Happy 121st Birthday, Paul Muni!

Actor Paul Muni was born Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund in what is now the Ukraine 121 years ago today. Here are 10 PM Did-You-Knows:

  • Both of his parents were professional actors in the Yiddish theatre.
  • Muni grew up speaking Yiddish. When he was seven, his family left Austria-Hungary and settled in Chicago.
  • Beginning in 1908, Muni spent four years with New York’s Yiddish Art Theatre before moving on to work for the next 14 years with other Yiddish theatres in NYC.
  • His first English-language role—and Broadway debut—was in a 1926 production of a play called We Americans. Though just 31 years of age, Muni portrayed an elderly man.
  • Muni began his motion picture career in 1929, but continued to alternate between the Broadway stage and Hollywood.
  • Muni, along with James Dean, is one of just two actors to receive an Oscar nomination for his first film role (The Valiant, 1929) and his last (The Last Angry Man, 1959). Muni totaled six Oscar nominations, winning once (Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Story of Louis Pasteur, 1936).
  • Muni’s nickname was Munya.
  • Muni suffered his entire life with a rheumatic heart.
  • Muni turned down the role of Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941). The part eventually went to Humphrey Bogart.
  • In 1956, Muni won the Tony Award for Best Actor (Dramatic) for his role as Henry Drummond in the play Inherit the Wind.

Happy birthday, Paul Muni, wherever you may be!

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Harlow at 100

We’re not a bit happy about it, but we’re not likely to make it to Los Angeles in time to take in the Harlow at 100 exhibition at the Hollywood Museum, but that’s no reason you shouldn’t endeavor to experience it.

It’s hard to imagine, given the success Jean Harlow experienced and the level of influence she still has, that she lived to be only 26. How many of Hollywood’s most beloved stars would still be remembered today if their careers had come to a tragic end at age 26? Very few, we’re convinced (though one could argue that the legacies of certain actors, e.g. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, have actually been bolstered by their premature deaths).

Jean was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter, the daughter of a Kansas City dentist and his wife.

Her mother, born Jean Poe Harlow, resented her arranaged marriage to Harlow’s father and requested a divorce, which was granted in 1922. Months later, Jean and Harlean moved to Los Angeles, as Jean (the mother—confusing, no?) had designs on an actingc career, and like many a frustrated parent, she passed (forced) her dreams on to her daughter.

Mother and daughter returned to the Midwest within a couple of years. Harlean was eventually enrolled in the Ferry Hall School (now known as Lake Forest Academy) in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she eventually met Charles “Chuck” McGrew, heir to a family fortune and six years her elder.

The two were married in 1927 and moved to Beverly Hills, as Chuck sought to put some distance between Harlean and the overbearing mother Jean. But it was to no avail. The story goes that when young Harlean drove a pal to the Fox Studios for an audition, she herself was encouraged to audition. After spurning overtures from Central Casting, Harlean’s pal and Mother Jean, who had since moved to L.A., goaded her into registering with Central Casting. She did, under her mother’s maiden name, Jean Harlow, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The exhibition, described by the museum as the world’s largest collection of memorabilia saluting the original “Platinum Blonde” and “Blonde Bombshell,” includes artifacts from seven private collections and includes “private letters, studio contracts, photos, posters, autographs, her childhood family Bible, favorite white fox fur cape and even her luxury car—a 1932 Packard Phaeton.”

May we pause here to reiterate how much it pains us that we’ll likely not find ourselves in Southern California in time to take in this exhbition?

The Hollywood Museum sits right in heart of Tinseltown, at Hollywood and Highland, in the historic Max Factor Building, within walking distance of Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, Musso and Frank Grill; Hollywood’s first pizzeria, Miceli’s; the legendary and still fabulous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; the Hotel Roosevelt, site of the first presentation of the Academy Awards; and so many other movieland attractions.

The exhibition is scheduled to run thorugh Sept. 5, 2011. If you’re within striking distance of Hollywood and have an affection for Hollywood pictures of the 1930s, you’d be a darned fool to miss it.