Happy 105th Birthday, Vincent Price!
The great Vincent Price was born Vincent Leonard Price Jr. 105 years ago today in St. Louis, Missouri. Here are 10 trivia tidbits from his life:
- Price and fellow horror legend Christopher Lee share a birthday (though Price was 11 years Lee’s elder). Peter Cushing was born on May 26. The frightening trio appeared in two pictures together: Scream and Scream Again (1970) and House of the Long Shadows (1983).
- Vincent Price was a gourmet chef and authored several cookbooks.
- Price’s height—he was 6′ 4″—was limiting early in his career, as directors and casting people were reluctant to use actors who were taller than their leading men.
- A diorama in Tombstone, Arizona, that tells the history of the town features recorded narration by Vincent Price.
- A lifelong art collector, Price received his bachelor’s degree in art history from Yale University and in 1951 founded an art gallery and foundation bearing his name at East Los Angeles College. The college has since built an art museum named in Price’s honor.
- Vincent Price was close friends with actress Cassandra Peterson, best known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
- As a contestant on the game show The $64,000 Question, Price won $32,000.
- Vincent Price appeared as narrator on a number of rock-era recordings, working with acts such as Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson and Deep Purple.
- Though Price cited Cary Grant as his favorite actor, the two never appeared in a picture together.
- In William Castle‘s camp classic The Tingler, Vincent Price’s character experienced the movies’ first LSD trip (all in the interest of science, mind you).
Happy birthday, Mr. Price, wherever you may be!
Happy 130th Birthday, Al Jolson!
Al Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in what is now Seredzius, Lithuania, 130 years ago today. Here are 10 Jolson trivia tidbits:
- Al Jolson began his career paired with his brother in a vaudeville act. He moved on to partner with other performers as well, but it was as a solo act that he finally found success.
- As with his character in The Jazz Singer (1927), Jolson’s father was a cantor, at the Talmud Torah Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
- Though his early work in blackface is considered offensive today, the view of many African-Americans at the time was that Al Jolson was helping to introduce African-American music—jazz, blues, and ragtime—to a white audience. He also was a strong advocate in the 1910s and ’20s in the fight discrimination on Broadway against black performers.
- At 35, Jolson was the youngest man in American history to have a theatre—Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre, across from Central Park—named after him.
- Al Jolson wrote the campaign song for the Warren G. Harding–Calvin Coolidge ticket in the 1920 presidential campaign: Harding, You’re the Man for Us!
- Jolson was the first musical artist to sell more than 10 million records.
- Al Jolson owned the rights to the play Penny Arcade by Marie Baumer and insisted that the two actors who played the leads in the Broadway production be brought west to appear in Sinners’ Holiday (1930), the movie adaption of the play. Those actors? James Cagney and Joan Blondell.
- NYC’s 51st Street, as it passes by the Winter Garden Theatre, home to many Jolson’s greatest successes, was, on August 11, 2006, renamed Al Jolson Way.
- Many stars of the rock ‘n’ roll era—Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson and David Lee Roth, among them—cited Al Jolson as one of their greatest influences.
- As a lark, Jolson once entered a sound-alike contest, singing as a sound-alike of himself. He placed third.
Happy birthday, Mr. Jolson, wherever you may be!
A Plethora of Vintage Pinball Machines
We experienced a true national treasure yesterday during a brief jaunt to Asbury Park, New Jersey. On the aptly named Ocean Avenue (which runs roughly north and south just inland from the beach) resides the Silverball Museum and Pinball Hall of Fame.
The name might make one think this establishment leans to the stuffy side—a museum for pinball, really? What, are the machines protected by velvet ropes with electronic alarms at the ready should anyone reach across?
They are not. Instead, the Silverball is filled with literally dozens of vintage pinball machines (and a dozen or more early video arcade games, for good measure) from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, all there for the playing after you pay a very reasonable entry fee at the door. No quarters needed—just hit the “new game” button and you’re ready to go. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pinball buffs.
Naturally, we were drawn to the oldest of the machines—surely you’re not surprised to hear that—and the granddaddy of them all was Knockout, a machine that debuted in 1950. Not only did it feature the typical flippers, bumpers, bells and lights, but if you hit the right doodad at the right time (we never did figure out exactly how it happened), a pair of tiny tin pugilists duke it out in a ring right there in the middle of all the pinball action (there’s a referee there, too, to make sure the Marquess of Queensberry Rules rules are observed).
Other games from the 1950s that we took a crack at included Hawaiian Beauty (1954), Lightning Ball (1959) and Rocket (1959).
But our most thrilling moment of the afternoon was when we came across El Dorado, a game we spent hours (and untold quarters) playing in college (it was the lone pinball machine in our dorm center). We were convinced back in the day that it was a really old game, but no, it turns out it was only two or three years old at the time, having debuted in 1975. After more than 35 years, encountering this game again was like reuniting with a dear old friend.
If you find yourself within an hour’s drive of Asbury Park—heck, within two or three hours’ drive—and you have even a passing interest in vintage pinball machines, you owe it to yourself to spend the afternoon at the Silverball. Believe us, you will thank us for the recommendation.
Happy 118th Birthday, Frank McHugh!
Comic relief and sidekick extraordinaire Frank McHugh was born 118 years ago today in Homestead, Pennsylvania. If you’re not sure you recall McHugh’s name, you’ll surely recognize his face if you’ve seen even a few movies from the 1930s and ’40s.
Here are our ten Frank McHugh trivia tidbits:
- Frank McHugh’s parents ran a stock company, and as a child, he occasionally appeared in their productions. He also toured in vaudeville before making his Broadway debut in The Fall Guy in 1925, a play cowritten by George Abbott and character actor James Gleason.
- McHugh, who signed with First National/Warner Brothers as a contract player in 1930, appeared in more than 90 pictures over the next twelve years.
- Frank McHugh made 11 pictures with his pal James Cagney (they were both, along with Pat O’Brien and others, a part of Hollywood’s Irish Mafia).
- McHugh also appeared in 12 pictures with fellow character actor Allen Jenkins.
- Frank McHugh twice reprised in a remake a character he’d already played in the original version of that film: in One Way Passage (1932) and ‘Til We Meet Again (1940), he played a thief eluding Chinese authorities, and in both The Crowd Roars (1932) and Indianapolis Speedway (1939), he played a character named Spud Connors.
- Two of McHugh’s siblings, Matt McHugh and Kitty McHugh, were also film actors. Matt had appearances in more than 220 movies, shorts and TV series to his credit, and Kitty compiled 60 appearances in film and on television.
- Frank McHugh was an eager participant in USO tours during World War II and he was also a member of the Hollywood Victory Caravan, a troupe of 21 stars that traveled the US by train for three weeks, performing along the way to raise money for the Army and Navy Relief Fund.
- McHugh’s USO efforts earned him a citation from the army “for exceptionally meritorious service while working as a member of an entertainment unit” that was signed by Major General Raymond S. McLain.
- Frank McHugh starred in his own radio program, Hotel for Pets, from 1954-56. Some oldtime radio references list the progam as a soap opera, but that somehow seems unlikely to us.
- McHugh and his wife, Dorothy, were married from 1933 until his death in 1981. They had three children together and two grandchildren.
Happy birthday, Mr. McHugh, wherever you may be!
Happy 108th Birthday, James Stewart!
The great James Stewart was born 108 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He remains one of the most popular actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age (and a favorite here at Cladrite Radio). Here are ten trivia tidbits about James Stewart:
- James Stewart was the first prominent actor to enlist in the military during World War II. He joined the Army eight months before Pearl Harbor and served overseas for 21 months, where, as a pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd squadron, he flew 20 combat missions and rose to the rank of colonel.
- Stewart held the highest active military rank of any actor in history. After World War II, he continued serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, ultimately attaining the rank of brigadier general.
- James Stewart attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1932 with a degree in architecture.
- Stewart was a member of Princeton’s Triangle Club, a musical-comedy theater group. A 1931 recording exists of Stewart performing the song “Day After Day” with the Princeton Triangle Club Dance Orchestra (regular listeners to Cladrite Radio have heard this recording).
- Stewart played the accordion and hoped to do demonstrate his facility with the instrument in the 1957 picture Night Passage, but his playing was dubbed by a professional musician.
- James Stewart wore the same hat in all of his westerns.
- Stewart was very conservative, politically, supporting such presidential candidates as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
- James Stewart was originally in line to play Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, but because Vertigo had not done well at the box office, director Alfred Hitchcock went with Cary Grant instead.
- Stewart was a bachelor until age 41, but his marriage to former model Gloria Hatrick McLean was a happy one.
- James Stewart’s Best Actor Oscar statuette (The Philadelphia Story, 1940) was on display in the window of his father’s hardware store for 25 years.
- The word “Philadelphia” on that statuette was misspelled.
Happy birthday, Mr. Stewart, wherever you may be.
You think that money is everything,
And yet it's anybody's Spring.
Go make a fortune, become a king
And still it's anybody's Spring.
And if you flash a bank roll
Do you suppose the brook would care?
Or that a rose would say
"There goes a millionaire"?
It's more than diamonds around a ring
Because it's anybody's Spring.
You may be born with the silver spoon
And yet it's anybody's moon.
You couldn't buy a ticket
To hear the first robin sing.
It's free because
It's anybody's Spring
—It's Anybody's Spring
Music: Jimmy Van Heusen; Lyrics: Johnny Burke, 1944