Posts Tagged ‘academy of television arts & sciences’

The tragic story of Pierre Collings

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Time, fame and money trip lightly in Hollywood, and the men and women who have them one day, find themselves alone and penniless the next. So it was with Pierre Collings, screenwriter, whose screenplay of The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) won him two Academy Awards in 1937. Sadly, he would not survive to the end of that year.

The second eldest of five children, Lysander Pierre Collings was born on September 22, 1900, in Truro, Nova Scotia, where his father Otto was a mining engineer. Otto and his wife Martha were both American citizens, and when they returned to the states, they had Pierre naturalized as an American citizen.

Collings entered motion pictures as a messenger boy at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios when he was 17-years-old. Over time he became a cameraman [Alimony (1924) and Untamed Youth (1924)] at the Brunton Studios (now Paramount); an assistant director, and then a writer. Among Collings early scripts were A Woman of the World (1925), and Good and Naughty (1926), both starring Pola Negri; The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (1926), with Adolph Menjou and Florence Vidor; the Louise Brooks classic, The Show Off (1926), and the continuity for the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers (1930).

Sadly, very little is known about Collings personal and professional life. In December 1926, Collings married Natalie Harris at New York’s Little Church Around the Corner. The couple was divorced in 1930. In 1928, Collings was to direct Alex the Great, but for unknown reasons the film was taken over by Dudley Murphy.

Between 1924 and 1930, Collings kept relatively busy writing screenplays, however between 1930 and 1937, he only produced two screenplays, one of which was as an uncredited dialogue contributor on British Agent (1934) starring Leslie Howard and Kay Francis. It could be during this time that some of his personal problems began. In August 1935, he was arrested for drunk driving.

The following December, he signed with Warner Bros. and was assigned, along with writer Sheridan Gibney, to write the screenplay for The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), which was to star Paul Muni in the title role. During the production of the film, Collings mother, Martha died unexpectedly and was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

The Story of Louis Pasteur would prove to be Collings biggest success professionally. Both he and Gibney were nominated for two Academy Awards for Original Story and for Screenplay. Reportedly, after finishing the screenplay Collings suffered a nervous breakdown and was not able to attend the ceremony on Oscar night. When Collings and Gibney won both awards, Gibney accepted the Oscars for his writing partner.

Soon after, Collings health improved enough so he could write the screenplay for a projected Warner Bros. film, Houdini the Great which was scheduled to star George Raft. For whatever reason, the project never materialized. After this, he had problems finding work again and started drinking and soon fell into more bad health and poverty. Stories circulated that he actually pawned one of his two Oscars in order to survive, but this cannot be confirmed. The following July, he was arrested on an intoxication charge that was filed by his landlady. He pleaded not guilty.

Pierre Collings died here at his father’s home at 12315 N. Huston Avenue in North Hollywood (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private residence. DO NOT disturb the occupants)

Pierre Collings death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

Collings was collaborating with songwriter Carrie Jacobs Bond on a screenplay based on her popular song, “I Love You Truly” when he died from pneumonia at his father’s home in North Hollywood on December 21, 1937. His funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Chapel and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery near his mother.

Collings was already forgotten. The Los Angeles Times did not publish an obituary – only his name listed in the death notices. However, three weeks later, Lee Shippey, a columnist for the Times made this mention of him in his column:

“Little Pierre Collings, who wrote the script for Louis Pasteur, died the other day. His close friends tell me his decline in health resulted from heartache and despair because, after that truly great picture, he was given hardly any work. The producers thought one Louis Pasteur was great, through some accident, but the public wouldn’t stand for another picture like that – not when it could go to the next show house and see Ben Bernie. In fact, I think the sin of Hollywood is that it gathers genius from all the world and then says to it: ‘You mustn’t do your best or anything approaching it. Our public wouldn’t understand it.’” 

Pierre Collings grave at Hollywood Forever is located in Section 2W near the grave of Florence Lawrence.

Four months after Collings’ death, Charles Mackay, a wanna-be actor down on his luck, was living at Hollywood’s Mark Twain Hotel. Mackay had graduated from Washington and Lee University the year before, and decided to “try” Hollywood. His friends encouraged him, however, his father, a prosperous St. Louis broker, told him it was a mistake; he could go if he wanted, but “don’t come home for help.” Mackay ignored his father’s advice and intended to prove him wrong.

By April 1938, Mackay was down to his last quarter. His only way to pay for lodging was to work on a rock pile. He returned one evening to his room, sweaty, tired and discouraged. In hopes of finding a clean shirt, he looked through a closet that was reserved for the belongings of guests who left the hotel without paying their rent. In the closet, Mackay discovered a threadbare blue sweater, and wrapped in the sweater was one of Pierre Collings’ Oscar statuette.

Charles Mackay, center, is shown holding the Oscar given to Pierre Collings. At left is Donald Gledhill, secretary of the Academy, and at right is screenwriter Arthur Caesar.

Concerned that he would be arrested for stealing the Oscar if he tried to return it, Mackay walked Hollywood Blvd to think. By chance, he met Arthur Caesar, himself an Academy Award winning screenwriter for Manhattan Melodrama (1934). He told Caesar his story and the writer took him and the Oscar to the Academy’s office, where the secretary told him that Collings had died in poverty a few months earlier. It was assumed that, probably in need, Collings had been forced to leave the sweater and Oscar as hostage for his unpaid rent.

However, another story later circulated that Collings’ Oscar was somehow stolen by a thief who found it too hot to sell and ended up hiding it in the hotel’s closet.

The Academy gave Mackay $25, told him to clean up, and assumingly, kept the Oscar.

While researching this story, I contacted the Academy and was told that neither of Pierre Collings’ Oscars was in their possession, and there were no records of the transaction. It’s possible that the unclaimed statue is lying in a box in the Academy’s attic or, since his father was living at the time, it was returned to him. In any event, both Oscars won by Collings appear to be missing.

If you watch the Academy Awards ceremony this year, when the award for Best Screenplay is presented, remember Pierre Collings – may he rest in peace.

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The Emmy Race…

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Emmys race comes down to old or new

 

 

 

It’s youth versus maturity. Change versus experience. A lot like our presidential race. The results could tell us plenty about what we value.

 

By Mary McNamara, Times Television Critic
September 21, 2008

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IT’S A race to decide what we value most: the vibrant and new or that which is mellow with experience. Shall we surrender to the seductive nature of callow youth or the guaranteed satisfaction that only maturity can provide?

 

Astonishingly enough, it would seem that the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards on ABC tonight have managed to become part of the larger cultural conversation.

 

“Change” howled the Obama campaign from its infancy. “Experience” the Clinton supporters bellowed right back. And we know how that one turned out. Now we are in the midst of a campaign that redefines May-December relationships on both tickets while everyone grows hoarse debating the merits of record versus vision.   (click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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(more…)

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