Archive for beauty

The Several Stages of Sylvia Sidney

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2017 by travsd

Sylvia Sidney (Sophia Kosow, 1910-1999) was born on this day. I’m an enormous fan of this Hollywood screen actress in all her phases (which we’ll describe), but first, her surprising background.

Perhaps because of the strong impression she makes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage (1936), which I first saw when I was pretty young (13 or 14), I’d always formed an idea of Sidney as pretty Anglo, subconsciously anyway. And there are some parallels in her career arc with Bette Davis (see below), who was as Anglo as it gets. But Sidney was in fact the Bronx born daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. As a teenager she began to take acting classes at the Theatre Guild to deal with her shyness. That quality of shyness, sweetness, and apparent modesty was later be a major component of her screen character, something she shared with Olivia de Havilland and Ruby Keeler. If anything, Sidney had it to an even greater degree, even if, off-camera, she could be quite a terror. Her later marriage to Yiddish theatre scion Luther Adler from 1938 to 1946 further points to her origins, as do some of her later screen roles, as in Raid on Entebbe (1976).

Sidney’s professional stage and screen debuts happened simultaneously. In 1927 she was in the Broadway revue Crime (for which she got excellent reviews) and that same year she was also an extra, along with the unknown Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sothern, in the film Broadway Nights. She was a constant presence on Broadway through 1930. After that, she continued to return to the stage sporadically over the rest of her career. Her last Broadway role was in the original production of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre (1977).

By the early 30s Sidney was already a movie star, with the apparent help of her benefactor (and lover) B.P. Schulberg. She stepped in as the replacement for Clara Bow in City Streets (1931), which made her a star; other notable pictures of the early years included An American Tragedy (1931); Elmer Rice’s Street Scene (1931); Thirty Day Princess (1934), penned by Preston Sturges; the Technicolor western The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), the aforementioned Sabotage and Fritz Lang’s Fury (both 1936), and Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End (1937).

Sidney’s beauty was of the rarest type; her enormous eyes were both “innocent” and sensuous; her bee-stung lips reinforced the latter impression even as her tremulous voice conveyed the sentiments of a damsel in distress. These traits promised the sort of stardom she’d enjoyed in the 30s far into the future. But she developed a well earned reputation for being “difficult”. She was smart, finicky, and temperamental, and given to passionate outbursts, even given to throwing things at her colleagues. She lost the affections and patronage of Schulberg, who’d lost his stature in the industry anyway. In 1935 she married Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, but the marriage only lasted three months. She starred in only 5 films during the 1940s (contrast this with the single year of 1931, when she appeared in 4).

Starting in the 1950s her main jam was dramatic television, and she was working A LOT. In fact she worked constantly from that point until her death. And this resulted in a very strange phenomenon. Late career Sylvia Sydney was an extremely familiar face to tv and movie watchers: guest shots on prominent tv shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, roles in schlocky horror films like Snowbeast (1977) and Damien: Omen II (1978) (which is why I compared her to Bette Davis above). Tim Burton loved her so much he put her in both Beetlejuice (1988) and Mars Attacks! (1996). I knew her face well, but I never paid particular attention to her name. Thus…it took me years — decades, actually — to match the Sylvia Sidney of the 1930s, whose work I knew well, with the Sylvia Sidney of the 70s, 80s and 90s, whose work I also knew well! And then one day, a few years ago, it dawned on me while watching a film of the later period, “Wait a minute! That’s Sylvia Sidney. THAT Sylvia Sidney!” Isn’t that strange?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that, unlike late Bette Davis, she didn’t get star billing in these later performances; she was usually a supporting player in an ensemble. So her name is buried in the credits. And yes, the years had changed her appearance. But also her screen character had changed quite a lot in the intervening years. Once the sweet, innocent damsel, she was now a crusty old, short tempered dame with a husky smoker’s voice. (Ruby Keeler had made a similar evolution). Making the leap would be easier, I gather, by looking at performances from her middle period of the 40s and 50s, when she worked on changing her image to something a bit naughtier, but I remained (and still remain) deficient in seeing her work from this period.

Mid-period, transitional Sidney

Ironically, in light of the hilarious sight gag Tim Burton had employed in Beetlejuice (where she smoked through a hole in her neck), Sidney died of cancer of the esophagus at age 89.

Gladys Glad: Glad All Over

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by travsd

July 9 is the natal day of Bronx-born Gladys Glad (1907-1983) and, yes, apparently that was her real name.

1926 was to be the pivotal year in this Glad Girl’s life, for in that year the fetching 19 year old won a beauty contest sponsored by the Daily News and was cast in the chorus of her first Broadway show, the Ziegfeld revue No Foolin’, which also featured Moran and Mack, Charles King, Ray Dooley, Paulette Goddard, Peggy Fears, et al. Ziegfeld must have loved Gladys Glad, and she, him. She was to appear in a half dozen of his Broadway productions — and no one else’s. She was in Rio Rita with Wheeler and Woolsey (1927-28), Rosalie (1928) with Marilyn Miller and Frank Morgan, Whoopee! (1928-1929) with Eddie Cantor, and Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic (1929). There was one more Ziegfeld show to come, but first, an interruption:

In 1929, she married columnist Mark Hellinger, who had been a judge in that beauty contest we mentioned earlier, which was the occasion of the their first meeting. It was said she was the love of his life, and she could match him drink for drink, but still the marriage would prove to be rocky. He was a chronic workaholic, and frequently unfaithful.

But in the first leg of their lives together they were closely-knit, both romantically and professionally. In 1930 they toured the Loew’s vaudeville circuit together with an act. In 1931, they were both involved with the Ziegfeld Follies. He wrote comedy sketches; she stood out in the show as “The Follies Girl of 1931″, ‘The Queen” and “The Beautiful White Goddess.”

During the run of this edition of Follies Glad and Hellinger were involved in a horrible accident. They, and a bunch of friends were relaxing on Harry Richman’s yacht off Greenport, Long Island, when the engine (for no reason that was ever ascertained) blew up. The Hellingers emerged shaken but unscathed, but Gladys’s good friend and fellow chorus girl Helen Walsh was badly burned, and died a few days later of her injuries. That story is reported here.

In 1932, Glad and Hellinger divorced — only to get re-married again a few months later. They remained married for the rest of Hellinger’s short life. The Follies of 1931 was Glad’s last show. But she kept busy. In the 1930s she wrote a beauty advice column for the Daily News. These columns were later excerpted and released as a series of pamphlets, like this one, “The New Figure: Reducing and Gaining”:

In 1933 her career came full circle when she was one of the judges of the Miss America pageant: 

Glad and Russell Patterson judge the swimsuit portion

The Hellingers’ lives began to change in the late 30s. In late 1936 Hellinger produced the Broadway show Double Dummy. The following year, the pair moved to Hollywood. Hellinger already done some work there; he’d co-written the screenplay for Frank Capra’s Broadway Bill (1934). But in 1937 he began working as a full time writer/producer for Warner Brothers. With this career move, he began the hard-driving, hard-working life that killed him of heart failure a decade later. Glad’s life was primarily devoted at this stage to caring for the two children the couple had adopted in the early ’40s.

In June 1947 she sat for this portrait by John Decker, best remembered today as a drinking buddy of W.C. Fields and John Barrymore. It was to be his last painting.He died shortly thereafter. Six months later, Hellinger was also dead.

In December 1948, almost exactly a year into widowhood, Glad married Toronto film executive Arthur Gottlieb, thenceforth becoming known as as “Gladys Glad Gottlieb”. In 1952 she wrote the introduction to Jim Bishop’s book The Mark Hellinger Story: A Biography of Broadway and Hollywood. Her last decades seems to have been involved with running charities started by Hellinger. And when she died in 1983, though Gottlieb had predeceased her 20 years earlier, she was buried alongside Hellinger at his plot in Sleepy Hollow, New York. 

For more on the variety arts, including revues like the Ziegfeld Follies, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

Kay Laurell: Too Beautiful for this Earth?

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by travsd

Kay Laurell (1890-1927) came into the world on a June 28. Born Ruth Leslie (an equally good professional name, I think) in Erie Pennsylvania, she moved to New York as a teenager where she very quickly discovered and employed as an artists’ model for such illustrators and William Glackens and Howard Chandler Christy. This brought her to the notice of Flo Ziegfeld, who cast her in his Follies of 1914, 1915 and 1918. Because of her great beauty (and her willingness of disrobe) she became famous for appearing topless or near-naked in Ziegfeld’s “artistic” tableaux, appearing as Aphrodite in the 1915 edition, and “The Spirit of the Allies” in 1918, when the U.S. was in Wold War One. Here she is decorated as “September Morn”:

There’s a snap in the air!

Most commentators remarked on her beauty but H.L. Mencken is said used her for inspiration for his acerbic 1918 book In Defense of Women, quipping that she was gifted with “all the arts of the really first-rate harlot.”

She dabbled in pictures next, appearing in three silent films: The Brand (1919), The Valley of the Giants (1919), and Lonely Heart (1921). She next toured in vaudeville and with stock companies for the next three years. She returned to Broadway to appear in the plays Quarantine (1924) and Nocturne (1925), but the latter ran only three performances. Her remaining two years were spent working in London and Paris theatre.

Laurell died in childbirth in 1927 giving birth to her first child. The father of the child was a son of Canadian adventurer Klondike Joe Boyle, but the pregnancy was out of wedlock because Laurell was still legally attached to Fox executive Winfield Sheehan whom she’d married in 1917. She was 36 when she died — young for us, but rather old for a first pregnancy in those days.

For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold. For more on early film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. 

Billie Dove: Follies Girl

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2017 by travsd

Silent film star Billie Dove (Bertha Bohnny 1903-1997) was born on this day. Born to Swiss immigrant parents in New York City, the stunningly beautiful teenager began her working life as a model to artists like Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg. She was also said to have worked as an extra on the Mabel Normand picture Joan of Plattsburg (1918), although she is not visible in the finished picture. In 1919, she was hired as a replacement for the Ziegfeld Follies during the infamous strike; she was also cast as a replacement in the Marilyn Miller show Sally, also produced by Ziegfeld.

With Fairbanks in “The Black Pirate” (1926)

She moved to Hollywood right after this, where she was a star for just over a decade. Her first proper role was in the screen adaptation of George M. Cohan’s Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921) starring Sam Hardy. Interestingly, though her time as an actual chorus girl was brief, she would PORTRAY a chorus girl on screen so often that it became a big part of of her Jazz Age image, in movies like At the Stage Door (1921), Polly of the Follies (1922), An Affair of the Follies (1927), The Heart of a Follies Girl (1928), and her very last film Blondie of the Follies (1932). Among her other notable pictures were, The Black Pirate (1926), opposite Douglas Fairbanks, and Kid Boots (1926), Eddie Cantor’s screen debut, an adaptation of his Ziegfeld-produced Broadway show featuring Cantor and Clara Bow. Billie Dove also was known for co-starring in numerous westerns with the likes of Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and others.

Dove had a three year romance with Howard Hughes, who’d produced several of her films. In 1933 she retired from the screen to marry oil tycoon Robert Alan Kenaston. After a 30 year absence from the screen she stepped before the camera one last time for a cameo in the Charlton Heston vehicle Diamond Head (1963). Singer Billie Holiday is said to have taken the first part of her stage name from Billie Dove’s.

For more on silent film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

The Ups and Downs of Lina Basquette

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Child Stars, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2017 by travsd

Lina Basquette (Lena Copeland Baskette) was born on April 19, 1907. Basquette was a star of stage and screen through several different phases, but is perhaps best remembered today for her eight marriages, most notably the first one, to Sam Warner of Warner Brothers, with much ensuing personal drama.

Basquette was the child of an ambitious stage mother. Her life took a sharp turn at the tender age of eight when she was spotted dancing in her father’s drug store by a rep from RCA Victor, who hired her to dance in the company’s exhibit at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. This led to a film contract with Universal Pictures, and she began starring (at age nine) in a series of films called Lena Baskette Featurettes. Her mother embraced the new life; the father did not. He committed suicide and her mother married choreographer and dance director Ernest Belcher. (Dancer/choreographer Marge Champion is the daughter of Belcher and Gladys Baskette and the half-sister of Lina Basquette).

Film work seemed to dry up an the end of the decade, so her dance skills were put to use on Broadway in a succession of shows. She appeared in John Murray Anderson’s Jack and Jill (1923), Charles Dillingham’s Nifties of 1923, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924 and 1925, and Rufus LeMaire’s Affairs (1927).

Meanwhile in 1925, she had married movie mogul Sam Warner, who famously died on the eve of the opening of his seminal project The Jazz Singer (1927). There followed a bizarre custody battle between Basquette and the Warner family over her daughter (whom the Warners wanted to raise as one of their own in the Jewish faith, and probably by someone who wasn’t a famous Siren) which lasted many years.

The Godless Girl, 1929

In 1927, Basquette returned to films. In 1928 she was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. The biggest hit of this period (and her career) was Cecil B. DeMille’s semi-talkie The Godless Girl (1929). Her film career lasted until 1943, but her battles with the Warners resulted in a loss of star billing in the talkie era. Her parts got much smaller, sometimes even bit roles, and often in B movies. At the same time, she was making live appearances in night clubs.

In 1943, she was raped and robbed by an off-duty soldier whom she had picked up while hitchhiking. This traumatic event seems to have prompted a major life change for her. She took her savings, bought a farm in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, and reinvented herself as one of the nation’s top breeders of Great Danes! In addition to raising and breeding purebred dogs, she wrote books on the subject and judged shows with the American Kennel Club, an involvement that lasted until the end of her life.

In 1991, she released her memoir Lina: DeMille’s Godless Girl, and emerged from retirement after 48 years to appear in the film Paradise Park. She passed away in 1994.

To find out more about show business historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

NITA NALDI: A VAMP FROM VAUDEVILLE

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by travsd

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NITA NALDI: A VAMP FROM VAUDEVILLE

Today is the birthday of Nita Naldi (Mary Dooley, 1894-1961).

Naldi was the child of working class Irish parents in New York City. When her (then single) mother died in 1915, she was forced to care for her two younger siblings. Fortunately her extraordinary beauty made it easier than it might have been. She worked as an artists’ model and then broke into a vaudeville in a two-act with her brother Frank. This led to chorus parts in Follow the Girl (1918), The Passing Show of 1918 and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 and 1919. This in turn lead to acting roles in plays, the biggest of which was aptly named Opportunity (1920).

From here she went into films, essentially starting out at the top, opposite John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). She was to become of Hollywood’s top silent era vamps, starring in such notable films as Blood and Sand (1922), The Ten Commandments (1923), Cobra (1924), and Alfred Hitchcock’s second film The Mountain Eagle (1926). She was a frequent co-star of Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova.

It was during this heyday that she she sat for this famous illustration by Alberto Vargas:

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Starting in the late 20s she spent several years in Europe and married her longtime lover the millionaire J. Searle Barclay. By 1931 this had fizzled out. The pair separated, she came home, filed for bankruptcy and starred in two short-lived Broadway shows Firebird (1932) and Queer People (1934). At this stage, it was widely held that she was no longer a beauty; she had gained weight since her film stardom. But she continued to perform. She appeared in an off-Broadway revue with Mae Murray in 1942, had a role in the 1952 Broadway show In Any Language, and coached Carol Channing for The Vamp (1955).

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.

Doris Eaton, The Last Ziegfeld Girl

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Doris Eaton (1904-2010), whose chief claim to fame was having been the last surviving Ziegfeld chorus girl. The amazing thing about that is, her time with the Follies had been so early. The original run of the Follies was through 1931, although there were several later Shubert revivals. Yet Eaton had been with the show from 1918 through 1920; countless others had come after her. But Eaton had been a very young teenager when she was employed by Ziegfeld (and yes, she lived to be 106). Prior to this she and her many siblings had been employed by the Poli stock company and appeared in production of The Blue Bird. Her first Broadway show was Mother Carey’s Chickens, in which she appeared with her brother Charles. From 1921 through 1929 she appeared in silent films, even starring in a couple of them, while continuing to appear on Broadway. While her sister Mary was able to briefly make a go of it in talkies, Doris did not. She continued to perform briefly in vaudeville, did some stock theatre, and became a successful dance instructor for many years. In 1949 she married one of her pupils, Paul Travis, becoming Doris Eaton Travis. The ultimate cornucopia for info on this long-lived lady can be found in the eye-popping book Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies by Lauren Redniss. 

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

 

 

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