Saturday, July 23, 2011

Emil Jannings, Montgomery Clift, Van Heflin

Who was born on this date:

Actor Emil Jannings was the recipient of the first Academy Award for male lead actor, and was born Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz on July 23, 1884 in Rorschach, Switzerland. The acclaimed actor had eighty film credits between 1914 to 1945, notable motion pictures include: Othello (1922), Faust (1926), Street of Sin (1928), The Patriot (1928), Betrayal (1929), and The Blue Angel (1930). His 1929, Academy Award winning performances were for Way of the Flesh (1927) and The Last Command (1928). Jannings did not attend the awards ceremony.

Because of his thick German accent and the advent of talking pictures, Jannings career began to wane. In the 1930’s he became a supporter and activist in the Nazi party movement in Germany. He was good friends with Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, and together made dozens of films for the Third Reich. After the end of World War II, his career never again recaptured the brilliance of his early films, and because of his pro-Nazi stance, was blacklisted from American cinema. Emil Jannings died on January 2, 1950 at his home in Zinkenbach, Austria from liver cancer. He is buried at Saint Wolfgang Friedhof Cemetery, Salzburg, Austria.

Who was died on this date:

 On July 23, 1966, actor Montgomery Clift died. He was born on October 17, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska. Clift's first movie was opposite John Wayne in the 1948 film Red River. In 1949 he appeared in The Search for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He then appeared in The Heiress (1949) and the The Big Lift (1950). Although Clift gave another critically acclaimed performance, the movie was a box office failure. Clift was set to appear in Sunset Boulevard (which was written specifically for him) but he dropped out at the last minute, as he felt that his character was too close to him in real life (like his character he was good looking, and dating a much older, richer woman).

Entering the 1950s Clift was the most sought-after leading man in Hollywood and his only direct competitor was Marlon Brando. His next movie, A Place in the Sun (1951), is one of his iconic roles. The studio paired up two of the biggest young stars in Hollywood at the time (Clift and Elizabeth Taylor) in what was expected to be a blockbuster that would capitalize on their sex symbol status. Clift's performance in the movie is regarded as one of the signature Method acting performances. He worked extensively on his character and was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Arguably Clift's peak came with the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity for received another nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor but lost again this time to William Holden (who won for Stalag 17). Clift was reportedly devastated over his loss, and was sent an honorary small golden bugle award by the movie's producers which he treasured for the rest of his life.

On the evening of May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift got into a serious auto accident when he smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving a dinner party at the Beverly Hills home of his Raintree County co-star and close friend Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Michael Wilding. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the accident, Taylor raced to Clift's side, manually pulling a tooth out of his tongue as he had begun to choke on it. He suffered a broken jaw and nose, a fractured sinus, and several facial lacerations which required plastic surgery.

After a two-month recovery, he returned to the set to finish the film. Against the movie studio's worries over profits, Clift correctly predicted the film would do well, if only because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his facial appearance before and after the accident. The pain of the accident led him to rely on alcohol and pills for relief, as he had done after an earlier bout with dysentery left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and looks deteriorated considerably from then until his death.

His post-accident career has been referred to as the "longest suicide in Hollywood history" because of his alleged substance abuse. Clift continued to work over the next ten years. In 1958, he turned down what became Dean Martin's role in Rio Bravo, which would have reunited him with John Wayne. Clift's last Oscar nomination was for best supporting actor for his role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), a 12-minute part. On July 22, 1966 died at his New York City townhouse from a heart attack and is buried at Friends Quaker Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

On July 23, 1971, actor Van Heflin died. The talented character actor who often played tough guys with a sensitive and often vulnerable side was born Emmett Evan Heflin, Jr. on December 13, 1910 in Walters, Oklahoma. In his youth, Heflin worked as a merchant marine and got his start in show business by accident while on shore leave in New York City. He was discovered by Broadway director Richard Boleslawski, who cast him in the play, Mr. Moneypenny. The play closed after a short run, and he returned to the sea but the acting bug had been planted. Three years later, Heflin returned state side, and enrolled in drama school. In 1936, after a successful run in which he appeared in eight Broadway plays, Heflin made the switch to motion pictures, and was quickly signed by RKO Pictures, and appeared in his first film, A Woman Rebels (1936). In a memorable screen career that included over fifty motion pictures from 1936 to 1971, Heflin’s most unforgettable movie credits include: The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), Santa Fe Trail (1940), The Three Musketeers (1948), Shane (1953), Battle Cry (1955), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Airport (1970).

Heflin won the best supporting actor Academy Award in 1943, for his portrayal of the hard drinking stooge, Jeff Harnett in Johnny Eager (1942). He almost always played the supporting role in films, his rugged characters seemed to possess a certain vulnerability that showed weakness which often lead to his characters into dire circumstances.

Heflin was an ardent health fanatic in his later years and often swam laps in his Los Angeles area apartment pool. On June 6, 1971, while completing his regular swimming routine, he suffered a heart attack. He was able to get to the side of the pool and hang onto a ladder but was unsuccessful in getting out of the water. Fellow tenants helped pull the stricken actor from the water but when paramedics finally arrived, he was unconsciousness and unresponsive. Heflin was transported to Citizens Emergency Hospital in Hollywood, where he lay in a coma for forty-seven days. The award winning actor died on July 23, 1971, at age sixty, never having regained consciousness. Van Heflin’s remains were cremated and scattered in the Pacific Ocean., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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