Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ray Milland (1905-1986)

The Wales born actor got his start as an extra in the late 1920s in the UK then relocated to the U.S. in 1930 after being discovered on stage in London by a Hollywood talent scout.  His first film credit was in "The Bachelor Father" 1931 starring Marion Davies and C. Aubrey Smith.  Then he  was given a bit part in "Just a Gigolo" that same year starring William Haines.  (William Haines was quite the looker and openly gay which wasn't the norm in the early days of Hollywood, and it stirred up a huge scandal when "straight" actors feared he would start giving names of his male conquests potentially ruining their careers.  He later went on to become a well known decorator to the stars who took advantage of his great taste.  One of his top clients and closest friends was Joan Crawford).

But back to the dashing and talented Ray Milland.  Throughout the early 1930's he stayed busy with bit parts in movies like "Blonde Crazy" 1931 starring James Cagney and Joan Blondell and then in "Payment Deferred" 1932 starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Sullivan among other small roles before getting his break in 1936 when he landed a co-starring role with Dorothy Lamour in "The Jungle Princess".  He kept busy during the mid to late 30's with lead parts in "Wings Over Broadway" 1936 starring Wendy Barrie and in "Ebb Tibe" 1937 with Frances Farmer.  (Frances was so beautiful and talented but sadly her free spirit and unwillingness to play to the Hollywood hierarchy left her broken after several court ordered trips to a mental institution.  If you get the chance to see "Frances" about her life and career please watch it.  Jessica Lange does an amazing job depicting Frances Farmer. It really will open your eyes to how tragic the early days of Hollywood could be for troubled young stars).   Ray starred in "Her Jungle Love" in 1938 again with Dorothy Lamour.  Another film about castaways and a gorgeous island girl who captures the mans heart.  A part that Dorothy did very convincingly but more on Dorothy in a later post.

with Dorothy Lamour in "Her Jungle Love" 1938

Ray Milland when he was just getting his start in Hollywood.

By the end of the 1930s Ray had been married to his wife Muriel for 6 yrs with their first child on the way when he was cast in his most well received film to date, the blockbuster "Beau Geste" 1939 co-starring Gary Cooper.  Now being offered plum roles he went on to star in "Everything Happens at Night" that same year and co-starring the Olympic skater turned actress Sonja Henie.  His romantic lead status provided steady work throughout the early 1940's with films like "The Lady Has Plans" 1942 co-starring Paulette Goddard then in "Reap the Wild Wind" that same year with top billing over John Wayne and Paulette Goddard.  

with Gary Cooper and Robert Preston in "Beau Geste" 1939

click on autograph to enlarge

Every actor hopes for the time in his career when he's offered that role that will take his star status to the next level and the accolades will come in via award nominations.  Ray Milland was offered that part in 1945 when he was cast for the lead in "The Lost Weekend".  Of course in recent years theres been many movie characters who take on alcoholism or drug abuse but "The Lost Weekend" is the first I recall seeing that had me immersed in his struggle and rooting for Don Burnam to get help and  have a happy ending with the character played by Jane Wyman.  It is one of Billy Wilder's finest works and Ray was worthy of the Oscar that he won for his role.

in "Easy Living" 1937

with Jane Wyman in "The Lost Weekend" 1945

Ray in the performance of his career "The Lost Weekend"

Steady work continued and Ray made a few not so memorable movies throughout the end of the 1940s into the 1950s when he starred with Grace Kelly in "Dial M for Murder" in 1954.  After the movies success Ray's star status wained and he took parts in B rated films throughout the 1950s .  When good roles weren't being offered any longer Ray turned to directing into the 1960s then he made his film comeback in "Love Story" 1970 then "Escape To Witch Mountain" in 1975.  

being served in his dressing room during his early days at Paramount

Mr. Milland passed away from lung cancer at the age of 79.  He was survived by his wife Muriel Weber and their son Daniel and daughter Victoria.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea near Redondo Beach California.  The versatile actor appeared in over 100 films during his career and he starred in over 20 television shows including his own show during the late 1950's.

with Ellen Drew in "French Without Tears" 1942

with Marjorie Reynolds in "Ministry of Fear" 1944

with Grace Kelly "Dial M For Murder" 1945

Ray Milland Facts:

Before becoming an actor he served in the UK's Household Calvary where he became an expert marksman.  While on the rifle team he won many prestigious awards including the Bisley match in England.  It was after his four years of service was over that he turned to acting.

When the second World War began he tried to enlist in the US Army Aired Forces but was rejected due to an impaired left hand.  He worked as a civilian flight instructor for the Army and toured with the USO South Pacific Troupe in 1944.  

During the filming of "Reap The Wind" in 1942 his character was to have curly hair so the studio curled his straight hair with hot curling irons every day during filming.  He blamed this on his premature balding and the reason he couldn't get leading  roles later in his career.

He was the first Welsh actor to win an Oscar and gave the shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history.

He had a tattoo of a skull with a snake curled up through it on his upper right arm that can be seen for a brief moment in the film "Her Jungle Love".

He had a near fatal accident on the set of "Hotel Imperial" in 1939.  A scene called for him to lead a calvary charge through a small village and with Ray being an accomplished horseman he insisted on doing the stunts himself.  As he made a jump on a horse the saddle came loose sending him flying into a pile of broken masonry.  He was laid up in the hospital for weeks with multiple fractures and deep lacerations.

He wrote a biography in 1974 titled Wide Eyed In Babylon.

He was the first choice for the Don Ameche role in the movie "Trading Places" 1983.

He got the part in "The Lost Weekend" by default when actors Jose Ferrer and Cary Grant both turned director Billy Wilder down.

Once, while on a visit to Tijuana he was mistakingly accused of meeting with a Nazi agent by the FBI.

I would love to hear from you about any one Ray Milland film that stands out to you.  Thanks for returning and stay tuned for more posts on celebrities I have in my autograph collection. 


Please enjoy a scene from "The Lost Weekend" which won Ray his Oscar

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

The American born beauty started her career as a trained dancer but quickly transitioned into a cting during the end of the Silent film era.  She was type cast in her early roles as an exotic which left her playing characters like a vamp to an Indian princess to woman of Asian decent.  It would be her lucky break playing the lovable Nora in the Thin Man series which would propel her to fame in in just a few years.

with Ian Keith in "The Great Divide"

Myrna who had relocated to Culver City with her mother during her late teens had professional portraits taken by the famed photographer and sculpture Henry Waxman during the time she was appearing on stage in local theater. Fortunately for her Rudolph Valentino came into Waxman's studio and noticed Myrna's photos prompting him to consider her for his next silent screen project "Cobra".  The first film was being producing with his wife Natasha Rambova.  Unfortunately the role went to Gertrude Olmstead but Myrna was given extra work in which she first appeared in "Pretty Ladies" 1925 with fellow newcomer Joan Crawford.  Myrna and Joan we're among a bevy of chorus girls who dangled from a large chandelier in the romantic drama.

made up to appear Asian in "The Crimson City"

Rambova had taken exotic stills of Myrna for an unreleased movie "What Price Beauty?" that made the rounds to fan magazines and interest from Warner Brothers who signed her for a contract in the mid 1920's.  Some of her first films playing a femme fatale we're in "A Girl in Every Port" 1928 starring Louise Brooks and Victor McLaglen. By 1929 she had co-star billing opposite Victor McLaglen again in the war adventure "The Black Watch". The film was directed by John Ford and Myrna was made up to play a native princess who wins the heart of the British soldier.  Her third role as the non American beauty who captures a mans heart came in "The Perfect Song" 1929 starring John Boles.

with Agnes Franey

with Ramon Novarro in "The Barbarian" 1933

Donning yellow based makeup once again in 1932 Myrna starred in "Thirteen Women" as an Eurasian half breed opposite Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez.  She was type cast again as an Asian princess in "The Mask of Fu Manchu" opposite Boris Karloff the same year.  Myrna also had a roles in Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" and "The Show of Shows" during the late 1920's.  Unfortunately after the two successful musicals Myrna fell into a two year slump with her career idling until the beginning of the 1930's.

With Robert Taylor in "Lucky Night" 1939

The early 1930's brought great success to Myrna after appearing in "The Barbarian" 1933 opposite Ramon Novarro and Reginald Denny then Myrna was cast as the lovable character Nora Charles in the first Thin Man movie opposite William Powell in 1934.  The director W.S Van Dyke felt Myrna's wit made her perfect for the role of Nora and he stood firm in casting her after Louis B. Mayor resisted citing Myrna as a serious, dramatic actress.  Lucky for all of us who fell in love with her character and the comedic timing that her and William Powell shared in the entire Thin Man series that followed.  I think I've seen each one at least 5 times.  They continue to be in my top three of early comedic duos with Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn as #1 and William Powell and Carole Lombard as #2 respectfully.

with her co-stars William Powell and Asta in "The Thin Man" 

With Clark Gable considered The King of Hollywood in the 1930's, Myrna Loy was considered the Queen of Hollywood and roles we're offered to her at a fast pace while under contract at MGM Studios during this time.  (She left Warner Brothers in the early 1930's when her contract ran out).  After the success of "The Thin Man" Myrna starred opposite Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Secretary" 1936 then in "Petticoat Fever" opposite Robert Montgomery that same year.  Myrna appeared in fourteen films all together with William Powell some of which were "Libeled Lady" 1936 also starring Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow then in the biopic "The Great Ziegfeld" that same year.

with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable in "Test Pilot"

autograph from my collection, click to enlarge

in "Evelyn Prentice"

"After The Thin Man" came out in 1937 then Myrna appeared in "Double Wedding" with William Powell before starring in "Test Pilot" opposite Clark Gable and "Too Hot to Handle" 1938. Unfortunately neither film was very well received at the box office but did not affect their star status or top studio earnings .  The two films we're two of several films they would star in together during their very successful careers.  Myrna married Hollywood producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. in 1936 and they remained married until their divorce in 1942.  His second marriage and Myrna's first.

By the end of the 1930's Myrna was tiring of comedic roles and wanted to branch out into dramatic leads when she appeared in "The Rains Came" 1939 with Tyrone Power then a couple more dramatic roles before reuniting with William Powell for "Love Crazy" 1941 and "Shadow of the Thin Man" that same year.  After the outbreak of  WWII Myrna all but abandoned her film career to focus on war efforts, volunteering her time with the Red Cross as well as assisting with the running a Naval Auxillary Canteen and fund raising.  She was so fiercely outspoken against Adolph Hitler that her name appeared on his blacklist.  She remarried in 1942 to John Hertz Jr. of the Hertz Rent a car family.  They divorced in 1944 and Myrna married for a third time in 1946 to  producer/screenwriter Gene Markey.

with Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama" 1934

Myrna returned to films in 1946 starring in "The Best Years of Our Lives" opposite Fredric March then in "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" with Cary Grant and Shirley Temple in 1947.  Following it's success she filmed "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" with Cary Grant in 1949.  (This really does stand out as one of Ms Loy's fun roles and her chemistry with Cary Grant as they play off of one another's comedic timing is worth watching if you've somehow missed this one).  Myrna appeared in "Cheaper By The Dozen" with Clifton Webb in 1950 before her acting career slowed down once again.

with Cary Grant in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" 1949

Divorced from Gene Markey in 1950, Myrna married for the fourth time in 1951 to Howland Sargeant, a UNESCO delegate.  This started a new life path for Myrna as she assumed an influential role as the Co-Chairman of the Advisory Counsel of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. In 1948 she  became a member for the U.S. National Commision for UNESCO, the first Hollywood celebrity to do so.

with Robert Montgomery in "When Ladies Meet" 1933

After undergoing two mastectomies from cancer in 1975 Myrna's cancer went into remission until 1993. She died during surgery that same year.  Ms Loy was cremated and her ashes were interred at Forestvalle cemetery in Helena Montana.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  She appeared in over 120 films spanning over four decades.  For a look at Myrna's Hollywood home click HERE.

Myrna Loy Facts:

Her father was the youngest person elected to the Montana State Legislature. He was also a rancher and quite the real estate investor. He sold land near Culver City at a profit to Charlie Chaplin who built his movie studio on it.

At the age of 13 she moved with her mother and brother David to Culver City California  from Helena Montana when her father died of influenza.

To help her family financially she worked at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre at the age of 18 in their elaborate musical sequences that prologued their feature films of the day.

Throughout her career she championed the rights of black actors and characters to be depicted with dignity on film.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center in 1988.

A building at Sony Pictures, formerly MGM studios is named in her honor.

She made her Broadway debut in 1973 in the revival "The Women".

She was one of many great Hollywood actors who was never nominated for an Academy Award but she was given an Honorary Oscar in 1991. This would be her last public appearance.

Her last film was also the last film for Henry Fonda.

In 1937 she had a harrowing experience during the making of "The Rains Came" with Tyrone Power when the horse she was riding bolted. almost killing her.

She was named Myrna after a small train station that her father traveled through during 1905.

In her earlier films with Clark Gable they did not get on very well. But in later years they developed a mutual respect for one another and became good friends.

She moved to Manhattan at the age of 60 and resided there until her death in 1993.

Her profile was the most requested during the 1930's by women to their plastic surgeons.

William Powell's nickname for her was Minnie.

She turned down the role of Ellie Andrews in "It Happened One Night" that went to Claudette Colbert who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for the role.

She campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Thank you for being patient with me over this holiday week and the delay in getting another blog posted. This post is dedicated to Clara who has a wonderful blog on Classic Hollywood that can be viewed HERE.

Which Myrna Loy movie is your favorite? Please share in the comments section.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Robert Montgomery (1904-1981)

The American born actor/director started out his career in New York on the stage in his early 20's after the tragic death of his father. (His father who once had a successful Rubber Co. jumped to his death from the Brooklyn Bridge).   His "in" to Hollywood came when he shared the stage with George Cukor who gave him a role in "So This Is College" 1929 at the advent of talkies.  Norma Shearer also took notice and requested him for her next two films "Private Lives" 1931 which also starred Reginald Denny and Una Merkel (see previous post on Una).  With his dashing good looks and well received comedic timing, starring roles would continue to come his way.  He married the actress Elizabeth Allan in 1928 and they remained married until their divorce in 1950.

Now thats a handsome bloke!

with Marion Davies in "Blondie of the Follies" 1932

Robert continued to star in comedic roles at MGM throughout the 1930's along side the top box office stars of the day.  He co-starred with Greta Garbo in "Inspiration" 1930 then his first appearance with Norma Shearer in the box office hit "The Divorcee" 1930.  He starred in the first adaptation of "When Ladies Meet" opposite Myrna Loy and Ann Harding in 1933.  Of course a few films opposite the great Joan Crawford we're an MGM must for any leading man so he appeared with La Joan on a few occasions during the 1930's. 

publicity still with Joan Crawford

with Joan Crawford and a young Clark Gable in "Forsaking All Others" 1935

One of his first starring roles with Joan was in "Our Blushing Brides" 1930 which was the follow-up to Joan's hit "Our Dancing Daughters" 1928.  (For more on this series and flappers you might enjoy my post on Anita Page who appeared with Joan in the first two of the sequels).  Robert starred opposite Norma Shearer again in 1934 in the melodrama "Their Own Desire". I really enjoyed this film and the chemistry of Norma and Robert playing off of one another.  Unfortunately the plot has been overdone and ruined by Hollywood in a few films as of late.  He teamed up with Tallulah Bankhead for "Faithless" in 1932, one of his early dramatic roles.  We all know Tallulah could sell drama better than anyone else.  (You can read all about the talented and outspoken Tallulah in a previous post).

with Norma Shearer in "The Divorcee" 1930

with Constance Bennett in "The Easiest Way" 1931 (The film and it's subject matter was considered quite scandalous for it's day).

Quite dapper for a game of tennis. You have to admire the creative geniuses behind early publicity stills. The ascot adds a nice touch.  : )

Robert starred opposite his wife Elizabeth in the psychological thriller "The Mystery of Mr. X" in 1934. Then under the direction of George Cukor, Robert starred in "No More Ladies" opposite Joan Crawford again in 1935.  Lead roles continued and finding his knack for dramatic acting Robert appeared opposite Rosalind Russell, Reginald Denny, Virginia Bruce, Clark Gable, Constance Bennett, William Powell and Marion Davies to name just a few of his co-stars during the 1930's.  Robert was nominated for his first Oscar for Best Actor in  1937 for his role in "Night Must Fall" co-starring Rosalind Russell. He lost out to Spencer Tracy for his role in "Captain Courageous".

with Joan Crawford

In 1941 Robert put his mark on Hollywood with the Hitchcock comedy and huge hit "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" co-starring the great comedic actress Carole Lombard.  I don't know anyone who loves this genre that doesn't list this movie as a must see.  And people are often surprised that it was directed by Hitchcock.  Throughout the 1940's Robert was still hot and leading roles continued to come his way with "Rage In Heaven" 1941 co-starring Ingrid Bergman and the lovely George Sanders.  (I could watch George Sanders and listen to his voice for hours on end).  

with Carole Lombard in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" 1941

The following year Robert starred in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" opposite Claude Rains and Evelyn Keyes.  Robert was nominated for his second Oscar for Best Actor for this role but he lost out to Gary Cooper for "Sergeant York" it was a tough year with Cary Grant being nominated for "Penny Serenade", Orson Welles for the great film "Citizen Kane" then there was Walter Huston for his role in "All That Money Can Buy".  "Here Comes Mrs. Jordan was also nominated for Best Picture but it lost out to "How Green Was My Valley".

Robert who had an interest in directing got his chance with the film "Lady In the Lake" 1947. This passion started a new creative turn in his career which continued into the 1960's.  Divorcing his first wife in 1950 he married Elizabeth Grant Harkness the same year and they remained married until his death  He had two children with his first wife Elizabeth one of which is the actress Elizabeth Montgomery. She was best known for playing Samantha in the television show "Bewitched"  Roberts last acting role was in the British drama "Your Witness" 1950.
click his autograph from my collection to enlarge

The talented Mr. Montgomery passed away from cancer at the age of 77 like his daughter Elizabeth and his son Robert Jr.  He was cremated and his ashes were spread by his family and friends in a private ceremony.  He appeared in over 60 films spanning over 4 decades.  For a view of Robert's Beverly Hills mansion click HERE.

back stamp of publicity still from MGM, click to enlarge
click MGM issued publicity still to enlarge

Interesting Robert Montgomery Facts:

He served in the US Navy during WWII rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

He was active in Republican politics and concerned about communist influence in the entertainment industry, he was a friendly witness during the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

In 1954 he took an unpaid position as a consultant and coach to President Eisenhower.  Advising him on how to look his best during his television appearances.  (Even though Robert was known for his stylish dress lets hope he didn't suggest an over sized ascot for President Eisenhower).

He was widely considered the best dressed man in Hollywood and for awhile he did not carry a wallet as it messed with the drape of his trousers.

He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1935-1938 and then again from 1946-1947.

His television series "Robert Montgomery Presents" won an Emmy in 1953.

He won a Best Director Tony for his stage play "The Desperate Hours" in 1955.

Thanks for coming back and for viewing my latest blog,