Happy 112th Birthday, Constance Bennett!
Actress Constance Bennett was born 112 years ago today in New York City. Here are 10 CB Did-You-Knows:
- Bennett was born into a theatrical family. Both her parents, Richard Bennett and Adrienne Morrison, were actors, as was her maternal grandparents, Rose Wood and Lewis Morrison.
- Bennett’s two sisters, Joan and Barbara, were also actresses (though Barbara’s career was brief), but it was Constance who was the first to enter motion pictures, appearing in silent pictures filmed in and around NYC and making her Hollywood debut in Cytherea (1924).
- After giving up films upon marrying Philip Plant in 1925, Bennett, after divorcing Plant, returned to her film career just as talking pictures were taking off.
- Bennett was, for a brief time in the early 1930s, the highest paid actress in Hollywood.
- Like Kay Francis, Bennett’s ability to wear fine clothes well played a big role in her success.
- Bennett Was cast in the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night but withdrew when Columbia Pictures declined to allow her to serve as producer of the film. Claudette Colbert, who took over the role, won the Best Actress Oscar for her work in the picture.
- Bennett starred in the Janet Gaynor/Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand role in What Price Hollywood (1932), which was a clear inspiration for the A Star Is Born pictures.
- Less in demand in pictures by the 1940s, Bennett began working in radio and in the theatre. Her stage debut came in 1940 in Noël Coward‘s Easy Virtue.
- Bennett Was married five times; the final marriage, to US Air Force Colonel (later Brigadier General) John Theron Coulter, lasted by far the longest—from June 1946 until Bennett’s death in July 1965.
- Because of her marriage to Coulter and in recognition of her efforts in providing relief entertainment to US troops stationed in Europe during and after World War II, Bennett was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Happy birthday, Constance Bennett, wherever you may be!
Happy 134th Birthday, Bela Lugosi!
- Lugosi was the youngest of four children; his father was a banker. He dropped out of school at age 12 and began acting, playing small roles in regional theatre, just after the turn of the 20th century. He moved to Budapest in 2011 and began working (though still limited to minor roles) with the National Theatre of Hungary.
- Lugosi volunteered to serve in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I; he served in the infantry, rising to the rank of captain in the ski patrol. He was injured three times.
- Coming under scrutiny for his activism in creating an actor’s union in Hungary during the 1919 revolution, Lugosi fled the country, first to Vienna and later to Berlin. He soon came to the United States, landing in New Orleans in December 1920 as a member of the crew on a merchant ship.
- Lugosi appeared in 12 motion pictures in Hungary 1917 and ’18 and in several more in Germany. Once in the United States, he made his way to New York, where he became active in Hungarian theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1922 in the play The Red Poppy. His American film debut came in 1923 in The Silent Command. He would soon make several other pictures, all filmed in and around NYC.
- In 1927, Bela Lugosi was cast as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of a play adapted from Bram Stoker‘s novel. Lugosi was a sensation in the role, but he was not the top choice for the role of the Count as the play was being developed as a movie. Director Tod Browning hoped to cast Lon Chaney, a much bigger name than Lugosi and someone Browning had worked with frequently, in the role, but Chaney’s tragic death opened the door for Lugosi to play the role he’d made famous in the legitimate theatre.
- The film was a great success, and Lugosi soon realized that the role of Count Dracula was both a blessing and a curse, as he found himself quickly—and permanently—typecast as a horror star.
- Lugosi, who had worked to establish an actor’s union in Hungary, was one of the organizers of the Screen Actor’s Guild (he was member no. 28).
- Lugosi was married five times, with only one of the marriages lasting more than three years (Lugosi and his fourth wife, Lillian Arch, remained together for just over twenty years). His third marriage, to a wealthy San Francisco widow named Beatrice Weeks, ended after just a few days when Weeks discovered he was carrying on an affair with actress Clara Bow.
- By the late 1930s, Lugosi, who suffered from sciatic neuritis, was addicted to the painkillers morphine and methadone. He would struggle with his dependency on these drugs for the rest of his life, and his career would suffer because of it.
- Though a rumor persisted of a feud between Lugosi and fellow horror star Boris Karloff, both men’s children insisted that, though the two men weren’t close, there were no hard feelings between them. The two actors appeared in seven films together: The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), You’ll Find Out (1940), Black Friday (1940) and The Body Snatcher (1945).
Happy birthday, Bela Lugosi, wherever you may be!
Happy 115th Birthday, Annette Hanshaw!
Cladrite sweetheart Annette Hanshaw was born Catherine Annette Hanshaw 115 years ago in Manhattan. For us, she’s the gold standard for songbirds of the late 1920s and early ’30s; we think she’s keen. Here are 10 AH Did-You-Knows:
- Hanshaw came from something of a show biz family. Her father, Frank Wayne Hanshaw, loved the business so much he ran off to join the circus (he thought better of it and returned), and her aunt, Nellie McCoy, and cousin, Bob “Uke” Hanshaw, were popular and successful vaudeville performers.
- Hanshaw grew up loving to sing—she performed for the guests at a series of very small hotels her father operated for a time and demo’d sheet music at a Mount Kisco music shop owned by her family—but she dreamed of making her mark as a painter, not a singer, even studying at the National School of Design for a year.
- Hanshaw made her first professional recordings in 1926, recording a demo of six popular songs of the day for the Pathé label before recording her first commercial recordings—Black Bottom and Six Feet of Papa—in September of that year. She recorded for many labels and under many pseudonyms, including Gay Ellis, Dot Dare, and Patsy Young. She also sang in variety of styles, delivering sentimental songs in a more straightforward fashion and, when appropriate, jazzing peppy songs up a bit. She even did Helen Kane impersonations (on whom Betty Boop‘s vocal stylings were clearly based) on a number of recordings.
- Hanshaw began to appear on the radio in 1929 and soon was a huge hit. As the twenties gave way to the thirties, she began to sing with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, and from 1932-34, she was featured on the very popular program Maxwell House Show Boat, which aired every Thursday evening, and she later did 39 weeks on Camel Caravan. Her success on radio did little to alleviate her anxiety about performing over the airwaves. “I’m so afraid I’ll fail, not sing my best,” she said before agreeing to appear on radio. “Suppose I should have to cough. Suppose I didn’t get just the right pitch. And all those people listening.”
- At the height of her fame, Hanshaw was known as “The Personality Girl” and her trademark was ending each recorded performance with a winsome “That’s all!”
- Hanshaw loved singing but was not at all confident of her voice and was, at best, a reluctant star. In her later years, when asked to assess the recordings she’d made during her prime, she had not a positive word to offer. She was her own worst critic, and it may have been this tendency that led to her (extremely) premature exit from show business. “I disliked all of [my records] intensely,” she said during a 1972 interview with radio host Jack Cullen. “I was most unhappy when they were released. I just often cried because I thought they were so poor, mostly because of my work, but a great deal, I suppose, because of the recording.”
- Hanshaw’s favorites singers of the day were Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, Ruth Etting, Ethel Waters, and Connee Boswell.
- Hanshaw composed two songs—Sweet One and Till Your Happiness Comes Along—but it’s unclear if either was ever published or recorded.
- Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Hanshaw retired from show business in 1937 at the age of 36. She considered a return in the 1950s, recording a pair of private demos to test the waters, but, alas, no comeback was forthcoming.
- The 2008 animated film Sita Sings the Blues, which retells the Indian epic poem The Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, used Annette Hanshaw’s recordings as its soundtrack. In 2010, her 1929 recording of Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home was used in the video game BioShock 2.
Happy birthday, dear Annette, wherever you may be!
Happy 99th Birthday, Marsha Hunt!
The lovely Marsha Hunt, born Marcia Virginia Hunt in Chicago, Illinois, is celebrating her 99th birthday today! Here are some MA Did-You-Knows:
- The daughter of an attorney and voice teacher, Hunt and her family moved to New York City when she was three years old. She took an interest in performing at an early age, appearing in school plays and performing at church functions.
- After graduating from NYC’s Horace Mann High School (at age 16!), she worked as a model and as a singer on the radio while studying drama at the Theodora Irvine’s Studio of the Theatre (where Cornel Wilde was one of her classmates)
- At 17 (and accompanied by her older sister), Hunt moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in motion pictures. She was quickly signed by Paramount Pictures and in 1935 made her debut in The Virginia Judge. She was relegated to mostly B pictures at Paramount and when her career failed to take off, she began to freelance at various studios, including many of the Poverty Row outfits.
- In 1939, Hunt signed with MGM, where she was given solid parts but rarely lead roles. Her association with MGM came to an end in 1945 and she began freelance again (it was during this period that she appeared as the “good girl” counterpart to Claire Trevor‘s “bad girl” in Anthony Mann‘s classic film noir Raw Deal (1948).
- In 1948, Hunt decided to give Broadway a try, debuting in Joy to the World. She appeared in a number of other shows as well, including a turn as Anna in a production of The King and I. She also appeared on Broadway with Johnny Carson, in a production called Tunnel of Love.
- Hunt was a lifelong liberal and in the early 1950s, some of her past political activities unfairly came back to haunt her. Although she was never called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, her name appeared in the infamous Red Channels pamphlet that purported to expose Communists and other subversives in the radio and television industries. She made just three films in the next eight years.
- Semi-retired thereafter, Marcia has devoted herself to humanitarian causes and organizations, among them UNICEF, The March of Dimes and The Red Cross.
- Hunt was named the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California, in 1983 and still holds that “post” today.
- In 1993, Hunt published a book on fashion entitled The Way We Wore.
- In 1998, Hunt received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for her charitable and humanitarian activities.
Happy birthday, Marsha Hunt, and many happy returns of the day!
Happy 116th Birthday, Jean Arthur!
The wonderful Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene 116 years ago today in Plattsburgh, New York. She was a reluctant and, some say, unlikely star, but she was one of the true greats in the genre of screwball and romantic comedies. Here are 10 JA Did-You-Knows:
- Arthur was of Norwegian and English descent. Her father was a photographer, and her family relocated frequently as she was growing up; she would spend time in Jacksonville, Florida; Schenectady, New York; Saranac Lake, New York; and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood (the building she lived is still there, at 573 West 159th Street).
- In the early 1920s, Arthur worked as stenographer. She also did some commercial modeling, and it was via her modeling work that she was discovered by Fox Film Studios, who thought she could be remade into a “flapper” type. She made her debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford.
- It’s said that she took her stage name from two of her heroes: Joan of Arc and King Arthur (we are skeptical of this, to be honest, but we are merely reporting what’s long been claimed).
- Arthur’s trademarks as an actress were her comic timing and her distinctive voice, which Frank Capra described in his autobiography as “low, husky—at times it broke pleasingly into the high octaves like a thousand tinkling bells.”
- Arthur was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1929, along with Anita Page, Helen Twelvetrees and Loretta Young, among others.
- Her film career floundering in the early 1930s, Arthur returned to New York City to hone her acting chops in a series of Broadway productions. Having gained confidence in her abilities, she returned to Hollywood in 1934, signing a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures that brought her financial stability. She also went blonde and would remain so throughout her career.
- Arthur was convinced her left side was her best side, and she insisted on being filmed from that side whenever possible.
- Arthur made three pictures with director Frank Capra, all of them very successful: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Capra once named her as his favorite actress.
- The borderline reclusive Arthur was reluctant to participate in publicity efforts for her pictures. she was not active in the Hollywood social whirl and was hesitant to give interviews.
- Arthur received one Academy Award nomination, in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for The More the Merrier (1943). A year earlier, she won the Sour Apple Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, which was given to the year’s “Least Cooperative Actor/Actress.”
Happy birthday, Jean Arthur, wherever you may be!
The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda 'fraid of darkness
So she said, "I guess I'll go."
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe
Oh, shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain't had no lovin'
Since April, January, June or July.
Snow time ain't no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.
Words and music: Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth, 1908