The wonderful Lena Horne was born 105 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York. We’ll be featuring her music all day, so why not tune in right now?
Here are 10 things you should know about John Garfield, born 108 years ago today. He died at 39 and so appeared in fewer than 40 films, but he forged a lasting film legacy.
The inimitable director and choreographer Busby Berkeley was born Berkeley William Enos (though some sources claim it was Busby Berkeley William Enos) 121 years ago today in Los Angeles, California. Berkeley, of course, is famous for his large-scale cinematic dance numbers that featured dozens of beautiful starlets painstakingly organized in geometric, kaleidoscopic formations that were often best viewed from above. Here are 10 BB Did-You-Knows:
- Berkeley’s mother, Gertrude Berkeley, was an actress and his father, who died when Berkeley was just eight years old, managed a theatrical troupe.
- In his early teens, Berkeley attended the Mohegan Lake Military Academy near Peekskill, New York, graduating in 1914.
- As a young man, Berkeley held a number of disparate jobs, working for a shoe company, playing semi-pro baseball and leading a dance band.
- Berkeley served in World War I, with the rank of field artillery lieutenant. Some say the drills he saw his fellow soldiers perform while in the military may later have influenced his precision choreography (we consider this a stretch, albeit a delightful one we’re willing to perpetuate).
- During the 1920s, Berkeley choreographed more than 20 Broadway musicals, and from the beginning, he was less interested in dance steps than in the kind of complicated geographic formations for he later became famous in Hollywood.
- Berkeley’s Hollywood debut as a choreographer and dance stager came in a 1930 Eddie Cantor picture, Whoopee!, and he would go on to work on 40 pictures in the next decade, as choreographer or director (or both).
- In 1935, Berkeley was traveling home from the wrap party for In Caliente when the car he was driving hit a pair of autos; three people were killed and five others seriously injured (as was Berkeley). Berkeley was brought up on second degree murder charges; the first two of three trials resulted in hung juries; in the third, Berkeley was acquitted of the charges.
- Despite his success in the field of terpsichore, Berkeley never took a dance lesson.
- By the late 1930s, Berkeley began to direct non-musicals, including the John Garfield vehicle They Made Me a Criminal (1939).
- At age 74, Berkeley directed the Broadway revival of No No Nanette. In the cast was his former leading lady at Warner Brothers, Ruby Keeler. The show was a success, and both Berkeley and Keeler saw their work acclaimed.
Happy birthday, Busby Berkeley, wherever you may be!
Joel McCrea, who was born 111 years ago today in South Pasadena, California, is a favorite of ours. Though he eventually settled into a long run of western pictures, he had previously proven to be adept at many other types of roles, too, from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:
- McCrea’s father was an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company; his mother was a Christian Science practitioner. McCrea had a paper route, delivering the Los Angeles Times to D. W. Griffith and other prominent members of the film community.
- McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and was a member of the class of ’28 at Pomona College. While in college, he took drama courses and appeared in school productions and also in plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
- While in high school, McCrea was already working in the film industry. An adept horseman, he worked as a stunt double and “reins holder” for stars such as William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
- Just out of college, McCrea signed with MGM, appearing in The Jazz Age (1929) and earning his first lead role in The Silver Horde (1930). In 1930, he signed with RKO and began to establish his reputation as a handsome leading man.
- McCrea was good friends with Will Rogers, and the Oklahoma cowboy did much to boost McCrea’s career. It was Rogers who encouraged McCrea to put his money into real estate, and that advice made McCrea a millionaire. In fact, he earned more money in real estate than he did as an actor over his 50-year career.
- Katharine Hepburn, close friends with McCrea and his wife, actress Frances Dee, admired McCrea’s abilities as an actor, ranking him with Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
- McCrea came by his affinity for all things western—roping, riding, ranching—naturally. His grandfather was a stagecoach driver who survived confrontations with Apache Indians.
- McCrea turned down the lead role in The Postman Aways Rings Twice (1946) that eventually went to John Garfield.
- McCrea got to meet Wyatt Earp in 1928 and had the chance to portray the western legend in Wichita (1955).
- McCrea had the opportunity to reunite with his The More, The Merrier (1943) costars, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, in The Impatient Years (1944), but declined the role, which would have found him playing a serviceman, saying, “If I’m too old to be called, I was too old for that kind of show.”
Happy birthday, Joel McCrea, wherever you may be!
Burt Lancaster was born 103 years ago today in Manhattan, New York, and rarely has a movie star taken his acting more seriously. Here are 10 BL Did-You-Knows:
- All four of Lancaster’s grandparents came to the United States from Northern Ireland. His father was a postal worker.
- As a kid, Lancaster was interested in gymnastics and he eventually joined the circus, where he remained until he sustained an injury. He graduated in 1930 from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.
- Lancaster was nominated four times for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, winning once, for Elmer Gantry (1960).
- After actor John Garfield turned down the role of Stanley Kowalski in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, it was offered to Lancaster, who also passed. It’s said that Lancaster, given the acclaim that came to Marlon Brando in that role, felt competitive thereafter with Brando and was inspired to become more adventurous in his own choice of projects.
- Lancaster, whose political views were liberal, flew back from Europe, where he was making a film, to take part in Martin Luther King‘s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 1963, where he was joined by other stars, among them Brando, Sammy Davis Jr., Charlton Heston, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman. Lancaster also contributed financially to Dr. King’s work and to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
- Lancaster always stipulated that a high bar be made available on set while he was making a film, so that he could exercise in between scenes.
- Lancaster’s son Bill Lancaster, screenwriter for The Bad News Bears (1976), based that script on his own Little League experiences playing for his father, who coached his team.
- Lancaster’s first television role was a 1969 guest appearance on Sesame Street.
- Lancaster’s was among the 575 names on Richard Nixon‘s infamous “enemies list.”
- Among the prominent roles Lancaster turned down were Moses in the 1959 remake of Ben-Hur (he was offered $1 million for the role) and Gen. George S. Patton in Patton (1970). A role he avidly pursued but was denied was Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972).
- Though they were closely associated in the minds of many fans, Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who made seven films together between 1948 and 1986, did not enjoy a close relationship.
Happy birthday, Burt Lancaster, wherever you may be!