Archive for the ‘Tributes’ Category

Ramon Novarro Tribute…

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

TRIBUTE

Ramon Novarro

 

 

“I wonder sometimes when people congratulate me upon my performance in Ben-Hur how much that performance would have mattered had I had a fat stomach.”

 — Ramon Novarro

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Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of silent film actor, Ramon Novarro. In remembrance of him, the following is a brief account of how he received the role of Ben-Hur.

 

 By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

When actor George Walsh was cast to play the title role in the Goldwyn production of Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro was devastated. He wanted to play the part so much he could taste it. But when the studios of Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer merged and Ben-Hur’s director, screenwriter, and Walsh himself were sent packing, Ramon didn’t allow himself the luxury of thinking he had a second chance.

 

That all changed one Sunday afternoon in June when MGM production chief Irving Thalberg called Novarro at his home. He told the actor he had something important to discuss with him and asked that he report to the studio immediately. Novarro drove to Culver City and went to Thalberg’s office, where the “Boy Wonder” got right to the point, asking the 25-year-old actor if he would like to play Ben-Hur.

 

Ramon was, of course, both shocked and delighted and replied that he would. But Thalberg had one request – that Novarro make a screen test. Putting his entire future on the line, Ramon refused the youthful mogul. “Why not?” Thalberg demanded.

 

Ramon reasoned that Thalberg was concerned about his physique and explained that his body was in good shape. If he had any doubts, all he had to do was screen his recent film, Where the Pavement Ends, throughout which Ramon is half-naked.

 

Thalberg smiled and agreed, respecting Ramon’s bluntness and honesty. He then instructed him to keep his casting a secret for now. He would be leaving for New York the next day, and no one must know. Novarro was on top of the world. His dream was at last coming true; the role of a lifetime belong to him.

 

The following morning a studio limo picked up Novarro at his home and whisked him to the Pasadena train station. Waiting there were MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, writers Carey Wilson and Bess Meredyth, attorney J. Robert Rubin and his wife Reba, director Fred Niblo and his wife, actress Enid Bennett, and Photoplay correspondent Herb Howe.

 

In New York, the group was greeted by Marcus Loew, head of MGM. Loew told Ramon to answer all reporter inquiries with the explanation that he was going on vacation. Just as Loew had predicted, reporters were at the dock, questioning everyone. They were naturally suspicious as to why so many MGM employees were traveling to Europe. Fred Niblo fibbed a little, saying he was going to shoot some French exteriors for his recent film with Novarro called The Red Lily and then go on to Monte Carlo to begin his next picture with Norma Talmadge.

 

The night before, director Marshall Neilan and wife, actress Blanche Sweet, sailed for France on the Olympic to make The Sporting Venus. The reporters knew the problems that the studio was having in Italy on the set of Ben-Hur, and that only fueled more rumors that either Neilan or Niblo was going to take over director’s duties from Charles Brabin.

 

As they were waiting to leave on the steamship the Leviathan, frequent Novarro costar Alice Terry arrived to see their departure. Ramon and Alice did an embrace for the cameras which rivaled anything they had done on the screen. At the last minute, Mayer, who was staying behind, gave some words of instruction to Niblo – “Be sure to have a lot of camels in the picture.”

 

After Ramon received farewell telegrams from Thalberg and actress and close friend Barbara La Marr, the ship pulled up anchor and made its way to Europe. As the ship passed the Statue of Liberty, Novarro may have stared at the beautiful lady in the harbor and pondered his future, and the events which led to this, the crossroads of his life.

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Click HERE to watch the chariot scene from Ben-Hur (1925)

 

Comments by friends and co-workers:

  

“Ramon was apparently everything I had been told, but my informants, sleuths and guides who led me to the stage where he was working, had neglected to tabulate his greatest attribute, his sense of humor.”

 Elsie Janis, vaudeville performer and friend

  

“Ramon Novarro was a real Latin heartbreaker. Everywhere he went the women trailed him like a bunch of dogs chasing a bitch in heat. Funny how much of an animal we really are and we try so damned hard to always deny and hide that relationship.”

 Florence “Pancho” Barnes, aviatrix and friend

 

“I loved Ramon; he was one of my dearest friends. Whenever he came to London, we would walk arm in arm in Regents Park, perhaps have a cup of coffee together. I am very proud to think that I made a film with him. Both Frank [her husband] and I loved Ramon. What more can I say?”

 Evelyn Laye, costar in The Night is Young

  

“Ramon aged gracefully. He never considered himself a ‘has-been’ because he had enough money to choose his roles. He worked when he wanted and enjoyed his garden the rest of the time. He enjoyed a beautiful life.”

 Leonard Shannon, agent

  

“I never heard him say an unkind word about any of his contemporaries – nor of the stars of more recent years. And through the years, that sincere boyish enthusiasm the screen knew so well was ever present in his off screen life. The loss of Ramon Novarro leaves a tremendous gap in the ranks of the show business world that can never be filled.”

 Alan Brock, agent

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Happy Birthday Anita Page…

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

HAPPY ‘BELATED’ BIRTHDAY

Anita Page

 

 

“I must say that I enjoyed being a movie star, but I have never had to look back. My life has been happy, rewarding and fruitful. Today I still receive fan mail and applause from fans all over the world and it gives me a warm feeling to know that I am remembered after all these years. It has been a pleasant life… what more could I ask for?”

— Anita Page, 1994

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger 

 

“The King,” Clark Gable compared her to the beautiful Grace Kelly. Talk show host, Jack Paar spoke of her to his late night viewers as his “dream girl.” Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, hounded the studios for years for a photograph of her, and Prince Ferdinand of Germany would not stop until she agreed to go out on a date with him.

           

Anita Page, the object of desire for all these men, (and more) was a bright star in the Hollywood heavens for more than seven years. Of that, five of those years were at the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer-Studios, where she appeared in twenty-one films. With numerous public appearances, and friendships with many of Hollywood’s most celebrated people, Page secured a career that is legendary in its own right.

  

RECOLLECTIONS OF A PAST BIRTHDAY

            

Yesterday, August 4, was the 98th birthday of Anita Page. I first met Anita in 1993 while researching my book, Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol. Anita costarred with Ramon Novarro in The Flying Fleet (1929) and was one of his last living co-stars, so naturally I was thrilled when she agreed to meet with me.

 

That same year, on her 83rd birthday, I was invited to join her family, friends and former costars at what was then called the St. James Hotel, on the renowned Sunset Strip. Once known as the Sunset Towers, it was at one time the home to countless Hollywood stars and executives, including Anita’s first husband, composer Nacio Herb Brown, who lived in the penthouse.

            

The guest list that evening looked like a Hollywood Who’s Who and included Cesar Romero, Milton Berle, Hugh Heffner, Margaret O’Brien, Betty Garrett and Mel Torme, to name a few. They all came to toast one of the last remaining silent film stars from that once great studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

 

Hugh Heffner, who is a silent film fan, recalled that Anita “fell down the stairs well,” referring to her bravura performance in the hit Our Dancing Daughters (1928), which put Anita on top.

            

Hefner, who has helped to preserve old films said, “Well, I think one of the things that are fascinating — because of the technology — things are being reproduced on laser and tape and there’s a kind of rediscovery. I suspect as we move into the next millennium, this last century will be seen as very special. It’s really the dividing point in which the magic of an era has been captured and saved and I suspect as we move forward, the past is going to look better and better.”

            

Betty Garrett, who costarred in such films as On The Town and My Sister Eileen, recalled going to the movies as a child with her mother and spoke about the way movies used to be. “I became a movie fan in those days,” Betty recalled. “I saw Anita’s films and adored her. We’re all longing for movies the way they used to be. I don’t know what there was about them that was so intriguing – maybe it was because it was a new industry. It was so exciting to see a movie in those days. It was magic.”

            

Cesar Romero told everyone gathered that, “Her legs are just as beautiful today as when she was a top MGM star!”

            

Anita’s husband of fifty-four years, Admiral Herschel House, died in 1991 but Anita told the packed room that evening that her beloved husband was there in spirit. “I thought I’d never, never get over it. And I never will,” Anita said. “But I appreciate the beautiful daughters he gave me.”

            

“Mother left the business for many, many years, but people didn’t forget,” her oldest daughter Sandra said. “She had a combination of sweetness and sensuality. It’s what Marilyn had and it’s what Harlow had. It seems to be quite a good combination. She has all different ages of people that love her and remember her. It’s been a complete resurgence, and she’s so happy about it.”

            

At that time, Anita had a resurgence of her popularity, making personal appearances at film festivals, and taking time to answer her mail from a new generation of fans. As Margaret O’Brien said that evening, “That’s the wonderful thing about Hollywood. You can always come back!”

  

EMAIL ME: hollywoodland23@aol.com

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Barbara LaMarr’s Birthday…

Monday, July 28th, 2008

“The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful”

Barbara LaMarr

TRIBUTE

 

 

 

Today would be the 112th birthday of the silent screen beauty, Barbara LaMarr. To celebrate, I am reprinting a portion of a tribute to the actress written by Jimmy Bangley, who was a huge LaMarr fan and admirer.

 

Celebrated around the world as “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful,” this goddess of film was much more than a mere screen beauty. Possessing a razor sharp intelligence, a keen sense of humor, and a wise understanding of human nature, Miss LaMarr was also a successful scenarist of the silent screen. Beauty was just one weapon in her arsenal of talents.

  

Child actress at the tender age of seven years, little Reatha Dale Watson (as Barbara was then called) had a tremendous impact on her turn-of-the-century theater audiences as she played in stock companies up and down the West Coast for over six years.

 

Her loving rapport with the audience never faded. She experienced the same jubilation again with an adoring audience as she seductively danced to filled nightclubs, theaters, and vaudeville houses in her next incarnation as a hoofer on the road. Her natural grace would be exploited to its fullest as a screen actress, but as a young dancer of 14 years LaMarr made a truly stunning impression.

 

  

 

 

 

 LaMarr’s Whitley Heights house interior (photo 2)  

 

 

  

Exterior and rear of house (photot 3)

 

(click on images to enlarge)

 

Walking hand in hand with Barbara’s successful career as child actress and dancer was Barbara the writer, beginning with her short stories in newspapers (her foster father, William Watson, was himself a noted newspaper writer and editor). LaMarr branched out as film and theater critic, magazine contributor, and lastly film scenarist. She “doctored” numerous screenplays and wrote (and co-wrote) at least eight movies that we know about today.

 

In 1913 and 1914 LaMarr filmed some quickie westerns in Arizona. She is also said to have filmed dancing shorts in New York City, Chicago, and in Los Angeles, with such diverse partners as Rudolph Valentino and Clifton Webb. None of this film footage can be found today, at least not yet. What we do know is that by 1920 Louis B. Mayer and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. with wife Mary Pickford “discovered” Barbara LaMarr and set her delicate little feet on the path to screen stardom.

 

With her gorgeous, exotic looks, her bright personality, her native intelligence, and her inborn grace of form and movement, Barbara was propelled to stardom. She became filmdom’s most beautiful and celebrated vamp. This icon of the art deco era also became a much appreciated and critically acclaimed actress. She received rave reviews in such box office hits as The Three Musketeers (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), The Eternal City (1923), Strangers of the Night (1923), Thy Name Is Woman, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, both released in 1924, and pleased international audiences with her beauty and charisma in such fluff as The White Moth, Sandra, and The White Monkey (which, by the way, flopped in the United States).

 

 

Barbara La Marr’s home at 6672 Whitley Terrace, as it looked a few years ago. Jimmy Bangley, doing his LaMarr impersonation, is standing at photo number 3 in the 1920s version above.  

 

Barbara once made this telling statement about her film work, “Each characterization I create chips a little piece from my very soul.” She did, indeed, work very hard. She also played very hard. She lived on her emotions and on the very edge of her nerves.

 

She was generous to a fault and was known in the industry as a “soft touch.” LaMarr could always be counted on to help a friend when he or she was down and out, both emotionally and financially. Friends, relations, directors, producers, and fellow actors realized Barbara had trouble saying no. Many in her circle took advantage of her. She seemed to understand, and placidly accept this facet of her personality.

 

– Gratefully, Jimmy Bangley

February 1999

 

NOTE: Barbara LaMarr’s four bedroom, 2 bath home at 6672 Whitley Terrace was recently sold in February 2008 for $1,250,000.

 

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Jimmy Bangley’s Birthday…

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Happy Birthday

Jimmy Bangley!

 

 

Jimmy Bangley in front of the grave of his idol, Bette Davis 

 

AMERICAN ACTOR, WRITER & FILM HISTORIAN

 

BORN: July 11, 1956, Suffolk, Virginia

DIED: December 8, 2004, West Hollywood, California

 

My friend Jimmy Bangley would be 52 years-old today. Jimmy left us more than three years ago — much too early — and he is still missed. To celebrate here are some snap shots (Jimmy was never without a disposable camera) of Jimmy with a few of his celebrity friends who also cared about him.

 

 With Academy Award nominated actress, Sally Kirkland

 

 

 With Academy Award nominated actress, Linda Blair and friend

 

 With comedian Rip Taylor

 

 

 With actress Marsha Hunt who is holding an article that Jimmy

wrote on her for Classic Images

 

 

 With actor, Esai Morales and friends

 

 With silent-film actress, Anita Page

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