Stars of Vaudeville #950: Roy D’Arcy

Posted in Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on February 10, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Roy D’Arcy (Roy Francis Giusti, 1894-1969). I am wracking my brains this morning as to how he ever got onto my radar — and I think it is because I saw him in Revolt of the Zombies (1936) a few months ago. D’Arcy specialized in screen villains. But we get ahead of ourselves.

Originally from San Francisco, D’Arcy is said to have “traveled with a band of Gypsies” and studied painting in Paris before returning to the U.S. to go on the stage. He sang in the choruses of musical comedies, and toured in vaudeville as a monologist throughout the early twenties. His break was when Erich Von Stroheim cast him as the villain in The Merry Widow (1925). Throughout the remainder of the silent era, he enjoyed stardom playing evil characters in such films as La Boheme (1926) and The Temptress (1926). When talkies arrived he was mostly relegated to B movies, serials and westerns for such studios as Monogram and Mascot, although one of his last roles was an uncredited part in Fred and Ginger’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). In the 40s he retired from show business and went into real estate.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #949: Bill Tilden

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on February 10, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of tennis great “Big Bill” Tilden (1893-1953). Long a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, Tilden was the World #1 tennis player from 1920 through 1925, won seven U.S. championships, and a long list of other impressive sounding accolades I am too tennis illiterate to properly understand or appreciate. But what I do know is vaudeville, and Tilden like so many of his era, was bit by the bug. In 1928, he toured with a sketch a sketch called “A Night at the Tennis and Racquet Club.” The following year he was said to have visited London and U.S. theatres with a monologue “in one” wherein he recounted his tennis experiences. Tilden was said to have a star personality, and he hobknobbed on the courts with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Later, scandal tarnished his image (he had a weakness for underage boys) and it damaged his career.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #948: George Ade

Posted in AMERICANA, Broadway, Comedy, Playwrights, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on February 9, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great midwestern humorist, author and playwright George Ade (1866-1944). I’ve already blogged here about his Fables in Slang and other humor, including his piece “Zoroaster and Zendavesta“, about a couple of vaudevillians. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that Ade had a considerable footprint in vaudeville himself. Like many playwrights, Ade wrote sketches and playlets that were produced in big time vaudeville. In fact, a sketch of his, called “Speaking to Father”, starring Milton Pollack was on the very first bill at the Palace in 1913. His first one-act for vaudeville “Mrs. Peckham’s Carouse” was written for and starred May Irwin; she began touring with it in 1906. Other Ade vaud skits included “Marse Covington”, and “The Mayor and the Manicure”. Some critics panned them; others called them “masterpieces.” Ade himself referred to his weakness for vaudeville, his “life of shame”.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #947: Alma Rubens

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Alma Rubens (Alma Genevieve Reubens, 1897-1931).

Originally from San Francisco, Rubens started out when still a teenager as a chorus girl in musical comedies. There she met long-time trouper Franklyn Farnum, 20 years her senior, with whom she went into movies, and who was to become her first husband. She was an extra in D.W. Griffith films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), but then began to be cast opposite Douglas Fairbanks in such films as Reggie Mixes In (1916), The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), The Half Breed (1916) and The Americano (1916). She co-starred in several westerns with William S. Hart. Then in 1920, she signed with William Randolph Hearst’s Metropolitan Pictures, starring in his hit Humoresque and others. Later she signed with Fox, where the film version of the melodrama favorite East Lynne (1925) was one of her hits. In 1927 she married her third husband the movie star Ricardo Cortez (her second had been film scenarist Daniel Carson Goodwin).

By the late 20s she was in the grip of a worsening drug addiction, which had apparently developed when a physician had prescribed morphine for an ailment. Sanitarium stays, arrests and bad publicity began to prevented her from working in films. Her last role was Julie in the 1929 version of Show Boat.

Now it was that she went into vaudeville, as many films stars were doing in the early 30s. She toured in a team with Cortez, commencing with much fanfare at the Palace in New York. But during the tour, the couple broke up. Rubens was arrested for drug smuggling and possession in San Diego in early 1931. It was shortly after this that she sadly died of pneumonia at the age of 33.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #946: Valerie Bergere

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , on February 8, 2016 by travsd

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 Today is the birthday of Valerie Bergere (Valerie Zenobia de Beaumont Lieb, 1867-1938).

Borne in Alsace-Lorraine, she moved to to the San Francisco area with her family some time prior to the 1890s. She briefly worked at a local newspaper, and then began to take chorus parts and small roles with San Francisco based opera and theatre companies. She gradually worked her way way east to Philadelphia and finally, New York, where by 1900 she was in David Belasco’s company, playing roles that had formerly belonged to Blanche Bates. 

In 1902, she began to produce, direct and star in one-act plays at Percy Williams’ vaudeville theatres. Over the next two decades she would tour big time vaudeville in over two dozen such mini-productions, while continuing to take roles in “legit” productions through the end of the ’30s. She also managed several other vaudeville acts in similar sketches. Her film career was much more modest; she played bit roles in about a half-dozen films. Bergere was married three times, the first was to vaudevillian and former baseball star Jack Farrell; the second to vaudeville opera singer N. Dano; the third was actor Herbert Warren, with whom she had appeared in many plays. 

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Silent Sundays: Mardi Gras on Frenchman Street (1910)

Posted in HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Mardi Gras, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2016 by travsd

A group of masked and costumed Mardi Gras revelers on Frenchman Street, New Orleans in 1910. Photograph by John N. Teunisson.

1910 Mardi Gras revelers on Frenchman Street, New Orleans photographed by John N. Teunisson, (via Trashy Diva).

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Little House on the Prairie

Posted in AMERICANA, BOOKS & AUTHORS, ME, My Family History, Television, Women with tags , , , , on February 7, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), a distant cousin of mine via our mutual ancestor Edmund Ingalls (1586-1648) of Lynn Massachusetts, my (10th) great grandfather. I would have been delighted to have known this as a kid, when I was a fan of the tv show based on her series of kids books, which in turn were based on her life, Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982).

The tv Little House simplifies the setting to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, while the real life Ingalls’ lived all over the place: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and the Dakotas. While running a successful farm with her husband in Missouri, Wilder began contributing columns to local newspapers. During the Depression this finally led, with the encouragement and support of her already successful daughter Rose Wilder Lane, to the publishing of her fictionalized memoirs. When Lane died, the rights went to her heir and “adopted grandson” Roger MacBride. who produced the tv series some 40 years after the books were written. (MacBride, politically influenced by Lane, went on to be the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President in 1976.)

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Nostalgia for Little House on the Prairie tends to be something people my age bond over. This show did much to stimulate my imagination about pioneer life, a foible of my boyhood I wrote about here. 

Although when you went back and read the original book(s) you realized how idealized the tv version was. On the show, the house seems more spacious and clean than would be true, the clothes are pristine. The parents are played by Michael Landon (previously of Bonanza) with his blow dried hair, dimpled chin and perfect teeth, and the lovely Karen Grassle; they are too modern and articulate for their roles, almost urbane, compared with what I imagine the truth to have been.

Melissa Gilbert, with her adorable overbite, was extremely likable as the author in her girlhood; Melissa Sue Anderson was her pretty, humorless older sister; and the babbling toddler Carrie was played by a pair of twins, Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush (that’s the custom in Hollywood where small children are concerned, it keeps them from working long hours. )

My favorite actor on the show however was Victor French, as the brusque, lovable, funny Mr. Edwards. With his scruffy beard and bulging eyes he reminded me of the illustrations of “Pap” in my edition of Huckleberry Finn. He was the only one who seemed properly rough enough to be believable. But I am also with the majority in a lasting appreciation of the comical Olsen family, the townfolk who ran the mercantile: the henpecked husband Nels (Richard Bull), his odious scheming wife Harriet (Katherine MacGregor) and their hilariously evil children Nellie (Allison Arngrim) and Willie (Jonathan Gilbert). Nellie, with her blonde curls, became a sort of archetype of villainy, while Willie was more like her stupid lackey. Dabbs Greer was also extremely memorable as Rev. Alden (and I subsequently caught him in countless old westerns).

The show lasted 9 seasons, but I lost my enthusiasm for it after the first 3 or 4, as I was by then in junior high school and moving away from “childish” family programming. I also resisted change, and new characters began to be added. I didn’t like the kid who played Albert, for example. I found him too “pretty” and “sweet” and boring. (There was a long list of male kid stars I preferred, most of them with a mischievous, funny side: Jack Wild, Danny Bonaduce, Eric Shea, Johnny Whitaker, Adam Rich, Lance Kerwin, and the three guys on The Brady Bunch all spring to mind.) And the show seemed to jump the shark when Mary went blind, got married etc (even though the stuff really happened. I still didn’t like it). And it became very preachy as was the trend in the late 70s, with each episode focused on some “issue of the week”, alcohol, gambling, prejudice, etc. I am against those things too. But you know what the REAL problems prairie farmers were dealing with in the 1870s? Oh, things like locusts, blight, drought, blizzards, starvation, primitive medicine, etc etc etc. There was precious little time for conversations about social problems. The early seasons dealt more with those aspects of frontier life, and I preferred them. Yes, the cannibalism of the Donner Party, that’s what family programming needs!

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