Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)


Actress, Hollywood legend. Born into an affluent yet unconventional family in Hartford, Connecticut, her parents, Dr. Thomas Norval and Katharine Martha Hepburn, were liberal, outspoken, and politically active. Their four children were raised in an atmosphere where no topic of discussion was taboo. Dr. Hepburn encouraged athletics, and young Kate excelled in golf, swimming, and figure skating. She attended Bryn Mawr College, and received a degree in history and philosophy in 1928, the same year she debuted on Broadway with a bit part in "Night Hostess". 1928 also marked the year of her only marriage, to businessman Ludlow Smith. Though the marriage was rocky and they divorced in 1934, Ludlow was very supportive - financially as well as morally - during the early years of Kate's career and they remained lifelong friends. Kate's stage work became the talk of New York, and Hollywood soon began to take notice. She was signed by RKO Pictures for her first film, "A Bill of Divorcement" in 1932. In 1934 she won her first Academy Award for best actress for her work in "Morning Glory". By 1938 she was unquestionably a star, but after a series of flops her career went into decline. This was exacerbated by her very outspoken anti-Hollywood attitudes and unwillingness to speak to the press, and she was labeled "box office poison". Kate returned to the stage in Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story", a play written specifically for her. After a successful Broadway run, MGM bought the rights, and the film, teaming Kate with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, was one of biggest hits of 1940. Kate's career was revived seemingly overnight. She made her first appearance with actor Spencer Tracy in 1942's "Woman of the Year". They fell in love, despite the fact that Tracy was married, and they remained together until Tracy's death in 1967. They made nine films together. Kate made over 40 films and 16 plays, and received 12 Academy Award nominations, a record that stood until 2002. She won four times, more than any other actor or actress in the history of the award. Some of her best known roles were "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), "Adam's Rib" (1949), "The African Queen" (1951) with Humphrey Bogart, "Rooster Cogburn" (1975) with John Wayne, and "On Golden Pond" (1981) with Henry Fonda. Her last film was 1994's "Love Affair". Katharine Houghton Hepburn died at her home in Connecticut at the age of 96, surrounded by her family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Norma Shearer (1902-1983)


It would be easy (and more than a little cruel) to assert that Norma Shearer kept her job by marrying the boss. But MGM production chief Irving Thalberg couldn't have maintained Shearer's star status indefinitely if she hadn't been able to deliver the goods-and she did, time after time, in the vehicles he lovingly produced for her. A former child model who began her screen career in 1920's The Flapper she was signed by Thalberg in 1923 after making a strong impression in Lucretia Lombard He brought her to Metro (where he had recently set up shop after a stint at Universal) and groomed her for stardom, seeing that she got the best makeup, the smartest gowns, and the ablest cinematographers on the lot. (She had unconventional beauty and charm, but also had a pair of oddly focused eyes that had to be photographed just right.) Shearer appeared in He Who Gets Slapped (1924), Pretty Ladies, Tower of Lies (both 1925), The Devil's Circus, Upstage (both 1926), Ernst Lubitsch's delightful The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), A Lady of Chance and The Latest From Paris (both 1928), among other silent films. Thalberg married her in 1927, from which time she got preferential treatment, including first choice of hot properties bought for or developed by MGM. She made her talkie debut in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929), and followed it up later that year with two better films, The Trial of Mary Dugan and Their Own Desire (for which she was Oscarnominated). Shearer won an Oscar for her starring performance in The Divorcee (1930), playing a tolerant young society wife who finally tires of her husband's indiscretions and decides to match them with her own. She snagged another nomination for her turn as the spoiled lawyer's daughter who falls for exonerated racketeer Clark Gable in A Free Soul (1931). That same year she appeared with frequent costar Robert Montgomery in the delightfully witty adaptation of Noël Coward's Private Lives Thalberg guided Shearer's career choices, making sure she got the most sophisticated and elegant female parts MGM had to offer; he even took to buying established stage properties, such as Strange Interlude and Smilin' Through (both 1932), specifically for her. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), a literate, tasteful screen adaptation of the 19th-century romance between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, featured another Oscar-nominated Shearer performance, as did Romeo and Juliet (1936, opposite Leslie Howard) for which Shearer, who tried valiantly in the role, was far too old to be totally convincing. Thalberg's untimely death in 1936 devastated Shearer, who nonetheless went ahead with the filming of Marie Antoinette (1938), the last project he had developed for her. She earned yet another nod from the Academy. In blond wig for her role in Idiot's Delight (1939), again opposite Clark Gable, she was annoyingly mannered and, for the first time, seemed ill at ease. The Women (1939) gave her a more down-to-earth characterization, which she carried off admirably. But her career was nearly over; after finishing Escape (1940), and a pair of duds, Her Cardboard Lover and We Were Dancing (both 1942), she retired from the screen. Left very well off by Thalberg, Shearer remarried happily and lived in contentment until mental problems plagued her in her final years. Her last contributions to movies were in the guise of talent scout: she spotted Janet Leigh's picture while vacationing at a ski resort and arranged for an MGM screen test in the late 1940s; then, in the 1950s, she spotted handsome garment center executive Robert Evans alongside a swimming pool, thought he bore a strong resemblance to her late husband, and suggested him to play Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces launching Evans' short-lived acting career. Her brother Douglas was MGM's Sound Department head for decades, winning 12 Oscars for achievement on individual pictures and developing many technical innovations now considered commonplace.

Claudette Colbert (1903-1996)


LILY CLAUDETTE CHAUCHOIN was born on September 13, 1903 in Paris, France and in 1910 moved with her family to New York. While studying fashion design at the Art Students League in New York, she met a Broadway playwright at a party and landed a small role in his 1923 production The Wild Wescotts.

After a few more roles on the stage, Colbert made her film debut in Frank Capra's FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE (1927) and by Cecil B. De Mille's THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932), she had established herself as a screen beauty by bathing in asses' milk, no less. As the thirties rolled on however, Colbert proved her talents as an actress most notably in comedies but later several successful dramas as well. In 1934 she won her only Academy Award as Best Actress for her portrayal of runaway rich-girl Ellie Andrews opposite Clark Gable in Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, the Best Picture of 1934. Other memorable comedic performances included THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), and several romantic comedies co-starring Fred MacMurray, like THE GILDED LADY (1935), NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943) and THE EGG AND I (1947).

The second two of Colbert's three Oscar nominations came for her dramatic performances however. In 1935 she was nominated for her role as a doctor in a mental institution opposite Charles Boyer in PRIVATE WORLDS (1935) and in 1944 received her third and final Best Actress nomination for her performance as Anne Hilton in the World War II homefront drama SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) with Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Jennifer Jones and Hattie McDaniel. Other notable dramatic roles included that of the title character in De Mille's CLEOPATRA (1934), Bea Pullman in IMITATION OF LIFE (1934), and Agnes Keith in THREE CAME HOME (1950).

Although Colbert's last film was PARRISH (1961), she had returned to the stage in 1951 with Nol Coward's Island Fling and later returned to Broadway in 1956 with Janus. Other notable stage productions included The Marriage-Go-Round (1958), The Kingfisher (1978) and Aren't We All? (1985). Having made a few television appearances in the 1950s, Colbert's last major project was the 1987 mini-series "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles." In 1989, the Kennedy Center honored her for lifetime achievement, and on July 30, 1996 Colbert died in Cobblers Cove, Barbados.

Mae West (1893-1980)


Born on August 17, 1893, Mae West (Mary Jane West ) would become the first :sex clown" on film. Her salacous eye-rolling and thinly veiled inuendo spawned a string of risque comedies in the 1930s. When Mae was only five years old when she began on the vaudevillian stage and by the age of 14 she was being billed as "The Baby Vamp."

In 1926, Mae wrote, produced and directed the Broadway show, "Sex," which led her to be arrested for obscenity. The following year, her next play, "Drag," was banned on Broadway because its subject matter was homosexuality.

With Diamond Lil (1928), West became the toast of Broadway and in 1932 she signed with Paramount. Her first film role was supporting George Raft in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (1932), in which Raft said "She stole everything but the cameras." The first film to star West, SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933), the film version of Diamond Lil, broke box-office records and saved Paramount from selling out to MGM. The Hays office brought in a new censorship code in 1934, largely to combat the code of the West, but she led them a merry chase through several more blockbusters: I'M NO ANGEL (1933), BELLE OF THE NINETIES (1934), GOIN' TO TOWN (1935) and KLONDIKE ANNIE (1936). Her popularity declined in the late 30s and, after the failure of THE HEAT'S ON (1943), (the first West film she didn't script herself) she returned to the stage and, later, the nightclub circuit. She turned down numerous film offers, including SUNSET BLVD. (1950), but finally made a comeback of sorts in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970).

West skirted the delicate sensibilities of Hollywood censors with sexual innuendo and double entendre and her witty observations were as widely quoted as Ben Franklin bromides: "It's better to be looked over than overlooked"; "I used to be Snow White but it drifted," etc. Although she cultivated the image of the "tough broad," West always conveyed a curious Victorian innocence coupled with a winking, self effacing amusement at her own preposterous creation. Her popularity reached such peaks that sailors were inspired to name their inflatable life jackets after her overemphasized 43 inch "assets," ensuring West a place, like no other actress to date, in Webster's Dictionary.

Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982)


Actress. She was an international star of films, television and on the stage. Ingrid Berman made 50 films in her movie career winning two best Actress Oscars, an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. Some of her films: Intermezzo, Casablanca, Walk in the Spring Rain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gaslight, The Bells of St. Mary's, Joan of Arc, Anastasia and Murder on the Orient Express. Debuting on Broadway, she stared in Anna Christie and after an absence from the stage returned to play Joan of Arc winning her a Tony Award for Best Actress. Her third Academy Award was for Best Supporting Actress in Murder on the Orient Express. She was a regular on television and won an Emmy for the miniseries, "The Turn of the Screw." Diagnosed with breast cancer and despite failing health, she continued to work culminating in her last acting role in a TV miniseries, "A Woman Called Golda" where she won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. On her 67th birthday she hosted a small gathering at her home in London in honor of her birthday. Later that day, she died peacefully in her sleep from the complications of cancer losing a seven-year battle with the disease. She was cremated. Her urn was buried beside her parents in Stockholm, Sweden. Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden to a father who owned a photography shop and a German mother. During her formative years she became orphaned and was passed on to an array of relatives due to death eventually ending her teenage years with an uncle. She made her professional stage debut after attending the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm. She is remembered most for her bad marriage choices and indiscretions and even her banning from America in the face of scandal. However: Her storybook success as an actress where she never gave a bad performance nor made a bad movie is her legacy. The movie " Bells of St Mary's" where she was nominated for an Oscar playing the part of a Mother Superior has become an American classic.

Joan Fontaine (b. 1917)


Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan on the site where now stands the Okura Hotel. Her father, Walter de Havilland, was a patent attorney and professor of English and French at the Imperial University, while her mother, Lilian Ruse, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, had taught music at the University of Reading, England.

Mrs. de Havilland brought her two daughters Olivia and Joan to the United States at an early age and settled in Saratoga, California. There Joan studied painting, dramatics, music and ballet along with her school curriculum. At fifteen she returned to Japan and attended the American school of Tokyo.

Upon her return to California, she was introduced to May Robson, and her career began playing the ingnue in Kind Lady with that venerable actress. Soon followed a similar role in Call It a Day with Violet Hemming and Conway Tearle. It was on opening night in this play at the Dufy theatre in Hollywood that she was seen by Jesse Lasky, the prominent movie producer who, going backstage to her dressing room, immediately arranged to sign her to a long-term film contract.

After brief parts in films with Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn, she took the name Fontaine on the advice of a fortune teller and starred in a series of "B" films which gave her, she feels, better training and experience than all the dramatic classes she had attended in Hollywood.

At a dinner party at Charles Chaplins Miss Fontaine sat next to a gentleman discussing literature. After saying she had just read Daphne du Mauriers Rebecca, which she thought would make a fine film, her dinner partner introduced himself . . . David O. Selznick said hed bought the book that week and would Miss Fontaine like to test for the role of "I" de Winter? Indeed she would, and after seven tests and many disappointments, she finally landed the coveted part which had been tested by Hollywood luminaries such as Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, Susan Hayward and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Rebecca won the Academy Award in 1940, giving Miss Fontaine her first Academy Award nomination, plus the New York Motion Picture Critics Award, as well as the Canadian Film Critics Award.

In her next film, Suspicion, also directed by Alfred Hitchcock, she won the prized Oscar, while The Constant Nymph, made the following year, gave her another Academy Award nomination. She was the youngest leading lady to ever win an Oscar.

During her many years in Hollywood, Miss Fontaine made over 45 films. As well as those already mentioned, her best known are The Women, Jane Eyre, This Above All, Island In The Sun, Tender Is The Night and September Affair. Letter From An Unknown Woman, starring Louis Jourdan, directed by Max Ophuls, from a story by Stefan Zweig, was made by Miss Fontaines own film company Rampart Productions, and has become a classic as have several of her other films.

She had the good fortune to play opposite such notable leading men as Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Orson Welles, Warren Beatty, James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Fred Astaire, Paul Newman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Max Ophuls, Fritz Lang, Edmund Goulding, George Stevens, and Elia Kazan.

In 1954 she came to Broadway in Tea And Sympathy with Anthony Perkins. Since then, her career has been largely focused on the theatre in such plays as Private Lives, Blithe Spirit, Forty Carats, Cactus Flower and Lion In Winter.

She also found time to appear in TV films and Dinner Theatre, lecturing in universities and womens clubs on such subjects as HollywoodThe Golden Years, The Romance Of Elizabeth Barrett And Robert Browning: Their Poems And Letters, Now Is The Best Time Of All, America: Three Centuries Through The Words Of Her Women Poets and The China Experience. She received an Emmy nomination for her cameo role on T.V.s Ryan's Hope in 1980.

Miss Fontaine lived in New York Citys East Seventies for many years and now resides in Californias Carmel Highlands. When not acting and lecturing, she devotes her time to travel, writing, and needlepoint. She was a pupil of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School and likes to entertain, while her outdoor activities include fishing, sailing and golf (she is proud of her hole-in-one trophy won at Californias Cypress Point Club and another at Carmel Valley). She was a licensed pilot and a member of the winning team in an international balloon race over Holland, has ridden to hounds in Ireland and America. She is a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and a Vice President Emeritus of the Episcopal Actors Guild of America, Inc. Along with her family, she is listed in Burkes Landed Gentry under her maiden name. The Joan Fontaine Show was viewed on national TV cable networks for over ten years.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Maureen O' Hara (b.1920)


In America the early performing arts accomplishments of young Maureen FitzSimons (who we know as Maureen O'Hara) would definitely have put her in the child protg category. However, for a child of Irish heritage surrounded by gifted parents and family, these were very natural traits. Maureen made her entrance into this caring haven on August 17, 1920 in Ranelagh (a suburb of Dublin) Ireland. Maureen's mother, Marguerita Lilburn FitzSimons, was an accomplished contralto. Her father, Charles FitzSimons managed a business in Dublin and also owned part of the renowned Irish soccer team, "The Shamrock Rovers." Maureen was the second of six FitzSimons children - Peggy, Florrie, Charles, Margot and James completed this beautiful family.
Maureen loved playing rough athletic games as a young child and excelled in sports. She combined this interest with an equally natural gift for performing. This was demonstrated by her winning about every Feis award for drama and theatrical performing her country offered. By age 14 she was accepted at the prestigious Abbey Theater and pursued her dream of classical theater and operatic singing. This course was to be altered, however, when actor Charles Laughton, after seeing a screen test of Maureen, became mesmerized by her hauntingly beautiful eyes. Before casting her to star in "Jamaica Inn," Laughton and his partner, Eric Pommer, changed her name from Maureen FitzSimons to "Maureen O'Hara" - a bit shorter last name for the marquee.

Under contract to Laughton, Maureen's next picture was to be filmed in America ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame") at RKO studios. The epic picture was an extraordinary success and Maureen's contract was eventually bought by RKO. At the young age of 19, Maureen had already starred in two major motion pictures with Charles Laughton. Unlike most stars of her era, Maureen started at the top, and remained there - with her skills and talents only getting better and better with the passing years. Maureen has an enviable string of all-time classics to her credit that include "Hunchback of Notre Dame," "How Green Was My Valley," "Miracle on 34th Street," "Sitting Pretty," "The Quiet Man," "The Parent Trap," and "McLintock." Add to this the distinction of being voted one of the five most beautiful women in the world and you have a film star who was as gorgeous as she was talented.

Although at times early in her career Hollywood didn't seem to notice, there was much more to Maureen O'Hara than her dynamic beauty. She not only had a wonderful lyric soprano voice, but she could use her inherent athletic ability to perform physical feats that most actresses couldn't begin to attempt, from fencing to fisticuffs. She was a natural to anything athletic.

In her career Maureen starred with some of Hollywood's most dashing leading men including Tyrone Power, John Payne, Rex Harrison, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Brian Keith, Sir Alec Guinnes and of course the favorite pairing with "The Duke" - John Wayne. Maureen starred in five films with Duke; the most beloved being "The Quiet Man" in 1951.

In addition to famed director, John Ford, Maureen was also fortunate to have worked for some other great directors in the business: Alred Hitchcock, William Dieterle, Henry Hathaway, Henry King, Jean Renoir, John M. Stahl, William Wellman, Frank Borzage, Walter Lang, George Seaton, George Sherman, Carol Reed, Delmer Daves, David swift, Andrew McLaglen, and Chris Columbus.

In 1968 Maureen found much deserved personal happiness when she married Charles Blair. General Blair was a famous aviator whom she had known as a friend of her family for many years. A new career began for Maureen - that of a full time wife. Her marriage to Blair, however, was again far from typical. Blair was the real-life version of what John Wayne had been on the screen. Blair had been a Brigadier General in the Air Force, a Senior Pilot with Pan American, along with incredible record-breaking aeronautic achievements. Maureen happily retired from films in 1973 after making the TV movie "The Red Pony" (which won the prestigious Peabody Award for Excellence) with Henry Fonda.

With Blair, Maureen managed a commuter sea plane service in the Caribbean, "Antilles Airboats." She not only made trips around the world with her pilot husband, but owned and published a magazine "The Virgin Islander" writing a monthly column "Maureen O'Hara Says." A very excellent assessment of her life with Blair, Maureen stated "I got to live the adventures I'd only acted out on the Fox and Universal lots." Tragically, Charles Blair died in a plane crash in 1978. Though completely devastated, Maureen picked up the pieces and with memories of ten of the happiest years of her life, continued on. She was elected CEO and President of Antilles Airboats which brought her the distinction of being the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the United States.

Maureen now lives quite happily in semi retirement. Though her home is in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, she also spends time throughout the year in New York, Los Angeles, and Ireland. Fortunately she was coaxed out of retirement several times; once in 1991 to star with John Candy in "Only the Lonely," and again in 1995 in a made for TV movie, "The Christmas Box" on CBS. In spring of 1998 Maureen accepted the second of what would be three projects for Polson Productions and CBS "Cab to Canada" and in October, 2000, "The Last Dance."

Maureen O'Hara is still absolutely stunning, with that trademark red hair, dazzling smile and those huge, expressive eyes. She has fans from all over the world of all ages who are utterly devoted to her legacy of films and her persona as a strong, courageous and intelligent woman. Maureen's world wide popularity became even more evident since her first appearance on the Internet. My first website paying tribute to Maureen constructed in 1996 became so popular (over 75,000 visitors ) that I created an extension site that brings a combined visitor toll to over 150,000 - and counting. I receive e-mails of appreciation and affection for Ms. O'Hara from teens as well as adults, from all corners of the globe on a daily basis.

The world keeps turning technology keeps advancing...the wide screen becomes wider, the soundtracks become louder, and the heroes and heroines have given way to computer digital enhancement. What a wonderful thing to know that Maureen O'Hara is still out there still glowing reminding us of a better time - a time of respect and honor a time of romance and fantasy.

The image of Maureen O'Hara that began in this country in 1939 as Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" now embodies over 60 years of performing - both in films, and television music and drama. We still need our heroes and heroines Maureen O'Hara remains so, in regal manner.

Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916)


Olivia de Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan, July 1, 1916, to British parents. Olivia's mother was Lillian de Havilland Fontaine (d.1978). Olivia de Havilland's sister was actress, Joan Fontaine (b.1917). People say that Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine look alike. I don't think they do. I think Olivia and Joan are jealous of each other. Olivia's cousin is Sir Geoffey De Havilland, a famous airplane pilot. Olivia's famous role to date is playing Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind" (1939). Olivia was also in "Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte" (1965) as Mariam, cousin to Bette Davis' Charlotte. Olivia and Bette Davis (1908-1989) were good friends. She was also good friends with "Gone with the Wind" costar Vivien Leigh (1913-1967), who played Scarlett O' Hara in the movie. "Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte" was filmed in my home state of Louisiana not to far from where I live. It was filmed at Houmas House.

Olivia de Havilland's first movie role was "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) with a very young Mickey Rooney. She played Hermia. She also played the role on stage. She made famous for playing in movies with Errol Flynn. She has never made a movie with her sister, Joan Fontaine.

Olivia and Joan was nominated for an Oscar at the same time and when the envelope was opened to reveal the winner Joan beat out her big sister for the Oscar. Olivia went on to win two Oscars for "To Each His Own" (1946) and "The Heiress" (1949). She won Best Actress in both. Olivia was also famous for playing twins in "The Dark Mirror". Olivia and Joan are famous as the feuding sisters. The feud is still on today. Which means that are still fighting and still not talking to each other after all these years.

Olivia de Havilland was the first actress to sue a major studio that won because she want to play more adult roles and would not give it to her instead they gave her a lame script. She win her case againist Warner Bros.It gave the studios a law not to treat their stars like a piece of meat. This law is called "The de Havilland Law" named for Olivia de Havilland. All the actresses including Bette Davis congrated her on that win of the studios.

Today, Olivia de Havilland is in retirement at the age of 93 years old in Paris, France. She is very healthy who lives with her daughter. She speaks English and I think she might speak French also. She came to the United States a couple of times to promote "Gone with the Wind's" 60th year. She also want to New York a couple of years ago to promote a ship. Her latest thing was to do a groundbreaking last year for a college in her cousin, Geoffey De Havilland's name. She is writing her autobiography as we speak. She is not taking letters from fans while she is writing. Her book will come out by the end of the year or the beginning of next year. It can be said that it is weird that both sisters are alive in 2009 and I hope they will stay that way for a long time. Now you know why Olivia de Havilland is the best actress there is in the world because no actress can do no better than her. Also, Joan Fontaine lives in California right now away from her sister, Olivia de Havilland and Joan is a healthy former actress at the age of 92 years old.

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)


Actress. In a career that spanned 16 years, with no acting experience and through the promotion of her sex symbol image, Marilyn became a Hollywood media star and a legend while making 29 movies. She was born in Los Angeles at General Hospital to unmarried Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker. Her father was Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the studio where Marilyn's mother worked as a film-cutter. The recently divorced Gifford had no desire to be involved and left Gladys when informed of her pregnancy. She received her name, Norma Jean Baker during baptism performed by Aimee Semple McPherson at the Angeles Temple. Her unstable, overwhelmed mother gave her up and Norma Jean was declared a ward of the state. She was passed around among relatives, foster care and even spent time at the Los Angles Orphanage. She never graduated but attended Emerson Junior High School in Los Angeles and then Van Nuys High School in nearby Van Nuys. To escape her 'ward of the state' status, she married James E. Dougherty while under-age in Nevada. With her new husband off to war, Norma joined millions of other women in America and began working at a defense plant in Burbank. A chance publicity photo of her wound up on the cover of the plant magazine prompting Norma Jean to quit and seek a career as a photographer's model. Her images began to appear on pin-up posters, advertisements and throw-away magazines. She was catapulted to fame after her picture appeared on the cover of the premier issue of Playboy Magazine. She then pursued a movie career finding some work while being bounced from studio to studio. By 1954, under her stage name Marilyn Monroe, she became a huge star at Fox Studio with films such as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." She grew tired of the dumb blonde roles, broke her contract and went to New York to study acting. She returned and with her own production company made the blockbuster, "The Seven Year Itch." Fox Studio re-signed her to a new contract granting her more control and the option to make one film a year. The first movie was "Bus Stop," followed by many more. In contrast to a bright professional career, her personal life was dismal. The first marriage of convenience ended in divorce. Her story book wedding to baseball great Joe DiMaggio, after a two-year courtship, captivated the nation, ended in divorce - just 274 days later on grounds of mental cruelty. A marriage to playwright Arthur Miller followed and lasted some five years punctuated by an abortion and a miscarriage resulting again in divorce. Marilyn completed the film, "Misfits" in 1960 which would be the last for her and co-star Clark Gable. Her behavior during 1962 signaled the beginning of her demise. She appeared dazed and disoriented at times. She was fired from Fox for repeated absences. Her final public appearance was at Dodger Stadium for a Muscular Dystrophy benefit on June 1, 1962. Two months later, she was found dead by her housekeeper in the bedroom of her recently purchased Brentwood, California, home on Helena Drive...at age thirty-six. The Los Angeles Coroner office ruled the cause of death an overdose of barbiturates. Her untimely demise and cause has spawned numerous conspiracy theories that abound even to this day. Her funeral was at Westwood Memorial Park Chapel arranged by her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio. It was conducted by Lutheran minister, Reverend A.J. Soldan from the Village Church of Westwood. Judy Garland's 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' was played. Her drama coach, Lee Strasberg, delivered the eulogy. Marilyn was interred in a nearby wall crypt occupying a bronze casket. Awards, Honors and Legacy...She received three Golden Globe Awards; 'World Film Favorite' 1953, Best Actress in a Comedy 'Some Like It Hot' 1960, 'World Film Favorite' again in 1962. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine twice, April 7, 1952, and August 3, 1962. The Postal Service featured her on a 32 cent commemorative postage stamp in 1995. Marilyn never won nor was nominated for an Academy Award but served as its emcee during one year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jane Wyman (1917-2007)


Academy Award-Winning Actress. Born Sarah Jane Mayfield, for many years she gave her birthdate as January 4, 1914 to make herself appear older, enabling her to work full time while still a minor. She launched her professional career in 1930 singing on radio programs under the name "Jane Durrell", and after 1932 she obtained small parts in such films as "The Kid from Spain" (1932), "My Man Godfrey" (1936), and "Cain and Mabel" (1936). In 1936 she changed her name to Wyman and began work as a contract player with Warner Brothers, the same year she graduated from the University of Missouri. Her first notable role was in "Public Wedding" (1937). Wyman co-starred with Ronald Reagan in "Brother Rat" (1938) and its sequel "Brother Rat and a Baby" (1940). After years of lackluster leads she finally gained critical notice in the "The Lost Weekend" (1945), and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in 1947 for "The Yearling". She won in 1949 for her powerful performance as a deaf-mute rape victim in "Johnny Belinda" (1948), the first Oscar winner since the silent film era to win for a role that didn't include dialogue. She was Oscar-nominated again in 1952 and 1955 for "The Blue Veil" and "Magnificent Obsession". In the 1950s Wyman hosted a television series, "Jane Wyman Theater", receiving an Emmy nomination in 1957. She lived in semi-retirement until the 1970s, when she appeared in guest roles on "Charlie's Angels" and other television series. In the 1980s her career enjoyed a resurgence when she was cast as the matriarch in "Falcon Crest", a CBS drama about a family involved in the California wine industry. Wyman married Ronald Reagan in 1940 and they had three children: Maureen, Michael (whom they adopted), and Christine, who was stillborn. Career differences and Reagan's political ambitions led to their divorce in 1948. She was then married bandleader Frederick Karger twice (from 1952 to 1955 and from 1961 to 1965, both ending in divorce). After "Falcon Crest" was canceled Wyman retired, first to Rancho Mirage, and later to Palm Springs.

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)


Actress. Born Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer in Helensburgh, Scotland. Trained as a ballet dancer, she began acting on stage as a teenager and performed in stage productions at the Open Air Theatre in London and the Cambridge Theatre. She also performed with the Oxford Repertory Company. Appeared in her first film, the 1941 production of George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara". She eventually caught the eye of MGM's Louis B. Mayer and in late 1946 joined the studio. Won the New York Film Critics' Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a nun in "Black Narcissus" (1947). Kerr received six Acadamy Award nominations for Best Actress for her work in "Edward, My Son" (1949), "From Here To Eternity" (1953), "The King and I" (1956), "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957), "Separate Tables" (1958) and "The Sundowners" (1960). Though she never won, in 1994 she was awarded an honorary Academy Award for her lifetime achievement in films. Returned to the stage in the 1970's in plays including "The Day After The Fair" and "Candida". In the 1980's she was well received on the television screen in, among other films, "A Woman Of Substance" (1983) and "Reunion at Fairborough" (1985) which reunited her with longtime friend and costar of several films, Robert Mitchum. Her final feature film was "The Assam Garden", also in 1985. Though a much beloved stage and film actress for many years, younger generations will recognize her from "An Affair To Remember" (1957) with Cary Grant, which has been referenced to in several modern films such as "Sleepless In Seattle" (1993). Married Peter Viertel, a novelist and screenwriter, in 1960 and they lived in Klosters, Switzerland for many years. She had recently returned to England to be near her family and died there of complications from Parkinson's Disease.

June Allyson (1917-2006)


Actress. Born Ella Geisman in the Bronx, New York to Clara and Robert Geisman. She was injured in an accident at age eight and spent four years confined within a steel brace. Swimming therapy slowly gave her mobility again, and she began to study dance as well. She entered dance contests after high school and earned roles in numerous musical films called "Broadway Brevities", the Vitaphone short subjects. In 1938, she made her Broadway debut in the musical "Sing Out the News," a Rodgers and Hart musical. In 1940, she worked the chorus of the Ethel Merman musical "Panama Hattie" with up and coming actresses Betsy Blair, Lucille Bremer, Constance Dowling, and Vera Ellen. June was elevated to understudy of Betty Hutton, who was enable to perform due to illness. Junes performance impressed producer George Abbott, who gave her a part in his next Broadway musical "Best Foot Forward." During her performance she caught the eye of MGM executives who bought the rights to the production for later screen release. In 1943, June reprised her role in the film version of "Best Foot Forward." She was signed to an exclusive contract with MGM, and would appear in over forty films for the studio. She was a box-office attraction, paired with many of the major stars of the day, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Jimmy Stewart. Her film credits include, "Two Sisters From Boston" (1946), "Good News" (1946), "The Three Musketeers" (1948), "Little Women" (1949), and "The Glenn Miller Story" (1953). In 1945, June married actor Dick Powell. They had two children, Pamela Allyson Powell (adopted) and Richard Powell, Jr. Dick Powell's death from cancer in 1963 devastated June and she retreated somewhat from film work, appearing only infrequently on screen and slightly more often in television films. Dick Powell was one of the founders of Four Star Television, owning several network shows. At the time of his death, his investments totaled in the tens of millions, leaving June and the children comfortable. In 1970, June was asked to replace Julie Harris on Broadway in David Merrick's musical-comedy, "Forty Carats." She secured the lead in the national touring company of "No, No, Nanette" in 1971. Touring with the show for one year, to favorable reviews. She married Dr. David Ashrow in 1976. He was a retired dentist-turn actor. They toured the states in dinner theater shows. In 1982, her autobiography, "June Allyson" , co-authored by Frances Spatz Leighton was published. In her later years she became familiar to television audiences, with her many commercials for Kimberly-Clark products for adult undergarments. She felt it was a good cause and at the time her mother was suffering from incontinence. In 1988, she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Federal Council On Aging. Her own foundation raised significant funds for the research and education of problems pertaining to the aging. She remained busy as ever touring the country making personal appearances, headlining celebrity cruises and speaking on behalf of Kimberly-Clark. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1537 Vine Street, Hollywood, California. She died at her Ojai California home from pulmonary respiratory failure complicated by acute bronchitis. Her husband David survived her until April 23, 2007.