Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ziegfield Girls V

There are many, many, many Ziegfeld Girls that have faded completely into obscurity. They live in pictures, yes, but there are even some who survive in pictures but aren't named which is quite sad. So many girls came and went through the Follies ranks and only a few found stardom. I wanted to point out a few of my favorites besides the ones I have written about previously. Again, I cannot recommend Jazz Age Beauties enough. Also, a website called "Historical Ziegfeld" that I am a part of. It is run by a wonderful gal named Jane who has an enormous collection of Alfred Cheney Johnston Ziegfeld photos, clippings, etc! It is a wonderful site and so many knowledgeable people to talk to.

Allyn King was a tragic figure in the history of the Follies. She was one of the many girls who was hit by the so-called "Ziegfeld Curse." She was born in the early 1900s to a doctor and his wife in North Carolina. She joined the Follies when she was 17 and appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 all the way through 1920. She was also part of his Midnight Frolic show.

Her career came crashing down on her after Broadway big wigs commented on her weight. She began taking diet pills, going without food and water and sleep just to keep her weight down. In 1926, she was placed in a sanitarium for about 2 years. It was reported in a newspaper that she just "disappeared" one day. She just walked out the door.

She finally had enough and committed suicide by jumping out of a 5 story window. She was staying with her aunt so she could keep an eye on Allyn. Her aunt left her room for only a few minutes, and when she returned, the window was open and Allyn was laying in the courtyard. Miraculously, she didn't die right away from the fall. She had suffered a fractured skull, arm, and leg and doctors expected her to pull through and survive. Unfortunately, she passed away on March 30, 1930. Poor girl.

Sadly, her funeral was lacking her Broadway/Follies friends. Although, Marilyn Miller did sent a bouquet of flowers that were placed on her casket.

Allyn was once an understudy to Ina Claire and replaced Justine Johnstone after Justine threw a fit and quit when Ziegfeld wouldn't let her entertain male guests in her dressing room in 1916.

This is an excerpt from the contract she had to sign to appear on the stage: “It is expressly made a part of this agreement, and is an essential part thereof, that if at any time you should, during the term of the said arrangement, increase in weight more than 16 pounds or decrease in weight more than 10 pounds, or let the dimensions of any part of your figure vary more than one-half inch from the following: weight 115 pounds, neck 12 1-2 inches, bust 34 inches, upper arms 11, lower arms 7 1-2, waist 26, hips 34, thigh 18, calf 12, ankle 3 1-2, then and in that event we shall have the right to cancel this contract upon giving you one week's notice." Unbelievable...

"I'll listen to no more offers of marriage until the war closes. Those I receive by mail will go direct to the wastebasket." ~ Allyn King. She actually stuck with that mantra because she never married. She was engaged for a time to Carl Weidemann, who actually wanted Allyn to give up being on the stage. Her response: "Love me. Love my footlights." Loooove it!!


Catherine Moylan was just absolutely gorgeous! And she managed to allude the "Ziegfeld Curse." She was born on July 4, 1904 in Texas. Pretty interesting fact: she beat out Joan Blondell in a Miss Dallas pageant...and then won Miss Universe 1926. She appeared in a number of Ziegfeld productions before eventually trying her hand in Hollywood in the 1930s. She had a bit part in the film Our Blushing Brides as a mannequin (I would kill to get a copy of that movie!). Catherine didn't really score any big roles so she decided to quit show business, get married, and raise a family. She died on September 9, 1969 and is buried in Texas under her married name "Singleton."

Also, Catherine was not a shy girl. She had no problem shedding her clothes for photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston or donning revealing costumes on stage. She was beautiful, so who could blame her for wanting to show it off?

Another absolutely gorgeous lady is Miss Dorothy Wegman. She was born Dorothy Deborah Wegman on November 27, 1904 in Manhattan.

In fact, Dorothy didn't even want to be an actress. She found it an obnoxious profession and was pushed into it by her mother after her father died in 1914.

Ziegfeld spotted her in the chorus of an Al Jolson performance and wanted her for his own show. She appeared in a few Ziegfeld productions, including the Follies of 1925. She fell in love with playwright Samson Raphaelson (author of The Jazz Singer) and the two were married for fifty years. They had a son named Joel and a daughter named Naomi. Wegman passed away in 2005 at age 100! She is buried at the Saint Frances Cabrini Shrine Chapel in Manhattan.

She was given the nickname of "Dorshka" by fellow Ziegfeld girl, Marion Benda. She was billed under that name sometimes.

Dorothy was also a published novelist. She wrote two books, Glorified, which was published in 1930, and Morning Song in 1948.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ziegfeld Girls IV

So, we continue on the track of beautiful, glamorous ladies who were quite famous in their own time...and then faded into poverty and obscurity.

Lillian Lorraine was definitely one of those girls. She was also one of those girls who was more well known for her personal life rather than her professional life. Ziegfeld himself fell for her.

Lillian Lorraine was born Ealallean De Jacques on January 1, 1892 in San Francisco, California. Previously, I had thought that her birth name was "Mary Ann Brennan," but after looking at Census records, I found that her parents were both from France, so De Jacques seemed more appropriate.

She made her dancing debut in 1906 and was discovered by Ziegfeld 3 years later. She soon became not only a performer in his show, but his mistress (He was married to another showgirl, Anna Held, at the time).

It was pretty apparent that she was an important figure in Ziegfeld's life because she had starring roles in his productions from 1909 to 1912. She knew how to use him too. She always turned down his marriage proposals and liked making him jealous by flirting with other men.

Like many people during this time, Lillian loved to live it up! She drank quite a bit and had a tendency to get into trouble. In the year 1912 alone she was involved in a scandalous affair with a chauffeur who took her jewelry and ran and then was briefly married to a bigamist who once assaulted Florenz Ziegfeld. She also was involved in a blackmail scheme that ended with one person dead. It was also rumored that she had some times with the mob and other underworld figures.

By 1914, the Ziegfeld/Lorraine affair had cooled off, but the two remained close and he still supported her. He continued to cast her in his shows, but she wanted to try her hand at acting for the movies too. She appeared in around 10 films, and I am pretty sure all of them were shorts...and pretty sure none of them are around anymore.

In 1921, she suffered a terrible spine injury when she tripped outside of a night club. She couldn't dance, so she couldn't be in any Ziegfeld shows or any other vaudeville shows, so as a result, her fame decreased very fast. She lived in poverty for the last 20 some years of her life.

Lillian Lorraine passed away on April 17, 1955 in New York.

She was originally buried in an unmarked pauper's grave until a few years later when some of her friends arranged to have her buried in a plot with her last husband in the Calvary Cemetery in the Bronx.

Apparently, after Lillian's death, Ziegfeld's wife/widow, Billie Burke said that of all the girls that Ziegfeld wooed and had affairs with, she was the most jealous of Lillian. I have also heard this same thing attributed to Olive who knows.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ziegfeld Girls III

There were hundreds of Ziegfeld Girls...but I am only going to highlight the ones that really pique my interest. But, I HIGHLY recommend the book Jazz Age Beauties: the lost collection of Ziegfeld photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston by Robert Hudovernik. I need to buy it myself actually, but I have checked it out thousands of times from my work and just look at the beautiful pictures. They are truly breathtaking. You will also see some familiar faces like Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Clara Bow and see some new faces as well. Some aren't even named which is sad because they are just breathtaking.

Two other great books that I just love to look at are The Ziegfeld Touch: the life and times of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. by Richard Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld Follies by Marjorie Farnsworth.

Anyways, down to business. I introduce you now to Miss Jessie Reed. Another Ziegfeld beauty who was plagued by the Ziegfeld "curse." She had a great career with stardom and rich suitors, but died penniless and alone. I was drawn to her because, well, we share the same I gotta connect with her on that level.

Like Myrna Darby, I don't know much about Jessie's early life, like where she was born, her birth date, etc.

Jessie first appeared on stage in 1918 when she was discovered by Jake Schubert. She was quickly stolen away by Florenz Ziegfeld who put her in his 1919 edition of the Midnight Frolic...the more "risque" version of the Follies.

She continued to work on the rooftop, but also appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies from 1921 until 1924. Talk about being a busy girl!

Busy girl is right! Jessie soon became more famous (or infamous) for her life OFF the stage. If I may quote the moronic Kanye West..."I ain't sayin' she a gold digger." But...actions speak louder than words. I will give her credit for the fact that she didn't apologize for any of her actions, she knew who she was and what she was doing.

Jessie had her fair share of suitors and husbands for that matter. Her first marriage was to a black face comedian named Oliver de Brow. The two had a daughter named Ann. Apparently the two divorced after Oliver killed a man in a duel, which is a pretty good reason to divorce someone.

Her second "supposed" marriage was to another performer named Lew Reed. I have read conflicting reports as to whether they were actually married or if they were just living together for a time. After that, she married advertisement executive, Bill Young. After him was millionaire Dan Caswell.

Her last husband was named Leonard Reno, who actually visited her in the hospital before she died. He and even his new wife donated blood to try and save Jessie's life. Obviously, none of the marriages lasted. Her ex-husbands found her to be greedy, manic, and too high maintenance.

By 1935, Jessie was alone and broke. She got a few dollars from various theater charities every once in awhile that kept her fed and clothed.

Jessie Reed passed away at age 42. She became a moral lesson to young girls about what happens when you become too spoiled.

Apparently she was buried at either Oliver/Olivet Cemetery. I am not sure of the state, but I think it is in New York.

Annie de Brow

Her daughter, Annie de Brow was actually going to audition for the Follies in 1932, but Ziegfeld passed away. She and her mother were not close, in fact Jessie rarely even talked about her. She was sent away as a baby to live with Oliver de Brow's family in Texas. I believe I read that Annie passed away sometime in the 1970s.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ziegfeld Girls II

This Ziegfeld Girl was not as big of a star as Ann Pennington, but she is one of my favorites due to her beautiful and haunting photographs. Also, because she died so young at age 21.

There isn't a whole lot of information about Myrna out there. I don't even know her birth date or where she was born, although my first guess would be around Pennsylvania. Or even if Myrna Darby was her birth name.

Her father worked for a railroad company. She had an older sister named Helen, and a younger sister Donna. She also had a younger brother named Lloyd.

She was discovered by Florenz Ziegfeld while performing in Pittsburgh at age 17.

She appeared in the Ziegfeld productions of Follies of 1927, Rio Rita, No Foolin', Rosalie, and Whoopee.

Myrna shared a dressing room with fellow Ziegfeld beauties, Hazel Forbes and Catherine Moylan. Evelyn Groves, another Ziegfeld girl was a close friend of Myrna's and was at her bedside when she passed away.

I have also heard different accounts as to how she died: the flu, sunburn, exhaustion, a heart condition, heartbreak, etc.

According to a New York newspaper, Myrna was worn out from a day of swimming and was also heartbroken after her engagement to a millionaire's son was called off. Her heart had been giving her troubles for the preceding months too according to Ziegfeld. Eventually it got to the point where there wasn't much they could do to help her.

Apparently many of the rich and well to do (mostly men) who were fans of hers gave money to help get her the best medical care available. Larry Fay, a well known rum runner, shelled out quite a lot of money and even paid for her funeral. He only met Myrna once, but was so taken with her that he wanted to help anyway he could.

Almost a year after she died, her name was dragged through the mud in the divorce papers of a Miles O. Rabinowitz. She was named as one of his "companions." Other Ziegfeld girls named were: Catherine Moylan, Evelyn Groves, and Peggy Blake.

Supposedly she is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, but I can't confirm that at this time.

Here are some sweet things some of Myrna's friends had to say about her:

"She was one of the nicest girls who ever came in a stags door, she was. She was good to me.. She was good to everybody. She always divided up her flowers and candy. When she came back from Europe last summer, she brought every one of us a present. She minded her own business and cut no capers." ~ Harry Mitchell, stagehand at Ziegfeld theatre.

"Sure, I paid her bills. I paid them because I liked her. I only met her once. I talked to her a couple minutes in a nightclub. She looked swell that night. She was the sweetest and prettiest girl I ever met—and I’ve met plenty. I never met her again until I heard she was sick and broke." ~ Larry Fay

“She was a swell girl, and damned lucky with the men. She was the most unsophisticated girl I ever saw. And she was just as nice to the street cleaner as she was to the richest guy around the place.” ~ Hazel Forbes

A beautiful picture of (L to R) Jean Ackerman, Jeanne Audree, Myrna, and Evelyn Groves

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ziegfeld Girls I

What else do I love besides silent films? The Ziegfeld Follies. The costumes and shows and the girls and the talent...just amazing. I don't think it could be recreated today. I am sure it would have amazing visual effects nowadays, but back was new and state of the art. It was also during a time of gayness, frivolity, and devil-may-care attitudes. I wish I was around for that! If I had been around during that time, I picture being a Ziegfeld Girl, then a silent film actress, and marry Buster Keaton. The end.

Anyways, I love the Ziegfeld Girls. I especially love the pictures taken by Follies photographer, Alfred Cheney Johnston. They are some of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen.

I am profiling a few of my favorite girls here. Not all of them were silent film stars, but it was during the same time, so I am adding them. They were beautiful ladies and deserve to be remembered for their involvement in the most spectacular stage show of the century.

Adorable lil Ann Pennington! She packed a lot of energy in her 4'10'' body, and this is one of the reasons why I adore her. I saw a clip of her doing The Black Bottom and it was just amazing. She is also a sad example of how some of these stars ended up unknown and living in poverty later in life.

Ann Pennington was born on December 23, 1893 in Wilmington, Delaware.

She made her stage debut in 1911 and entered the Ziegfeld Follies in 1913. She quickly became a star in the Follies and moved out of just being in the chorus. Because she was so well known on the stage, she was able to appear in both the Follies and George White's Scandals.

Ann appeared in a total of 23 movies, 13 of which were silents. Sadly, most of these films are lost or her part in the film is missing or ended up on the cutting room floor. I also read that there isn't any film left of her doing her signature dance moves, but that is false. Like I stated earlier, I have seen a video clip of her doing The Black Bottom...and it wasn't that long ago.

Ann had a bright and shining personality on stage and often wore revealing costumes. But, offstage she could by shy. But, onstage or off, she loved to have fun.

She lived in both New York and California, depending on what she was working on at the time. In California, she was roommates with friend Fanny Brice.

Ann continued to tour on stage dancing until the 1940s when she retired. One of her last big public appearances was at the 1939 World's Fair.

Ann Pennington passed away on November 4, 1971 in New York City. She had been living alone and penniless for years.

She was buried in Valhallia Cemetery in New York. Her funeral and grave were paid for by the Actors Benevolent Guild. Apparently no one from her family attended her funeral (Ann had a sister named Nellie, but I don't know anything about her).

Ann never married but she did have a few beaus. The closest she ever came to marrying was when she was engaged to boxer Jack Dempsey. She was also rumored to have dated George White, but this was never confirmed because Ann never talked about her personal relationships.

George Gershwin played piano for her during Ziegfeld rehearsals, and also wrote several songs for her.

Her nicknames included "Tiny" and "Penny"

This is a video clip I found of Ann dancing her heart out!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Miss Mae Murray

I'm back, and bringing the force of another silent screen diva with me! Nazimova. Negri. Swanson. Murray. These four women acted the hell out of their movie roles and really embraced the diva/vamp of the silent film era. I don't think I am alone in thinking this either. Mae Murray exuded so much emotion and power in her films that it is just incredible to watch. Merry Widow. Go watch it. Now.

Mae Murray was born Marie Adrienne Koenig in Portsmouth, Virginia.

She made her stage debut in 1906 and in 1908 she joined the Ziegfeld Follies. Seven years later, she became a headliner of the Follies instead of just a chorus girl.

She appeared on the film screen the first time in 1916. Her career began to rise although some film critics weren't thrilled with a lot of her performances. They got a little tired of seeing her in lavish costumes and "over acting." (Sometimes it can be a little over the top, but hey, she was good at it)

When the talkies finally came, Mae was not very gung ho about it. She had training on the stage, so it wasn't really her voice, but she was just very nervous. As a result, she only made three talkies.

Another low point was when Mae's husband at the time told her she should leave MGM, which had been her home studio for years. She followed his "advice" and turned her back on her contract and MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was very unhappy (well, he was pissed). As a result, Mayer used his powers around Hollywood and had her blacklisted from all the other studios.

Mae didn't make any more movies after 1931. In the 1940s, she went back to her roots and appeared on stage in a variety of shows. She continued to wear her well known lavish gowns and heavy make up. She didn't give a damn what the critics said. She knew she was fabulous!

Sadly, like many performers of that era, Mae lost a lot of her money and was living in poverty at the end of her life. She eventually moved into the Motion Picture House, a home that she along with her fellow actor friends had helped establish.

Mae Murray passed away on March 23, 1965 at the Motion Pictures Home.

She was buried at the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California.

Mae was probably more famous for her personal life than she was for her film career. She played pretty much the same roles on screen but had a lot of different men. She was married four times. Her first marriage was to a stockbroker named William Schwenker Jr.  They were only married from 1908 to 1909. Her second marriage was to a bobsledder named Jay O'Brien in 1916. They too were only married for a year. Her third marriage was to director Robert Leonard in 1918. They divorced in 1925. Her fourth and final marriage was also her most famous. She married "prince" David Mdivani in 1926. He was the one behind Mae's leaving MGM. The couple had a son named Koran David Mdivani. After the couple divorced, a custody fight began over Koran. Mae won the fight and Mdivani was ordered to pay child support. Eventually Mae handed over custody of her son to nurse/friend Sara "Bess" Cunning. Bess had custody of Koran earlier when he was recovery from an operation. She eventually adopted him and changed his name to Daniel Michael Cunning.

Mae used to write a weekly column for one of William Randolph Heart's newspapers.

She was known as "The Girl with the Bee Stung Lips"

In her early career as a dancer, she was partnered with such big names as Vernon Castle, Valentino, Clifton Webb, and John Gilbert.

Rudolph Valentino was the best man at her wedding to David Mdivani. Pola Negri, who was married briefly to Mdivani's brother Serge, was the maid of honor.

It has been rumored that Mae was the inspiration behind Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

"None of us floozies was that nuts!" - Mae Murray [commenting on the Norma Desmond character]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Midnight, the stars, and you...

This has been a busy, busy semester for me. Not just with school but with work as well. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to write that many entries, but when this semester ends, I can get back on track.

I was just curious about you, the reader. Why do you like silent films? What got you started? What was the first one you saw? Who are your favorite silent film actors/actresses?

I am curious to hear what you guys have to say!