Happy 124th Birthday, Harold Lloyd!

Comedy giant Harold Lloyd was born 124 years ago today in Burchard, Nebraska. Here are 10 HL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lloyd’s parents fought frequently when he was a child (due in large part to his father’s penchant for launching unsuccessful, short-lived businesses); they divorced when he was a teenager, after which Lloyd and his dad moved west to San Diego. In 1912, Lloyd, who’d acted on stage since childhood, began to work in one-reel comedies for the Thomas Edison company. His first role was a Yaqui Indian in short called The Old Monk’s Tale.
  • Before long, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles, where he became friends with aspiring filmmaker Hal Roach. Roach told Lloyd that when he was able to produce his own pictures, he’d make a star out of Lloyd. When Roach opened his studio in 1913, the pair began to collaborate on creating Lloyd’s first recurring role, Lonesome Luke, a character influenced greatly by Charlie Chaplin‘s Tramp.
  • Within a few years, Lloyd began to shift toward the character that is better remembered today, often referred to as the “Glass character” for the round specs that he wore. “When I adopted the glasses,” Lloyd said in a 1962 television interview, “it more or less put me in a different category because I became a human being. He was a kid that you would meet next door, across the street, but at the same time I could still do all the crazy things that we did before, but you believed them. They were natural and the romance could be believable.”
  • In his Lonely Luke days, Harold Lloyd gave actress Bebe Daniels his start. The credits usually listed Lloyd’s character as “The Boy” and Daniels’ as “The Girl.” The pair were romantically involved for a time. After five years, Daniels went on to a very successful career as a leading lady. Daniels’ replacement in Lloyd’s pictures was Mildred Davis, whom he wed in 1923. They were married until her death in 1969.
  • In 1919, while shooting some publicity photographs, Lloyd suffered extensive damage to his hand while lighting a cigarette with a prop bomb that he thought was just a smoke pot. The bomb exploded, and Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger. He also suffered burns on his face and incurred damage to one of his eyes (luckily, his sight was unaffected).
  • Lloyd and Roach began focusing on feature-length pictures, rather than shorts, in 1921, and when the pair parted ways in 1924, Lloyd launched his own production company.
  • Though Buster Keaton and Chaplin are today considered the greatest comedians of the silent era, in the 1920s, Lloyd’s pictures made more money than either (in large part because he was so prolific—he made 12 full-length features in that decades to Chaplin’s four).
  • In the late 1920s, Lloyd built a home in Beverly Hills he called Green Acres that boasted 44 rooms, 26 bathrooms, 12 fountains, 12 gardens, and a nine-hole golf course. Though the surrounding grounds have been subdivided, the main house and the estate’s principal gardens are still there, and the estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • It’s been reported that Lloyd was approached to portray Elwood P. Dowd in the original Broadway production of Mary Chase’s play, Harvey. When Lloyd turned the part down, the role went to Frank Fay.
  • Lloyd’s post-cinema hobby was 3-D photography; among his works were portraits of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Sterling Holloway, Richard Burton and Roy Rogers. He also shot a good many nude…er, artistic photographs of more anonymous starlets of the day.

Happy birthday, Harold Lloyd, wherever you may be!

Harold Lloyd

Happy 106th Birthday, Claire Trevor!

The great Claire Trevor was born Claire Wemlinger 106 years ago today in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She grew up in Larchmont, New York, and after graduating high school, spent six months studying at NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Art before beginning a theatrical career, first in stock theatre and later on Broadway.

Claire Trevor

In the early 1930s, Trevor appeared in short films for the NYC-based Vitaphone studios before moving into feature films in 1933. Over the next six years, she kept very busy, averaging six pictures per annum. In 1937, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Dead End.

Trevor appeared in a number of Westerns over the years, frequently costarring opposite John Wayne. In one of those oaters, 1954’s The High and The Mighty, she received the third of her three Best Supporting Actress nominations.

But it was in the genre of film noir that Trevor made her most indelible mark. In films such as Murder, My Sweet (1944), in which she costarred with Dick Powell; Born to Kill (1947), in which she appeared opposite Lawrence Tierney Raw Deal (1948), with Dennis O’Keefe, she played hard-boiled dames with hearts of gold, and her work in these dark and gritty pictures made her one of the queens of that genre. It was in Key Largo (1948), in which she costarred with Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that she earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, playing Gaye Dawn, gangster’s moll and former nightclub singer,

Trevor also enjoyed success in radio and television in a career that spanned six decades, winning an Emmy for her work in a 1957 small-production of Dodsworth. Late in life, Trevor was generous in her support of the arts, and the University of California-Irvine named its School of Performing and Visual Arts after her. Her Oscar and Emmy statuettes are on display in the Arts Plaza there.

Claire Trevor died in 2000 in Newport Beach, California, at the age of 90.

Happy birthday, Ms. Trevor, wherever you may be.

Esther Williams: A Life Aquatic

Esther WilliamsWe were sorry to learn that the always lovely Esther Williams has backstroked off to the deep end of the pool at the age of 91.

So we thought it an apt time to share (once again) with the Cladrite community an interview we did with the divine Ms. Williams some years ago on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.

Enjoy! But wait at least an hour after eating before beginning this Q&A.

An Interview with Esther Williams

Cover of Esther Williams' Million Dollar MermaidIn the 1940s and ’50s, Esther Williams was one of the brightest stars in MGM’s galaxy. Her movies, with their memorable Busby Berkeley-choreographed aquatic extravaganzas, remain hugely popular today in revival houses and on cable television.

And now, with the publication of her autobiography, Williams shares candid tales of her life as Hollywood’s “Million Dollar Mermaid.” We chatted with Ms. Williams about a wide range of topics, from her husband Fernando Lamas‘s sometimes philandering ways to cross-dressing in Hollywood. It was a conversation as lively and open as her book, The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.

As we read your book, it struck us that you’ve have had a life filled with extreme highs and lows. There have been so many wonderful chapters in your life, but so many sad and tragic events as well.

Fernando Lamas and Esther WilliamsIt’s the idea that you’re smiling underwater—doing the impossible!—and then going home to a life that’s unraveling around you…I was struck with it, too. You know, writing your autobiography is therapy. You get in tune with a lot of things you thought you’d forgotten.

Fernando [Lamas] had asked me years ago not to be in the movies or television or do interviews anymore; as I say in my book, he asked, “Can you stop being Esther Williams?” And I said, “Well, that’s an interesting idea; I’ve been her for a lot of years. Let’s see how I do without her.”

And when Fernando died in 1982, the thing I noticed about the death of a life partner, especially one as difficult as Fernando was—when they go, you’re out of a job! The first person that called me after he died was Shirley Maclaine, who is my friend, and she said, “Well, Esther, you can finally get out of the house.” And I thought, Oh, Shirley, you tell it like it is. I’m so very fond of her.

Katharine HepburnAnd then Barbara Walters called. And I said, “Oh, Barbara, I haven’t been photographed in 20 years!” The one thing that Katharine Hepburn said that really made sense to me is that good thing about the talk shows is that people get to watch you rot. And I said, “I’ve been rotting in private!” And she said, “I’ve seen you at parties and you don’t look like you’re rotting to me. I want you to come and do one of my specials.” I said, “I’m not going to look good next to Jane Fonda or Sally Field.” And she said, “I won’t put you next to Jane Fonda and Sally Field; I’ll put you in the middle segment—we’ll put Mr. T before you and Howard Cosell after you, two of the ugliest men in the world.” And I said, “Oh, then I’ll do the show—of course!” [laughs]

Early in the book you detail a clinical experience with LSD. Later, you reveal that you were the victim of a rape at the hands of a family friend when you were a young woman, that your older brother died a tragic death when he was just in his teens. Was the book a form of catharsis for you?

You know, we seem to acquire, as we age and deal with various diminished capacities, an ability to articulate our feelings. To say, “No, no, you don’t understand. It wasn’t that way; it was this way.” And what happened to me is that, when I would go through the problems of day-to-day living, it was always wonderful to go to the studio and dive into that wonderful water. The water was very healing for me, and it remains so even today. I’m in my 70s. I had a knee replaced not so long ago and was going through physical therapy, and it hurt, you know? They’ve got to bring the muscles along, and it hurts.

So I said to Mark, my physical therapist—he came to my house to work with me, and he didn’t know how to swim—I said, “You’re $60 an hour, Mark. And you hurt. I don’t want to be hurting anymore; I’m going to get in the pool. And I tell you what we’ll do—we’ll call the $60 a push, because that’s what I’ll charge you for your swimming lesson. And I got him swimming, and he loved it.

What an opportunity for him, to receive a swimming lesson from Esther Williams! That’s a rare opportunity.

Artur RubensteinI thought it was worth the $60! Candy Bergen rang my doorbell one day and said, “I want [her daughter] Chloe to learn to swim.” And I said, “If you wanted her to learn to play piano, would you ring Artur Rubenstein‘s door?” And she said, “I don’t care if she plays piano, but she’s got to learn to swim.” And I said, “Yes, that’s true. Because that can save her life. Piano won’t ever save her life.”

Are you pleased—or perhaps surprised—by the rise of women’s athletics? Would you ever have imagined the sort of attention that’s been lavished on the U.S. women’s soccer team or the Olympic basketball players and gymnasts?

And synchronized swimming! It’s an Olympic sport now. Yes, it’s very exciting.
Read More »

Direct(orial) mail

Stamps depicting Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, and Billy WilderIt’s the first day of issue for a set of four postal stamps honoring a quartet of great (native or naturalized) American motion picture directors, and we can’t argue with the selection of a single one of them. Here’s what the USPS has to say about the occasion:

These Great Film Directors (Forever®) stamps honor four great filmmakers who captured the many varieties of the American experience. Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, and Billy Wilder created some of the most iconic scenes in American cinema. They gave audiences an unforgettable (and in some cases, deeply personal) vision of life.

These four filmmakers received multiple Academy Award nominations, 15 Oscars, and numerous other honors during their lifetimes. But their greatest accomplishment lies in the vitality and artistry of the stories they told through film. The stamp art combines a portrait of each man with a scene from one of his most iconic works.

The background art for the stamp honoring Frank Capra shows a scene from It Happened One Night, a comedy in which a runaway heiress (played by Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable) compare their hitchhiking skills.

For the John Ford stamp, the background recalls a scene from The Searchers, an influential Western starring John Wayne and making Ford’s characteristic use of the American landscape.

The Maltese Falcon inspired the background art for the John Huston stamp. In this classic mystery, gumshoe Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) goes up against various unscrupulous characters (among them Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet).

And for Billy Wilder, the background artwork was inspired by Some Like It Hot, a farce about two male musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who seek refuge from gangsters by posing as members of an all-girl band featuring luscious singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).

Art Director Derry Noyes designed these stamps using art by award-winning illustrator Gary Kelley, who created the images using pastels on paper.

You can purchase these stamps, along with First Day of Issue color postmarked envelopes and other related items, here.