Happy 124th Birthday, William Powell!
William Powell was born William Horatio Powell 124 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of all the actors of the Cladrite Era, it is Powell we would choose to model ourselves after. He came off as suave, sophisticated, elegant, witty, warm and decent. Here are 10 WP Did-You-Knows:
- Though their marriage lasted just over two years, ending in divorce in 1933, Powell and Carole Lombard remained close friends until her death in 1942.
- Powell and legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel attended Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, together.
- Harlean Carpenter, who would be known years later as Jean Harlow, lived just a few blocks away from Powell in Kansas City, but the two would not meet until they were both working actors in Hollywood.
- Powell had been romantically involved with Harlow for two years at the time of her death and he paid for her funeral, spending $30,000.
- William Powell made 13 pictures with Myrna Loy—14, if you count her cameo in The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947).
- Politically, Powell was a Republican.
- Powell’s favorite singer was Jo Stafford.
- Powell had cancer of the rectum in 1938. An unconventional treatment that involved inserting platinum needles containing radium pellets into his body caused the cancer to go into remission and he lived for another 46 years.
- Powell’s career was not threatened by the advent of talkies; on the contrary, they caused his star to rise.
- Though Powell was nominated three times for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, he never won.
Happy birthday, William Powell, wherever you may be!
Happy 115th Birthday, Rudy Vallée!
Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée 115 years ago today in Island Pond, Vermont. He was a huge star as a young man, a true teen idol singing in a brand new style—the Elvis Presley (or perhaps the Justin Bieber) of his day, if you will. Here are 10 RV Did-You-Knows:
- In addition to his vocal talents, Vallée played drums, clarinet and saxophone.
- Vallée’s popular radio program of the 1920s and early ’30s was sponsored by Fleishmann’s Yeast (funny, but you just don’t see or hear that many yeast advertisements anymore).
- Vallée, for all his popularity with the public, was said to be difficult to work with early in his career. He was short-tempered and ever spoiling for a fight, it is said.
- As an orchestra leader, Vallée gave many popular singers their start, among them Alice Faye and Frances Langford.
- Vallée wrote his first memoir in 1930, when he was all of 29.
- His catch-phrase was, “Heigh-ho, everybody!”
- The crooners of the 1920s and ’30s, of whom Vallée was among the most popular, were singing in a new, more intimate, even sexy style that simply wasn’t possible prior to the rise of the microphone. Rudy’s vocalizing may not strike the average listener today as especially sexy, but at the time, it was. If you don’t believe us, just ask him: He insisted on more than one occasion that “People called me the guy with the cock in his voice.” (No, we don’t really understand that, either.)
- He played the romantic lead in several movies at the height of his popularity, but he later switched to more comedic roles, playing stuffy, pompous and sometimes oddball characters. (He’s very funny in Preston Sturges‘ The Palm Beach Story (1942), for example, but one almost wonders if he’s in on the joke.)
- Vallée had a hit in the 1920s with The Maine Stein Song, the fight song for his alma mater, the University of Maine.
- Vallée died in 1986 while watching the Statue of Liberty Centennial ceremonies on television.
Happy birthday, Rudy Vallée, wherever you may be!
Happy 124th Birthday, Joe E. Brown!
Joe E. Brown was born Joseph Evans Brown 124 years ago today in Holgate, Ohio. He’s best remembered today for the role of millionaire Osgood Fielding III in Billy Wilder‘s Some Like It Hot (1959), but he starred in dozens of feature-length comedies in the 1930s and ’40s. Here are 10 JEB Did-You-Knows:
- At the age of 10, Brown, with the blessings of his parents, joined a traveling tumbling act, the Five Marvellous Ashtons, that played vaudeville and circuses.
- In 1920, Brown made his Broadway debut in a review called Jim Jam Jems. Throughout that decade, he continued to hone his comic chops and in 1929, he was hired to star in comedy features for Warner Brothers.
- Though he appeared small onscreen and generally played ineffectual nebbishes, he was actually quite athletic, having played semi-pro baseball for a time, and his physique, occasionally displayed in his pictures, was very impressively defined.
- During World War II, Brown let his movie career lag while he worked tirelessly to entertain the troops in Europe. He was one of just two civilians to be awarded the Bronze Star for his efforts.
- After the war, Brown and his wife adopted two German-Jewish refugee girls, naming them Mary Katherine Ann and Kathryn Francis.
- Brown’s first-born son, Don Evan, who was a Captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps, died during World War II in a plane crash. His second son, Joe L. Brown, grew up to be a baseball executive, serving as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. During his tenure, the Bucs won the 1960 World Series, defeating the New York Yankees in a seven-game series.
- Beginning in 1924, Brown was a lifelong member of The Lambs, a NYC theatrical club that was found in 1874.
- In 1948, Brown won a special Tony award for his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in the touring company of Harvey. The award cited Brown for “spreading theater to the country while the original performs in New York.”
- Brown twice contributed first-person stories to Norman Vincent Peale‘s inspirational publication, Guideposts; the stories appeared in the June 1948 and June 1962 editions of the magazine.
- Joe and his wife, Kathryn were married nearly 58 years, until his death in 1973.
Happy birthday, Joe E. Brown, wherever you may be!
Happy 120th Birthday, Charles Butterworth!
Charles Butterworth was born 120 years today in South Bend, Indiana. He’s in the rarefied company of greats like Roland Young, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton when it comes to making 1930s comedies just that much funnier. Here are ten CB Did-You-Knows:
- Butterworth earned a law degree from the University of Notre Dame, but never practiced, instead entering the journalism field.
- He worked as a journalist for the Chicago American. During those years, he established friendships with Heywood Hale Broun and humorist Frank Sullivan, who was instrumental in Butterworth getting radio work.
- When Butterworth first arrived in New York, he worked for the New York Times as a circulation department canvasser.
- Butterworth also worked as a secretary to author J. P. McEvoy, who was at the time writing the book for a musical called Americana. This gave Butterworth an entrée into the world of theater. He would go on to appear in several Broadway musicals of the 1920s, among them Allez Oop, Good Boy, Sweet Adeline and Flying Colors.
- His first credited film appearance (following a couple of brief, uncredited appearances) was in The Life of the Party (1930).
- Butterworth was known to be adept with humorous ad libs, so much so that some of the screenwriters he worked with in Hollywood came to rely on his ability to fill out an underwritten part with pithy lines of his own making.
- Butterworth was very close friends with fellow humorist Robert Benchley. Benchley is sometimes credited with the line quoted in today’s quote graphic, but he said Butterworth, who spoke the line in Every Day’s a Holiday (1937), but is said to have orginally ad-libbed the quip after falling into a pool at a party.
- Butterworth’s familiar screen character is said to have been the inspiration for cereal mascot Cap’n Crunch.
- He died in 1946 in a single-car automobile accident on Sunset Boulevard. It’s been suggested in some corners that his death was not accidental, that he was despondent over the passing of his pal Benchley some months earlier, but that’s not ever been proven.
- At the time of his death, Butterworth was engaged to actress Natalie Schafer, who would later be cast as Mrs. Thurston Howell III on the television sitcom Gilligan’s Island.
Happy birthday, Charles Butterworth, wherever you may be!
Past Paper: The Mystery of the Vintage Magazine
On a recent visit to a paper ephemera store in our hometown of Oklahoma City, we came across a vintage magazine called The Oklahoma Whirlwind. Dated 1928, it was tightly sealed in plastic and the crusty proprietor of the shop wasn’t willing to let us to peek at the publication’s contents, but we found the cover illustration intriguing.
Was it even remotely possible that in 1920s Oklahoma, there was a magazine that was marketed to—or, heck, even friendly toward—the gay community? Surely not, but here was this cover, plain as day, right before our eyes.
As you’ve already guessed, we broke down and bought the vintage magazine, ripping open the plastic as soon as we stepped out of the shop. We quickly ascertained that The Oklahoma Whirlwind was a college humor magazine, published by students at the University of Oklahoma. The material is pretty typical of the era and of limited interest (though a few of the advertisements have appeal). No mention is made of the illustration of the cover.
But a closer inspection of the illustration revealed a couple of details that suggest the cover wasn’t so gay-friendly, after all. The tiny depiction of a rat chasing a mouse and a bird giving the go-by to a willing-to-be-eaten worm (see below) suggests that the point the artist is making is that a gay couple canoodling on a park (or campus, perhaps?) bench is against nature, or something along those lines. As depictions of homophobic sentiments go, this one’s pretty mild, thankfully, and perhaps even crosses over to good-natured.
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