Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lassie, Rosalind Russell, Clara Blandick, Dorothy Layton & Stephen McNally

Born on this date:

The first canine actor to play Lassie was Pal, who was born on June 4, 1940. Pal starred in seven MGM films between 1943 and 1951, which included Lassie Come Home (1943) that starred Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor, Son of Lassie (1945), starring Peter Lawford and June Lockhart, and Courage of Lassie (1946) with Elizabeth Taylor. A radio series, "Lassie Radio Show likes lassie with his friends" was also created, airing until 1949. Before he retired, Pal appeared in the two pilots for the 1954 television series Lassie (1954-1973). Despite the fact the character Lassie was female, all collies that played Lassie in the television series were male because male collies retain a thicker summer coat than females, which "looks better on television." Also, the male is larger and a child actor can play opposite the dog for longer before outgrowing him. Pal was handled by Frank and Rudd Weatherwax, and Frank Inn. Eight generations of Pal and his descendants have portrayed the beloved collie. The original Lassie, Pal died in 1958.

On June 4, 1907, actress Rosalind Russell was born. Russell started her career as a fashion model. In the early 1930’s, Russell went west to Los Angeles to be a contract actress for Universal Pictures. When she first arrived on the lot, she was ignored by most of the crew and later told the press she felt terrible and humiliated at the studio, which had influence on her self-confidence. Unhappy with Universal's leadership, and second-class film status at the time, Russell set her sights on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She debuted with MGM in 1934’s Evelyn Prentice and, although the role was small, she was noticed, with one critic saying that she was "convincing as the woman scorned." She starred in many comedies, such as Forsaking All Others (1934), and Four's a Crowd (1938), as well as dramas, including Craig's Wife (1936) and The Citadel (1938).

Russell was first acclaimed when she co-starred in the MGM drama West Point of the Air (1935). In 1939, she was cast as catty gossip Sylvia Fowler in the all-female comedy The Women, directed by George Cukor. The film was a major hit, boosting her career and establishing her reputation as a comedienne. Russell continued to display her talent for comedy in the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), directed by Howard Hawks.In the 1940s, she made comedies such as The Feminine Touch (1941) and Take a Letter, Darling (1942), dramas including Sister Kenny (1946), and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and a murder mystery The Velvet Touch (1948).

Over the course of her career, Russell earned four Academy Award nominations for Best Actress: My Sister Eileen (1942); Sister Kenny (1946); Mourning Becomes Electra (1947); and the movie version of Auntie Mame (1958). She received a Special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1972. The awarded trophy for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is an Oscar statuette. Russell scored a big hit on Broadway with her Tony Award-winning performance in Wonderful Town (1953), a musical version of her successful film of a decade earlier, My Sister Eileen. Russell reprised her starring role for a 1958 television special.

Perhaps her most memorable performance was in the title role of the long-running stage hit Auntie Mame and the subsequent 1958 movie version, in which she played an eccentric aunt whose orphan nephew comes to live with her. From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, she continued to shine with older roles in a large number of movies, giving notable performances in Picnic (1955), A Majority of One (1961), Five Finger Exercise (1962), Gypsy (1962), and The Trouble with Angels (1966). Russell died on November 28, 191976 after a long battle with breast cancer and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

On June 4, 1880, actress Clara Blandick was born. She is best known for playing the role of Auntie Em in 1939’s, The Wizard of Oz. She was born Clara Dickey, the daughter of Isaac B. and Hattie (Mudgett) Dickey. She grew up in Boston, and there met famed Shakespearean actor, E. H. Sothern, with whom she appeared onstage in a production of the play Richard Lovelace. She moved from Boston to New York City by 1900, and began pursuing acting as a career. Her first professional appearance came in 1901, when she was cast as Jehanneton in the play If I Were King, which ran for 56 performances at Garden Theatre (an early component of Madison Square Garden). She achieved acclaim for her role in The Christian and was described by newspaper critics as a "dainty, petite, and graceful" heroine. In 1903 she played Gwendolyn in the Broadway premiere of E. W. Hornung's Raffles The Amateur Cracksman opposite Kyrle Bellew. She started in pictures with the Old Kalem company in 1908 and made a number of appearances like in The Maid's Double in 1911. Blandick finally broke onto Broadway in 1912, when she was cast as Dolores Pennington in Widow By Proxy which ran for 88 performances through early 1913 at George M. Cohan's Theatre on Broadway. During this same period she appeared on stages throughout the Northeastern United States as a member of Sylvester Poli's stock theater company, The Poli Players. She would continue to achieve success on the stage, playing a number of starring roles, including the lead in Madame Butterfly. By 1914 she was reappearing on the silver screen, this time as Emily Mason in the film Mrs. Black is Back.

In 1929, Blandick moved to Hollywood and by the 1930’s, she was well-known in theatrical and film circles as an established supporting actress. Though she landed roles like Aunt Polly in the 1930 film Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (1931), she spent much of the decade as a character actress. At a time when many actors were permanently attached to a single studio, Blandick played a wide number of bit parts for almost every major Hollywood studio (though she would later be under contract with 20th Century Fox). In 1930, she acted in nine different films. In 1931 she was in thirteen different films. As is the case with some other busy character actors, it's impossible to make an exact tally of the films in which Clara appeared.

In 1939, Blandick landed her most memorable minor role, as Auntie Em in MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz. Though it was a small part, the character was an important symbol of protagonist Dorothy's quest to return home to her beloved aunt and uncle, a snipe at people who revere glitz and tinsel over a happy home life. (Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters from the beginning of the movie not to have alter ego characters in the Land of Oz). Though the Auntie Em character proved memorable to audiences, few fans knew Blandick's name. She was not billed in the opening credits and is listed last in the movie's closing credits.

After The Wizard of Oz, Blandick returned to her staple of character acting in supporting and bit roles. She would continue to act in a wide variety of roles in dozens of films. She played the spiteful Mrs. Pringle in 1940s Anne of Windy Poplars, a surprised customer in the 1941 Marx Brothers film The Big Store, a fashionable socialite in the 1944 musical Can't Help Singing, and a cold-blooded murderer in the 1947 mystery Philo Vance Returns. Her final two roles both came in 1950, playing a housekeeper and a landlady in Key to the City and Love That Brute respectively. She retired from acting at the age of 69 and went into seclusion at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Throughout the 1950’s, Blandick's health steadily began to fail. She started going blind and began suffering from severe arthritis. On April 15, 1962, she returned home from Palm Sunday services at her church. Her residence was 1735 North Wilcox Avenue, Los Angeles, California. She began rearranging her room, placing her favorite photos and memorabilia in prominent places. She laid out her resume and a collection of press clippings from her lengthy career. She dressed immaculately, in an elegant royal blue dressing gown. Then, with her hair properly styled, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. She lay down on a couch, covered herself with a gold blanket over her shoulders, and tied a plastic bag over her head. Clara left the following note: “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

Her landlady, Helen Mason, found her body Sunday morning. In preparing to die, Clara had disposed of all her medicines the previous week. She told James Busch, a friend for many years, that they might be discovered if anything happened to her. Clara Blandick's ashes are interred at the Great Mausoleum, Columbarium of Security (Niche 17230) at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale. Blandick's cremated remains lay just yards from those of "The Wizard of Oz" co-star, actor Charles Grapewin, who portrayed her on-screen farmer husband 'Uncle Henry'.

Who died on this date:

On June 4, 2009, actress Dorothy Layton died. She was born on August 13, 1912 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was selected as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars" for 1932. Layton had a promising acting career and starred in eight films in 1932 and 1933, notably with Laurel and Hardy. She appeared in the film "Chickens Come Home" (1931), "The Chimp"(1932), "County Hospital" (1932), and "Pack Up Your Troubles" (1932). The only film she made of any prominence, however, was 1933's Pick-up, co-starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney. Her career fizzled after that film, and never really took off again. By 1935 she retired altogether from acting. Layton eventually moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she met and married Howard W. Taylor, Jr., a Baltimore businessman. The marriage ended in divorce. Dorothy Layton died on June 4, 2009, at a retirement home in Towson, Maryland, aged 96.

On June 4, 1994, actor Stephen McNally died. He started his stage career using his real name Horace McNally and began appearing in many World War II-era films. In 1946, he changed his stage name to Stephen McNally and began appearing as both movie villains and heroes. He played menacing roles in such films as Johnny Belinda (1948) and the James Stewart western Winchester '73 (1950). He co-starred in the Burt Lancaster film noir Criss Cross (1949). Other notable 1950s films included No Way Out (1950), Split Second (1953), and Johnny Rocco (1958). McNally appeared in three episodes of the ABC religious anthology series Crossroads. He was thereafter cast as Jim in the 1960 episode "Moment of Fear" of the CBS and Four Star Television Production, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, with episode co-stars Edgar Bergen and Darryl Hickman. Thereafter, he appeared in the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. In the 1961-1962 season, McNally and Robert Harland had their own crime drama on ABC, another Four Star series called Target: The Corruptors!. This program aired on Friday in a good time slot after the popular 77 Sunset Strip, but it failed to gain renewal for a second season. McNally played a crusading newspaper reporter in the series, and Harland was his undercover agent. During the 1970s, McNally guest starred in television programs such as Fantasy Island and James Garner's The Rockford Files. He died of heart failure at the age of eighty on June 4, 1994 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

No comments:

Post a Comment