Monday, June 13, 2011

Basil Rathbone, Mary Wickes, Geraldine Page, Martita Hunt

Who was born on this date:

Actor Basil Rathbone was born on June 13, 1892 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and went on to appear in over seventy films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasional horror films. He frequently portrayed suave villains or morally ambiguous characters, such as Murdstone in David Copperfield (1935) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). His most famous role, however, was that of Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946. His later career included Broadway and television work; he received a Tony Award in 1948 as Best Actor in a Play.

During the 1920’s, Rathbone appeared regularly in Shakespearean and other roles on the English stage. His film career began in 1925 with the The Masked Bride and he appeared in a few silent movies, playing the detective Philo Vance in the 1930 movie The Bishop Murder Case. Rathbone made a name for himself in the 1930’s by playing suave villains in costume dramas and swashbucklers, including David Copperfield (1935) as the abusive stepfather Mr. Murdstone; Anna Karenina (1935); The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) portraying Pontius Pilate; Captain Blood (1935); A Tale of Two Cities (1935), as the Marquis St. Evremonde; The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938); and The Mark of Zorro (1940) as Captain Esteban Pasquale. He also appeared in several early horror films: Tower of London (1939), and Son of Frankenstein (1939), portraying the dedicated surgeon Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, son of the monster's creato.

Basil Rathbone with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robinhood (1938)

He was admired for his athletic cinema swordsmanship. He fought and lost to Errol Flynn in a duel on the beach in Captain Blood and in an elaborate fight sequence in The Adventures of Robin Hood. He was involved in noteworthy sword fights in Tower of London, The Mark of Zorro, and The Court Jester (1956). Despite his real-life skill, Rathbone only won once onscreen, in Romeo and Juliet (1936). Rathbone earned Academy Award nominations for Best supporting actor for his performances as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (1936) and as King Louis XI in If I Were King (1938). Despite his film success, Rathbone always insisted that he wished to be remembered for his stage career. He said that his favorite role was that of Romeo.

In the 1950’s, Rathbone excelled in two spoofs of his earlier swashbuckling villains: Casanova's Big Night (1954) opposite Bob Hope and The Court Jester (1956) with Danny Kaye. He appeared frequently on TV game shows and continued to appear in major motion pictures, including the Humphrey Bogart comedy We're No Angels (1955) and John Ford's political drama The Last Hurrah (1958). Rathbone also appeared on Broadway and in 1948, won a Tony Award for Best Actor as Dr. Austin Sloper in the “The Heiress.” He died of a heart attack in New York City on July 21, 1967 and is interred in a crypt in the Shrine of Memories Mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Actress Mary Wickes was born on June 13, 1910 in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated at the age of eighteen with a degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. Her first Broadway appearance was in Marc Connelly's The Farmer Takes a Wife in 1934 with Henry Fonda. She began acting in films in the late 1930’s, and was also a member of the Orson Welles troupe on his radio drama Mercury Theatre of the Air. One of her earliest significant film appearances was in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), reprising her stage role of "Nurse Preen.”

A tall woman with a distinctive voice, Wickes would ultimately prove herself adept as a comedienne. She first attracted attention in the film, Now, Voyager (1942), as the wisecracking nurse who helped Bette Davis' character during her mother's illness and appeared with Davis again in June Bride (1946). In 1942 she appeared with Abbott and Costello in Who Done It?. She continued playing supporting roles in films during the next decade, usually playing wisecracking characters, such as Stella in By the Light of the Silvery Moon and On Moonlight Bay. She played similar roles in two later movies with Rosalind Russell: The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. She also appeared as Emma the housekeeper in the holiday classic White Christmas (1954), starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.

Moving onto television in the 1950’s, Wickes played the maid Katie in the Mickey Mouse Club serial Walt Disney Presents: Annette and regular roles in the sitcoms Make Room for Daddy and Dennis The Menace and played Mrs. Squires in the film adaptation of Meredith Willson's The Music Man (1962). During the 1954-1955, she played Alice, the housekeeper to a college president, in the CBS sitcom The Halls of Ivy. In 1956, Wickes appeared with Thelma Ritter in "The Babysitter" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the 1961-1962 TV season, she appeared as Maxfield in CBS's Mrs. G. Goes to College. For her work in the sitcom, Wickes was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress.”
A longtime friend of Lucille Ball, Wickes played frequent guest roles in Ball's three CBS series, I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. In 1970-1971, she guest starred on CBS's The Doris Day Show. She was also a regular on the Sid and Marty Krofft children's television show Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. She made numerous appearances as a celebrity panelist on the game show Match Game. By the 1980’s, her appearances in television series such as Our Man Higgins, M*A*S*H, The Love Boat, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Murder, She Wrote had made her a widely recognizable character actress. She also appeared in a variety of Broadway shows, including a 1979 revival of Oklahoma!, where she portrayed Aunt Eller.

She was cast as the mother of Shirley MacLaine's character in the 1990 film, Postcards from the Edge and from 1989 to 1991, portrayed Marie Murkin in the television series, Father Dowling Mysteries with Tom Bosley. She played Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act (1992) and in the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993). She appeared in the 1994 film version of Little Women before she became ill. Wickes was hospitalized the following year suffering from numerous ailments, including renal failure, massive gastrointestinal bleeding, severe hypotension, ischemic cardiomyopathy, anemia and breast cancer, which cumulatively resulted in her passing away while undergoing surgery on October 22, 1995. Her final film role, voicing the gargoyle Laverne in Disney's animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released posthumously in 1996. She was interred beside her parents at the Shiloh Valley Cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois.

Who died on this date:

On June 13, 1987, actress Geraldine Page died. She was born on November 22, 1924 in Kirksville, Missouri. She starred in at least two dozen feature films, but is primarily known for her career in the American theater. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful (1986). Page was a trained method actor and worked closely with Lee Strasberg. She earned critical accolades for her performance in Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Paul Newman. She originated the role of a larger-than-life, addicted, sexually voracious Hollywood legend trying to extinguish her fears about her career with a young hustler named Chance Wayne, played by Newman. Page received her first Tony Award nomination for the play. She and Newman later starred in the film adaptation and Page earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the film.

Paul Newman and Geraldine Page in Sweetbird of Youth (1962)

Page gave celebrated performances in films as well as her work on Broadway. Her film debut was in Out of the Night (1947). Her role in Hondo, opposite John Wayne, garnered her a Best supporting actress Oscar nomination. In all, despite her relatively small filmography, Page received eight Academy Award nominations. She finally won the Oscar in 1986 for a performance in The Trip to Bountiful. When she won (F. Murray Abraham, upon opening the envelope, exclaimed "I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language.

Her other notable screen roles included Academy Award-nominated performances in Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke (1961), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Pete 'n' Tillie (1972), Woody Allen's Interiors (1978), and The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). She also appeared in such roles as a psychotic, mass killer in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969); a repressed schoolmistress in the Clint Eastwood film, The Beguiled (1971); a charismatic evangelist in The Day of the Locust (1975); a nun, Sister Walburga, in Nasty Habits (1977); and as 'Aunt' Beverly in Harry's War (1981).

She did various television shows in the 1950’s through the 1980’s, including movies and series, such as Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, and several episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, including "The Sins of the Fathers" and "Something in the Woodwork.” Page also appeared in television productions and won two Emmy Awards as Outstanding Single Performance By an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama for her roles in the classic Truman Capote stories, A Christmas Memory (1967) and The Thanksgiving Visitor (1969). Her final film was the 1987 Mary Stuart Masterson film My Little Girl, which was the film debut of Jennifer Lopez. Page who had suffered for many years from kidney disease, died of a heart attack on June 13, 1987. She was at the time appearing on Broadway in Sir Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Neil Simon Theatre. Her remains were cremated and given to family.

On June 13, 1969, actress Martita Hunt died. She was born on January 30, 1900 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hunt began her acting career in repertory theatre at Liverpool before moving to London. She appeared in many supporting and cameo roles in several popular British films such as Good Morning Boys (1937), Trouble Brewing (1939), and The Man in Grey (1943). The Wicked Lady (1945) was an international success, but her next film role in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) became her most famous and most lauded. As Miss Havisham, she reprised her role from the 1939 stage adaptation by Alec Guinness which provided the inspiration and template for Lean's film.

From this time on she divided her time between British films, Hollywood and the stage. She won a Tony Award in 1949 for her Broadway début as Countess Aurelia in the English-speaking première of Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot. Some of her other films include Anna Karenina (1948), My Sister and I (1948), The Fan (1949), Folly to be Wise (1952), The March Hare (1956), Anastasia (1956), Three Men in a Boat (1956), The Admirable Crichton (1957), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957),[3] The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), Becket (1964), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965). She died on June 13, 1969 of bronchial asthma at her home in Hampstead, London and her ashes are interred at the Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green, England., author of "Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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