Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jessica Tandy, Marion Martin, Jean Harlow

Who was born on this date:

On June 7, 1909, actress, Jessica Tandy was born in Hackney, England. Tandy began her acting career at the age of sixteen in London, establishing herself with performances opposite such actors as Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. She entered films in England, but after her marriage to the actor Jack Hawkins failed, she moved to the United States. In 1942, she married Hume Cronyn and over the following years played supporting roles in several Hollywood films.

She made her American film debut in The Seventh Cross (1944). She also appeared in The Valley of Decision (1945), The Green Years (1946, as Cronyn's daughter), Dragonwyck (1946) starring Gene Tierney and Forever Amber (1947). She won a Tony Award for her performance as Blanche Dubois in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948. Over the following three decades, her career continued sporadically that included The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) opposite James Mason, and a substantial role in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds (1963), and a Tony Award-winning performance in The Gin Game in 1977.

In the mid 1980’s she enjoyed a career revival. She appeared opposite Hume Cronyn in the Broadway production of Foxfire in 1983 and its television adaptation four years later, winning both a Tony Award and an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Annie Nations. During these years, she appeared in films such as Cocoon (1985), also with Cronyn. She became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), for which she also won a Golden Globe. She was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Fried Green Tomatoes in 1991. At the height of her success, she was named as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People.” She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1990, and continued working until shortly before her death on September 11, 1994 in Easton, Connecticut. Her cremated remains were given to family and their final disposition is unknown.

On June 7, 1909, actress Marion Martin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She became an actress after her family fortune was lost in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and appeared in the Broadway productions Lombardi Ltd. and Sweet Adeline. She made her film debut in She's My Lillie, I'm Her Willie (1934). By the end of the decade she had played leading female roles in several "B" pictures, playing one of her most notable roles in James Whale's Sinners in Paradise (1938). Despite her success she was often cast in minor roles in more widely seen films such as His Girl Friday (1940). The majority of her roles were in comedies but she also appeared in dramas such as Boomtown (1940) in which she played a dance hall singer who is briefly romanced by Clark Gable. She played secondary roles in a three Lupe Velez "Mexican Spitfire" films in the early 1940s, and was the comic foil for the Marx Brothers in The Big Store, where the back of her skirt is cut away by Harpo. She played a ghost in Gildersleeves Ghost, and was the subject of a legendary fistfight between Gildersleeve star Harold Peary and Warner Bros studio mogul Bud Stevens at the Mocambo nightclub in 1943. Her more substantial roles included Alice Angel, a dizzy showgirl, in the murder mystery Lady of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck and Angel on My Shoulder (1946). In 1952, she married and retired from show business. Martin died on August 13, 1985 in Santa Monica, California, and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Who died on this date:

On June 7, 1937, actress Jean Harlow died. She is best known as the sex symbol of the 1930s. Famous for her platinum blonde hair, she is ranked as one of the greatest movie stars of all time by the American Film Institute. Harlow starred in several films, mainly designed to showcase her magnetic sex appeal and strong screen presence, before making the transition to more developed roles and achieving massive fame under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Harlow's enormous popularity and "laughing vamp" image were in distinct contrast to her personal life, which was marred by disappointment, tragedy, and ultimately her sudden death from renal failure at age 26.

She was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri on March 3, 1911. She was nicknamed "The Baby,” a name that would stick with her for the rest of her life. She did not learn that her name was actually Harlean and not "Baby" until the age of five, when she began to attend Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls in Kansas City. Harlean’s career in show business began as a fluke. She had befriended Rosalie Roy, a young aspiring actress. Lacking a car, Roy asked Harlean to drive her to Fox Studios for an appointment. It was there that Harlean was noticed by Fox executives while sitting in the car waiting for her friend. Harlean was approached by the executives, but stated that she was not interested. She was given dictated letters of introduction to Central Casting. Recounting this story a few days later, Rosalie Roy made a wager with Harlean that she did not have the nerve to go back and audition for roles. Unwilling to lose a wager and pressed by her enthusiastic mother, Harlean drove to Central Casting and signed in under her mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow.

After several calls from Central Casting, who had called for "Miss Harlow", and a number of rejected job offers, Harlean was pressured by her mother, now relocated to Los Angeles, into accepting work. Harlow then appeared in her first film, Honor Bound, as an unbilled extra for $7 a day. This led to bit parts in silent films such as Moran of the Marines (1928), Chasing Husbands, Why Is a Plumber? (1927) and Unkissed Man. In December 1928, she signed a five-year contract with Hal Roach Studios for $100 per week. She had more substantial roles in Laurel and Hardy's short Double Whoopee. Harlow worked as extra in several movies, and was cast as an extra in The Love Parade (1929), followed by small roles in This Thing Called Love and The Saturday Night Kid (1929), a Clara Bow movie. Her next extra work was in Weak But Willing (1929). During filming of Weak But Willing in 1929, she was spotted by James Hall, an actor filming a Howard Hughes film called Hell's Angels. Hughes, re-shooting the film from silent into sound, needed a new actress because the original actress, Greta Nissen, had a Norwegian accent that proved undesirable for a talkie. Harlow made a test and got the part.

Hughes signed Harlow to a five-year, $100 per week contract on October 24, 1929. Hell's Angels premiered in Hollywood on May 27, 1930 at Grauman's Chinese Theater. During the shooting, Harlow met MGM executive Paul Bern, who escorted her, dressed all in white, to the premiere. The movie made Harlow an international star and a sensation with audiences, but critics were less than enthusiastic. With no projects planned for Harlow, Hughes sent her to New York, Seattle and Kansas City for Hell's Angels premieres. In 1931, loaned out by Hughes' Caddo Company to other studios, Harlow began to gain more attention when she appeared in The Secret Six with Wallace Beery and Clark Gable, Iron Man with Lew Ayres and Robert Armstrong, and The Public Enemy with James Cagney. Though the films ranged from moderate to smash hits, Harlow's acting ability was damned by critics as awful and was mocked. Concerned, Hughes sent her on a brief publicity tour, which was not a success, as Harlow dreaded such personal appearances.

Harlow was next cast in Platinum Blonde (1931) with Loretta Young. Hughes convinced the producers of Platinum Blonde to rename it from its original title of Gallagher in order to promote Harlow's image, for whom the tag had just been invented by Hughes's publicity director. Many of Harlow's female fans had begun dyeing their hair platinum to match hers. To capitalize on this craze, Hughes' team organized a series of "Platinum Blonde" clubs across the nation, with a prize of $10,000 to any beautician who could match Harlow's shade. However, Harlow herself denied her hair was dyed.

Harlow next filmed Three Wise Girls (1932), after which Paul Bern arranged to borrow her for The Beast of the City (1932). When the shooting wrapped, Bello booked a ten-week personal appearance tour in the East Coast. To the surprise of many, especially Harlow herself, she packed every theatre she appeared in, often appearing multiple nights in one venue. Despite critical disparagement and poor roles, Harlow's popularity and following was large and growing, and in February 1932 the tour was extended for additional six weeks.

Apprised of this, Paul Bern, by now romantically involved with Harlow, spoke to Louis B. Mayer about buying out her contract from Hughes and signing her to MGM. Mayer would have none of it. MGM's leading ladies were presented in an elegant way, and Harlow's silver screen image was that of a floozy, which was abhorrent to Mayer. Bern then began urging close friend Irving Thalberg, production head of MGM, to sign Harlow, noting Harlow's pre-existing popularity and established image. After initial reluctance, Thalberg agreed, and on March 3, 1932, Harlow's twenty-first birthday, Bern called her with the news that MGM had bought Harlow's contract from Hughes for $30,000. Harlow officially joined the studio on April 20, 1932. Her first task at MGM would be a screen test for Red-Headed Woman.

Harlow became a superstar at MGM. She was given superior movie roles to show off not only her beauty but also what turned out to be a genuine comedic talent. In 1932, she had the starring role in Red-Headed Woman, for which she received $1,250 a week, and Red Dust, her second film with Clark Gable. These films showed her to be much more at ease in front of the camera and highlighted her skill as a comedienne. Harlow and Gable worked well together and co-starred in a total of six films. She was also paired multiple times with Spencer Tracy and William Powell. As her star ascended, the power of Harlow's name was sometimes used to boost up-and-coming male co-stars, such as Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone.

At this point, MGM began to distance Harlow's public persona from that of her screen characters from a brassy, exotic platinum blonde to the more mainstream, all-American type preferred by studio boss Mayer. Her early image proved difficult to change, and once Harlow was heard muttering, "My God, must I always wear a low-cut dress to be important?" Though Harlow's screen image changed dramatically throughout her career, one constant was her apparent sense of humor. During the making of Red Dust, Harlow's second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, was found shot dead at their home, creating a lasting scandal. Initially, the Hollywood community whispered that Harlow had killed Bern, though Bern's death was officially ruled a suicide. Harlow kept silent, survived the ordeal, and became more popular than ever.
After Bern's death, Harlow began an indiscreet affair with boxer Max Baer. Although he was separated from his wife, Dorothy Dunbar, at the time of their affair, Dunbar threatened divorce proceedings, naming Harlow as a correspondent for "alienation of affection", a legal term for adultery. MGM defused the situation by arranging a marriage between Harlow and cinematographer Harold Rosson. Still feeling the aftershocks of Bern's mysterious death, the studio did not want another Harlow scandal on its hands. Rosson and Harlow were friends, and Rosson went along with the plan. They quietly divorced seven months later.

After the box office hits Hold Your Man and Red Dust, MGM realized it had a goldmine in the Harlow-Gable teaming and paired them in two more films: China Seas with Wallace Beery and Rosalind Russell and Wife vs. Secretary with Myrna Loy and young James Stewart. Other co-stars included Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor and William Powell. By the mid-1930s, Harlow was one of the biggest stars in America and, it was hoped, MGM's next Greta Garbo. Still young, her star continued to rise while the popularity of other female stars at MGM, such as Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, waned. Harlow's movies continued to make huge profits at the box office, even during the middle of the Depression. Some credit them with keeping MGM profitable at a time when other studios were falling into bankruptcy. Following the end of her third marriage in 1934, Harlow met William Powell, another MGM star, and quickly fell in love. Reportedly, the couple were engaged for two years, but differences kept them from formalizing their relationship (she wanted children; he did not). Harlow also said that Louis B. Mayer would never allow them to marry.

Harlow complained about ill health on May 20, 1937 when she was filming Saratoga. Her symptoms; fatigue, nausea, water weight and abdominal pain did not seem very serious to her doctor, who believed she was suffering from gall bladder infection and flu. However, he was apparently not aware of Harlow’s ill health during the previous year: a severe sunburn, bad flu attack and septicemia after a wisdom tooth extraction. In addition, her friend and co-star Myrna Loy had noticed Harlow’s grey complexion, fatigue and weight gain. On May 29, Harlow was shooting a scene in which the character she was playing had a fever. Harlow was clearly sicker than her character, and when she leaned against her co-star Clark Gable between scenes she said, "I feel terrible. Get me back to my dressing room." Harlow requested that the assistant director phone William Powell, who left his own set to escort Harlow back home. On May 30, Powell checked on Harlow, and when she did not feel any better, her mother was recalled from a holiday trip and Dr. Fishbaugh visited Harlow at her home. Harlow's illnesses had delayed three previous films (Wife vs. Secretary, Suzy and Libeled Lady), so at first there was no great concern. On June 2, it was announced that Harlow was suffering from the flu. Harlow even felt better on June 3. Co-workers expected her back on the set by Monday, June 7. When Harlow said on June 6 that she could no longer see Powell properly, he called a doctor. As she slipped into a deep slumber and experienced difficulty breathing, the doctor finally realized that she was suffering from something other than gall bladder infection or flu. That same evening, Harlow was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where she slipped into a coma. The 26-year-old Jean Harlow died in the hospital on Monday, June 7, 1937 at 11:37 am. In the doctor’s press releases, the reason of death was given as cerebral edema, which is a side effect of renal or kidney failure.

For years, rumors circulated about Harlow’s death. It was claimed that her mother had refused to call in a doctor because she was a Christian Scientist, or that Harlow herself had declined hospital treatment or surgery. It was also rumored that Harlow had died because of alcoholism, a botched abortion, over-dieting, sunstroke, poisoning due to platinum hair dye, or various venereal diseases. However, based on medical bulletins, hospital records and testimony of her relatives and friends, it was proven to be a case of kidney disease. From the start, despite resting at home, Harlow was attended by a doctor, two nurses visited her house and various equipment was brought in from a nearby hospital. However, Harlow’s mother prevented some people from seeing her, such as the MGM doctor who later stated that it was because they were Christian Scientists. It has been suggested that she still wanted to control her daughter, but it is untrue that she refused Harlow medical care.

News of Harlow’s death spread fast and MGM closed down on the day of Harlow’s funeral on June 9. She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California in the Great Mausoleum in a private room of multicolored marble which William Powell bought for $25,000. She was buried in the gown she wore in Libeled Lady, and in her hands she held a white gardenia and a note in which Powell had written: ”Goodnight, my dearest darling.” MGM planned to replace Harlow in Saratoga with another actress, but because of public objections the film was finished by using three doubles (one for close-ups, one for long shots and one for dubbing Harlow’s lines) as well as writing her character off some scenes. True to their star right until the end, fans came out in droves to see Harlow's last movie, Saratoga. The film was M-G-M's highest grossing picture of 1937 and proclaimed to be her best film.

http://www.michaelthomasbarry.com/, author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memeories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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