Happy 112th Birthday, Sterling Holloway!

Character actor Sterling Holloway was born 112 years ago today in Cedartown, Georgia. Here are 10 SH Did-You-Knows:

  • Holloway was the first of two sons born to grocer (and Cedartown mayor for one year when Sterling Jr. was seven years old) Sterling P. Holloway, Sr. and his wife, Rebecca.
  • Holloway graduated from Georgia Military Academy in 1920 and though only 15, he immediately left the South for New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Spencer Tracy was a classmate and friend).
  • In his late teens, Holloway joined a touring company of The Shepherd of the Hills, performing in a series of one-nighters out west. Afterwards, he returned to NYC, where he performed small roles in Theatre Guild productions. He also was cast in the Rodgers and Hart review The Garrick Gaieties, in which he introduced the popular standard Manhattan.
  • In 1926, Holloway moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in pictures, and he would go on to appear in 100 of them. His bushy red hair and prominent features made him a natural for comedies, and he got his start in silent pictures, appearing in three shorts and one feature (Casey at the Bat [1927]).
  • In 1932, after four years without a film role (a director had reportedly told him he was “too repulsive” for silent pictures), Holloway began to work in talkies, where his high-pitched, chalky voice served him well, and he kept very busy indeed. From 1932-35, he averaged 10 pictures (some of them short subjects) a year.
  • Over the course of his 50-year, Holloway appeared in (or did voice work for) more than 100 features and shorts, and made nearly as many television appearances.
  • In addition to his picture and television work, Holloway worked frequently on radio, a medium to which his unique and memorable voice was well-suited. Among the shows to which Holloway lent his talents were The Railroad Hour, The United States Steel Hour, Suspense, Lux Radio Theater and Fibber McGee and Molly.
  • Holloway was one of the first actors to make the jump to television, appearing in 1949 on the anthology series Your Show Time, which featured half-hour adaptaions of literary short stories from the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was the first American dramatic series to be shot on film and the first series to win an Emmy award.
  • Holloway frequently did voice work for animated features, including Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970) and perhaps most famously, he provided the voice of Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s popular series of Pooh featurettes.
  • College Street, where the Holloway family resided in Cedartown, is now called Sterling Holloway Place and there’s a plaque at the site of his boyhood home.

Happy birthday, Sterling Holloway, wherever you may be!

Sterling Holloway

Happy 111th Birthday, Joel McCrea!

Joel McCrea, who was born 111 years ago today in South Pasadena, California, is a favorite of ours. Though he eventually settled into a long run of western pictures, he had previously proven to be adept at many other types of roles, too, from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:

  • McCrea’s father was an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company; his mother was a Christian Science practitioner. McCrea had a paper route, delivering the Los Angeles Times to D. W. Griffith and other prominent members of the film community.
  • McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and was a member of the class of ’28 at Pomona College. While in college, he took drama courses and appeared in school productions and also in plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
  • While in high school, McCrea was already working in the film industry. An adept horseman, he worked as a stunt double and “reins holder” for stars such as William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
  • Just out of college, McCrea signed with MGM, appearing in The Jazz Age (1929) and earning his first lead role in The Silver Horde (1930). In 1930, he signed with RKO and began to establish his reputation as a handsome leading man.
  • McCrea was good friends with Will Rogers, and the Oklahoma cowboy did much to boost McCrea’s career. It was Rogers who encouraged McCrea to put his money into real estate, and that advice made McCrea a millionaire. In fact, he earned more money in real estate than he did as an actor over his 50-year career.
  • Katharine Hepburn, close friends with McCrea and his wife, actress Frances Dee, admired McCrea’s abilities as an actor, ranking him with Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
  • McCrea came by his affinity for all things western—roping, riding, ranching—naturally. His grandfather was a stagecoach driver who survived confrontations with Apache Indians.
  • McCrea turned down the lead role in The Postman Aways Rings Twice (1946) that eventually went to John Garfield.
  • McCrea got to meet Wyatt Earp in 1928 and had the chance to portray the western legend in Wichita (1955).
  • McCrea had the opportunity to reunite with his The More, The Merrier (1943) costars, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, in The Impatient Years (1944), but declined the role, which would have found him playing a serviceman, saying, “If I’m too old to be called, I was too old for that kind of show.”

Happy birthday, Joel McCrea, wherever you may be!

Joel McCrea

Dickie Moore Takes His Final Bow

Some years ago, we were lucky enough to attend a special event at NYC’s Film Forum: A Q&A with actors Jane Powell and her husband, Dickie Moore (he went by Dick in his post-Hollywood professional life, but we’ll always think of him as Dickie).

Powell, of course, achieved renown for her work in musicals for MGM, while Moore … well, Moore’s career is not so easily characterized. He started working at the age of 11 months in a 1927 silent picture called Our Beloved Rogue opposite John Barrymore, and he was featured in the Our Gang series in 1932–1933.

He also had the distinct honor of planting her first on-screen smooch on Shirley Temple in a feature called Miss Annie Rooney (1942). And at the age of 21, he played a deaf-mute young man opposite Robert Mitchum in one of the greatest of films noir, Out of the Past.

It was a delight to see these two Hollywood veterans in tandem that night. They couldn’t have been more charming, and their mutual respect and affection was readily apparent—in short, they were darned cute together—as they delighted those assembled with insider tales of Hollywood’s glory days.

So it with sadness that we share news of Mr. Moore’s passing on Thursday, just two days short of his 90th birthday.

Dickie Moore was perhaps the busiest of child actors (we can’t think of a more prolific one), and he acted opposite the greatest names of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Warren William, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers, Lionel Barrymore, Mae Clarke, Ann Harding, Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Glenda Farrell, Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck and so many more.

In his memoir, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, Dickie Moore bemoaned the struggles that so many child actors experience not only when they’re working steadily, but also as they grow older and their careers wane. We dearly hope and trust that Moore’s own post-Hollywood path was a bit smoother and that he experienced no regrets about his years in Hollywood. He certainly gave movie buffs from the 1930s through today much to be thankful for.

Rest in peace, Mr. Moore, and thanks.

Dickie Moore quote

Happy Birthday, Katharine Hepburn!

They broke the mold when they made Katharine Hepburn 108 years ago today. She went on to flirt with the century mark, dying at age 96 twelve years ago next month, but doesn’t it seem as if she’s still here among us? It’s that way with the legends of the silver screen, we suppose—at least it feels that way for those of us who remain devoted to them.

Happy birthday, Ms. Hepburn. Here’s hoping you’re giving them heck wherever you may be.

Katharine Hepburn quote

Esther Williams: A Life Aquatic

Esther WilliamsWe were sorry to learn that the always lovely Esther Williams has backstroked off to the deep end of the pool at the age of 91.

So we thought it an apt time to share (once again) with the Cladrite community an interview we did with the divine Ms. Williams some years ago on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.

Enjoy! But wait at least an hour after eating before beginning this Q&A.

An Interview with Esther Williams

Cover of Esther Williams' Million Dollar MermaidIn the 1940s and ’50s, Esther Williams was one of the brightest stars in MGM’s galaxy. Her movies, with their memorable Busby Berkeley-choreographed aquatic extravaganzas, remain hugely popular today in revival houses and on cable television.

And now, with the publication of her autobiography, Williams shares candid tales of her life as Hollywood’s “Million Dollar Mermaid.” We chatted with Ms. Williams about a wide range of topics, from her husband Fernando Lamas‘s sometimes philandering ways to cross-dressing in Hollywood. It was a conversation as lively and open as her book, The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.

As we read your book, it struck us that you’ve have had a life filled with extreme highs and lows. There have been so many wonderful chapters in your life, but so many sad and tragic events as well.

Fernando Lamas and Esther WilliamsIt’s the idea that you’re smiling underwater—doing the impossible!—and then going home to a life that’s unraveling around you…I was struck with it, too. You know, writing your autobiography is therapy. You get in tune with a lot of things you thought you’d forgotten.

Fernando [Lamas] had asked me years ago not to be in the movies or television or do interviews anymore; as I say in my book, he asked, “Can you stop being Esther Williams?” And I said, “Well, that’s an interesting idea; I’ve been her for a lot of years. Let’s see how I do without her.”

And when Fernando died in 1982, the thing I noticed about the death of a life partner, especially one as difficult as Fernando was—when they go, you’re out of a job! The first person that called me after he died was Shirley Maclaine, who is my friend, and she said, “Well, Esther, you can finally get out of the house.” And I thought, Oh, Shirley, you tell it like it is. I’m so very fond of her.

Katharine HepburnAnd then Barbara Walters called. And I said, “Oh, Barbara, I haven’t been photographed in 20 years!” The one thing that Katharine Hepburn said that really made sense to me is that good thing about the talk shows is that people get to watch you rot. And I said, “I’ve been rotting in private!” And she said, “I’ve seen you at parties and you don’t look like you’re rotting to me. I want you to come and do one of my specials.” I said, “I’m not going to look good next to Jane Fonda or Sally Field.” And she said, “I won’t put you next to Jane Fonda and Sally Field; I’ll put you in the middle segment—we’ll put Mr. T before you and Howard Cosell after you, two of the ugliest men in the world.” And I said, “Oh, then I’ll do the show—of course!” [laughs]

Early in the book you detail a clinical experience with LSD. Later, you reveal that you were the victim of a rape at the hands of a family friend when you were a young woman, that your older brother died a tragic death when he was just in his teens. Was the book a form of catharsis for you?

You know, we seem to acquire, as we age and deal with various diminished capacities, an ability to articulate our feelings. To say, “No, no, you don’t understand. It wasn’t that way; it was this way.” And what happened to me is that, when I would go through the problems of day-to-day living, it was always wonderful to go to the studio and dive into that wonderful water. The water was very healing for me, and it remains so even today. I’m in my 70s. I had a knee replaced not so long ago and was going through physical therapy, and it hurt, you know? They’ve got to bring the muscles along, and it hurts.

So I said to Mark, my physical therapist—he came to my house to work with me, and he didn’t know how to swim—I said, “You’re $60 an hour, Mark. And you hurt. I don’t want to be hurting anymore; I’m going to get in the pool. And I tell you what we’ll do—we’ll call the $60 a push, because that’s what I’ll charge you for your swimming lesson. And I got him swimming, and he loved it.

What an opportunity for him, to receive a swimming lesson from Esther Williams! That’s a rare opportunity.

Artur RubensteinI thought it was worth the $60! Candy Bergen rang my doorbell one day and said, “I want [her daughter] Chloe to learn to swim.” And I said, “If you wanted her to learn to play piano, would you ring Artur Rubenstein‘s door?” And she said, “I don’t care if she plays piano, but she’s got to learn to swim.” And I said, “Yes, that’s true. Because that can save her life. Piano won’t ever save her life.”

Are you pleased—or perhaps surprised—by the rise of women’s athletics? Would you ever have imagined the sort of attention that’s been lavished on the U.S. women’s soccer team or the Olympic basketball players and gymnasts?

And synchronized swimming! It’s an Olympic sport now. Yes, it’s very exciting.
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