Happy 114th Birthday, Dorothy Mackaill!

Actress Dorothy Mackaill was born 114 years ago today in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, England. Here are 10 DM Did-You-Knows:

  • Mackaill’s parents separated when she was eleven, after which she lived with her father.
  • As a teen, she left home for London in pursuit of a career acting on the stage. After a short sting in Paris, she met a Broadway choreographer who convinced her to move to New York City.
  • That move paid off, as she was soon made a Follies Girl in the The Ziegfeld Follies and met actresses Marion Davies and Nita Naldi.
  • In 1920, Mackaill made her motion picture debut in a movie mystery, The Face at the Window, and also appeared in a number of comedies opposite actor Johnny Hines.
  • In 1921, Mackaill’s career received another boost when she was cast in Bits of Life, along with Anna May Wong, Noah Beery and Lon Chaney.
  • Mackaill’s star-making role came in 1924, when she appeared in The Man Who Came Back opposite leading man George O’Brien. She was also named, along with Clara Bow and eleven other starlets, a WAMPAS Baby Star.
  • The arrival of talking pictures didn’t appear to present a problem for Mackaill—she worked steadily in the early years of the sound era—but she was signed with First National Pictures, which merged with Warner Brothers in 1928, and when her contract ended in 1931, Warners declined to renew it.
  • Mackaill continued to work as a free agent, but the roles came less frequently—she made just eight pictures in the next six years before retiring in 1937 to care for her ailing mother.
  • In 1955, Mackaill moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, a locale she’d very much enjoyed while filming His Captive Woman there in 1929. She resided at the deluxe Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the beach at Waikiki, swimming in the ocean on a near-daily basis.
  • Mackaill acted just three times after 1937, making a single appearance on the anthology television series Studio One in Hollywood in 1953 and two guest spots (in 1976 and 1980) on Hawaii Five-O, which certainly made for an easy commute to work. When she passed away in 1990, her ashes were scattered off her beloved Waikiki beach.

Happy birthday, Dorothy Mackaill, wherever you may be!

Dorothy Mackaill

Happy 116th Birthday, Jean Arthur!

The wonderful Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene 116 years ago today in Plattsburgh, New York. She was a reluctant and, some say, unlikely star, but she was one of the true greats in the genre of screwball and romantic comedies. Here are 10 JA Did-You-Knows:

  • Arthur was of Norwegian and English descent. Her father was a photographer, and her family relocated frequently as she was growing up; she would spend time in Jacksonville, Florida; Schenectady, New York; Saranac Lake, New York; and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood (the building she lived is still there, at 573 West 159th Street).
  • In the early 1920s, Arthur worked as stenographer. She also did some commercial modeling, and it was via her modeling work that she was discovered by Fox Film Studios, who thought she could be remade into a “flapper” type. She made her debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford.
  • It’s said that she took her stage name from two of her heroes: Joan of Arc and King Arthur (we are skeptical of this, to be honest, but we are merely reporting what’s long been claimed).
  • Arthur’s trademarks as an actress were her comic timing and her distinctive voice, which Frank Capra described in his autobiography as “low, husky—at times it broke pleasingly into the high octaves like a thousand tinkling bells.”
  • Arthur was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1929, along with Anita Page, Helen Twelvetrees and Loretta Young, among others.
  • Her film career floundering in the early 1930s, Arthur returned to New York City to hone her acting chops in a series of Broadway productions. Having gained confidence in her abilities, she returned to Hollywood in 1934, signing a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures that brought her financial stability. She also went blonde and would remain so throughout her career.
  • Arthur was convinced her left side was her best side, and she insisted on being filmed from that side whenever possible.
  • Arthur made three pictures with director Frank Capra, all of them very successful: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Capra once named her as his favorite actress.
  • The borderline reclusive Arthur was reluctant to participate in publicity efforts for her pictures. she was not active in the Hollywood social whirl and was hesitant to give interviews.
  • Arthur received one Academy Award nomination, in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for The More the Merrier (1943). A year earlier, she won the Sour Apple Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, which was given to the year’s “Least Cooperative Actor/Actress.”

Happy birthday, Jean Arthur, wherever you may be!

Jean Arthur

Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
  • In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
  • After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
  • Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
  • Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
  • She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
  • Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
  • In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
  • Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
  • Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.

Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!

Fay Wray

Happy 110th Birthday, Joan Blondell!

The wonderful Joan Blondell was born into a vaudeville family 110 years ago today in New York City. A performer from early childhood, she provided a spark to just about any picture or program she appeared in. Here are 10 JB Did-You-Knows:

  • Blondell toured with her family’s act, the Bouncing Blondells, until she was 17, at which point the family settled in Dallas, Texas.
  • In Dallas, Blondell became a beauty contest contestant under the name Rosebud Blondell. She won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant, was a finalist in an early version of the Miss Universe pageant in May of that year, and came in fourth in that year’s Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
  • Blondell relocated to NYC around 1927 to join a stock theatrical company, and in 1930, she appeared on Broadway opposite James Cagney in a play called Penny Arcade (Cagney would soon make his film debut in the film version of the play, Sinners’ Holiday; Blondell was in that picture, too, but she already had a small handful of films to her credit at that point). Both Cagney and Blondell repeated their Broadway roles in the film version at the insistence of Al Jolson, who’d seen the play on Broadway and purchased the film rights, though the play had closed after just three weeks.
  • Blondell and Cagney made six pictures together at Warner Brothers—more than any other actress.
  • Blondell was a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1930.
  • Blondell was married three times—to cinematographer George Barnes for just under three years, to actor and crooner Dick Powell for just under eight years and to theatrical impresario Michael Todd for just under three years. She had a son with Barnes and a daughter with Powell.
  • When she signed with Warner Brothers, Jack Warner urged her to change her name—he thought Inez Holmes had a nice ring to it—but Blondell refused.
  • In 1972, Blondell published a novel, Center Door Fancy, that was said to be something of a roman à clef, with characters based on former husband Dick Powell and his third wife, June Allyson, with whom he had an affair while married to Blondell.
  • Blondell was nominated once for an Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in The Blue Veil (1951).
  • In a career that lasted a half-century (if you count vaudeville, her career lasted 75 years), Blondell totaled more than 150 combined credits in pictures and on television. She worked until the very end, with her two final films released after her death of leukemia in 1979.

Happy birthday, Joan Blondell, wherever you may be!

Joan Blondell