Sign in to follow this  
VivLeighFan

Remembering Helen Chandler on her birthday

13 posts in this topic

image.jpeg.7688883bf3654291a497773e1815dc1f.jpeg

Helen Chandler

(February 1, 1906 - April 30, 1965)

52 years after her early death at fifty-nine, ardent horror fans remember Helen Chandler as the fragile beauty Mina Howard in the Universal horror film "Dracula" (1931) who is seduced by the famous vampire himself. Although Helen was not impressed by the role she is most famous for, it continues to be a reminder of the talented young woman she was during her short time on this earth.

Originally born in Charleston, South Carolina, Helen Chandler rose up to become one of the most popular actresses in the Big Apple, and starred in numerous Broadway productions with big names like John Barrymore and Basil Sydney. Like many actresses during the 1920s, Helen decided to make the transition to the growing art form of film. Her first movie role was in the silent film The Music Master in 1927 and then later the film version of Outward Bound starring Leslie Howard and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1931.

That same year in 1931, Helen Chandler starred in the Universal production of "Dracula", the role she detested in favor of Alice in "Alice in Wonderland". The film became one of the most successful motion pictures at that time, however, her performance failed to grab audiences' attention. She continued to act in stage, film, and radio productions but by the late 1930s her alcoholism was rampant and as a result her acting career declined. In 1950, Helen suffered severe injuries in an apartment fire resulting in body disfigurement but miraculously, she survived. Her alcoholism continued after the accident. The stage starlet's life ended sadly on April 30, 1965 after going into cardiac arrest during stomach surgery in Hollywood, California. No one came to claim her remains. Helen Chandler was cremated in accordance with her wishes, and is interred at Chapel of the Pines Crematory in a section not open to vistors. She may be gone, but her haunting performance in Dracula will continue to charm horror movie fans around the world.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sad. Just goes to show that fame isn't for everyone. (Though that doesn't stop some folks!).

Along with Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan, I thought she was the best thing about 1931's DRACULA, even if I found the film itself a bit creaky at times.

Didn't Colin Clive also have a problem with alcoholism, thus resulting in his death?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Clive died from complications from tuberculosis, which his critical alcoholism probably didn't help any either.

Sepiatone

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thank you for posting this! (and I love that pic!)

when FATHOM EVENTS released DRACULA on the big screen 2ish years ago, I went, and it was a mixture of disappointment and fascination (which are the two words best used to describe the 1931 DRACULA and my relationship with it.)

i always cherish the chance to see a film i've never seen on a BIG SCREEN before because invariably, there are details I've not noticed, and with DRACULA there were a score...

some of the performances came off badly (the guy who plays Dr. Seward has one of the worst reaction shots of all time following- i think- the cigarette box scene, and i'd never noticed it before in smaller dimensions)- but HELEN CHANDLER was the actor in the film whose performance I most appreciated in its transfer to the large screen.

in the original aspect the film was meant to be shown in- and with the super clean print- i noticed how much ACTING she does with her eyes and her breathing- you can see her chest rising and falling throughout some of her scenes, and it's marvelous. there is a raw sexuality, a desperation- it seems like some of the other actors don't really have a clue what this whole story is about (DAVID MANNERS, I'm looking at you, and not just because you're cute)- but CHANDLER does.

i ALSO have to give a shout-out to her work in CHRISTOPHER STRONG, which is a terrific pre-code with some all-around wonderful acting and direction.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, LornaHansonForbes said:

thank you for posting this! (and I love that pic!)

when FATHOM EVENTS released DRACULA on the big screen 2ish years ago, I went, and it was a mixture of disappointment and fascination (which are the two words best used to describe the 1931 DRACULA and my relationship with it.)

i always cherish the chance to see a film i've never seen on a BIG SCREEN before because invariably, there are details I've not noticed, and with DRACULA there were a score...

some of the performances came off badly (the guy who plays Dr. Seward has one of the worst reaction shots of all time following- i think- the cigarette box scene, and i'd never noticed it before in smaller dimensions)- but HELEN CHANDLER was the actor in the film whose performance I most appreciated in its transfer to the large screen.

in the original aspect the film was meant to be shown in- and with the super clean print- i noticed how much ACTING she does with her eyes and her breathing- you can see her chest rising and falling throughout some of her scenes, and it's marvelous. there is a raw sexuality, a desperation- it seems like some of the other actors don't really have a clue what this whole story is about (DAVID MANNERS, I'm looking at you, and not just because you're cute)- but CHANDLER does.

i ALSO have to give a shout-out to her work in CHRISTOPHER STRONG, which is a terrific pre-code with some all-around wonderful acting and direction.

Yes, I think you are referring to the scene where Chandler (have been previously bitten by Dracula) is staring at Manners, looking both seductive and evil at the same time. A very fine piece of acting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would like to salute all who contributed to this thread about Chandler. Glad to see she is still remembered and appreciated.

And I for one, who would have loved to have known her, since that scene she is in, in "Dracula" which has her in bed and the side table lamp seems to have a big piece of cardboard over it, has been bugging me for eons!

What the heck is going on with that. I hope this image shows up cuz I've seen this crazy image debated for years online. I first noticed the oddness of the shot many years ago myself, and would pause the footage just to stare at it. Again...anyone know what that giant supposed piece of cardboard or whatever is doing over the lamp???

I sure wish Helen were here herself to explain it...

dracula-1931-helen-chandler-bkcrxh.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I liked Helen Chandler. It's a shame that her career never went very far or for very long. It's also a shame that all she's mainly known for is "Dracula". She had a fragile, feminine and very vulnerable beauty to her. I find her life to be very tragic. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Helen Chandler was as "gentle" in real-life as she appeared in the movies.  She was always aimless and flighty, demure and delicate, winsome and sweet. Most people who knew her claimed she did not weigh an ounce over 100 pounds, nor did they believe she possessed a mean bone in her body. Darryl F. Zanuck once wrote to Jack L. Warner that she was a "sensational talent" and compared her to "a young Lilian Gish." Despite her demons, one will be hardpressed to find anything negative about her. 

Many of the characters she played had a child's honesty and an adult's sadness, and never were those qualities better captured than in William Dieterle's Hemingway-inspired tale by would be Lost Generation writer John Monk Saunders, "The Last Flight" (1931). As portrayed in the film, Chandler's character is beyond quirky, eccentric, delicate, childlike, and has a penchant for saying and doing oddball things, but she is also disturbed and self-medicates with alcohol. In real-life, she was all of the above: a severe alcoholic (a solitary drinker) fondly described by David Manners in an interview as "someone who never grew up" but also very "sad" – a lonely soul. 

Unfortunately, her alcoholism destroyed both her career and her marriages, depleting her fortune and sending her in-and-out of mental institutions. Her last stint was five years at the DeWitt State Hospital in the 1950s, and by the time she passed away, she was relatively forgotten and driven to the gutter. As most here already know, permanent scaring throughout her body, most notably the left-side of her face, plagued her over the last decade of her life. The scaring was the result of a room fire (at the Fleur De Lis Apartments on Whitley) brought on by liquor and sleeping pills. She was the type who would lay in bed, smoking, reading a book, and just drink until she passed out. A very tragic life indeed.

  • Like 1
  • Sad 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, VivLeighFan said:

What I found especially heartbreaking was that no one came to pay thier respects to her. Not a friend. Not a relative. Nobody. Helen was utterly alone in the world when she died.

Helen had a fanatical stage mother and, by the time her career was waning and alcoholism consumed her life, her mother already abandoned her – something she never got over. She was particularly close with her brother, Lee, and her sister-in-law, Geraldine, and had lived with them throughout various points in the 1940s – 1950s. The sister-in-law was divorcing the brother around the time Helen had passed away and did not attend the funeral, but she claims it was a "beautiful funeral, with all the old-time theater and film people." Either way, contrary to what the sister-in-law says, it appears few mourners attended. I know Lillian Roth, a good friend, reached out to her sometime in the early 1960s and even briefly housed her in Palm Springs after being released from the DeWitt State Hospital, but, in the end, the Motion Picture Relief Fund was taking care of her.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, VanNorden05 said:

Helen had a fanatical stage mother and, by the time her career was waning and alcoholism consumed her life, her mother already abandoned her – something she never got over. She was particularly close with her brother, Lee, and her sister-in-law, Geraldine, and had lived with them throughout various points in the 1940s – 1950s. The sister-in-law was divorcing the brother around the time Helen had passed away and did not attend the funeral, but she claims it was a "beautiful funeral, with all the old-time theater and film people." Either way, contrary to what the sister-in-law says, it appears few mourners attended. I know Lillian Roth, a good friend, reached out to her sometime in the early 1960s and even briefly housed her in Palm Springs after being released from the DeWitt State Hospital, but, in the end, the Motion Picture Relief Fund was taking care of her.

Crap, then I guess Wikipedia lied to me. Glad to know somebody acknowledged her during her final days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Does anyone have access to a photo of Helen from the 1940's or 1950's? All the photos I've ever seen of her are from the early 1930's. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

in re: THE CARDBOARD ON THE LAMPS in DRACULA

Karl Freund (sp?) did the lighting on DRACULA, and he knew what he was doing- some even say he directed it and set up the camera shots in lieu of a distaff (maybe drunken?) Tod Browning. thusly, i find it hard to believe the cardboard is a goof.

no one would be that lazy, especially someone like Freund who was angling to move up in the studio system.

I think the cardboard is supposed to be there, the idea being to keep the room well-lit (for either supernatural or practical nursing application) and yet cast a shadow over "the patient" who could sleep in the "shadow" of the cardboard.

(kind of makes me wonder how many sanitariums and hospitals burned down "mysteriously" overnight in the early days of electricity.)

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us