Friday, April 1, 2011

Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney (1883-1930) in his favorite role, as Tito Beppi/Flik, the clown who loves the girl who loves someone else in, "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928).

A thousand faces
speaking volumes without words.
Long live The Phantom!

THE EYES HAVE IT: Wires, that is. This is one of the few photos in which you can see how Chaney (in costume as Erik The Opera Ghost from the original 1925 movie production of "The Phantom of the Opera") achieved some of his characterizations. A performing arts genius, he is credited as being the inventor of special effects makeup.

"Lon Chaney could express with his whole body and a few gestures what pages of dialogue could not. This is one of the most compelling and emotionally exhausting scenes I've ever witnessed an actor perform." - Burt Lancaster

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This blog entry is nowhere near done. It is being added posthaste just in time for the actor's 128th birthday and will be expanded when I can give him the tribute he deserves. Happy Birthday, Lon, wherever you are.

TCM Archives - The Lon Chaney Collection (The Ace of Hearts / Laugh, Clown, Laugh / The Unknown)A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion PicturesThe Phantom of the Opera - The Ultimate Edition (1925 Original Version and 1929 Restored Version)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thelma Todd

BRIMMING WITH STAR QUALITY: Thelma Todd (1906-1935) possessed comedic timing that was as remarkable as her beauty. (Original Hal Roach photo from the author's personal collection.)

Called her, "Hot Toddy,"
the ice cream blonde with a smile
that could melt your heart.

Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd were Hal Roach's female answer to Laurel and Hardy. The duo worked together in 17 comedy shorts before Pitts left Roach Studios in 1933. Pitts was replaced by Patsy Kelly; and, with her new partner, Todd went on to make 21 more two-reelers before 1935.

For The Marx Brothers, Todd provided a luscious alternative to Margaret Dumont, Groucho's usual foil. Pictured with the actress in this still from "Horse Feathers" are Zeppo (left) and Harpo (right).

TWO TOWHEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE: A playful candid of Todd and Harpo Marx. (From the author's personal collection.)

In August of 1934, the actress opened Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. It became a favorite of celebrities, tourists and much less desirable characters.

Thelma Todd was found dead in the garage above her restaurant on December 16, 1935, a victim of monoxide poisoning. She was 29 years old.

Todd's death certificate.

Thelma Alice Todd was a teacher but her participation as Miss Massachusetts in The 1925 Miss America Pageant brought her to the attention of motion picture talent scouts. With her striking beauty and vivacious personality, Todd exuded a rich sense of comedic timing that made her a natural for the likes of Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers. Ten years later, the rising star with 120 films under her belt was found dead, slumped over in her car inside her garage, from monoxide poisoning. The coroner ruled it an accident but rumors of fowl play still abound. She was 29, a restaurateur, divorced from shady businessman Pasquale "Pat" DiCicco, living with married director Roland West and rumored to be having an affair with mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. What really happened to Thelma Todd remains one of Hollywood's greatest unsolved mysteries.

With Buster Keaton in a scene from "Speak Easily."

A sexy studio portrait.

In an odd twist, the building is now occupied by Paulist Productions, a company dedicated to producing film and television projects that teach Christian values and tackle modern moral dilemmas. The structure is also reported to be haunted.

The eternally youthful, stylish and lovely Thelma Todd.

Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood's Most Sensational MurderSpeak EasilyMonkey Business 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burt Mustin

A LATE BLOOMER: Burt Mustin (1884-1977) began acting professionally at age 67. In his 25-year career, he appeared in nearly 400 television shows, 70 movies and dozens of commercials.

Salesman turned actor.
If you wonder where he's now,
he went that-a way.

While attending Pennsylvania Military College, Mustin served as goalie for the school's hockey team. He graduated in 1903.

Although he played many character parts, Mustin always considered himself the "He Went That-a Way" Guy. Here he is as a geriatric Kimba of the Jungle in a 1967 episode of "The Monkees."

One of Mustin's most famous roles was that of Mr. Quigley on "All in the Family." The show's producers paired him with daffy and darling Ruth McDevitt, another popular senior performer.

Shortly after his 92nd birthday, Mustin made a memorable appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." He passed away 10 months later from natural causes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hollywood Boulevard

SEEING STARS: At the time of this writing, there are 2,403 stars spanning 3½ miles along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, with more being added regularly. For additional information and to find the location of specific stars, visit the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's official Walk of Fame website.

Where the stars line up
to be walked all over and
used as stepping stones.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Marilyn Monroe

A publicity photo of Marilyn Monroe.

Icon of beauty —
A candle whose light remains,
though the flame has died.

A playful pose.

As a child, Monroe amused herself by pretending that Clark Gable was her father. Later, it was said that the tension she created on the set of "The Misfits" (1961) hastened the actor's demise.

An early photograph of Marilyn Monroe who was born Norma Jeane Mortenson.

Monroe's first significant screen appearance was in "Love Happy" (1949), the Marx Brothers' last film together as a comedy team. Although it was a very brief walk-on part, it was one that Groucho would remember for decades.

Marilyn Monroe's outdoor crypt (#24) in Westwood (California) Memorial Park's Corridor of Memories is stained from the red lipstick kisses of adoring fans.  (Photo by A. J. Marik)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Detective Robert Goren

HOLD THAT POSE: Actor Vincent D'Onofrio played the ultimate crime-solver in the award-winning police drama, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Quirky super cop.
When he bends at right angles,
you're guilty as charged.

After nine seasons, Goren is moving on. D'Onofrio has passed his role as leading man to veteran performer Jeff Goldblum who plays Detective Zach Nichols, a cerebral and efficient cop with his own set of idiosyncrasies.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: It seems that gossip has been around since the beginning of time. In fact, the word "tabloid," in use since 1901, is derived from "tablet." So, who knows what some of those ancient stone carvings really say?

The singer is gay.
The actress talks to spacemen.
Checkout line fish wrap.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Paradise Lost

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH was a mansion estate turned bungalow village hotel at 8152 Sunset Boulevard. Built and ruled by controversial (and openly bisexual) silent screen siren Allah Nazimova, some of the villa's illustrious and notorious guests and residents included: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Benchley, Ernest Hemmingway, Gloria Stuart, The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Dorothy Parker, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Clara Bow, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Swanson, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Ernst Lubitsch, Ronald Reagan, Ava Gardner, Joe E. Lewis, Artie Shaw, Marlene Dietrich, George Kaufman, Laurence Olivier, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Woollcott, Orson Welles, Somerset Maugham, Jascha Heifetz, Ginger Rogers and Katherine Hepburn — to name a few!

Refuge for talent.
A den of iniquity.
Gaud's little acre.

"I'll be damned if I'll believe anyone lives in a place called 'The Garden of Allah,'" wrote Thomas Wolfe, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, dated July 26, 1937.

During the filming of the 1939 remake of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Charles Laughton would return home to The Garden for lunch, still in character as Quasimodo, and float in the pool on his back with his face aimed skyward, to avoid ruining his complex makeup.

Following its heyday, The Garden of Allah endured years of neglect. In summer, 1959, it was torn down to make way for progress. The song "Big Yellow Taxi," by Joni Mitchell, mourns the incredible landmark's passing in the famous lyrics, "They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot."

The Garden of AllahAt the Garden of Allah

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Art of Survival

GERMAN & JEWISH ARTISTS IN EXILE: Only those who've endured it themselves can know what these and other talented individuals went through. But it's thanks to them that we have classics like "The Maltese Falcon," "Some Like It Hot," "Double Indemnity" and "Casablanca," not to mention the entire genre of film noir.

Fleeing Hitler's rule,
they brought a new look and voice
to film in the states.

Although satire, "To Be Or Not To Be" (1942), starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, captures effectively the pervading mood and climate of war-torn Europe.  The film was Lombard's last and was released posthumously.

THE SPIRIT OF DEFIANCE: This is, perhaps, the most powerful scene in Warner Brothers' 1942 masterpiece, "Casablanca." To those in the know, what makes it even more stunning is that it's cast largely with performers who escaped the Nazi terror and ultimately death, leaving behind home, family, friends and careers, some having lost all and having to start over with nothing. (Clip copyright © Warner Home Video)

A clip from the PBS documentary, "Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood." At the time of this writing, there was no word of a DVD release.  (Clip copyright © 2010 Educational Broadcasting Corporation.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

THE DEMENTED RECLUSE: Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond making her final descent into her imaginary close-up and madness. This scene, more than any other, has come to represent the sometimes tragic downside of fame lost.

The breathing waxworks —
when fallen stars dim to shells
of their former selves.

The scene that inspired the haiku, although I'd never consider Keaton nor Swanson as has-beens. In fact, observe how, even with such a minor part, Keaton works the shot and steals viewer attention with nothing more than a brief facial expression.

Norma Desmond's famous happy ending.

The "Sunset Boulevard" movie trailer.

One of Comedienne Carol Burnett's zany spoofs as "Nora" Desmond. (This is live TV. Notice how you can see the set brace during the two-shot at the door.)