Happy Birthday Maureen O’Hara

Today is the 94th birthday of the living Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara.  Treat yourself to one of her films, you deserve it.

NAME: Maureen O’Hara
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Singer, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: August 17, 1920 (age 94)
EDUCATION: Abbey Theatre School
PLACE OF BIRTH: Ranelagh, Ireland

BEST KNOWN FOR: Maureen O’Hara was an Irish-born actress who was billed alongside Hollywood’s leading men in a slew of swashbuckling features in the 1940s.

Maureen FitzSimons was a pretty redheaded tomboy who learned judo, fenced, played soccer, and showed a keen interest in performing. She was accepted for drama classes at the prestigious Abbey Theater School when she was only 14, and sang and acted on Irish radio through her teens. Her parents knew, though, that performers rarely earned a decent living, so they made sure she spent most of her time studying bookkeeping and stenography.

At 17, she landed a tiny role in her first film, The Playboy, filmed in London. Strikingly beautiful and a natural in front of the cameras, she was almost immediately offered her first leading role, oppositeCharles Laughton in Hitchcock‘s Jamaica Inn. Laughton suggested her stage name, and she became Maureen O’Hara. He also invited her to accompany him Hollywood and play Esmerelda to his Quasimoto in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Already an established star at 19, O’Hara was one of Hollywood’s favorite leading ladies through the next two decades. She stood apart from other starlets by virtue of her eagerness to perform unladylike scenes — fistfights, swordplay, even pratfalls, but always with attitude and intelligence. As color films came into vogue, her distinctive, fiery red hair made her stand out even more — she was nicknamed “The Queen of Technicolor.” And of course, O’Hara proved the perfect leading lady for John Wayne, a woman who came across every bit as tough as he did, in their five films together.

In some of her best films, she played the coal miner’s daughter in love with preacher Walter Pidgeon inHow Green Was My Valley, the schoolmarm loved by Laughton in This Land is Mine, Natalie Wood‘s mother in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, the housewife who hired famed butler-philosopher Mr Belvedere in Sitting Pretty with Robert Young, the Southern belle at odds with Wayne in Rio Grande, the Irish spinster he pursued in The Quiet Man, his estranged wife in McLintock, andHayley Mills‘ mother in the original The Parent Trap with Brian Keith. She also starred in a 1960 TV remake of the critically-acclaimed Mrs Miniver that some critics claimed was better than the Greer Garson original.

In 1957, O’Hara joined with Liberace to sue Confidential magazine — the National Enquirer of its time. The magazine had announced in shrieking headlines that she had been seen in a passionate embrace with a mysterious Hispanic man in the back row at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but O’Hara offered her passport as proof she had been out of the country at the time of any alleged tryst. And why was Liberace involved? In a separate article, the magazine had alleged that Liberace was — brace yourself — homosexual, but the famed pianist somehow proved he too had been defamed, andConfidential was eventually driven out of business.

O’Hara left Hollywood in the mid-1970s, but returned to cinema as John Candy‘s ferociously overbearing mother in Only the Lonely, and also starred in a few TV movies through the 1990s. Her last performance was opposite Eric Stoltz, playing his high school Latin teacher in a terrific 2000 TV movie, The Last Dance. Now retired but still active, O’Hara frequently travels between her homes in Ireland, New York, California, and the Virgin Islands. Her autobiography, Tis Herself, was published in 2004.

Her father, Charles FitzSimons, was an Irish shopkeeper and something of a local celebrity, as part-owner of the Shamrock Rovers soccer team, which now plays in the Football League of Ireland. Her brother, Charles FitzSimons, was a TV producer whose credits include superhero sagas The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee and the 1970s Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. Another brother, James, had a long but unremarkable career as a supporting actor; sometimes billed as James Lilburn and sometimes as James O’Hara; he played a priest in The Quiet Man and had a recurring role as a cop on TV’s Batman with Adam West.

At 19, O’Hara married George H. Brown, a film producer and occasional scriptwriter whose best works include the pre-Pearl Harbor call to war 49th Parallel with Laurence Olivier, and the first ofMargaret Rutherford‘s delightful 1960s ‘Miss Marple’ mysteries, Murder She Said. Their marriage ended when O’Hara’s parents insisted on an annulment, and although they had been married for more than a year, publicity at the time stressed that their union “had not been consummated.” O’Hara’s second husband was director Will Price, who helmed her romp with the Marines in Tripoli, but they divorced after he took to the bottle. Her last husband was Charles Blair, a man sometimes described as a real-life John Wayne — a retired Air Force Brigadier General, test pilot, and pilot for Pan American Airways who had, in 1951, flown the first solo flight over the North Pole. After quitting Pan Am, Blair ran Antilles Airboats, a commuter airline in the Caribbean. After his death she took over the company, which made Maureen O’Hara the first woman to serve as president of an American airline.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Last Dance (29-Oct-2000)
Cab to Canada (29-Nov-1998)
The Christmas Box (17-Dec-1995)
Only the Lonely (24-May-1991) · Rose
The Red Pony (18-Mar-1973)
Big Jake (26-May-1971) · Martha McCandles
How Do I Love Thee? (Oct-1970)
The Rare Breed (2-Feb-1966) · Martha Price
The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (26-May-1965)
Spencer’s Mountain (16-May-1963)
McLintock! (23-Feb-1963) · Katherine McLintock
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (15-Jun-1962) · Peggy
The Parent Trap (12-Jun-1961)
The Deadly Companions (6-Jun-1961) · Kit Tilden
Our Man in Havana (27-Jan-1960) · Beatrice
The Wings of Eagles (22-Feb-1957)
Everything But the Truth (1-Dec-1956)
Lisbon (17-Aug-1956) · Sylvia Merrill
Lady Godiva (2-Nov-1955)
The Magnificent Matador (24-May-1955)
The Long Gray Line (9-Feb-1955) · Mary O’Donnell
Fire Over Africa (29-Jun-1954)
The Redhead from Wyoming (2-Jan-1953) · Kate Maxwell
War Arrow (1953) · Elaine Corwin
Against All Flags (24-Dec-1952)
The Quiet Man (21-Jul-1952)
Kangaroo: The Australian Story (16-May-1952)
At Sword’s Point (1952)
Flame of Araby (19-Dec-1951)
Rio Grande (15-Nov-1950)
Tripoli (9-Nov-1950)
Comanche Territory (7-Apr-1950) · Katie Howard
Bagdad (23-Nov-1949)
Father Was a Fullback (30-Sep-1949)
The Forbidden Street (31-Mar-1949)
A Woman’s Secret (5-Mar-1949) · Marian Washburn
Sitting Pretty (10-Mar-1948) · Tacey
The Foxes of Harrow (24-Sep-1947)
Miracle on 34th Street (2-May-1947) · Doris Walker
The Homestretch (23-Apr-1947) · Leslie Hale
Sinbad the Sailor (17-Jan-1947) · Shireen
Do You Love Me? (17-May-1946)
Sentimental Journey (6-Mar-1946)
The Spanish Main (10-Sep-1945) · Francesca
Buffalo Bill (13-Apr-1944) · Louisa Cody
The Fallen Sparrow (19-Aug-1943) · Toni Donne
This Land Is Mine (17-Mar-1943) · Louise Martin
Immortal Sergeant (11-Jan-1943) · Valentine Lee
The Black Swan (23-Dec-1942) · Lady Margaret Denby
Ten Gentlemen from West Point (4-Jun-1942)
To the Shores of Tripoli (11-Mar-1942)
How Green Was My Valley (28-Oct-1941) · Angharad
They Met in Argentina (25-Apr-1941) · Lolita
Dance, Girl, Dance (30-Aug-1940)
A Bill of Divorcement (13-May-1940) · Sydney Fairfield
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1-Sep-1939) · Esmeralda
Jamaica Inn (15-May-1939)

 

Happy Birthday Mae West

Tomorrow is the 121st birthday of Mae West.

NAME: Mae West
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: August 17, 1893
DEATH DATE: November 22, 1980
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Mae West started in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York, and later moved to Hollywood to star in films known for their blunt sexuality and steamy settings.

Mae West was an American screen legend and erotic icon famous for her voluptuous figure, sexy innuendos, and irrepressible wit. A free thinking and independent woman far ahead of her time, West expressed herself boldly, both sexually and creatively. She famously surrounded herself with handsome muscle men, both onscreen and off, and accrued a long list of famous and powerful lovers. Notably, West was one of the first female American playwrights, and actresses, to demand and receive creative control over her work. West’s creative expression encompassed nearly every facet of the entertainment spectrum including theatre and screenwriting, film, radio, television, and audio recording. And with a career spanning some 80+ years, she holds the further distinction of having performed both vaudeville and rock and roll. As a cultural icon she is immortalized by imitators, biographers, and even an assortment of snacks and devices bearing her name. Her trademark phrases have been translated into numerous languages, including Mandarin, Mongolian, Norwegian, and Lithuanian.

She was born Mary Jane West on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, the bare knuckles prizefighter Battlin’ Jack West, was a native New Yorker from the lower east side. A heavy smoker and drinker, he turned to violence when thwarted. Her mother, “Tillie”, was a former corset and fashion model, and frustrated actress, who had immigrated to America from Germany with her parents. Although Mae West always claimed that Tillie was Jewish, records show that the family listed their religion as Lutheran upon arrival in America. West’s paternal grandmother had also immigrated as a child — an Irish Catholic, she married Mae’s paternal grandfather, John Edwin, while only 12 years old. Edwin’s own ancestry remains enigmatic. But according to West biographer Jill Watts, he may have been a light-skinned African American who passed for white.

Arising from this milieu of adversity, Mae learned early on that her unusual talent and good looks were an advantage that just might leverage her into a better life — if she played it smart. Encouraged by her mother, she used her sexuality to build alliances with, or dominate, nearly every man who crossed her path. And she learned to view marriage as a double edged institution – one that offered legal protection and social acceptance, but which robbed women of their independence and sexual freedom. According to most sources she took refuge in marriage just once, with fellow actor and lover Frank Wallace. When she tired of Wallace, and discovered she was not pregnant as feared, she ended the relationship. She neglected to file for divorce however, and Wallace showed up years later, in 1937, with marriage certificate in hand to receive a share of West’s ample earnings. She may have been simultaneously married to musician Guido Deiro, divorcing him in 1920. West allegedly used the alias Catherine Mae Belle West when marrying Deiro to avoid bigamy charges.

While West’s attitudes toward men were heavily influenced by her mother so was her choice of career. Tillie West had once longed to follow in the footsteps of idol Lillian Russell, even having her portrait painted in such way as to highlight a certain resemblance. She started Mae off in show business as early as age 5, according to some reports, and by age 7 Mae had won the gold medal in a talent show, with Tillie billing her as “Baby Mae.” By age 12 she was appearing on the vaudeville circuit and was soon performing as the sexy “Baby Vamp.” At 18 she introduced vaudeville to the “shimmy”, a sexy full body undulation that she had first observed in the blues bars of Chicago.

In the 1920s she had moved on to playwriting. A shameless self promoter, she is said to have single billed herself on works that were in fact jointly authored. Nonetheless both on the stage and later in film she showed tremendous wit and intelligence for writing dialogue, especially for those parts she played herself. But while West is chiefly remembered for her clever dialogue and powerhouse sensuality, much of her work dealt also with spiritual matters and West was herself a deeply and eclectically spiritual person for most of her life. Not surprisingly, her tendency toward frankness and maverick free thinking, on all subjects, often put her at odds with moralists and hard line religious leaders.

Her first major run in with censorship laws came in 1926 when she was jailed for the play Sex, which she both wrote and starred in. West was sentenced to 10 days in jail on obscenity charges. However she allegedly received star treatment in prison, dining each night with the warden and getting two days off for good behavior. Despite this fact she was sympathetic to those less fortunate, and upon her release she penned an article about the women she had met behind bars. Putting her money where her mouth was, she also made a donation on their behalf to fund a prison library.

In 1927 West was back in trouble again. Her new play Drag, about a homosexual party, was a big hit in New Jersey. But it was banned from Broadway and was soon bogged down in extensive legal battles. She bounced back the following year with her naughty, but more acceptable Diamond Lil. Not only was it a big hit on Broadway, but it more significantly catapulted her toward Hollywood stardom. West debuted on film in 1932 with what was supposed to be a small part in Night After Night, starringGeorge Raft. However West insisted on rewriting all her lines, and the result was pure gold — for West and for the film. Building on this success West was able to translate her Broadway play Diamond Lilto the big screen as She Done Him Wrong in 1933. Audiences went wild, and the film was a huge success, garnering an Academy Award nomination and catapulting male lead Cary Grant, to stardom. The picture saved its studio, Paramount Pictures, from bankruptcy.

West’s next film, I’m No Angel, was also a big hit with moviegoers. But her empowered sexuality and ribald wit, that so entranced movie goers, incensed religious leaders and moralists. The Catholic Church in particular launched a campaign to put an end to the “filth” churned out by West, and to an extent, by the studios in general. By July of 1934 Hollywood was being squeezed toward more exact compliance with the strict Motion Picture Production Code. Since West was not one to give in easily and she managed for a while to pull a clever bait and switch with the censors. She laded scripts with obvious material for them to cut, while slipping in more subtle elements they would overlook. Most famous of these were her sly double entendres, lines she rolled out with such droll understatement that fans were never quite sure what was a straight line and what was intentional innuendo.

But censors could not be duped indefinitely, not with more clever moralists writing them outraged letters. And so West found her work in Hollywood more and more constrained. She churned out several more films, including My Little Chickadee, in which she starred alongside nemesis W. C. Fields (1940). But 1943’s The Heat’s On proved to be her last offering, until her film rebirth in the 1970s.

For the next few decades she returned her attention to writing and performing for the more liberal environment of the stage. One of West’s favorite roles was her 1944 Broadway production ofCatherine Was Great. West’s version of the famed Russian empress was a woman after her own heart — a powerful, lusty, independent woman who surrounded herself with tall muscle men. According to West, an ardent spiritualist, this likeness was appropriate as she herself was the reincarnation ofCatherine the Great.

Like the historic Catherine, West’s identity as a sexual titan who seemed untarnished by age. West still demanded daily sex well into her 60s and held onto a girlish figure through an assortment of eccentric practices. According to West, she avoided sunlight to preserve her skin, massaged her breasts for two hours a day with cold cream to keep them firm, had her men massage warm baby oil into her skin to keep it soft, and began each day with an enema to rid her body of toxins and keep her skin silky smooth.

Determined never to be a “has been” (she hotly turned down Billy Wilder‘s invitation to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Strip) West frequently managed to reinvent and reintroduce herself to the American public. She had her own Las Vegas show in the 1950s. And in the 1960s, she appeared on the album sleeve for The Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, she popped up on a number of popular television programs (including The Red Skelton Show and Mr. Ed), and she even cut two rock and roll albums. In 1970 she at last returned to the big screen with Gore Vidal‘s Myra Breckinridge.

But although the time seemed ripe for West’s bawdy humor to make a come back, with society and censors more open to sexuality, age was catching up with her. Now in her mid 80s, she was struggling with diabetes and other ailments. During the 1978 filming of Sextette, her last film, she often needed to rest during scenes. And she forgot her lines so often that it was necessary to fit her with an earpiece so she could be prompted with her lines. But the indomitable Mae insisted on playing a woman in her late 20s, and she behaved as if she were still the knockout sex goddess that every man wanted to make love too. Despite such handicaps and eccentricities her co-stars would remember West as a grand lady. And when the film finally premiered her cult of longtime fans still found her adorable and embracedSextette, viewing the flaws of the film as delightful self-parody. But the public in general was not so impressed and despite added talent from the likes of Timothy Dalton, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton,Tony Curtis, Walter Pidgeon and George Raft, the film fell flat at the box office.

Two years later West’s decline culminated in a series of strokes, and she died on November 22, 1980 from stroke related complications. Two days later her former lover and longtime friend, George Raft, who had co-starred with West in both her first film and her last, died as well, of leukemia. Like Raft, West is memorialized by a Motion Pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Like only a handful of other stars her trademark gestures and phrases (such as “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie”, “When I’m bad I’m even better”, and “Come up and see me sometime”) have entered into the pop culture lexicon.

Mae West’s films continue to be released on video and DVD and some of her plays remain in current publication. She continues to be immortalized as well by assorted drag queens and festivals who celebrate her talent and persona. More than 20 years after her death biographies of West continue to abound, including Mae West: An Icon in Black and White by Jill Watts (2003), Becoming Mae Westby Emily Worth Leider (2000), and Mae West: Empress of Sex, by Maurice Leonard (1992). West’s autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, first appeared in 1959 and has been republished a number of times.

 

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock

Today is the 115th birthday of Alfred Hitchcock.

My mother first introduced my sister and me to Alfred Hitchcock via the movies Psycho and Rear Window (we watched them after school quite often), she taught us to look for his cameos at the beginning of the films. I am not exactly sure what age, I feel like I have always known him and I went on to read a Hardy Boys type of mysteries called “Three Investigators” that Hitchcock wrote the introductions to and even loved the old reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on TV. I have gone on to love both of those movies and have added The Trouble with Harry, Lifeboat, North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, and The Man Who Knew Too Much to my list of favorite Hitchcock films. How can you not fall in love with North by Northwest? The color of the film, the cut of the clothes, the architecture, train travel. The Trouble with Harry is so absurdly clever and Shirley MacLaine is absolute perfection.

NAME: Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock

OCCUPATION: Director, Producer, Television Personality, Screenwriter
BIRTH DATE: August 13, 1899
DEATH DATE: April 29, 1980
EDUCATION: St. Ignatius College, University of London
PLACE OF BIRTH: London, United Kingdom
PLACE OF DEATH: Bel Air, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Alfred Hitchcock was an English film director known for his work in the suspense genre. He made over 60 films, nearly all commercial and critical successes.

Television has brought back murder into the home – where it belongs.

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood. In 1956 he became an American citizen, whilst remaining a British subject.

Over a career spanning more than half a century, Hitchcock fashioned for himself a distinctive and recognisable directorial style. He pioneered the use of a camera made to move in a way that mimics a person’s gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. He framed shots to maximise anxiety, fear, or empathy, and used innovative film editing. His stories frequently feature fugitives on the run from the law alongside “icy blonde” female characters. Many of Hitchcock’s films have twist endings and thrilling plots featuring depictions of violence, murder, and crime, although many of the mysteries function as decoys or “MacGuffins” meant only to serve thematic elements in the film and the extremely complex psychological examinations of the characters. Hitchcock’s films also borrow many themes from psychoanalysis and feature strong sexual undertones. Through his cameo appearances in his own films, interviews, film trailers, and the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he became a cultural icon.

Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades. Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, he came first in a 2007 poll of film critics in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which said: “Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from us) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else.” The magazine MovieMaker has described him as the most influential filmmaker of all-time, and he is widely regarded as one of cinema’s most significant artists.

 

Happy Birthday Lucille Ball

Today is the 103rd birthday of Lucille Ball.

NAME: Lucille Ball
OCCUPATION: Actress
BIRTH DATE: August 06, 1911
DEATH DATE: April 26, 1989
EDUCATION: John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts
PLACE OF BIRTH: Jamestown, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Lucille Ball was a comedienne and actress and the star of the pioneering sitcoms “I Love Lucy,” “The Lucille Ball Show” and “Here’s Lucy.”

I’m not funny. What I am is brave.

Lucille Désirée Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) was an American comedienne, film, television, stage and radio actress, model, film and television executive, and star of the sitcoms I Love Lucy, The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy and Life With Lucy. One of the most popular and influential stars in the United States during her lifetime, with one of Hollywood’s longest careers, especially on television, Ball began acting in the 1930s, becoming both a radio actress and B-movie star in the 1940s, and then a television star during the 1950s. She was still making films in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1962, Ball became the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu; a studio that produced many successful and popular television series.

Ball was nominated for an Emmy Award thirteen times, and won four times. In 1977 Ball was among the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award. She was the recipient of the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1979, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986 and the Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1989.

In 1929, Ball landed work as a model and later began her performing career on Broadway using the stage name Diane Belmont. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures. Ball was labeled as the “Queen of the Bs” (referring to her many roles in B-films). In 1951, Ball was pivotal in the creation of the television series I Love Lucy. The show co-starred her then-husband, Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo, Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz and William Frawley as Fred Mertz. The Mertzs were the Ricardos’ landlords and friends. The show ended in 1957 after 180 episodes. Then, some minor adjustments were made to the program’s format – the time of the show was lengthened from 30 minutes to 60 minutes (the first show lasted 75 mins), some new characters were added, the storyline was altered, and the show was renamed The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, which ran for three seasons (1957–1960) and 13 episodes. Ball went on to star in two more successful television series: The Lucy Show, which ran on CBS from 1962 to 1968 (156 Episodes), and Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974 (144 episodes). Her last attempt at a television series was a 1986 show called Life with Lucy – which failed after 8 episodes aired, although 13 were produced.

Ball met and eloped with Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz in 1940. On July 17, 1951, at almost 40 years old, Ball gave birth to their first child, Lucie Désirée Arnaz. A year and a half later, Ball gave birth to their second child, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, known as Desi Arnaz, Jr. Ball and Arnaz divorced on May 4, 1960.

On April 26, 1989, Ball died of a dissecting aortic aneurysm at age 77. At the time of her death she was married to her second husband and business partner, standup comedian Gary Morton for more than twenty-seven years.

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Short

Today is the 90th birthday of Elizabeth Short.

ELIZABETH SHORTNAME: Black Dahlia
BIRTH DATE: July 29, 1924
DEATH DATE: c. January 15, 1947
PLACE OF BIRTH: Boston, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
AKA: Beth Short, ”The Black Dahlia”, Bette Short, Betty Short
FULL NAME: Elizabeth Short

BEST KNOWN FOR: Nicknamed “the Black Dahlia,” Elizabeth Short was brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947, her body cut in half and severely mutilated. The Black Dahlia’s killer was never found, making her murder one of the oldest cold case files in L.A. to date, and the city’s most famous.

Elizabeth Short, best known as “the Black Dahlia,” was born on July 29, 1924, in Boston, Massachusetts, the third of five daughters born to Cleo and Phoebe Mae (Sawyer) Short. Cleo Short abandoned the family when Elizabeth was 5 years old. At a young age, Short developed a strong affinity for cinema. By her teens, she had set her sites on becoming an actress.

By the mid-1940s, Elizabeth Short was living in Los Angeles, California, working as a waitress to support herself while dreaming of catching her big break into Hollywood’s acting scene. Her chance at stardom, however, would never come. In January 1947, a horrific tragedy occurred: At the age of 22, Short was brutally murdered in Los Angeles, her body cut in half and severely mutilated. Her body was found, nude and posed, by a local female resident on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot near Leimert Park, on the 3800 block of L.A.’s South Norton Avenue. “It was pretty gruesome,” Brian Carr, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who has long worked on the Dahlia case, later said. “I just can’t imagine someone doing that to another human being.” In addition to dissecting and mutilating her body, Short’s killer had drained her corpse of blood and scrubbed it clean.

The case quickly became heavily covered by the media (her moniker, “Black Dahlia,” became widely known shortly thereafter, as it was used more frequently than her real name by the press). “The case itself took on a life of its own,” Carr said. “Early on, I think for two months it was front-page news in all the local papers every day.”

An in-depth, lengthy investigation by the L.A.P.D. ensued, leading to a number of false reports—including several false murder confessions—and ultimately leaving detectives grasping at straws. The sole witness of the murder had reported seeing a black sedan parked in the area in the early morning hours, but could provide police with little else. The combination of faulty witnesses and a lack of hard evidence surrounding the case greatly hindered its progress, and, despite numerous allegations and leads over the years, the Black Dahlia’s killer was never found. Today, the Black Dahlia murder remains one of the oldest cold case files in L.A., as well as the city’s most famous.

In early 2013, the Black Dahlia case returned to the headlines. An article in the San Bernardino Sun detailed a more recent investigation of the case that was conducted by retired police seargant Paul Dostie, author Steve Hodel, and a police dog named Buster with a keen sense of smell—specifically that of decomposing flesh, which he was trained to detect. According to the Sun, the investigative team has uncovered incriminating evidence against Hodel’s father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, who the younger Hodel has long believed to be the Black Dahlia killer. In February 2013, the team conducted an extensive search of the doctor’s home, where Buster had previously detected the scent of human decomposition in several areas of the basement, according to reports. Following their search, soil samples taken from Dr. Hodel’s home were reportedly submitted for lab testing.

Other evidence against George Hodel, according to his son, includes an old recording of a conversation between the doctor and an unknown person, during which Dr. Hodel allegedly stated, “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead.”

Happy Birthday Clara Bow

Today is the 109th birthday of Clara Bow.

NAME: Clara Bow
OCCUPATION: Film Actor/Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: July 29, 1905
DEATH DATE: September 27, 1965
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: American motion-picture actress Clare Bow was a major box-office draw during the silent-film era, having starred in dozens of projects.

Clara Bow was born on July 29, 1905 in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, NY. She was the youngest of three siblings and the only one to survive past childhood. Her father was sexually abusive and left the home for long periods of time while her mother suffered from severe mental disorders, later threatening her adolescent daughter’s life.

Bow took to watching movies as an escape from the horrors of home and dropped out of school. At 16, she entered a magazine’s beauty contest and won a small part in the film Beyond the Rainbow (1922), though her scenes were initially cut. Even while facing resistance, Bow persevered in continuing to audition at New York studios and eventually received a part in Down to the Sea in Ships (1922). The new actress also contended with the institutionalization and death of her mother.

Bow made her way to Hollywood and signed with Preferred Pictures under honcho B.P. Schulberg, with the actress also working with other studios. She starred in an array of silent films such as Grit (1924), The Plastic Age (1925) and Dancing Mothers (1926); the latter was filmed by Paramount Studios, which Schulberg joined after Preferred’s bankruptcy.

Bow became wildly popular after 1927’s It, a film adapted from a Elinor Glyn novella. The project proved to be a tremendous box office success and lent the actress the nickname the “It” Girl. Bow’s imagery and electric, sexy performances spoke to the flapper persona of the times. She was a style icon as well, with her particular look taken on by women across the country.

The actress made cinematic history with her 1927 co-starring role in Wings, which went on to receive the first Best Picture Oscar. She later made the transition to talking movies with 1929’s The Wild Party. Bow ultimately starred in dozens of films over the course of her career, though rigorous shooting demands and industry exploitation took its toll.

Known for having a fun and affable personality with a winning Brooklyn accent, Bow nonetheless still suffered from an overloaded work schedule, celebrity scrutiny and the lingering traumas of her upbringing. She had been associated with a number of men off-screen and her romantic life became the object of much hurtful speculation and gossip, including a pamphlet put forth by an assistant with stories of Bow’s relationships. In 1931 she had a breakdown and entered a sanitarium.

While recovering, Bow met fellow actor and future politician Rex Bell, and the two married in 1931, going on to have two children. Bow starred in a couple of other films with Fox Studios before retiring from acting in 1933. Over time she still struggled deeply with her emotional and mental health, attempting suicide in the mid-1940s and undergoing a score of examinations.

A widower after her husband’s death in 1962, Clara Bow died at the age of 60 on September 27, 1965 in Los Angeles, California from a heart attack. Decades later, her trailblazing role in shaping film and general culture has continued to be explored. A biography was published in 1988, Clara Bow Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn, while 1999 saw the release of a documentary, Clara Bow: Discovering the It Girl, directed by Hugh M. Neely and narrated by Courtney Love.

Happy Birthday Aldous Huxley

Today is the 120th birthday of Aldous Huxley.

aldous huxley

NAME: Aldous Huxley
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: July 26, 1894
DEATH DATE: November 22, 1963
EDUCATION: Eton, Balliol College
PLACE OF BIRTH: Godalming, United Kingdom
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Author Aldous Huxley expressed his deep distrust of 20th-century politics and technology in his sci-fi novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

Aldous Huxley, was a British writer. He was born on July 26, 1894 and died on November 22, 1963. He would become most specifically known to the public for his novels, and especially his fifth one, Brave New World, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Aldous Huxley was born on July 26th 1894 in Godalming in the Surrey county in southern England. He would be the son of the English schoolteacher and writer Leonard Huxley (1860 – 1933) and of Julia Arnold (1862 – 1908). More than literature, however, Aldous Huxley would in fact be born into a family of renowned scientists, with two of his three brothers, Julian and Andrew, who would be eminent biologists and a grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, who would be a famous, controversial naturalist in his time, nicknamed as “Darwin’s Bulldog”.

Aldous Huxley would come to be known mostly as a novelist and essayist but he would also write some short stories, poetry, travelogues and even film scripts. In his novels and essays Aldous Huxley would always play the role of a critical observer of accepted traditions, customs, social norms and ideals. Importantly, he would be concerned in his writings with the potentially harmful applications of so-called scientific progress to mankind.

At the age of 14 Aldous Huxley would lose his mother and he himself would subsequently become ill in 1911 with a disease that would leave him virtually blind. As if all of this was note enough, his other brother, Noel, would kill himself in 1914. Because of his sight he would not be able to do the scientific research that had attracted him earlier. Aldous Huxley would then turn himself to literature. It is important to note that in spite of a partial remission, his eyesight would remain poor for the rest of his life. This would not, however prevent him from obtaining a degree in English literature with high praises.

While continuing his education at Balliol College, one of the institutions at Oxford University in England, Aldous Huxley would not longer be financially supported by his father, which would make him having to earn living. For a brief period in 1918, he would be employed as a clerk of the Air Ministry, which would convince him that he does not want a career in either administration or business. As result, his need for money would lead him to apply his literary talents. It is around those days that he would become friends with the famous writer D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) at Oxford.

Aldous Huxley would finish his first novel, which he would never publish, at the age of seventeen, and he would decisively turn to writing at the age of twenty. At that point he would publish poems and also become a journalist and art critic. This would allow him to frequently travel and mingle with the European intelligentsia of the time. He would meet surrealists in Paris and would as a result of all of this write many literary essays. Aldous Huxley were to be deeply concerned about the important changes occurring at the time in Western civilization. They would prompt him to write great novels in the 1930s about the serious threats posed by the combination of power and technical progress, as well as about what he identified as a drift in parapsychology: behaviorism (as in his Brave New World). Additionally he would write against war and nationalism, as in Eyeless in Gaza (1936), for example.

One of his most known novels, and arguably his most important, would be Brave New World. Aldous Huxley would write it in only four months. It is important to note that at that time Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) was not yet in power in Germany and that the Stalinist purges had not yet begun. Aldous Huxley had therefore not been able to tap into the reality of his time the dictatorial future he would have the foresight to write about before it had happened. Indeed here Aldous Huxley imagined a society that would use genetics and cloning in order to condition and control individuals. In this future society all children are conceived in test tubes. They are genetically conditioned to belong to one of the five categories of populations, from the most intelligent to the stupidest.
Brave New World would also delineate what the perfect dictatorship would look like. It would have the appearance of a democracy, but would basically be a prison without walls in which the prisoners would not even dream of escaping. It would essentially be, as Aldous Huxley tells us, a system of slavery where, through entertainment and consumption the slaves “would love their servitude”. To many this would and still does resonate with the contemporary status quo. The title of the book comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610 – 1611), Act 5 Scene 1. Aldous Huxley’s novel would in fact eventually be made into a film in 1998. Although this one contains many elements from the book, the film would however portray a rather different storyline.

In 1937 he would write a book of essays entitled Ends and Means: an Enquiry Into the Nature of Ideals and Into the Methods Employed for Their Realization in which he would explore some of the same themes:

“A democracy which makes or even effectively prepares for modern, scientific war must necessarily cease to be democratic. No country can be really well prepared for modern war unless it is governed by a tyrant, at the head of a highly trained and perfectly obedient bureaucracy.”

In 1958 Aldous Huxley would publish Brave New World Revisited, a collection of essays in which he would think critically about the threats of overpopulation, excessive bureaucracy, as well as some hypnosis techniques for personal freedom. While Aldous Huxley’s early works would clearly be focused on defending a kind of humanism, he would become more and more interested in spiritual questions. He would particularly become interested in parapsychology and mysticism, which would be a subject matter on which he would also write a lot about. It is not really surprising, therefore, that in 1938 Aldous Huxley would become a friend of religious philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 – 1986), considered by some to be a mystique himself, largely because of his early association with the Theosophical Society, from which he would powerfully break away from. In any case, Huxley would become a great admirer of this one’s teachings and would encourage him to put his insights in writings. Aldous Huxley would even write the forward for Jiddu Krishnamurti’s The First and Last Freedom (1954). Tellingly, Huxley would state after having listened to one of Krishnamurti’s talks:

“… the most impressive thing I have listened to. It was like listening to a discourse of the Buddha – such power, such intrinsic authority…”

In 1937, the writer would move to California and became a screenwriter for Hollywood. At the same time he would continue writing novels and essays, including the satirical novel After Many a Summer (1939) and Ape and Essence (1948). In 1950 the American Academy of Arts and Letters would award him the prestigious Award of Merit for the Novel, a prize that had also been bestowed to illustrious writers such as Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) and Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955). Aldous Huxley would also be the author of an essay on the environment that would greatly inspire future ecological movements.

The 1950s would be a time of experiences with psychedelic drugs for him, especially LSD and mescaline, from which he would write the collection of essays The Doors of Perception (1954), which would become a narrative worshipped by hippies. The book would also inspire the famous singer Jim Morrison (1943 – 1971), to call his band “The Doors”. Aldous Huxley himself had found the title of the book in William Blake’s (1757 – 1827) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

By the end of his life Aldous Huxley would be considered by many as a visionary thinker. The so-called “New Age” school of thought would often quote his mystical writings and studies of hallucinogens, and in fact it continues to do so today. Considered one of the greatest English writers having written 47 books, Aldous Huxley would die at the age of 69 in Los Angeles on November 22 1963, the same day as President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Aldous Huxley would be cremated and his ashes would be buried in the family vault in the UK.

Happy Birthday Louis B. Mayer

Today is the 130th birthday of the first movie mogul, Louis B. Mayer.

Mayer

NAME: Louis B. Mayer
OCCUPATION: Business Leader, Producer
BIRTH DATE: c. July 12, 1884
DEATH DATE: October 29, 1957
PLACE OF BIRTH: Minsk, Russia
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
Full Name: Louis Burt Mayer
AKA: Louis Mayer
Originally: Eliezer Mayer

Best Known For:  Louis B. Mayer was a film mogul and the most influential person in Hollywood from the mid-1920s to the late-1940s.

Film producer and executive Louis Burt Mayer was born to an Eastern European Jewish family in Minsk, Russia. Though he was reportedly born on July 12, 1884, Mayer would claim throughout his life that he was born on the Fourth of July; he was similarly unclear about the exact location of his birth. The future mogul was the middle child of five siblings, with two sisters and two brothers, all of whom grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

At the age of 12, Mayer quit school to help his father run the family scrap metal business. When he was 19, he moved to Boston, expanding the father-son scrap enterprise into the United States. Soon after he arrived, Mayer met and married a butcher’s daughter, Margaret Shenberg. The couple had two daughters, Edith Mayer (1905-1987) and Irene Mayer (1907-1990), who would both go on to marry movie executives.

It wasn’t long before Mayer grew tired of the family business and began to look for a less gritty line of work. Luckily, a friend in the know tipped him off to a burlesque theater for sale in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a joint known derisively as the “Garlic Box.” It was a rundown theater with a bad reputation, but the enterprising young Mayer smartly chose to premiere a religious film at the establishment’s opening, immediately currying favor with community skeptics.

The budding businessman soon got a taste for success and began to acquire more and more old theaters in the area, rebuilding their reputations and facades in equal measure. After taking over all five of Haverhill’s theaters, he partnered with Nathan Gordon to gain control of a large theater chain in New England.

In 1914, Mayer made his first foray into film distribution when he bought exclusive rights to the landmark picture The Birth of a Nation with the money he earned pawning his wife’s wedding ring. He would also start a distribution agency in Boston and a talent-booking agency in New York. However, the siren song of Hollywood couldn’t be ignored for long; in 1918, Mayer moved to Los Angeles to form Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation.

By then the producer had gained a reputation for his hunger, audacity and ability to spot talent. Far from a hands-off studio honcho, Mayer cultivated a specialty for acquiring talent and roaming the back lots looking for his next glamorous lead. Some of Mayer’s landmark discoveries included Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Fred Astaire.

The producer’s watershed moment would come when Marcus Loew came knocking on his door. Recently having merged his company with Samuel Goldwyn’s studios to give birth to Metro-Goldwyn, Loew found himself without a head executive for the company. Soon Metro-Goldwyn became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the iconic MGM Studios was born. Over the next 25 years, Mayer built the studio’s reputation on a string of glamorous and mostly uncontroversial films. Some of the biggest hits of Mayer’s era were Ben-Hur (1925), Grand Hotel (1932),  Dinner at Eight (1933) and The Good Earth (1937).

At its height MGM, was Hollywood’s kingmaker (and queenmaker), churning out more films and stars than any other studio. The MGM lot itself was legendary—over 150 acres and as self-sufficient as a town, complete with its own opium den, barbershop and 24-hour dining establishment. Also housed on the property was none other than the iconic MGM lion, whose digs amounted to an onsite zoo.

Louis B. Mayer himself had gained a reputation of leonine proportions not long after his arrival in Hollywood. Characterized by his strong will and tell-it-straight relationships, Mayer once told Robert Young, “Put on a little weight and get more sex, we have a whole stable of girls here.” Clearly, the approach worked; MGM was the most successful studio in Hollywood, even managing to stay profitable through the Great Depression. For almost a decade Mayer held the rank of highest paid man in America, a far cry from his days diving in the Bay of Fundy for scrap metal.

By 1948, the heyday of the Hollywood studio era had begun to fade. MGM had gone years without an Oscar and relations between Mayer and other executives began to fray as profit margins thinned. In 1951, Mayer left MGM after 27 years at the helm. Six years later, on October 29, 1957, the legendary producer and executive died of leukemia.

One of Hollywood’s first true moguls, there is no denying his influence on the early years of the film industry’s boom, but as Mayer himself once said, “The sign of a clever auteur is to achieve the illusion that there is a sole individual responsible for magnificent creations that require thousands of people to accomplish.”

Happy Birthday George Cukor

Today is the 115th birthday of George Cukor.  He is responsible for almost all of my favorite classic films: Holiday, The Women, Gone With The Wind, The Philadelphia Story, Adam’s Rib, Born Yesterday, It Should Happen To You, etc. His teaming with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Judy Holliday, Clark Gable, Jack Lemmon, and Joan Crawford made countless of hours of perfection.

Born: July 7, 1899 New York City, New York, U.S.
Died: January 24, 1983 (aged 83) Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place: Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Occupation: Director

George Dewey Cukor (July 7, 1899 – January 24, 1983) was an American film director. He mainly concentrated on comedies and literary adaptations. His career flourished at RKO and later MGM, where he directed What Price Hollywood? (1932), A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Camille (1936).

He was replaced as the director of Gone with the Wind (1939), but he went on to direct The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam’s Rib (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), A Star Is Born (1954) and My Fair Lady (1964). He continued to work into the 1980s.

Cukor’s friends were of paramount importance to him and he kept his home filled with their photographs. Regular attendees at his famed soirées included Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, actor Richard Cromwell, Stanley Holloway, Judy Garland, Gene Tierney, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, director James Whale, costume designer Edith Head, and Norma Shearer, especially after the death of her first husband, Irving Thalberg. He often entertained literary figures like Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Aldous Huxley, Ferenc Molnár, and close friend Somerset Maugham, as well.

Cukor died of a heart attack on January 24, 1983, and was interred in an unmarked grave at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.Records in probate court indicated his net worth at the time of his death was $2,377,720.

Happy Birthday Peg Entwistle

Today is the 106th birthday of the woman who’s ghost is said to be seen around Griffith Park, recognized by her attractiveness, her sadness and the strong scent of gardenia perfume.  

Peg Entwistle
AKA Lillian Millicent Entwistle

Born: 1-Jul-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.