Archive for the ‘100th Birthday – 1908-2008’ Category

Marsha Hunt on Anthony Dexter

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

INTERVIEWS

Marsha Hunt talks about her friendship with Anthony Dexter

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Marsha Hunt

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Yesterday, January 19, was Anthony Dexter’s 100th birthday. In celebration here is a repeat of an article I posted more than three years ago about Marsha Hunts friendship with the actor.

 

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I was first introduced to Marsha Hunt by Margaret O’Brien while working on the book I wrote on her career (Margaret O’Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography). A few years later I renewed that friendship through my late friend Jimmy Bangley. On occasion we would visit with her and talk about Hollywood and watch old films at her Sherman Oaks home.

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Marsha Hunt, who was equally at home with light romantic comedy or heavy dramatic roles, first appeared in films in 1935 in Paramount’s The Virginia Judge. Her later work at MGM included Pride and Prejudice (1940), Lost Angel (1943) and Smash-up, the Story of a Woman (1947). Her film career came to an abrupt halt due to the communist witch hunt of the late 1940s and 1950s.

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Though blacklisted, Marsha appeared on stage and occasional television roles over the next few decades. She has been seen in Matlock, Murder She Wrote and as an alien in one of my favorite shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation. She recently appeared in the short film, The Grand Inquisitor (2008) playing the widow of a possible serial killer.

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Since 1980 she has been the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks and in 1993 she wrote, The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and ‘40s, a book filled with fashion, film history and inside Hollywood stories.

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Marsha Hunt and Allan Ellenberger

Marsha Hunt and me the night we talked about Tony Dexter

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When I began researching my book on Rudolph Valentino (The Valentino Mystique), I learned that Marsha appeared in a Sacramento production of the musical, The King and I, playing the role of Anna with Anthony Dexter as her King. Dexter, of course, played the silent film idol in the 1951 bio-pic, Valentino, so one evening several years ago, I asked Marsha what she thought of Valentino and about working with Tony Dexter. What follows is her response:

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“Of course I remember Valentino. By the age of eight I had already seen The Sheik and his films with Vilma Banky. Valentino smoldered, didn’t he? That was fine with me. I got his message loud and clear, even at a young age.

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“I remember when Valentino died. There were two deaths that summer – my grandfather and Rudolph Valentino. I remember everyone being concerned and upset because one person had died and that was really quite awesome to me. That was probably the first indication of the scope of fan-hood — of hero worship — a matinee-idol-kind-of-madness that could sweep a country.

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“As for Tony Dexter, I first met him when he was the King and I was Anna. Do you know the story of my doing The King and I? I had never found the courage to do a musical. I had sung in half a dozen movies but nobody knew it was me. They assumed that I’d been dubbed by a singer. They sort of thought ‘if she could sing she’d be a singer so this must be somebody else’s voice.’

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“It was 1958 and I was in New York in a Broadway show at the time (The Tunnel of Love with Johnny Carson). Musicals and straight plays have different matinee days so actors can go see each others shows. So on one of those matinees, I was finally able to see The Music Man (with Robert Preston) and there sitting behind me was Russell Lewis and Howard Young, the producing team of the Music Circus Theatre in the Round in Sacramento. They had asked me over the years if I would do a musical and I always said ‘no thank you.’ I had done my only tour play with them when they produced T.S. Elliot’s The Cocktail Party, which I did with Vincent Price and a wonderful cast – Estelle Winwood and some great people.

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“So there was Lewis and Young sitting behind me at The Music Man and we went backstage to see Bob Preston together. And then they walked me to my theatre because there wasn’t time to go back uptown until my evening show, and the entire way they were giving me hell and saying ‘Marsha, you are the most cowardly person we know. You are afraid to do a musical and you have just seen and heard what an actor, who is not a singer, can do on stage.’

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“And of course they were right. Bob Preston was absolute magic. And I was so spellbound by Preston and what he had done that I said ‘yeah maybe so,’ and they said, ‘well you’ve seen it – you heard what an actor can do with a singing role. Now will you promise to do something for us this summer?’ And in my weakened condition I said yes. And they held me to it.

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“So when I got back home they said ‘Okay, what’s your show — what are you going to do for us?’ And I didn’t know, but it seemed to me if I didn’t make history as a singer, that it better be a good acting role, and the best acting role I knew in a musical was Anna, so I suggested The King and I, and they made me do it. And that’s how I became involved in the play and first met Tony Dexter.

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“One of the first things that struck me about Tony Dexter was – and I don’t mean that it was obtrusive – but he didn’t have an ego. And I was amazed during rehearsals, this Anthony Dexter, who had played Valentino; larger than life, you know, macho man dramatic hero of all womanhood, didn’t seem to have an ego.

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“He was conscientious and professional and terribly nice, but I saw none of the ‘me first’ quality that the King was made of. He was playing the King and ruler of all that he surveyed, and I found myself wondering in rehearsal how Tony Dexter was going to succeed as the King. But he was an actor and it all came true in his performance as rehearsals progressed. He grew muscles of ego as well as insistence on having his way. I was so proud of him for not imitating (Yul) Brynner — there was nothing of Yul in his King; he found  his own King. He was awfully good.

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“I knew that he had played Valentino so I can’t honestly say whether I would have noticed the resemblance or not. I was busy trying to ‘de-Valentino-ing’ him in my mind and seeing him as the King of Siam. He wore Asian makeup to a degree – he was bronzed in that wonderful Pacific-colored skin that isn’t brown and isn’t yellow. Its Filipino — it’s a wonderful bronze shade. And he was superbly built. He did just fine in what minimal costuming he had.

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“We rehearsed for a week and then performed the show for a week, and that’s it. And if they took pictures they never sent them to us. He sang surprisingly well. I remember, of course, the moments of friction and attraction that happened between the King and Anna and the “Shall We Dance” routine was wonderful as a number. It was such an experience together because there were all types of magic going on between us.

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“For my costume, I was given Gertrude Lawrence’s hoops which were made of steel and were five foot in diameter in graduating size, and linked from one hoop to another so they all stayed equidistant from one another. Then I started twirling, and those hoops got their own momentum, they went like holy blazes. And there is Tony – poor Tony, barelegged – and through the layers of my thin petticoats, the steel hoops cut grooves into his shinbones – its not very upholstered at your shin bones, and he was bleeding by the end of our dance so they had to cover the widest link with padding so he got bumped but not cut.

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“We had almost no time together except in rehearsal and I didn’t get to know him then, but he was clearly a nice man as well as intelligent, and as I said, no ego. What surprised me was hearing from Tony out of the blue well after the show had closed. He would call me maybe once a year in the 1960s and 70s. And he just wanted to chat. It was so sweet. He knew I was married, so he was making no pitch. But I was so complemented that he remembered an experience we briefly had of intense work together, and wanted to renew our acquaintance.

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“And then after Robert (Marsha’s husband, screenwriter, Robert Presnell, Jr.) died I began to hear from him maybe three to six times a year. He was living alone and he must have been very lonely. He called just to chat. I remember my beloved friend John Anderson, a wonderful character actor, who lived just a few blocks away. The Andersons and Presnells used to do things together. We’d go to screenings at the Academy, or out to dinner — we were very fond of them.

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“Then Robert died and the Andersons looked after me. And we did things as a threesome and then Pat (Anderson) died of emphysema and that left John and me. We were such good friends and one time I asked him ‘Did you every know someone named Tony Dexter?’ And he said, ‘What made you think of that name?’ I told him that Tony had called earlier that day and wondered if he knew him. He said, ‘That’s amazing because I also hear from him occasionally (they made a movie together).’ So I don’t know how many people Tony called, but every now and then he called John Anderson as well as me. Now maybe we’re the only two people he did call but John was so touched that Tony just wanted to visit.

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“Anyway, Tony had a thing about the film I made with Greer Garson, Pride and Prejudice — he adored the film and he adored me in it. Every time it ran he had to call me and say so. And there’s nothing I could say about it. He would just carry on about my Mary. He treasured that performance.

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The Way We Wore

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“I sent him my book (The Way We Wore) because he was so devoted, and there wasn’t anything else I could do for him. I had a sense that he was lonely, and I just thought he might enjoy it. Well, he went to pieces over it and he said he was now the big man on his block — that all his neighbors and friends was dropping by to ripple through some more pages and catch up. They loved the book and he was so grateful.

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“Then, he did a really touching thing. He looked up my birthday and sent me a twenty dollar bill. To send me money on my birthday — I found it so touching. I wanted to send it back because I had a feeling things were probably pretty tight for him and twenty dollars made a difference, however I felt it might hurt his feelings so I kept it and told him I had a splendid dinner.

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“I never saw him in person again after we did The King and I — we only spoke on the phone through out all those years. I think he developed a mild crush on me because in his letters and cards he began to sign his name rather romantically. And he left sweet messages at Christmas time, sending me cards and things. It was so dear. Never until I was widowed though, because he was quite conscientious about that.

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“But I liked him and I thought it was a pity that a man that nice and that gifted – at least from the one thing I saw him do — wasn’t having a better time toward the end. I would ask him how he was feeling and he’d make light of it, but it was clear he was not in the best of health or spirits, and so we’d talk for a long time — as long as he wanted to because I thought it mattered to him. And that’s all I can tell you about Tony Dexter.”

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Anthony Dexter died on March 27, 2001 in Greeley, Colorado.

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Merlin Olsen Obituary

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

OBITUARY

Merlin Olsen dies at 69; Hall of Fame football star later became actor

 

 

Olsen was one-quarter of the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome as well as a familiar face from ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ He also served for 15 seasons as football analyst for NBC and CBS.

 

By Keith Thursby
Los Angeles Times
March 11, 2010

 

Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams who was a charter member of the team’s famed Fearsome Foursome, then made a remarkably smooth transition into careers in broadcasting and acting, has died. He was 69.

 

 Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Merlin Olsen

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Anna Sten’s Birthday…

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Anna Sten!

 

 

RUSSIAN-BORN AMERICAN FILM ACTRESS

 née Anel Sudakevich

 

  • BORN: December 3, 1908, Kiev, Ukraine, Russia
  • DIED: November 12, 1993, New York, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack
  • BURIAL: Ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean

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Alistair Cooke’s Birthday…

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Alistair Cooke!

 

 

BRITISH-BORN AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND BROADCASTER

 

  • BORN: November 20, 1908, Salford, Lancashire, England
  • DIED: March 30, 2004, New York, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Lung and bone cancer
  • BURIAL: Ashes scattered (bones stolen before cremation)

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Imogene Coca’s Birthday…

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Imogene Coca!

 

 

AMERICAN ACTRESS

 

  • BORN: November 18, 1908, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • DIED: June 2, 2001, Westport, Connecticut
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Natural causes
  • BURIAL: Ashes scattered

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Raquel Torres’ Birthday…

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Raquel Torres!

 

 

MEXICAN-BORN AMERICAN ACTRESS

 née Wilhemina von Osterman

 

  • BORN: November 11, 1908, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
  • DIED: Los Angeles, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Complications following a stroke
  • BURIAL: Forest Lawn-Glendale, Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Celestial Peace

 

(findagrave / A.J. Marik)

 

Okay, here’s another “date of birth” controversy. Many biographies state 1908 as the year of Raquel Torres’ birth, yet her grave marker is engraved with the year 1915. When MGM signed Torres in May 1928, they published her birthdate in the newspapers (“MGM Signs Mexican Beauty,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1928) as November 11, 1908! That year she also starred in her first film, White Shadows in the South Seas. With all due respect to Ms. Torres, do we really believe she was 13 years old when she made that film? Happy 100th Birthday Raquel!

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Polly Ann Young’s Birthday…

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Polly Ann Young!

 

Polly Ann Young (center) with sisters Loretta Young (l) and Sally Blane (r)

 

AMERICAN ACTRESS

 

  • BORN: October 25, 1908, Denver, Colorado
  • DIED: January 21, 1997, Los Angeles, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Cancer
  • BURIAL: Holy Cross Cemetery, Section F, Tier 61, Grave 49

 

(findagrave.com / Tom and Carla)

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Carole Lombard’s Birthday…

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Carole Lombard!

 

 

 

AMERICAN ACTRESS

née Jane Alice Peters

  

Carole Lombard’s birthplace – 704 Rockhill Place, Fort Wayne, Indiana

 

  • BORN:  October 6, 1908, Fort Wayne Indiana
  • DIED: January 16, 1942, Table Rock Mountain, Nevada
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Airplane crash
  • BURIAL: Forest Lawn-Glendale, Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Trust

 

 

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Joshua Logan’s Birthday…

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Joshua Logan!

 

 

 

AMERICAN THEATRE AND FILM DIRECTOR

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  • BORN: October 5, 1908, Texarkana, Texas
  • DIED: July 12, 1988, New York, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • BURIAL: St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, Bedford Village, New York

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Cecilia DeMille Harper’s Birthday…

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday

Cecilia DeMille Harper!

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Cecilia DeMille

Cecilia,  an excellent equestrian is shown at a horse show in the 1920’s.

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Cecilia DeMille, the only natural born child of director Cecil B. DeMille, appeared in some of her father’s films, including The Squaw Man, the 1913 production that is cited as Hollywood’s first major movie.

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  • BORN: October 5, 1908, Orange, New Jersey
  • DIED: June 23, 1984, Los Angeles, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: After a brief illness
  • BURIAL: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Garden of Legends (Section 8 )

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Cecilia DeMille Harper's grave

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Cecilia DeMille, C.B DeMille, Katherine and Mrs. DeMille

Cecilia DeMille, C. B. DeMille, Katherine, and Mrs. DeMille on the grounds of their home

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