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zasupittsfan

Zasu Pitts needs a DVD collection.

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I believe that this great dramatic and comedic talent needs a DVD collection. Her short subject comedies with Thelma Todd should be on one disc. On another disc should be a collection of some of her better comedic work of the '30s and '40s. And a third disc should contain some of her better dramatic work as a silent screen star, such as the epic Greed. TCM recently aired her performance in the Hal Roach production of Miss Polly of the early '40s, which was hilarious. A Star-Of-The-Month treatment on TCM would be a nice treat, as she's certainly been in a wide array of supporting and starring roles.

 

Any other fans out there?

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Im a ZaSu Fan and I'd love to see a day in her honor as well as a dvd series. It could even include a few silents if they're still around.

 

I love Thelma Todd as well and would look forward to seeing their short series on a dvd as too.

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Great idea! I've only been introduced to her in the last couple of years but now I know that if I see her name I will be very happy! She needs her own month!

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Nice to know that some of you enjoy ZaSu's brilliant film work as well. Here is a detailed article that brings aspects of her life and career into focus:

 

ZaSu Pitts is not the most famous person who grew up in Santa Cruz. But the actress with the sad eyes and helpless hand-wringing gimmick remains one of the best known, although she died almost 20 years ago.

 

For the record, she pronounced her name Zay-Soo. It was a combination of the names of two aunts: Susan and Za- something or other, no one really knows what the other name was.

 

ZaSu grew up poor, and the modest house still stands on Lincoln Street. She wanted desperately to become a tragedienne; instead she tickled our fancy and made us laugh and became a famous comedienne.

 

There yet live in Santa Cruz a few people who were ZaSu's classmates at Santa Cruz High and Dorothy Fargo is one who knew her well here and even later when ZaSu was in Hollywood and Dorothy was studying art in college in Los Angeles.

 

Dorothy talks about ZaSu with the affection of a long-standing friendship: "Her father died when she was very young and her mother supported the family by running a boarding house. ZaSu always had to work hard when she was growing up."

 

ZaSu was born in Parsons, Kansas, in 1894 or 1895 and she had a sister and two brothers. Her soldier father left a small pension, but it was not enough to keep the family.

 

While at Santa Cruz High ZaSu wanted to become a nurse, but her remarkably wistful ability, even then, was apparent to some.

 

"I always felt she had talent," Dorothy says. "She was very reserved, very quiet. She played tennis ? the high school didn't have courts and she went down to the Casa del Rey. She took some part in most of the high school plays although she didn't have much time. She had to help at home and she worked very hard."

 

The high school plays were performed at Knight's Opera House with Mrs. Aydelotte directing.

 

"ZaSu had no boyfriends ? she had no time for them," Dorothy says.

 

However, someone else noticed the slender girl who dressed in hand-me-downs and hurried home every day to help her mother. One day, Santa Cruz High Principal George Bond happened to see ZaSu defending herself in a fist fight with some boys who had ridiculed her. Bond became her friend and persuaded her to give a special reading of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" at a high school function. Halfway through the reading, the audience laughed and ZaSu fled the stage in tears. Principal Bond sent her back to finish and she received an ovation.

 

"Years later, she remembered that as one of the turning points in her life," Dorothy says.

 

ZaSu gave up the idea of nursing when her mother sent her to Hollywood to break into the movies.

 

"She had a terrible time staying in Hollywood and she thought she'd have to give up. Her mother sent her a pittance to live on ? she rented a room."

 

From 1910 to 1920, a number of movies were shot around the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas, but the film industry left these parts to settle in Southern California. ZaSu's mother somehow felt that her daughter was destined for a movie career.

 

Dorothy's mother would invite ZaSu over for dinner ? often, according to Dorothy. The Fargos knew that she was living on a shoestring.

 

"One time at our house, ZaSu spotted a discarded pair of high button shoes out on our back porch. She wanted them and we gave them to her. She wore those shoes in her first major picture with Mary Pickford ? it was 'The Little Princess.' ZaSu played the part of a slave. She always said it was those shoes that brought her luck and made the picture a success and she wore them in a number of the movies she made."

 

Frances Marion, a script writer, had noticed ZaSu and was taken with her sad expression. That actually led to her role in the Pickford film and was her real breakthrough in movies, according to Dorothy.

 

ZaSu's success brought her instant attention. She started at $5-a-day and several years later was being paid $1,000 a week as a comedienne. She became famous as a "CRA" comedy relief artist, one of the few who could be depended on by desperate directors to save a show that needed a bit of laughter.

 

That ability led to her being hired for one scene and being paid more for it than the star of the film was paid for a week's work.

 

ZaSu, however, always yearned to play tragedies. And Director Eric Von Stroheim finally starred her in "Greed," the drama based on Frank Norris's book "McTeague." Von Stroheim afterward called her "the greatest tragedienne of them all."

 

ZaSu starred in a number of films that included "Pretty Ladies," "Casey at the Bat" and "The Other Half." Once in later years, when she was asked how many films she had appeared in, she said "at least 500." Her name had become box office magic and she was paid as much as $2,500 a day, a huge amount for that time.

 

"ZaSu couldn't handle money," Dorothy says. "She spent it as fast as she made it. She was a soft touch for anyone in trouble. Finally she hired a manager who put her on an allowance."

 

Her first marriage to Tom Gallary failed and later she married again. She had a daughter, Mrs. John S. Reynolds of Pasadena, and adopted a boy, the son of actress Barbara La Marr who had died.

 

Two events stand out in her life in the 1940: in 1944 ZaSu starred in her first stage appearance on Broadway in "Ramshackle inn." It was a spoof on murder mysteries. The critics applauded unanimously and ZaSu went on to other successful stage plays including "Miss Private Eye," "The Bat" and "The Solid Gold Cadillac."

 

The second milestone had to do with Santa Cruz. When ZaSu heard that Frazier Lewis, the well-known local candy man, had died, she sent Dorothy to buy his famous secret recipe for his Victoria candy bar. Lewis left it to the local Native Sons of the Golden West.

 

"I approached them but they said they'd never sell it," Dorothy recalls.

 

The "secret" ingredient Lewis used which made his bar so superior? "Probably real brandy," Dorothy says with a laugh. "But ZaSu really wanted that recipe. You know, she was always loyal to Santa Cruz until the day she died."

 

In 1915, Dorothy got an extra part as a socialite in one of ZaSu's films: "A banquet scene in the old Alexandra Hotel in Los Angeles. We sat around at small tables, and we were all dressed up in evening gowns ? it was a lot of fun."

 

Dorothy also went with ZaSu to visit a Harold Lloyd set where he was being chased by a lion. "He fell off a balcony into the street below ? but the balcony was really only three feet above the 'street' ? it was fun to see how they faked some things."

 

Dorothy in later years also went to Shirley Temple's wedding with ZaSu.

 

In later years, ZaSu built a beautiful home on the coast and Dorothy says two things are vivid in her mind about that house: "The kitchen ? ZaSu was a fabulous cook! And a pipe organ set into the wall between two floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those were two-story windows in the huge living room. ZaSu gave an engagement party in that house for my daughter, Abbie Mae."

 

Hands. It all comes back to hands and the way ZaSu used them. They were as important as her beautiful eyes.

 

"Her hands ? if you looked at them closely enough ? showed the hard work she had done as a girl ? scrubbing floors and so on. Here ? just look at them in this picture." Dorothy points to them and one can see they are hands that have performed menial tasks.

 

Cecil Beaton, famed artist, proclaimed ZaSu one of the world's 10 most beautiful women.

 

A Hollywood physiotherapist said she had one of six pairs of the most beautiful ankles in filmland.

 

She also was noted as possessor of the most dangerous reputation-dimming ability in films. She merely had to walk through a scene and it belonged to her. The audience would forget everyone else in it.

 

Films, stage and television, ZaSu conquered them all.

 

As for herself, she made her own proclamation: "I'm the best babysitter in Hollywood" with her two grandchildren.

 

In the 1960s, ZaSu discovered she had cancer.

 

"At first she refused treatment, then she changed her mind and finally took cobalt treatments," Dorothy says. "She also went back to acting, but she didn't work as hard as she had before. And she moved to San Marino to be nearer her daughter."

 

Dorothy and ZaSu telephoned each other almost every day during that difficult time. Then one day ZaSu said to Dorothy "I won't be talking to you much longer. I think my menace has got me." Several days later, ZaSu was dead.

 

Bond, ZaSu's principal at Santa Cruz High, probably summed up her destiny on the Opera House stage that fateful night when she fled in tears and he made her go back to finish. He said: "Laughter is God's hand upon a troubled world."

 

...My source:

 

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/December/24/local/stories/07local.htm

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Oh, and the ZaSu Pitts Candy Cookbook is a great item. Plenty of great photos. It can be fairly easily found on eBay or amazon.com. eBay also has some excellent prints of old studio headshots and film stills.

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How fascinating! Thanks for posting about someone we hear all too little about.

 

The mention of her ankles calls to mind a Pitts-Todd comedy I was watching recently in which ZaSu kept trying acrobatic stretches and getting stuck. I think she was stunt-doubled, but that made it even funnier--she must have been standing right next to the person whose leg was stretched up the doorframe!

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> >

> For the record, she pronounced her name Zay-Soo. It

> was a combination of the names of two aunts: Susan

> and Za- something or other, no one really knows what

> the other name was.

>

 

I remember reading in some book that her name was combination of LiZA SUsan.

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It looks like the Internet Movie Database updated Zasu's biography, as it is now rather detailed:

 

Classic comedienne Zasu Pitts, she with the timid, forlorn blue eyes and trademark woebegone vocal pattern and fidgety hands, was born to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, the third of four children on January 3, 1894. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the Civil War times, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born, but relocated to Santa Cruz, California when she was 9 seeking a warmer climate and better job opportunities. She attended Santa Cruz High and somehow rose above her excessively shy demeanor to join the school's drama department. She went on to cultivate what was once deemed her negative qualities by making a career out of her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies in scores and scores of screwball comedy treasures.

 

Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and was discovered two years later for films by pioneer screenwriter Frances Marion, appearing obscurely in vehicles for such Paramount stars as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Mary cast her in another of her films to greater effect and the rest is history. She grew in popularity following a series of Universal one-reeler comedies and earned her first feature-length lead in King Vidor's Better Times (1919). She met and married potential matin?e idol Tom Gallery in 1920 and paired up with him in several films, including _Bright Eyes (1921)_ , Heart of Twenty (1920), Patsy (1921) and A Daughter of Luxury (1922). Their daughter Ann was born in 1922. In 1924, the actress, now a reputable comedy farceur, was given the greatest tragic role of her career in Erich von Stroheim epic classic Greed (1924), an over four-hour picture edited to less than two. The surprise casting initially shocked Hollywood but pointed out that she could draw tears and pathos with her patented doleful demeanor as well as laughs. The movie has grown tremendously in respect over time, having failed initially at the box office due to its extensive cutting.

 

Trading off between comedy shorts and features, she earned additional kudos in such heavy dramas as Sins of the Fathers (1928), The Wedding March (1928), also helmed by Von Stroheim, and War Nurse (1930). Still, by the advent of sound, which was an easy transition for Pitts, she was fully secured in comedy. One bitter and huge disappointment for her was when she was replaced in the war classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Beryl Mercer after her initial appearance in previews drew unintentional laughs. She decided, however, to make the most of a not-so-bad situation. She had them rolling in the aisles in such wonderful and wacky entertainment as The Dummy (1929), Finn and Hattie (1931), The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Sing and Like It (1934) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). She also excelled deliciously in her comedy partnerships with stunning blonde comedienne Thelma Todd (in short films) and comedian Slim Summerville (in features).

 

Breezing through the 1940s in assorted films, she found work in vaudeville and on radio as well, trading quivery banter with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee among others. She also tackled Broadway, making her debut in the mystery "Ramshackle Inn" in 1944. The play, which was written especially for her, faired quite well, and, as a result, took the show on the road frequently in later years. Post-war films continued to give Pitts the chance to play comic snoops and flighty relatives in such quality fare as Life with Father (1947), but into the 1950s she started focusing on TV. This culminated in her best known series role playing second banana to cruise line social director Gale Storm in "The Gale Storm Show" (1956) [aka "Oh, Susannah"]. As Nugie, the shipboard beautician and partner-in-crime, she made the most of her timid, twitchy mannerisms.

 

Sadly, ill health dominated Pitts' later years when she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. She braved on and continued to work until the very end, making brief appearances in The Thrill of It All (1963) and the all-star comedy epic It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). Having married a second time after her divorce from actor Gallery, the beloved sad sack comedienne passed away at age 69 on June 6, 1963, leaving behind a gallery of scene-stealing worryworts for all to enjoy.

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Yes!!! and they need to put the 1940 title "It All Came True" with humphrey Bogart and Ann SHeridan...it is one of the best films not on vhs or dvd........TCM plays it but very rarely.....

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This is a great little ZaSu comedy on TCM next month, worth your time if you can stay up late enough to enjoy it...

 

Program Title: Miss Polly

 

A small-town matchmaker takes on the local blue noses.

CAST: Zasu Pitts, Kathleen Howard, Slim Summerville.

DIR: Fred Guiol.

Comedy. BW 44 mins.

 

PLAYING ON TCM: 09/07/2007 01:15:00 AM

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Zasupittsfan,

 

Miss Polly was (sort of) shown by TCM on 6/29/2006. There were two Hal Roach streamliners scheduled that afternoon, Niagara Falls (starring Zazu Pitts and Slim Sommerville and listed as 43 minutes long), to be followed by The Devil With Hitler (listed as 44 minutes long).

 

The version of Niagara Falls supplied to TCM had been re-edited by inserting the bulk of Miss Polly into Niagara Falls so the running time for "Niagara Falls" was around 90M. The Devil With Hitler was not shown, thus avoiding disruption to the schedule.

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I'd love to see her Universal comedies with Slim Summerville. They haven't seen the light of day in decades, like so many other 1930s Universal features.

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I saw her in a few with Slim Summerville of the early '40's, like the hilarious "Miss Polly", which TCM airs from time to time. I've never seen any of the ones she did with Slim for Universal in the '30's, and I know the ones in the '40's were considered Hal Roach "Streamliners", which is the length between a short-subject and the length of a feature film of the time period. Although, I believe the ones made in the '40's were distributed by Universal as well. It would be great to see her starring role in "Sing and Like It" released on DVD, which was originally put out by Warner Brothers the same year she did "Dames". Finally, a quick Google search can guide to a great many archived newspaper articles, mostly The New York Times...but they cost about $5.00 each to view. Some interesting information, however.

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ZaSu coming up on TCM:

 

Channel Date & Time Title...

 

TCM Tue, Aug 19, 12:45 PM Shopworn

 

TCM Tue, Aug 19, 8:00 PM The Locked Door

 

Message was edited by: zasupittsfan

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