Friday, July 29, 2011

William Powell, Clara Box, Thelma Todd, Raymond Massey

Who was born on this date:

Actor William Powell was born on July 29, 1892 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began his Hollywood career in 1922 playing a small role in a production of Sherlock Holmes that starred John Barrymore. His most memorable role in silent movies was as a bitter film director opposite Emil Jannings' Academy Award-winning performance as a fallen general in The Last Command (1928), which led to Powell's first starring role as amateur detective Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case (1929). 

Powell's most famous role was that of Nick Charles in six Thin Man films, beginning with The Thin Man in 1934. The role provided a perfect opportunity for Powell to showcase his sophisticated charm and his witty sense of humor, and he received his first Academy Award nomination for The Thin Man.  Actress Myrna Loy played his wife, Nora, in each of the Thin Man films. Their partnership was one of Hollywood's most prolific on-screen pairings, with the couple appearing in 14 films together. He and Loy also starred in The Great Ziegfeld the Oscar winning film of 1936 and that same year, he also received his second Academy Award nomination, for the comedy My Man Godfrey.

In 1935, he starred with Jean Harlow in Reckless. Soon it developed into a serious romance, though she died in 1937 before they could marry. His distress over her death, as well as his own battle with colon cancer around the same time, caused him to accept fewer acting roles. His career slowed considerably in the 1940s, although in 1947 he received his third Academy Award nomination for his work in Life with Father. His last film was Mister Roberts in 1955 and despite numerous offers to return to the screen; Powell refused all and stayed retired. 

Powell and Harlow

In his personal life Powell was married three times, first to Eileen Wilson, which ended in a divorce in 1930. The following year he married actress Carole Lombard and they divorced in 1933. As previously discussed, Powell had a close relationship with actress Jean Harlow beginning in 1935, but they never married and the relationship was cut short by her untimely death in 1937.  Powell paid for her final resting place, a $25,000 private room in the Sanctuary of Benediction of the Great Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. He married for third and final time in 1940 to Diana Lewis, whom he called "Mousie." They met only three weeks before they wed, yet they remained married until Powell's death. On March 5, 1984, Powell died of heart failure in Palm Springs, California and is buried at the Desert Memorial Park, in Cathedral City, California.

Actress Clara Bow was born on July 29, 1905in Brooklyn, New York. Her high spirits and acting artistry made her the quintessential flapper and the film It brought her global fame and the nickname "The It Girl." Bow came to personify the roaring twenties and is described as its leading sex symbol. She appeared in 46 silent films and 11 talkies, including hits such as Mantrap (1926), It (1927) and Wings (1927). She was first box-office draw in 1928 and 1929 and second in 1927 and 1930. Her presence in a motion picture has been described to have ensured investors, by odds of almost 2-to-1, a "safe return" with only two exceptions. At the apex of her stardom, in January 1929, she received more than 45,000 fan letters. Bow ended her career with Hoop-La (1933), and became a rancher in Nevada. In 1931 she married actor Rex Bell, later politician and Lieutenant Governor, with whom she had two sons.

In 1944, while Bell was running for the U.S. House of Representatives, Bow tried to commit suicide. A note was found in which Bow stated she preferred death to a public life. In 1949 she checked into The Institute of Living to be treated for her chronic insomnia and diffuse abdominal pains. Shock treatment was tried and numerous psychological tests performed. Her pains were considered delusional and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, despite experiencing neither sound nor vision hallucinations, or psychosis. Bow spent her last years in Culver City, Los Angeles under the constant care of a nurse, living off an estate worth about $500,000 at the time of her death. She died on September 27, 1965 of a heart attack. She was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Actress Thelma Todd was born on July 29, 1906 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She appeared in over 120 motion pictures between 1926 and 1935 of which many were short films, and was sometimes publicized as "The Ice Cream Blonde." Her most notable film credits include Monkey Business and Horse Feathers with the Marx Brothers, a number of Charley Chase's short comedies, and co-starring with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily. She also had roles in Wheeler and Woolsey farces, several Laurel and Hardy films, the last of which (The Bohemian Girl) featured her in a part that was truncated by her death.

In her late teens, she began entering beauty pageants, winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. While representing her home state, she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began her career in film. During the silent era, Todd appeared in numerous supporting roles that made full use of her beauty but gave her little chance to act. With the advent of the talkies, Todd was given opportunity to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with such comedy stars as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy. In 1931 she was given her own series, teaming with ZaSu Pitts for slapstick comedies. This was Roach's attempt to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy. When Pitts left Roach in 1933, she was replaced by Patsy Kelly. The Todd shorts often cast her as a working girl having all sorts of problems, and trying her best to remain poised and charming despite the embarrassing antics of her sidekick. In 1931, Todd became romantically involved with director Roland West and starred in his film Corsair.

Thelma Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedian, and Roach loaned her out to other studios. She also appeared successfully in such dramas as the original 1931 film version of The Maltese Falcon. In August 1934, she opened a successful cafe at Pacific Palisades, called Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe, attracting a diverse clientele of Hollywood celebrities as well as many tourists.

On the morning of Monday, December 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, a former actress and former wife of Todd's lover and business partner, Roland West. Carmen's house was approximately a block from the topmost side of Todd's restaurant. Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Todd had a wide circle of friends and associates as well as a busy social life; police investigations revealed that she had spent the last night of her life at the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood restaurant, at a party hosted by entertainer Stanley Lupino and his actress daughter, Ida. At the restaurant, she had had a brief but unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DeCicco. However, her friends stated that she was in good spirits, and were aware of nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for committing suicide.

The detectives of the LAPD concluded at first that Todd's death was accidental, the result of her either warming up the car to drive it or using the heater to keep warm. Other evidence, however, pointed to foul play. The Grand Jury ruled her death as suicide. Since her body was cremated, a second, more thorough autopsy could not be carried out. It was believed that she was the target of extortion, but refused to pay. It is also possible that she was locked in the garage by her assailant after she started the car. Blood from a wound was found on her face and dress, leading some to believe that she was knocked unconscious and placed in the car so that she would succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. Todd's death certificate states her cause of death to be accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. She was cremated; after her mother's death, her remains were placed in her mother's casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her home town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Who died on this date: 

On July 29, 1983, actor Raymond Massey died. He was born on August 30, 1896 in Toronto, Canada. Drawn to the theatre, in 1922, he appeared on the London stage. His first movie role was High Treason in 1927. In 1929 he directed the London premiere of The Silver Tassie. He played Sherlock Holmes in The Speckled Band in 1931, the first sound film version of the story. In 1934, he starred in The Scarlet Pimpernel and, in 1936, he starred in H. G. Wells's Things to Come. Despite being Canadian, Massey became famous for his quintessential American roles such as abolitionist John Brown in 1940's Santa Fe Trail and again as John Brown in the 1955 low-budget film Seven Angry Men.

He was nominated for a best acting Oscar in 1940 for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Massey portrayed the character of "Jonathan Brewster" in the film version of Arsenic and Old Lace. Other notable film credits include Possessed (1947) and The Fountainhead (1949).Massey became well-known on television in the 1950s and 1960s, especially as Doctor Gillespie in the popular series Dr. Kildare. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on July 29, 1983 and was buried at Beaverdale Memorial Park, New Haven, Connecticut., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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