Here are 10 things you should know about character actress Jessie Ralph, born 149 years ago today. Her Hollywood career lasted just nine years, but she made the most of it.
We just learned of the passing yesterday of the wonderful Gloria Stuart. Stuart, who turned 100 on July 5 of this year, lived a nice, long life, of course, but we’re feeling blue nonetheless.
As some regular readers will recall, we were fortunate enough to interview Ms. Stuart eleven years ago on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, I Just Kept Hoping [you can read the interview here], and we found her utterly delightful. She was, at age 89, as witty and as sharp as one could hope to be at that age. She was also charming and engaging and not a little flirty, and we have harbored a little crush on her ever since.
Ms. Stuart had an impressive, if brief, Hollywood career in the 1930s, acting opposite the likes of Claude Rains, James Cagney, Nancy Carroll, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Tracy, Pat O’Brien, Melvyn Douglas, Dick Powell and many others, and she was friends with many other luminaries, Humphrey Bogart and the Marx Brothers among them. And we were pleased to learn that she had gotten a kick out of the career resurgence she experienced late in life.
Screen Play magazine once named Ms. Stuart one of the 10 most beautiful women in Hollywood, and we think that honor still holds today, even all those beautiful women later. But as Aljean Harmetz and Robert Berkvist wrote in an obituary that appeared in The New York Times, Stuart was “more than a pretty face. She was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild and helped found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, an early antifascist organization.”
She also undertook a career as an artist, teaching herself to paint. Her first one-woman show was at NYC’s Hammer Galleries in 1961. Beginning in the 1980s, she began a new career at a printer, designing hand-printed artists’ books, even organizing her own imprint, Imprenta Glorias.
What a gal.
We’ll remain ever grateful for our brief encounters with Ms. Stuart, and we sincerely hope and pray that she will rest in peace.
In Chapter 9 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she offers recollections of more celebrities than we could possibly list here. Many of the names are still familiar; others all but forgotten. A few we couldn’t even track down via the internet, and heaven knows we tried.
EVEN Fred Keating, the magician, once forgot where he put his hat check!
But hat check girls, even red-haired ones, have memories, so sometimes when business at my window is slack, I sit and think of the million and one things that have happened between the celebrity-laden walls of Sardi’s. Incidents, names, personalities galore, and sometimes just a casual word will start my train of thought along almost forgotten tracks. Would you like to lift the lid of the Carroll cranium and see what’s going on inside?
Here comes George Jean Nathan, world’s best critic by his own admission. I’ll never forget the day I bawled him out because he insisted on having his hat set apart from the others—and how embarrassed he was. I never suspected anyone could embarrass him . . . telling Warner Baxter that he was my favorite movie star, only to be overheard by Richard Dix to whom I had dished out the same line only two days before . . . the day Helen Menken, reddest of the red-heads, gave us a big surprise by changing to the color gentlemen are supposed to prefer . . . Incidentally, she never takes her gloves off when she eats!
And here is Robert Garland, who pilots (or piles-it) the dramatic column in the World-Telly, and is a regular customer as a certain blind spot in the roaring Fifties (they’re roaring further uptown now). He’d been a regular patient at the drink infirmary for more than a year when one night he showed at the barred door and knocked the magic knock. A weary, unshaved faced appeared in the aperture.
“Hello, Tony, I wanna come in.”
“Who are you?” the face inquired.
Infuriated because he had spent his good shekels for so many nights and still remained a dim bulb in the big sign, he shouted back the first thing that came to his mind—a catchline from a New Yorker cartoon.
“You must remember me,” yelled Garland, “I’m the guy who punched my wife in the nose here last night.”
And he was ushered in with any more undue ceremony!
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We don’t know how we let it sneak by us, but Monday, July 5, was the 100th birthday of the wonderful Gloria Stuart, best known now for her work in James Cameron‘s Titanic, but a woman who’s led a remarkable life and was a pretty big movie star in the 1930s, to boot.
In 1999, when she was just a kid of 89, we got to interview Gloria on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, I Just Kept Hoping. The interview was conducted over the telephone, though we did get the chance to meet Ms. Stuart when she came to NYC for her book party.
We considered it quite a thrill, we don’t mind telling you, to get to interact with Ms. Stuart. After all, this is the women who starred opposite Claude Rains in James Whale‘s The Invisible Man, who appeared with Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton in The Old Dark House, who worked with greats such as Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Eddie Cantor, Ruth Etting, and dozens more.
So, to mark her centennial (a few days late, alas), we thought we’d share with the Cladrite Radio Clan the interview we did with her in 1999. Enjoy!
It’s been a long, eventful life for former and current movie star Gloria Stuart. She had her first go-around at stardom in the Hollywood heyday of the 1930s and ’40s; then, after taking off 30 years or so to pursue painting, travel, and political activism, she again began to act in the 1970s, eventually garnering a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Titanic. Still going strong today at the age of 89, Stuart has now added authorship to her list of achievements. Her candid memoir, I Just Kept Hoping, is peppered with anecdotes about such memorable figures as Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. We spoke to Gloria about her life, her two careers in the movies, and her secrets for living so long and so well.
An Interview with Gloria Stuart
I’m very happy I was in those films. You know, James is a cult figure in England. There are a lot of James Whale fan clubs. Actually, right after I had read for Jim Cameron for Titanic, I had booked a month in London. I went right away, and there were two wonderful James Whale organizations that I met with. He’s getting his due now, thanks to Gods and Monsters.
What did you think of Gods and Monsters? Was it, in your view, an accurate portrayal of Whale?
Oh, yes, it was. Ian McKellan captured James’s elegance, the beautiful manners, the beautiful tailoring, the precision, the whole thing. Of course, no one could be James, but he came awfully close.
The special effects in The Invisible Man hold up remarkably well today for a film that was made in 1933.
Yes, people who see it today—it runs every so often—they say, gee, it’s not an old hat movie at all.
I’m wondering—did the processes that went into creating those special effects slow down the pace of moviemaking at all?
It was never evident. Only James and the cameraman and I guess all the process people at Universal—the rest of us never had any inkling of what was going on. We did do a lot of shooting in front of black curtains. Now, I wasn’t on the set when the bandages came off or anything like that, so I have no idea about that. But it was very, very secret. I wasn’t on the set when they were finagling the bandages off, and so forth.
That would’ve been fun to see.
Here’s Chapter 4 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she dishes on such 1930s luminaries as Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Ernst Lubitsch, Clara Bow, and Douglas Fairbanks.
By the way, the Lubitsch movie Carroll refers to in this chapter, the one co-starring Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, and Claudette Colbert, is The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), which New Yorkers (and those willing to travel) can see on the big screen as part of Film Forum’s Hollywood on the Hudson series on Tuesday, August 3rd. It’s paired on a double-bill that night with Laughter (1930), which, as it happens, stars Nancy Carroll, about whom a story is told later in the chapter.
A LOT of dirt gets swept by my little booth in conversational blobs that can’t stand light from the printed page, but at the same time I frequently pick up little stories that’ll bear repeating.
I don’t say I chum around with Broadway’s best, but I know most of the crowd by their given names and I’m usually calling a spade a spade even if it’s Bill Robinson. What I crave most is respect because nowadays that’s all a girl gets that doesn’t draw interest.
But now and then somebody whispers a yarn that’ll stand repeating, and chum or no chum, it has to be given up, which reminds of the time Herr Ernst Lubitsch (the little man with the big cigar) was directing a picture at the Paramount New York studio in Astoria.
It happened that Claudette Colbert, she of the extraordinary limbs, and Miriam Hopkins, who is now a Paramount star, were in a picture together with Maurice Chevalier.
In the story Chevalier is supposed to be married to Miriam, but because she is more or less of an ugly duckling, he is particularly fond of the more comely Claudette. The story develops to the point where Claudette is caught by Miriam in her own house. It develops into a verbal bout and then rapidly into a slapping match in which both girls are supposed to slap each other, cry a bit, and then make up. The slaps, like most of the blows in pictures, were supposed to have been pulled punches. But were they? Oh boy, no! And behind that is something of a story.
It happened that in the making of the picture Herr Lubitsch became more or less attached to the luminous blonde Miriam. He believed in her as a noble actress, a conviction that has been justified since, and Ernst was interested in her sparkling personality. While the picture was being made, the two of them were seen around town together. Lubitsch would take her down to his favorite Second Avenue restaurant for some calves’ brains and wine, and Miriam was having a swell time, particularly when she worked, because Lubitsch was developing her part more and more every day.
Pretty soon Claudette began to sense the fact that in spite of her billing as a leading player opposite Chevalier and despite her rôle as the heroine of the piece, little Miriam was stealing the picture out from under her very nose.
Naturally she resented the intrusions and sensed the possibility that she might be a minus quantity in the finished film. Slight differences arose every day,—everyone felt that a blowup was due any second.
Well, the opportunity finally presented itself on the day that the slapping scene was to be shot. I suppose both girls felt that for once, at least, the microphone would get an authentic record of what slaps can be like.
Both girded themselves for the fray. If there was to be any serious slapping they were both out to do it. The studio sensed the situation and everybody turned to do honor to the winner. The scene was the bedroom of the princess, and the slapping took place while the two women were seated on the edge of the bed. After the blows were delivered they were supposed to break into tears and then fall into each other’s arms in forgiveness. Everything went fine and the two ladies were eyeing each other as fighting cocks do before being released.
Lubitsch knew that something was going to happen, but he purposely encouraged it because it lent authenticity to a scene that might not appear real on the screen. Famous fights of screen history started when those two fellows mised it in the first screen version of “The Spoilers,” but never before the cameras—that is, a battle with physical effectiveness. Hair-pulling was a sissy’s game now.
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