Happy 92nd Birthday, Jane Greer!

Jane Greer was born Bettejane Greer 92 years ago today in Washington, D.C. If she had played no other role in a motion picture than Kathie Moffat, the femme fatale who bedeviled Robert Mitchum in the noir classic Out of the Past, she’d be remembered with great fondness in the Cladrite household.

Here are 10 JG Did-You-Knows:

  • As a child Greer suffered from a facial palsy that partially paralyzed her face. She credited the facial exercises she performed to overcome the condition helped her expressiveness as an actress.
  • After winning beauty contests and working as a model as a teen, Greer began her career as a performer singing (in phonetic Spanish) with the dance orchestra of Enrique Madriguera.
  • Howard Hughes spotted Greer in a 1942 modeling spread in Life magazine and brought her to Hollywood to work in pictures.
  • Greer married Rudy Vallée in 1943, in order, it was said in some circles, to escape the overly possessive and controlling Hughes. She was 19; he was 42. We’re big Rudy fans, but he was an oddball on his best day and this has to be as one of the unlikeliest pairings in Hollywood history. The couple separated after just three months of marriage and divorced five months later.
  • Greer had her name legally changed from Bettejane to Jane in December 1945. About her birth name, she said, “Mine is a sissy name. It’s too bo-peepish, ingenueish, for the type of role I’ve been playing. It’s like Mary Lou or Mary Ann.”
  • Greer was a descendant of the poet John Donne.
  • Greer had three sons with second husband Edward Lasker, an attorney and business, to whom she was married for 16 years. TWo of her sons, Alex and Lawrence, worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and ’90s as writers and producers.
  • Her longest romantic relationship was a 36-year domestic partnership with actor and dialogue coach Frank London that lasted until his death in 2001. She passed away six months later.
  • In addition to the 28 motion pictures she appeared in, Greer worked extensively on television, beginning in 1953 with an appearance on The Revlon Mirror Theater and ending in 1990 with a recurring role in the second season of Twin Peaks.
  • Greer had a twin brother named Don.

Happy birthday, Jane Greer, wherever you may be!

Jane Greer

Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Mitchum!

The iconoclastic Robert Mitchum was born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum 99 years ago today in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Here are 10 RM Did-You-Knows:

  • His father, a railroad and shipyard worker, died in a train accident when Mitchum was two. He was raised by his mother and stepfather, a British army major.
  • Mitchum had issues with authority from an early age, and he spent much of his teens on the road. At 14, he was charged with vagrancy and spent time on a Georgia chain gang (he escaped).
  • While living with his older sister in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, he was expelled from Haaren High School, at which point he traveled the country by riding the rails, working for the Civilian Conservation Corps and earning money as a boxer.
  • He once worked as a ghostwriter for an astrologist (this delights us, by the way).
  • He recorded several record albums, including a Calypso record titled Calypso — Is Like So…, and generally was not dubbed when he sang in a movie.
  • Mitchum was arrested on September 1, 1948, for marijuana possession. He spent a week in the L.A. county jail and after being convicted, spent 43 days at a prison farm in Castaic, California. In 1951, the conviction was overturned, and many years later, Mitchum told TCM‘s Robert Osborne the arrest never happened, that it was all a publicity stunt. (What’s the truth? Your guess is as good as ours.)
  • Though he was true to her at times only in his fashion, Mitchum and his wife, Dorothy, remained married for more than 57 years until his death in 1997.
  • Mitchum was the voice of the “Beef…it’s what’s for dinner” television advertisements from 1992 until his death.
  • Mitchum was known for passing on roles that later proved to be iconic, among them Gen. George S. Patton, played by George C. Scott in Patton, and Det. Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, portrayed by Clint Eastwood.
  • Mitchum was a big fan of Elvis Presley‘s early music and tried to sign him to appear in Thunder Road, but Col. Tom Parker‘s asking price was too steep for the independent production.

Happy birthday, Robert Mitchum, wherever you may be!

Robert Mitchum

Happy Birthday, Dan Duryea!

Given his screen persona, Dan Duryea, born 109 years ago today in White Plains, New York, might not strike the average movie buff as an Ivy Leaguer, but he was, in fact, a member of Cornell University’s class of 1928. He majored in English, but was interested in theatre, too. In his senior year, he even succeeded Franchot Tone as president of the college drama society.

Duryea went on to work in advertising for a bit until the stress got to be too much. A mild heart attack in his twenties convinced him to pursue an acting career instead, a move that paid off nicely. He appeared on Broadway in Dead End and The Little Foxes, and it was the latter play that provided his ticket to Hollywood. Though Bette Davis was named to replace his Broadway co-star, Tallulah Bankhead, in the role of Regina Giddens when Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to produce the cinema adaptation of the hit play, Duryea was retained to play her nephew Leo Hubbard, his cinematic bad guy (or, at the very least, his first weasel).

Dan Duryea

In an early 1950s interview with Hedda Hopper, Duryea claimed that his focus on playing bad guys was intentional, even planned:

“I looked in the mirror and knew with my ‘puss’ and 155-pound weakling body, I couldn’t pass for a leading man, and I had to be different. And I sure had to be courageous, so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies … strictly against my mild nature, as I’m an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father. Inasmuch, as I admired fine actors like Richard Widmark, Victor Mature, Robert Mitchum, and others who had made their early marks in the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden world of film noir; here, indeed, was a market for my talents. I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well-produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters.”

We’re not necessarily convinced that Duryea entered the movie business with that much foresight and wisdom, but it sounded good after the fact, and in any case, it’s certainly true that he came to be closely identified with the film noir genre and known for his memorable portrayals of sketchy (at best) characters, in classics such as The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945),Criss Cross (1949), and Too Late for Tears (1949).

For our money, Dan Duryea was a sort of poor man’s Widmark, but as we see it, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.

A nice guy and dedicated family man in real life, Dan Duryea was married to his wife, Helen, for 35 years until her death and was an attentive parent, serving as a scout master and PTA papa to his two sons.

But on screen, he was the sniveling creep you hoped would get his. And while he usually did, he gave as good as he got.

Happy birthday, Mr. Duryea, wherever you may be—you heel, you.

Kirk Douglas: 99 Years and Counting!

We note often that there aren’t many great actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood who are still with us. That’s why we’re especially pleased to mark the occasion of Kirk Douglas‘s 99th birthday today—because he’s still with us and going (relatively) strong!

Kirk Douglas

Douglas made many memorable pictures, of course, but we remain most fond of his early work in the film noir genre. His very first screen appearance was opposite Barbara Stanwyck, Lizbeth Scott and Van Heflin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and you could do much worse than to watch that one today in honor of his birthday (it’s available for streaming from Amazon Prime), but our favorite remains Out of the Past (1947), perhaps the pinnacle of noir, in which Douglas stars with Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum. It’s a near-perfect picture, and it’s frankly hard to believe it was just his second film. He’s mesmerizing in portraying a hardened, sadistic gangster who puts up a (nearly) convincingly amiable front.

Happy birthday, Kirk Douglas, and many happy returns of the day!

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.