Latest contribution to fashion

I don’t think I will ever grow tired of the photo pages of old newspapers. Here’s a picture from the photo page of the February 27 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

I am fascinated by the final sentence of this caption. “A black crocheted straw is worn.” Straw what? And why use the passive voice?

Esther Ralston (1902-1994) started her career early: she was the youngest member of a family of vaudeville performers, and was billed as “Baby Esther, America’s Youngest Juliet”. She went on to become a silent film star, earning $8000 a week at the peak of her career. Her transition to talking pictures was derailed when, as she described in her autobiography, she refused to sleep with studio head Louis B. Mayer. In retaliation, he apparently ensured that she was relegated to supporting roles at minor studios.

Ms. Ralston was married three times and had three children. She passed away in 1994; her funeral service was held in California on the day of the Northridge earthquake.


Seeks career

Here’s a picture from the photo page of the February 11 1936 Toronto Daily Star of a boy from New Zealand who was hoping to have a career in motion pictures.

As it turned out, Ronald Sinclair (1924-1992), whose given name was Richard Arthur Hould, had not one career but two in the movies after landing in San Francisco at the age of 12 (not 14 as stated in the photo). Between 1936 and 1942, he appeared in 16 movies as a juvenile, including playing young Scrooge in the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. In his first films, he was billed as “Ra Hould” before taking his stage name.

After serving in World War II, Sinclair started editing films in 1955, working extensively with independent filmmaker Roger Corman. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he worked as a dialogue or ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) editor, working on the first two Die Hard movies among others, and continuing at this task on various projects until the year that he passed away.

It’s safe to say that Sinclair, or Hould as he then was, did achieve his dream of a film career. But he could not have imagined, as he was leaving the H.M.S. Makura in 1936, that one day he would be editing a film titled The Maltese Bippy.


Sunny Side Up

Here’s a movie ad from the December 1 1933 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that caught my attention:

Naturally, I was curious: did Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell actually make another picture together after December 1933? Technically, yes: Change of Heart, the last film in which they co-starred, was released in May 1934. But it could have finished filming by the time this ad came out, and they might have decided never to work together again.

Sunny Side Up was originally released in 1929. It was produced before the adoption of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines of 1934, so it was able to include “scantily clad and gyrating island women enticing bananas on trees to abruptly grow and stiffen, with the graphic metaphor lost on no one”. Cowabunga! Critical reviews described the film as tolerable or engaging despite its sugary sentimentality. The complete movie is available on YouTube here (called Sunnyside Up in this edition); the dance sequence with the gyrating island women is at about the 1 hour and 18 minute mark.

Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) had a secret relationship with her co-star Farrell while they were filming together, and was married three times. In later life, she was an acclaimed painter of still-life portraits of vegetables and flowers. She was seriously injured in 1982 when the taxicab she was riding in was hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light; she eventually passed away from the injuries she sustained in the accident.

Charles Farrell (1900-1988) eventually settled in Palm Springs, California, and became its mayor from 1947 to 1955. While serving as mayor, he revived his acting career by starring in the TV series My Little Margie from 1952 to 1955. He married former actress Virginia Valli in 1931, and they stayed married until she passed away in 1968.


Film star rescued from fire

Here’s a short article from the October 21 1935 edition of the Toronto Daily Star about a film star who was rescued from a burning cottage.

Laura La Plante (1904-1996) lived for over 60 years after being carried to safety by her doctor. Her career peaked in the silent film era; between 1933 and 1935, she appeared in British films produced by Warner Brothers’ Teddington Studios, known for producing “quota quickie” films.

While there, she met Teddington Studios film producer Irving Asher; the two married in 1934, and remained married until he passed away in 1985.


Newest film light

Here’s a publicity photograph from the September 27 1948 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

Valentina Cortese (1923-2019) was involved in what used to be called a May-December romance early in her life: when she was 17, she started a relationship with conductor Victor de Sabata that lasted for eight years. She began her film career in Italy in 1941 and continued it, on multiple continents, until 1993. She passed away at the age of 96; sadly, she outlived her only child.

A search for Carlo Pavone, her leading man, was not that successful: I found an Internet Movie Database entry for somebody with that name, but this might not be the same person.


First Hollywood then Broadway

Here is an ad from the September 23 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

I find this ad fascinating because of the specificity of its claims:

  • Of the 521 important actresses in Hollywood, 511 use Lux.
  • 45 Hollywood directors think that the loveliest skin is important.
  • Lux is found in the dressing rooms of 71 of the 74 legitimate theaters in New York.

Which are the three rogue theaters? Who are the 10 nonconformist actresses? And how did they contact all 45 directors? More important than that: why did the copywriter choose those specific numbers?

Information on the three women who endorsed Lux in this ad (courtesy of Wikipedia, the go-to choice for the lazy researcher):

  • Constance Talmadge (1898-1973) was a silent film star, appearing in movies from 1914 to 1929. She and her two sisters, Natalie and Norma, mostly retired on the arrival of sound, and invested in real estate and business ventures. Sadly, all three sisters had problems with substance abuse and alcoholism later in life.
  • Dorothy Stone (1905-1974) grew up in a theatrical family: her father, Fred Stone, was in charge of a theatrical stock company. Her Broadway debut was with her father in Stepping Stones in 1923; she was apparently a big hit. She appeared on stage and in movies through the 1940s.
  • Isabel Jeans (1891-1985) was a British film and stage actress whose career on both sides of the Atlantic started in 1908 and lasted into the late 1960s.

Little Miss Gilbert

Here’s a publicity photo that appeared on the front page of the September 22 1933 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.

John Gilbert (1897-1936) was spiralling into a deep decline at the time of this photo. A star in the silent film era, he reportedly punched Louis B. Mayer when the film mogul made a crude comment about Greta Garbo (with whom Gilbert starred in several movies and had a well-publicized romance). This was not a good career move: the MGM head apparently cast Gilbert in poor films as a way of getting even, which caused Gilbert to descend into alcoholism.

The decline accelerated shortly after: Gilbert and Virginia Bruce divorced in 1934, and Gilbert suffered a heart attack in 1935. A second heart attack, in 1936, proved fatal.

Virginia Bruce (1909-1982) returned to her career after divorcing Gilbert, appearing regularly in movies through the mid-1940s and irregularly after. Her final appearance was as Madame Wang in Paul Morrissey’s 1981 film Madame Wang’s, produced in association with Andy Warhol. Wikipedia describes this film as “bizarre”.

Susan Ann Gilbert doesn’t appear to have done anything particularly noteworthy (but who among us has?). She passed away in 2004.


Toronto is raving

Here’s a movie ad from the August 1 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.


It was handy of the ad to explain that “tabu” meant “forbidden”.

Tabu (also called Tabu: A Story of the South Seas) was a silent film divided into two parts:

  • Part 1 featured two lovers on a South Sea island who were forced to flee when the female half of the couple was chosen to be a “holy maid to the gods”, which presumably isn’t good.
  • In Part 2, they lived on a colonised island and were exploited by Western civilization. This isn’t good either.

Facts about the movie:

  • F. W. Murnau, the director, had died in an automobile crash earlier in the year; this was his last film.
  • Reri‘s full name was Anna Irma Ruahrei Chevalier; the daughter of a French father and a Polynesian mother, she was spotted in a bar in Bora Bora. She passed away in Tahiti in 1977.
  • The movie won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. The cinematographer, Floyd Crosby, eventually became the father of musician David Crosby.
  • It was not a box office success, grossing only $472,000; its investors lost money.
  • In 1994, Tabu was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

You can view Tabu on YouTube here.



Blonde beauty

Here’s a publicity photo from the July 20 1946 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, featuring an actress who was looking for a husband.


The good news for Adele Jergens (1917-2002) was that she eventually found the husband she was looking for. She met Glenn Langan on a movie set in 1949; they married that year. The marriage lasted – they remained together until he passed away in 1991.


New addition to family

Here’s a photo from the July 20 1946 edition featured a publicity photo of two movie stars who had just adopted a child.


Susan Peters (1921-1952) did not have a happy life after this photo. After her accident, the former Academy Award nominee was offered parts as “crippled girls who were all sweetness and light”, which she turned down. Eventually, she and Quine divorced and her career went into decline; depressed, she stopped eating and died of a kidney infection and bronchial pneumonia.

Richard Quine (1920-1989) doesn’t have a happy ending to his life story, either. After he and Ms. Peters divorced, he went on to marry three more times, and dated Natalie Wood and Kim Novak, among others. In 1989, after an extended period of depression and bad health, he shot himself.