Friday, February 20, 2015

Ricardo Cortez

This gent has been popping up everywhere it seems! A month or two ago I watched Torrent on TCM and during Robert Osborne's intro he mentioned that Ricardo Cortez had actually been born Jacob Krantz and I remember letting out a loud, "WHAT?!" I had heard of Cortez before, but always assumed he was this gorgeous Latino actor and that Ricardo Cortez was his real name. That seriously blew my mind so much, I kept saying, "Jacob. Krantz." out loud until it somewhat settled in.

Then he came back into the picture again when I was doing research on Alma Rubens and not a day later he was in the movie I was watching (Torch Singer). I get the point, Ricardo! I will spotlight dreamy, dreamy man.

Ricardo Cortez was born Jacob Krantz on September 19, 1900 in New York City.

Now, I tried and I tried but I could not pinpoint Ricardo's parents names. I found a couple of records and names that could possible be right, but I didn't want to throw names out that I am not 100% sure about. Hell, I'm not even 90% sure. 

What I DO know about his family life is that his father was a very blonde Hungarian (a description Ricardo gave to a magazine) who ran the family clothing store and passed away when Ricardo was 16 years old. Ricardo's mother's maiden name was Lefcowitz and she was an Austrian Jew. As far as siblings, he had a younger brother named Stanislaus who later worked as a cinematographer in Hollywood under the name 'Stanley Cortez.' He also had a sister that passed away a few weeks after their father.

Ricardo stated once to a film magazine that he always wanted to be an actor, but that doesn't seem to have been his main focus growing up. During his teen years he spent most of his time working as a stockbroker on Wall Street, fighting in amateur boxing, and doing a bit of stage acting. 

When he was 16 years old, he had the idea to go to the office of Marshal Neilan and try to get a role in an upcoming picture. He impressed the studio enough and was offered a role! Ricardo went back home, script in hand, excited to tell his family the great news and instead he came home to his father laying sick in bed. He passed away three days later and as stated before, Ricardo's sister passed away three weeks later. Ricardo was so devastated at the loss of his family members that he didn't go back to the city to work on the picture and didn't do any acting for the next few months. 

When Ricardo came out of his mourning period, he came out swinging! He decided he was going to put caution to the wind, move out to Hollywood and try and get into pictures through the head honcho out there, Jesse Lasky. 

Ricardo's dark good looks made an impact on Lasky who saw a chance to cash in on the Latin Lover craze that was taking film fans by storm. However, Jacob Krantz didn't really have the same ring to is as Rudolph Valentino or Ramon Novarro, so Lasky knew he had to think of a new name for his new find. So, who thought up the new name? Jacob Krantz? No. Jesse Lasky? Nope! In fact, 'Ricardo Cortez' was the brainchild of two of Lasky's secretaries! I hope they got a raise!

His first screen credit was in the 1923 film, Sixty Cents an Hour.

Ricardo's biggest silent hit was in 1926's Torrent with Greta Garbo. He also played leading man to Betty Bronson, Claire Windsor, and Joan Crawford. He was quite popular, but never really achieved the Valentino-esque status that the studios wanted. Ricardo was fine with this because he never thought he was in the same caliber as Valentino. His lack of stardom mainly was due to the fact that he was given lackluster scripts and his characters didn't make a big enough impact to be memorable. With the way the film industry was churning out pictures back then, it really isn't surprising. 

While he was one of the few silent stars that was lucky enough to make it to the talkies, his star power didn't rise there either. His New York accent made it very clear that he wasn't a dashing Latino Lover from Spain and so he was relegated to playing mainly villains and womanizing cads. 

His best known talkie feature role was as Sam Spade in the 1931 pre-code adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. After this film, his career started to go downhill and he appeared mainly in B movies. From 1939 until 1940, he tried his hand at directing and put his name to seven films. None of the films were anything spectacular but one of them, 1939's Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, was the film debut of Glenn Ford.

His last film was in 1958's The Last Hurrah with Spencer Tracy. He did appear on an episode of Bonanza in 1960 and that would be his last official acting job.

After retiring from acting, Ricardo went back to work as a stockbroker on Wall Street. I wouldn't mind having him giving me some insider trading!

Ricardo Cortez passed away on April 28 (my birthday!), 1977 in New York City.

He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Ricardo was married three times. His first, and most high profile marriage was to Alma Rubens in 1926. After the two were wed, they traveled the vaudeville circuit with their own two person act. It was while out on their tour that they decided to separate and they did so once they returned home. They briefly reunited around 1930 when Ricardo and Alma's mother had Alma admitted to a sanitarium to try and help her with her drug addiction. Ricardo was a very dutiful husband (at least in public) and was by his wife's bed side as often as he could be. Unfortunately, they kept becoming more and more estranged until finally deciding to separate again. Alma reportedly had filed divorce papers, but she passed away in 1931 before they could be legalized. Ricardo wasn't even aware that his estranged wife was deathly ill at this time and actually found out about her death by reading it in a newspaper. Such a sad story, from both sides. I should also note that I read Alma was actually the one who spilled the beans on Ricardo Krantz actually being a Jew from New York, but I am not sure if that is totally the case. 

Ricardo and Alma
His second marriage was to New York socialite (and possible former Ziegfeld Girl) Christine Coniff Lee in 1934. The couple separated in 1939 and Ricardo told the press that the reason behind the separation was because his career kept him in California and his wife wanted to live in New York. However, when Christine filed divorce papers she cited extreme cruelty as the reason for the split. Sadly, Christine passed away a little over a year later in a fire caused by a still burning cigarette she dropped after falling asleep. 

Christine Coniff Lee and Ricardo

I know next to nothing about his third marriage to Margaret Belle. All I know is that they were married in 1950 and remained married until his death. 

Besides acting, boxing, and playing the market, Ricardo also enjoyed hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. In fact, his frequent costar, Mary Astor was one of his favorite riding companions. He also managed to squeeze in a daily workout at the gym located on the RKO studio lot. 

"Ricardo's popularity is something many more meteoric stars can envy. Quietly, deftly, he handles the parts given him and each picture shows him to have greater polish and charm." ~~ Modern Screen, May 1935.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Alma Bennett

I decided to cover Alma Bennett because as I was doing a bit of grave hunting research (yes, I'm weird) I came across Alma's grave and read that she died so in obscurity that there wasn't even an obituary published in any newspaper. That rubbed me the wrong way, so I wanted to write an entry about her so that she can still be remembered after all these years. 

Also, her mother sounds like one interesting character.

Alma Bennett was born Alma Long on April 9, 1904 in Seattle, Washington. She was the only child born to Frederick James Long and his wife, Doris Geraldine McCrea. 

When Doris died, the name on her marker could have read, "Doris McCrea Long Bennett Erickson Frank." I am not sure when Doris and Frederick divorced, but I do know that she married her next husband, Charles Bennett in 1913. She would go on to remarry in 1929 and her final marriage was in 1936. Busy mama! Just wait until later in the entry when we find the family tree branches intertwining. 

According to a 1924 movie magazine article, when Alma was in her teens she began pleading with her mother to let her try her hand at acting in the movies. Mama Doris gave her the go ahead and soon Alma began hanging around the movie studios trying to get the attention of anyone who would give her her big break. She managed to appear in a few shorts here and there, but wasn't making the splash that she wanted. Keep in mind she is only around 15 years old at this point.

Alma began to realize that if she wanted to get noticed then she needed to go straight to the top, Cecil B. De Mille himself! So, for months Alma would sit outside De Mille's office waiting to get his attention so that he could see that she was his next big star! Her persistence paid off after almost a year when De Mille agreed to give Alma a screen test to see if she was any good. She passed the test and was signed to a contract with Paramount Studios! Hmmm...maybe I need to start hanging outside office doors...

Alma's movie career consisted mainly of roles in westerns, slapstick comedies, as well and vamp roles. Early in her career her frequent costar was Eddie Lyons and later she appeared mostly with comedians Ben Turpin, Andy Clyde, and Billy Bevan. Miss Alma also was a Bathing Beauty later in her career, although I don't believe she was ever credited on film as one. 

While she never achieved superstar status, she did appear in at least two well known silent films. The first was 1925's The Lost World, starring Bessie Love and Wallace Beery. The second was 1927's Orchids and Ermine, starring Colleen Moore. This film is also notable for being the debut of Mickey Rooney. 

Her last film appearance was in the 1931 short, The Great Pie Mystery, playing a character named Peaches Stone. I love it. Her film roles were getting smaller and smaller and she finally decided to just bow out.

Alma Bennett passed away on September 16, 1958 in Los Angeles. She had become so forgotten by the industry and her fans that not even a notice of her death was printed in a newspaper or magazine. I unfortunately too do not know the cause of her death. I do know that her ashes are interred at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. 

Alma was married three times. Her first husband was Frederick Clayton Bennett, who she married in 1924. Now, if you scroll up and check out one of Mama Doris's married names you will again see the name Bennett. This is because Alma's new husband was her mother's second husband's younger brother. I had to read that over a few times before I finally wrapped my head around it all. Alma and Frederick would divorce after only a year of marriage, and he would unfortunately pass away three years later from influenza. 

Alma and her mother, Dora.

Alma's second husband was actor Harry Spingler, who she was married to from 1929 until his death in 1953. A year later she married her third and final husband, actor John "Blackie" Whiteford. Alma and Blackie would remain married until her death in 1958.

"Nervy of me, I know, but I picked Cecil De Mille and Paramount as the ones I wanted to work for...So, I began to camp there and in almost a year I got to see Mr. De Mille." ~~ Alma Bennett, Picture-Play, June 1924

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Alma Rubens

I recently had the privilege of visiting the grave of Alma Rubens, a silent film star who left this world far too soon. I had never been near Fresno where she is buried but I happened to be close last week so I knew I had to go and visit. 

The mausoleum at the Ararat Cemetery in Fresno really looks like a long forgotten Egyptian tomb. The cemetery keeps the mausoleum locked due to vandalism (I seriously hate people sometimes) so I had to ask someone to open the giant metal doors. I walked into a dark and cold building that looked like it hadn't been entered in years! I found Alma's grave at the end of the corridor on the left hand side and was delighted to see that she had flowers on her tomb. So glad that someone out there still remembers her some 84 years after her death. I of course left her a kiss before I said goodbye and closed the metal door behind me. 

I wrote an entry about Alma back in 2011 but I wanted to revise that entry and create a new one with more information, especially since she is fresh on my mind.

Alma Rubens was born Alma Genevieve Ruebens on February 19, 1897 in San Francisco, California. She was the second child born to John Ruebens and Theresa Hayes. Older sister, Hazel was born four years earlier. I couldn't find any other information on John Ruebens other than he predeceased his daughter. From what I have read, it seems like Mama Theresa was the one in charge.

Alma was interested in performing from an early age, but she didn't get her real break until she was in her teens and was hanging around the theatre one day (I read that it was Grauman's, but I don't think it was) and the producer stepped out, spotted Alma and asked her if she could replace one of the chorus girls who had taken ill. Alma stepped up and took the girl's place not just that night but she eventually went on tour with the acting troupe. 

She got her big break in 1916's Reggie Mixes In, starring Douglas Fairbanks. This proved to be a winning combination because she was paired with him again later that year in The Half-Breed. These would be the two biggest hits of her career. 

I should note that prior to this Alma decided to change spelling of her last name by removing the first "E." She stated that the reason behind the change was to make it easier for newspapers and magazines to get the spelling of her name right. 

In 1921, Alma sought treatment for her worn out state and was prescribed morphine, which was the go-to cure for the stars of the day. Alma said that she began using the drugs for any and all ailments, real or imagined. Of course, the morphine addiction later snowballed to include alcohol, heroin, and possibly cocaine. It was around this time she was signed to William Randolph Hearst's film company, Cosmopolitan. Hearst was advertising Alma as being his next big star, the next big thing in Hollywood! However, Hearst saw what addiction was doing to his new star and he was forced to fire her from the film she was working on. Alma was friends with Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies, so he did take pity on her enough to where she was still on his payroll even if she wasn't really working. Newspapers took this not as a sign of goodwill but rather as a sign that Alma and Hearst were having an affair, something Hearst came right out and flatly denied. Alma eventually became stable enough to where Hearst felt comfortable putting her back in play.

Around 1924-25, Alma could see that her career was going downhill, owing in no small part to her ongoing drug and alcohol addiction. All the money she earned from her films were going to feed her addictions and she spent a lot of her time in and out of sanitariums. 

One of her last film appearances was the 1929 part talkie adaptation of Showboat. Sadly, the soundtrack for the film is lost. Alma went back to the stage where she had a wonderful reception from the audiences, sometimes getting eight curtain calls a night! She would tell reporters that her addictions were in the past and that she was doing great and planned on touring in the coming months. This was not meant to be, unfortunately.

In early 1931, Alma was arrested in San Diego for cocaine possession and for trying to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the United States. Alma proclaimed over and over again that she was being framed and that she was clean, a claim that was backed up by various physicians. She was eventually released on bail and was scheduled to appear in court in a few weeks. She would not survive that long.

Alma Rubens passed away on January 22, 1931 in Los Angeles. While at a friend's house, Alma collapsed and was soon diagnosed with pneumonia, her body worn out from years of alcohol and drug abuse. She soon lapsed into a coma and never regained consciousness, dying with her mother and older sister, Hazel by her side. She was only 33 years old.

Good friend Marion Davies stepped in to help Mrs. Rubens plan and organize Alma's funeral, helping take some of the stress off the grieving mother. A funeral was held at Forest Lawn in Glendale which was attended by some of her closest Hollywood friends like Claire Windsor and Norma and Constance Talmadge. A second service was held at the Christian Science Church in Fresno. Alma was eventually interred at Ararat Cemetery in Fresno. Her mother would later be buried in the tomb beneath her. 

Alma was married three times. Her first husband was actor Franklyn Farnum, who she met in her early days of stage acting. Farnum was 20 years older than Alma, so they decided to secretly marry in 1918 and not bring a lot of attention to their relationship. Little good the secrecy did because the marriage ended up lasting only two months before Alma filed for divorce. She claimed in the divorce petition that Farnum was physically abusive and even dislocated her jaw at one point.

Her second marriage was to Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman from 1923 until they divorced in 1925. Goodman, on top of being a physician, was also an author and screenwriter and was pretty well known in Hollywood because of his involvement in two high profile movie industry deaths. The first was in 1917 when he was driving with his then fiancee', actress Florence La Badie, and the brakes on the car failed sending the car flipping down a hill. Goodman managed to escape with only a broken leg, but Florence was pinned under the car with multiple traumatic injuries. She would die almost two months later. The second death involved producer Thomas Ince, who fell ill on William Randolph Hearst's yacht. Goodman, who was on board the yacht as well, treated Ince until they reached the shore. Ince would eventually succumb to his illness/injury en route to the hospital. Goodman was the only witness called to testify about what happened on board the Oneida, and he claimed that Ince was fine when he boarded and must have gotten sick during the trip. End of story!

Alma's third and finally husband was actor Ricardo Cortez, who she married in 1926. The couple did some touring on the vaudeville circuit before they decided to separate. The couple had little or nothing to do with each other after they stopped touring. In fact, Cortez wasn't even aware his estranged wife was sick and actually found out that she passed away after reading it in the newspaper! 

Shortly after her daughter's death, Theresa Rubens sued Photoplay magazine for a million dollars after they claimed Alma and Cortez were divorced at the time of her death and also that Alma's funeral was not well attended. In court, the reporter, James Quirk (husband of silent actress May Allison) claimed that yes, he did write the article but that he didn't have anything against Alma or her family. Ironically, a few days after his testimony, Quirk developed pneumonia and died. The case was eventually settled, but the outcome was kept quiet. 

For the most part, Alma's struggle with addiction was kept quiet from the public. However, in 1929 the story broke in full force when it was reported that Alma tried to stab a doctor at a sanitarium who tried to examine her. She later broke out of this facility only to be admitted to another sanitarium, where she lasted for 10 days. Eventually, in May, her mother and then husband, Ricardo Cortez, had her admitted to a facility in Pasadena where she would stay until the end of the year. It is also interesting to note that in movie magazines her addiction was referring to as the "narcotic habit." 

Toward the end of her life Alma wrote a memoir entitled, The Bright World Again, which was released as a serial in newspapers beginning in 1931. In 2006, the memoir was re-released as Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird, and also included a biography and filmography. I definitely plan on picking this up!

"...Those who know what life meant for Alma Rubens will not sorrow because the quiet fluttering of death's wings brought peace to her at last. Drugs brought her no beautiful dreams - only dark oblivion. All her life she fought the spell they had over her...sick in body and soul, she fought a losing fight." ~~ Silver Screen, March 1931.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Grave Photos

Hey, look at that! I am keeping (somewhat) on track! Here are the most recent photos I have taken while out visiting various final resting places of the stars we all adore.

Sylvia Ashley was best known for being married to both Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Clark Gable.

Elmer Booth was best known for appearing in the first gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley. He was killed in a car accident at age 32 in 1915. He will be featured in a future entry. 

Jeanne Carpenter was a well known child star of the silent days.

Ethlyne Clair

Rosetta Duncan and her sister Vivianwere a well known stage and screen act.

Miss Trixie Friganza of the vaudeville stage.

Elaine Hammerstein was a star of stage and screen. 

Sister of Mary MacLaren

Marion Mack, best known for being Buster Keaton's leading lady in The General.