Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Monkees

This has nothing to do with silent film, but it is way to amazing/awesome/incredible for me not to share. I saw The Monkees in Detroit on Friday and in Columbus on Saturday. The shows were amazing!! The best thing about it...I got to sing part of a song with them, and I am posting the video someone shot. Someone I am not indebted to all my life!

The Monkees are my all time favorite band. The Monkees + Silent films = Jessica. They came into my life when I was younger and was first diagnosed with my heart condition and had my first pacemaker implanted. They were the light in the dark times of my life, as stupid as that sounds, its the truth. I love them so much and it finally hit me what I did when I got home because I was watching them on tv and broke down crying because it really occured to me that I sang with them. They acknowledged me, the 26 year old blonde, and let me sing a song with them. My favorite band :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Miss Betty Bronson

I don't know who out of you all have seen the 1924 version of Peter Pan, but it is great. And what was one reason why it was so great? The star, Betty Bronson. She was so playful and fun that you really believed she was a young boy full of life. Pair that with Mary Brian as a beautiful little Wendy and Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily, win all around! If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Even if you aren't a silent film fan (which why are you reading this if you aren't?) it is still a wonderful film.

Betty Bronson was born Elizabeth Ada Bronson on November 17, 1906 in Trenton, New Jersey. Her parents were Frank and Nellie Bronson.

She got the acting bug early, but didn't begin to pursue a career until she was around 16 or 17 when she used her connections at Paramount Studios to get an interview with author J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. She heard they were casting for the movie and she wanted to be part of it bad! Her perseverance paid off because she was personally selected by the author to star in the film adaptation of his book.

Betty did what many think is impossible, landed a starring role in a film which shot her to fame. She followed with an appearance in another big silent hit, 1925's Ben Hur.

Although she did make a smooth transition to the talkies, she didn't have quite the booming career that she used to in her silent days. She made great film choices though, appearing alongside big names like Al Jolson and Jack Benny.

She appeared off and on in films and tv for years after the 30s, and her last film appearance was in the 1970s in an uncredited role.

Sadly, Betty Bronson passed away at age 64 on October 19, 1971. She had gotten sick and she just gradually got worse.

She was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale. (Sour note. I went to Glendale, but since I spent time sitting and "chatting" with Buster and Clara Bow, I didn't have a lot of time and the park was closing while looking for a few people's graves...Betty was one of them. Next time!)

Mary Pickford was up for the role of Peter Pan, which I can see and is understandable since she played younger roles. But Gloria Swanson also wanted the lead role. Now that I cannot imagine. I know Gloria was a Bathing Beauty and appeared in light comedies for Sennett for awhile, but I cannot picture her playing a young boy like Peter Pan. She is Norma Desmond for goodness sake!

Betty and her Peter Pan co-stars Mary Brian and Esther Ralston became close during filming, and continued to be their whole lives.

Betty only married once, in 1933 to Ludwig Lauerhass. They had one son, Ludwig Jr. No idea when or if they ever divorced. Betty wasn't too big on giving interviews.

Although much isn't known about her marriage to Ludwig, what is known is her relationship with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. They briefly dated, and she kept all the letters he wrote her and both had nothing but kind words to say about each other. She was his first crush! Too cute!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Miss Barbara Kent

Let's start with the fact that this woman is still alive. Seriously. Barbara Kent is the last surviving star of the silent era. How cool is that? The sad/kinda understandable part is that she does not talk about her film past and doesn't grant interviews. It is sad because she has so much history in her to speak about, but the woman is 104, so we can grant her some peace.

Thinking of Barbara makes me sad that I never had a chance to meet Doris Eaton. She lives in Michigan, where I live, and she only just died a year ago. I didn't even realize that I could have gone to her funeral until I went to the cemetery to visit her and the woman working in the office told me about the beautiful memorial service. Grrr! Oh well. I tell you what, when I get to heaven, I will be talking to every one of my idols....if I can pull myself off Buster that is.

Barbara Kent was born Barbara Cloutman on December 16, 1906 in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada. Her parents were Jullion and Lily Cloutman.

She won a Miss Hollywood contest when she was 21, and made her film debut that same year (1925) in a small role. She got her first billing in 1926's The Flesh and the Devil.

Because of her small height (she was shorter than 5 feet), she was mainly cast in light comedy roles, but could hold her own against screen dynamos like Greta Garbo.

She stirred some scandal when she appeared in the 1927 film No Man's Law because it contained a "nude" scene. In fact, Barbara was wearing a flesh colored bathing suit to simulate nudity. But even the simulation that she was naked caused quite a stir. It worked out in her favor though because later that year she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star.

Unlike some of her screen co-stars, Barbara made a smooth transition to the talkies, appearing with another silent film veteran, Harold Lloyd.

She made her last film in 1935. She had previously taken a break from working and it caused the public to pretty much forget about her and move on to new talking stars. She tried to jump start her career again, but it sadly did not work out.

Barbara has only been married once, to agent and producer Harry Edington in 1932. The marriage lasted until his death in 1949. It was after his death that she faded completely from the public eye and chose to live a quiet life in Idaho (I thought I heard a rumor that she married again, but I don't have any information on that).

Barbara and Gloria Swanson

Her fellow 1927 WAMPAS Baby Stars included Helene Costello, Ada Mae Vaughn, Sally Rand, Martha Sleeper, Natalie Kingston, and Gladys McConnell.

We all still love you Barbara. You are a beautiful lil lady and I hope you are enjoying your 104 years. Quite the accomplishment! You will live forever in the hearts and minds of the silent movie lovers out there.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mr. Douglas Fairbanks

Another great example of "They don't make them like this anymore." Nowadays the action heroes are huge muscle heads who bash people's heads in or shoot them or stab them, set them on fire, whatever (Don't get me wrong, I love me some Jason Statham). But, Doug was an action hero without the explosions and blood and gore, and without words! He was so dashing and dreamy, and had the most amazing smile. He always looked like he was having the time of his life when he was on film. Another great/funny thing about him was his "healthy" tan. That man was DARK!! But, he was good looking, so oh well. And he has one of the coolest graves ever. In my mind, all the silent film stars should have huge memorials like his, because to me, they were/are larger than life.

Douglas Fairbanks was born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman on May 23, 1883 in Denver, Colorado. His father, Hezekiah, was a lawyer and his mother, Ella. He had an older brother, Robert and a half brother and a half brother (through his mother) named John. Because their father abandoned the family when Doug was only 5, his mother gave them the last name of Fairbanks, after her first husband.

Doug began acting early and was in stage productions all through his high school years, but he left school during his senior year. He moved to New York City in 1900 and appeared on small stages until he made his Broadway debut two years later.

In 1915, he signed with D.W. Griffith and appeared in his first film called The Lamb. Already he was showing great panache as an athletic actor, but Griffith wasn't too happy about this persona, so he had Doug appear in more romantic comedy type roles. This lead to Doug opening his own production company before being signed to Paramount studios. He was one of a handful of stars who also had good business sense, so he was able to make bank while making movies.

A few years later, Doug joined fellow actors Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford (his lil girlfriend at the time, but we shall get to that) on a war bond drive. They traveled by train all over the country and sold thousands. The pictures of them on tour are amazing. You see Doug or Mary or Charlie standing up over a crowd of thousands, just incredible.

Since these three were the highest paid stars at the time, you can guess that they weren't getting paid just peanuts. Oh no, they were making major bank, which was not making the studios very happy. So, in 1919 the big three along with D.W. Griffith formed their own production company called United Artists which gave the performers control over their films and the profits. For a few years after, the company was held afloat mostly by the profits of Doug's pictures.

Doug decided to get out of the comedy and genre and start making swashbuckling, action films. The most popular titles included The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), and The Thief of Baghdad (1924). My favorite is The Gaucho (1927). I just love him and Lupe. Just lovely :)

Now, Doug would have been fine in talkies, but he just didn't like them. In early talkies the microphone was placed in one spot and people kinda had to talk around it and it didn't pick up very well. He thought they were too restricting to the type of films he liked to be in, so he just bowed out. Not to mention ole Dougie wasn't the athletic young man he used to be. Years of chain smoking were catching up to him and he wasn't as in shape as he used to be. He made his last film, The Private Life of Don Juan in 1934.

Although retired, he continued to be involved in the picture industry in one form of another, but his passion for film had diminished a lot.

Douglas Fairbanks passed away on December 12, 1939 of a heart attack in his home. He was only 56 years old.

Doug was buried at first at Forest Lawn - Glendale in the Great Mausoleum. Two years later, he was moved to his current location at Hollywood Forever in his awesome tomb (His son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was placed there also when he died in 2000).

The first real suave, adventure hero was married three times. Not surprising since he was a babe. His first marriage was to Anna Sully in 1907. Their son, Doug Jr. was born two years later. Anna and Doug divorced in 1919 because of his affair with Miss Mary Pickford. Mary and Doug actually met three years earlier and continued their affair until they were both divorced from their spouses and able to wed each other in 1920. They were worried that this "sordid" affair would cause their fans to turn their backs on the couple, but the public loved them! They were the King and Queen of Hollywood and they set up their own palace, known as Pickfair. But this perfection did not last...because Doug again began to get the wandering eye, and it wandering right over to Miss Sylvia Ashley. Mary and Doug divorced in 1936, and he married Sylvia later that year. They remained married until his death.

Even though Doug and Doug Jr. shared the same name, the two were not close. He was also an accomplished actor and his father was proud of his talents. He was not just famous for being the son of a famous silent film star, but also for his first marriage to a young Joan Crawford. They were married from 1929 to 1933.

Like my greatest love, Buster Keaton, Doug performed all his own stunts in his movies. With the exception of a few in The Gaucho.

Unlike many of his fellow stars, Doug liked his name to be listed LAST in film credits. He didn't need it to be in big, bold letters above the title (ahem, Bette Davis).

The creators of the Superman comic book used Doug as a model for the physical attributes they wanted Superman to look like.

"I've never felt better." ~~ Douglas Fairbanks (his now famous last words)