Happy 117th Birthday Ramón Novarro

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Today is the 117th birthday of silent movie idol Ramon Novarro.  I first discovered him back in the early 90s through an article in Architectural Digest about his Lloyd Wright house on Los Feliz.  Gorgeous house, I could go on and on about it (and have).  Since that first article, I have read several biographies and done my best to watch the films of his that are available.  His story is fascinating.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

 

Name: José Ramón Gil Samaniego
Born: February 6, 1899 Durango, Mexico
Died: October 30, 1968 (aged 69) North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death: Asphyxiation
Resting place: Calvary Cemetery

Navarro was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego on February 6, 1899 in Durango, Mexico to Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego. He moved with his family to Los Angeles, California, to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1913.

Allan Ellenberger, Novarro’s biographer, writes:

…the Samaniegos were an influential and well-respected family in Mexico. Many Samaniegos had prominent positions the affairs of state and were held in high esteem by the president. Ramon’s grandfather, Mariano Samaniego, was a well-known physician in Juarez. Known as a charitable and outgoing man, he was once an interim governor for the State of Chihuahua and was the first city councilman of El Paso, Texas

Ramon’s father, Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego, was born in Juarez and attended high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After receiving his degree in dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Durango, Mexico, and began a flourishing dental practice. In 1891 he married Leonor Gavilan, the beautiful daughter of a prosperous landowner. The Gavilans were a mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood, and according to local legend, they were descended from Guerrero, a prince of Montezuma.

The family estate was called the “Garden of Eden”. Thirteen children were born there: Emilio; Guadalupe; Rosa; Ramon; Leonor; Mariano; Luz; Antonio; a stillborn child; Carmen; Angel and Eduardo.

At the time of the revolution in Mexico the family moved from Durango to Mexico City and then back to Durango. Ramon’s three sisters, Guadalupe, Rosa, and Leonor became nuns.

A second cousin of the Mexican actresses Dolores del Río and Andrea Palma, he entered films in 1917 in bit parts; and he supplemented his income by working as a singing waiter. His friends, the actor and director Rex Ingram and his wife, the actress Alice Terry, began to promote him as a rival to Rudolph Valentino, and Ingram suggested he change his name to “Novarro.” From 1923, he began to play more prominent roles. His role in Scaramouche (1923) brought him his first major success.

In 1925, he achieved his greatest success in Ben-Hur, his revealing costumes causing a sensation, and was elevated into the Hollywood elite. As with many stars, Novarro engaged Sylvia of Hollywood as a therapist (although in her tell-all book, Sylvia erroneously claimed Novarro slept in a coffin). With Valentino’s death in 1926, Novarro became the screen’s leading Latin actor, though ranked behind his MGM stablemate, John Gilbert, as a model lover. He was popular as a swashbuckler in action roles and was considered one of the great romantic lead actors of his day. Novarro appeared with Norma Shearer in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and with Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore (1928). He made his first talking film, starring as a singing French soldier, in Devil-May-Care (1929). He also starred with the French actress Renée Adorée in The Pagan (1929). Novarro starred with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1932) and was a qualified success opposite Myrna Loy in The Barbarian (1933).

When Novarro’s contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935, the studio did not renew it. He continued to act sporadically, appearing in films for Republic Pictures, a Mexican religious drama, and a French comedy. In the 1940s, he had several small roles in American films, including John Huston’s We Were Strangers (1949) starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield. In 1958, he was considered for a role in a television series, The Green Peacock with Howard Duff and Ida Lupino after the demise of their CBS sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve. The project, however, never materialized. A Broadway tryout was aborted in the 1960s; but Novarro kept busy on television, appearing in NBC’s The High Chaparral as late as 1968.

At the peak of his success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was earning more than US$100,000 per film. He invested some of his income in real estate, and his Hollywood Hills residence is one of the more renowned designs (1927) by architect Lloyd Wright. After his career ended, he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

Novarro had been troubled all his life as a result of his conflicting views over his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality, and his life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these issues. MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer reportedly tried to coerce Novarro into a “lavender marriage”, which he refused. He was a friend of adventurer and author Richard Halliburton, also a celebrity in the closet, and was romantically involved with journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist during the late 1920s.

Novarro was murdered on October 30, 1968, by two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson (aged 22 and 17, respectively), whom he had hired from an agency to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex. According to the prosecution in the murder case, the two young men believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro’s house. The prosecution accused them of torturing Novarro for several hours to force him to reveal where the nonexistent money was hidden. They left with a mere 20 dollars that they took from his bathrobe pocket before fleeing the scene. Novarro allegedly died as a result of asphyxiation, choking to death on his own blood after being brutally beaten. The two brothers were later caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but were quickly released on probation. Both were later rearrested for unrelated crimes, for which they served longer terms than for their murder conviction.

Ramón Novarro is buried in Calvary Cemetery, in Los Angeles. Ramón Novarro’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6350 Hollywood Boulevard

Novarro’s murder served as the influence for the short story by Charles Bukowski, The Murder of Ramon Vasquez, and the song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Tango,” recorded by Peggy Lee on her Mirrors album.

In late 2005, the Wings Theatre in New York City staged the world premiere of Through a Naked Lens by George Barthel. The play combined fact and fiction to depict Novarro’s rise to fame and a relationship with Hollywood journalist Herbert Howe.

Novarro’s relationship with Herbert Howe is discussed in two biographies: Allan R. Ellenberger’s Ramón Novarro and André Soares’s Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramón Novarro. A recounting of Novarro’s murder can be found in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon.

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Happy 108th Birthday Peg Entwistle

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Today is the 108th birthday of the woman who’s ghost is said to be seen around Griffith Park, specifically the Hollywood sign, recognized by her attractiveness, her sadness and the strong scent of gardenia perfume.  Peg Entwistle’s story is the original Hollywood broken dream. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

Peg Entwistle
AKA Lillian Millicent Entwistle

Born: 5 Feb 1908
Birthplace: Port Talbot, Wales
Died: 18-Sep-1932
Location of death: Hollywood, CA
Cause of death: Suicide
Remains: Cremated, Oak Hill Cemetery, Glendale, OH

Executive summary: Starlet, suicided off Hollywood sign

Born Millicent Lilian Entwistle in Port Talbot, Wales to English parents, Robert Symes and Emily (née Stevenson) Entwistle, she spent her early life in West Kensington, London. It is often reported that her mother Emily died when she was very young, however, there is no documented evidence supporting this. There is, however, a Last Will and Testament dated 15 December 1922, in the Entwistle family archives, in which Robert Entwistle specifically ordered that “Millicent Lilian Entwistle is the daughter of my first wife whom I divorced and the custody of my said daughter was awarded to me. I do not desire my said daughter to be at any time in the custody or control of her said mother.” Reportedly, Peg Entwistle emigrated to America via Liverpool aboard the SS Philadelphia and settled in New York. However, documents and photographs made available by the Entwistle family for a biography show Peg Entwistle and her father were in Cincinatti, Ohio, and New York City, in early Spring of 1913. This information is also backed-up in the Internet Broadway Data Base, and the New York Times, where Robert S. Entwistle is listed in the cast of several plays in 1913. A close examination of the reported 1916 ship’s manifest show that Peg Entwistle and her father were returning to the United States, not emigrating. In 1921 Robert Entwistle’s second wife, Lauretta Amanda Entwistle died and in 1922, after being the victim of a hit-and-run. She and her two younger half-brothers were taken in by their uncle, who had come with them to New York and was the manager of Broadway actor Walter Hampden.

On Sunday, 18 September 1932, an anonymous woman telephoned the police and said that while hiking she had found a body below the Hollywoodland sign (now known as the Hollywood sign) and then, according to a police transcript of the call, “wrapped a jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood Police Station.” A detective and two radio car officers found the body of a moderately well-dressed, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in the 100-foot ravine below the sign. Entwistle remained unidentified until her uncle connected her two-day absence with the description and initials P.E. on a suicide note which had been found in the purse and published by the newspapers. He said that on Friday the 16th she had told him she was going for a walk to a drugstore and see some friends. The police surmised that instead, she made her way from his Beachwood Drive home up the nearby southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign, climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped. The cause of death was listed by the coroner as “multiple fractures of the pelvis.”

The suicide note as published read:

“I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

Entwistle’s death brought wide and often sensationalized publicity. Her funeral was held in Hollywood and the body was cremated, with the ashes later sent to Glendale, Ohio for burial next to her father in Oak Hill Cemetery, where they were interred on 5 January 1933.

It’s also worth noting that Peg’s ex-husband, Robert Keith, had had a son, Brian, from a prior marriage. Peg’s stepson Brian Keith grew up to become a famous actor, best known for his role as “Uncle Bill” on the hit TV show, “Family Affair.” Brian Keith also committed suicide in 1997.

In the years following Peg’s suicide, hikers and park rangers in Griffith Park have reported some pretty strange happening in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. Many have reported sightings of a woman dressed in 1930’s era clothing who abruptly vanishes when approached. She has been described as a very attractive, blond woman, who seems very sad. Could this be Peg’s ghost, still making her presence known? Could she also be linked to the pungent smell of gardenia perfume which has been known to overwhelm sight-seers in the park? Perhaps it is, as the gardenia scent was known to be Peg’s trademark perfume.

Happy 135th Birthday Fernand Léger

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Today is the 135th birthday of the French artist Fernand Léger. His developed style of painting is distinctively his own. I see a combination of Picasso and Rivera cubism and the linear Art Deco formality. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Fernand Léger
OCCUPATION: Painter
BIRTH DATE: February 4, 1881
DEATH DATE: August 17, 1955
EDUCATION: Paris School of Decorative Arts
PLACE OF BIRTH: Argentan, France
PLACE OF DEATH: Gif-sur-Yvette, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: French painter Fernand Léger created the abstract painting series “Contrast of Forms.” His work blended elements of Cubism with his own unique style, “tubism.”

Fernand Léger was born to a peasant family in the rural town of Argentan, France, on February 4, 1881. Léger’s father was a cattle dealer who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and choose what he deemed a practical trade. Although Léger was initially discouraged from becoming an artist, his father became supportive once he recognized Léger’s gift for drawing.

With his father’s approval, Léger enrolled in architecture school and accepted an apprenticeship under an architect in Caen. In 1901, upon completion of his two-year internship, Léger moved to Paris, France, where he worked as an architectural draftsman.

Wishing to further pursue his art education, Léger applied to the prestigious École des Beux-Arts and was unfortunately rejected.In 1903 he stated attending the Paris School of Decorative Arts instead, while also being unofficially mentored by two École des Beux-Arts professors who recognized his potential. Up until this point, Léger’s painting style blended Impressionism with Fauvism. In 1907 he attended a retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work. From then on, Léger’s work took on more elements of Cubism, but with his own unique style of slicing forms into tubular cylinders, casually referred to as “tubism.”

In 1913, he started a series of abstract paintings called “Contrast of Forms.” A year later, he put his art career on hold to serve in the French army during World War I. In 1916, he was gassed at Verdun. Having incurred a head injury, he was sent home and hospitalized until 1917.

After the war, Léger continued to paint but also tried his hand at other mediums, including book illustrations and set and costume designs for the theater. In 1924, Léger ventured to make his first film, Ballet Mécanique. That same year, he opened his own school of modern art.

As Léger’s work matured in the 1920s and ’30s, he increasingly incorporated elements of modernism—particularly representations of machinery and human figures expressing speed and movement. His notable paintings from this period include “The Mechanic,” “Mona Lisa with Keys,” “Adam and Eve,” and “Composition with Two Parrots,” among others.

With the arrival of World War II, in 1940, Léger temporarily relocated to America. During this time, he produced a series of paintings called “Divers,” noted for its unique use of large patches of color that overlapped outlines to portrayed stylized figures of swimmers diving off docks in Marseille. This series was followed by two others also portraying human figures in motion: “Acrobats” and “Cyclists.” In 1946, Léger went back to France, where he revitalized his art school and became active in the Communist Party. In the 1950s, Léger’s work focused on the theme of the common man, and further expanded to include tapestry, pottery, stained glass and mosaics.

Léger died on August 17, 1955, in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

Happy 109th Birthday James Michener

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Today is the 109th birthday of the prolific writer of historical novels, James Michener. Every once in a while, I wonder if anyone is reading a Michener novel.  I mean, someone must, right?  His books are of such sweeping epic length, I worry that there is no one left with that sort of attention span.  They are important American literature for their impact on they reading habits of the every day citizen.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

james michener 1NAME: James Michener
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: c. February 03, 1907
DEATH DATE: October 16, 1997
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Austin, Texas

BEST KNOWN FOR: James Michener was an American novelist and story-story writer who penned Tales of the South Pacific, which one a Pulitzer Prize in 1947.

James Albert Michener (February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work.

Michener’s major books include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, The Source, The Fires of Spring, Chesapeake, Caribbean, Caravans, Alaska, Texas, and Poland. His nonfiction works include the 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir The World Is My Home, and Sports in America. Return to Paradise combines fictional short stories with Michener’s factual descriptions of the Pacific areas where they take place.

Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned. Over the years, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa Michener played a major role in directing donations by her husband, totaling more than $100 million. Among the beneficiaries were the University of Texas, the Iowa Writers Workshop and Swarthmore College (stated by a New York Times’ notice about her death).

In 1989, Michener donated the royalty earnings from the Canadian edition of his novel Journey, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, to create the Journey Prize, an annual Canadian literary prize worth $10,000 (Cdn) that is awarded for the year’s best short story published by an emerging Canadian writer.

Author of books:
Tales of the South Pacific (1947, novel)
The Fires of Spring (1949, memoir)
Hawaii (1959, novel)
The Source (1965, novel)
Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections (1968, travelogue)
The Drifters (1971, novel)
Centennial (1974, novel)
Chesapeake (1978, novel)
The Covenant (1980, novel)
Space (1982, novel)
Texas (1985, novel)
The World Is My Home (1992, memoir)
A Century of Sonnets (1997)

 

Happy 122nd Birthday Norman Rockwell

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Today is the 122nd birthday of the artist Norman Rockwell. His paintings are immediately recognizable, comforting, and a part of the American experience. He is the Fourth of July.  His works possess action and narrate a story, the viewer understands the situation depicted more than just the faces and objects, they understand the emotion. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Norman Rockwell
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Painter
BIRTH DATE: February 3, 1894
DEATH DATE: November 8, 1978
EDUCATION: National Academy of Design, Art Students League of New York
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Stockbridge, Massachusetts

BEST KNOWN FOR: Norman Rockwell illustrated covers for The Saturday Evening Post for 47 years. The public loved his often-humorous depictions of American life.

Born Norman Percevel Rockwell in New York City on February 3, 1894, Norman Rockwell knew at the age of 14 that he wanted to be an artist, and began taking classes at The New School of Art. By the age of 16, Rockwell was so intent on pursuing his passion that he dropped out of high school and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. He later transferred to the Art Students League of New York. Upon graduating, Rockwell found immediate work as an illustrator for Boys’ Life magazine.

By 1916, a 22-year-old Rockwell, newly married to his first wife, Irene O’Connor, had painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post—the beginning of a 47-year relationship with the iconic American magazine. In all, Rockwell painted 321 covers for the Post. Some of his most iconic covers included the 1927 celebration of Charles Lindbergh‘s crossing of the Atlantic. He also worked for other magazines, including Look, which in 1969 featured a Rockwell cover depicting the imprint of Neil Armstrong’s left foot on the surface of the moon after the successful moon landing. In 1920, the Boy Scouts of America featured a Rockwell painting in its calendar. Rockwell continued to paint for the Boy Scouts for the rest of his life.

The 1930s and ’40s proved to be the most fruitful period for Rockwell. In 1930, he married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, and they had three sons: Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. The Rockwells relocated to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, and the new world that greeted Norman offered the perfect material for the artist to draw from. Rockwell’s success stemmed to a large degree from his careful appreciation for everyday American scenes, the warmth of small-town life in particular. Often what he depicted was treated with a certain simple charm and sense of humor. Some critics dismissed him for not having real artistic merit, but Rockwell’s reasons for painting what he did were grounded in the world that was around him. “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it,” he once said.

Still, Rockwell didn’t completely ignore the issues of the day. In 1943, inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he painted the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The paintings appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and proved incredibly popular. The paintings also toured the United States and raised in excess of $130 million toward the war effort. In 1953 the Rockwells moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Norman would spend the rest of his life.

Following Mary’s death in 1959, Rockwell married a third time, to Molly Punderson, a retired teacher. With Molly’s encouragement, Rockwell ended his relationship with the Post and began doing covers for Look. His focus also changed, as he turned more of his attention to the social issues facing the country. Much of the work centered on themes concerning poverty, race and the Vietnam War.

In the final decade of his life, Rockwell created a trust to ensure his artistic legacy would thrive long after his passing. His work became the centerpiece of what is now called the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. In 1977—one year before his death—Rockwell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. He died at his home in Stockbridge, Massachussets, on November 8, 1978.

Happy 142nd Birthday Gertrude Stein

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Today is the 142nd birthday of the eternal wit Gertrude Stein.  She was an artist collector as much as she was an art collector, influencing, promoting, supporting and to some extent creating the art, literature and music from an extremely talented group of people that were in Paris between the wars.  She named them “The Lost Generation.”  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Gertrude Stein
OCCUPATION: Art Collector, Publisher, Poet, Author, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: February 3, 1874
DEATH DATE: July 27, 1946
EDUCATION: Radcliffe College, John Hopkins Medical School
PLACE OF BIRTH: Allegheny, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: Gertrude Stein was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.

Writer and art patron Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Gertude Stein was an imaginative, influential writer in the 20th century. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, she spent her early years in Europe with her family. The Steins later settled in Oakland, California.

Stein graduated from Radcliffe College in 1898 with a bachelor’s degree. While at the college, Stein studied psychology under William James (and would remain greatly influenced by his ideas). She went on to study medicine at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical School.

In 1903, Gertrude Stein moved to Paris, France, to be with her brother, Leo, where they began collecting Post-Impressionist paintings, thereby helping several leading artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. She and Leo established a famous literary and artistic salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. Leo moved to Florence, Italy, in 1912, taking many of the paintings with him. Stein remained in Paris with her assistant Alice B. Toklas, who she met in 1909. Toklas and Stein would become lifelong companions.

By the early 1920s, Gertrude Stein had been writing for several years, and had begun to publish her innovative works: Three Lives (1909), Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (1914) and The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress (written 1906–’11; published 1925). Intended to employ the techniques of abstraction and Cubism in prose, much of her work was virtually unintelligible to even educated readers.

During World War I, Stein bought her own Ford van, and she and Toklas served as ambulance drivers for the French. After the war, she maintained her salon (though after 1928 she spent much of the year in the village of Bilignin, and in 1937, she moved to a more stylish location in Paris) and served as both hostess and an inspiration to such American expatriates as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (she is credited with coining the term “the Lost Generation”). She also lectured in England in 1926 and published her only commercial success, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which she wrote from Toklas’s point-of-view.

Gertrude Stein made a successful lecture tour of the United States in 1934, but returned to France, where she would reside during World War II. After the liberation of Paris in 1944, she was visited by many Americans. In addition to her later novels and memoirs, she wrote librettos to two operas by Virgil Thomson: Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947).

Gertrude Stein died on July 27, 1946, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Though critical opinion is divided on Stein’s various writings, the imprint of her strong, witty personality survives, as does her influence on contemporary literature.

Author of books:
Three Lives (1909)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933, memoirs)
Yes Is for a Very Young Man (1946)

Happy 91st Birthday Elaine Stritch

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Today is the 91st birthday of the phenomenal Elaine Stritch.  Her career and life are inspirational in every way.  The world is a better place because she is in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Elaine Stritch
BIRTH DATE: February 2, 1925
DEATH DATE: July 17, 2014
EDUCATION: New School for Social Research
PLACE OF BIRTH: Detroit, Michigan
PLACE OF DEATH: Birmingham, Michigan

BEST KNOWN FOR: Vocalist and actress Elaine Stritch was a renowned star of stage, film and TV. She was known for a wide array of projects that included the Broadway productions Sail Away and Company as well as screen outings like The Ellen Burstyn Show, 30 Rock and Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

Elaine Stritch was born on February 2, 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of three girls. A natural performer, she eventually opted to move to New York City in 1944 and attend the New School, having as her classmates fellow thespians like Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando, with Stritch and Brando dating for a time.

Stritch did a variety of stage work before making it to Broadway, with some of her earliest productions including Loco (1946), Made in Heaven (1946) and Angel in the Wings (1947). Her scintillating performance in 1952’s Pal Joey became the talk of the town, and by mid-decade she received her first Tony nomination for the 1955 play Bus Stop, about a group of passengers who get snowed in at a Midwest diner.

Stritch continued to nurture her stage career, with the productions The Sin of Pat Muldoon (1957) and Goldilocks (1958) rounding out the decade. She earned her second Tony nomination for 1961’s Sail Away, a musical penned by Noel Coward specifically for the actress in which she played a love-struck cruise ship hostess. In 1962, Stritch took over the Uta Hagen role in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? before taking a break from the Broadway stage for some time.

In 1970, Stritch returned to the limelight in a big way with Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical Company. As cynical New York society maven Joanne, Stritch delivered songs with verve and a deliciously mischievous wit, including the ode to marriage “The Little Things You Do Together” and “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the latter becoming her trademark for decades. She also received another Tony nomination.

While earning acclaim on the Broadway stage, Stritch also became a force to be reckoned with on both the big and small screens. She co-starred in the 1956 crime drama The Scarlet Hour and would play a variety of film roles in projects like A Farewell to Arms (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958) and Too Many Thieves (1967). She worked with director Woody Allen in his films September (1987) and Small Time Crooks (2000), with other notable roles over the years including Cocoon: The Return (1988), Screwed (2000), Autumn in New York (2003), Monster-in-Law (2005) and ParaNorman (2012).

In the land of TV, Stritch starred from 1960-61 in the sitcom My Sister Eileen, about two siblings making their way in New York. Later, after traveling with a touring production of Company to the UK, she opted to remain across the pond during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. She continued her stage work and starred in British television productions like Two’s Company and Nobody’s Perfect.

During this time, Stritch had married fellow actor John Bay in 1973. It was a happy union, with the couple returning to the U.S. in 1982, the year that he died. Stritch subsequently fell into a depression and started to drink heavily, having struggled with liquor previously.

Upon returning to the states, Stritch took on the role of family matriarch on The Ellen Burstyn Show, which debuted in 1986, and then had reoccurring guest appearances on The Cosby Show as teacher Mrs. McGee. Stritch was nominated for eight Emmys over the course of her career, winning several, including for a guest spot on Law & Order as well as for playing the mother of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on the sitcom 30 Rock.

Stritch remained part of the theatrical community into her later years, playing Parthy Ann Hawks in the 1994 revival of Showboat and returning to Albee’s prose with the 1996 revival of A Delicate Balance, for which she earned her fourth Tony nod. She then starred in a 2002 one-woman revue, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, in which she performed songs and spoke poignantly about her life experiences. The production received a Tony for Special Theatrical Event. Later, an HBO TV version won two 2004 Emmys.

Stritch’s last role in a Broadway production came in 2010, when she joined the revival of another Sondheim production, A Little Night Music, to play Madame Armfeldt. She also had a cabaret act at the Café Carlyle, connected to the hotel at which she had a long-term residence, before moving back to her birth state.

Elaine Stritch died at 89 on July 17, 2014 at her home in Birmingham, Michigan. A documentary on her life, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, was released the previous year.

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Happy 90th Birthday Vivian Dorothy Maier

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Today is the 90th birthday of the photographer Vivian Dorothy Maier. I have long expressed my fondness for street photography and it’s unplanned, un-staged captured moments. I love the rawness of the subjects, the realness of their emotions so clearly displayed on their faces. It takes a great talent to be able to chronicle that moment in time. Her story is a great one, how the most ordinary of people can create the most extraordinary of lives and legacies. The world is a better place because she is in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

Vivian Maier 1NAME: Vivian Dorothy Maier
OCCUPATION: Photographer, Nanny
BIRTH DATE: February 1, 1926
DEATH DATE: April 21, 2009
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, NY
PLACE OF DEATH: Chicago, IL

BEST KNOW FOR: Vivian Dorothy Maier was an American street photographer. Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago’s North Shore, pursuing photography during her spare time.

Many details of Maier’s life remain unknown. She was born in New York City, the daughter of a French mother, Maria Jaussaud Justin, and an Austrian father, Charles Maier (also known as Wilhelm). Several times during her childhood she moved between the U.S. and France, living with her mother in the Alpine village of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur near her mother’s relations. Her father seems to have left the family temporarily for unknown reasons by 1930. In the 1930 census, the head of the household was listed as Jeanne Bertrand, a successful photographer who knew Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 1935, Vivian and her mother were living in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur and before 1940 returned to New York. Her father and brother Charles stayed in New York. The family of Charles, Maria, Vivian and Charles were living in New York in 1940, where her father worked as a steam engineer.

In 1951, aged 25, Maier moved from France to New York, where she worked in a sweatshop. She moved to the Chicago area’s North Shore in 1956, where she worked primarily as a nanny and carer for the next 40 years. For her first 17 years in Chicago, Maier worked as a nanny for two families: the Gensburgs from 1956 to 1972, and the Raymonds from 1967 to 1973. Lane Gensburg later said of Maier, “She was like a real, live Mary Poppins,” and said she never talked down to kids and was determined to show them the world outside their affluent suburb. The families that employed her described her as very private and reported that she spent her days off walking the streets of Chicago and taking photographs, usually with a Rolleiflex camera.

John Maloof, curator of some of Maier’s photographs, summarized the way the children she nannied would later describe her:

“She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.”

In 1959 and 1960, Maier took a trip around the world on her own, photographing Los Angeles, Manila, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, India, Syria, Egypt, and Italy. The trip was probably financed by the sale of a family farm in Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur. For a brief period in the 1970s, Maier worked as a nanny for Phil Donahue’s children. She kept her belongings at her employers’; at one, she had 200 boxes of materials. Most were photographs or negatives, but Maier also collected newspapers, in at least one instance, “shoulder-high piles,” and sometimes recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with people she photographed. In the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier (2013), interviews with Maier’s employers and their children suggest that Maier presented herself to others in multiple ways, with various accents, names, life details, and that her behavior with children could be inspiring and positive, and also unpredictable and frightening.

The Gensburg brothers, whom Maier had looked after as children, tried to help her as she became poorer in old age. When she was about to be evicted from a cheap apartment in the suburb of Cicero, the Gensburg brothers arranged for her to live in a better apartment on Sheridan Road in the Rogers Park Community area of Chicago. In November 2008, Maier fell on the ice and hit her head. She was taken to a hospital but failed to recover. In January 2009, she was transported to a nursing home in Highland Park, where she died on April 21, 2009.

In 2007, two years before she died, Maier failed to keep up payments on storage space she had rented on Chicago’s North Side. As a result, her negatives, prints, audio recordings, and 8 mm film were auctioned. Three photo collectors bought parts of her work: John Maloof, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow. Maier’s photographs were first published on the Internet in July 2008 by Slattery, but the work received little response.

Maloof had bought the largest part of Maier’s work, about 30,000 negatives, because he was working on a book about the history of the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park. Maloof later bought more of Maier’s photographs from another buyer at the same auction. Maloof discovered Maier’s name in his boxes but was unable to discover anything about her until a Google search led him to Maier’s death notice in the Chicago Tribune in April 2009. In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier’s photographs on Flickr, and the results went “viral”, with thousands of people expressing interest.

In early 2010, Chicago art collector Jeffrey Goldstein acquired a portion of the Maier collection from Prow, one of the original buyers. Since Goldstein’s original purchase, his collection has grown to include 17,500 negatives, 2,000 prints, 30 homemade movies, and numerous slides. In December 2014, Goldstein sold his collection of B&W negatives to Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto. Maloof, who runs the Maloof Collection, now owns around 90% of Maier’s total output, including 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 vintage prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, and ephemera including cameras and paperwork, which he claims represents roughly 90 percent of her known work.

Since her posthumous discovery, Maier’s photographs, and their discovery, have received international attention in mainstream media, and her work has appeared in gallery exhibitions, several books, and two documentary films.

Photography critic Allan Sekula has suggested that the fact that Maier spent much of her early life in France sharpened her visual appreciation of American cities and society. Sekula compared her work with the photography of Swiss-born Robert Frank: “I find myself imagining her as a female Robert Frank, without a Guggenheim grant, unknown and working as a nanny to get by. I also think she showed the world of women and children in a way that is pretty much unprecedented.”

John Maloof has said of her work: “Elderly folk congregating in Chicago’s Old Polish Downtown, garishly dressed dowagers, and the urban African-American experience were all fair game for Maier’s lens.” Photographer Mary Ellen Mark has compared her work to that of Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Lisette Model, and Diane Arbus. Joel Meyerowitz, also a street photographer, has said that Maier’s work was “suffused with the kind of human understanding, warmth and playfulness that proves she was ‘a real shooter’.”

Maier’s best-known photographs depict street scenes in Chicago and New York during the 1950s and 1960s. A critic in The Independent wrote that “the well-to-do shoppers of Chicago stroll and gossip in all their department-store finery before Maier, but the most arresting subjects are those people on the margins of successful, rich America in the 1950s and 1960s: the kids, the black maids, the bums flaked out on shop stoops.” Most of Maier’s photographs are black and white, and many are casual shots of passers-by caught in transient moments “that nonetheless possess an underlying gravity and emotion”.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, William Meyers notes that because Maier used a medium-format Rolleiflex, rather than a 35mm camera, her pictures have more detail than those of most street photographers. He writes that her work brings to mind the photographs of Harry Callahan, Garry Winogrand, and Weegee, as well as Robert Frank. He also notes that there are a high number of self-portraits in her work, “in many ingenious permutations, as if she were checking on her own identity or interpolating herself into the environment. A shadowy character, she often photographed her own shadow, possibly as a way of being there and simultaneously not quite there.”

Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Times, has drawn attention to how Maier’s photographs are reminiscent of many famous 20th century photographers, and yet have an aesthetic of their own. She writes that Maier’s work “may add to the history of 20th-century street photography by summing it up with an almost encyclopedic thoroughness, veering close to just about every well-known photographer you can think of, including Weegee, Robert Frank and Richard Avedon, and then sliding off in another direction. Yet they maintain a distinctive element of calm, a clarity of composition and a gentleness characterized by a lack of sudden movement or extreme emotion.”

In the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier (2013), the grown-up children whom Maier had cared for in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s recall how she combined her work as a photographer with her day job as a nanny. She would frequently take the young children in her care with her into the center of Chicago when she took her photographs. Occasionally they accompanied her to the rougher, run-down areas of Chicago, and, on one occasion, the stock yards, where there were bodies of dead sheep.

In the late 1970s, Maier stopped using her Rolleiflex. Most of her photographs taken in the 1980s and 1990s were color transparencies, taken on Ektachrome film.

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Happy 115th Birthday Clark Gable

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Today is the 115th birthday of one of the greatest actors of the golden age of Hollywood: Clark Gable. Do yourself a favor and watch one of his movies soon, if you can’t decide which one, watch “The Misfits.” It was written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston and also stars Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach. “The Misfits” was the final screen appearance of both Gable and Monroe. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Clark Gable
OCCUPATION: Film Actor
BIRTH DATE: February 01, 1901
DEATH DATE: November 16, 1960
PLACE OF BIRTH: Cadiz, Ohio
PLACE OF DEATH: Hollywood, California
Full Name: William Clark Gable

Best Known For: Dubbed “King of Hollywood,” Gone with the Wind actor Clark Gable epitomized Hollywood’s Golden Age, and was a legend for his on- and off-screen romances.

William Clark Gable was born February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. His father was an oil driller and farmer; his mother died when he was an infant.

Gable dropped out of high school at 16 and went to work at a tire factory in Akron, Ohio. One evening he saw a play and enjoyed it so much that he decided to become an actor. He tried to work his way in by taking an unpaid job with a theater company, but his dream was temporarily derailed when his stepmother died in 1919 and he went to help his father in the oilfields of Oklahoma.

After three years there, he joined a traveling theater company, which quickly went bankrupt, leaving Gable stranded in Montana. He hitchhiked to Oregon and joined another company, where he met Josephine Dillon, the theater manager. Dillon, a former actress and respected theater teacher 17 years his senior, took an interest in Gable. She became his acting coach and paid to have his teeth fixed and his hair and eyebrows styled. Before long they were married, and Gable and Dillon moved to Hollywood, California.

Gable worked as an extra in Hollywood before turning his attention to the theater, first in traveling productions and then in the Broadway play Machinal, for which he got good reviews. After it wrapped, he returned back to California and appeared in a stage production of The Last Mile.

Back in Hollywood, Gable was rejected at screen tests because casting agents thought his ears were too big for a leading man. He managed to land his first speaking role in a movie in The Painted Desert in 1931, and after seeing him on the big screen, MGM offered him a contract. His first leading role was in Dance, Fools, Dance, with Joan Crawford. Gable was a hit, and the studio began casting him as a roughneck villain opposite starlets including Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. By year’s end, he had made a dozen films and launched his career as a leading man. Ultimately, though, he became sick of playing the bad guy and made his displeasure known.

During the filming of Dancing Lady in 1933, Gable developed pyorrhea, an infection in his gums that required immediate removal of nearly all his teeth. The infection spread through his body and reached his gallbladder, and he was hospitalized. Because of delays in filming and necessary reshoots due to Gable’s illness, the film ran $150,000 over budget. When he returned to work, MGM loaned him to the then-low-budget Columbia Pictures for a Frank Capra comedy, It Happened One Night. It was widely rumored to have been punishment for either his bad attitude about his parts or the difficulty in shooting his last film, but in truth, MGM simply didn’t have a project for him. He ended up winning an Academy Award for It Happened One Night, and having shown his range, began being cast in a wider variety of roles.

By now, Gable was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he churned out a series of successful movies like Boomtown, San Francisco and Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1939 he appeared as Rhett Butler in his best-known film, the civil-war epic Gone with the Wind. He was dubbed the “King of Hollywood,” and was a symbol of masculinity, admired by men and adored by women.

Then, during filming of Somewhere I’ll Find You with Lana Turner in 1942, tragedy struck. Carole Lombard, Gable’s third wife and the love of his life, died in a plane crash. He was devastated. Disconsolate, he enlisted in the Army Air Force at age 41. He served as a tail-gunner on five bombing missions over Germany and made a propaganda film for the Army.

After his discharge in 1944, he returned to the big screen in Adventure. Though it was a lackluster flick, Gable’s return to film had people flocking to the box office. He continued to make movies with MGM, including Mogambo with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, but his career never regained the same momentum. Still, when his studio contract expired in 1954, he became the highest-paid freelance actor of his day.

Gable’s status as a legend carried him, and he consistently made at least one movie a year, most notably Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men. He gave what is considered to be one of his finest performances in The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, but he never got to enjoy its success: Two days after they completed filming, Clark Gable suffered a heart attack. He died November 16, 1960.

Gable was a ladies’ man both on and off screen, and he was married five times over the course of his life. His wives included his first theater director Josephine Dillon, socialite Rhea Langham, actress Carole Lombard, Lady Sylvia Ashley and actress Kay Williams Spreckels. Spreckels and Gable had one son, John Clark Gable, who was born after Gable’s death.

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Happy 114th Birthday Tallulah Bankhead

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Today is the 114th birthday of Tallulah Bankhead.  She was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed broad who’s brilliance may very well have been in being Tallulah Bankhead.  She is what the world needed:  a smart, quick-witted shit-kicker that made us laugh uncomfortably at her brave observations and truths. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

 

NAME: Tallulah Brockman Bankhead
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress
BIRTH DATE: January 31, 1902
DEATH DATE: December 12, 1968
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hunstville, Alabama
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York

BEST KNOWN FOR: Tullulah Bankhead was an American stage and film actress, popular from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Born to a prestigious family (her father became a prominent congressman), she made her Broadway debut in 1918 and achieved fame on the London stage in The Dancer (1923). Her vivid presence and throaty voice contributed to her singular performances in the hit plays The Little Foxes (1939), The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), and Private Lives (1946). She made films such as A Woman’s Law (1928) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) but remained primarily a stage performer. Her final stage appearance was in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1964).

Say anything about me, darling, as long as it isn’t boring.

Tallulah Bankhead died in St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia, complicated by emphysema and malnutrition, at 7:45 A.M. on December 12, 1968, aged 66. She was buried in Saint Paul’s Churchyard, Chestertown, Maryland. Her last coherent words reportedly were “Codeine… bourbon.”

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Tallulah Bankhead has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6141 Hollywood Blvd.

Rock star Suzi Quatro portrayed Bankhead in a musical named Tallulah Who? in 1991. The musical was based on a book by Willie Rushton. Quatro co-wrote the music with Shirlie Roden. The show ran from 14 February to 9 March at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, UK and received favourable reviews.

Valerie Harper starred as Bankhead in Looped, which originated at The Pasadena Playhouse. It opened on Broadway on March 14, 2010 at the Lyceum Theatre, and closed on April 11, 2010.

It’s the good girls that keep diaries. Bad girls never have the time.

Other actresses to portray Bankhead include Eugenia Rawls (in her one-woman stage show “Tallulah, A Memory”), Kathleen Turner (in Sandra Ryan Heyward’s one-woman touring show “Tallulah” in the late 1990s), Carrie Nye (on television in The Scarlett O’Hara War) and Helen Gallagher in an off-Broadway musical, Tallulah!

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