Here are 10 things you should know about the great screenwriter and director Preston Sturges, born 121 years ago today. From where we sit, he is one of the true giants of cinematic comedy.
Here are 10 things you should know about the lovely Claudette Colbert, born 115 years ago today.
We saw her perform on Broadway 33 years ago opposite Rex Harrison in a drawing room comedy called Aren’t We All? and it remains among our greatest regrets that we didn’t play Stage-Door Johnny after the show to tell her how we admired her. In fact, we try very hard not to think about it, so much does it torment us.
The great Preston Sturges was born Edmund Preston Biden 118 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois. We consider him one of the true giants of American comedy filmmaking. Among the pictures he wrote or directed are The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night, The Great McGinty, Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve, and The Palm Beach Story—classics, every last one of them. Here are 10 PS Did-You-Knows:
- His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey (though she would be known by many names), an eccentric character worthy of inclusion in one of Sturges’ films, was close friends with dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan; in fact, it was a scarf Dempsey gave to Duncan that led to the dancer’s infamous death.
- Sturges’ mother was married several times, but it was her third husband, a wealthy Chicago stockbroker named Solomon Sturges, who was a true father to Preston. He adopted him when Sturges was 4 years old and provided guidance and support to him throughout his life.
- Prior to launching his writing career, Sturges was employed as a runner on Wall Street and worked for his mother’s cosmetics company, even inventing a kiss-proof lipstick.
- In 1917, Sturges enlisted in the Army Air Service, serving at Camp Dick in Texas without ever seeing action. Three Hundred Words of Humor, a humorous essay he wrote for the camp newspaper, was his first published work.
- Sturges claimed to have introduced the club sandwich to Germany.
- His first success came on Broadway with a play he wrote called Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote the play in just six days, it ran for 16 months (a very lengthy run in 1929), and he was working for Paramount Pictures soon thereafter.
- He worked for a decade as a studio screenwriter, and though he wrote some terrific movies during that time, he was often frustated by the final product.
- So eager was Sturges to direct his own scripts that he sold the rights to The Great McGinty to Paramount for just one dollar (some reports say the fee was $10), with the stipulation that he would be allowed to direct it. He would go on to win the very first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for that script.
- Sturges amassed a troupe of actors that he used repeatedly in his films, and when the studio objected, fearing the actors’ faces would become too familiar to the audience, Sturges responded, “These little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”
- In the 1940s and ’50s, he owned and operated a nightclub called The Players on the Sunset Strip.
Happy birthday, Preston Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs!
Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée 115 years ago today in Island Pond, Vermont. He was a huge star as a young man, a true teen idol singing in a brand new style—the Elvis Presley (or perhaps the Justin Bieber) of his day, if you will. Here are 10 RV Did-You-Knows:
- In addition to his vocal talents, Vallée played drums, clarinet and saxophone.
- Vallée’s popular radio program of the 1920s and early ’30s was sponsored by Fleishmann’s Yeast (funny, but you just don’t see or hear that many yeast advertisements anymore).
- Vallée, for all his popularity with the public, was said to be difficult to work with early in his career. He was short-tempered and ever spoiling for a fight, it is said.
- As an orchestra leader, Vallée gave many popular singers their start, among them Alice Faye and Frances Langford.
- Vallée wrote his first memoir in 1930, when he was all of 29.
- His catch-phrase was, “Heigh-ho, everybody!”
- The crooners of the 1920s and ’30s, of whom Vallée was among the most popular, were singing in a new, more intimate, even sexy style that simply wasn’t possible prior to the rise of the microphone. Rudy’s vocalizing may not strike the average listener today as especially sexy, but at the time, it was. If you don’t believe us, just ask him: He insisted on more than one occasion that “People called me the guy with the cock in his voice.” (No, we don’t really understand that, either.)
- He played the romantic lead in several movies at the height of his popularity, but he later switched to more comedic roles, playing stuffy, pompous and sometimes oddball characters. (He’s very funny in Preston Sturges‘ The Palm Beach Story (1942), for example, but one almost wonders if he’s in on the joke.)
- Vallée had a hit in the 1920s with The Maine Stein Song, the fight song for his alma mater, the University of Maine.
- Vallée died in 1986 while watching the Statue of Liberty Centennial ceremonies on television.
Happy birthday, Rudy Vallée, wherever you may be!
The great Preston Sturges would have been 116 today; alas, he made it not much past halfway to that age, dying at 60 in 1959.
But the mark he left of cinematic comedy is indelible and undeniable. He was a much-in-demand screen writer for many years before he ever sat in the director’s chair (among the classic movies he wrote but didn’t direct: The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night), and when he finally did began to direct, he upped his game to heights rarely, if ever, equaled.
In a perfect world, you and I could meet for a beer and go see a Sturges comedy tonight. In a theatre with an appreciative audience is the best way to experience his work (as it is, let’s face it, with all funny movies), but since that’s not going to happen, we urge you to cancel your plans and rent any of the aforementioned titles, or any of those below: Sullivan’s Travels, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Unfaithfully Yours, The Palm Beach Story…
You might also pick up his memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His was a life as entertaining and as unlikely as the most outlandish of his pictures, and he tells his story with characteristic panache.
Happy birthday, Mr. Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs.