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Who Named Oscar?

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 26th, 2017
2017
Feb 26

 FILM HISTORY

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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Alice Terry: The Girl from Old Vincennes–Part Three

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 22nd, 2014
2014
Mar 22

HOLLYWOOD PROFILES

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terry-pt3

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

PART THREE

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When filming of The Arab was completed, Alice returned to Hollywood, but Rex stayed to establish a studio of his own on the French Riviera, near Nice. It was far enough away from Hollywood and Louis B. Mayer for Rex to work without interference. Rex Ingram would never make another film in Hollywood.

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Rex needed time to prepare his next film, Mare Nostrum (1926), and advised Alice to return home and make a few films there. “Never would I work for anyone else…,” she once proclaimed. But Rex assured her that she would have only the best directors, and besides, the four films she would make would bring in a nice salary. The preparation on Mare Nostrum would take more than a year and during that time Alice made The Great Divide (1925) and Confessions of a Queen (1925) for the newly formed MGM. The remaining two films were on loan-out to Paramount for director Henry King called Sackcloth and Scarlet (1925) and Any Woman (1925).

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That year of separation was difficult for both Rex and Alice. It was the first time she worked for another director since The Valley of the Giants in 1919. The experience made her realize she never wanted to make another film for anyone else. She also understood how much Rex meant to her. “I would rather be Mr. Ingram’s wife than the greatest star on the screen,” she said. “When I’m working with Rex, what he says goes. His word is law to me. I neither question it nor doubt it.”

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Alice was not alone in her feelings. Rex also felt alone when Alice was away. “I want her to stay with me,” he told a friend. “It is the only way that I find a chance to be near her. If she were to go to another company, it would mean we would see practically nothing of one another.” Even though there would be periods when they were apart, and one more picture with another director, the remainder of her career would be with Rex.

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Mare Nostrum was now ready, and Alice sailed back to Nice to begin filming. The film was based on Vincente Blasco Ibanez’s novel of espionage during World War I. The role of Ulysses went to Antonio Moreno, another Latin heart-throb of the day. The Ingram’s adopted son, Kada-Abdel-Kadar, played Ulysses as a child.

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Even though it was a hard shoot, with many technical problems, Alice rose to the challenge. In one scene, she had to make love to Antonio Moreno in front of an aquarium containing an octopus. The thought of trying to be amorous with a big fish by the side of her head unnerved her. “You’d better get rid of me now because I’m not going to be able to do that aquarium scene,” she told Rex.

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When it came time to film it, Alice expected countless retakes, but surprisingly Rex said, “That’s it” on the first shot.  “I will never get another part like that,” she said about Mare Nostrum. “I will never like a part better, and I will never have the luck I had on that.”

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marenostrum2

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Mare Nostrum was a box office and critical success. Picturegoer magazine declared the film “exquisite and the acting brilliant…” Even thought Photoplay disliked the film and called it a “great dramatic disappointment,” they selected Alice Terry’s performance as one of the six best of the year.

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The Ingram’s were now residents of Nice. Rex refused to make more pictures in Hollywood with Louis B. Mayer breathing down his neck. Fortunately Rex had an ally of Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM, who arranged to have the Victorine Studios modernized and eventually it became the property of Rex Ingram.

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Rex Ingram’s Victorine Studios in France

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During their stay in France, Rex and Alice moved from one hotel to another. Because Rex was so busy preparing their next film, The Magician (1926), Alice was on her own. Rex, however, spent most of his time at the studio residence which he proudly named “Villa Rex.”

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During preparations of The Garden of Allah (1927), Alice returned to Hollywood to appear in Lovers? (1927) with her old friend, Ramon Novarro. Both stars played together with so much ease, that Louis B. Mayer remarked how Ingram was not only “ruining his own career but that of his lovely wife.”

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lovers

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Lovers? would be Alice and Ramon’s fifth and final film together but not the end of their friendship. They remained close until his death in 1968 at the hands of two hustlers. Novarro’s death affected her deeply. “She couldn’t believe it,” Robert Taafe said. “It was hard for her to accept.” It’s probable that Alice knew of Novarro’s sexual preference, and if she did, it would not have mattered. She was very open-minded. “The only thing she disliked in anyone was someone who may have lied to her or was telling tales behind her back,” said Taafe. “But, she was also a very forgiving person.”

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In 1928, Alice Terry played the final role of her career in a film called The Three Passions (1929) which was, of course, written and directed by Rex. In an ironic twist, Alice took off her wig and dyed her hair blonde for this, her last film.  Alice had made a conscious decision to retire from films. Talking pictures were becoming popular, and she did not like the demands that sound made on an actor. Besides, she was tired of the constant need to control her weight. Liam O’Leary, in his biography of Rex Ingram (Rex Ingram: Master of the Silent Cinema, BFI Publishing, 1980) said about her decision to retire:

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“So without any heartbreak she decided to make her exit. It was certainly not due to the lack of an expressive voice, for the one she had was most pleasant to hear. Had she continued to play in films, she might have developed as a comedienne. It remains regrettable that she never appeared in sound film.”

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Rex Ingram would make one more film before he too would retire. Ironically, he cast himself as the male lead in Baroud (1932), a talking picture which Alice co-directed. It was a dismal failure at the box office. Many times over the years, Rex would announce the making of several films, but they never materialized.

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NEXT TIME, in the fourth and final installment, the story of Alice Terry’s life after her retirement from films.

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The making of “Little Women”

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 27th, 2011
2011
Mar 27

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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Louis B. Mayer’s passport application

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 13th, 2011
2011
Mar 13

CELEBRITY HISTORICAL RECORDS

Louis B. Mayer’s passport application

 

 

 

 It was during this visit to Europe in 1924 that Mayer first became acquainted with Greta Garbo and had her brought to the United States

 

 

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An Interview with Margaret O’Brien — PART THREE

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jan 19th, 2011
2011
Jan 19

INTERVIEWS

Margaret O’Brien: The MGM Years —

 PART THREE

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Continued…

 

AE: Let me ask you about some actors you worked with over the years. What are your impressions of Edward Arnold who costarred with you in “Three Wise Fools?”

Margaret O’Brien: Edward Arnold would get fussy sometimes and get after me if I wasn’t listening in a scene. He’d look me in the eye and say, “Margaret, you’re not listening. Pay attention.” But, of course, he was right too.

 

AE: Another child star you worked with twice was Butch Jenkins. Did you become friends?

Margaret O’Brien: We were good friends, but we were not real close. He was real boyish and liked to play baseball, and I wasn’t interested in that. But we got along well.

 

AE: How was it to work for MGM boss Louis B. Mayer?

Margaret O’Brien: He was very nice to me. But a lot of people were really scared of him. He didn’t scare me, and my mother could walk in and be real independent. He could be very intimidating, especially if you asked for more money. It was like being taken to the guillotine. He governed it all, but he wouldn’t come down to the set much because his producers were pretty influential. That’s what made him more scary. There are lots of stories about Louis B. Mayer.

 

AE: Danny Thomas’ first film appearance was opposite you in “The Unfinished Dance” (1947). What was he like?

Margaret O’Brien: Yes, that was Danny Thomas’ first film, and he was wonderful. Of course, he had kids of his own—he had a daughter my age, Marlo, who would come on the set sometimes. Marlo and I graduated our first Communion and Confirmation together, so we knew each other as we grew up. But Danny was great with kids—he was fun.

 

 

 

AE: In the film “The Unfinished Dance,” you play a young ballerina. You did your own dancing, didn’t you?

Margaret O’Brien: Yes, I loved doing that film because I came from a dancing family. At first the studio was going to use a double because they didn’t realize that I was a dancer, so they dismissed the double. There were lots of kids on that one which was fun, including Elinor Donahue, who became a good friend. We worked together again after that, and we still see each other from time to time. And I also got to wear these beautiful ballet costumes, which I loved.

 

AE: Did your mother teach you the ballet?

Margaret O’Brien: No, I had been to dancing school, but my mother was a dancer. She had taught me the flamenco and other dances, but not ballet. And my aunt (Marissa) was a Spanish dancer with Xavier Cugat for many years. He would have a Spanish dancer on his show at the Waldorf. And then my mother was a Spanish dancer with Eduardo Cansino, the father of Rita Hayworth. My mother even taught Rita some dances in her early years.

 

AE: Were you friends with Rita Hayworth?

Margaret O’Brien: No, I only met Rita Hayworth once during a pool party at Orson Welles’ house during the filming of Jane Eyre, and she was there. She knew my mother, of course, but not me.

 

AE: So did you study ballet?

Margaret O’Brien: I had not studied like the other kids, but I seemed to have a natural ability at dancing, so I learned all the steps in no time. In fact, the head of the Ballet Russe, who did most of the choreography wanted me to join the company. Of course, I wasn’t going to leave MGM, and the dancer’s life is very difficult. So, my mother said no. But I was really into the ballet at that time, carrying my toe shoes with me everywhere.

 

AE: Another one of your films which has become a classic is “Little Women” (1949). What was it like working on that film?

Margaret O’Brien: “Little Women” was my favorite book, so when I was told that I was going to do it, I was just thrilled. I loved Beth, and I loved all the costumes. Walter Plunkett designed the costumes and had also done the costumes for Gone With the Wind. I remember Elizabeth (Taylor) saying, “Oh my goodness, I get to wear Walter Plunkett clothes.”

 

AE: What was Elizabeth Taylor like?

Margaret O’Brien: She was really fun to work with. I first worked with Elizabeth on Jane Eyre, but we didn’t have any scenes together. Speaking of costumes, usually I had to wear poor bedraggled clothes, but on Jane Eyre I got to be dressed up and wear the pretty ones. Well, I would see Elizabeth on the Fox lot, and I was just so happy I could put my nose in the air and go past her and Peggy Ann (Garner) because they had to wear the raggedy clothes. We were only kids, but Elizabeth was envious of me for once. But that changed on Little Women because now I envied her because she had her 18th birthday during the filming and didn’t have to go to school anymore. She threw away her school books and didn’t have the teacher following her every minute. That was a big deal for her because she really hated that school teacher.

 

 

AE: How was Peter Lawford to work with?

Margaret O’Brien: Peter Lawford was so handsome. All the girls had a crush on him, but I was out of the competition because I was only 11. I felt like an outcast, so I kind of spied on them to see who was going into whose dressing room. Peter had a wonderful time on that movie (laughs).

 

AE: I understand there were some problems filming the scene where Jo (June Allyson) comes home after cutting off all her hair and selling it.

Margaret O’Brien: We had to shoot that scene about a hundred times because Peter Lawford would break up and laugh every time he looked at her hair. And when he had to say that she looked like a porcupine, he would always say porky-pine. He couldn’t seem to say it right, and then everyone would start laughing.

 

AE: Your last film at MGM, “The Secret Garden” (1949), has become a children’s classic and also one of my favorites. What are your remembrances of that film?

Margaret O’Brien: I was so lucky to do all these films from great books that I had read. Doing this film made me very good in history because it would pique my interest to learn more about it. In The Secret Garden I loved playing the part in India—I’ve always enjoyed Indian antiques—I especially loved the dolls from the scene and was allowed to keep one, which I still have. And, there were two really nice boys in the film—Brian Roper, who was really from Yorkshire—I really liked him a lot. Then, of course, I had a big crush on Dean Stockwell—I thought he was so good looking. I always loved doing the English castle-type films. Again, I wished I had taken some of the things off the set of that one.

 

AE: Do you still see Dean Stockwell and Brian Roper?

Margaret O’Brien: Yes, and then I did a couple of television projects with Dean later on. I still had a crush on him for a long time. And Brian Roper I saw again several years ago. I was doing an appearance at a Palo Alto theater where they were showing The Secret Garden, and he was living near there. He was in the audience and came up to see me—just as nice as ever—and he still had a watch that my mother had given him on the last day of filming. If we were really close, we would give each other gifts when a film was finished—I still have the gift Dean gave me, a little gold good luck charm on a pin.

 

AE: After you left MGM, is it true you were almost signed to be the voice for the Disney animated film “Alice In Wonderland” (1951)?

Margaret O’Brien: I almost did it, but another little girl who was under contract to MGM for a while did it. My mother had a big fight with Walt Disney. What it was all about I don’t know. I think it was over money. And he was going to sue us—it was a big deal. Somehow he didn’t, and at that point neither one of us wanted to do it.

 

AE: Did you have a favorite film that you did at MGM?

Margaret O’Brien: I’d say Little Women and The Secret Garden. Of course, Meet Me in St. Louis was fun too. Those were my three favorites.

 

AE: Do you have a favorite actor that you worked with?

Margaret O’Brien: It’s hard to say because I loved Lionel Barrymore, and I loved Charles Laughton. I loved Robert Young. They were all very special. It’s really hard to pick. I had very few that I did not like to work with. Some were not as warm, like Orson Welles, who kept a lot to himself, but he wasn’t mean to you. The only one that was difficult was Wallace Beery—that I worked with as a kid. Of course, I worked with some later that were pretty unpleasant.

 

AE: Well, Margaret, I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss your career at MGM.

Margaret O’Brien: I’ve enjoyed every minute. Thank you so much, Allan.

 

Margaret O’Brien left MGM when the studio no longer knew what to do with her. She was growing up—which was a sin for a child star. Once, after returning from a two month trip to Europe, it was noted that Margaret had grown three inches. An MGM executive reportedly pointed at her in the commissary and said, “Don’t look now, but the kid’s growing awfully fast. We’ve got a headache on our hands.” With no projects in sight, Margaret’s mother asked to be released from her contract, which still had six months to go. MGM released a statement saying that the parting was “mutually friendly.”

 

Margaret O’Brien continued to appear sporadically in films over the years, including one in Japan and two in Peru. However, her main body of work would be on the stage and in television, where she would work nonstop for the next decade.

 

Margaret O’Brien is no longer a child star, but she still continues to shine. She lives today in the San Fernando Valley and occasionally accepts acting roles. Much of her time is spent lecturing on her film career or attending functions in Hollywood. She says she has no intention of ever retiring completely.

 

“Actresses often say that they’re going to give up acting,” she once remarked, “but I always stare at them open-eyed when they say it. I could never say I’ll never act again. I always loved acting, and I still do. I’ve lived a wonderful life.”

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Norma and Irving’s Wedding

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 4th, 2010
2010
Mar 4

HOLLYWOOD WEDDINGS

Norma Shearer and

Irving Thalberg’s belated honeymoon

 

Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Actress Norma Shearer and MGM producer Irving Thalberg were married on September 29, 1927 at Thalberg’s home, 9419 Sunset Boulevard (this was previously the home of actress Pauline Frederick and at the time was 503 Sunset Blvd.).

 

The marriage ceremony was attended by about fifty guests. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi Edgar Magnin in the garden beneath a canopy of chrysanthemums. Norma, who was dressed in a gown of ivory velvet, was given in marriage by her brother, Douglas Shearer. Louis B. Mayer acted as best man, while the maid of honor was Sylvia Thalberg, Irving’s sister. Instead of taking an immediate honeymoon, the couple postponed their trip until the following summer.

 

Upon their return, Norma shared some highlights with Los Angeles Times columnist, Grace Kingsley

 

 

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The Shearer-Thalberg wedding party

 

 

“It is refreshing for an American actress to go to Europe because she is thought much younger than she is. Foreign women prefer to look chic rather than young. They are sophisticated at an earlier age.

 

“Women in Monte Carlo do not really dress beautifully, at least not nowadays. They still have lovely jewels and their clothes are merely a background for those. But the Sporting Club at Monte Carlo lives entirely up to the movie sets.

 

“The Riviera is delightful, and the Cornish Drive is the nearest thing to Hollywood I saw. But I must admit it’s more beautiful.

 

“Speaking of comparisons, I’m afraid I’ve made a mortal enemy of a certain Paris newspaper man. He came to interview me the one day when I was hot and tired from a long trip around town. He asked me what I thought of Paris, and I said I wouldn’t take the whole of it in exchange for Hollywood or something like that. Irving came over and gave my hand a squeeze, meaning for me to be careful. So I tried to make up by saying that Pairs was nice, but – here Irving gave my hand another awful squeeze. He didn’t seem to know that I was trying to veer around slowly, so as not to be too obvious. After the man had gone Irving said, ‘Didn’t you notice me squeezing your hand?’

 

“I said, ‘You nearly killed me.’

 

“In Rome we went to the opening of one of our pictures, Tell It to the Marines. We thought we should dress up. So I put on my ermine coat and Irving wore his evening clothes. We expected to find a wonderful theater, but instead the house was down an alley and was a funny old place. We found out that in Italy it is only the middle and lower classes who go to pictures. The management presented me with some lovely roses and we were placed in a box. At the end of the first  reel the lights went up, as they do after every reel over there, and people began waving to each other, whistling and eating.

 

“They caught sight of me all done up in ermine, and I suppose they thought I was some one they should applaud. So they did. I got a great thrill out of it. I was awfully fussed, and whenever I get fussed before an audience, I always kiss my husband. That always is a good piece of business to cut to! Irving gave the crowd the Fascistic salute and it went great.

 

“In Algiers, thanks to a certain guide, we viewed some places seldom seen by tourists. We were supposed to be met by a courier and he planned to get there when we did, but we were a day ahead of time, and we had only a day and half, so we missed him. We got into a taxi and told the driver to take us somewhere. We finally discovered that he was going round and round the same square. The day was slipping by, and we were very discouraged. Finally up came a greasy, thoroughly disreputable looking fellow, who said he was a guide. Our driver had been told not to trust us to anyone. He told us the man was a thief and a villain. But Irving is not to be downed by difficulties. He said the he would take a chance. After driving up to a remote part of the town, the guide said for us to get out of the car, and he told the driver to go away and meet us later at a certain place.

 

“I was sure we were going to be cracked over the head, and I was terrified every minute as we walked down the streets that were streaming with filth.

 

“The guide asked us if we wanted to see a Spanish dance. I don’t know what the Spaniards would think of that dance! We were taken up into a little room decorated brightly in cheap Moorish mosaic imitations and colors. Six girls were dancing. I thought Spanish dancers wore a great many clothes. I still think so. But these girls didn’t. They wore indeed very, very little and that little consisted entirely of – what do you think? – silk stockings!

 

“Then we went into a gambling place where the Algerian sheiks were playing for money. These sheiks weren’t at all good looking. Their faces were seamed and weather beaten.  Their eyes were wild and fierce looking. Their supposedly white clothes were dirty and bedraggled. Arab princes of the desert may be better looking.

 

“All the time I had been devoured by fear.

 

“Finally we started home, and we found our driver just where our guide had told him to be.

 

“What’s more we found that our villainous looking guide was really a mild family man with six children, who sold binoculars as a steady job, and who turned an honest penny occasionally by acting as guide!”

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Lewis Stone’s Death and Funeral…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jun 15th, 2009
2009
Jun 15

CELEBRITY DEATHS AND FUNERALS

Lewis Stone

 Lewis Stone

 
By Allan R. Ellenberger

  

A former Broadway matinee idol and cavalry officer, Lewis Stone was, for the last 35 years of his life, one of the leading film actors in Hollywood. A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Stone made the stage his career after completing his college education. He had made considerable headway in the theater when he was called into the Spanish American War.

 

After the war, Stone returned to Broadway with a role in Sidetracked, which made him a star and a matinee idol within a matter of months. Subsequent plays such as The Girl of the Golden West and The Bird of Paradise – popular plays of the time – gave him the chance to master his craft.

 

One of the first actors from the legitimate stage to see the possibilities in movies, Stone made his first major screen appearance in 1915 in Honor’s Altar, which was directed by Thomas Ince. Stone’s popularity soared in the new medium and he soon won roles in other silent films. Among his better known credits were The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Scaramouche (1923) and The Girl from Montmartre (1926). He received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for the 1928 film, The Patriot.

 

Lewis Stone and Alice Hollister

Lewis Stone and Alice Hollister in Milestone (1920)

 

It was after the advent of sound that he reached his greatest popularity as Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy series with Mickey Rooney. He spent most of his years as a screen actor with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where his credits included Mata Hari (1931), China Seas (1935) and Three Wise Fools (1946).

 

Lewis Stone - Andy Hardy

Lewis Stone (left, front row) and his Andy Hardy family

 

In September 1953 Stone was preparing to accept a role in a forthcoming Paramount production of Sabrina (1954) starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and was awaiting the arrival of the script. At the time, the Stones were being annoyed by a group of boys who would take midnight swims in their pool and toss furniture in afterward.

 

Lewis Stone residence

The former residence of Lewis Stone

 

On the evening of Saturday, September 12, 1953, Stone and his third wife Hazel, were watching television at their home at 455 S. Lorraine Boulevard when they heard a racket in the back yard. When he investigated, Stone found lawn furniture once again floating in the pool and glimpsed three or perhaps four teenage boys running towards the street. Stone gave chase despite his wife’s warning not to exert himself.

 

Upon reaching the sidewalk, Stone suddenly collapsed. A gardener, Juan Vergara witnessed the chase and summoned aid. Sadly the actor died of a heart attack on the sidewalk without regaining consciousness. Lewis Stone was 73.

 

Lewis Stone sidewalk

 The sidewalk where Lewis Stone died

 

Within the hour, police took three boys, one of them 13 and the other two 15, into custody and booked them on suspicion of malicious mischief. They told officers that they previously had taken a swim in the pool and “thought it would be funny if they threw the furniture into it” because Stone had chased them before. After being booked at the Wilshire Station, they were lectured by police before being released to the custody of their parents pending possible Juvenile Court action.

 

Lewis Stone was survived by his third wife, Hazel (Wolf) and two daughters Virginia and Barbara.

 

Stone’s funeral was held at his home on Wednesday, September 16. Last rites were conducted by Dr. Ernest Holmes, founder of the Institute of Religious Science, in the ballroom of the Stone home. More than 100 invited friends including film executives, producers, directors and actors occupied the ballroom and the adjoining paneled library beneath a replica of a Raphael Madonna.

 

Lewis Stones funeral

Pallbearers carry the casket of Lewis Stone into his home for the funeral. Compare with the photo below and notice the same doorway, window and columns.

 

Lewis Stone residence

 

“A great friend, a great citizen, a great artist has left us,” said Dr. Holmes. “To know this man was to admire and to love him.” He said that Stone was a religious man whose philosophy was that “not some people but all people are immortal.”

 

Among those present were executives of MGM including Louis B. Mayer, Dore Schary, Edward J. Mannix, producer Jack Cummings, and many others.

 

Mayer, actors Robert Young and Charles Ruggles and agent Fred Fralick were among the pallbearers. Also present were Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden and Celia Parker who played Stone’s family in the Andy Hardy series. 

 

Dozens of other actors who worked with Stone were there – Louis Calhern, Ralph Morgan, Russell Simpson, Donald Crisp, Otto Krueger, Marjorie Rambeau and many more. Directors who guided him in his film productions such as Mervyn LeRoy, Frank Lloyd and Robert Z. Leonard were present.

 

Dr. Holmes in his brief service quoted poems that were favorites of Stone, including the “Good-Night, Sweet Prince” passage from Hamlet that is the requiem for actors. Singer John Gary sang “Abide With Me” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”

 

Stone’s body was taken to Rosedale Cemetery where it was cremated. His ashes are listed as being sent to Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York where he purchased a lot in 1914. His first wife Margaret and two daughters are buried there unmarked, but his ashes, according to his daughter, were scattered over his ranch in Malibu.

 

Stone’s estate which was valued at $150,000 was left entirely to his widow, Hazel. The will, dated February 18, 1935, explained that everything was left to Hazel, and nothing to his two daughters because they had been well provided for under insurance policies. Stone’s friend and attorney, Lloyd Wright, was named executor. Wright’s probate petition estimated the estate’s income as $3,500 a year.

 

Walter Hampden took over the role of Oliver Larrabee in Sabrina that was originally intended for Stone.

 

NOTE: The address above is a private residence. Please DO NOT disturb the occupants.

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Ramon Novarro Tribute…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 30th, 2008
2008
Oct 30

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

__________________

  

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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