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Forgotten Faces of Classic Hollywood (1 Viewer)

Caproni

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I am an avid fan of classic Hollywood. It seems the more devout I become as a movie buff, the older the movies get. And that's because I'm always finding older and older movies that I love more than anything coming out today. I'm particularly fond of those early 1930s movie stars, those men and women who were some of the biggest names on marquees during their heyday, but who have been fading away in the pages of history.

I just simply don't want them to be forgotten. I like kicking off threads like this so we can discuss our favorite actors and actresses, and even singers, directors, and designers that just may not be quite high on the radar anymore.

Whenever I get into one of these moods, I cannot help but think of Constance Bennett. She was an actress at the dawn of sound cinema, starring in a host of highly successful motion pictures. Bennett was second to only Garbo in box office popularity in 1930, and for a while, she was the highest-paid woman in the United States. Beautiful, sophisticated, and poised, two of her greatest successes were the tear-jerkers COMMON CLAY (1930) and WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932), the latter being one of the first films to "expose" the tragedy of achieving stardom in the old-fashioned Hollywood studio system. She specialized in playing down-trodden women who claim the social ladder in end up draped in fur. Off-screen, however, Bennett's personal life couldn't have been more different. She was married to Henry de la Falaise, a French nobleman and filmmaker, and one of the wealthiest men in America. One commentator theorized that the American movie-going public enjoyed seeing Constance Bennett playing such down-trodden women because of her powerful and wealthy off-screen life.

Constance Bennett was the Queen of the RKO lot in the early 1930s. She got the first choice of all the properties that came through the developing department. Her reign was jeopardized when the studio snatched Katharine Hepburn from the theater and signed her to an exclusive contract. The film MORNING GLORY (1933) had been tailored for Bennett, but Hepburn campaigned for the role, eventually getting it and winning an Oscar for her work. Constance Bennett continued to work, but the "prestige" of her pictures did dip a little over time. She still turned up in good pictures like OUR BETTERS (1933) and BED OF ROSES (1933). She was borrowed by MGM to star in AFTER OFFICE HOURS (1935), co-starring Clark Gable. In the late 1930s, she found a niche for herself as a husky-voiced comedienne in a string of successful comedies, such as TOPPER (1937) with Cary Grant and MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) with Brian Aherne. Bennett was sometimes used as a "name" to introduce new talent. Such was the case for the comedy SERVICE DE LUXE (1938), a comedy that introduced Vincent Price to American film audiences. Constance Bennett continued to act in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing in supporting roles in TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941), Garbo's final picture, and AS YOUNG AS YOU FEEL (1951), featuring a young Marilyn Monroe.

Her prominence fizzled in the 1940s, a time when her younger sister, actress Joan Bennett, got the better roles in films. Constance Bennett herself enjoyed appearing occasionally in film, mostly in supporting roles, but also found a healthy professional life outside of acting with her real estate career. She was a staunch Republican, and supported Barry Goldwater during the 1964 presidential election. She died shortly after completing MADAME X (1966) from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of sixty.

Interesting tidbit: I have an authentic autographed picture of Constance Bennett. My father purchased it for me at an estate sale. It is packed up, but I need to find it, so I can post it on here for you all to see.

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Caproni

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Mabel Normand was very popular in silent era and appeared in many shorts with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. She died early at age 37 from tuberculosis.

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Wasn't she also the woman involved in some scandal with Fatty Arbuckle and William Randolph Hearst? I don't know any specifics, but it's one of those old-fashioned Hollywood scandals that the press ate up.
 

Caproni

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Anna May Wong was the first truly great Chinese-American star of American cinema. She splashed onto the map with THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), before smoothly making a transition to sound. One of her most famous pictures was SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932), the stylish Josef von Sternberg film that she practically stole from star Marlene Dietrich.

She spent the majority of her career in the generic Dragon Lady archetype. Wong was a contract star for Paramount in the 1930s, but her time there was squandered with B-movies that only fueled the stereotype that she could not shake. In fact, few realized that she was an American-born woman, and that her one trip to China sometime around 1937 proved disappointing. The Chinese frowned on her for popularizing a negative view of them, and for conforming to the American way. She never returned to China.

Her film work eventually tapered off. She was passed over for a pivotal role in THE GOOD EARTH in 1937, which won German actress Luise Rainier her second Oscar. This left Wong bitter to the Hollywood studio system, and she rarely returned to film.

She was planning to return to acting in 1961 for FLOWER DRUM SONG, but died before production started.

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Angelo Colombus

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Wasn't she also the woman involved in some scandal with Fatty Arbuckle and William Randolph Hearst? I don't know any specifics, but it's one of those old-fashioned Hollywood scandals that the press ate up.
Mabel Normand was involved in two scandals including the the murder of director/actor William Desmond Taylor and Mabel's chauffeur Joe Kelly shooting a millionaire oil broker Courtland S. Dines. With Fatty Arbuckle most of her films she acted with him were withheld from the public as a result of Arbuckle's court trial with the accidental death of actress Virginia Rappe.
 

Caproni

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Mabel Normand was involved in two scandals including the the murder of director/actor William Desmond Taylor and Mabel's chauffeur Joe Kelly shooting a millionaire oil broker Courtland S. Dines. With Fatty Arbuckle most of her films she acted with him were withheld from the public as a result of Arbuckle's court trial with the accidental death of actress Virginia Rappe.
Okay, I knew I had some of the information wrong in my memory. I've only heard just a little about Mabel Normand and her scandals.

So, Marion Davies was the one that got tangled up with William Randolph Hearst? They were allegedly the inspiration behind CITIZEN KANE.
 

Angelo Colombus

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Okay, I knew I had some of the information wrong in my memory. I've only heard just a little about Mabel Normand and her scandals.

So, Marion Davies was the one that got tangled up with William Randolph Hearst? They were allegedly the inspiration behind CITIZEN KANE.
Marion Davies was William Randolph Heart's mistress and were close to being married. Citizen Kane co-writer Hermann Mankiewicz was a frequent visitor at San Simeon and maybe that's were he got some of the ideas for the story line on Citizen Kane?
 

Caproni

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Marion Davies was William Randolph Heart's mistress and were close to being married. Citizen Kane co-writer Hermann Mankiewicz was a frequent visitor at San Simeon and maybe that's were he got some of the ideas for the story line on Citizen Kane?
My memory is all so fuzzy. I need to study up some more.
 

Caproni

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Since we've already touched on her, I figured that we might as well just go ahead and talk about her. Marion Davies was a popular film star of the 1920s and 1930s. She got her start as a musical comedy star on Broadway before embarking on a romance with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He took over management of her career, featuring her heavily in his newspapers and newsreels. Hearst founded Cosmopolitan Pictures to release films starring Davies. Today Marion Davies is primarily remembered as a Hollywood socialite, hostess of lavish parties, and as Hearst's mistress until his death.

In saying all that, Marion Davies did have some substantial roles in film. Hearst was committed to promoting her, signing her to different contracts with Paramount, Samuel Goldwyn, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While Davies would have preferred perfecting her craft as a comedic actress at United Artists, Hearst pushed against it. Davies herself wrote in her diaries that Hearst's control over her career ended up having a negative result. It limited her availability to producers and studios.

She starred in WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER (1922) and LITTLE OLD NEW YORK (1923), and was name at the top of box office popularity polls. Indeed, she was named the most popular female in movies in 1924 and crowned the "Queen of the Screen" at a national theater owners convention. Hearst was most fond of seeing Davies in expensive costume pictures, such as YOLANDA (1924), but she was best suited to more contemporary comedies like TILLIE THE TOILER (1927). She was popular in the backstage melodrama show people SHOW PEOPLE (1928) and THE PATSY (1928), in which she performed her well-remembered imitations of Lillian Gish, Mae Murray, and Pola Negri.

As sound films (or "talkies") became the norm in the late 1920s, Davies was proven to have nervous stutter on camera. She continued to star in a successful pictures, however, such as the musical drama MARIANNE (1929). She was paired with the up-and-coming Clark Gable in POLLY OF THE CIRCUS (1932). Hearst reportedly pressured MGM and its head of casting Irving Thalberg to cast Davies as the lead in THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1934) and MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938), but Thalberg cast his wife, film star Norma Shearer, in the roles instead. In the late 1930s, the Cosmopolitan Pictures system dissolved and both Davies and Hearst were redirected to Warner Brothers. There, Davis made a few successful films, such as CAIN AND MABEL (1936), again co-starring Clark Gable. The film rights to TOVARICH were bought for Davies, but Claudette Colbert ended up with the role instead.

Hearst continued to shop Davies around in the late 1930s, but when no deals were made, the actress officially retired. She was later offered the role of Mrs. Brown in CLAUDIA in 1943, but Hearst forced her to turn it down because it was not the lead. Ina Claire played the role in place of Davies.

Marion Davies continued as a well-known Hollywood socialite and hostess for the rest of her life, before passing in 1961 from stomach cancer.

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Angelo Colombus

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There is a good documentary i have in my dvd collection "Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies" (2001) which is worth looking for. Marion Davies wrote a book before she died called The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst which is a good read.

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Robert Crawford

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Okay, I knew I had some of the information wrong in my memory. I've only heard just a little about Mabel Normand and her scandals.

So, Marion Davies was the one that got tangled up with William Randolph Hearst? They were allegedly the inspiration behind CITIZEN KANE.
Probably true, but unlike the character in Citizen Kane, Davies actually had some talent. With her looks and talent, she should have been a bigger star.
 

Angelo Colombus

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Probably true, but unlike the character in Citizen Kane, Davies actually had some talent. With her looks and talent, she should have been a bigger star.
She was good in Show People and i think the problem was with Hearst who wanted her to act in historical dramas instead of comedies and light hearted films
 

Caproni

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She was good in Show People and i think the problem was with Hearst who wanted her to act in historical dramas instead of comedies and light hearted films
Hearst found her most attractive in period costumes, therefore he ushered her into a lot of period pictures. Davies was apparently better suited to comedy, however.
 

Caproni

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There is a good documentary i have in my dvd collection "Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies" (2001) which is worth looking for. Marion Davies wrote a book before she died called The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst which is a good read.

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The CAPTURED ON FILM documentary is like over $100 on Amazon. Might have to do some digging to find a cheaper copy. Only the trailer is available on YouTube.

There was a 1985 TV movie called THE HEARST AND DAVIES AFFAIR about the love affair between William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Robert Mitchum plays Hearst and Virginia Madsen plays Davies.

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bujaki

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I love Marion Davies. I even have her unreleased silent version of Marianne (1929) which was scrapped and entirely reshot as a talkie. Absolutely agree that she was better suited to comedy roles than heavy period dramas but she was so talented that she made those watchable.
 

ChristopherG

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There is a good documentary i have in my dvd collection "Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies" (2001) which is worth looking for. Marion Davies wrote a book before she died called The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst which is a good read.

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I read that book as well and very much enjoyed it. Bought it after touring Hearst Castle the second time - what an era!
 

Caproni

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Dorothy Dandridge was one of the first mainstream black cinematic stars. She was beautiful, multi-talented, and horrendously underappreciated in today's film climate. She started as a singer in a trio called the Dandridge Sisters, a group consisting of Dorothy, her sister Vivian, and their friend Etta Jones. They became a popular act in around the New York area, and starting appearing in bit parts in motion pictures around 1935. Eventually, Dorothy embarked on a solo career, and while she continued to sing, her primary focus was to achieve success on the silver screen.

For years, Dandridge went mostly unfulfilled as an actress. She appeared in a host of films during the 1930s and 1940s, but always as a part of a musical number or as some form of a domestic. She did manage to have a major role in FOUR SHALL DIE (1940), a low-budget film that went largely unnoticed. Her talent got her invited to be a part of MEET THE PEOPLE in 1941, a successful Broadway musical comedy, where she was the only black performer in a all white revue. Her first major role in an American film was in TARZAN'S PERIL (1951), a black-and-white adventure film where she played Queen Melmendi. The film received mixed reviews, grabbing headlines primarily for Dandridge's racy on-screen wardrobe. Although her singing was still the focal point of her career, Dandridge was recruited by MGM to star in BRIGHT ROAD (1953), a nearly all black sentimental drama that was banned in many Southern states.

Dorothy Dandridge was thrilled to learn in late 1953 that 20th Century-Fox was planning an all black movie adaptation of CARMEN JONES, based on the popular Bizet opera. Once the director Otto Preminger first met her, however, he felt she was too nice and demure to play the earthy Carmen. After she got a makeover at Max Factor, she was more warmly received and given the coveted title role. CARMEN JONES was a runaway success at the time of its release in late 1954, and Dorothy won glowing reviews for her performance. She was eventually nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, but ending up losing to Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.

The success and popularity of Dandridge as the result of CARMEN JONES led to the actress receiving an exclusive contract with 20th Century-Fox. The contract was for three films starting at $75,000 a picture. The head of the studio, Darryl F. Zanuck, originally had big plans for her, planning to "ease" her way into the hearts of American moviegoers as a mainstream film star. Zanuck had intended on casting Dorothy in big-budget remakes of UNDER TWO FLAGS and THE BLUE ANGEL, but neither film ever fruition. He instead offered her supporting roles in the lavish movie musical version of THE KING AND I and the romantic comedy THE LIEUTENANT WORE SKIRTS, but Dorothy's former co-worker and current lover Otto Preminger instructed her to decline the roles because they were not the starring roles. Both parts eventually went to Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno.

There were also roles that Dorothy lobbied for, but ended up going to other actresses. Apparently, she was eager to star in a film version of BUS STOP in 1956, a story about a roadhouse torch singer who falls in love with fresh-off-the-farm cowboy. She was refused, however, because of her race and Marilyn Monroe (a close friend of Dorothy's in the late 1940s/early 1950s) was cast instead. She later campaigned for the titular role in CLEOPATRA in the early 1960s. The film, which is now infamous for nearly bankrupting Fox, was eventually tailored for Elizabeth Taylor, who became the first American actress to receive $1 million dollars for a single role for the part.

Dorothy's career began a slow, but steady decline after she rejected Zanuck's offers. She did not appear in another film until ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957), a controversial melodrama that proved a financial success. She played an "exciting and alluring West Indian" that sparks a romance with a white governor's assistant. The remainder of her Fox contract was used up with top roles in TAMANGO and THE DECKS RAN RED (both 1958), two second-rate B-films that garnered little public attention. She was later signed with Samuel Goldwyn to star in PORGY AND BESS (1959), a highly publicized film adaptation of the controversial Broadway play. While Dorothy was allegedly eager to have another starring role, many in the black community felt she had "sold out" to appear in a motion picture that so negatively stereotyped their community. PORGY AND BESS suffered many production problems and was not a success. It was her final mainstream motion picture.

Dandridge next starred in MOMENT OF DANGER (1960) (also known as MALAGA), a crime drama that received only a limited release. It was her final theatrical film. She starred in episode of CAIN'S HUNDRED called "Blues for a Junkman" that was released as a television movie called THE MURDER MEN in 1961. It was not a success. It was final piece of on-screen acting. She appeared in Off-Broadway revivals of WEST SIDE STORY and SHOW BOAT in the early 1960s. With her film career all but over, she turned her attention back towards her singing. She called on an old colleague Earl Mills to manage her comeback, and signed an two-picture deal with an independent motion picture company in Mexico in 1965.

She died on September 8, 1965 of an apparent suicide. She was forty-two years old.

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There were many ladies in the 1950s that were presented in the image of Marilyn Monroe, one of cinema's most recognizable figures. Sheree North was one of the first ones. After Marilyn starting refusing roles she found inferior by 20th Century-Fox, the studio hired Sheree as a cheaper and less temperamental alternative to use in their pictures.

Sheree North was born in Los Angeles in 1932, and she began dancing for USO shows during World War II. She began performing in nightclubs in the late 1940s, before rising to bit parts in the musicals EXCUSE MY DUST (1951) and the Bob Hope vehicle HERE COME THE GIRLS (1953). She won a Theatre World Award for her work in HAZEL FLAGG, the 1953 Broadway musical comedy. She played the same role in the movie version called LIVING IT UP (1954), although the screenplay had been rewritten as a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis vehicle. That same year, she appeared in the live television broadcast of ANYTHING GOES, supporting musical star Ethel Merman.

North was recruited by 20th Century-Fox in 1954. Monroe had recently refused the leading role in THE GIRL IN PINK TIGHTS, and the studio suspended her. Fox hoped that Sheree could easily fill Monroe's shoes, and therefore cause their temperamental actress to get back in line. What also appealed strongly to the cost-cautious Fox was that Sheree North could fit Marilyn Monroe's wardrobe, so their would be no need to have costumes re-tailored. Eventually, THE GIRL IN PINK TIGHTS died on the drawing board, but Fox kept Sheree under contract, hoping to utilize her talents in their films. North was soon cast in HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR (1955), a musical comedy that Monroe had refused. The film co-starred Betty Grable in what would be her final film role. To publicize the film and Sheree North, Fox had North on the cover of Life magazine in 1955 with the headline: "Sheree North takes over from Marilyn Monroe". She appeared on many popular television shows, such as WHAT'S MY LINE? to promote the movie. HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR was a box office success.

Fox soon expressed their desire to cast North in a film with Tom Ewell, who had achieved great success with Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH in 1955. The resulting film was THE LIEUTENANT WORE SKIRTS, a romantic comedy that cast North as a army lieutenant whose husband tries to have her discharged. It was directed by Frank Tashlin, a former cartoonist for Warner Brothers. The film was released in January 1956 to critical and box office success. It grossed more than $4 million inside the United States. She was then given a leading role in THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE (1956), a bright Technicolor musical co-starring Gordon MacRae, Dan Dailey, and Ernest Borgnine. It received generally positive reviews from critics, but suffered indifferent box office sales because of its steep budget.

North agreed to star in THE WAY TO THE GOLD in 1957 only on the assurance that Elvis Presley would be her co-star. When Presley's salary demands were not met, he was replaced with Jeffrey Hunter, with whom North often quarreled. The film was Fox's attempts to edging North into more serious roles, but it was only a moderate success. She then appeared in NO DOWN PAYMENT (1957), a soapy melodrama featuring an ensemble cast consisting of Joanne Woodward, Cameron Mitchell, Patricia Owens, and Tony Randall as North's alcoholic husband. The film was a box office disappointment, but has become a cult favorite. Producer David Jacobs said NO DOWN PAYMENT was partly the inspiration for him to create KNOTS LANDING in the late 1970s.

In 1958, she appeared in the war-time drama IN LOVE AND WAR, starring Robert Wagner and Dana Wynter. It suffered financially because of its high budget, as did MARDI GRAS that same year, which proved to be her final film with the studio. After North was released by Fox in 1958, her film career stalled. She joined the cast of I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE in 1962, appearing opposite Barbra Streisand. She spent most of her time guest starring on popular television shows, such as BURKE'S LAW, BEN CASEY, THE VIRGINIAN, THE IRON HORSE, THE BIG VALLEY, and THE FUGITIVE among others. DESTINATION INNER SPACE (1966), a B-science fiction picture, was her first film role in eight years. She appeared in THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS (1969) with Elvis Presley, which proved to be one of the King's final films. North received Emmy nominations for her guest work on both MARCUS WELBY M.D. (1969) and ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE (1979).

She sparked a friendship with producer-director Don Siegel in the late 1960s, and became a favorite of his to cast in his films. She appeared in MADIGAN (1968) opposite Henry Fonda, CHARLEY VARRICK (1973) with Walter Matthau, and played John Wayne's long-lost-love in the actor's final film, THE SHOOTIST (1976). She continued to appear mostly on television during the 1970s and 1980s on such programs as HAWAII FIVE-O, MCMILLAN & WIFE, MATLOCK, and FAMILY. She had a recurring role as Lou Grant's girlfriend in several episodes of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. She was a part of many television shows that suffered early deaths, such as the sitcom BIG EDDIE in 1975. She starred in the series I'M A BIG GIRL NOW in 1980, but it was axed after nineteen episodes. She was also a part of an ensemble cast appearing in BAY CITY BLUES in 1983, but it lasted just eight episodes. She played Marilyn Monroe's mother, the mentally unstable Gladys Baker, in the 1980 telefilm MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY, starring Catherine Hicks. Her last film was SUSAN'S PLAN in 1998.

Sheree North died in Los Angeles in 2005, aged seventy-three, during cancer surgery.

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Matt Hough

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I always enjoyed her work, but her film persona and Marilyn's were worlds apart, and I could never have seen her as a replacement for Marilyn despite the studio's intentions.
 

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