Thursday, June 9, 2011

Robert Cummings, Robert Donat, Mayo Methot

Who was born on this date:

Actor Robert Cummings was born on June 9, 1910 in Joplin, Missouri. He studied drama for two years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City before appearing on Broadway in 1931. As British actors were heavily in demand, Cummings traveled to England and learned to mimic an upper-class English accent. He had a brief career on Broadway under the name Blade Stanhope Conway, posing as an Englishman.In 1933, he met and married his second wife, Vivian Janis. They were both appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies, with Cummings as the male lead opposite comedian, Fanny Brice.

In 1934, he moved to Hollywood, where he acted at first under the name Bruce Hutchens, assuming the persona of a wealthy Texan. He made his film debut the following year in The Virginia Judge. Cummings then decided to use his own name, acting throughout the 1930’s as a contract player in a number of supporting roles. He achieved stardom in 1939 in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, opposite Deanna Durbin. His many film comedies include: The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) with Jean Arthur, and The Bride Wore Boots (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Cummings gave memorable performances in three notable dramas: Kings Row (1942) with friend Ronald Reagan, Saboteur (1942) with Priscilla Lane and Norman Lloyd, and Dial M for Murder (1954), with Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.

Cummings began a long career on television in 1952, starring in the comedy My Hero. He received an Emmy award for his portrayal of "Juror Number Eight," in the first televised performance of Twelve Angry Men, a live production which aired in 1954 and from 1955 through 1959, Cummings starred on a successful NBC sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show, in which he played Bob Collins, an ex-World War II pilot who became a successful professional photographer, and as a bachelor in 1950's Los Angeles, thought himself to be quite the ladies' man. This sitcom was noted for some very risqué humor for its time. His co-stars were Rosemary DeCamp, as his sister, Margaret MacDonald, and Dwayne Hickman, as his nephew, Chuck MacDonald. The New Bob Cummings Show followed on CBS for one season, 1961-62. He also starred one season in My Living Doll which co-starred Julie Newmar as Rhoda the robot (1964), another CBS sitcom. His last significant role was the 1973 TV movie Partners in Crime, co-starring Lee Grant. He also appeared as Gopher's dad Eliott Smith on The Love Boat in 1979.

Cummings was married five times and was a staunch advocate of natural foods and a healthy diet and authored a book, Stay Young and Vital (1960), on health foods and exercise. In reference to refined products such as white flour, white rice, and sugar, he was quoted as saying, "Never eat anything white." Cummings died on December 2, 1990 and is interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Who died on this date:

On June 9, 1958, actor Robert Donat died. He was a gifted but reserved actor of both screen and theater. He was born Friedrich Robert Donath on March 18, 1905 in Withington, England. Donat's film career lasted twenty-six years (1932-1958) in which he made only twenty films. He was very finicky about the roles he choose and was not fond of the “Hollywood scene,” thus the majority of his pictures were filmed in his native Britain. His notable film credits include: The Private Lives of Henry VIII (1933), The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), The Cure for Love (1950), and The Lease of Life (1954). He was nominated for a best acting Oscar in 1939 for The Citadel (1938) and won the award the following year 1940, for his portrayal of Mr. Chips in MGM’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).

Robert Donat with Greer Garson, Good Bye, Mr. Chips

Donat suffered from severe asthma and other illnesses most of his life and died suddenly on June 9, 1958. He had just finished filming, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) a few weeks earlier, when he collapsed and was taken to a local London area hospital. At first it was thought that Donat had died from an acute attack of asthma but after an autopsy, the cause of death was changed to cerebral thrombosis caused by an undiagnosed brain tumor.

His poignant and prophetic last words on screen were said to co-star Ingrid Bergman’s character, “Stay here…for a little while. It will comfort me as I leave, to know it. We shall never see each other again, I think, Farewell.” Bergman said later that she felt intuitively, that something was wrong with Donat and that her tearfulness was not acting but real in the film’s final scene. Robert Donat’s remains were cremated and his ashes scattered in section 8 of the East Fincheley Cemetery (formerly known as Saint Marylebonne) in East Finchely, England.

On June 9, 1951, actress Mayo Methot died. She was born on March 3, 1904 in Portland, Oregon. A petite brunette, she became a popular actress on Broadway during the 1920’s where she was admired for both her acting and singing ability. While on Broadway she originated a role in the Vincent Youmans / Billy Rose musical Great Day (1929), introducing the standard "More Than You Know" and several others. She moved to Hollywood in the early 1930’s and began an association with Warner Brothers Studios. She was most often cast as unsympathetic second leads, and tough talking "dames" of Warner's contemporary crime melodramas such as Jimmy the Gent and Marked Woman, where she met Humphrey Bogart. She and Bogart were married in 1938.

Methot and Bogart became a couple of high-profile among Hollywood celebrities, but it was not a smooth marriage. Both drank heavily, and Methot gained a reputation for her violent excesses when under the influence. They became known as "The Battling Bogarts," with Methot's nickname widely known, for her combativeness, as "Sluggy." Bogart later named his motor yacht Sluggy, in her honor. Numerous battles took place at the Hollywood residence of the famous couple including one in which Methot actually stabbed Bogart in the shoulder. The incident was kept out of the press by the publicity department of Warner Bros. Actress Gloria Stuart recalled in her later years a dinner party at which Methot produced a pistol and threatened to shoot Bogart. Methot's career went into a rapid decline as a result of her drinking, and her marriage to Bogart ended in 1945, when he left her to marry Lauren Bacall.

In the coming years, Methot was unable to renew her film career and settled into a pattern of alcoholism and depression. Following her divorce from Bogart in May 1945, she moved back to Oregon where her mother helped take care of her. By the early 1950’s, struggling to support herself and ill from years of alcoholism, she died on June 9, 1951 in a motel room in Multnomah, Oregon. Her body lay undiscovered for several days. When Bogart heard the news (while shooting The African Queen) his comment was "Such a waste.” She is buried at the Portland Memorial Mausoleum in Portland, Oregon., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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