10 Things You Should Know About Janet Gaynor

Janet Gaynor‘s 112th birthday is timed perfectly, what with the third remake of the film for which she won an Oscar, A Star Is Born (1937), opening this weekend. Here are 10 things you should know about Gaynor, who was a huge star in the late 1920s and into the ’30s.

By the way, Gaynor’s A Star Is Born, in which she stars opposite Fredric March, is available via a number of streaming services: Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, Kanopy, Fandor and (with ads) Tubi TV. You could do much worse in priming yourself for the new remake than to watch the original on Gaynor’s birthday.

The Drive-in That Ate the San Fernando Valley

Crime of Passion movie poster
Recently we watched (for the third or fourth time) Barbara Stanwyck‘s final picture that might be considered film noir: Crime of Passion (1957).

In it, she plays a columnist for a San Francisco newspaper who rather impulsively gives up her career to marry a Los Angeles police detective (Sterling Hayden). She moves into his home, which is situated, as a passage of dialogue reveals, in the San Fernando Valley.

In two or three brief scenes set outside the newlyweds’ home, we see in the background the hulking screen of a drive-in theatre towering over the neighborhood. So prominent is this screen tower that it seems almost ominous.

Each time we’ve watch this picture, we’ve been struck by this choice on the part of the filmmakers because not a word is said about the screen. No one refers to it in any way. But it’s such an imposing element in those exterior shots that we can’t help but wonder why director Gerd Oswald didn’t shoot from the other direction, so that the screen tower didn’t appear.

Mind you, we’re glad he didn’t—as a drive-in aficionado, we enjoy seeing the screen in the background when we watch the movie—but it’s undeniably a distraction.

It does speak, we think, to how relatively ubiquitous drive-in theatres once were that Oswald didn’t balk at including that huge screen in the scenes in which it appears. Who knows, it may be that someone viewing the film in 1957 wouldn’t have even given it a second thought.

365 Nights in Hollywood: The Orange Cure

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “The Orange Cure” from that 1926 collection.


The last of the bright lights on Grant Avenue had just flickered out. Jerry Thorn half fell through a dark doorway to the sidewalk. The street was deserted and unusually quiet; it seemed uncanny that a street like this—the main thoroughfare of San Francisco’s Chinatown—could be so completely abandoned by the denizens of the quaint city.
Jerry shook himself and turned up the lapels of his much-worn coat. A heavy fog was coming in; a wet one. As he looked down the hill, he could barely see the illuminated clock of the Ferry Building. It was about one o’clock, he thought. The small dose of opium he had would last only about five hours, and he had dreamed off about six o’clock.
Jerry Thorn, once a famous clubman and society idler of the petted circles of San Francisco, was now a forgotten person. It had been nearly a year since he had sat in a wicker chair at the Polo Club near Half-Moon Bay. He had been a handsome chap then.
Ten months of cheap food, bad sleeping quarters, a nightly four-hour dose of dope and the thoughts of being a failure had made Jerry a hollow-cheeked person with sunken eyes. His once brisk, energetic walk was now a shuffle. His once erect carriage was now round-shouldered and slow. His once immaculate suits were now wrinkled, torn and ill-fitting.
Yes, Jerry had been a failure in business as well as in life. He was now as low as a man would go,—a fiend, a dirty, mind-wandering dope fiend. His name now meant nothing at the club, where once it had been mentioned with pride.
He leaned carelessly against a lamp post. The fog was extremely thick now. He was unable to see the end of the short street. The sidewalk was wet and the light made the small drops of water glisten on his coat. He fumbled in his coat pockets for a cigarette.
Jerry was at the stage where his body craved at least four hours of dope sleep a day. The other hours were spent in wishing for the next session of peaceful living and sleep. He was in a pitiful condition and there was none to care.
The big form of Harvey London, patrolman of the section for ten years now, came within Jerry’s view.
“Hello, Harvey.”
“Howdy, Jerry. Howzit tonight?”
The big officer stood in front of him, adjusting his heavy raincoat tighter at the neck.
“Not so good. Just got kicked out for the night.”
“Too bad, kid. Y’ought to get a home somewhere.”
Jerry struck a match and lit a pocket-worn cigarette.
“Thaz all right. I’ll get along, I guess. Sorry I ain’t got another fag for you, Harvey.”
“Never mind that; come on down and have a cup of mud at Charley’s.”
Together they walked down the slippery cement to the only all night cafe in Chinatown. It wasn’t like the old days, when they were open all night and slept all day. Times had changed this little city, especially the closing of the Barbary Coast. The tongs had departed and there was very little of the old life evidence.
Charley’s had just six customers when they entered. Jerry recognized two dope peddlers and three pickpockets. The other man was like himself,—a bum, a drain on the kind persons who inhabited the section.
Jerry drank his coffee slowly, while Harvey munched on two stale doughnuts. The officer then called Charley over to him. They were sitting a small table on the side.
“Charley, I want you to let the kid here sleep in that piano box of yours in the back. It’s gonna be a cold morning and he’s out for the night.”
Charley nodded and went back to his place behind the long counter. Jerry remembered that Charley had once been a prize fighter. Anyway he looked the part.
Presently Jerry wandered over to him.
Charley threw a dirty dishwasher’s apron at him and pointed to a pile of unwashed plates, cups and silverware.
It was two-thirty when Jerry had finished his work. he stacked the dishes in their places and went back to Charley in the kitchen.
He heard the front door open and the sound of loud female voices; voices hardened by cigarettes and modern gin. He turned, and recognized two former clubmen of his, another insipid chap and three scantily clad young women.

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Times Square Tintypes: Paul Whiteman

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles rotund orchestra leader and the King of Jazz (or so he was once known), Paul Whiteman.


PAUL WHITEMAN. Let the most important fact come first. He weighs 248 pounds.
Caricature of Paul WhitemanHe once studied to be a mechanical engineer.
He has a passion for striped ties and flashy autos.
Was born in Denver, March 28, 1890. His father and mother were both six feet tall. His father was director of musical education in the city schools. His mother sang in the choir.
Once he enlisted in the navy. Then he organized a naval jazz band.
His prize possession is a photograph of himself at the age of three. Here he is seen wearing green velvet pants and playing a toy violin.
He can lead an orchestra by merely shrugging his shoulders or moving his thumbs.
Was a viola player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra and drove a taxi on the side to make money.
Custard is his favorite dessert. He calls it “gap and swallow.”
The Prince of Wales is his pal.
He is married to Vanda Hoff, dancer. They have a son, Paul Whiteman, Junior.
One of his first jobs in a jazz band was in a honky-tonk in San Francisco. Here the folks threw coins in a barrel if they liked you. These coins were your salary.
He plays golf and has one friend he can beat.
Will pay any price for a musician he desires. Often takes men getting only $60 a week away from another band by paying them $250 a week.
Made his New York d&eacutebut at the Palais Royal.
The first place he heard jazz was at Capper’s Neptune Palace in Africa.
Has a remarkable memory, never forgetting the smallest detail. Commenting on this trait, a wisecracker gagged: “Oh, well, an elephant never forgets.”
Never passes a street musician without slipping him a bill.
Whenever he attends the opera he cries. His favorite opera is Parsifal.
For relaxation he will sit before a victrola listening to records of his band playing.
Eats very little for one of his size. Some of his choice dishes are chicken and cream served at the Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis; hot cakes, doughnuts and strawberry shortcake at his relatives’ in Denver; wienerwurst and sauerkraut at Joe’s in Minneapolis and antipasto at Sardi’s.
The first record he ever made was “Avalon.” It was spoiled in repeated trials by the audible soft oaths of players cursing their own mistakes.
The first of the Whitemans spelled it Wightman.
He wears pink nightgowns that fall to his ankles and a tassled night cap.

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