Happy 106th Birthday, Gail Patrick!

Actress Gail Patrick, born Margaret LaVelle Fitzpatrick 106 years ago today in Birmingham, Alabama, was the supporting actress audiences of the 1930s and ’40s loved to hate. She played haughty, unsympathetic women who generally received their comeuppance, much to the delight of moviegoers.

Here are some fun facts about Ms. Patrick’s life and career…

Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
  • In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
  • After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
  • Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
  • Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
  • She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
  • Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
  • In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
  • Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
  • Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.

Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!

Fay Wray

Life Without Lapels

We love us some vintage clothing; easily 80% of the clothes we wear on a daily basis are older than we are (we made our debut in 1958, in case you’re wondering).

So whenever we watch old movies (which, as longtime readers know, we do often), we spend as much time and energy focusing on the garments the actors are sporting as on the plot, performances and photography.

We especially like it when we encounter a garment, an accessory, a look unlike any we’ve seen before, and we came across an example of just that recently when we watched the Cold War noir, The Woman On Pier 13 (1949), starring Robert Ryan, Laraine Day, and John Agar.

William Talman, perhaps best remembered as Hamilton Burger, the DA Raymond Burr mopped the floor with week after week on “Perry Mason,” also appears in a supporting role as a bad guy (it was his motion picture debut). And in one scene that finds him squiring Day around from one seedy nightspot to the next, he wears a plaid jacket like none we’d ever seen.

And while we can’t honestly say we liked the look, it was at least interesting.

We are familiar, as perhaps you are, too, with several varieties of lapels on men’s sports, suit and formal jackets—notch, peak, shawl—but outside of the Nehru jackets that enjoyed their brief moment in the sun in the 1960s, we’d never before seen a man, on the silver screen or on the street, sporting a plaid sportscoat that had no lapels at all.

We turned to Marc Chevalier, easily the most knowledgeable person we’re acquainted with when it comes to vintage menswear. Here’s what he had to offer:

“Jackets like this one were briefly popular in the early to mid-1940s. The style originated in California, and was probably first designed by Clinton Stoner. Frank Sinatra was the most famous wearer of this type of jacket, back in the early ’40s.

“I seem to recall that it was called a “cardigan sportcoat” or some such thing.”

There you have it. A Google search yielded no mention of the term “cardigan jacket,” but Marc’s word is certainly good enough for us. However, we also couldn’t find any info about Clinton Stoner, and our curiosity got the better of us. Thankfully, Marc, bless his heart, had the full scoop (we knew he would):

A label from a Clinton Stoner garment“Clinton Stoner was a freelance men’s suit and sportswear designer whose merchant clients included Macintosh Studio Clothes and Saks Fifth Avenue. In the late 1940s, he opened his own custom sportswear shop—named “Clinton Stoner”—on the east end of the Sunset Strip. Stoner’s shop was a favorite of gangster Mickey Cohen, actor Robert Mitchum, etc. Stoner’s daughter, Beverly, achieved some notoriety of her own as a much-married, much abused nightclub singer.”

You won’t see us adopting Stoner’s (and Sinatra’s) lapel-free style anytime soon, but we are intrigued by the look.

The right man for the job

movie poster for The Case of the Velvet ClawsWe’re about halfway through our first — and, as it happens, the very first — Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, published in 1933.

Having read none of the later installments in the series, we have no idea what direction Erle Stanley Gardner took the series — and the characters — in, but in reading this first book, we can say that Warren William, who played Mason in a run of 1930s motion pictures, is much better suited to the role of Mason than Raymond Burr was.

It’s entirely possible that the character of Mason, as Gardner depicted him, changed over the years, but William is perfect for the brash, supremely confident rogue depicted in this first novel, which has more of a hard-boiled quality than we suspect the later novels in the series exhibited.