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Pierre Collings tragic story

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

HOLLYWOOD TRAGEDIES

The tragic story of Pierre Collings

  

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

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 once they returned to the states, 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. He became successively 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 was married to Natalie Harris at New York’s Little Church Around the Corner. The couple was divorced in 1930. In 1928 Collings was scheduled 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 grave of Collings mother at Hollywood Forever 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 for him to accept an assignment to 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. Please do not disburb the occupants)

 

Collings was working with songwriter Carrie Jacobs Bond on a proposed 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 Hollywood and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery near the body of his mother.

 

 

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

 

Collings was already forgotten. The Los Angeles Times did not publish an obituary – only a listing of his name in the death notices. However, three weeks later, Lee Shipley, a columnist for the Times made this mention 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.’”

 

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

 

By April 1938, Mackay was down to his last quarter. His best prospect for finding lodging for the night was an afternoon working on a rock pile. He returned to his room sweaty, tired and discouraged. In hopes of finding a clean shirt, he looked through a closet reserved for the belongings of guests who left the hotel without paying their rent in advance. There Mackay discovered a threadbare blue sweater, and wrapped in the garment was Pierre Collings’ Oscar statuette.

 

Concerned that he would be arrested for the possible theft of the Oscar if he tried to return it to its owner, Mackay walked up to Hollywood Boulevard to think. By chance he ran into screenwriter Arthur Caesar, who himself won an Academy Award a few years earlier 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 a few months earlier in poverty. It was assumed that, probably in need, Collings had been forced to leave the sweater and Oscar as hostage for his unpaid rent. The Academy gave Mackay $25 for the Oscar, told him to clean up, and they assumingly kept the Oscar.

 

 

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

 

During research for this article, I contacted the Academy and was told that Pierre Collings’ Oscar was not in their possession and there were no records of the transaction. It’s possible the unclaimed statue could be lying in a box somewhere in the Academy’s attic or, since his father was still living at the time, it was returned to him. In any event, both Oscars won by Collings that night are missing.

 

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

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Oscar Winners at Hollywood Forever…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 19th, 2009
2009
Feb 19

 HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Academy Award Winners!

PART ONE

 

Janet Gaynor and Oscar

 Janet Gaynor the first Best Actress

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

It probably comes as no surprise that there are many Academy Award recipients residing at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Many of Hollywood’s film pioneers rest there including several Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founders such as, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. De Mille, Jeanie Macpherson, Carey Wilson, Frank E. Woods, Charles H. Christie and Jesse L. Lasky.

 

Of those interred at Hollywood Forever, there are 45 nominees that received a total of 178 nominations. Of that number there are 33 awards that were received by 27 winners. The following are the recipients in the Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay categories and the Honorary and Irving G. Thalberg Awards.

______________________

 

BEST PICTURE

 

 

 

CECIL B. DE MILLE

Best Picture

 

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

 

 

 

Total Nominations: 3

 

 

dsc_0019

 

 

 

BEST ACTRESS

 

 

 

JANET GAYNOR

Best Actress in a Leading Role

 

7th Heaven (1927)

Also for Street Angel (1928) and Sunrise (1927)

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

Janet Gaynor grave

 

 

 

BEST ACTOR

 

 

 

PETER FINCH

Best Actor in a Leading Role

 

Network (1976)

Nomination and award were posthumous. Finch became the first posthumous winner in an acting category.

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

Peter Finch's grave

 

PAUL MUNI

Best Actor in a Leading Role

 

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)

 

Total Nominations: 6

 

 

Paul Muni grave

 

 

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

 

 

 

JOSEPH SCHILDKRAUT

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

 

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

 

Total Nominations: 1

 

 

Joseph Schildkraut

 

 

 

BEST DIRECTOR

 

 

 

VICTOR FLEMING

Best Director

 

Gone With the Wind (1939)

 

Total Nominations: 1

 

 

Victor Fleming grave

 

 

 

JOHN HUSTON

Best Director

 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

 

Total Nominations: 5

 

 

John Huston grave

 

 

 

BEST SCREENPLAY

 

 

PIERRE COLLINGS

(1) Best Writing, Original Story

 

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)

Shared with Sheridan Gibney

(2) Best Writing, Screenplay

 

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)

Shared with Sheridan Gibney

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

 

 

Pierre Collings grave

 

 GEORGE FROESCHEL

Best Writing, Screenplay

 

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Shared with James Hilton, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

George Froeschel grave

 

 

 

 

JOHN HUSTON

Best Writing, Screenplay

 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

 

Total Nominations: 8

 

 

 

John Huston's grave

 

 

MICHAEL KANIN

Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

Woman of the Year (1942)

Shared with Ring Lardner, Jr.

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

Michael Kanin

 

 

SONYA LEVIEN

Best Writing, Story and Screenplay

 

Interrupted Melody (1955)

Shared with William Ludwig

 

Total Nominations: 2

 

 

Sonya Levien

 

 

DUDLEY NICHOLS

Best Writing, Screenplay

 

The Informer (1935)

Refused to accept his award because of the antagonism between several industry guilds and the academy over union matters. This marked the first time an Academy Award had been declined. Academy records show that Dudley was in possession of an Oscar statuette by 1949.

 

Total Nominations: 4

 

 

Dudley Nichols

 

 

 

 

IRVING G. THALBERG AWARD

 

 

 

 

CECIL B. DE MILLE

 

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

 

1952

 

 

 

Cecil B. DeMille

 

 

 

 

SIDNEY FRANKLIN

 

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

 

1943

 

 

Sidney Franklin's grave

 

 

 

HONORARY AWARD

 

 

 

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS

 

Commemorative Award

 

Recognizing the unique and outstanding contribution of Douglas Fairbanks, first president of the Academy, to the international development of the motion picture (Commemorative Award).

 

  

Fairbanks tomb

 

 

   

 NEXT WEEK: PART TWO

Cinematographers, Composers, Film editors

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