Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Robert Preston, Alexis Smith, Robert Taylor

Who was born on this date:

Actor Robert Preston was born on June 8, 1918 in Newton, Massachusetts. After attending Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, California, he studied acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. He appeared in many Hollywood films, predominantly Westerns, but is probably best remembered for his performance as "Professor" Harold Hill in Meredith Willson's musical, The Music Man (1962). He had already won a Tony Award for his performance in the original Broadway production, in 1957; when Willson adapted his story for the screen, he insisted on Preston's participation over the objections of Jack L. Warner, who had wanted Frank Sinatra for the role. Preston appeared on the cover of Time magazine on July 21, 1958. In 1965 he was the male part of a duo-lead musical, "I Do! I Do!" with Mary Martin, for which he won his second Tony Award and in 1974, he starred alongside Bernadette Peters in Jerry Herman's Broadway musical "Mack and Mabel" as Mack Sennett, the famous silent film director. That same year (1974) the film version of Mame, another famed Jerry Herman musical, was released with Preston starring, alongside Lucille Ball, in the role of Beauregard Burnside. In the film, which was not a box-office success, Preston sang "Loving You," which was written and composed by Herman especially for Preston to sing in the film.

In 1979 and 1980, Preston portrayed determined family patriarch Hadley Chisholm in the CBS western miniseries, The Chisholms. Although he was not known for his singing voice, Preston appeared in several other stage and film musicals, notably Mame (1974) and Victor Victoria (1982), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. His last role in a theatrical film was in The Last Starfighter (1984). He also starred in the HBO 1985 movie Finnegan, Begin Again along with Mary Tyler Moore. His final role was in the TV movie Outrage! (1986). Robert Preston died of lung cancer on March 21, 1987 at the age of 68 and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Actress Alexis Smith was born on June 8, 1921 in Penticton, British Columbia, but was raised in Los Angeles. She was signed to a contract by Warner Bros. after being discovered by a talent scout while attending college. Her earliest film roles were uncredited bit parts, and it took several years for her career to gain momentum. Her first credited role was in the feature film Dive Bomber (1941), playing the female lead opposite Errol Flynn. Her appearance in The Constant Nymph (1943) was well received and led to bigger parts. During the 1940s she appeared alongside some of the most popular male stars of the day, including Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim (1942) and San Antonio (1945), Humphrey Bogart in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), Cary Grant in a sanitized, fictionalized version of the life of Cole and Linda Porter in Night and Day (1946), and Bing Crosby in Here Comes the Groom (1951). Among Smith's other films are Rhapsody In Blue (1945), Of Human Bondage (1946), and The Young Philadelphians (1959). Smith had a recurring role on the television series Dallas and was nominated for an Emmy Award for her guest appearance on the sitcom Cheers in 1990. Smith died of brain cancer in Los Angeles, California, on June 9, 1993 and her ashes were scattered off of the Southern California coast.

Who died on this date:

On June 8, 1969, actor Robert Taylor died. He was born on August 5, 1911 in Filley, Nebraska. As a teenager, he was a track star and played the cello in his high school orchestra. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska to study music.While at Doane, he took cello lessons from Professor E. Gray, a man whom he admired and idolized. After Professor Gray announced he was accepting a new position at Pomona College in Los Angeles, Taylor moved to California and enrolled at Pomona. He joined the campus theatre group and was eventually spotted by an MGM talent scout in 1932.After signing a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Taylor made his film debut in the 1934 comedy, Handy Andy, opposite Will Rogers. After appearing in a few small roles, he appeared in one of his first leading roles in Magnificent Obsession, with Irene Dunne. This was followed by Camille, opposite Greta Garbo.

Throughout the late 1930s, Taylor appeared in films of varying genres including the musicals Broadway Melody of 1936 and Broadway Melody of 1938, and the British comedy A Yank at Oxford with Vivien Leigh. In 1940, he reteamed with his A Yank at Oxford co-star Vivien Leigh in Mervyn LeRoy's drama Waterloo Bridge. Taylor would say that Waterloo Bridge was his favorite film. After being given the nickname "The Man with the Perfect Profile,” Taylor began breaking away from his perfect leading man image and began appearing in darker roles beginning in 1941. That year he appeared in Billy the Kid and the next year, he played the title role in the film noir, Johnny Eager opposite Lana Turner. After playing a tough sergeant in Bataan in 1943, Taylor contributed to the war effort by becoming a flying instructor in U.S. Naval Air Corps. During this time, he also starred in instructional films and narrated the 1944 documentary The Fighting Lady. Robert Taylor first appeared with actress Elizabeth Taylor in the 1949 movie Conspirator. Taylor (38 at the time) was somewhat uncomfortable with Elizabeth Taylor being sixteen and his love interest. The age difference was mentioned in the film, when they made Elizabeth state her age as eighteen years old to Robert's age of 31 years of age.

In 1950, Taylor landed the role of General Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis, opposite Deborah Kerr. The following year, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in the film version of Walter Scott's classic Ivanhoe, followed by 1953's Knights of the Round Table and The Adventures of Quentin Durward, all filmed in England. By the mid-1950s, Taylor's career began to wane. He starred in a comedy western in 1955 co-starring Eleanor Parker called Many Rivers To Cross. In 1958 he shared lead with Richard Widmark in the edgy John Sturges western, The Law and Jake Wade. In 1958, he formed his own production company, Robert Taylor Productions, and the following year, he starred in the ABC hit television series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (1959–1962). Following the end of the series in 1962, Taylor continued to appear in films and television including A House Is Not a Home and two episodes of Hondo. In 1964, he co-starred with his former wife, Barbara Stanwyck, in William Castle's psychological horror film The Night Walker, from a novel by Robert Bloch. In 1965, after filming Johnny Tiger in Florida, Taylor took over the role of narrator in the television series Death Valley Days, when Ronald Reagan left to pursue a career in politics. Taylor would remain with the series until 1969 when he became too ill to continue working.

Actress Barbara Stanwyk

In his personal life, Taylor appeared with actress Barbara Stanwyck in the 1937 film This Is My Affair, the two were married in 1939. The marriage had its ups and downs and eventually ended in 1951. In 1954, Taylor married German-born actress, Ursula Thiess. On June 8, 1969, Taylor died of lung cancer at the age of 57 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memeories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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