Happy 110th Birthday, Robert Young!

Robert Young, born 110 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois, is best remembered nowadays for his television roles as a wise and affable dad on Father Knows Best and a kindly doctor on Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young also enjoyed a successful movie career in the 1930s and ’40s (he even had extra roles and bit parts in silent pictures in the late ’20s). Here are 10 RY Did-You-Knows:

  • Young’s father was an Irish immigrant who moved his family from the Midwest first to Seattle and then to Los Angeles before abandoning the family when Robert was 10 years old. Young would go on to attend Abraham Lincoln High School.
  • After high school, Young studied and performed at the famed Pasadena Playhouse before touring with a stock production of a play called The Ship.
  • Young was discovered by an M-G-M talent scout and made his talkie debut in 1931 in a Charlie Chan picture called Black Camel. Young appeared in more than 100 pictures over the next two decades.
  • Young was occasionally given the kind of role so frequently assigned to Franchot Tone and Robert Montgomery–spoiled young men from well-to-do families, but Young, while a reliable performer, was considered less appealing as a leading man than those two actors. “He has no sex appeal,” Louis B. Mayer is reported to have said of Young.
  • Young and his wife, Betty, met when he was 17 and she was 14. They would be married for more than 60 years and had four daughters.
  • Young tended to play amiable all-American types, but by the mid-1940s, after his contract with M-G-M came to an end, he was given a number of opportunities to play darker characters, even appearing in a handful of pictures that are today considered film noir classics.
  • As his movie career wound down in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, Young began to work more frequently in radio. In fact, it was on radio that he first assayed the role of insurance salesman Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, which ran from 1949–54 on radio and on television from 1954-60.
  • Young was the only cast member to be carried over from the radio version of Father Knows Best to the television series.
  • During the 1960s, Young did occasional guest shots on television series and appeared in TV movies, including Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Matter of Humanities, which spawned a popular series by that same name (without the subtitle) that ran util 1976.
  • Young struggled with depression for more than four decades (and with alcoholism for more than 30 years) before conquering both in his later years.

Happy birthday, Robert Young, wherever you may be!

Robert Young

In Your Hat, pt. 7

Here’s Chapter 7 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she reflects on the early days of Sardi’s and how Vincent Sardi came to use the now-familiar caricatures of celebrities to garner attention for his eatery.

     IT’S surprising what you can learn from hats. There’s something about the way a man wears one that betrays him instantly. He may smile and joke and think he’s fooling the world—but just by watching him when he saunters or hurries up to my window, I can tell him things that ought to get me a tabloid columnist’s job. I can tell when he’s out of work, and when he’s in the money. When he’s playing the market and winning—and when he’s losing. And there’s nothing pseudo-psychic about it! Just observation—and experience.
     Take right at the moment when this ‘umble tome was being concocted. Broadway had been pretty hard hit, and there were hundreds of good actors as well as hams out of work. People who never tipped me less than a quarter before, now fumblingly left only dimes. And apologies were frequent, until I told the hardluckers that there were plenty in the same boat with them. Then, every once in a while, one of the new dime tippers would toss me a dollar bill and say nothing. I knew the answer. He’d landed a job! He was in the dough again.
     But it wasn’t all so simple five years ago when I started on this job, the day that Sardi’s opened. I didn’t know a soul among the big-timers, could barely recognize a few of them. The job had been a sort of birthday present to me, and that first day I was awfully scared—and terribly anxious to succeed. I never dreamed that I’d stick at it five years—and then want to keep it fifty more!
     Five years! It isn’t much when you say i fast—but a lot of things have happened since then. When Sardi’s opened, there weren’t any Broadway columnists, and a man’s biological secrets were his own. There weren’t any talkies, and the blonde and beautiful Tillie Awnertz could murder the king’s English without having to worry about losing her dear public. There weren’t even any nasal crooners—most of them were in college or short pants. Five years!
     A lot of kids of my own generation were just getting their first foothold in show business and thought they were lucky to be able to afford Sardi’s eighty-five cent luncheon. Today some of them are way up on top and never dream of going upstairs for cheaper food, or even looking at the price list when they order their daily delicacies.
     A Night in Spain was running at the Schubert Theatre just across the street, and Phil Baker, Ted Healy and Helen Kane were getting their first big chance. Today Baker and Healy are headliners, and Helen Kane has gained fame, fortune, notoriety and considerable poundage. She was getting fifty bucks a week then—now she gets over two thousand and works when she feels like it!
     Robert Montgomery was an adorable young juvenile who owed money to everyone in town and who frequently ate at Sardi’s on the cuff. He was trying frantically to woo and win the lovely Elizabeth Allen who was playing the lead in Broadway, but no one ever thought Bob would get her because it was doubtful if he could even pay for the license and ring. Today they’re happily married, Robert Montgomery is a screen name to conjure with, and his weekly pay check runs ever so high. And millions of movie fans find him every bit as charming as I did in the days “when.”
     Those first days at Sardi’s were a lot of fun—and a lot of worry too. There wasn’t a great amount of business, the restaurant was big, and the “nut” high. Like every café owner, Sardi wanted his establishment to be a rendezvous of-and-for celebrities. The little place near the Lambs Club had whetted his appetite for Big Names, and Sardi hungered to repeat his success on a larger scale.
     We were talking about the disheartening business one day when things were particularly slack, and Sardi began to reminisce about famous Continental restaurants. Somehow the conversation swung around to Joe Zelli’s in Paris.
     “Zelli’s is wonderful,” exclaimed Sardi. “No one would ever dream of seeing Paris without spending at least one evening in Zelli’s. It’s the rendezvous of all the celebrities. I guess they go there because their caricatures hang on the wall.
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In Your Hat, pt. 2

Here’s Chapter 2 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll:

     I DON’T claim that Ziegfeld missed a bet when I decided to become a hat check girl, but I fill a spoke in the wheel, and most of the boys want to go around with me.
     Honestly, though, I can’t say I hate it when for no good reason at all Buddy Rogers kisses my hand as publicly as if we had been on the Roxy stage. Two girls who were squashing their noses against Sardi’s window well-nigh swooned when that happened, and I’d be fibbing if I said I was far from pulling a faint myself. Only a few weeks before I had been standing at the stage door of the Paramount Theater waiting to catch a glimpse of America’s Boy Friend, reveling in the usual girl’s thoughts about swinging in a hammock with Buddy Rogers at my side, or is it paddlin’ a canoe or listenin’ to the moon? I’d heard lots of people call the tall dark boy Bloody Rogers in jest, but it isn’t fair.
     Well, anyway, he came into Sardi’s, handed me his hat, and then, inquiring after my health in a most solicitous manner, touched his lips to my hand. Maybe it’s true that a couple of the Broadway wise boys who were sitting in the restaurant did make noises that sounded suspiciously like Bronx nose blowing, but it was a dream of a moment. For a second I forgot that I was supposed to be sophisticated.
     And Bob Montgomery, before he became what he is, and you know what that is, was just another of the nice Broadway gang. He was one of my “promissory nuts”, as I called the boys of that class, who were always promising things for the dim future.
     In Bobby’s case, it was always the generous tip he was forecasting because he didn’t have even a dime in his jeans to leave for checking. Not that I minded at all, but business must be on the level. And whenever he’d pick up his hat, after unsuccessful attempts to land some work by being seen at Sardi’s during lunch, he’d say: “Put it on the cuff, Renee.” Unfortunately, I wear no cuffs except mental ones, and I keep remembering little things like that.
     Especially I’ll never forget the little fellow who was so near-sighted that he once tipped me a penny, certain that it was a dime. And ever afterward, recalling his mistake, he would come into Sardi’s every day and say: “You remember me, don’t you, young lady? I’m the man who gave you a cent by mistake!” As if I’d ever forget a penny tip!
     Tipping is a great art if you know how, and getting the tip—particularly from a celebrity—is even a greater one. Getting a man to tip without his being conscious of the amount is the most delicate and subtle operation in the world. Some day I’m going to write a book on “The Technique of Tipping.”
     I’ve been talking a lot on this subject to professional waiters. I don’t mean the boys who are helping Mother along by taking up the table as a sideline, but those whose front handles are usually Oscar or Fritz, and in whose families waiting has been a profession for centuries. One of our waiters was so proud of his serving lineage he claimed that one of his ancestors served spaghetti on the Santa Maria!
     People naturally hate to tip, especially when they have a Gallic strain in them. Generosity is not usually governed by economic conditions. Even when a man who tips a good amount ordinarily is almost broke, he will not let this be a factor in keeping him from tipping his usual amount. It’s the habitual tightwad who’ll skimp on service and then go out and let his girl friend rook him for some matched sables.
     One day Walter Donaldson, the songwriter, drove up to the restaurant with Maurice Chevalier. It was summer, and as Chevalier came out of the auto, he took off his hat and threw it on the back seat. Donaldson kept his on.
     I believe in the equal distribution of wealth, and when the two approached my booth, I stopped the inimitable Maurice.
     “Mr. Chevalier,” I began. “I paid a dollar to see your newest picture last night.”
     “Oh yes? And how did you like it?”
     “I thought it was fine,” I told him.
     “Thank you very much.”
     “But, Mr. Chevalier, after I paid a dollar to see your picture, do you think it’s fair for you to leave your hat in the car to save a dime?”
     I knew it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but it worked like a charm. The Frenchman ran out into the street, retrieved his hat and deposited it with me.
     “It will never happen again!” he assured me as his famous underslung lip curled forward in its traditional smile
     “Merci, mille fois.” I told him in my best French. He tweaked my cheek and marched on. Walter Donaldson thought it was a riot and didn’t stop laughing for two days.
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Who Was the Best Philip Marlowe in the Movies?

Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Robert MontgomeryWho’s your ideal Philip Marlowe?

If you’re scratching your head at the question, stop right now and rush out to pick up The Big Sleep, the first in Raymond Chandler‘s series of novels detailing the adventures of his fictional private detective.

But if you’re already familiar with Marlowe, you can cast your vote for the best cinematic rendition of the character in the poll below.

This post was originally inspired by novelist and screenwriter Carol Wolper‘s take on why the ideal Marlowe has yet to be captured on film (her essay ran in the Los Angeles Times magazine in 2010, but is no longer available online).

“Many have tried to bring this character to the big and small screen, but success has been elusive,” Wolper, who in the essay made a dubious claim to be a Chandler purist, wrote. “Yet the desire for another shot never goes away. Marlowe is like that person you keep trying to break up with because you know it won’t work out, but you can’t get her (or him) out of your mind.

“Maybe a 2010 Marlowe isn’t Caucasian. Or if so, maybe he’s not a complete loner. Maybe he has a pal. Maybe that pal is even female. As blasphemous as that may sound to die-hard noirists, maybe we can worship at the altar of Chandler without being a slave to the past.”

Here’s the comment we left following Wolper’s essay:

It’s Mitchum by a mile, even though he was too old for the part by the time he did Farewell, My Lovely. It’s too bad Dick Richards and Eliot Kastner didn’t choose to film The Long Goodbye instead; Mitchum’s age wouldn’t have mattered as much, given the elegiac quality of that novel, and it might have erased the bitter and lingering aftertaste of the Altman/Gould travesty, a picture so ill-conceived as to boggle the mind. The ending, particularly, was as inappropriate and off-the-mark as the tacked-on moralistic finish to Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

If anyone doubts that Mitchum, in his prime, was the perfect Marlowe, just rent Out of the Past (1947), a classic noir in which he plays a very Marlowe-esque detective. Mitchum was thirty in 1947, a perfectly suitable age for the early Marlowe stories, and he exhibits all the qualities one could hope for in a movie Marlowe.

And we must strongly disagree with Carol Wolper that updating the character to the modern era is advisable or even acceptable (not to mention giving him a sidekick—sheesh!). There are plenty of modern-day characters yet to be adapted for the large and small screens. Leave Marlowe in Chandler’s vividly rendered past, or keep your hands off of him altogether. After all, Mad Men has shown us that a series must not have a contemporary setting to resonate with today’s viewers.

Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe-esque detective in Out of the PastWe wish Mitchum could have played Marlowe at a more appropriate age—he was a bit long in the tooth for the role in 1975—but he’s so right for Marlowe that he overcomes the age issue with ease. It’s Marlowe’s world-weariness that matters more than his age, and Mitchum had that in spades.

We rate Humphrey Bogart‘s Philip Marlowe in the original version of The Big Sleep, which was directed by Howard Hawks, second behind Mitchum, with Dick Powell, who broke out of his boy-singer rut in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet (the deep thinkers at RKO thought the title of Chandler’s second novel, Farewell, My Lovely, suggested a romance, not a hardboiled mystery—hence the title change) trailing closely behind in third.

So what do you say? Who’s your choice for the best cinematic embodiment of Chandler’s classic shamus? Cast your vote below.

Who was the best Philip Marlowe in the movies?
Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep—1946)
James Garner (Marlowe—1969)
Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye—1973)
Robert Mitchum (Farewell, My Lovely—1975)
George Montgomery (The Brasher Doubloon—1947)
Robert Montgomery (The Lady in the Lake—1946)
Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet—1944)
Created with Poll Maker