Archive for the ‘Book/Film News’ Category

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity @ Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Laemmle’s Town Center 5

17200 Ventura Blvd #121, Encino, Calif

(310) 478-3836

Show dates: Friday, July 13 through Thursday, July 19

Show Times: Daily: 1:30pm, 4:30pm

 

Marsha Hunt was discovered while on a trip to Hollywood in May 1935. She was 17 years old when she was signed by Paramount Pictures. In the depth of the Depression, she made $250 a week. She went on to a flourishing career at MGM in the 1940’s before her career was cut short by a series of unfortunate events that led to her becoming unfairly blacklisted. Through interviews with Marsha and those who knew her well, Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity explores her life and career achievements as an actress and activist.

The film breaks Marsha’s life story down into three parts – her life before being blacklisted, the period leading up to the blacklist and her life after the blacklist. It shows how the blacklist served as a “springboard” to her second career as a full time activist and humanitarian (though she’s still very much an actor.)

Marsha’s life before the blacklist was a time of great joy and innocence. The period leading up to her being blacklisted provides the drama and tension in the film. Her story is a history lesson that can only be told by someone who was there as Marsha was. She is the only member of the Committee for the First Amendment alive today that can talk about the trip she and others took in October 1947 to support the “Hollywood 19.”

In 1950, her thriving career in radio, television and films came to a screeching halt when her name appeared in the right wing publication “Red Channels.” After witnessing abject poverty while on a trip around the world in 1955, Marsha knew she had to educate her fellow Americans about the dire state of the world. She used her celebrity to help raise awareness and funds for the work that the United Nations was doing on behalf of the planet.

Over the course of the next 60 years, Marsha devoted her life to humanitarian causes such as ending world hunger and homelessness. Over the years, she worked with fellow activists Eleanor Roosevelt and George McGovern (who is interviewed in the film) and celebrities such as John Denver and Valerie Harper (also interviewed) on the issue of fighting world hunger.

Her most powerful and meaningful activism work took place when she was asked to be the “Honorary Mayor” of her hometown, Sherman Oaks. Her crowning achievement as Mayor was opening the first homeless shelter in the San Fernando Valley thirty-two years ago.

Her life story has peaks and valleys that span the course of the 20th century. The underlying theme of the documentary is that Marsha rose above adversity. When life handed her lemons, she made lemonade. When the industry she loved turned its back on her, she forgave them and moved on a second career as a “planet patriot.”

She continues to support causes that she feels need a voice. This film is Marsha’s final act of activism. Through her words and action, this film will serve as an inspirational primer for activists of all ages. (Laemmle)

Praise for Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity:

“A compelling story that’s told with authority … at (age) 100, it’s time to celebrate an actress who, while not a household name, probably should be.” – Jeremy Kinser, Moviemaker.com 

“Best film I have ever seen dealing with the Hollywood blacklist.” – Ed Asner

“Passionate … worth checking out due to the life and nature of this remarkable woman.” – Lara Fowler, Backlots.net

“(Contains many) memorable scenes … Marsha Hunt was as American and as patriotic as her accusers claimed to be.” – Dennis McCarthy, Los Angeles Daily News

About the Film:
Marsha Hunt was discovered while on a trip to Hollywood in May 1935. She was 17 years old when she was signed by Paramount Pictures. In the depth of the Depression, she made $250 a week. She went on to a flourishing career at MGM in the 1940’s before her career was cut short by a series of unfortunate events that led to her becoming unfairly blacklisted. Through interviews with Marsha and those who knew her well, Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity explores her life and career achievements as an actress and activist.

NR

Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 97 min
Language: English

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H. J. Whitley: Father of Hollywood

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Hobart Johnstone Whitley was born in Toronto, Canada on October 7, 1847, of Scottish-English parentage. As a child he moved to Flint, Michigan, where he was educated in the public schools and later at Toronto Business College. 

Whitley engaged in banking and land development in Kansas City and Minneapolis, establishing banks and townsites along the Northern Pacific Railroad, and for a time managed the H. J. Whitley Land and Mortgage Company. He platted the towns and built brick and stone business buildings in Oklahoma City, El Reno, Chickasha, Enid, Medfore, and other cities on the Rock Island Railroad.

In 1887 he married Margaret Virginia Ross and had two children, Grace Virginia and Ross Emmet. Because of bad health, Whitley came to California in 1893 and the following year established the H. J. Whitley Jewelry Store, for many years the largest in the city. In 1900 he bought the Hurd property north of Hollywood Boulevard, between Wilcox and Whitley, south of Yucca Street, which he later subdivided into what became known as Whitley Home Tract. As a result of the success of this subdivision, one of the first in Hollywood, Whitley became known as the “Father of Hollywood.”

In 1905, Whitley and a group of Los Angeles investors undertook the development of 47,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley and carried through a similar project involving nearly 50,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley.

(click image to enlarge)

Whitley continued his activities in Southern California property until 1922, when he completed the development of Whitley Heights, which was one of the first hillside subdivisions in Hollywood. The opening of the tract in 1920 was the scene of a public barbeque, with city officials and business men of the city as guests. Whitley Heights would become the first celebrity neighborhood and home to such film stars as Francis X. Bushman, Eugene O’Brien, Barbara La Marr and Rudolph Valentino.

In addition to his real estate development, Whitley was one of the founders of the Home Savings Bank and was identified with the organization of the First National Bank of Hollywood, the First National Bank of Van Nuys and State banks in Canoga Park, Reseda and Corcoran.

On June 3, 1931, while staying as a guest of his son at the Whitley Park Country Club in Van Nuys, H. J. Whitley died in his sleep at the age of 83. Whitley was survived by his wife Margaret, his daughter Grace, son Ross and three grandchildren. Funeral services were conducted at the Strother Funeral Chapel at 6240 Hollywood Boulevard with interment at Hollywood Cemetery.

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A Hollywood murder most foul…

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Ann McKnight was a 23-year-old dancer and film extra, and one of the hundreds of hopefuls that arrived in Hollywood each year, eager to break into show business.

Ann was born in New Britain, Connecticut on November 19, 1906. Her father, John McKnight was a traveling optician and her mother Annie, was a housewife. Ann’s siblings included Mabel, Ada, Edward and Milton.

After Ann’s father died when she was young, her family moved to Denver, Colorado to live with her older married sister Mabel. In July 1924, Annie remarried to Harry Steck. Ann, along with her sister Ada got the acting bug and moved to Hollywood in October 1927 to try to make it in the movies.

Changing her name to Joy McKnight, Ada found a bit part in the film, Bitter Sweets (1928) starring Barbara Belford and Ralph Graves. However, that appeared to be the extent to her film career other than some possible uncredited extra and bit roles. Yet, in the 1930 Census, she labeled herself as an “actress.” Ann, too, only found extra work and possibly some dance gigs at the local clubs. Finally, she found work as a drug store clerk.

[Note: IMDB.com wrongly confuses this Ann McKnight with another who was a film editor. Their biography and death date is for the McKnight who was murdered in 1930, yet the films listed and birth date are for McKnight, the film editor (it’s not known when she died).]

Instead, both sisters found husbands and were married. Joy wed Jack Hoskins and had twins, Joy and Jack. Ann fell for the charms of William Henry Burkhart and married him on March 27, 1928. From the beginning, Ann’s marriage was filled with physical abuse. In addition, Burkhart was reportedly an alcoholic and took drugs.

Burkhart’s abuses were continuous until finally in July 1929, Ann left Burkhart and lived with her sisters’ family at 933 ½ La Jolla Avenue in West Hollywood. Ann filed for divorce, but Burkhart made threats, telling friends that if he couldn’t have her, “nobody else shall because l will kill her first.”

Burkhart intimidated and stalked Ann over the next few months. Finally, in March 1930, he set a plan in motion to get her back.

On several occasions, Burkhart met with Ann, eager to mend their marriage. Reportedly, Ann told her husband that if he rented an apartment and bought a car, she would give him another chance. He convinced Ann to meet with her on the evening of March 24, 1930, promising to surprise her. She agreed.

That afternoon, Burkhart resigned his position as a bookkeeper with the Los Angeles Gas Electric Company. Then, using a fake name (Charles G. Thompson), and counterfeit checks, he purchased a Ford coupe, and, under the name C. L. Burns, he rented a bungalow apartment at 6742 Franklin Place, one block north of the Hollywood Hotel. He told the landlady that he would return that evening with his wife.

Site of bungalow apartments at 6740 Franklin Place where murder of Ann McKnight was discovered. (click on image to enlarge)

At around 6:30 pm, the couple arrived at Franklin Place where Burkhart introduced Ann to the landlady who was sprinkling the lawn. A few minutes after they entered their apartment, the landlady saw the front door “jerked open” and Ann standing there between the door and screen door. Burkhart came up behind her, placed his arm around her and pulled her back into the apartment as she let out a “moaning cry.” Within the hour, they left in the Ford coupe and went driving while imbibing freely on wine tonic.

Three hours later, Burkhart had returned and knocked on the apartment door of his Franklin Place neighbor, James Thompson and his wife, who were playing cards with another couple. Burkhart introduced himself as their new neighbor and asked for a match. He admitted that he had been drinking, but added, “you might think that I am stiff, but my wife is stiffer.”

After Burkhart left, the Thompson’s and their guests heard a noise, like the falling of a body. Burkhart returned only a few minutes later. “May I speak to you as a friend?” Burkhart asked Thompson and his guest. The three men walked through Burkhart’s apartment and out the rear door to the alley where Ann was laying on the ground. Burkhart explained that his wife “had passed out drunk” and he needed their help to get her into his car.

Murder site photo of Ann McNight’s body: Warning: graphic. (Pinterest) (click on photo to enlarge)

Thompson knelt and checked for a pulse. Noticing blood on her blouse he remarked that she “didn’t look drunk.”

“Well,” Burkhart explained, “she always acts that way when she gets drunk.”

When Burkhart left to move his car closer, Thompson and his friend went inside and called the police. When they returned, they saw Burkhart dragging Ann’s body to the coupe, leaving a trail of blood on the cement behind her.

Aerial view of McKnight murder site at Franklin Place and Highland Avenue. (click on image to enlarge)

 

When the police arrived, they called an ambulance. Burkhart lit a cigarette and told them it was no use, adding, “She is dead.” Burkhart once again claimed that he was drunk but insisted that his wife was “dead drunk.” Officers observed that he did not appear drunk and one even accused him of being “spasmodically” intoxicated, or simulating drunkenness. Later, a stomach pump produced little alcohol.

When he was searched, officers found a fully loaded .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver with blood on the handle in Burkhart’s pocket. “You can’t prove I shot my wife,” Burkhart blurted out. Until then, Ann’s cause of death had not been concluded. “Is your wife shot?” an officer asked. Realizing he had made a slip, Burkhart claimed he heard the other officers discussing it.

Ann McKnight Burkhart’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

An examination of the Ford coupe found blood and two bullet holes; it was apparent that Ann was killed in the auto at least two hours earlier.

The autopsy determined she had been shot five times; in the arm and chest, and three times in the back. Based on the crime scene evidence, police determined that Burkhart had sexual intercourse with Ann after she was dead. When confronted by police with this observation, Burkhart said nothing but only hung his head.

At Burkhart’s arraignment, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but later dropped the insanity clause and pleaded not guilty.

Several days later, Ann’s body was interred in a plot at Hollywood Cemetery, just several feet from the wall that still separates the cemetery from Paramount Studios. A wooden cross showing Ann’s name, and birth and death dates, was placed on her grave.

At Burkhart’s trial, Ann’s sister Joy Haskins testified that he allegedly said that no one else would have her sister even if “I have to spend the rest of my life in the penitentiary.”

Burkhart chose not to take the stand in his defense but based on witness testimony and police and ballistic reports, the jury found him guilty of premeditated murder. “I hope Joy is satisfied now,” Burkhart said, knowing that his sister-in-law had campaigned heavily to have him jailed. He later said that Ann’s family was responsible for turning her against him and convincing her to get an abortion shortly after they were married.

William Burkhart’s mug shot at Folsom Prison. (click on image to enlarge)

After the verdict, Burkart’s attorneys filed an appeal with California Governor James Rolph who was sent several petitions to pardon the convicted man. In his letters to Rolph, Burkart claimed he did not recollect killing his wife. He said that drinking and taking morphine tablets that day had dulled his memory. “I was riding around, and I didn’t know who I was with, where I went, or what I did. My mind is blank as to what happened that evening. The next I remember I was in jail; terribly sick and dizzy,” he wrote to the governor.

Burkhart’s mother, Sarah, knowing that her son was facing a death sentence, wrote to California Supreme Court Chief Justice, William Waste, begging him to “save his life”:

“…as I told you his wife is gone, and it will not bring her back, but it will make so many sad hearts so happy just to know he lives,” she pleaded with Waste. Likewise, Joy Haskins asked the governor to consider life imprisonment instead of death, but only because Mrs. Burkhart pleaded with her daily. “…for the sake of his aged mother,” Haskins wrote, “I will be willing to signe [sic] some [thing] for life sentence, but not to help him get out in a few years.”

After nearly a year and five reprieve requests from Governor Rolph, the California Supreme Court upheld the jury’s original decision that “the killing was the product of an abandoned and malignant heart [and] was premeditated finds ample support in the record and warranted the infliction of the death penalty.”

Attorneys made one more attempt to prove that Burkhart was insane, but the physician at Folsom Prison reported that the prisoner’s “emotional reactions are good” and he “does not show any delusions, hallucinations, or abnormal mental processes.”

Remarkably, Governor Rolph made a sixth attempt to save the condemned man from the gallows but Chief Justice Waste informed him that he would not recommend any further reprieves.

Burkhart finally accepted his fate and was scheduled to be executed at Folsom Prison on January 30, 1932, nearly two years after he planned and implemented the murder of his wife Ann McKnight Burkhart. The evening before his execution, he wrote letters to his mother and a sister, both living in Los Angeles.

On the morning of his hanging, Burkhart was nervous as he faced the prospect of the long walk down the corridor to the death chamber. He asked for a glass of water before being taken from his cell, not saying anything during the walk or while on the gallows. Rev. B. H. Householder, Methodist minister from Sacramento, gave him his final spiritual solace.

Burkhart’s execution marked the end of one of the longest and most varied series of appeals in the history of capital punishment in California at that time. Five attorneys, at various times prosecuted appeals for Burkhart, the State Supreme Court refusing three times to recommend commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment.

Location of graves at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (click on image to enlarge)

Though William Henry Burkhart had finally paid the ultimate price for the murder of his wife, there would be another affront committed against the murdered woman. In the area where Ann’s body rests, there used to be a road just a few steps away.

When William Burkhart was executed, he was also interred at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) and remarkably his body was buried in a plot directly across that road from Ann, lying just a few feet away from his murdered wife. Most likely a last request from the convicted felon performed by his family. However, the road that once separated them, was filled in several years ago and new graves now rest between them.

Ground view of grave locations at Hollywood Forever (click on image to enlarge)

One last travesty; Ann’s grave is now unmarked because the wooden marker that was placed on it at her death in 1930, has since rotted and disappeared decades ago, yet Burkart has a permanent flat granite tablet to mark his grave.

Approximate location of Ann McKnight’s unmarked grave.

Grave marker of convicted and executed murderer William Henry Burkhart.


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Lon Chaney in the 1930 Census

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Lon Chaney’s home in 1930

LON CHANEY

203 South Mansfield Avenue

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California

 Rent, $225

HOUSEHOLD RESIDENTS*

  1. Lon F. Chaney (head), 47 / Colorado / Actor / Movie studio
  2. Hazel Chaney (wife), 42 / California / None.
  3. John F. Jeske (chauffeur), 39 / Germany (1912) / Chauffeur / Private family.

* Information includes relationship to head of household, age / place of birth (year of arrival in this country, if applicable) / occupation / industry.

The preceeding text is taken from my book, Celebrities in the 1930 Census (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2008). The directory provides an extensive listing of household information collected for over 2,265 famous and infamous individuals who were alive during the 1930 United States Census. Please note: The above photographs do not appear in the book.

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Miriam Hopkins review by Leonard Maltin

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

MIRIAM HOPKINS: LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL

by Allan R. Ellenberger (University Press of Kentucky)

“A compelling actress who was equally at home in heavy dramas and sophisticated comedies, Miriam Hopkins is due for rediscovery and this book may serve as a linchpin. Author Ellenberger had the cooperation of the actress’ daughter, son-in-law and grandson as well as many friends and colleagues—not to mention a 100-page file maintained by the FBI. Her friend Tennessee Williams referred to her as “a magnificent bitch,” a role she seemed to relish when pitted against her supposed rival Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance. With pages of sources to verify his extensive research, Ellenberger has tried to bring the public and private Miriam Hopkins to life in this welcome biography.”Leonard Maltin

 

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Spend eternity near Rudolph Valentino

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

ATTENTION Rudolph Valentino fans. Anyone desiring to spend eternity near their favorite silent film idol, an opportunity has opened up for an empty crypt just two rows from The Sheik at Hollywood Forever Cemetery that is for sale by the owner.

Available crypt for sale just two columns over (click on image to enlarge)

There probably will never be another opportunity to get this close to Valentino as most (if not all) full crypts in the Cathedral Mausoleum are taken.

Serious-inquiries-only can contact me for the telephone number, or you can stop by Valentino’s crypt to get it.

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Robert Coogan and Maurice Chevalier

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Robert Coogan and Maurice Chevalier

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Miriam Hopkins: Belle on wheels

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Miriam Hopkins: Belle on wheels

By Mark Burger (Yes!Weekly)

MIRIAM HOPKINS: LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL by Allan R. Ellenberger. Published by University Press of Kentucky. 424 pages. $45 retail.

University Press of Kentucky’s stellar string of show-biz biographies – which have included such recent releases as Cynthia and Sara Brideson’s He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly and Alan K. Rode’s Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film – continues with Allan R. Ellenberger’s Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, the first full-length volume devoted to the actress, as much remembered for such films as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Old Acquaintance (1943), as her reputation – which preceded her, was not particularly positive, and was so well-known that the Harvard Lampoon once selected her as being “least desirable companion on a desert island.”

Call Hopkins a diva, a grande dame, or worse – and many did – this dyed-in-the-wool Southern belle (born in Savannah, no less) was no shrinking violet. Her frequent demands to producers and screenwriters to enhance (i.e. enlarge) her characters famously cost her the role that won Claudette Colbert an Oscar in It Happened One Night (1934). Despite a good relationship with filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, Jack Benny took it upon himself to convince producer Alexander Korda to instead hire Carole Lombard for To Be or Not to Be (1942), a resounding flop in its day but now considered a classic. Quite simply, Benny didn’t want to deal with Hopkins.

Once on the set, whether by concession or contractual obligation, Hopkins boasted an arsenal of tricks to flummox or upstage her fellow actors. Some, such as Joel McCrea (with whom she made five films and had a good rapport), took it in stride. Filmmakers Lubitsch, William Wyler (These Three) and Rouben Mamoulian (Jekyll and Hyde, Becky Sharp) sung her praises, as well.

Others, such as Edward G. Robinson (Barbary Coast), most definitely did not. On Jekyll and Hyde, in which Hopkins played the sultry barmaid Ivy, she repeatedly infuriated co-star Fredric March, who was playing both title roles, because she constantly tried to dominate their scenes. (March, however, could console himself with the Oscar he’d win for his performance.)

Ironically, some years later Hopkins and Robinson would share an unfortunate brush with the Hollywood Blacklist, although it didn’t hurt her career as much as his.

In Bette Davis, however, Hopkins met her match. Never mind Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; the real feud was Davis and Hopkins. That both were bypassed for the role of Scarlett O’Hara was perhaps the only instance in which they were simpatico (Hopkins, being a native Southerner, thought she had an edge on the role). Hopkins had starred in Owen Davis’ drama Jezebel on stage in 1933 and expected to reprise the role onscreen. She didn’t, Davis did, and won an Oscar.

They made two films together, The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance, and on both the battle lines were drawn early. They didn’t so much co-star as collide, with respective directors Edmund Goulding and Vincent Sherman acting as de-facto referees. In her later years, Davis took great delight in recounting how, during a performance of her one-woman show on the day Hopkins died, she said: “God has been good to us. He’s taken Miriam Hopkins.”

That few in the audience even remembered Hopkins was, undoubtedly, a further delight for Davis.

Perhaps that was a catalyst for author Ellenberger, who provides a well-written and well-researched account of Hopkins’ sometimes triumphant, sometimes troubled life. This is no hatchet job. The book is dedicated to Hopkins’ only child Michael and Michael’s wife Christiane (both deceased), and it’s clear that they opened the proverbial vault, providing Ellenberger – and the readers – with a clearer insight into Hopkins’ life, which included a contentious relationship with her mother Ellen and, oddly enough, a firm belief in astrology and mysticism. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hopkins would consult psychic before making important decisions. It’s also no exaggeration to say that she was wildly incorrect in some instances.

Despite being blessed with beauty, determination and talent, Hopkins’s career was undoubtedly curtailed by her behavior, yet in interviews, she always remained circumspect. Such behind-the-scenes gossip was not meant for public consumption, as she deemed it.

Ellenberger, whose specialty is vintage cinema – he co-authored The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol (2005) with Edoardo Ballerini and went solo with Margaret O’Brien: A Career Chronicle (2013) – evinces a clear affection and respect for Hopkins, and no small measure of sympathy. She was clearly a difficult woman and temperamental actress, and career-wise she was frequently her own worst enemy, but that doesn’t diminish the work. Hers was a fascinating life and career, and it’s all to be found in the pages of Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel.

Click HERE to read the review on Yes!Weekly website.

The official University Press of Kentucky website is kentuckypress.com.

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.

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Serge Oukrainsky, choreographer and protégé of Anna Pavlova

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Serge Oukrainsky was born Leonide Orlay de Carva on December 2, 1885, in Odessa, Russia. Oukrainsky was educated in Paris and began his stage career in 1911 as a mime at the Theatre de Chatelet’s French Musical Festival. He arrived in the United States two years later with Anna Pavlova’s company, and remained with that troupe as a soloist and Pavlova’s partner until 1915, subsequent to her historic break with Michael Mordkin. In 1940, Oukrainsky authored “My Two Years with Anna Pavlova,” a memoir of the dancer’s latter career.

Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet trunk (1920s) Serge Oukrainsky Collection, Museum of Performance (click image to enlarge)

Andreas Pavley, Anna Ludmila, and Serge Oukrainsky, c. 1920. Source: Newberry Library (Barzel Collection)

He moved to Chicago, where he was the leading dancer, and director of the Chicago Opera Ballet until 1927. At the same time, with Andreas Pavley, he established the Pavley-Oukrainsky School of Ballet, which affiliated with the opera during Mary Garden’s reign as prima diva.

The Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet toured extensively in the United States, Mexico, Cuba and South America. In July 1931, Pavley died mysteriously when he plunged from the sixteenth floor of Chicago’s McCormick Hotel. Reportedly he had financial reverses and was unable to meet a blackmailer’s extortion demand for $100. Police claimed it was a suicide, but Oukrainsky and other friends insisted it was an accident. After Pavley’s death, he formed the Serge Oukrainsky Ballet.

In 1927, Oukrainsky moved to California where, until 1931, he served as the ballet master of the San Francisco and Los Angeles operas. He was the choreographer for the Hollywood Bowl and several films; in 1934, he taught ballet in Hollywood. He had been in semiretirement for several years when Oukrainsky died after a long illness on November 1, 1972 at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. He was interred in the mid-southern part of Chandler Gardens (Section 12) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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Margaret O’Brien’s Stolen Oscar

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Margaret O’Brien, on stage at Grauman’s Chinese Theater receiving her juvenile Academy Award for Meet Me in St. Louis

Oscar. The Academy Award. Regardless of its name, it evokes the same emotion of respect for those who have been fortunate enough to receive one. And for those lucky ones, whether deserved or not, it is the brass ring, the ultimate in praise from their peers.

And so it was for little eight-year-old Margaret O’Brien, arguably the most talented of all the child stars of her day – or since – who received the coveted award for most outstanding child actress of 1944 for her performance in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The special Oscar, which was a miniature version of the acclaimed award, was given sporadically in the 1930s and 1940s. Previous winners included Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland, who was Margaret’s co-star that year.

Robert Young and Margaret O’Brien in Journey for Margaret

Born Angela Maxine O’Brien, Margaret’s rise to fame was meteoric. When her photograph was seen on a magazine cover, a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive signed her for a one-line scene in Babes on Broadway (1941). The powers-that-be at MGM saw the four-year-old’s raw talent and cast her with Robert Young in a war-time drama called Journey for Margaret (1942), from which she took her stage name. Small parts in three films followed until her starring role in Lost Angel, (1944) which was the first film written specifically for her.

At the request of director Vincent Minnelli, the studio cast her in the role of Tootie Smith in their new Technicolor musical, Meet Me in St. Louis. MGM had big hopes for this film and spent an astronomical $100,000 to build the St. Louis street on their back lot. Besides Margaret, the film included Judy Garland, Lucille Bremmer and Mary Astor, and introduced such musical standards as “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and the holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which Garland sang to Margaret.

When the film was released near the end of 1944, critics across the country praised her performance. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that she was the hottest thing on the MGM roster.

“Hers is a great talent,” the Reporter continued, “as distinctly outstanding as the greatest stars we have. The O’Brien appeal is based on her naturalness. She’s all America’s child, the type every person in an audience wants to take into his arms.”

But it wasn’t only America that raved. In London, the film was the biggest hit that city had seen in months. The Daily Express prophetically declared, “Her quiet, compelling acting, worthy of an Academy Award, steals the show.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shared that opinion and awarded her a Special Oscar for the Most Outstanding Child Actress of 1944. At the ceremony, which was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on March 15, 1945, Margaret was given her Oscar by director Mervyn LeRoy.

The emcee for the evening, comedian Bob Hope, lifted Margaret to the microphone so she could be heard by the listening radio audience.

“Will you hurry up and grow up, please?” Hope said as he struggled with the young winner.

As LeRoy handed her the Oscar, he said, “To the best young actress of the whole year of 1944. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” she replied. I really don’t know what to say. Thank you very much.”

However, she did know what to say. Her mother had written her an acceptance speech, but at the last-minute Margaret decided to improvise her very own thank you to the Academy.

Margaret O’Brien and her mother Gladys at the footprints ceremony in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater

During her career, Margaret O’Brien was bestowed with many awards and accolades, including the honor of placing her hands and footprints in cement in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese, but the Oscar would be her most prized and valued possession. Unfortunately, the little statuette would not stay around for long.

At the O’Brien home on Beverly Drive, Margaret had a separate room for her awards. One day in 1958, their maid took the Oscar and several other awards to her home to polish – a practice she did on several occasions. After three days, the maid failed to return so Mrs. O’Brien dismissed her and asked that she return the awards.

Not long after, Mrs. O’Brien, who was not in good health, suffered a relapse and died. Grief stricken, Margaret forgot about the maid and her Oscar until several months later when she tried to contact her, only to find that her phone was disconnected. The maid had moved and did not leave a forwarding address. Margaret considered the Oscar was gone forever. A few years later, the Academy graciously replaced the award with a substitute, but it was not the same.

Over the next thirty years, Margaret attended memorabilia shows searching for her lost Oscar. Then, in early 1995, a friend saw her Oscar in a an upcoming memorabilia auction catalogue. Margaret contacted the Academy’s legal department and they acted swiftly to have the Oscar returned.

Margaret O’Brien with her stolen Oscar that was returned to her by the Academy, and me in my younger days (no I’m not drunk it’s just one-of-those-pics) Michael Schwibs photo.

On February 7, 1995, nearly fifty years after receiving it, the Academy returned the stolen Oscar to O’Brien in a special ceremony at their Beverly Hills offices. Margaret told those attending:

“For all those people who have lost or misplaced something that was dear to them, as I have, never give up the dream of searching – never let go of the hope that you’ll find it because after all these many years, at last, my Oscar has been returned to me.”

 

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