Happy 121st Birthday, Paul Muni!
Actor Paul Muni was born Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund in what is now the Ukraine 121 years ago today. Here are 10 PM Did-You-Knows:
- Both of his parents were professional actors in the Yiddish theatre.
- Muni grew up speaking Yiddish. When he was seven, his family left Austria-Hungary and settled in Chicago.
- Beginning in 1908, Muni spent four years with New York’s Yiddish Art Theatre before moving on to work for the next 14 years with other Yiddish theatres in NYC.
- His first English-language role—and Broadway debut—was in a 1926 production of a play called We Americans. Though just 31 years of age, Muni portrayed an elderly man.
- Muni began his motion picture career in 1929, but continued to alternate between the Broadway stage and Hollywood.
- Muni, along with James Dean, is one of just two actors to receive an Oscar nomination for his first film role (The Valiant, 1929) and his last (The Last Angry Man, 1959). Muni totaled six Oscar nominations, winning once (Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Story of Louis Pasteur, 1936).
- Muni’s nickname was Munya.
- Muni suffered his entire life with a rheumatic heart.
- Muni turned down the role of Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941). The part eventually went to Humphrey Bogart.
- In 1956, Muni won the Tony Award for Best Actor (Dramatic) for his role as Henry Drummond in the play Inherit the Wind.
Happy birthday, Paul Muni, wherever you may be!
Happy 92nd Birthday, Lauren Bacall!
Our former neighbor Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske 92 years ago today in the Bronx, New York. Here are 10 LB Did-You-Knows:
Bacall’s mother emigrated from Romania as a child; her father, whose forebears came from Poland, was born in New Jersey.
Bacall was born in the Bronx, but grew up in Brooklyn after family moved to a residence on that borough’s Ocean Parkway. Her parents were divorced when she was five, and her father disappeared from her life. She would later take her mother’s maiden name
A wealthy uncle paid for Bacall’s schooling at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls in Tarrytown, New York, and at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. In 1941, Bacall studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Kirk Douglas was a classmate), working as a fashion model and ushering at the St. James Theatre to pay for her studies.
In 1942, Bacall made her Broadway debut in a small part in a play called Johnny 2 X 4. She was just 17 years old. That same year, she was crowned Miss Greenwich Village, which is where she was living with her mother at that time.
During this time, Bacall volunteered as a hostess at NYC’s Stage Door Canteen on Monday nights, when the theatres were dark.
In 1943, Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Director Howard Hawks‘ wife, Slim, spotted Bacall on the cover and convinced her husband to test the young model for his upcoming film, To Have and Have Not. Hawks asked his secretary to find out more about Bacall, but the secretary misunderstood and instead sent Bacall a ticket to Hollywood. Upon meeting Bacall, Hawks signed her to a seven-year contract.
Lauren Bacall lived in the Dakota at 72nd and Central Park West, the same building where John Lennon resided with spouse Yoko Ono (who still lives there). Bacall once told an interviewer that she heard the shot that killed the former Beatle near the building’s entrance, but thought it was a vehicle backfiring.
Bacall was a two-time Tony award winner, in the category of Best Actress (Musical), in 1970 for her role as Margo Channing in Applause! and in 1981 for Woman of the Year.
Bacall was nominated for one Oscar, in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) and she was awarded a honorary Oscar in 2010 in recognition of her place in the Golden Age of motion pictures. Bacall was the only Oscar winner to have been married to two other Oscar winners (Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards).
Her autobiography, By Myself, was a 1980 National Book Award winner.
Happy birthday, Lauren Bacall, wherever you may be!
Happy 122nd Birthday, Jean Renoir!
Jean Renoir, one of our very favorite directors, was born 122 years ago today in Paris, France. Enjoy our 10 JR Did-You-Knows, then make it a point to watch one of Renoir’s classic pictures tonight: Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game, La Bête Humaine or any of a dozen others.
- Renoir was a member of a very artistic family: His father was Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the Impressionist painter; his older brother Pierre was a prominent actor, and his nephew, Claude, was a successful cinematographer.
- When Jean was a small boy, his father insisted he keep his hair long (one of Auguste’s most famous paintings depicts young Jean with flowing locks), which led to him being teased by other boys. So Jean was initially relieved to be sent off to boarding school because he knew he’d be required to have his hair cut short.
- Renoir was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal while serving in World War I.
- His first artistic endeavor, undertaken at his father’s suggestion, was making ceramics, but he soon left that pursuit behind in favor of filmmaking.
- Orson Welles frequently praised Renoir as the greatest film director of all time. Charlie Chaplin made a similar pronouncement.
- Renoir frequently acted in his own films, usually playing lovable lugs.
- Renoir was married twice, with one partner, Marguerite Renoir, in between—the pair never married, but she did take his name.
- Renoir left Paris during the Nazi occupation and took up residence in Hollywood.
- In 1975, he received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his contributions to the motion picture industry.
- Renoir eventually became a naturalized American citizen, but following his death, he was interred in France after being given a state funeral.
Joyeux anniversaire, Jean Renoir, wherever you may be!
Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!
Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:
- Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
- In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
- After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
- Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
- Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
- She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
- Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
- In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
- Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
- Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.
Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!
Happy 113th Birthday, Claudette Colbert!
The lovely Claudette Colbert was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin 113 years agao today in Saint-Mandé, France, an eastern suburb of Paris. We saw her perform on Broadway 31 years ago opposite Rex Harrison in a drawing room comedy called Aren’t We All? and it remains among our greatest regrets that we didn’t play Stage-Door Johnny after the show to tell her how we admired her. Here are 10 CC Did-You-Knows:
- Her father owned a bakery on what is now Avenue Général de Gaulle, but the family moved to New York City in 1906.
- Colbert attended Washington Irving High School in New York City, graduating in 1923.
- As a child, Colbert dreamed of being a Broadway actress, and to that end, after her formal education was completed, she enrolled for dramatic training at the Art Students League of New York and paid for her studies by working in a dress shop.
- She debuted on Broadway in 1923 in a play called The Wild Wescotts, and it was during that show’s run that she changed her name.
- She turned to films as a practical choice when the Great Depression proved to be a difficult time for live theatre. Her first movie was a 1927 Frank Capra-directed silent picture called For the Love of Mike (alas, the film is now considered lost). It was so poorly under-budgeted that Capra had to hitchhike back to Hollywood from New York City. After making the picture, Colbert vowed, “I shall never make another film.”
- Colbert considered her left side to be her best and was rarely photographed from any other angle.
- Colbert was so convinced that she wouldn’t win the Oscar for It Happened One Night (1934) that she skipped the ceremony. She was quickly transported over from a train station when the announcement was made that she had won.
- Colbert turned down the role of Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940).
- Colbert was one of five French actresses (though she later became a naturalized U.S. citizen) to win an Academy Award and one of just 12 French actresses to earn an Oscar nomination.
- Her nickname was Lily.
Happy birthday, Claudette Colbert, 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