a long and varied career in show business, but she’s so strongly associated with her role in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) that we wonder if she ever got tired of being asked about it.

We suspect she did.

Elsa Lanchester quote

Born in London to “bohemian” parents, she studied dance as a child with Isadora Duncan (we wonder if she encountered young Preston Sturges, whose mother was bosom buddies with Duncan during those years) and eventually began to work in cabaret and the theatre.

Her unconventional marriage with Charles Laughton began in 1929 and lasted until his death in 1962; the pair were to appear in 12 movies and a great many theatrical productions together.

Though most people immediately think of her role as the Bride when the name Elsa Lanchester is mentioned, she enjoyed an impressive and lengthy motion career, appearing in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), David Copperfield (1935), The Spiral Staircase (1945), The Razor’s Edge (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), The Big Clock (1948), Mary Poppins (1964), and Murder By Death (1976); she even appeared in an Elvis Presley picture: Easy Come, Easy Go (1967). Lanchester was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Come to the Stable (1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

Lanchester also worked frequently on television, appearing as a guest star on programs such as I Love Lucy, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Elsa Lanchester died at age 84 in Woodland Hills, California, on the day after Christmas, 1986.

Happy birthday, Ms. Lanchester, wherever you may be!

Times Square Tintypes: Arthur Hopkins

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


ARTHUR HOPKINS. The sphinx of the show business.
Caricature of Arthur HopkinsHe scares people by saying nothing.
Was born October 4, 1878. His father was a doctor. He has seven brothers. All, with the exception of one, are professional men. The one, William Rowland Hopkins, is at present City Manager of Cleveland. This corresponds to the title of Mayor here.
Is a conservative dresser. Generally wears a derby or gray felt hat. He always wear a bow tie.
He was the first director in America to permit an actor to talk with his back to the audience.
Was once a reporter. Is noted for invading the Polish district of Cleveland and capturing the only photograph of Czolgosz, the assassinator of President McKinley. Every newspaper used this photograph, giving due credit.
He is the author of the book, How’s Your Second Act?
Loves to play golf. Two of his best friends are Sam H. Harris and Arthur Hammerstein. They are known as “the Three Golfing H’s.”
His office is a cubicle room in the Plymouth Theatre. He sits in his chair there, saddle fashion. His desk is piled high with manuscripts. Occasionally he gets reading jags and does nothing for days but read plays.
He is stubborn.
When he first started producing his efforts were rapped by the critics. He said: “I will be producing plays when all those boys are gone and forgotten.” The critics of that day were DeFoe, Reamer, Dale, Davies and Wolf. They are all gone. Years later the same Mr. Hopkins wrote: “I want no praise for bad work. If they find me careless or gross, cheap or vulgar, my head is on the block for them.”
His middle name is Melancthon.
Whenever he discovers what he thinks is an “author” he goes nuts.
Lives in Great Neck. Among his prize possessions there are a baby grand piano, a victrola, his wife—Eva McDonald—and a handsome mahogany poker outfit.
He bought On Trial by giving Elmer Rice a $50 advance. Then produced the play under the Cohan and Harris banner by giving them a fifty percent interest in the play. During one of the rehearsals he thought of the revolving stage. This made it possible to do the now famous flashback in twenty-six seconds.
Gets a big kick out of doing things people don’t expect him to do.
Is more agreeable when he has a flop than when he has a hit.
He never wears jewelry.
When rehearsing a play the stage curtain is always down. He sits in a chair or stands in the wings, smoking. Sometimes it is days before he says a word. For at least seven days the cast merely sit and read their parts. When he thinks that they understand the play thoroughly, he allows them to act. He never tells an actor what to do, but what not to do.
He tells the truth or nothing at all.
Has a terrific admiration for Robert Edmond Jones, Isadora Duncan and Raquel Meller.
Is the only producer who quotes himself in advertisements.
When he produced What Price Glory he thought real soldiers could play soldiers better than actors. Every soldier in that play, with the exception of the principals, had done service abroad.
His great passion is discovering new talent.
Has the ability actually to forget things he doesn’t wish to remember.
He writes most of the statements that are issued by the Producing Managers Association.
On the opening night of a play he does one of two things. He either sits in the light gallery, which hangs over the first balcony, and watches the play and the audience or sits backstage, near the stage door, with his back to the players, listening to the lines and the applause.
His favorite haunt is the Lotus Club.
Once one of his brothers visited him at the office. It is said that both sat there for half an hour before either greeted the other.
He keeps a cow on his estate at Great Neck because he insists on fresh milk every morning.
He knows more than he will talk about. Therefore, is given credit for knowing much more than he says.
The rest is silence.