Happy 98th Birthday, Anne Shirley!

We’re tardy by a day, but it’s still worth noting that actress Anne Shirley was born Dawn Evelyeen Paris 98 years ago yesterday in Manhattan. Her father died while she was an infant, and her mother, struggling to provide for her family, turned to her photogenic child, then 16 months, to help pay the bills, making young Dawn available as a photographer’s model.

From there, it was on to motion pictures. Dawn made her feature debut at the age of four and was soon showing enough promise in her film work that she and her mother made the move from New York to Hollywood, where she eventually played female stars of the pictures as young girls, among them Janet Gaynor in 4 Devils (1928), Frances Dee in Rich Man’s Folly (1931) and Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932). She also appeared in a series of short subjects for Vitaphone.

As the years passed, she grew into a lovely young teenager and her roles grew in size and importance. Eventually, she emerged from hundreds who were tested to play the role of Anne Shirley in the 1934 film adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. In the years prior, Dawn had worked primarily under the name of Dawn O’Day, but she now adopted the name of the character that had made her a star, Anne Shirley. (We can think of just one other example of an actor adopting the name of a character he or she played: Byron Barr had been acting for some years under his own name when he was cast in the 1942 film The Gay Sisters as a character named Gig Young; he was known professionally by that name for the rest of his life.)

Anne Shirley

Anne Shirley kept busy throughout her adolescence, but wasn’t given another truly standout role until, at age 19, she was cast as Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in Stella Dallas (1937). Both Shirley and Stanwyck were nominated for Oscars for their work in that picture (Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress, respectively), though neither would go on to win.

Shirley was now more in demand than ever, though her career has now entered a “one step forward, one step back” phase, with her films—and the roles she played in them—being of uneven quality. Her heart had never really been in her career—she had stuck with it largely to please her mother—and after appearing opposite Dick Powell in the classic film noir Murder, My Sweet (1944), she retired at age 26, never to return to the screen.

Anne Shirley remained in Hollywood for the rest of her life. She was married three times and had two children. She died on July 4, 1993, at 75.

Happy birthday, Ms. Shirley, wherever you may be!

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.

Farewell, My Lovely: A Classic Reissued

Farewell, My Lovely posterFarewell, My Lovely (1975) is a neo-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler‘s novel of the same name. Robert Mitchum, though a bit long in the tooth for the role, plays Philip Marlowe to a T, and the picture perfectly captures the mood of the era–and the cinematic genre–it portrays.

We were working as an usher at the North Park 4 Cinema when this movie came out, and watched it with delight in dribs and drabs—a scene here, a scene there, whenever we could elude the disapproving gaze of our manager. It was our introduction to Chandler’s work, and we could hardly have asked for a better one (except, y’know, Chandler’s work).

Part of what makes the picture work is the haunting “Marlowe’s Theme” that plays over the opening credits and reappears at various times throughout the picture. We’d like to live in the world that this music evokes.

The picture also features such stellar supporting players as Charlotte Rampling (channeling Lauren Bacall), Jack O’Halloran (as Moose Malloy), Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles (she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as an over-the-hill chorus girl), John Ireland, Sylvester Stallone (in a don’t-blink cameo as a hood) and even acclaimed noir author Jim Thompson in a small role.

Farewell, My Lovely has been unavailable on DVD in the U.S. for a good many years, but we were pleased to learn recently that Shout! Factory is releasing it again in mid-November (you can preorder it now). One might wish this beautiful picture were going to be made available in Blu-ray format (we do wish that very thing, as a matter of fact), but even a DVD reissue is cause for celebration.

There is an excellent 1944 adaptation of Chandler’s second novel—renamed Murder, My Sweet, it stars Dick Powell as Marlowe, along with noir icon Claire Trevor, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Anne Shirley, and Esther Howard—that is newly available on Blu-Ray, and it’s worth your time, too. In fact, it’s widely considered a classic. Frankly, you can’t go wrong with either of these movies; we recommend owning both.

In Their Own Words: Happy Birthday, Dick Powell!

Few Hollywood stars have ever remade themselves quite so successfully as Dick Powell, whose 110th birthday is today. He began his career as a buoyant boy singer, first on record and then in movie musicals, before, beginning with his turn as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944), turning to tough guy roles in a series of films noir.

As evidenced by his quote below, Powell went on to became a successful director and producer. And to top it all off, he was married to Joan Blondell! (June Allyson, too.) Quite a versatile and varied life and career did our Mr. Powell enjoy.

Happy birthday, Mr. Powell, wherever you may be.

The Many Facets of Dick Powell

Dick Powell is the featured star on Monday, August 25, during Turner Classic MoviesSummer Under the Stars festival that happens every August. There are any number of pictures airing that day that might be enjoyed, but we noted three particular pictures that feature an appealing diversity of style and genre and demonstrate Powell’s versatility, and so we commend them to you as a collective 4.5 hours well worth watching.

The triple feature kicks off at 8 p.m. ET with the great Preston Sturges comedy Christmas in July (1940), which finds Powell portraying an office clerk who mistakenly believes his entry has been named the winner in a coffee company’s slogan contest. Hilarity, as one might expect, ensues. Next up, at 9:15 p.m., Powell takes a noir turn as Raymond Chandler‘s shamus, Phillip Marlowe, in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Finally, at 11:00 p.m., Powell takes center stage in one of Busby Berkeley‘s more over-the-top musical efforts, Dames (1934).

We say, record the Emmys and watch these three movies on Monday night, but at the very least, fire up the DVR and record this trio of motion pictures for later viewing; you won’t regret it.