Here are 10 things you should know about Rockliffe Fellowes, born 139 years ago today. He began his career on the stage and made more than 60 movies over a 20-year film career.
Last night we watched The Lady Objects (1938), a strange and kind of silly drama/musical (drusical?) that finds Gloria Stuart, adorable as ever, playing a hotshot lawyer whose husband (Lanny Ross), a former All-American halfback, a world-class tenor and a hopeful young architect (quite the trifecta, that), resents her success and the demands it places on her time.
As we said, kind of silly, but entertaining enough, since we get a special kick out of watching any picture that features Ms. Stuart. We were pleased to do a telephone interview with her some years ago when her memoir was published, and we’ll admit to being not a little proud that when we got to meet her in person a few weeks later at her book party in NYC, she flirted with us just the slightest bit. Nothing overt, nothing untoward, but in a room filled almost entirely with the young women of the publishing industry, we stood out, it seems—a young(ish—we were 41 at the time) man who was thrilled to dote on Ms. Stuart, bringing her food and drink, asking her questions about her movie career back in the 1930s and generally behaving in starstruck fashion.
So whenever we see her looking so fetching on the screen, we can’t help but think, That gorgeous movie star once flirted with us, an actress who might have once flirted with Humphrey Bogart, The Marx Brothers, James Cagney, Lee Tracy, Melvyn Douglas, Boris Karloff, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Eddie Cantor, John Boles, Claude Rains, Lionel Atwell, Frank Morgan, Brian Donlevy, Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Don Ameche, Lyle Talbot, George Sanders, Walter Pidgeon, Jack Oakie, and Richard Dix. In any case, she appeared in pictures with each of them (except Bogart and the Marx Brothers, whom she knew socially).
Yes, our brief encounter with Ms. Stuart came more than a half-century after those hypothetical Hollywood flirtations—she was 89 at the time—but if she batted her eyelashes at even one-tenth of her aforementioned costars back in the day, we’d have to say we’re in pretty good company!
We’ve come across any number of theatre flyers over the years (including the drive-in flyers from the late 1950s featured in this post), but we’ve never encountered one quite like this one.
At first glance, it appears to be simply a promotional headshot of once-popular leading man Warner Baxter with a printed autograph (which is surprisingly convincing, by the way—we were briefly fooled into thinking we’d scored an genuine autographed photo of Baxter for a mere five smackers), but turn the photo over, and voila—it’s a programming schedule for three different New Jersey theatres. Part of the name is missing from the top theatre, but a little research has us convinced it was the Branchville Theater in Branchville, New Jersey. All we’ve been able to ascertain about the Branchville is that it was listed in the Film Daily Yearbook in 1944 and 1951, and on one weekend in 1937, they screened The Awful Truth, with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, Angel with Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, and Melvyn Douglas, and Conquest, starring Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer.
How much earlier than that the theatre was in operation or when it closed, we can’t say. But we’d pay good money to see those three pictures at a small-town bijou like the Branchville, of that you can be sure.
Also featured on this promotional photo is the Colonial Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey. (Did you know that no fewer than ten Jersey towns had a theatre called the Colonial at one time or another? It’s true. And an eleventh burg, Hopewell, had a movie theatre called the Colonial Playhouse.)
This Colonial opened in 1922 as the New Colonial on the corner of Bay Avenue and Center Street, replacing an old wooden structure some blocks away. One source says the old Colonial was retained and used in the winter, when the crowds thinned out (Beach Haven, as you might have guessed, is on the Jersey shore, so the population no doubt used to drop precipitously each year at summer’s end. Probably still does.)
Here’s a pair of then-and-now photos of the Colonial. Word has it, it’s now a private residence and no longer the hardware store it was in 2007, but we have no proof of that.
Interesting to note they were featuring the same three movies the Branchville was showing, but each played one day later at the Colonial. (We can’t help but wonder what the Colonial was showing on Friday, Nov. 12, 1937. The flyer doesn’t say.)
The last bijou on the flyer is the Park Theatre in Barnegat, New Jersey. Both the Barnegat and the Colonial (and, we’re guessing, the Branchville) were owned and operated by one Harry Colmer, who died in 1956. His family operated the theatres until 1964, when they sold them.
The Park, which opened in the early 1900s as the Barnegat Opera House, a venue for vaudeville and minstrel shows, began also showing movies between 1915 and 1920. It later became a full-time movie house under the new name. The Park Theatre, since demolished, was located on Shore Road in Barnegat, which is presently Route 9.
The weekend of Friday and Saturday, November 12th-13th, 1937, the Park was featuring Ali Baba Goes to Town, starring Eddie Cantor, Tony Martin, and Roland Young. That one we’d have to think twice about catching. We’d likely opt to drive the twenty miles over to Beach Haven to take in The Awful Truth or Angel at the Colonial (Branchville lies 142 miles away, a bit of a trek to catch a movie).
In Chapter 9 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she offers recollections of more celebrities than we could possibly list here. Many of the names are still familiar; others all but forgotten. A few we couldn’t even track down via the internet, and heaven knows we tried.
EVEN Fred Keating, the magician, once forgot where he put his hat check!
But hat check girls, even red-haired ones, have memories, so sometimes when business at my window is slack, I sit and think of the million and one things that have happened between the celebrity-laden walls of Sardi’s. Incidents, names, personalities galore, and sometimes just a casual word will start my train of thought along almost forgotten tracks. Would you like to lift the lid of the Carroll cranium and see what’s going on inside?
Here comes George Jean Nathan, world’s best critic by his own admission. I’ll never forget the day I bawled him out because he insisted on having his hat set apart from the others—and how embarrassed he was. I never suspected anyone could embarrass him . . . telling Warner Baxter that he was my favorite movie star, only to be overheard by Richard Dix to whom I had dished out the same line only two days before . . . the day Helen Menken, reddest of the red-heads, gave us a big surprise by changing to the color gentlemen are supposed to prefer . . . Incidentally, she never takes her gloves off when she eats!
And here is Robert Garland, who pilots (or piles-it) the dramatic column in the World-Telly, and is a regular customer as a certain blind spot in the roaring Fifties (they’re roaring further uptown now). He’d been a regular patient at the drink infirmary for more than a year when one night he showed at the barred door and knocked the magic knock. A weary, unshaved faced appeared in the aperture.
“Hello, Tony, I wanna come in.”
“Who are you?” the face inquired.
Infuriated because he had spent his good shekels for so many nights and still remained a dim bulb in the big sign, he shouted back the first thing that came to his mind—a catchline from a New Yorker cartoon.
“You must remember me,” yelled Garland, “I’m the guy who punched my wife in the nose here last night.”
And he was ushered in with any more undue ceremony!
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