Happy 126th Birthday, Ronald Coleman!

The suave and sophisticated Ronald Colman was born 126 years ago today in Richmond, Surrey, England. Here are 10 RC Did-You-Knows:

  • Colman was the youngest of four children. He attended boarding school in Littlehampton, where he was first exposed to acting, but he intended to study engineering at Cambridge until the family’s financial fortunes declined with the premature death of his father in 1907.
  • As a member of the London Scottish Regiment, Colman served in World War I. At the Battle of Messines, he was wounded by shrapnel in his ankle, which gave him a limp he tried to hide for the rest of his life. He was discharged from service within weeks.
  • By 1916, Colman was a busy actor, appearing in a variety of stage productions in London’s West End. In 1920, he toured the United States in a play called The Dauntless Three, which led to success on Broadway.
  • Though he had appeared in a handful of British films, it was Colman’s work in his first American film, The White Sister (1923) opposite Lillian Gish, that proved to be his breakout role. He became very popular with the public in both romance and adventure pictures.
  • For all his success in silent pictures, Colman’s star ascended even higher in talkies, which allowed him to use to his advantage one of his greater assets as an actor, what the Encyclopædia Britannica described as his “resonant, mellifluous speaking voice with a unique, pleasing timbre.”
  • In 1930, Colman was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his work in two different pictures—Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. In total, he would be nominated as Best Actor for four films, winning once for A Double Life (1947).
  • Christopher Walken, whose given name is Ronald, was named for Colman.
  • Colman’s speaking voice was so widely admired that it became something of a cultural touchstone, mentioned in a number of motion pictures and novels, including Ralph Ellison‘s Invisible Man.
  • Colman was also active in radio in the 1940s and ’50s, making frequent guests appearances on The Jack Benny Show, hosting a program called Favorite Story in the and starring on The Halls of Ivy, which later became a television program.
  • Colman was contracted to star in the MGM picture Village of the Damned (1960), but following his death in 1958 from acute emphysema, George Sanders took over the role.

Happy birthday, Ronald Colman, wherever you may be!

Ronald Colman

Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Eleven

The eleventh chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker), tells of a close call experienced in treating actress Norma Shearer.

FAT CHANCE

Norma ShearerGLORIA runs quite an establishment—butlers, footmen, and the rest. Down on the Pathé lot she rolled up her sleeves and did her day labor like an old trouper. But at home she was La Marquise de la Falaise et de la Coudraye, and had the big soft rugs, uniformed servants, and all the dog to prove it.
The house staff gave Sylvia the works, which is to say that she passed through about ten pairs of hands, to land finally in an upstairs den. There time passed in great chunks without any sign of Gloria Swanson. The boss was dead tired and had to pinch herself to keep awake. Whereupon a footman ambled in with a clinking tray, and she tried just one for luck and was sunk.
She had no idea what time it was when, presently, someone shook her out of a sound sleep and said: “Here I am—all ready for you.”
It was Gloria in her nightie. A clear case of overwrought nerves, with the inevitable results of facial lines and general puffiness. The treatment for that is delicate. If you start in pounding and pummeling at the start, the subject’s nerves get worse and worse, and the result you’re likely to get is the kind of weight reduction that is ruin—a stringy, jumpy body and a cavernous, drawn look about the face.
In the first few minutes Gloria admitted that the new sound-movie racket had her half-crazy. It took the boss two hours of gentle, soothing rubbing to get the overexcited star to sleep. Meanwhile she was that the job would take time; that, for a start, she’d have to reconcile herself to getting maybe a little fatter than she was; that the real work on her hips, chin and arms would have to wait. Gloria saw the point and said:
“Then I’ll have to have you all the time. You’ve got to give up your other people and work for me alone.”
Right away the boss remembered how that hook-up had worked out with Mae Murray—and even with Mary Duncan. It meant having to build up her clientele all over again when the contract died.
 
The offer from Gloria was flattering enough. But the boss had got past the point where the name of a movie star, whispered, was enough to jerk her out of a sound sleep. She was able to keep her head when Swanson made her offer, because, for one thing, the savings account was doing nicely, and, for another, she had just taken on Norma Shearer, whom she had been angling to get for months.
Hedda Hopper steered Norma Shearer into Sylvia’s hands. At that, the boss nearly lost the M.-G.-M. star after the first treatment, which was given in Shearer’s home. Norma had been playing a lot of tennis, and had got stringy and muscular and jumpy, the way women always do when they go crazy about any sport. The first thing to do was to calm her down and get her to sleeping regularly as a preliminary to softening her. So the boss rubbed her for nearly two hours and left her sleeping like a child. The next morning we got a phone call from Hedda Hopper, who said:
“I don’t know what you did to Norma Shearer, Sylvia, but my name is mud in the movies if you’ve ruined her.”

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Seven

The seventh chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker), reveals the truth behind Sam Goldwyn‘s misbegotten and short-lived pairing of Ronald Colman and Constance Cummings.

A GALLANT EPISODE

Ronald ColmanHERBERT BRENNON [sic] fixed it up for the boss to handle Ronald Colman, and pretty near got Sylvia pinched.
Colman was living down in the Malibu Beach colony. Malibu is about the most unprivate community in the world. In the first place, the matchboard shacks are built so close together that when your neighbor takes off his shoes you call, “Come in.” But the movie people are used to getting in each other’s hair, and like it, all except Greta Garbo, who tries to stick to her own toothbrush. So the lateral propinquity, as you might call it, is not a drawback in Malibu. But the longitudinal propinquity—the nearness to sea water on the one side and an eternal automobile procession of fandom on the other side—sometimes creates trouble. You’re always finding a snail or a tourist in your oatmeal.
About the time that Sylvia went down to Malibu to look up Colman, there had just been an epidemic of peeping Toms and Thomasinas plaguing the colony. Of course, the ladies were bothered most. Fans with big goggle eyes on stems were emerging from behind the wall paper at all sorts of embarrassing moments. Believe it or not, films girls who would act in a De Mille production without thinking anything of it can get just as nervous as an Iowa schoolma’am about a funny scratching noise at the bathroom window.
But if you think it was only the girls that were bothered by peepers, you don’t know fandom. Every morning there was just as much excitement about the size-five footprints outside the boys’ windows as about the size-nines outside the girls’. The colony was all excited that Sunday morning when Sylvia reported at Colman’s shack for duty.
The boss walked in without knocking and got held up by an alarmed Filipino.
“Go ‘way, please,” he squealed, and shook a towel at her.
“Where’s Mr. Colman?” asked Sylvia with authority.
“In bed, please,” protested the Filipino, and got in front of Ronald’s door, where he prepared to die. “Go ‘way, lady!” he kept squealing.
“In bed?” said Sylvia imperturbably. “Good. That’s just where I want him. Let me by.”
“No ladies allowed,” quavered the Filipino, who was really frightened. “Be quiet! I call police!” And he got a desperate hold on the door knob of Ronald’s door and began to bleat.
His cries were answered by two men who popped out of guest-room doors. Sylvia recognized them as William Powell and Philip Strange, two cronies of Ronald’s. But they didn’t know her at all. Strange took charge of the situation in a calm, haughty British way.
“Come now, my good woman,” he remonstrated. “Tell us what you want.”
Sylvia got wise to what was eating them and amused herself by feeding their panic.
“I just want to rub Ronald Colman,” she begged, trying to put a strange glitter in her eyes. “Just let me rub him once!”
“Oh, now, tut, tut!” soothed Strange.
The Filipino began again: “Go ‘way, lady, go ‘way!”
And Colman put a sleepy head out at the door to inquire what was wrong.
“This woman wants to rub you,” Strange explained.
“Well, why not?” yawned Colman. “She’s my masseuse.”
Strutting into Ronald’s chamber, Sylvia stole a backward glance at the nonplussed trio in the living room. She got a distinct impression that Philip Strange ball well didn’t approve of such goings-on.
The boss still counted Colman among her steady clients when she got mixed up in the series of errors that turned out to be comedy but might have been tragedy, and that established Constance Cummings, the Broadway ingénue, as a newcomer in films.

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