Posts Tagged ‘Cedric Gibbons’

Who Named Oscar?

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

The Birth of Oscar

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

  

Oscar – the name on everyone’s lips in Hollywood at this time of year. Once again on February 22, nominees will stroll down the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre to attend the 81st Annual Academy Awards. There, the phrase, “And the Oscar goes to…” will be repeated numerous times, but who originally coined the term, Oscar? Depending on who you talk to, it could be any one of several suspects, but first, some history.

 

Oscar’s parents, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was chartered on May 4, 1927, when 36 film industry leaders met and organized the non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the artistic quality of the film medium.

 

Academy banquet at the Biltmore Hotel (LAPL)

 

A week later on May 11, a banquet was held in the Crystal Ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel where more than 300 gathered, and Douglas Fairbanks, the Academy’s first president, presided. Film industry leaders such as Louis B. Mayer, Joseph M. Schenck, Will Hays, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Lloyd and Conrad Nagel gave their support.

 

It was Louis B. Mayer who suggested handing out awards as a way of focusing attention on films. Conrad Nagel agreed, saying, “Whatever we give, it should be a symbol of continuing progress – militant, dynamic.”

 

Inspired by the evenings proceedings, MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons began sketching a form on the tablecloth (some versions say a napkin). The figure was a brawny man standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword. Gibbons transferred the sketch to paper and it was given to sculptor George Stanley, who molded the trophy in clay. Since then very few changes have been made.

 

“They are a little distorted now because the original mold has been used so often,” Stanley said in 1957. The sculptor later designed and worked on the three well-known statues at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl.

 

As with many actors, Oscar’s birth name would have been hard to fit on a marquee – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Award of Merit – more than a mouthful. So perhaps this fated him to a moniker, but just how Oscar received its unusual name is debatable. Several Hollywood notables have claimed the distinction of originating the name.

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 Margaret Herrick and Col. W. N. Selig (LAPL)

 

On their website, the Academy does not attribute the nickname to a specific person, however, one version of the story gives credit to the Academy’s executive secretary, Margaret Herrick. The story goes that in 1931, she reportedly saw the statuette, studied it carefully and exclaimed, “Why he looks like my Uncle Oscar.”

 

Sitting in an adjoining office was a newspaper correspondent who, the following day, printed the line: “Academy employees have affectionately dubbed their famous gold statuette Oscar.” (unfortunately there is no known published validation for this story)

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 Irving Thalberg, Bette Davis and Frank Capra (LAPL)

 

Two-time Oscar winner, Bette Davis believed that she created the term Oscar to describe the golden trophy.

“I am convinced that I was the first to give the statuette its name when I received one for my performance in Dangerous, made in 1935,” Davis said in 1955.

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 Bette Davis and her then-husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, Jr.
Was the coveted award named for him?

 

“I was married at that time to Harmon O. Nelson, Jr. For a long time I did not know what his middle name was. I found out one day that it was Oscar, and it seemed a very suitable nickname for the Academy statuette.”

 

Davis, knowing there were other petitioners to the name, hinted that she would be willing to resort to fisticuffs to support her contention.

 

“Of course, that’s all so very long ago – who knows? But I’d suggest that if the other claimants become very insistent we settle the whole thing with a duel.”

 

Still other stories say that John Barrymore first coined the name – in the early days Oscar was reportedly a facetious term. Animation pioneer, Walt Disney has also been quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932. However, the person who may have the best claim for originating the name is columnist Sidney Skolsky.

 

Many references credit Skolsky for using the term “Oscar” in a 1934 column in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s Best Actress award for Morning Glory (1933). Still another names Skolsky as the anonymous reporter who supposedly overheard Margaret Herrick christen the statue in 1931; but since Skolsky had not arrived in Hollywood until 1932, that part is unlikely.

 

Skolsky claimed the term referenced an old vaudeville joke that began, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?”

 

Though Oscars true beginning is unknown, what can be proven is the use of “Oscar” in Time magazine on March 26, 1934. If it’s not the original, it certainly is one of the first times the term was used:

 

“In the cinema industry the small gold-washed statuettes which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science annually awards for meritorious productions and performances are called ‘Oscars,’” the article stated.

 

This also negates Bette Davis’ claim of naming the award when she received hers in 1936 – by then the term Oscar had already been in use for two years.

 

Whatever its origin, it definitely will not to be an issue when this years nominees walk the red carpet in hopes of getting their own Oscar.

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The making of “Little Women”

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

FILM HISTORY

The making of the 1949 film classic, “Little Women”

 

 

  

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

“Good pictures are always difficult to make,” Mervyn LeRoy once said. He should know because he produced or directed several including Tugboat Annie (1933), Madame Curie (1943) and the perennial favorite, The Wizard of Oz (1939).

 

However, the one film he always wanted to make was an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” It had been fourteen years since David O. Selznick produced the RKO version with Katherine Hepburn, so LeRoy persuaded Louis B. Mayer to buy the rights from him.

 

Selznick had attempted to produce a Technicolor remake himself a few years earlier and planned to star his wife, Jennifer Jones. However, several postwar problems and a threatened craft workers’ strike forced him to abandon his plans. So when MGM bought the rights to the film, they also bought all the sets that Selznick had built. One night during production, LeRoy’s wife Kitty was reading some of the dialogue from the script when she began to cry. “I can’t finish this,” she told her husband.

 

“My God,” he exclaimed. “Is it that good?”

 

LeRoy chose some of the finest actresses at MGM to play the March sisters. Each one had experience with big screen success: Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, June Allyson in The Stratton Story, Janet Leigh in The Forsythe Saga and Margaret O’Brien in The Secret Garden.

 

LeRoy had directed Elizabeth Taylor’s screen test for National Velvet. “And like everybody else who saw her,” he said. “I was struck by her potential beauty.” When she began filming on Little Women, Elizabeth was seventeen and her beauty was at its peak. “There was no bad side, no good side,” LeRoy said. “All sides were fantastically beautiful.”

 

Her role as the selfish Amy would require a bit more acting than she was previously accustomed. In the novel, Amy is the youngest March sister, but in order to use Margaret O’Brien (who was five years younger than Elizabeth) as Beth, Beth was made the youngest. “Film treatment,” Elizabeth explained, “will take care of that.”

 

 

 

 

Also, as Amy, she would have to become a blonde. “I don’t like myself as blonde yet,” Elizabeth said. “I think it gives me a white, faded, peculiar look. But we wouldn’t dare change Amy to a brunette. Too many people have read the book and know exactly the color of her hair. They would resent a change.”

 

“I’ve made tests for the role and everything will be all right when they finish changing my hair,” Elizabeth explained. “But I think I will always be happier as a brunette.”

 

During the filming, Elizabeth turned eighteen and no longer had to go to school, something which made Margaret very envious. “We had a party on the set for Elizabeth’s eighteenth birthday,” Margaret recalled, “and I remember her throwing away all her school books. She really disliked the school teacher and was happy that she would no longer be following her around every minute.”

 

Walter Plunkett, of Gone with the Wind fame, designed the costumes for Little Women, which thrilled all the actresses. “Oh my goodness,” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I get to wear Walter Plunkett clothes.”

 

The four actresses became good friends on the set of Little Women. At lunch, they would go to the studio commissary together and gossip – mostly about Louis B. Mayer. Elizabeth detested him, but June admired the fact that he had risen from the ranks as a junk dealer to one of the most powerful moguls in the business.

 

Three of the actresses had crushes on costar Peter Lawford. “I was out of the competition,” Margaret said, “because they were all older and I was only eleven. I sort of felt like an outcast because all three had a crush on him. Peter had a wonderful time on that movie.”

 

One person who did not have a wonderful time was Mary Astor, who played their mother, Marmee. Astor later recalled this period of her career as “Mothers for Metro” and did not always speak of it very fondly. “My approach to the part of Marmee was not an enthusiastic one,” Astor later wrote. “Everybody else had fun.”

 

She would complain because the girls were always laughing and fooling around during every scene. She criticized Elizabeth for talking on the phone to Nicky Hilton (her future husband) all the time and became irritated when June snapped her gum. Her experience on Meet Me in St. Louis had not endeared her to Margaret and things had not changed. “Maggie O’Brien looked at me as though she were planning something very unpleasant,” Astor wrote.

 

 

 

 

During the scene when Jo cuts off her hair, Peter Lawford’s character sees her and is supposed to say, “What have you done? You look like a porcupine!” Instead, Peter would pronounce it “porky-pine.” “We must have shot that scene a hundred times,” Margaret recalled. “And then Peter and June would laugh every time she took off the hat and he saw her hair.”

 

On every take, he would say “porky-pine” and everyone would burst out laughing, including Mervyn LeRoy. Unfortunately, Mary Astor did not see the funniness in it. “My sense of humor, my sense of fun, had deserted me long ago,” she said. “And it just wasn’t all that funny.”

 

Eventually, everyone would pull themselves together and start the scene again. “Okay. I’ve got it now! I’ve got it now!” Peter would assure everyone. LeRoy would start at the very beginning and Peter would come through the door and say, “What have you done? You look like a “porky-pine!” Of course, everyone doubled over with laughter again, except Mary. She had been standing there for some time and was beginning to feel ill from the hot lights and the heavy clothes.

 

“I couldn’t say that I was ill,” she said. “I didn’t want the kind of attention that would have brought on.” As LeRoy began the scene once more, Mary had the first line and realized she could not remember what it was and stood there speechless.

 

“Cut,” LeRoy yelled. “Where’s your line, Mary?”

 

“I don’t know Merv,” was all she could say, which caused everyone to go to pieces again.

 

Janet Leigh, who played Meg, remembered that at first Margaret was hesitant to join in on the revelry. “Young Margaret O’Brien took a while before she participated wholeheartedly,” Leigh recalled. “She continually looked in her mother’s direction for approval. But gradually she loosened up and we won her over to our foolish ways.”

 

The scene where Beth reveals that she knows she is dying, took a lot out of both Margaret and June Allyson. Even Mary Astor was impressed with Margaret’s ability and proclaimed, “And was that ever a death scene.”

 

“It was hard for me because June got to cry in that scene and I had to be the strong one,” Margaret said. “It was difficult not to cry.”

 

June had the same problem – except she couldn’t stop crying. In the scene, Beth, who is dying from scarlet fever, comforts Jo and tells her not to be sad because she doesn’t mind dying. After the scene was finished, June continued crying and had to be sent home. “I got in my car still blubbering and continued to cry for hours,” June said.

 

 

Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien

 

 

MGM premiered Little Women on March 10, 1949 at Radio City Music Hall for its opening film for their 25th Anniversary program. The film became a big money-maker that year earning 3.6 million for the studio. In their publicity, th studio mentioned that the film reunited four stars from Meet Me in St. Louis: Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Leon Ames and Harry Davenport.

 

Sadly, Little Women was the last film for veteran character actor C. Aubrey Smith, who died shortly after filming was completed. This would also be Elizabeth Taylor’s last adolescent part. Her next film, Conspirator (1950) with Robert Taylor, saw her in a more mature role.

 

Little Women was nominated for two Academy Awards and won for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color for Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse, Edwin B. Willis and Jack D. Moore.

 

Lee Mortimer of the Daily Mirror wrote, “On this photoplay MGM bestowed painstaking and loving care, adhering as much to the warm spirit and restrained actions of the book as it is physically possible in translating words into pictures.”

 

 

 

 

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The Gibbons/del Rio Estate

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

CELEBRITY REAL ESTATE

Dolores del Rio and Cedric Gibbons’ 1930s Art Deco Estate in Santa Monica

 

 

 

 

 

Designed in 1930 by legendary Hollywood art director Cedric Gibbons as a love-nest for Gibbons and his then-wife, silent-film siren Dolores del Rio, the Art Deco-style property in Santa Monica features five bedrooms, six bathrooms, an office, a gym, a lighted tennis court, and separate staff/guest quarters. It’s listed at $12.45 million. Virtual tour can be found here, and some vintage glamour shots of the house can be found at style blog Poetic Home. 757 Kingman Avenue, Santa Monica, CA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edwin Carewe Marked at Hollywood Forever

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Director Edwin Carewe’s grave is marked after more than 69 years

 

Edwin Carewe (with megaphone) directing a scene as Mabel Normand looks on

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Recently at Hollywood Forever, I discovered that the grave of director Edwin Carewe had a grave stone installed after more than 69 years of being unmarked. I don’t know who marked him but it is always great news when someone that has been forgotten finally gets identified with a marker. The director, who discovered Dolores Del Rio and many other famous stars, died in Hollywood on January 22, 1940 from an apparent heart attack.

 

Edwin Carewe was born Jay Fox in Gainesville, Texas on March 5, 1883. He attended the University of Texas and the University of Missouri majoring in dramatics. Early in his career when his flair for acting was expressed, a fellow New York actor suggested that he change his name, thinking that Fox was not good professionally. So he took the name Edwin from his favorite actor, Edwin Booth, and for his last name chose to use that of a character that he was playing in stock.

 

Carewe’s first stage experience was with the Dearborn Stock Company and he made his debut on Broadway with Chauncey Olcott. He appeared in plays with such stage actors as Otis Skinner, Rose Coghlan and Laurette Taylor in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. Later, he entered motion pictures in 1912 with the Lubin Company.

 

 

Ramona

 

 

As a director, he produced such films as Resurrection (1927), Ramona (1928), Revenge (1928), Evangeline (1929), and The Spoilers (1930), winning fame for its realistic fight scenes. Besides Del Rio, he encouraged the talents of Warner Baxter, Wallace Beery, Francis X. Bushman and Gary Cooper. His brother, Finis Fox (1884-1949), wrote many of his scenarios.

 

Over his career, Carewe directed films for Metro, Paramount, First National, Fox and others and at one time had his own lot, Tec-Art, on Melrose Avenue, opposite Paramount, where he made his biggest successes.

 

In 1925, he and actress Mary Aikin (whom he also discovered), eloped to Mexico. There he met Jaime Del Rio and his wife Dolores. He suggested that she return with him to Hollywood for a screen career. Carewe helped Dolores Del Rio become one of the biggest stars in silent films.

 

At one time Carewe was considered a millionaire. His percentage on Ramona and Resurrection, both with Del Rio, was close to $400,000. However he lost most of his fortune in a Texas garbage disposal deal.

 

Carewe’s health began to fail in July 1939 when he had a heart attack while driving his car and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Not wishing to remain in the hospital, his doctor’s would only allow him to leave if someone was constantly with him. He agreed to move to 5603 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood into an apartment across the hall from his nephew, Winston Platt.

 

 

5603 Lexington Ave., Hollywood

Edwin Carewe died in his apartment here at 5603 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood. 

 

 

On January 22, 1940, a doctor was summoned to Carewe’s apartment and administered a sedative to him around 4 a.m. Carewe fell asleep and Platt stretched out on a couch in the next room. At 8 a.m. Platt was awakened and found his uncle dead.

 

Funeral services were conducted at the Pierce Brothers Mortuary (across from Hollywood Cemetery) by Rev. Willsie Martin of the Wilshire Blvd. Methodist Episcopal Church. More than 200 of Carewe’s friends gathered to pay their final farewell.

 

Among those who attended were Dolores Del Rio, garbed in black, who sat in front with her husband, Cedric Gibbons, the art director at MGM. She sobbed throughout the rites.

 

On the whole, the chapel was filled with property men, electricians, cameramen, carpenters, grips, painters, other technicians and friends who made up the director’s crews when he was filming. Others who were present included Charles Murray, Guido Orlando, Rex Lease, Eddie Silton, William Farnum, Ivy Wilson, Wilford Lucas, James Gordon, Hank Mann, Roland Drew, George Renault, John Le Roy Johnston, John Boles and John Hintz.

 

In the ceremony and eulogy, Dr. Martin touched briefly on his pioneer endeavors in films and his making of Are We Civilized? (1934), his final film.

 

“He never failed a friend, he never carried bitterness in his heart and he was generous to a fault – a great attribute,” Martin said. “He was a man who never quit, a test of a thorough bred.”

 

Besides his widow, Mary Aiken, Carewe left five children, Sally Ann, William Edwin, Carol Lee, Rita and Mary Jane and two brothers, Finis and Wallace Fox.

 

After his interment at Hollywood Cemetery in 1940, Carewe’s grave went unmarked – until recently when an unknown benefactor placed a stone there.

  

 carewe marker

 Edwin Carewe’s new grave marker at Hollywood Forever

 

Edwin Carewe’s grave is located in Section One, Grave 471, in the northeast part of the cemetery, very near to the east wall, in the same area as Flora Finch.

 

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