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The MGM stock company


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This will be an on-going thread. Since all the stars featured in this book have films in the Turner Library and many of them are used for Star of the Month and Summer Under the Stars tributes, I thought it would be good to profile a few of them here.

 

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I will repost part one of the Lew Ayres piece I started recently, followed by part two.

 

I also would like to include bits and pieces of the chapter on Ann Sothern, since she will be SOTM in March.

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LEW AYRES, THE MAN WHO CHOSE THE WRONG VOCATION

 

From James Robert Parish's book The MGM Stock Company. The text has been condensed and slightly modernized for contemporary readers:

_______________

 

Part One

 

Lew Ayres was born in Minneapolis on December 28, 1908. He attended the University of Arizona and studied medicine. Though he did not become a doctor in real life, he often played one in movies. After graduating, he took up with an orchestra that wound up with a gig at the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood. Lew played banjo, guitar and piano. 

 

A talent scout spotted him at the famed nightclub and he was offered a six-month contract with Pathe. He did a bit part in a silent film called THE SOPHOMORE in 1929. He was 21 at the time. Paul Bern saw him in this film and mentioned him to boss Irving Thalberg at MGM. Thalberg met with Lew and agreed he would be a good choice to play Greta Garbo's lover in her last silent film, THE KISS (also made in 1929). Lew was on his way to stardom.

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Though Lew received good notices for THE KISS, he did not sign with MGM after his contract with Pathe expired. Instead, he signed with Universal. His first picture at Universal was ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, in 1930, which is still his most-known film with his best performance. He quickly did other films at Universal, and one of them was 1931's IRON MAN, with Jean Harlow. Harlow married Paul Bern. Lew also ventured into wedded bliss, though short-lived-- the 23 year old actor married Lola Lane, one of the well-known Lane sisters.

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A short time later, Fox borrowed Lew for the original film version of STATE FAIR. This paired him with Janet Gaynor in 1933. Lew enjoyed working at Fox, and as soon as his contract ended at Universal, he went to work at Fox full-time. However, good roles in Fox productions were hard to come by. His marriage to Lola was over, and he had fallen in love with Ginger Rogers. Ginger was his costar in a recent film he made at Universal called DON'T BET ON LOVE. They bet on love, marriage, the whole nine yards.

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But Lew's motion picture career was stagnating. This was in sharp contrast to Ginger's career, whose star was rising and rising fast at RKO. Not only did Lew feel frustrated by his assignments at Fox, he also was anxious to try his hand at directing. Never one afraid to take risks, Lew soon left Fox and went to poverty row Republic where he signed a three-picture deal in 1936. He would star in two Republic programmers, and he would be able to direct the third one-- HEARTS IN BONDAGE. His directorial debut did not do brisk business at the box office, and was quickly back to being a full-time screen actor.

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He then signed with Paramount, where he did a few interesting programmers. One of them was an early Dorothy Lamour picture entitled LAST TRAIN TO MADRID. Yes, Lew was still in the Hollywood game. Though at this point, his marriage to Ginger was practically over. They were now living apart, but stayed legally wed until 1940. Lew would not get married again until 1964, and that time his wife would not be an actress, but an airline attendant. For now he was content to enjoy his days again as a bachelor.

 

After his contract ended at Paramount, Lew moved over to Columbia. This led to his being cast in the remake of HOLIDAY with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Lew earned very good notices for his role as Kate's jaded brother, under George Cukor's careful direction. This success brought him back to the attention of the folks at MGM. He was finally signed to a contract at the studio where he had his first major hit almost a decade earlier with Garbo. 

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At Metro, Lew was cast in a series of romantic comedy programmers. He had some of the best costars of his entire film career-- Burgess Meredith, Robert Young, Lana Turner, Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Crawford and James Stewart, to name just a few. However, Lew's claim to fame at MGM would be his role as young Dr. Kildare in a series of nine programmers that were produced from 1938 to 1942. He was on a roll. But all that came to a crashing halt in early '42 when Lew announced himself as a conscientious objector.

_____

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Part Two

 

It was because of Lew's religious beliefs that he refused to bear arms in WWII. When interviewed by the press, he said that he would praise the Lord but not pass the ammunition. An editorial in Variety blasted him for his views and labeled him a disgrace to Hollywood. The bad publicity founds its way to the Metro offices. Soon studio executive Nicholas Schenck released him from his MGM contract.

 

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In March of '42, with his film career irreparably damaged, Lew went to a labor camp in Oregon. He spent two months in Cascade Locks, before he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. In Washington, he was assigned as an assistant chaplain and also worked as an orderly for the Army Medical Corps. He would spend the next two years serving in the capacity in the Pacific, during three beach invasions. 

 

When Lew was finally discharged in 1945, he considered entering the ministry full time, but instead chose to try resuming his acting career. Parts in the movies did not come easily for two reasons. He had no studio tie any longer, since MGM had terminated his contract, and he was now almost forty years old. But friend Olivia de Havilland persuaded his old studio Universal to hire him as a psychiatrist for THE DARK MIRROR in 1946.

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He then worked at Warners in two films-- THE UNFAITHFUL with Ann Sheridan; and JOHNNY BELINDA with Jane Wyman. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a doctor in the Wyman picture, but lost to Olivier as Hamlet that year. 

 

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Despite a return to form, he was not swamped with offers. Sporadic leads in programmers at RKO and UA followed. But by 1953, he left motion pictures to travel. He went on a journey that took him over 40,000 miles to the far east. During this time, he put together a documentary about religions that he financed, called ALTARS OF THE EAST. He would return to the entertainment industry in 1956, where he found work in television anthology programs. He did not make another film until Otto Preminger hired him in 1962 to play the vice president in ADVISE AND CONSENT. 

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In later years, he found better roles mostly in television though he occasionally appeared in supporting roles on film. Audiences of the 1960s saw him on Gunsmoke and Marcus Welby M.D. (with former MGM costar Robert Young); and in the 1970s, he turned up on My Three Sons and Columbo. In the 1980s, he was featured on Magnum P.I. and Michael Landon series like Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. In fact, he continued to appear on screen until 1994, two years before his death.

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For over 65 years, Lew Ayres entertained audiences. But as author James Robert Parish claims, Lew's career as an actor was probably the wrong vocation for him. He was more a medic and a minister than an actor. He was also a dreamer and a free thinker. He was a man who lived in an unpretentious sparsely furnished home where he enjoyed music and collected books. He was not at all the cliched movie star.

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Thanks for the biographical portrait of Lew Ayres, Topbilled.  While I knew he was from Minnesota (my own state of origin) and was familiar with the outlines of his career, your source material provided some very interesting background.  (For example, I always noted the obvious display of his real musical ability playing banjo and piano in HOLIDAY, but never knew he was once a professional musician.)

 

I enjoy Lew Ayres in pretty much everything I've seen him in, from classics like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and the original STATE FAIR, where he plays two very different roles in ways that seem modern and natural; to the very entertaining KILDARE series, in which he holds his own with Lionel Barrymore, no mean feat; to excellent supporting performances like the humble vice president in ADVISE AND CONSENT; and on to his TV roles, including an appearance as a vibrant older man on the hit "Mary Tyler Moore" show of the 70s.

 

I haven't seen all of Lew's movies, but of those I have, my very favorite is HOLIDAY.  Even though his character, Linda/Hepburn's alcoholic brother, is cowed by their father (and, to some extent, by sister Julia), he's the one who sees everything as it is and serves as the voice of conscience.  Lew's role is a good one, and he does it justice, portraying with feeling the conflicting qualities of someone who both has low self-esteem and yet isn't afraid to speak the truth to family members who may not want to hear it.  He's a sad character, someone who is looking for a way to escape the harsh realities that he sees, and Ayres knows how to put that sadness on the screen without seeming maudlin.  And to make such an impact is especially impressive when competing for attention with forceful stars like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and outstanding character actors like Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon.

 

And I never get tired of Ayres in the KILDARE movies and his often hilarious interplay with the great Barrymore, as well as Nat Pendleton.  It's a shame that prevailing wartime attitudes didn't include respect for conscientious objectors, forcing Ayres to give up playing such a humane character, in which some of his own personality and interests may have shown through.  Ayres' experiences as a combat medic showed that, despite what many may have assumed about conscientious objectors, he was no coward or pampered Hollywood star just trying to avoid the dangers of war.  I'm glad to hear that he was content to go his own way thereafter, although he never gave up acting entirely and had some real successes.

 

Has TCM ever had Lew Ayres as SOTM?  If not, it's time.  The breadth of his film work justifies the recognition, and I believe much of his best work is already in the hands of TCM's parent company.

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     Yes, thanks so much "Topbilled" for the short bio on Lew. I always liked him and thought him a good actor who could handle many different roles. Unfortunately I don't think he has been recognized for

his large body of work. He was in some well known movies going back to MGM's last silent with Greta Garbo.

     I'd like to know a little more about his private life. I wonder what happened to his marriages to Lola Lane and Ginger Rogers. If I remember correctly he was married less than two years to Lane. I thought Ginger and Lew made a nice couple. Maybe her fame and success overshadowed his which caused some friction in their marriage. I know he was married a third time after many years and had a child later

in life. Does anyone know anything about his son?

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Thanks for the biographical portrait of Lew Ayres, Topbilled.  While I knew he was from Minnesota (my own state of origin) and was familiar with the outlines of his career, your source material provided some very interesting background.  (For example, I always noted the obvious display of his real musical ability playing banjo and piano in HOLIDAY, but never knew he was once a professional musician.)

 

I enjoy Lew Ayres in pretty much everything I've seen him in, from classics like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and the original STATE FAIR, where he plays two very different roles in ways that seem modern and natural; to the very entertaining KILDARE series, in which he holds his own with Lionel Barrymore, no mean feat; to excellent supporting performances like the humble vice president in ADVISE AND CONSENT; and on to his TV roles, including an appearance as a vibrant older man on the hit "Mary Tyler Moore" show of the 70s.

 

I haven't seen all of Lew's movies, but of those I have, my very favorite is HOLIDAY.  Even though his character, Linda/Hepburn's alcoholic brother, is cowed by their father (and, to some extent, by sister Julia), he's the one who sees everything as it is and serves as the voice of conscience.  Lew's role is a good one, and he does it justice, portraying with feeling the conflicting qualities of someone who both has low self-esteem and yet isn't afraid to speak the truth to family members who may not want to hear it.  He's a sad character, someone who is looking for a way to escape the harsh realities that he sees, and Ayres knows how to put that sadness on the screen without seeming maudlin.  And to make such an impact is especially impressive when competing for attention with forceful stars like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and outstanding character actors like Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon.

 

And I never get tired of Ayres in the KILDARE movies and his often hilarious interplay with the great Barrymore, as well as Nat Pendleton.  It's a shame that prevailing wartime attitudes didn't include respect for conscientious objectors, forcing Ayres to give up playing such a humane character, in which some of his own personality and interests may have shown through.  Ayres' experiences as a combat medic showed that, despite what many may have assumed about conscientious objectors, he was no coward or pampered Hollywood star just trying to avoid the dangers of war.  I'm glad to hear that he was content to go his own way thereafter, although he never gave up acting entirely and had some real successes.

 

Has TCM ever had Lew Ayres as SOTM?  If not, it's time.  The breadth of his film work justifies the recognition, and I believe much of his best work is already in the hands of TCM's parent company.

I haven't seen the original version of HOLIDAY, but I think Horton was in both productions. I agree that Lew did an excellent job here in a fourth-billed role. It led to better parts.

 

I also agree that he would be a good SOTM on TCM.

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     Yes, thanks so much "Topbilled" for the short bio on Lew. I always liked him and thought him a good actor who could handle many different roles. Unfortunately I don't think he has been recognized for

his large body of work. He was in some well known movies going back to MGM's last silent with Greta Garbo.

     I'd like to know a little more about his private life. I wonder what happened to his marriages to Lola Lane and Ginger Rogers. If I remember correctly he was married less than two years to Lane. I thought Ginger and Lew made a nice couple. Maybe her fame and success overshadowed his which caused some friction in their marriage. I know he was married a third time after many years and had a child later

in life. Does anyone know anything about his son?

You're welcome. I sent a letter to his son yesterday. Sometimes you hear back, and sometimes you don't. If I get a reply in the weeks ahead, I will share it. I asked his son a few questions that I had about Lew's career.

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I haven't seen the original version of HOLIDAY, but I think Horton was in both productions. I agree that Lew did an excellent job here in a fourth-billed role. It led to better parts.

 

I also agree that he would be a good SOTM on TCM.

 

I also haven't seen the original (Ann Harding),  version of Holiday,  but I would like to.    Yes,  Horton is in the original playing the same role he plays in the Grant \ Hepburn version.

 

That info could prove useful in a trivia game:    e.g. what actor starred in the same role in the original and a remake? 

 

Not many, that's for sure!

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I also haven't seen the original (Ann Harding),  version of Holiday,  but I would like to.    Yes,  Horton is in the original playing the same role he plays in the Grant \ Hepburn version.

 

That info could prove useful in a trivia game:    e.g. what actor starred in the same role in the original and a remake? 

 

Not many, that's for sure!

I am wondering if most copies of the original were destroyed when Columbia did the remake. That often happened. Has it ever aired on TCM...? I'm a major big Ann Harding fan, so I'd love to see it.

 

Plus it would be fun to compare Horton's performances.

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I also haven't seen the original (Ann Harding),  version of Holiday,  but I would like to.    Yes,  Horton is in the original playing the same role he plays in the Grant \ Hepburn version.

 

That info could prove useful in a trivia game:    e.g. what actor starred in the same role in the original and a remake? 

 

Not many, that's for sure!

 

I am wondering if most copies of the original were destroyed when Columbia did the remake. That often happened. Has it ever aired on TCM...? I'm a major big Ann Harding fan, so I'd love to see it.

 

Plus it would be fun to compare Horton's performances.

 

Seeing the 1938 HOLIDAY on late-night TV in the 70s made me a conscious classic movie fan -- it was a real turning point -- so I've always loved it and have wanted to see the original.  It would be great if TCM could show it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's somehow tied up, like the original version of ANYTHING GOES, which has also remained unshown.  But you never know.  FMC, and then TCM, finally began showing the excellent original version of STATE FAIR after years of only the two musical remakes being widely available.

 

Actors who played the same role in the original and the remake?  Besides Horton in HOLIDAY, I'd also offer Gable in RED DUST/MOGAMBO and Bing in the two versions of ANYTHING GOES (although not having seen the original, I don't know if it's really the same role).  I'm sure there must be others...

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Seeing the 1938 HOLIDAY on late-night TV in the 70s made me a conscious classic movie fan -- it was a real turning point -- so I've always loved it and have wanted to see the original.  It would be great if TCM could show it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's somehow tied up, like the original version of ANYTHING GOES, which has also remained unshown.  But you never know.  FMC, and then TCM, finally began showing the excellent original version of STATE FAIR after years of only the two musical remakes being widely available.

 

Actors who played the same role in the original and the remake?  Besides Horton in HOLIDAY, I'd also offer Gable in RED DUST/MOGAMBO and Bing in the two versions of ANYTHING GOES (although not having seen the original, I don't know if it's really the same role).  I'm sure there must be others...

 

The Grant\Hepburn version of Holiday is my second favorite Grant movie (my favorite being Only Angels Have Wings).    Also, the Grant character had a personal impact on me.   I was just starting to work in the corporate world as a software developer.  While I didn't quit my job and join a commune I did leave to join a start up company as the only software guy.    This allowed me to pull the strings instead of having my strings pulled (well expect by the venture capital suits!).         The movie helped me realize the work\life balance concept.       

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Later this morning I am going to post portions of the chapter on Virginia Weidler. One reason I asked GinnyFan to drop by is that the author, James Robert Parish, seems a bit biased against Weidler. When I post the text, you will better understand what I mean. She did die young in the 60s and was all but forgotten by Hollywood at that time (before the days of cable TV and home video). But I don't think her accomplishments should be undermined. I get it, that Parish seemed to like Judy Garland better, but Weidler's performances still hold up. And hopefully GinnyFan will elaborate on that more and expose some of the weaknesses in Parish's write-up.

 

Stay tuned...

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VIRGINIA WEIDLER

 

From James Robert Parish's book The MGM Stock Company. The text has been condensed and slightly modernized for contemporary readers:

_______________

 

Part One

 

By the time Virginia Weidler joined MGM in 1938, she was a well-known juvenile screen personality. With her braided black hair, plain oval face, and funny pushing stride, she was never considered just cute in movie terms. For a time Paramount groomed her as a moppet rival to Fox’s Jane Withers. However, Paramount never gave Virginia sufficient lead vehicles, and she started to wilt on the professional vine. She certainly was more appealing than Warners’ Sybil Jason or Columbia’s Edith Fellowes, but somehow Virginia was never at the right studio at the proper career time.

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Virginia had found her cinema calling card as a rural type in two Gene Stratton Porter stories, LADDIE and FRECKLES. Both pictures were produced by RKO in 1935. In FRECKLES, which was set in the Indiana backwoods, little Virginia was cited by the NY Times as a ‘pocket-sized edition of the machine-gunning Jane Withers.’ And because she excelled at mimicry, Virginia did an onscreen parody of Shirley Temple in FRECKLES that was right on the mark.

 

It was in Paramount’s GIRL OF THE OZARKS a short time later that Virginia had her first screen lead. She was cast as poor white trash adopted by Leif Erikson. But by 1938, it was evident that Paramount had no real star plans for the young actress.

 

 

In several films, like SCANDAL STREET, Virginia was just an impish moppet participating in local events. In her last Paramount picture, MEN WITH WINGS, she was merely seen in the introductory scenes playing the main character as a child. It was at this point that eleven-year-old Virginia had outgrown her professional usefulness at Paramount—but other studios, like RKO and MGM, felt she might still have additional screen life…

 

More to come…

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_______________

 

Part Two

 

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In 1938 Virginia was paired with Mickey Rooney in MGM’s LOVE IS A HEADACHE. They play two waifs adopted by an actress (Gladys George). Virginia was teamed again with Mickey later that year in OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS. She proved her capacity to steal scenes from master craftsman Rooney by using a lasso as an effective upstaging prop. MGM put her under contract, but loaned the young actress out for most of 1939.

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She would be seen in RKO’s THE SPELLBINDER with Lee Tracy as a shyster lawyer, and she was one of John Barrymore’s children in THE GREAT MAN VOTES. She supported Gloria Jean in Universal’s THE UNDER-PUP. And in Columbia’s THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT, she was cast as Warren William’s precocious child who helps her sleuth dad capture an espionage ring. Then, she was back at Metro, as Norma Shearer’s daughter in THE WOMEN.

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Virginia finally settled in at MGM with the lead in BAD LITTLE ANGEL. Set in the 1870s, the story found her as a runaway orphan with unshakable faith in God. A formula was set. She would play yet another orphan, this time out west, in HENRY GOES ARIZONA with Frank Morgan as a blowhard vaudeville performer.

 

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In her next assignment at the studio, she was one of Mary Nash’s more outspoken kids in GOLD RUSH MAISIE, starring Ann Sothern. However, her two attention-grabbing roles in 1940 would be as Mickey Rooney’s imaginative sister in YOUNG TOM EDISON and as the yo-yo bouncing sibling of Katharine Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Also, for Warners she played Charles Boyer’s eldest child in ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO. Before 1940 was over, Virginia had been named the outstanding juvenile star of the year by Parents Magazine.

 

Next: Virginia’s standing at the studio changes when Shirley Temple joins MGM…

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_______________

 

Part Three

 

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Whatever value MGM attached to Virginia Weidler in 1940, her value soon diminished when Shirley Temple left Fox and signed a Metro contract. MGM probably had the full intention of promoting Virginia into the same league as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. And in fact, KATHLEEN had been purchased as a vehicle for the young actress, but when Temple refused to play Wallace Beery’s daughter in the programmer BARNACLE BILL, Virginia was saddled with that role while Temple took KATHLEEN.

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A few months later Virginia was in the production I’LL WAIT FOR YOU, playing the daughter of Henry Travers and Fay Holden. However, most of the action focused on Marsha Hunt’s character and her romance with Robert Sterling.

 

By this point, Virginia succumbed to the Baby Jane syndrome. She was given voice lessons from MGM coach Al Siegel. In BABES ON BROADWAY, she had a few opportunities to sing and dance a jitterbug. Though she had some screen time in this Busby Berkely musical, the picture was mainly a showcase for the antics of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

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Next, Virginia reteamed with young tap dancer Ray McDonald who had shown promise in BABES ON BROADWAY. They costarred together in BORN TO SING. But the show biz yarn was a minor league effort and sorely required the presence of Rooney and Garland for whom it had been originally concocted. Virginia and McDonald sang the ballad ‘Lovely Nights,’ but no cinematic sparks flew.

 

Coming up: Virginia’s last two films at MGM…

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_______________

 

Part Four

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THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION was MGM’s last effort to bolster Virginia’s screen career. The story was originally planned for Judy Garland and then Kathryn Grayson, but each of those stars had matured too much before the film could be put into production. After it was finished, the film played Radio City Music Hall, but it was the novelty presence onscreen of Lana Turner, Greer Garson, Robert Taylor and William Powell that sold this slim vehicle.

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Next, in BEST FOOT FORWARD, Lucille Ball was a movie star who goes to a small town dance on a publicity lark. Her presence causes Virginia to lose a date. Virginia appeared in this musical with an upsweep hairdo. The film’s snappiest lines went to Nancy Walker, while June Allyson and Gloria De Haven provided the musical highlights.

 

BEST FOOT FORWARD would be Virginia’s last film for MGM. By the time it was released, she was on a vaudeville tour doing a song-and-dance turn.  She sang in her husky voice ‘What Do They Think I Am, a Baby?’ and did a parody of Virginia O’Brien’s ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby.’

 

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After the promotional tour, Virginia and MGM ended their contractual ties. She claimed she wanted time to try Broadway. She did make her stage debut in ‘The Rich Full Life,’ which opened at the John Golden Theatre on November 10, 1945. She played the daughter of Judith Evelyn, and the show closed after 27 performances. Soon afterward, Virginia retired from show business. She later married and had two sons.

 

Little was heard of Virginia until July 1, 1968, when at the age of forty, she died of a heart attack. She had been forgotten in show biz circles, and her obituary went unreported in most newspapers.

 

________

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Let me start by apologizing to TB for a reply that is longer that the chapter he published. Some of this is a rebuttal to Parish,  but much of it is my take on the Weidler biography as it is generally known. I often have a need to set the record straight on this topic which is so near and dear to me.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

The Parish chapter on Virginia Weidler is what I would call a grudging portrait. There are a few factual inaccuracies, but they are small things. For example, he cites THE SPELLBINDER as an important film made on loan to RKO in 1939, when her role in that film was, to the best of my knowledge, a walk-on cameo. It was her other film with Lee Tracy that year, FIXER DUGAN, that reestablished Virginia credentials as a true child actress. She takes over every scene she's in and between her presence and that of the always energetic Tracy we really overlook the adult lead actress, Peggy Shannon, in most scenes.

 

He does get Paramount's lack of usage of Virginia right, she was there for about five years and had one lead and three significant support roles while there. Otherwise, she was in single scenes in two BIG BROADCAST films and got into the routine of playing the star actress as a child in flashbacks. Paramount had built one of the biggest stables of child actors in Hollywood and barely used any of them. Virginia got her popularity in the 1930s almost entirely from films she did at RKO while under contract to Paramount. LADDIE, FRECKLES, THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT were all films where Virginia's performance was critical and were all made by RKO. I often wonder if she might have realized stardom with an RKO contract.

 

Paramount let Virginia's contract lapse in 1938. I know they were winding down their musical division at that time, but am unsure if they were unloading the 'kiddie korps' as well. Virginia made a couple of films for Paramount, RKO and finally settled at MGM that year. She passed her tryout on LOVE IS A HEADACHE (On TCM, Tuesday 1/13 at 10AM ET), a film where she and Mickey Rooney are the adopted children of a fading star and the team is by far the best thing in the film. She won a contract with OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS. Legend says that Virginia's role as Jake Holt, a real 'anything you can do I can do better' kind of gal, was cut down after previews because MGM didn't want the newcomer getting too many laughs at Mickey's expense. This was sort of a harbinger of how things would go at MGM, they wanted her to be funny, but not too funny; popular, but not too popular.

 

MGM could have discovered the winning formula for Virginia in 1939 when they cast her as the lead in BAD LITTLE ANGEL, a film about an orphan who follows passages in the Bible to solve her problems. It was the type of film that RKO might have made with Ginny, only with the glossier look of MGM and a lot less grit. Maybe they would have found a regular place for her as a lead in programmers as her friend Jane Withers was at Fox, but they chose to put her in 'A' features in support instead, a 1939 example being her role as Little Mary in THE WOMEN.

 

After all the loanouts in 1939, MGM only loaned her once more, for ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO in 1940. There would be no more loans after she made THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Virginia is perfect as Dinah, the younger sister of Katharine Hepburn, and received many accolades for the performance. Unfortunately for Virginia, that role marked the end of MGM's belief in varying her roles. Except for a few roles not originally written for her, BARNACLE BILL, BABES ON BROADWAY, BORN TO SING, she would usually be playing some form of Dinah in all her films.

 

Parish also overstates the effect of Shirley Temple on Virginia's career. He may be correct only in the sense that the Temple experiment took time away from Virginia and she didn't get to build on her status as the number one juvie gal of 1940. Mrs. Temple's demands on the studio actually helped Virginia in one way, her refusal to allow Shirley to work with Wallace Beery or be in a musical with Rooney and Garland led to great opportunities for Virginia. First, she got to show a softer side not seen since BAD LITTLE ANGEL in BARNACLE BILL because that script was written with Temple in mind.  Then she got to show her many varied talents in BABES ON BROADWAY. In another way, Virginia also didn't get tarred with the major flop that was KATHLEEN, the starring role she had to give up to Temple.

 

By mid-1942, Virginia tired of playing the 'braided brat'-she had actually been 'negotiating' hairstyles for several films, but was required by the studio to 'braid-up' at least once a film-and finally got MGM to allow her to change into a teenager overnight. Unfortunately, her role in THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION was that of an older, more glamorous un-braided brat. After that one and BEST FOOT FORWARD, the research we've been able to do at the Virginia Weidler Remembrance Society has led me and my co-manager, Cinephiled.com's Danny Miller, to believe there was a lot of tension between MGM and the Weidler camp. She had big dreams of singing, the stage, and being an ingénue at age 16. They liked her more for the brat and bobbysoxer stuff. Both camps started leaking their side of the story to gossip columnists and Virginia cut most references to her films out of her stage patter during her live show. She announced she was not returning to the studio that fall (and leaked that she was having her nose bobbed). By the end of 1943, MGM basically suspended her by announcing they would hold her contract without assigning her any films and her Hollywood career was over. She would continue on stage, radio, and local TV into the early 1950s.

 

Both sides share blame here. I think Virginia miscalculated and that MGM didn't always see what they had. Where I part with Parish is that the general tone of the chapter seems to be one of failure to thrive. In fact, I think that it is probably his book more than anything else that has led to the conventional opinion that has made her the cover girl for child actors who can't transition. Virginia was thriving and transitioning, she just wanted to do more. I personally see an adult Virginia staying in films easily as a Betty Garrett type, funny best friend to the star, but that wasn't what she wanted.

 

With her ability to take over a scene and amazing comic timing for someone her age, Virginia was truly the female Mickey Rooney. The problem was she wanted to be Judy.

 

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With her ability to take over a scene and amazing comic timing for someone her age, Virginia was truly the female Mickey Rooney. The problem was she wanted to be Judy.

 

Thanks GinnyFan for stopping by. A few quick observations in response to what you posted:

 

Perhaps every young female star in the 1940s was compared to Judy Garland. As you say, even an actress herself may have wanted to be like Judy. 

 

My feelings about BAD LITTLE ANGEL differ from yours. I think if it had been a bigger hit, then she would have turned out a series of those, probably playing the same character in a long-running franchise. But maybe it was a case of bad timing or poor marketing, and it was not the hit they expected. I think that is why she kept being loaned out. But when she scored with THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, then they stopped loaning her out and it is what she was typecast doing from that point forward.

 

She shows a lot of growth as an actress in BARNACLE BILL and I agree with you Shirley Temple's mother actually did her a favor by insisting that Shirley and Virginia change roles/pictures. Though KATHLEEN may have been a hit with a different director or different adult costars. I don't feel the script for KATHLEEN is the problem, something went wrong in the execution stage. Maybe Mrs. Temple's on-going interference in the creative process?

 

Has THE SPELLBINDER aired on TCM? I can't remember if it has or not. I would also like to see THE ROOKIE COP, which she made at RKO, this time with a young Tim Holt. It must be in the Turner Library.

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My feelings about BAD LITTLE ANGEL differ from yours. I think if it had been a bigger hit, then she would have turned out a series of those, probably playing the same character in a long-running franchise. But maybe it was a case of bad timing or poor marketing, and it was not the hit they expected. I think that is why she kept being loaned out. But when she scored with THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, then they stopped loaning her out and it is what she was typecast doing from that point forward...

 

 

 

Has THE SPELLBINDER aired on TCM? I can't remember if it has or not. I would also like to see THE ROOKIE COP, which she made at RKO, this time with a young Tim Holt. It must be in the Turner Library.

In the case of BLA, critics savaged MGM for putting out a "Victorian" piece in 1939. Still, MGM would follow that formula for several years and get hits. I'm not sure why this one was singled out for criticism. Still to show how audiences change over time, BLA was by far the biggest hit of Ginny Night last November. I received a lot of comments and several new Society members while it was on.

 

I've never seen THE SPELLBINDER on TCM or anywhere else. At the VWRS, some members question whether Virginia was actually in it. It makes little sense that she would have done an uncredited walk-on as "girl" in 1939.  Maybe she was already there for DUGAN or ROOKIE COP and just did the scene for them? I don't know.

 

I've been asking GET TV if they have the rights to OUTSIDE THESE WALLS since they show Columbias. I have it on disc, probably taken from a VHS, but would love to see a cleaned up copy. 

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I've been asking GET TV if they have the rights to OUTSIDE THESE WALLS since they show Columbias. I have it on disc, probably taken from a VHS, but would love to see a cleaned up copy. 

I hope you are successful in convincing that other channel to air OUTSIDE THESE WALLS. I'm curious about it, too.

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I hope you are successful in convincing that other channel to air OUTSIDE THESE WALLS. I'm curious about it, too.

 

It is an interesting role. Virginia is a girl being raised by her snobbish maternal grandmother and her dad, whom she has been taught to hate, is released from prison and takes custody. Dad was framed, of course...  

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It is an interesting role. Virginia is a girl being raised by her snobbish maternal grandmother and her dad, whom she has been taught to hate, is released from prison and takes custody. Dad was framed, of course...  

Sounds like a good one, GinnyFan. Considering that TCM seems to have an on-going agreement with Sony to air films from the old Columbia Library, I wonder why this title hasn't surfaced yet.  Maybe it's in need of cleaning up or else there are legal reasons blocking its broadcast on TCM (and elsewhere).

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Sounds like a good one, GinnyFan. Considering that TCM seems to have an on-going agreement with Sony to air films from the old Columbia Library, I wonder why this title hasn't surfaced yet.  Maybe it's in need of cleaning up or else there are legal reasons blocking its broadcast on TCM (and elsewhere).

 

If that 'old' Columbia Library owned by Sony has 30s films in it TCM should get access to some of those rare Jean Arthur movies.   She was the leading actress from that studio during the time.

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