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!

Dickie Moore Takes His Final Bow

Some years ago, we were lucky enough to attend a special event at NYC’s Film Forum: A Q&A with actors Jane Powell and her husband, Dickie Moore (he went by Dick in his post-Hollywood professional life, but we’ll always think of him as Dickie).

Powell, of course, achieved renown for her work in musicals for MGM, while Moore … well, Moore’s career is not so easily characterized. He started working at the age of 11 months in a 1927 silent picture called Our Beloved Rogue opposite John Barrymore, and he was featured in the Our Gang series in 1932–1933.

He also had the distinct honor of planting her first on-screen smooch on Shirley Temple in a feature called Miss Annie Rooney (1942). And at the age of 21, he played a deaf-mute young man opposite Robert Mitchum in one of the greatest of films noir, Out of the Past.

It was a delight to see these two Hollywood veterans in tandem that night. They couldn’t have been more charming, and their mutual respect and affection was readily apparent—in short, they were darned cute together—as they delighted those assembled with insider tales of Hollywood’s glory days.

So it with sadness that we share news of Mr. Moore’s passing on Thursday, just two days short of his 90th birthday.

Dickie Moore was perhaps the busiest of child actors (we can’t think of a more prolific one), and he acted opposite the greatest names of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Warren William, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers, Lionel Barrymore, Mae Clarke, Ann Harding, Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Glenda Farrell, Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck and so many more.

In his memoir, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, Dickie Moore bemoaned the struggles that so many child actors experience not only when they’re working steadily, but also as they grow older and their careers wane. We dearly hope and trust that Moore’s own post-Hollywood path was a bit smoother and that he experienced no regrets about his years in Hollywood. He certainly gave movie buffs from the 1930s through today much to be thankful for.

Rest in peace, Mr. Moore, and thanks.

Dickie Moore quote

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.

365 Nights in Hollywood: Lem Bardi, Unlimited

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “Lem Bardi, Unlimited” from that 1926 collection.

LEM BARDI,UNLIMITED

 
 
Lem Smith had changed his name!
But it didn’t matter. Hollywood had not formally met the actor yet, anyhow.
Lem had seen Leo Carrillo in Lombardi, Ltd., once, and the title had always stuck with him.
In his own egotistic mind he was the one and only juvenile for the screen. Thus his sudden departure from Texas for Cinemaland.
He had written Harold Lloyd and Tommy Meighan that he was coming. But he supposed they were busy working and couldn’t get away from the studio, as they had not greeted him upon the arrival of the train.
Neither had Sam Goldwyn or Carl Laemmle.
As Lem walked up from the station he passed a sign which read: “Cards Printed. 50c Per Hundred.”
Twenty minutes later Lem was carefully holding a smalls stack of cards bearing the inscription:
“Lem Bardi, Unlimited.”
Lem was a wise guy. He inquired the way to Hollywood. A newsboy directed him west, but Lem was a wise guy to city fellows, so he went east.
He got on the wrong car.
Lem was a wise guy!
Two hours later Lem had his first view of the film village. But there were no celluloid friends in sight. At least none of the stars were out. Lem knew them all.
Lem strolled down the boulevard nonchalantly.
He stopped to gaze into a window.
Jackie Saunders spoke to him. She told him to get off her foot!

Read More »