Happy 110th Birthday, Robert Young!
Robert Young, born 110 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois, is best remembered nowadays for his television roles as a wise and affable dad on Father Knows Best and a kindly doctor on Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young also enjoyed a successful movie career in the 1930s and ’40s (he even had extra roles and bit parts in silent pictures in the late ’20s). Here are 10 RY Did-You-Knows:
- Young’s father was an Irish immigrant who moved his family from the Midwest first to Seattle and then to Los Angeles before abandoning the family when Robert was 10 years old. Young would go on to attend Abraham Lincoln High School.
- After high school, Young studied and performed at the famed Pasadena Playhouse before touring with a stock production of a play called The Ship.
- Young was discovered by an M-G-M talent scout and made his talkie debut in 1931 in a Charlie Chan picture called Black Camel. Young appeared in more than 100 pictures over the next two decades.
- Young was occasionally given the kind of role so frequently assigned to Franchot Tone and Robert Montgomery–spoiled young men from well-to-do families, but Young, while a reliable performer, was considered less appealing as a leading man than those two actors. “He has no sex appeal,” Louis B. Mayer is reported to have said of Young.
- Young and his wife, Betty, met when he was 17 and she was 14. They would be married for more than 60 years and had four daughters.
- Young tended to play amiable all-American types, but by the mid-1940s, after his contract with M-G-M came to an end, he was given a number of opportunities to play darker characters, even appearing in a handful of pictures that are today considered film noir classics.
- As his movie career wound down in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, Young began to work more frequently in radio. In fact, it was on radio that he first assayed the role of insurance salesman Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, which ran from 1949–54 on radio and on television from 1954-60.
- Young was the only cast member to be carried over from the radio version of Father Knows Best to the television series.
- During the 1960s, Young did occasional guest shots on television series and appeared in TV movies, including Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Matter of Humanities, which spawned a popular series by that same name (without the subtitle) that ran util 1976.
- Young struggled with depression for more than four decades (and with alcoholism for more than 30 years) before conquering both in his later years.
Happy birthday, Robert Young, wherever you may be!
Soda Fountain Treats Forever!
We had no idea that the USPS was selling “forever” stamps that featured delightful, old-school soda fountain treats, but we’d like to go on record right now as saying we heartily approve! Buy yours today!
Happy 115th Birthday, Thelma Ritter!
The inimitable Thelma Ritter was born 115 years ago today in Brooklyn (natch), New York. She was a spectacular character actress, bringing a touch of magic to everything she appeared in with her portrayals of a very particular type of world-weary, wise and wisecracking New Yorker. Here are 10 TR Did-You-Knows:
- Ritter began acting at an early age, appearing in high productions and stock theatre in the New York area before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
- Ritter found work on the stage in her early years, but took a hiatus from acting to raise her two children with former actor and advertising executive Joseph Moran. Ritter and Moran were married for 42 years until her death in 1969.
- When money was tight early in their marriage, Ritter and Moran made a practice of entering the advertising slogan and jingle contests that were so prevalent at the time.
- Once her children were of age, Ritter returned to stock theatre and also found work in radio, but it was her first motion picture role, a small part as a harried shopper in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), that sparked her ascent as an actress. She was 45 years old.
- From 1953-1961, Ritter was nominated six times for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without ever winning. Deborah Kerr was also nominated six times, but for Best Actress, and Glenn Close has been nominated three times each in those two categories. Like Ritter, Kerr never won an Oscar, and Close, too, has come up empty so far.
- Four of Ritter’s Oscar nominations came in consecutive years—1950-53—a feat achieved by just four other actors: Jennifer Jones (1943-1946), Marlon Brando (1951-1954), Elizabeth Taylor (1957-1960) and Al Pacino (1972-1975).
- Ritter did win a Tony in 1958 in the Best Actress (Musical) category for her work in the show New Girl in Town. She tied for the award with her costar, Gwen Verdon.
- Though she was fourth-billed in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window, under James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Wendell Corey, Ritter received the highest salary of any member of that picture’s cast: $25,694.
- In addition to her work in the theatre, in picture and in radio, Ritter was active on television in the 1950s and early ’60s, on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour.
- Director George Seaton helmed both Ritter’s first movie, the aforementioned Miracle on 34th Street, and her last, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968).
Happy birthday, Thelma Ritter, wherever you may be!
Happy 126th Birthday, Ronald Coleman!
The suave and sophisticated Ronald Colman was born 126 years ago today in Richmond, Surrey, England. Here are 10 RC Did-You-Knows:
- Colman was the youngest of four children. He attended boarding school in Littlehampton, where he was first exposed to acting, but he intended to study engineering at Cambridge until the family’s financial fortunes declined with the premature death of his father in 1907.
- As a member of the London Scottish Regiment, Colman served in World War I. At the Battle of Messines, he was wounded by shrapnel in his ankle, which gave him a limp he tried to hide for the rest of his life. He was discharged from service within weeks.
- By 1916, Colman was a busy actor, appearing in a variety of stage productions in London’s West End. In 1920, he toured the United States in a play called The Dauntless Three, which led to success on Broadway.
- Though he had appeared in a handful of British films, it was Colman’s work in his first American film, The White Sister (1923) opposite Lillian Gish, that proved to be his breakout role. He became very popular with the public in both romance and adventure pictures.
- For all his success in silent pictures, Colman’s star ascended even higher in talkies, which allowed him to use to his advantage one of his greater assets as an actor, what the Encyclopædia Britannica described as his “resonant, mellifluous speaking voice with a unique, pleasing timbre.”
- In 1930, Colman was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his work in two different pictures—Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. In total, he would be nominated as Best Actor for four films, winning once for A Double Life (1947).
- Christopher Walken, whose given name is Ronald, was named for Colman.
- Colman’s speaking voice was so widely admired that it became something of a cultural touchstone, mentioned in a number of motion pictures and novels, including Ralph Ellison‘s Invisible Man.
- Colman was also active in radio in the 1940s and ’50s, making frequent guests appearances on The Jack Benny Show, hosting a program called Favorite Story in the and starring on The Halls of Ivy, which later became a television program.
- Colman was contracted to star in the MGM picture Village of the Damned (1960), but following his death in 1958 from acute emphysema, George Sanders took over the role.
Happy birthday, Ronald Colman, wherever you may be!
Happy 116th Birthday, Clark Gable!
Clark Gable was born William Clark Gable 116 years ago today in Cadiz, Ohio. In his day, he was known as the King of Hollywood or, often, just as the King. Here are 10 CG Did-You-Knows:
- Gable was named after his father, William, who was an oil well driller, but even as a child, he was referred to by his middle name or sometimes as Billy. His birth certificate mistakenly listed Gable as female.
- Gable’s stepmother (his birth mother died when he was young) encouraged his interest in music, teaching him to play piano. He later took up brass instruments and at age 13, he was the only teen to play in the men’s town band. Gable’s father encouraged him from an early age to be well-dressed and well-groomed.
- At 17, Gable decided he decided to pursue a career in the theatre and by 21, he was touring in stock companies, along with jobs in the oil fields and working with horses. Josephine Dillon, an acting coach and theatrical manager in Portland, Oregon, set out to remake Gable from head to toe. She paid for him to get new teeth, she built up his once-slight physique with a proper diet and strenuous exercise and helped him improve his movements and posture. She also worked at length to lower his high-pitched voice and improve his diction.
- Dillon, who was 17 years Gable’s senior, also financed Gable’s relocation from Portland to Hollywood in 1924, where she officially became his manager and his wife. He changed his professional name from W. C. Gable to Clark Gable and began to work as an extra and a bit player in silent short and features.
- When no leading film roles were in the offing, Gable returned to the stage, acting for a season with the Laskin Brothers Stock Company in Houston, Texas, where he played a variety of roles and gained valuable experience. Finally, with the ascent of talking pictures, Gable’s stock as an actor rose as well. He was offered a contract with MGM in 1930. His first role was as a rough-hewn villain in a William Boyd western, The Painted Desert (1930). His imposing stature and now-powerful speaking voice made a quick hit with moviegoers (especially female ones).
- Many of Gable’s early roles were tough guys, gangsters and villains, and though no less an authority than Darryl F. Zanuck had once said of Gable, “His ears are too big and he looks like an ape,” he was finding himself cast opposite popular leading ladies of the day, including Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer and even Greta Garbo (with whom he shared a mutual dislike—she thought his acting wooden; he thought her a snob).
- Despite long being known as the King of Hollywood, Gable was never No 1 at the box office in a given year, but year after year, he ranked near the top, as the fortunes of other actors rose and fell. His breakthrough role was his Oscar-winning performance in Frank Capra‘s It Happened One Night in 1934, opposite Claudette Colbert. That classic film won the Best Picture Oscar to go along with Gable’s Best Actor nod. Capra considered the role of Peter Warne in the film the closest to Gable’s actual personality: “It Happened One Night is the real Gable,” he wrote. “He was never able to play that kind of character except in that one film. They had him playing these big, huff-and-puff he-man lovers, but he was not that kind of guy. He was a down-to-earth guy, he loved everything, he got down with the common people. He didn’t want to play those big lover parts; he just wanted to play Clark Gable, the way he was in It Happened One Night, and it’s too bad they didn’t let him keep up with that.”
- Gable is said to have been Adolph Hitler‘s favorite actor, and it’s been reported that Hitler offered a reward to anyone who could capture Gable, then flying combat missions over Germany, and bring him to Hitler unharmed. The reward went unclaimed.
- Gable played a newspaper reporter in nine different pictures, more than any other type of role, but late in life, he expressed regret that he hadn’t appeared in more westerns, the genre he most enjoyed working in.
- Gable was married five times, the first two times to women many years his senior, but it is generally accepted that his third Wife, actress Carole Lombard, was the great love of his life. She even got Gable, a lifelong Republican, to support Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president. It’s said that Lombard’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1942 left Gable so bereft that he immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was absent from the silver screen for three years.
Happy birthday, Clark Gable, wherever you may be!
Come and cuddle by the fire in the evening.
We’ll forget about the snow and rain.
While the skies are stormy, your arms will warm me.
It’s winter again.
It’s so thrilling when it’s chilly in the winter,
And the frost is on the windowpane.
Hear the sleigh bells ringing; my heart is singing.
It’s winter again.
The wind may blow.
Who cares? Just let it blow.
I’ll write to you love letters in the snow.
And we’ll cuddle by the fire in the evening.
We’ll forget about the snow and rain.
While the skies are stormy, your arms will warm me.
It’s winter again.
Music by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart, lyrics by Arthur Freed, 1932