Monday, November 24, 2014

Lois Moran (1909-1990) My contribution to the recent Forgotten Stars CMBA Blogathon

This was my contribution to the CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon. For a full list of all the wonderful articles written by my fellow members you can find them HERE.  Due to a death in the family I wasn't able to get it posted during the Blogathon but I wanted to publish it for anyone interested in learning more about the life and career of the demure, Lois Moran.

It wasn't difficult to find a star to write about for this Blogathon, my list is long on who I want to feature here on my blog. Sadly, it's finding the time to do so these days.  I was speaking to my mother about a handful of stars when trying to decide and I knew I had chosen the right actor to write about when I mentioned Lois Moran and my mother, who is one of the biggest cinephiles I know, said "I've never heard of her. What was she in?"

LOIS MORAN (1909-1990)

 Lois was born in Pittsburgh in 1909 to Irish immigrants but sadly she lost her father in an accident at the age of one. Her mother, Gladys would in just a few short years marry a Pittsburgh doctor who stepped into to his role, providing a comfortable lifestyle for his newfound family. Lois was immediately placed in private Catholic school at Setin Hill Academy where she flourished.

Popular and studious, Lois was a happy child at Setin, even after the sudden loss of her step father to influenza when she was just nine years old. It was once again Lois and Gladys who continued to dote on her daughter while enrolling her in singing and ballet classes. Whatever it took to make Lois stage ready when her big break came. She wouldn't need to wait long.

Within a few short years of being widowed, Gladys realized she needed a change of scenery for herself and for 12 yr old Lois so their bags were packed, belongings sold before setting sail for Europe. First destination France where Lois would develop her lifelong love of art and the theater. All financed by Lois's wealthy Aunt Edith.

After a short few months living in Tours France, The duo headed back to Paris where they would take up residence at the Hotel Fleurus. Lois was a lucky little girl as this was the residence of Gertrude Stein and other famous expats who had fled to the City of Lights for inspiration, a new way of life. Ground Zero for the Modernist Movement. Lois would visit Stein's salon on several occasions while living at the hotel, mingling with other famous writers, artists and during one of her visits she was photographed by Man Ray. She was just 13 at the time. (I keep thinking of the 2011 film Midnight In Paris for some reason. Does anyone else? The scenes of Gertrude Stein's salon at the hotel, all the famous artists wandering in and out.)

Hotel Fleurus located at 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris. Lois called it home during mid the 1920s.

Gertrude Stein entertains company in her famous salon at Hotel Fleurus during the 1920s. Lois was one of the lucky visitors to the salon on several occasions and also a resident of the Hotel. 

Gladys' main priority was finding Lois proper dance instruction so she set out to the Paris Opera where Lois tried out for the Opera Ballet. She was excepted and immediately began dance lessons in their eurhythmics school. Studying Russian and French dance techniques, Lois even found herself getting to dance with Trefilova. Of course, investing so much time in dance classes, she found very little time for proper schooling so Gladys hired her a tutor so she could keep up with her studies when not at the Opera House.

While Lois had a dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer her mother came to realize, Lois would have a better chance as an actor so she soon set out to make that come to pass. The Moran's were known locally in Paris and Lois already had professional portraits on display in some of the galleries thanks to some of her famous friends. These photos came to the attention of a certain French director, L'Herbier who thought Lois would be perfect for the role of a ballerina in his next film La galerie des monstres. Of course there was the small formality of a screen test which Lois, at a very mature 15, had no difficulties with. It was 1925 and Lois, or shall I say Gladys was seeing her dreams come true. Paris really was the city of opportunity and new beginnings.

L'Herbier was so pleased with Lois' performance he cast her in his next film The Living Dead Man which was filmed on location in Italy at the end of 1924. Lois enjoyed filming on location, reveling in shooting scenes in and around the Colosseum then late night dinners in some of the best restaurants, outdoor cafes in Rome. 

Lois so enjoyed making movies with L'Herbier, once her second film wrapped, she mailed some of her photographs to D.W. Griffith and Samuel Goldwyn in Hollywood. (Cheered on by momma Gladys, of course.) Griffith showed little interest but Samuel Goldwyn was in the middle of casting for his next pet project Stella Dallas. A collaboration with United Artists and one Goldwyn would spend exhaustive hours insuring every last detail was perfect. Lois was cast as Laurel Dallas opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Jean Hersholt, Alice Joyce, Ronald Coleman and Belle Bennett in the lead as Stella. After much begging by Goldwyn, silent director, Henry King would eventually sign on as well.  Some would say, Lois had the most challenging role in the film as her character had to age 10 years during the film. From age 10 to adulthood.

Unlike the other actors in the film, Lois was an unknown to American audiences so Goldwyn had the bright idea to add a morality clause to her Stella contract to pique the publics interest. Notably it stated she was not to bob her hair, use red lipstick or rouge, go barelegged, roll up her stockings or smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. When the movie magazines got wind of the clause they must have thought they had found a Parisian courtesan. It was all so silly since Lois was a proper teenage girl with no desire to cause a stir in the states with lude or scandalous behavior.

The hard work, tireless efforts by all involved would pay off with sold out screenings at the Apollo Theatre in New York with the who's who of stage and screen in attendance followed quickly after by stellar reviews from coast to coast. Even Lois, still considered a child actress in her first American film, wasn't ignored when the accolades were handed out. Quite the opposite. The Hollywood players took notice and the contract offers would begin as soon as the film premiered. 

The only problem. Lois did not want to be under the constraints of a studio contract as she grew to love New York while filming Stella Dallas. With its shopping, street after street of shops, galleries and mainly the theater scene, she wanted to remain in New York and try her hand on the stage. Perhaps, she was reminiscing about her time in Paris and the dirt roads and open fields of southern California during the 1920s certainly didn't compare.   

Without being under contract at a studio, Lois spent the next few months attending parties, banquets and plays in NYC while studio heads fumed that they could not tie her down like so many before and after her.  She would star in her second film soon enough though but it was fellow actor, Richard Barthelmess who convinced her to appear as his leading lady in his next film, Just Suppose in 1926. 

The film got mixed reviews, mostly for its weak script but Lois was praised for her on screen chemistry with Barthelmess in the romantic drama given their age difference. Lois was 16 and Richard was 30 during filming. It was during this time that Paramount considered Lois for the lead in the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. An interesting factoid when you consider her connection to F. Scott Fitzgerald in just a few short months then in later years.  Any girl would have been over the moon to have been considered for the role of Daisy but Lois, while flattered voiced she would much prefer appearing in the films Peter Pan or Cinderella. Instead she was cast in Reckless Lady with Ben Lyon, James Kirkwood and her co-star from Stella Dallas, Belle Bennett, for which she was thrilled.

In just a few short weeks after rapping Reckless Lady, Lois was offered a role in the much anticipated Padlocked at Paramount. Previously,  Lois had taken on film projects filmed in and around New York but Padlocked was being filmed entirely in and around Los Angeles so Lois, reluctantly headed West for her next adventure with momma, Gladys in tow. 

Padlocked was directed by Allen Dwan and starred Noah Beery,  Louise Dresser and another of Lois' co-stars from Stella Dallas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  While it had a top tier cast and director, the film itself opened to mixed reviews. All for not though as Lois had her opportunity to dance on film. An opportunity she relished.

Having lost out for the lead in The Great Gatsby, Lois was again considered for a big role in another upcoming Paramount picture, The American Venus. A film where Lois could once again show off her dancing abilities. Louise Brooks and Esther Ralston were also up for the role but Lois thought for sure it was hers, having just danced to rave reviews in another Paramount production, Padlocked.
It was during the negotiations for the role when it came to Gladys's attention that Lois's character would be dressed in costumes that were just too risqué, vulgar for her taste. That was the end of discussions and the part went to Esther Ralston. On the the next project.

Lois's next film would be a big departure for her and a bit intimidating as she was cast to play Lon Chaney's daughter in the dark drama, The Road to Mandalay. But there was no need for Lois to worry as Chaney, the consummate professional went out of his way to make her feel comfortable while giving her acting advise she would welcome, use throughout her career. She also grew quite fond of the director of the film, Tod Browning. A man she looked up to and admired even though he showed up on the set most days inebriated. The film would also give Lois billing right below Chaney, a first for the 16 year old.

One particular situation Lois witnessed while filming The Road to Mandalay showed her just how professional and dedicated Chaney was to his craft. While he faced makeup challenges, grueling hours in the makeup chair every morning before filming during his career up until now, for this film he was also fitted with glass shields that completely covered both eyes in order to give them the opaque white appearance on film. This caused him considerable pain, to the point he was only able to film for short periods of time before breaks to give his eyes rest. In later years, when interviewed, Lois looked back on her time working with Chaney as the high point of her career. Always speaking fondly of the brilliant actor, whom she admired greatly.

Shortly after wrapping The Road to Mandalay, Lois went back to work immediately filming Prince of Tempters with Ben Lyon and Lya de Putti then God Gave Me Twenty Cents with Lya and Jack Mulhall. Sadly, these are just two of so many silent films that have been lost over time. Lois was also up for the lead in Sunrise which went to another young star, Janet Gaynor, propelling her to stardom. For the first time Lois was also vocal about losing a role to another actress. Even at her young age she knew it was the role of a lifetime.

Lois was also given the opportunity to move back to New York during this time while filming Prince of Tempters. And knowing Gladys's taste in housing, you can expect they lived to the nines while residing in Manhattan during this latest excursion. While there were no Stein's or Matisse's in residence at the Old Colony House, Abbey Rockerfeller did live right across the hall from their apartment. (Aunt Edith must have had very deep pockets!)

God Gave Me Twenty Cents is the one early film, Lois would look back most fondly upon in later years. She had a lot of fun making it and got on well with the entire cast. 

As 1927 approached, Lois had already achieved a lot career wise, with 7 feature length films and one short under her belt for the previous year. She had kept busy but now feeling comfortable in her own skin, making friends in Hollywood and getting to work with such huge names in the business, she had not a care in the world. Well perhaps more worries than other 17 year olds but for a Hollywood star in high demand, she was having the time of her life. 

Back in New York during this time, her mother was making connections and using her outgoing personality to get Lois invited to all the best parties, banquets. On one such occasion Lois was introduced to George Gershwin's brother, Ira and his wife, Leonore. The couple felt Lois would hit it off with George so they went about setting up a formal meeting for the two. Lois would soon attend afternoon tea with Mr. Gershwin and they did indeed hit it off as they developed a fast friendship that would last until his death in the 30s. Lois so admired the man and looked to him as a mentor, guiding her and giving her advice on how to reach her full potential musically. She not only wanted to dance on Broadway but it was also her dream to sing on the stage one day. With Gershwin's guidance, perhaps this too would pass. She certainly had been a lucky girl so far. 

At the end of 1926, Gladys felt her daughter could use a nice vacation before starting another film so she booked passage on the Leviathan headed for Cherbourg where they would take the train on to Paris where they planned to spend two relaxing weeks during the holidays before heading on to Switzerland.  Unbeknown to Gladys though, Lois became melancholy and homesick within days. She missed the United States so their trip was cut short and they set sail once again on the Leviathan.

Lois excitedly spent her Christmas holiday in New York, socializing. There were premiers to attend, parties, publicity pressers for her recent films which she now enjoyed. She would continue to meet new friends in the literary and art world during this time, as she had just a few short years ago in Paris. Although, now Lois was blooming into a beautiful and sophisticated young woman. Not yet involved in an adult relationship, she certainly had her fair share of crushes on her leading men like Ronald Coleman and Richard Barthelmess. Nothing serious but that would soon change all thanks to Mary Pickford.

In January of 1927, Gladys and Lois took the train back to Hollywood so Lois could get busy finding her next script. It was also during this time that F.Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were visiting Los Angeles where they were guests at the then opulent Ambassador Hotel. Hobnobbing with movie folk after soon discovering John Barrymore was renting out a bungalow on one side of them and Pola Negri the other. 

The Fitzgerald's were in sunny California due to an offer for F.Scott to write a couple of films to be produced by Feature Productions and shopped to United Artists. Specifically to star Constance Talmadge. Although, Fitzgerald had written for films previously and had just come off of the success of The Great Gatsby the year before, he was there for the simple fact he was badly in need of money and the movie industry was paying him a small fortune to do what he did best. 

Everyone wanted a meeting with Fitzgerald, for him to accept a dinner invitation to their luxurious homes but the first family of Hollywood, the Douglas Fairbanks' were first to be given that honor. At a formal afternoon luncheon with the who's who of Hollywood in attendance, a 17 year old Lois, was also there. Fitzgerald became infatuated with her almost immediately. He was 30 and in an unhappy marriage at the time. She was enamored, innocent and over the moon that this incredibly talented writer wanted to become friends. 

Over the next few weeks, F.Scott with his wife, would stop by the Moran's for social gatherings or Lois would accompany F.S. out to nightclubs, parties around Hollywood on the nights Zelda stayed back at their bungalow. Gladys even helped with the convenience of it all by renting an apartment closer to The Ambassador Hotel even though they still had their larger home in Beverly Hills. I'm sure it was all perfectly normal for the writer to stop by for a quick bite to eat with his new friend and her teen daughter. The Modernist Movement she so enjoyed had finally made its way across the pond to dusty California. 

The Moran's first California home in Beverly Hills at 517 N. Elm. Drive as it appears today. 

Another view of Lois's residence during the 20s. It's a given it has had a few renovations.

In this aerial view you can see how large the home is with a guest house and a pool.

Lois admired Fitzgerald, having read his books at an early age and in her innocence she soaked up the hours he gave her, discussing his writing, art and his travels. They knew many of the same people from her early teen years in Paris, and in the beginning she regarded him as just another immensely talented friend. A friend who was often brooding, melancholy and an alcoholic.

It would be a fairytale two months for them both. Eight short weeks that would change their lives and in just a few short years lead to Fitzgerald's last completed novel.

I hope you'll return next weekend for Part 2 of my bio on Lois. Her life gets quite interesting with F. Scott in the picture all while balancing a film career at its peak.

See you all soon and have a great week!


  1. Most interested to learn more about the young/talented woman who so caught Scott Fitzgerald's fancy!

    1. Thank you LE! : )
      I didn't want to trash it and I had hoped it would be enjoyed because for a star who isn't a household name, her life was interesting. I'll get Part Two up as soon as I get through this next holiday.
      Just trying to find a new normal without my dad. Can't wait to catch up with everyone within the CMBA.
      Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

  2. My condolences, Page. Take care. Please pass along my best wishes to your mom.

    I'll certainly be looking forward to part 2 on Lois Moran. I have only seen her in the early Chan feature "Behind That Curtain". Although she was a winning actress, the movie is dreadfully slow.

    1. Hi, CW!
      Of course you saw Lois in a Chan picture. I needed that laugh. My mom didn't know who Lois was. I'll be sure to remind her she was in that film with Charlie. She's never missed those. You two and your love of CC cracks me up.
      Thank you for the kind sentiments about my father.
      Happy Thanksgiving and we'll talk soon.

  3. I'm so sorry about your Dad, Page. I've been out of commission and didn't realize until I read your article just now. It is fascinating, and I'm looking forward to Part 2.

  4. Just stopping by to say hello and let you know I enjoyed your Fabulous in Fur Series. I must confess that I too had not heard of Lois Moran, but your expose was quite the tour de force and a lovely tribute to this "forgotten" starlet. Bravo, Page. Much love and keep up the wonderful posts.

  5. i just had all of my grandparent's old 8mm film reels digitized and put onto DVDs and a Hard drive. Now I'm editing and loading to my own blog and its so amazing seeing all these old memories preserved.