Rose Marie: 90 Years a Trouper

Rose MarieVery few performers have ever managed to carve out a nine-decade career in show business, but that’s just what Rose Marie (Baby Rose Marie, to Cladrite Radio listeners) has done—and she’s still going strong. Since launching her career at the ripe old age of four (she had a weekly radio program that was broadcast nationally before Shirley Temple was even born), Rose Marie has enjoyed success in vaudeville, radio, records, motion pictures, Broadway, and television.

A delightful new documentary, Wait for Your Laugh, documents Rose Marie’s amazing life and career, and we’re delighted to share a very lightly edited transcript of a telephone conversation we recently had the pleasure of enjoying with her. Buckle your seat belts; it’s a delightfully wild ride. As you’ll soon see, Rose Marie is as sharp and as funny as ever.

Cladrite Radio:  I have a lot of things I’d like to talk to you about.

Rose Marie:  First of all, let me ask you a question.

Cladrite Radio:  Sure.

Rose Marie:  Did you see the movie [Wait for Your Laugh]?

Cladrite Radio:  I did!

Rose Marie:  What’d you think of it?

Cladrite Radio:  I loved it. I thought it was great.

Rose Marie:  What’d you like about it?

Cladrite Radio:  I’m very interested in the popular culture of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, in addition to …

Rose Marie:  That’s my era.

Cladrite Radio:  It sure is. I have an online radio station that features music of that era. I play some of your records on the station.

Rose Marie:  Oh, nice.

Cladrite Radio:  When I got the chance to interview you, I was so excited. I’m a fan of your music, and I grew up with you on TV as well.

Rose Marie:  I know, everybody says that. It makes me feel so old.

Cladrite Radio:  Oh, well, I’m not so young myself.

Rose Marie:  I’m 94, wanna bet?

Cladrite Radio:  You’re doing great. You’re probably doing better at 94 than I am at 59.

Rose Marie:  Okay.

Cladrite Radio:  I wanted to ask you about the documentary. Whose idea…

Rose Marie:  I’m very happy to tell you. I’m very proud of it. I love it. I’m so proud of [director] Jason Wise, I can’t stand it. I think he’s a genius. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest men in the business in a couple years. I think this will introduce him to everybody. I think he’ll even be bigger than Steven Spielberg.

Cladrite Radio:  I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind that a bit.

Rose Marie:  Oh, he’s wonderful. You have no idea. You don’t know how particular he is. When we decided to do this thing, I kept everything from the time I was three years old. Postcards, pictures, film, anything I had, I kept. When he talked about doing the documentary, he says, “Let’s talk.” I said, “I have everything in scrapbooks. Why don’t you just go through everything?” I emptied out my house, and I mean he cleaned me out of everything. He put it in that documentary. Just a genius.

Cladrite Radio:  All the materials that we see in the documentary, the film clips we see and some of the programs and promotional materials and various things that are included in it…

Rose Marie:  All mine. All mine that he dug up out of my house.
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Happy 109th Birthday, Bette Davis!

The singular Bette Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis 109 years ago today in Lowell, Massachusetts. Here are 10 BD Did-You-Knows:

  • Davis’ father was a patent attorney. He and his wife divorced when Davis was 10 and Davis was raised by her mother. Davis’ initial interest as a young performer was dance, but she eventually turned her sights on the stage.
  • After graduating from the Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Davis made her way to NYC. She wasn’t accepted to Eva Le Gallienne‘s Manhattan Civic Repertory, but she proved to be the star pupil at the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts, where Lucille Ball was her classmate.
  • Davis debuted off-Broadway in 1923 in a play called The Earth Between. Her Broadway debut, in Broken Dishes, came six years later. In 1930, she was hired by Universal Pictures, where she made her screen debut in a pictured called Bad Sister (1931).
  • Legend has it that a studio staffer sent to pick up Davis at the train station when she first arrived in Hollywood returned without her, saying he hadn’t seen anyone who looked like a movie star. We’ve no idea if that’s true, but if it is, we’re confident Davis made that poor fellow regret his mistake.
  • When she first arrived in Hollywood, it was suggested Davis change her name to Bettina Dawes. She refused, saying the name sounded too much like “Between the Drawers.”
  • In 1932, Davis signed a seven-year deal with Warner Brothers, where she would soon become the queen of the lot.
  • In 1936, Bette Davis refused a role Warner Brothers assigned her, saying it was not worthy of her talents. She scurried off to England, hoping to make pictures there, but Warners enforced its exclusive contract with her. She sued to get out of the contract, and though she lost the suit, thereafter Warner Brothers treated her with more respect and offered her better roles.
  • Davis was nominated 11 times for the Best Actress Oscar over a 28-year span, winning twice (Dangerous [1935], Jezebel [1938]). Five of those nominations (1939-43) were consecutive, an Oscar record Davis shares with Greer Garson.
  • In 1941, Davis was elected the first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She resigned the position after just two months for the putative reason that she didn’t have sufficient time to devote to the position, but there were reports that, in fact, she resented not being given that power she thought the position would carry. She had no interest in being a famous figurehead.
  • Davis played twin sisters in two different pictures: A Stolen Life (1946) and Dead Ringer (1964).

Happy birthday, Bette Davis, wherever you may be!

Bette Davis

Happy 112th Birthday, Charles Lane!

We don’t have so many regrets, really, and certainly nothing major. But we continue to kick ourselves for not writing a fan letter to (or perhaps even trying to arrange an interview with) character actor extraordinaire Charles Lane, born Charles Gerstle Levison 112 years ago today in San Francisco, California, before he passed on in 2007.

Think of it: Here was a man who started acting in pictures in 1930 at the age of 25 and was still with us a mere decade ago. And all reports have it that he was still very sharp at age 102. Think of the stories he had to tell!

Here are 10 CL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lane’s first career was in insurance sales, but director Irving Pichel recommended he take up acting and he did, working in stage productions at the famed Pasadena Playhouse.
  • Lane’s movie debut was a brief appearance in Smart Money (1931) as a hotel desk clerk. His first credited role, as Charles Levinson, was as a switchboard operator in Looking for Trouble (1934). It was his 22nd movie.
  • Between 1930 and 1952, Lane had appeared in more than 200 features, generally playing characters who were at the very least officious, if not downright sourpusses. This typecasting was frustrating to Lane, who continued to work in live theatre throughout his career to counteract his cinematic pigeonholing. “You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good,” he would later say. “That pedigreed you in that type of part, which I thought was stupid, and unfair, too. It didn’t give me a chance, but it made casting easier for the studio.”
  • Lane’s movie appearances were generally brief but usually memorable, and he appeared in more than his share of pictures that are today considered classics, among them 42nd Street (1933), Twentieth Century (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), among others.
  • Lane was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild. “[The studios] work you until midnight and get you back at seven in the morning,” he said. “The actors were taking a terrible licking physically. Generally, as the case with any union, you form it because people are abused.” The Guild named January 30th, 2005, as Charles Lane Day.
  • Lane was friends with Lucille Ball going back to her days as a Hollywood starlet, and when she became a huge success on television, she cast him frequently on her sitcoms.
  • Lane appeared in 10 films helmed by Frank Capra, and in a letter the director once sent to Lane, Capra wrote, “I am sure that everyone has someone that he can lean on and use as a crutch whenever stories and scenes threaten to fall apart. Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.”
  • Born in San Francisco in 1905, Lane was one of the last survivors of that city’s 1906 earthquake.
  • Lane was a strong horseman and regretted that in all the pictures he appeared in, he never got to ride a horse. He claimed that he had, in fact, trained some of the western actors in horseback riding.
  • Beginning with a 1951 appearance on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Lane was as familiar a face on television as he was on the silver screen, appearing on many dozens of programs over the next four-plus decades. Lane would play a client for McMahon and Tate on Bewitched no fewer than 8 times.

Happy birthday, Charles Lane, wherever you may be!

Charles Lane

Happy 112th Birthday, Greer Garson!

The lovely Greer Garson was born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson 112 years ago today in London, England. Here are 10 GG Did-You-Knows:

  • Garson was of Scottish and Ulster-Scots descent. Her father was a commercial clerk.
  • She attended King’s College London with the intention of becoming a teacher, but the acclaim she received while working on local theatrical productions gave her the acting bug.
  • In 1937, Garson appeared in a thirty-minute television production of an excerpt from Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night. The production is thought to have been the first performance of a Shakespeare play on TV.
  • Louis B. Mayer signed Garson to a contract in 1937 while on a talent search in London. Her first film was Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1938), for which she received an Oscar nomination.
  • Garson received seven Academy Award nominations, including five consecutive Best Actress nominations, an achievement that tied Bette Davis for the record (which still stands), and a Best Actress win for Mrs. Miniver (1942). After the announcement that she had won, Garson gave the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history, clocking in at five minutes and 30 seconds (another record that still stands).
  • Garson married Richard Ney after filming Mrs. Miniver, in which he played her son. He was the second of her two husbands; their marriage lasted just over five years.
  • A fire in Garson’s home destroyed her Oscar; the Academy provided a replacement.
  • Garson was envious of all the comedy roles Lucille Ball received while the two were both at MGM in the 1940s; for her part, Ball wished she were given more dramatic roles, as Garson was.
  • Garson accepted Oscars for two actress who weren’t present for the Academy Awards ceremony: Vivian Leigh in 1952 and Sophia Loren in 1962.
  • She played Walter Pidgeon‘s wife eight times in twelve years: Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver, Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950) and Scandal at Scourie (1953).

Happy birthday, Greer Garson, wherever you may be!

Greer Garson

Happy 112th Birthday, George Brent!

George Brent, born George Brendan Nolan 112 years today in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, enjoyed an odd sort of career. By any measure, he achieved great success, but outside movie-buff circles, he’s all but forgotten today. Odd, considering that when he arrived in Hollywood, he was touted as the next Clark Gable. The comparison seems almost laughable today, so low-key was Brent compared to the man once known as the King of Hollywood.

George Brent was a rebel during the Irish War of Independence, though how active he was is open to question; he acknowledged having served as a courier for IRA leader Michael Collins. In any case, the British government put a price on his head, at which point Brent (then Nolan) saw fit to hightail it to the United States.

Brent started his career in the theatre, touring in a production of Abie’s Irish Rose and acting in stock theatre around the country. In 1927, he debuted on Broadway in Love, Honor and Obey. Also in the cast? None other than Clark Gable.

Brent headed for Hollywood a couple of years later, appearing in minor roles for Universal and Fox before signing a contract with Warner Brothers in 1932. It was at Warners that Brent achieved his greatest success. Perhaps the greatest strength of his low-key (but hardly milquetoast) on-screen persona was that he was a perfect complement to strong leading women, holding his own but never overshadowing them.

George Brent

Given how little he’s remembered today, it’s remarkable to consider how often George Brent worked with some of the most iconic actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. He made eleven features with Bette Davis (enjoying an offscreen romance with her as well), six with Kay Francis, five with Barbara Stanwyck, four with Ruth Chatterton (to whom he was married from 1932–1934) and two with Myrna Loy. He also played opposite Ruby Keeler, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Madeleine Carroll, Jean Arthur, Merle Oberon, Ann Sheridan (to whom he was married from 1942–1943), Joan Fontaine, Claudette Colbert, Dorothy McGuire, Loretta Young, Lucille Ball and Yvonne De Carlo. That’s a line-up of costars that any leading man might envy.

By the late 1940s, Brent was appearing in mostly B pictures, and he retired from films in 1953, though he continued to act on television for another seven years. He was married five times, and if you read some of his early interviews, it’s not hard to see why most of those marriages didn’t work out. Brent clearly had no interest in being tied down and seemed to resent the responsibilities that relationships carried with them. “No woman will ever own me,” Brent once said. “I own myself.”

But he and his fifth wife, former model and dress designer Janet Michaels, were together for 27 years until she passed away in 1974.

George Brent, who suffered in later years from emphysema, died in 1979 in Solana Beach, California.

Happy birthday, Mr. Brent, wherever you may be!