Saturday, June 8, 2013

The End of an Era: Esther Williams 1921-2013

There aren't many of those classic Hollywood movie stars left, and this week saw the end of an era. Swimming star Esther Williams died on Thursday just two months before her 92nd birthday. She was one of MGM's many stars during the 1940s and '50s, but she was certainly one of the most unique stars to appear on the Silver Screen. There were lots of singers, dancers and actors. But as Donald O'Connor says in That's Entertainment --- ". . . there was only one Esther Williams."

She starred in a score of flashy, colorful films that were unlike anything at the time and are certainly unlike anything that's been made since. The plots are quite sappy, but she always had top-notch casts and crew. You weren't really there to watch a story, anyway. You were there to watch Esther swim, dive and accomplish amazing aquatic feats. She swims the English Channel in Dangerous When Wet, she water skies with a whole troop at Cypress Gardens in Easy to Love and she swims in a sunken Ancient city in Jupiter's Darling. But her crowning glory when it comes to one of these water ballets has to be the Hippodrome number in Million Dollar Mermaid. Esther appears as you'll never see her elsewhere. The finale of the ballet shows her rising from the water on a spectacularly lit platform --- and slowly disappearing again amidst a chorus of aquatic ballerinas. And it's all done with a smile.

That's Entertainment is a wealth of appropriate sentiment when it comes to MGM musicals. Frank Sinatra say, "You can wait around and hope, but I'm telling you --- you'll never see the likes of this again." He says it in reference to Fred Astaire, but it is just as true when it comes to Esther Williams. There will never be another performer like her again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Deanna Durbin (4 Dec 1921 - Apr 2013)

Edna Mae David, alias Deanna Durbin, passed away a few days ago in France at the age of 91. Her son, Peter, released the news yesterday. For the past 60+ years, she has lived in complete privacy in a small town outside of Paris. For twelve years in the 1930s and 40s, she was one of Hollywood's super stars. She made 21 feature films, countless recordings, and was a weekly guest on Eddie Cantor's radio show for a while. At one point, Deanna Durbin was the highest paid actress in the world! However, for Canadian-born Edna, the Deanna craze and fame was an intruder. When the time came, she slammed the door on Hollywood and the glamour with a bang that was heard around the world!

For a previous blog entry that gives a more detailed account of her career, click here. Also, the New York Times is running a full article about her.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rise Stevens (June 11, 1913 - March 20, 2013)

Rise Stevens was an internationally famous mezzo-soprano. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 23 years, and she is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) interpreters of the opera Carmen. She could not only sing, but she was also a good actress. Her death scene in Carmen was so realistic that the audience really thought she had been killed by Don Jose!

Like many opera stars, Rise Stevens went to Hollywood to try her hand at films. She didn't like working on pictures, but the couple that she made are fabulous. She felt that film directors were too concerned about "looks", and rightfully so. She recorded all of the songs for her films, but when it came time to actual shoot the scene, the director made her sing an octave lower --- so that her face looked pretty and not contorted with singing. There was no audience to react to the songs or performance, and that was a hard change from someone used to performing on stage.

She appeared in two well-remembered films: The Chocolate Soldier (1940) with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. You can't get better than that! In fact, it was thanks to her role in Going My Way that she studied and sang the role of Carmen. She sings one song from the opera in the film, and so many people sent fan mail and compliments about the song that she decided to pursue the role.

Rise Stevens passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 99 (missing her one-hundredth birthday by less than three months!). Everyone seems to be remembering her for her operatic roles --- Carmen and Samson et Delilah. But I'll always think of her laughing as Nelson Eddy sings The Song of the Flea. Or singing Ave Maria in the basement with Bing Crosby and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir. Thanks to these film appearances she will be seen and heard by future generations. So, if you haven't seen Going My Way, then be sure to do that soon!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Patty Andrews, 94 - Goodbye to the Andrews Sisters

PATTY ANDREWS (16 Feb 1918 - 30 Jan 2013)

We just found out that Patty Andrews, the last surviving sister of the fabulous Andrews Sisters, died at her home on January 30, 2013. She was 94 years old and was preceded in death by her husband of 59 years.

In the 1930s, a sister group shot to overnight stardom with their hit recording of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen". They went on to become some of the nation's top selling recording artists of the swing and boogie era. They sang Americans through the second world war and had more Top 10 charted hits than Elvis or The Beatles.

The oldest sister, LaVerne, died of cancer in 1967. The middle sister, Maxene, in 1995. Together, the three sisters recorded over 600 songs and appeared in over two dozen films, as well as guest appearing on almost every major TV show of the 1950s and 60s.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ann Blyth Refuses to Smoke in Film

Ann Blyth Refuses To Smoke In Films

HOLLYWOOD - Although Ann Blyth plays a toughie in "Swell Guy," Mark Hellinger production for Universal, she balked at learning to smoke.

"I'm practically an alcoholic in the picture," said Ann, "but the drinks are fake. There's no way to fake smoking, so I'll just have to skip it. I've never learned to smoke and even a smoke-filled room makes me ill."

For the picture, Ann had to learn to flip a coin like a dyed-in-the-wool gambler. With between-scenes insstruction from Sonny Tufts, William Gargan, John Craven, John Litel and other males of the cast, it took her about a week to acquire this skill.

(Transcribed from THE DESERET NEWS, Monday, 9 Sept 1946)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ann Blyth is Perfect Hollywood Star

Ann Is Perfect Hollywood Star - - She's Liked By Fellow Workers


Ann Blyth is one of those rare individuals who reach the top rung of stardom in Hollywood. She is as popular with her Hollywood colleagues as she is with the fans.

The tiny 24-year-old charmer of many pictures has been called "the perfect trouper" by those whose responsibility it is to make preparations for star tours, draw up itineraries and then accompany the celebrities wherever they make personal appearances.

One studio representative on a recent tour with "Annie", as she is called by those who know her, said that Miss Blyth makes no unreasonable demands, is perfectly amiable at all times and accommodating to all. "She's the type of woman I hope my daughter becomes," he said.

Little things that cause such comments include putting on extra shows at military bases when the boys cannot be accomodated at the regularly scheduled number of programs, stopping to chat with youngsters who want to see her, and generally putting herself out for her fans and fellow workers.

Additionally, Ann's personal habits make her one of the most pleasant stars to work with. She does not smoke or drink or visit night clubs, and her behavior is always the best.

These items probably account for her long-standing stardom in Hollywood, where she has been at the top since she was 11 years old, when she scored in "Watch on the Rhine." [This was actually on stage, not film.] Since then, her roles have covered all types and varieties. These include "The World In His Arms," now playing at the Lyric Theater, and "One Minute to Zero," soon coming to the Utah Theater.

Illustrative of her versatility, these pictures present her in different types of parts in different centuries. In "The World in His Arms," she is a Russian countess in an adventure film whose story takes place in the 1850s. In "One Minute to Zero," she is an American girl with the United Nations forces in Korea.

(Transcribed from THE DESERET NEWS, Wednesday, 13 Aug 1952)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Anne Baxter is Tops in Dialogue

Anne Baxter Is Tops In Dialogue

Anne Baxter, who is always letter-perfect in her lines, established a new record for a day's performance before the cameras. For her starring role in "My Wife's Best Friend," in which she is teamed with MacDonald Carey, she polished off 11 pages of dialogue and went through 14 different setups without a hitch. Three to five pages of dialogue are considered good pace for the average day's work.

(Transcribed from THE DESERET NEWS, Wednesday, 13 Aug 1952)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Phyllis Thaxter 1919 - 2012

PHYLLIS THAXTER (20 Nov 1919 - 14 Aug 2012)

Actress Phyllis Thaxter died on 14 Aug. She was 92 years old. She was an actress for many years, on Broadway and made her film debut in 1944, in the smash hit, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Playing bomber pilot Van Johnson's wife, her performance was touching and sensitive. She continued films and moved into television as well. With the newer generations, she is probably best remembered for playing Martha Kent in the movie, Superman (1978).

Below is a link to a full obituary and you can view an episode of the TV series, Wagon Train, in which she was the guest star.

Obituary in the New York Times.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy Birthday! Ann Blyth turns 84!

Today, actress and singer Ann Blyth celebrates her 84th birthday! Her sweet personality and beautiful voice graced the silver screen for 13 years and, thanks to home video, her talents still continue to entertain fans today. Although she is best remembered for playing Joan Crawford's spiteful daughter in Mildred Pierce, this role was a brilliant piece of casting against type. Ann Blyth was known as the screen's 'little lady'. Very kind, down-to-earth and a devout Catholic, she always insisted that family was more important than success.

She happens to be one of my very favorite actresses. Lately, we have been watching some more of her films, which has made me an even bigger fan. :o) I'll Never Forget You, Thunder on the Hill, The World in His Arms, and The King's Thief are some of the standouts. In honor of her birthday, here is a hi-res image from each of these films.

We just got Top O' the Morning, a film that she made with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald about the theft of the Blarney Stone! We have been waiting years to find a copy, and can't wait to see it. Ann, Bing, Barry, and Ireland can't be anything but fabulous! So, thank you, Ann Blyth, for sharing your talents!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

'Have Faith, My Darling. You'll Walk.'

In 1954, Guideposts published a book of stories by different celebrities who had gone through particularly trying times. The volume was compiled by Norman Vincent Peale and titled "Faith Made Them Champions". Screen actress Ann Blyth shared about the time that she suffered a broken back in a sledding accident. She was, and still is, a devout Catholic, whose faith grew during a time when her world seemed to be ending. Her story was published in many newspapers across the country under the title "Lenten Guideposts".

By Ann Blyth

When I was a very little girl I remember praying fervently for a pair of red wings. After several days of watching and waiting, I took my shaken faith and spread it out before my mother.

"Why?" I demanded. "Why don't I get red wings?"

My mother had, skillfully balanced with her sensitive Irish wit, an enormous respect for a serious problem. Together we examined mine. "Faith, my darling," she told me, "is believing that God is very wise. Wiser than you. Somehow you must be praying wrong."

As I grew older, I was filled with gratitude that I need not walk through life wearing red wings. But, I was equally grateful for her gentle lesson.

Mother worked very hard and her tiny body wasn't nearly as big as her heart. Yet I never heard her complain. In our walk-up flat on New York's East side, she would jubilantly finish a batch of ironing for her select Park Avenue clientele and call to us to admire its crisp freshness.

A Constant Faith
Sometimes it was a close shave when it came to scraping together the money for my singing, dancing and dramatic lessons, but she never told me of it. Instead, she let me know constantly that Faith was the foundation for lasting joy, the chief cornerstone for building a whole life.

She dreamed dreams about my wonderful future as an actress and at eight, nine, and ten, I began getting radio and stage bits. When I tried for something better and failed, she would smile her wonderful warm smile, put a pert new feather in my hat, and together we'd go to St. Boniface's to pray.

"Just have faith, my darling," she'd say cheerfully as we walked home in the fading light. "Something better will come." And it did. It came so fast it was like riding a giant roller coaster clear to the top. We two looked out over the whole world.

At 13, I was on Broadway as Paul Lukas' daughter in "Watch on the Rhine." At 14, I had dinner at the White House. At 15, I came to Hollywood and was given the coveted role of Joan Crawford's daughter in "Mildred Pierce." Overnight, life was glamorous, exciting, completely wonderful.

Her Back Broken
Yes, we went up so fast that when we hit the first giant dip, it shook my faith. But it didn't shake my mother's on that tragic day in a hospital room, where doctors told me I might never walk again.

We had finished "Mildred Pierce" and mother took a group of us to Snow Valley, a spot in the San Bernadino Mountains. While my friends and I were tobogganing, it happened. One minute we were sailing down the hard-packed icy hillside like snow birds, then there was a crash and I fell on my back with a sickening thud.

I din't cry out. The feeling was too big for that. Involuntarily, from long habit, my spirit reached out for faith and halting prayers rose to my lips. At the hospital, the doctors were grave; my back was broken.

My glowing world tumbled all about me. It seemed like the end of everything.

At first, I couldn't look at my mother. When at last I raised my head, I was startled. Those warm, hazel eyes under her crown of auburn hair were actually smiling.

"Have faith, my darling," she said. "You'll walk."

Busy Days
Together my mother and I planned cheerful, busy days. In a cast, with my head and feet toward the floor, my back raised high, I concentrated on high school work, determined to graduate with my studio class.

But still there were those long periods of just lying down. The busy, exciting world I had known faded away and my life slowed down to little things.

But even hear, I found myself blessed, for a new sense of prayer began to unfold to me. Now there were not the busy times of telling Him what I needed, but rather, times of listening communion, of gathering strength, when my human strength and courage seemed to ebb away.

In seven months, they told me I could walk. Not walk really, but take those first important steps on the long road back to complete freedom. As I had gotten to know Him in my time of trial, I knew Him now in thanksgiving.

7 Months in Chair
I took those steps, and then more. I graduated with my class from a wheel chair. There were seven months in and out of that wheel chair, but every one was another step forward. There was my first swim. The preview of "Mildred Pierce." My first game of golf. And then I made my first picture since the accident.

Now, at last, my life was again the same. Only, not quite the same. I found within me an immense gratitude for simple things. An acute appreciation of all I might have lost, all the things I had accepted unconsciously before.

And one more difference, I had grown up. At first, I had clung to my mother's faith, leaned on her, step by step as she showed me the way. Now, I had found my own rock. Nor did I find it too soon.

An Emptiness
Before I finished that first picture after my accident, I was standing alone. My mother, beloved companion, was gone. A little unsteadily, I clung to my rock.

But I missed her. There was an aching emptiness. Until it came to me, almost in a revelation, that she had not left me. She had prepared me for her going as she had prepared me for everything else I'd met in life.

Reaching out again for my faith came the assurance that she would be by my side in every good, beautiful, and true experience, wherever I might go; a part of every decision, every success and every happiness - for they all stemmed from her inspired teaching. They would become the flowers of the mustard seed of faith she had placed in my heart.


"I think that period was the greatest test of my faith. That was my most desperate moment. But it's how you cope with such moments, how you come out of them, that counts. Sometimes we do have to survive periods when we wonder whether God has forgotten all about us. However, God never forgets us. He always answers our prayers, though he doesn't always answer them in the way we wish He would."

(Lenten Guideposts; Lebanon Daily News (PA); 20 March 1954, pages 1 and 9)
(The Press-Courier (CA); 11 Aug 1974, page 10)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tony Martin (1913-2012)

I promised myself that I would write a non-obituary entry this week, but we just found out that singer Tony Martin died on Friday evening! Mr. Martin is one of our favorites, and he is one of the five singers who Sarah has classified as having a 'Disney Prince'-type voice. He died at his home in Los Angeles on Friday night at 98 years old.

In 1948, Mr. Martin married dancer Cyd Charisse. They remained devoted to each other, even co-writing their autobiography, The Two of Us. She passed away in 2008, after sixty years of marriage. Their son, Tony Jr., died in 2011. Mr. Martin is survived by his step-son, Nicky Charisse.

He appeared in many films during the 1930s-50s, including The Big Store with the Marx Bros., Easy To Love with Esther Williams, Deep In My Heart, and Till The Clouds Roll By. His voice was clear and smooth, with a very gentle quality. This is the passing of an era.

There is one time in a film where Tony and Cyd appeared together. At the very end of Easy To Love, he is walking along a lane when a girl drops her hat in front of him. That girl is Mrs. Tony Martin. :o)

To read his full obituary at the San Francisco Chronicle, click here.

Here is his section of the finale from the 1946 film, Till the Clouds Roll By. This is one of his best musical moments. He is singing the fabulous Jerome Kern song, "All the Things You Are".

Friday, July 27, 2012

Peter Breck; Nick Barkley in 'The Big Velley'; Dies at 82

PETER BRECK (13 March 1929 - 6 February 2012)

I know that this is a little late, but we just found out last night that Peter Breck died February 6th. He is best remembered for playing Barbra Stanwyk's hot-headed son, Nick Barkley, in the TV show, The Big Valley. Always the one to come to the rescue with the guns blazing, or belt the dishonest citizen in the face, or get into trouble and have to be rescued by his level-headed brothers.

Sarah and I were introduced to The Big Valley several years ago, when we got a disc of episodes out from the library. Ever since, we have been ardent fans of the show. In our minds, it even surpassed Bonanza. The five family members work so well together and make the stories believable. This is definitely a show not to be missed. Right now, the complete first season and the first half of season two are available on DVD.

Right after we discovered the series, we wrote to Mr. Breck and received autographed photos of him as Nick. He was a fantastic cowboy and a great character. We have seen him in several other shows, and it is funny as it always seems like Nick on another show. :o)

For a full obituary, see the NYTimes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Screen Legend, Celeste Holm, Dies at 95

CELESTE HOLM (29 April 1917 - 15 July 2012)

Oscar-winning actress, Celeste Holm, died on Sunday at her apartment from complications of a heart attack. Celeste Holm appeared in over a dozen films, lots of TV shows and many stage productions during her long and distinguished career. She won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her third movie role in Gentleman's Agreement, opposite Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire. She was also nominated for her roles in Come To The Stable and the classic All About Eve. Some of her other film credits include The Snake Pit, High Society and The Tender Trap.

To read her full obituary, go to the NYTimes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Remembering Andy: Mayberry Bids Farewell to Sheriff Taylor

ANDY GRIFFITH (1 June 1926 - 3 July 2012)

Died Tuesday at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. An actor, singer and comedian, he is fondly remembered by generations of fans as the Mayberry sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. Who can forget the opening of a man and a little boy, walking down a dirt road, carrying their fishing poles and whistling a tune? It featured the memorable characters of Deputy Barney Fife, garage mechanic Gomer Pyle, Aunt Bee, Thelma Lou, and little Opie Taylor.

Sheriff Andy Griffith made his screen debut in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, where Danny is arrested for running a stop sign. Later that same year, Andy's own show debuted and continued for 8 seasons and a total of 249 episodes. Andy helped other townspeople fix their problems and the show provided wholesome entertainment for the entire family.

Mr. Griffith also recorded and released several albums of Gospel songs and comedy sketches. He performed on Broadway, at night clubs, and in films as well as television.