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Golden age: Roll call

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Some stars are more temperamental than others. And no matter how much natural talent they have, they might still be prone to self-destruction. Ultimately that’s what happened to Mario Lanza. But before his meteoric rise and burn-out, he made some wonderful records and some equally wonderful motion pictures.

 

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He had been singing for about ten years when he was ‘discovered’ by L.B. Mayer at a Hollywood Bowl concert after the second World War. Mayer signed him to a long-term contract, but Mario was in the middle of a concert tour and would not actually be available to make his first film until a year later. While he was doing quite well on his tour, he still was not accomplished as an opera star and had not debuted at the Met in New York or played in some of the world’s major opera houses. Usually opera stars came to Hollywood after considerable success on stage, and they made movies between concert seasons. But Mario became a movie star first, and the process was a reverse one for him. While this situation did not diminish his overall credibility as a singer, it was a bit more difficult for him to be taken seriously by some of his contemporaries.

 

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In a way you might say Mayer was his mentor, at least in the movie business. Mario was paired with Kathryn Grayson in his first two pictures (billed after her), and they were smash hits. He carried his third and fourth pictures at Metro with ‘lesser’ stars. But in the early 50s there was a power struggle behind the scenes; Mayer was essentially ousted and his successor Dore Schary did not get along with Mario. The two men clashed, and Mario walked off the set of his fifth picture, THE STUDENT PRINCE. Since he had already recorded the soundtrack, Mario’s vocals were used in the finished picture, but European star Edmund Purdom took over the role and lip-synced the musical scenes. It was still a hit, but it would be Mario’s last film at the studio. He and MGM became engaged in a long drawn-out lawsuit and he was off screen for the next few years.

 

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After the litigation ended, Mario was able to freelance and he made his comeback at Warners. While his next movie was financially successful, its box office was nowhere near as great as his earlier efforts. He then went to Europe and dedicated himself to stage work. There were personal problems (he drank and ate too much), but he still managed to make two more pictures in Europe. These films were independent productions, but MGM bought the rights for distribution (after Schary’s ouster). Mario was preparing for his next movie and a chance to sing opera at a prestigious venue in Italy when he died from a heart attack at age 38.

 

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  1. that midnight kiss (1949); mgm; musical; kathryn grayson; 96 mins.
  2. the toast of new orleans (1950); mgm; musical; kathryn grayson; 97 mins.
  3. the great caruso (1951); mgm; musical; ann blyth; 109 mins.
  4. because you’re mine (1952); mgm; musical; doretta morrow; 103 mins.
  5. the student prince (1954); mgm; musical; ann blyth; 107 mins.
  6. serenade (1956); warners; musical; joan fontaine; 121 mins.
  7. seven hills of rome (1958); mgm; musical; marisa allasio; 107 mins.
  8. for the first time (1959); mgm; musical; zsa zsa gabor; 92 mins.
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screen-shot-2017-04-21-at-6-31-35-am.png

 

Some stars are more temperamental than others. And no matter how much natural talent they have, they might still be prone to self-destruction. Ultimately that’s what happened to Mario Lanza. But before his meteoric rise and burn-out, he made some wonderful records and some equally wonderful motion pictures.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-09-at-7-29-30-pm.png

 

He had been singing for about ten years when he was ‘discovered’ by L.B. Mayer at a Hollywood Bowl concert after the second World War. Mayer signed him to a long-term contract, but Mario was in the middle of a concert tour and would not actually be available to make his first film until a year later. While he was doing quite well on his tour, he still was not accomplished as an opera star and had not debuted at the Met in New York or played in some of the world’s major opera houses. Usually opera stars came to Hollywood after considerable success on stage, and they made movies between concert seasons. But Mario became a movie star first, and the process was a reverse one for him. While this situation did not diminish his overall credibility as a singer, it was a bit more difficult for him to be taken seriously by some of his contemporaries.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-09-at-7-31-15-pm.png

 

In a way you might say Mayer was his mentor, at least in the movie business. Mario was paired with Kathryn Grayson in his first two pictures (billed after her), and they were smash hits. He carried his third and fourth pictures at Metro with ‘lesser’ stars. But in the early 50s there was a power struggle behind the scenes; Mayer was essentially ousted and his successor Dore Schary did not get along with Mario. The two men clashed, and Mario walked off the set of his fifth picture, THE STUDENT PRINCE. Since he had already recorded the soundtrack, Mario’s vocals were used in the finished picture, but European star Edmund Purdom took over the role and lip-synced the musical scenes. It was still a hit, but it would be Mario’s last film at the studio. He and MGM became engaged in a long drawn-out lawsuit and he was off screen for the next few years.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-09-at-7-29-08-pm.png

 

After the litigation ended, Mario was able to freelance and he made his comeback at Warners. While his next movie was financially successful, its box office was nowhere near as great as his earlier efforts. He then went to Europe and dedicated himself to stage work. There were personal problems (he drank and ate too much), but he still managed to make two more pictures in Europe. These films were independent productions, but MGM bought the rights for distribution (after Schary’s ouster). Mario was preparing for his next movie and a chance to sing opera at a prestigious venue in Italy when he died from a heart attack at age 38.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-09-at-7-30-12-pm.png

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. that midnight kiss (1949); mgm; musical; kathryn grayson; 96 mins.
  2. the toast of new orleans (1950); mgm; musical; kathryn grayson; 97 mins.
  3. the great caruso (1951); mgm; musical; ann blyth; 109 mins.
  4. because you’re mine (1952); mgm; musical; doretta morrow; 103 mins.
  5. the student prince (1954); mgm; musical; ann blyth; 107 mins.
  6. serenade (1956); warners; musical; joan fontaine; 121 mins.
  7. seven hills of rome (1958); mgm; musical; marisa allasio; 107 mins.
  8. for the first time (1959); mgm; musical; zsa zsa gabor; 92 mins.

 

Mario Lanza's voice was certainly good enough for The Metropolitan Opera.

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Grace Moore was born and raised in Tennessee. She had a natural aptitude for singing, and when she was old enough she went to New York to pursue a professional career. She soon found work performing in cafes and on Broadway in musicals. After a few years, she took her earnings and went to Europe to study opera with some of the best teachers she could find.

 

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When she was ready she came back to New York and debuted at the Met. She proved to be quite successful, and Grace found herself in demand. She would go on to sing for the Met for 16 seasons, and she also developed a simultaneous career in motion pictures.

 

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Grace went to Hollywood during the era of the talkies, and in 1930 she made the first of two musical films for MGM. They were not hugely popular, and she went back east. But in 1934 Harry Cohn enticed her to sign a contract with his studio. Her first movie at Columbia was ONE NIGHT OF LOVE, and it was a big hit. It netted her an Oscar nomination. During the years that followed, Grace made several more pictures at Columbia. They were either musical dramas or frothy musical comedies.

 

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Costars included Cary Grant, Franchot Tone and Melvyn Douglas. Most of these productions did well with moviegoers. Grace continued to perform opera on stage and traveled abroad when she wasn’t working. Her husband was a Spanish movie actor. After her contract with Columbia ended, Grace made a French film based on Gustave Charpentier’s opera LOUISE. It was directed by Abel Gance, and would be her final screen appearance.

 

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  1. a lady’s morals (1930); mgm; musical drama; reginald denny; 87 mins.
  2. new moon (1930); mgm; musical; lawrence tibbett; 78 mins.
  3. one night of love (1934); columbia; musical; tullio carminati; 83 mins.
  4. love me forever (1935); columbia; musical drama; leo carrillo; 91 mins.
  5. the king steps out (1936); columbia; musical comedy; franchot tone; 85 mins.
  6. when you’re in love (1937); columbia; musical comedy; cary grant; 104 mins.
  7. i’ll take romance (1937); columbia; musical; melvyn douglas; 90 mins.
  8. louise (1939); ideal film; musical; georges thill; 83 mins
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Can you guess the ones I will be spotlighting..?


 


Pre-code stars


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Monday April 24-- #522: Traded roles with George Raft.


Tuesday April 25-- #523: The saddest eyes in the motion pictures.


Wednesday April 26-- #524: Popular humorist.


Thursday April 27-- #525: Married to Dick Powell (pictured above).


Friday April 28-- #526: Made two films with Kong.


Saturday April 29-- #527: a "French" star. 


Sunday April 30-- #528: Costarred twice with Irene Dunne.


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Jack La Rue made a name for himself on stage and in the movies. His screen career began during the talkie era. The production code was not fully enforced in those days, so the content of early sound films was a lot more sensational. Jack’s performances were sensational, too.

 

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Jack first gained fame on the Broadway stage in the late 1920s. He had a costarring part in Mae West’s stage production of ‘Diamond Lil.’ This brought him to the attention of Hollywood directors and studio execs. One such person was Howard Hawks who wanted him to play a gangster in the original version of SCARFACE. However, the star of the movie (Paul Muni) had casting approval and vetoed Jack because of differences in their height and voice. The job was given to another Mae West costar (George Raft).

 

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Soon another film opportunity came Jack’s way. Raft was under contract at Paramount and had been sought to portray a perverse thug named Trigger in the adaptation of William Faulkner’s ‘Sanctuary’ (retitled THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE). Since Raft thought the character was too despicable, he passed, and Jack stepped in. His scenes with Miriam Hopkins were so sordid they incurred the wrath of censors. TEMPLE DRAKE led to the strict enforcement of the production code. But Jack was now a star.

 

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During the 30s he continued to find substantial roles in movies, but by the early 40s, Jack’s motion picture career was on the wane. He began to appear in more lower budgeted fare, or else was assigned smaller supporting roles in ‘A’ pictures. He then went to England to try his luck there. And for a fleeting moment he was back on top as a ruthless character that must’ve shared DNA with Trigger. It was the starring role in NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, which in many ways seemed like a holdover from the precode days of Hollywood.

 

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  1. virtue (1932); columbia; drama; carole lombard; 68 mins.
  2. a farewell to arms (1932); paramount; drama; helen hayes; 85 mins.
  3. christopher strong (1933); rko; drama; katharine hepburn; 78 mins.
  4. gambling ship (1933); paramount; drama; cary grant; 72 mins.
  5. the woman accused (1933); paramount; drama; nancy carroll; 70 mins.
  6. the story of temple drake (1933); paramount; drama; miriam hopkins; 70 mins.
  7. headline shooter (1933); rko; drama; william gargan; 60 mins.
  8. the kennel murder case (1933); warners; crime; william powell; 73 mins.
  9. miss fane’s baby is stolen (1934); paramount; crime; dorothea wieck; 70 mins.
  10. no orchids for miss blandish (1948); rko; crime; hugh mcdermott; 102 mins.

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She came from a humble background, and most of her life was filled with tragedy. Helen Twelvetrees would become one of the talkie era’s best dramatic actresses. Her suffering on screen was usually achieved with the slightest effort, and those sad eyes transfixed costars and moviegoers.

 

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Originally Helen had studied to become a stage actress. She carried the death of a young brother with her, and she also found herself bearing the cross of a first husband who was an alcoholic. He gave her his unique last name along with scars from beatings. Helen strived to make a success for herself despite the real-life drama that continually surrounded her. She did well in the theater and was given a contract by Fox when the sound era was ushered in.

 

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Helen’s first film in 1929 provided her with a lead role. It was Fox’s second all-talking feature. She made a few more pictures at the studio before her contract was taken over by Pathe. She had even bigger hits at her new studio, playing women who dealt with men that were all wrong for her. Off camera Helen divorced her first husband and married another man. She soon gave birth to her only child and continued to turn out movies. She was very prolific during the first half of the 1930s.

 

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Pathe was absorbed by RKO, and she found her roles changing– especially with the production code now fully enforced. The stories were ‘cleaned up’ and the women Helen played either redeemed themselves or were punished and made to suffer even more. By the middle of the decade, she left RKO and began to freelance. One of her independent assignments took her to Australia, but she became quite ill while she was abroad. A second divorce occurred, and she was off screen for awhile. When she returned to Hollywood, she made just two more pictures then quit the movies and returned to the stage.

 

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There was another marriage after the war, and she cut back on performing. Occasionally she did summer stock, where she played Blanche in a touring production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ a character she strongly identified with. When not working, Helen traveled with her husband. In the 50s, she was dealing with a kidney ailment. When the pain became too much to bear she took her own life at the age of 49. She was buried in an unmarked grave, but her legacy as one of the best dramatic actresses of the precode days of Hollywood will always live on.

 

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  1. her man (1930); pathe; drama; phillips holmes; 85 mins.
  2. the painted desert (1931); rko; western; william boyd; 75 mins.
  3. millie (1931); rko; drama; robert ames; 85 mins.
  4. a woman of experience (1931); rko; drama; william bakewell; 74 mins.
  5. panama flo (1932); rko; drama; charles bickford; 74 mins.
  6. state’s attorney (1932); rko; drama; john barrymore; 73 mins.
  7. is my face red? (1932); rko; drama; ricardo cortez; 66 mins.
  8. unashamed (1932); mgm; drama; robert young; 77 mins.
  9. a bedtime story (1933); paramount; comedy; maurice chevalier; 87 mins.
  10. now i’ll tell (1934); fox; drama; spencer tracy; 72 mins.
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Oklahoma native Will Rogers brought his folksy brand of humor to audiences all around the world. Working in a variety of media, he was one of the most popular and influential comedians of his time. It started simply for him, almost as if by a fluke, when his cowboy skills captured the attention of a New York City audience. They wanted more and never stopped wanting more.

 

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Will started with roping tricks but quickly branched out to more topical commentary. His act became a main attraction in vaudeville. He was then hired by Ziegfeld and became part of more prominent stage shows on Broadway. During this time Will also wrote humorous essays in newspapers and started appearing on radio. His easy-going verbal wit made him well-known and led to a movie contract with producer Samuel Goldwyn.

 

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Will’s silent films with Goldwyn, as well as other films for producer Hal Roach in the 1920s, did not showcase the humorist at his best. It wasn’t until Fox signed him and he began making talkies that he would come to dominate motion pictures. From 1930 to 1935, he was one of the highest paid and most successful movie stars in Hollywood. His clean moral tone during the precode years made him an anomaly. Some of his best-loved movies were directed by his friend John Ford.

 

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In addition to his work on radio and the screen, Will was also noted for his love of aviation. Unfortunately in August 1935, his private plane crashed in Alaska, and he was killed. His last two films were released posthumously. Years later his son Will Rogers Jr. played him in a Warner Brothers biopic about his life and phenomenal career.

 

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  1. young as you feel (1930); fox; comedy; fifi d’orsay; 78 mins.
  2. ambassador bill (1931); fox; comedy; marguerite churchill; 70 mins.
  3. down to earth (1932); fox; comedy; dorothy jordan; 79 mins.
  4. too busy to work (1932); fox; comedy; dick powell; 76 mins.
  5. business and pleasure (1932); fox; comedy; joel mccrea; 77 mins.
  6. state fair (1933); fox; comedy drama; janet gaynor; 97 mins.
  7. handy andy (1934); fox; comedy; robert taylor; 83 mins.
  8. judge priest (1934); fox; comedy drama; stepin fetchit; 80 mins.
  9. steamboat round the bend (1935); fox; comedy; anne shirley; 82 mins.
  10. the story of will rogers (1952); warners; biographical comedy drama; will rogers jr. ; 109 mins.
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When you are born into a vaudeville family and make your first on stage appearance at the age of four months, you are probably going to spend your life in show business. That’s what happened to Joan Blondell and her sister Gloria. There was no other career for them, just one in which they would entertain audiences (and do it well).

 

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The road to the movies was a relatively easy one for Joan. After winning beauty contests, she went to New York and found work on Broadway. The experience she had performing with her family gave her an advantage. She could do comedy and musical roles, and later she would become known for dramatic performances.

 

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Al Jolson is the one who discovered young Joan on Broadway. She was in a play with James Cagney. Jolson bought the play to turn it into a motion picture at Warner Brothers, and he helped Joan and Jimmy get signed at the studio. After they made SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (the play Jolson purchased), Joan and Jimmy made several other pictures together. Joan also appeared frequently with another Warners contract player, Glenda Farrell. Usually they were cast as gold diggers in precodes, and of course, audiences were charmed by them.

 

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During the 1930s, Joan made nearly 50 movies, most of them at Warners. This was half her overall film output. In the 1940s she returned to the stage and then began to take supporting roles (character roles) in ‘A’ films. She enjoyed a memorable turn in Fox’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN; as well as THE BLUE VEIL, an RKO melodrama with Jane Wyman which earned Joan a supporting actress nomination.

 

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In the 50s and 60s, Joan continued to appear in movies and had many guest roles on television. For two seasons in the late 60s, she had a regular job on the western Here Come the Brides. She earned two Emmy nominations for that one. After the program went off the air, she was back in the movies. She worked steadily until her death, and her last two pictures were very popular with audiences– GREASE and a remake of THE CHAMP.

 

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  1. the office wife (1930); warners; drama; dorothy mackaill; 59 mins.
  2. god’s gift to women (1931); warners; musical comedy; frank fay; 72 mins.
  3. the public enemy (1931); warners; crime; james cagney; 83 mins.
  4. night nurse (1931); warners; drama; barbara stanwyck; 72 mins.
  5. blonde crazy (1931); warners; comedy drama; james cagney; 79 mins.
  6. union depot (1932); warners; drama; douglas fairbanks jr.; 65 mins.
  7. make me a star (1932); paramount; comedy; stuart erwin; 86 mins.
  8. three on a match (1932); warners; crime; warren william; 63 mins.
  9. havana widows (1933); warners; comedy; glenda farrell; 62 mins.
  10. gold diggers of 1933 (1933); warners; musical; warren william; 96 mins.
     

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When you are born into a vaudeville family and make your first on stage appearance at the age of four months, you are probably going to spend your life in show business. That’s what happened to Joan Blondell and her sister Gloria. There was no other career for them, just one in which they would entertain audiences (and do it well).

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-4-36-22-pm.png

 

The road to the movies was a relatively easy one for Joan. After winning beauty contests, she went to New York and found work on Broadway. The experience she had performing with her family gave her an advantage. She could do comedy and musical roles, and later she would become known for dramatic performances.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-4-37-45-pm.png

 

Al Jolson is the one who discovered young Joan on Broadway. She was in a play with James Cagney. Jolson bought the play to turn it into a motion picture at Warner Brothers, and he helped Joan and Jimmy get signed at the studio. After they made SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (the play Jolson purchased), Joan and Jimmy made several other pictures together. Joan also appeared frequently with another Warners contract player, Glenda Farrell. Usually they were cast as gold diggers in precodes, and of course, audiences were charmed by them.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-27-at-8-38-20-am.png

 

During the 1930s, Joan made nearly 50 movies, most of them at Warners. This was half her overall film output. In the 1940s she returned to the stage and then began to take supporting roles (character roles) in ‘A’ films. She enjoyed a memorable turn in Fox’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN; as well as THE BLUE VEIL, an RKO melodrama with Jane Wyman which earned Joan a supporting actress nomination.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-5-11-43-pm.png

 

In the 50s and 60s, Joan continued to appear in movies and had many guest roles on television. For two seasons in the late 60s, she had a regular job on the western Here Come the Brides. She earned two Emmy nominations for that one. After the program went off the air, she was back in the movies. She worked steadily until her death, and her last two pictures were very popular with audiences– GREASE and a remake of THE CHAMP.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-4-39-56-pm.png

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. the office wife (1930); warners; drama; dorothy mackaill; 59 mins.
  2. god’s gift to women (1931); warners; musical comedy; frank fay; 72 mins.
  3. the public enemy (1931); warners; crime; james cagney; 83 mins.
  4. night nurse (1931); warners; drama; barbara stanwyck; 72 mins.
  5. blonde crazy (1931); warners; comedy drama; james cagney; 79 mins.
  6. union depot (1932); warners; drama; douglas fairbanks jr.; 65 mins.
  7. make me a star (1932); paramount; comedy; stuart erwin; 86 mins.
  8. three on a match (1932); warners; crime; warren william; 63 mins.
  9. havana widows (1933); warners; comedy; glenda farrell; 62 mins.
  10. gold diggers of 1933 (1933); warners; musical; warren william; 96 mins.

     

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As a star, as a supporting player, Joan Blondell was a delight.

 

I saw her, Lana Turner and George Murphy recently in an MGM musical.

 

They were very enjoyable - and so young, too.

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As a star, as a supporting player, Joan Blondell was a delight.

 

I saw her, Lana Turner and George Murphy recently in an MGM musical.

 

They were very enjoyable - and so young, too.

 

The film you're referring to is TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY. It reminds me of MY SISTER EILEEN.

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The film you're referring to is TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY. It reminds me of MY SISTER EILEEN.

 

Thanks for naming the film.    I wondered about the comment of "they were very enjoyable - and so young, too" because there was a 15 year age difference between Lana and Joan (i.e. I wondered how these two could both be 'so young').    The film also reminds me of My Sister Eileen since Lana is the much younger sister to Joan.      (not that being 34, which Joan was,  isn't young,  but Lana was still a teen).

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Thanks for naming the film.    I wondered about the comment of "they were very enjoyable - and so young, too" because there was a 15 year age difference between Lana and Joan (i.e. I wondered how these two could both be 'so young').    The film also reminds me of My Sister Eileen since Lana is the much younger sister to Joan.      (not that being 34, which Joan was,  isn't young,  but Lana was still a teen).

 

TCM should have an evening where they play these three films-- TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY; MY SISTER EILEEN; and THE HARD WAY. Call it Sisters Are Doin It for Themselves. LOL The Eurythmics tune is optional.

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TCM should have an evening where they play these three films-- TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY; MY SISTER EILEEN; and THE HARD WAY. Call it Sisters Are Doin It for Themselves. LOL The Eurythmics tune is optional.

 

A sisters empowerment type theme would be great.   They could make a whole day of this by adding the WB 4 daughters films (as well as some others).

 

In addition the next week they should have a sisters-at-odds theme;  E.g.  My Man Godfrey and other films where sisters duke it out (well hopefully not literally!).

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A sisters empowerment type theme would be great.   They could make a whole day of this by adding the WB 4 daughters films (as well as some others).

 

In addition the next week they should have a sisters-at-odds theme;  E.g.  My Man Godfrey and other films were sisters duke it out (well hopefully not literally!).

 

THE DOLLY SISTERS with Betty Grable and June Haver is another one. 

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screen-shot-2017-04-28-at-7-00-10-am.png

 

He had wanted to be a lawyer, but those plans changed when Robert Armstrong helped one of his relatives manage a stage show. Soon Robert was writing plays for the touring group, and when one of the plays was produced, he performed a role. That’s how his acting career began. Then the first World War took place and he left show biz to enlist.

 

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After the war Robert returned to entertaining and went to New York where he would find more substantial roles. In 1927 he performed in films and caught on quickly. During his second year on screen, Robert was cast in nine productions. He would continue to be just as prolific in subsequent years. In fact, by the time he retired in 1964, he had gone on to make well over a hundred movies.

 

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Probably the most popular pictures he made were the ones he did at RKO for producer Merian Cooper. He and Cooper became good friends, and their collaboration lasted for many years. Their biggest movie was KING KONG. A sequel was produced later the same year, though it came nowhere close to duplicating the original picture’s box office success. More profitable was THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, which paired Robert with actress Fay Wray again. And in the late 40s, there was MIGHTY JOE YOUNG which was obviously inspired by Kong, with Terry Moore in Wray’s role.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-18-at-6-57-19-pm.png

 

Though Robert’s film career began to wind down in the 50s and 60s, he still found considerable work on television. At one point he appeared alongside Rod Cameron on the weekly western series State Trooper, portraying a sheriff. There were guest parts on other hit programs, like Lassie, Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

 

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09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. danger lights (1930); rko; drama; louis wolheim; 74 mins.
  2. paid (1930); mgm; drama; joan crawford; 86 mins.
  3. iron man (1931); universal; drama; jean harlow; 73 mins.
  4. suicide fleet (1931); rko; drama; william boyd; 87 mins.
  5. the most dangerous game (1932); rko; drama; joel mccrea; 62 mins.
  6. the penguin pool murder (1932); rko; mystery; edna may oliver; 70 mins.
  7. fast workers (1933); mgm; drama; john gilbert; 66 mins.
  8. king kong (1933); rko; adventure; fay wray; 100 mins.
  9. son of kong (1933); rko; adventure; helen mack; 69 mins.
  10. mighty joe young (1949); rko; fantasy; terry moore; 93 mins.
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It’s a shame modern audiences know so little about Fifi D’Orsay. She was a very colorful character on screen and off, and she knew how to entertain and charm people. Along the way she might have invented a few things about herself (okay, a lot of things about herself) but that was all part of the act.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-11-17-pm.png

 

Her given name was Yvonne, not Fifi, and she grew up in Canada. When she came to the U.S. to become an actress, she did an early audition in French (she was bilingual). This gave her a bit of flair and she let people believe she was French, instead of French Canadian. She quickly changed her name to Fifi because it sounded like what a French woman should be called.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-11-41-pm.png

 

Mademoiselle Fifi needed a last name. The word D’Orsay was on a bottle of her favorite perfume, so she became Fifi D’Orsay. That’s how she was billed in her movies. She was signed by Fox and costarred in a Will Rogers picture. She was tres magnifique, and the studio gave her more important screen roles. She would not become a huge movie star, but she was in enough hits and had enough big name costars that her impact could not be overlooked.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-12-19-pm.png

 

By the mid-30s her motion picture career had gone into decline. Many precode actresses had to adjust to different roles when the production code was implemented. Fifi decided to take a break from movies for a while. But then she bounced back as a supporting player a decade later. During the war years she appeared in several poverty row productions. One of them was NABONGA, a gorilla story with Buster Crabbe and Julie London. In the 50s, when most stars of her generation where transitioning to TV, she turned up on the small screen. She enjoyed spoofing her earlier image as a French sexpot.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-12-53-pm.png

 

In the early 70s, Fifi had a featured role in Stephen Sondheim’s production of Follies. There was a Ralph Edwards special that focused on her career. Edwards pointed out she had actually never been to France, and he presented her with a ticket to Paris. She had no intention of flying there and sold the ticket for cash. Later when it came time to choose a gravestone, she refused to have one like other people. It had to be different. No age listed, her real name not even given. Just the signature of a manufactured mademoiselle who was heaven scent like perfume.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-13-13-pm.png

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. women everywhere (1930); fox; comedy; j. harold murray; 82 mins.
  2. those three french girls (1930); mgm; comedy; reginald denny; 73 mins.
  3. young as you feel (1931); fox; comedy; will rogers; 78 mins.
  4. mr. lemon of orange (1931); fox; comedy; el brendel; 70 mins.
  5. the girl from calgary (1933); paramount; drama; cary grant; 72 mins.
  6. the woman accused (1932); monogram; comedy; paul kelly; 64 mins.
  7. they just had to get married (1932); universal; comedy; zasu pitts; 69 mins.
  8. the life of jimmy dolan (1933); warners; drama; douglas fairbanks jr.; 88 mins.
  9. going hollywood (1933); mgm; musical; marion davies; 78 mins.
  10. wonder bar (1934); warners; musical; al jolson; 84 mins.
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screen-shot-2017-04-28-at-5-10-20-pm.png

 

It’s a shame modern audiences know so little about Fifi D’Orsay. She was a very colorful character on screen and off, and she knew how to entertain and charm people. Along the way she might have invented a few things about herself (okay, a lot of things about herself) but that was all part of the act.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-11-17-pm.png

 

Her given name was Yvonne, not Fifi, and she grew up in Canada. When she came to the U.S. to become an actress, she did an early audition in French (she was bilingual). This gave her a bit of flair and she let people believe she was French, instead of French Canadian. She quickly changed her name to Fifi because it sounded like what a French woman should be called.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-11-41-pm.png

 

Mademoiselle Fifi needed a last name. The word D’Orsay was on a bottle of her favorite perfume, so she became Fifi D’Orsay. That’s how she was billed in her movies. She was signed by Fox and costarred in a Will Rogers picture. She was tres magnifique, and the studio gave her more important screen roles. She would not become a huge movie star, but she was in enough hits and had enough big name costars that her impact could not be overlooked.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-12-19-pm.png

 

By the mid-30s her motion picture career had gone into decline. Many precode actresses had to adjust to different roles when the production code was implemented. Fifi decided to take a break from movies for a while. But then she bounced back as a supporting player a decade later. During the war years she appeared in several poverty row productions. One of them was NABONGA, a gorilla story with Buster Crabbe and Julie London. In the 50s, when most stars of her generation where transitioning to TV, she turned up on the small screen. She enjoyed spoofing her earlier image as a French sexpot.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-12-53-pm.png

 

In the early 70s, Fifi had a featured role in Stephen Sondheim’s production of Follies. There was a Ralph Edwards special that focused on her career. Edwards pointed out she had actually never been to France, and he presented her with a ticket to Paris. She had no intention of flying there and sold the ticket for cash. Later when it came time to choose a gravestone, she refused to have one like other people. It had to be different. No age listed, her real name not even given. Just the signature of a manufactured mademoiselle who was heaven scent like perfume.

 

screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-13-13-pm.png

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. women everywhere (1930); fox; comedy; j. harold murray; 82 mins.
  2. those three french girls (1930); mgm; comedy; reginald denny; 73 mins.
  3. young as you feel (1931); fox; comedy; will rogers; 78 mins.
  4. mr. lemon of orange (1931); fox; comedy; el brendel; 70 mins.
  5. the girl from calgary (1933); paramount; drama; cary grant; 72 mins.
  6. the woman accused (1932); monogram; comedy; paul kelly; 64 mins.
  7. they just had to get married (1932); universal; comedy; zasu pitts; 69 mins.
  8. the life of jimmy dolan (1933); warners; drama; douglas fairbanks jr.; 88 mins.
  9. going hollywood (1933); mgm; musical; marion davies; 78 mins.
  10. wonder bar (1934); warners; musical; al jolson; 84 mins.

 

I want to see Buster Crabbe, Julie London and Fifi D'Orsay in "Nabonga".

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I want to see Buster Crabbe, Julie London and Fifi D'Orsay in "Nabonga".

 

Yeah, it's a real doozie. They don't make 'em like that anymore!

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TopBilled,  I liked your Joan Blondell column.  She had the most beautiful eyes.  I know you can't include everything for your "Notable Films" section but I think Joan was also notable in NIGHTMARE ALLEY and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN.

 

Jack La Rue - he looks like such a bad***. Helen Twelvetrees - so much sadness in her life.  The pre-code talent was such an interesting group.  Several of the women had a harder time in the post-code era than the men.  Thanks for sharing. 

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TopBilled,  I liked your Joan Blondell column.  She had the most beautiful eyes.  I know you can't include everything for your "Notable Films" section but I think Joan was also notable in NIGHTMARE ALLEY and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN.

 

Jack La Rue - he looks like such a bad***. Helen Twelvetrees - so much sadness in her life.  The pre-code talent was such an interesting group.  Several of the women had a harder time in the post-code era than the men.  Thanks for sharing. 

 

Thank you Christine. I'm glad you're enjoying the columns. Since my focus this week was precode stars, I just recommended some of Joan Blondell's best performances from that period of her career. But yes, she made other great films in the 40s and 50s. 

 

Jack La Rue is someone who should be better known. One look at him, and the word 'cad' comes to mind. Not in real life probably but his on screen image. He and Raft were perfect for precodes. 

 

Helen Twelvetrees, I just sigh when I think of her. What a terribly sad life. She and Vivien Leigh had tragic off-screen circumstances-- no wonder they were drawn to playing Blanche in Streetcar. 

 

Tomorrow I will wrap up the tribute to precode stars with a column about John Boles-- such a suave leading man who was a great singer and actor.

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screen-shot-2017-04-19-at-2-50-03-pm.png

 

John Boles was a big star. People may not realize it today, but he was. He planned to be a doctor, but somehow he became a spy during World War I. After the war he went back home to Texas, where a producer heard him sing and offered him a role in an opera. He liked it so well he relocated to New York to train professionally. But instead of appearing at the Met, he began to appear on Broadway and quickly became a bonafide musical star.

 

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By the mid-20s Hollywood studios were courting him to appear in silent films which ironically would not feature his great singing voice. His handsome looks make him a natural for the screen and three films at MGM were well-received by audiences. However, he decided to put his burgeoning movie career on hold and go back to the New York stage. But Hollywood wanted him back– there was a picture with Gloria Swanson, then several extravagant musicals. When sound came in, his marvelous musical voice was used to enliven studios’ tune-filled productions of the late 20s and early 30s.

 

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John eventually signed a long-term contract with Universal. By 1931 the public’s appetite for musicals was lessening, so his new studio put him in horror films and romance dramas. He appeared in FRANKENSTEIN, then in BACK STREET with Irene Dunne. A short time later, John and Irene reunited at RKO for an early version of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. By the mid-30s, he was freelancing and took a part at Fox in a Shirley Temple movie. He was enjoying a succession of hits.

 

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Probably John’s most well-known film is STELLA DALLAS. It was produced at RKO in 1937, and he was cast as the upper class lover of a down-on-her-luck working class woman played by Barbara Stanwyck. Anne Shirley portrayed the star-crossed couple’s impressionable daughter. In the late 30s and early 40s, John’s film output decreased, but he still managed to turn up in important productions– especially MGM’s morale booster THOUSANDS CHEER. Soon afterward John was back on Broadway, and he was a sensation all over again in the original production of ‘One Touch of Venus’ opposite Mary Martin.

 

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09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. the desert song (1929); warners; musical; myrna loy; 125 mins.
  2. rio rita (1929); rko; musical; bebe daniels; 103 mins.
  3. king of jazz (1930); universal; musical; laura la plante; 105 mins.
  4. resurrection (1931); universal; drama; lupe velez; 81 mins.
  5. frankenstein (1931); universal; horror; mae clarke; 71 mins.
  6. back street (1932); universal; drama; irene dunne; 93 mins.
  7. careless lady (1932); fox; comedy; joan bennett; 68 mins.
  8. child of manhattan (1933); columbia; drama; nancy carroll; 70 mins.
  9. the life of vergie winters (1934); rko; drama; ann harding; 82 mins.
  10. the age of innocence (1934); rko; drama; irene dunne; 81 mins.
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Can you guess the ones I will be spotlighting..?

 

Independent spirits

screen-shot-2017-05-01-at-4-58-21-pm.jpg

 

Tuesday May 2-- She mae have been the most independent of them all.

Wednesday May 3-- Featured in 'All God's Chillun Got Wings.'

Thursday May 4-- Married to Wallace Beery.

Friday May 5-- Zorba.

Saturday May 6-- June Havoc's sis. 

Sunday May 7-- Partnered with agent Harold Hecht.

Monday May 8-- Costarred several times with Harry Belafonte.

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Mae West started performing at a young age– encouraged by a mother who thought everything she did was cute. It wasn’t long before she was entertaining crowds and winning amateur contests. In her early teens she found jobs in vaudeville, and by the time she reached adulthood, she was appearing in major stage productions.

 

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Her early act was a bit unsophisticated. She borrowed certain mannerisms from drag queens, including her walk and her voice. At one point, she was even trying to convince people she was a female impersonator. Gradually she honed her craft and developed a style that was even more daring. She would shimmy and sing, and read lines with all kinds of sexual references in them. Nothing was too risque or bawdy for Mae.

 

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And of course she got in trouble with the censors. At one point she was arrested on a morals charge and sentenced to ten days in prison. She received a lot of publicity from it, and when she was released after eight days, she had gained even more notoriety. But future stage shows became difficult to produce, since groups tried to close her down as soon as she opened. However, one of Mae’s shows– ‘Diamond Lil’– managed to remain in business; it was a smash on Broadway and became her signature hit.

 

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At age 40 Mae signed a contract with Paramount. Her first picture put her in a supporting role under George Raft. She was allowed to rewrite her dialogue, and she ended up stealing the picture. In her next film, she was the top-billed star and her leading man was Cary Grant. The production was a huge success, and they were paired again, giving Paramount another hit. But the production code had not been fully enforced, which would change in mid-1934.

 

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As the production code took affect, Mae’s films faced increased censorship. In the mid-30s her next few pictures at Paramount did significantly less business than her earlier efforts. Many lines were being cut and situations were toned down. In short, Mae was losing the outrageous which had been her trademark. After her contract ended with Paramount, she took a short break then wound up at Universal for a film opposite W.C. Fields. It was also tamer than her previous pictures, but it did well with moviegoers.

 

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She followed it up with a starring vehicle at Columbia, but it was a flop. She was discouraged and gave up the movies– at least for awhile. In the mid-40s Mae was back on Broadway, and she had another stage hit. She also revived ‘Diamond Lil’ several times. In addition to her work on Broadway, she performed in nightclubs and cut records. There was even an appearance on an episode of Mr. Ed. Then in the 1970s she was lured out of  retirement to make two more motion pictures. They may not have been well-received at the time, but they went on to become cult classics.

 

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09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. night after night (1932); paramount; comedy; george raft; 70 mins.
  2. she done him wrong (1933); paramount; crime; cary grant; 66 mins.
  3. i’m no angel (1933); paramount; musical comedy; cary grant; 87 mins.
  4. belle of the nineties (1934); paramount; western comedy; roger pryor; 75 mins.
  5. goin’ to town (1935); paramount; musical comedy; paul cavanaugh; 74 mins.
  6. klondike annie (1936); paramount; comedy drama; victor mclaglen; 80 mins.
  7. go west, young man (1936); paramount; comedy; warren william; 82 mins.
  8. every day’s a holiday (1937); paramount; comedy; edmund lowe; 80 mins.
  9. my little chickadee (1940); universal; western comedy; w.c. fields; 83 mins.
  10. the heat’s on (1943); columbia; musical comedy; victor moore; 79 mins.
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Perhaps no other artist demonstrated an independent nature more than Paul Robeson. He was someone who could do it all, and he did. At a young age, he had shown skill in athletics, which led to a college scholarship. In college he took up singing and acting, proving he had talent in those areas, too.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-10-51-48-am.pn

 

It wasn’t long before Paul made his way to Broadway. Early stage work for him included roles in ‘Taboo’ and ‘All God’s Chillun Got Wings.’ Also, he began to appear in silent films, but of course he would not make his mark in the movies until sound came in. One of Paul’s most celebrated movie performances was as EMPEROR JONES.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-11-08-43-am.pn

 

Around the same time he signed up for the musical based on Edna Ferber’s ‘Show Boat.’ He played the part of Joe on stage in London, where he and his wife lived. Universal hired him to recreate the role in the film remake with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones. He shared several memorable scenes with Hattie McDaniel.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-10-58-45-am.pn

 

When he wasn’t working in Hollywood Paul went back to England and appeared in British films. Off screen, he became increasingly active in politics. He supported the U.S. involvement in World War II, but at the same time he espoused pro-Soviet views. This would be problematic for him after the war, when he and so many others became targets during the McCarthy era.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-11-01-00-am.pn

 

Paul was subsequently blacklisted, and his passport was revoked. It severely curtailed his career and his ability to earn a living. Eventually Paul would survive the blacklist and his passport was reissued, but his health started to decline. Years after his death, Avery Brooks played him in a one-man show on Broadway. The show was revived later, again with Avery Brooks paying tribute to Paul Robeson.

 

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. the emperor jones (1933); ua; drama; dudley digges; 72 mins.
  2. sanders of the river (1935); british; drama; leslie banks; 98 mins.
  3. show boat (1936); universal; musical; irene dunne; 113 mins.
  4. song of freedom (1936); british lion; musical drama; elisabeth welch; 70 mins.
  5. big fella (1937); british; musical drama; elisabeth welch; 85 mins.
  6. king solomon’s mines (1937); gaumont; adventure; anna lee; 80 mins.
  7. dark sands (1937); british; drama; henry wilcoxon; 75 mins.
  8. the proud valley (1940); ealing; drama; edward chapman; 76 mins.
  9. native land (1942); independent; documentary; fred johnson; 79 mins.
  10. tales of manhattan (1942); fox; anthology; charles boyer; 118 mins.
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screen-shot-2017-05-03-at-6-31-40-am.png

 

Perhaps no other artist demonstrated an independent nature more than Paul Robeson. He was someone who could do it all, and he did. At a young age, he had shown skill in athletics, which led to a college scholarship. In college he took up singing and acting, proving he had talent in those areas, too.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-10-51-48-am.pn

 

It wasn’t long before Paul made his way to Broadway. Early stage work for him included roles in ‘Taboo’ and ‘All God’s Chillun Got Wings.’ Also, he began to appear in silent films, but of course he would not make his mark in the movies until sound came in. One of Paul’s most celebrated movie performances was as EMPEROR JONES.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-11-08-43-am.pn

 

Around the same time he signed up for the musical based on Edna Ferber’s ‘Show Boat.’ He played the part of Joe on stage in London, where he and his wife lived. Universal hired him to recreate the role in the film remake with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones. He shared several memorable scenes with Hattie McDaniel.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-10-58-45-am.pn

 

When he wasn’t working in Hollywood Paul went back to England and appeared in British films. Off screen, he became increasingly active in politics. He supported the U.S. involvement in World War II, but at the same time he espoused pro-Soviet views. This would be problematic for him after the war, when he and so many others became targets during the McCarthy era.

 

screen-shot-2017-05-02-at-11-01-00-am.pn

 

Paul was subsequently blacklisted, and his passport was revoked. It severely curtailed his career and his ability to earn a living. Eventually Paul would survive the blacklist and his passport was reissued, but his health started to decline. Years after his death, Avery Brooks played him in a one-man show on Broadway. The show was revived later, again with Avery Brooks paying tribute to Paul Robeson.

 

09d8a-screen2bshot2b2016-12-192bat2b2-00

  1. the emperor jones (1933); ua; drama; dudley digges; 72 mins.
  2. sanders of the river (1935); british; drama; leslie banks; 98 mins.
  3. show boat (1936); universal; musical; irene dunne; 113 mins.
  4. song of freedom (1936); british lion; musical drama; elisabeth welch; 70 mins.
  5. big fella (1937); british; musical drama; elisabeth welch; 85 mins.
  6. king solomon’s mines (1937); gaumont; adventure; anna lee; 80 mins.
  7. dark sands (1937); british; drama; henry wilcoxon; 75 mins.
  8. the proud valley (1940); ealing; drama; edward chapman; 76 mins.
  9. native land (1942); independent; documentary; fred johnson; 79 mins.
  10. tales of manhattan (1942); fox; anthology; charles boyer; 118 mins.

 

"The Emperor Jones" is a most impressive film. 

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