Happy 125th Birthday, William Powell!

The delightful William Powell was born 125 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of all the stars who shone during Hollywood’s Golden Age, it is Powell we would choose to model ourselves after. He came off as suave, sophisticated, elegant, witty, warm and decent. Happy birthday, Mr. Powell, wherever you may be!

Here are 10 things you should know about William Powell…

Happy 133rd Birthday, Texas Guinan!

Actress and Queen of the Nightclubs Texas Guinan was born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan 133 years ago today in Waco, Texas. Here are 10 TG Did-You-Knows:

  • Guinan was one of seven children. Her parents were Irish-Canadian immigrants. She attended parochial school at a Waco convent.
  • When Guinan was 16, her parents moved the family to Denver, Colorado. There she began to appear in amateur stage productions before marrying newspaper cartoonist John Moynahan at age 20. The pair moved to Chicago, where she studied music. She eventually divorced Moynahan and began to perform in vaudeville as a singer.
  • Guinan’s singing was reportedly no great shakes, but she had lots of pep and she soon found that she improved her prospects as a performer by regaling the audience with (perhaps exaggerated) tales of her “Old West” upbringing.
  • In 1906, Guinan moved to New York City, where she worked as a chorus girl before finding additional work in vaudeville and on the New York stage.
  • In 1917, Guinan made her movie debut and soon was a regular in western pictures. She is said to have been the first movie cowgirl (her nickname was The Queen of the West). Guinan would go on to appear in more than 50 features and shorts before she died in 1933.
  • With the passage of the 18th Amendment, Guinan became active in the speakeasy industry, serving as hostess and emcee for a long string of illicit (but very popular) nightspots. Her outsized, sassy personality and her skill at evading justice, despite her many arrests for operating a speakeasy, made her a legendary figure in Prohibition-era NYC.
  • Guinan’s speakeasies featured an abundance of scantily clad fan dancers and showgirls, but her penchant for pulling the legs of the rich and famous served her just as well. “Hello, suckers!” became her standard exclamation for greeting customers. Her well-to-do patrons she referred to as her “butter-and-egg men” and she coined the familiar phrase “Give the little ladies a big hand” while serving as emcee.
  • Texas Guinan’s nightclubs were often backed by gangster Larry Fay and such legendary bad guys as Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz frequented her establishments—alongside relatively “good guys” such as George Gershwin, Walter Chrysler, Pola Negri, Mae West, Al Jolson, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Irving Berlin, John Barrymore and Rudolph Valentino.
  • Ruby Keeler and George Raft both got their starts in show business as dancers as Guinan’s clubs, and Walter Winchell acknowledged that the inside access Guinan gave him to Broadway’s cornucopia of colorful characters helped launch his career as a gossip columnist.
  • Guinan died of amoebic dysentery in 1933, one month before Prohibition was repealed. She was just 49. Bandleader Paul Whiteman and writer Heywood Broun were among her pallbearers.

Happy birthday, Texas Guinan, wherever you may be!

Texas Guinan

Happy 148th Birthday, Marie Dressler!

Beloved character actress and comedian Marie Dressler was born Leila Marie Koerber 148 years ago today in Cobourg, Ontario. Here are 10 MD Did-You-Knows:

  • Dressler’s father was a music teacher and her mother a musician. When she was still a child, her family moved to the United States, residing in Michigan and Ohio. She grew appearing in amateur theatricals.
  • At 14, Dressler left home, lying about her age that she might join a traveling stock company that played mostly in the Midwest. Her older sister, Bonita, also worked with the stock company for a time before leaving to get married. Much of Dressler’s early stage work was in light opera.
  • Dressler made her Broadway debut in 1892 in Waldemar, the Robber of the Rhine, a production that enjoyed a brief five-week run. Dressler, who stood 5′ 7″ and weighed 200 pounds, had dreamed of being an operatic diva or a tragedienne, but the author of Waldemar, Maurice Barrymore, father to Lionel, John and Ethel, convinced her that comedic roles would suit her best.
  • Dressler’s first starring role came in 1896 in The Lady Slaver, which played for two years at the Casino Theatre.
  • Throughout the 1900s and ’10, Dressler kept busy in Broadway productions and in vaudeville, and during World War I, she toured the country, selling Liberty bonds and entertaining the troops.
  • Aside from cameo roles playing herself in a pair of film shorts, Dressler’s movie debut came in 1914 at age 44 when fellow Canadian Mack Sennett hired her to star opposite Charlie Chaplin (in a villainous, non-Tramp role) in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, one of the first full-length, six-reel motion picture comedies. The movie was a hit, and Dressler continued to enjoy success in film comedies into the 1920s.
  • Her movie career on the wane in the late ’20s, Dressler, now in her late 50s, was considering taking a position as a housekeeper on Long Island—another story has it that she was on the verge of committing suicide—when screenwriter Frances Marion convinced MGM to cast her in The Callahans and the Murphys (1927). That hit picture revived her career.
  • Dressler won the Best Actress Oscar for Min and Bill (1930), the first of three popular pictures she would make with Wallace Beery. Only the fourth actress to win that award, she was the third Canadian in a role to do so (after Mary Pickford and Norma Shearer). She received the award the day after her 63rd birthday.
  • At age 65, Dressler was named the top box-office draw of 1933 by the Motion Picture Herald.
  • The house Dressler was born in Cobourg still stands. Known today as the Marie Dressler House, it was a restaurant from 1937 through 1989, when it was damaged by fire. After being restored, it served as the office for the Cobourg Chamber of Commerce for a time until it was transoformed into a Marie Dressler museum and information center for tourists visiting Cobourg.

Happy birthday, Marie Dressler, wherever you may be!

Marie Dressler

Happy Birthday, Roland Young!

Any old movie fan can quickly come up with a list of stars whose name in the opening credits is reason enough to give a motion picture a look.

But we suspect that only true aficionados would include the name Roland Young, who was born 128 years ago today, on that list.

Well, you can count us in the latter group. Mr. Young, for our money, is among the elite of motion picture stars of the 1930s and ’40s.

Roland Young quote

Born the son of an architect in London, England, Young attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his stage debut in 1908, his Broadway debut four years later, and after serving (with the U.S. Army, interestingly enough) in World War I, his movie debut in 1922, playing Watson to John Barrymore‘s Sherlock Holmes.

But it was in talkies that Young really found his stride. He excelled at playing upper crust types, with his neat little mustache and his fumbling, mumbling way of speaking, and so, though he would play the occasional dramatic part (and very ably, too) over the course of his movie career, it was in romantic and screwball comedies that he truly made his mark.

Roland Young is perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of the henpecked Cosmo Topper in the popular Topper series of pictures, but his roster of credit includes a number of top-notch comedies, among them One Hour with You (1932), Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and Tales of Manhattan (1942), but even in lesser known films, he shines.

Young also worked in radio, starring in a 1945 summer replacement series based on the Topper movies and guesting on other programs, and on television, including such programs as Lux Video Theatre, Studio One, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.

Young died of natural causes at age 65 in his NYC apartment on June 5, 1953.

Here’s to you, Mr. Young. Thanks for the laughs!