Monday, July 11, 2011

Yul Brynner, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Blane, Laurence Olivier, Frances Langford

Who was born on this date:

Actor Yul Brynner was born on July 11, 1920 in Primorsky Krai, Russia. He was best known for his portrayal of Mongkut, king of Siam, in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor; he also played the role more than 4,500 times on stage. He is also remembered as Rameses II in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments, General Bounine in Anastasia and Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven. Brynner was noted for his distinctive voice and for his shaven head, which he maintained as a personal trademark long after adopting it for his initial role in The King and I. Brynner is one of only nine people who have won both a Tony Award and an Academy Award for the same role.

Brynner was married four times, the first three ending in divorce. He fathered three children and adopted two. According to Marlene Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva (as she wrote in her memoir Marlene Dietrich, 1994), he had a passionate affair with the famous actress during the first production of The King and I. Brynner died of lung cancer on October 10, 1985, in New York City. Knowing he was dying of cancer, Brynner starred in a run of farewell performances of his most famous role, The King and I, on Broadway from January 7 to June 30, 1985.
Throughout his life, Brynner was often seen with a cigarette in his hand. In January 1985, nine months before his death, he gave an interview on Good Morning America, expressing his desire to make an anti-smoking commercial. A clip from that interview was made into just such a public service announcement by the American Cancer Society, and released after his death; it includes the warning "Now that I'm gone, I tell you, don't smoke. Whatever you do, just don't smoke. If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn't be talking about any cancer. I'm convinced of that." He is interred, in France, on the grounds of the Saint-Michel-de-Bois-Aubry Russian Orthodox monastery, near Luzé.

Actor Thomas Mitchell was born on July 11, 1892 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was known as one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Mitchell is best known for his portrayal of Gerald O’Hara, the father of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). In a show business career that spanned nearly four decades, 1923-1961, he appeared in fifty-seven motion pictures and numerous television programs that include: Lost Horizon (1937), Man of the People (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Dark Waters (1944), and High Noon (1952). Other famous films in which he appeared are It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), starring Jimmy Stewart, in which Mitchell portrayed the absent minded, Uncle Billy, and his last film A Pocket Full of Miracles (1961), which starred Bette Davis and Glenn Ford. During his long and successful film career, Mitchell was twice nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, for the role of Dr. Kersaint in The Hurricane (1937) and won the award for his portrayal of Doc Boone in Stage Coach (1939).

Mitchell was the first actor to win the Triple Crown of acting, best supporting actor Academy Award for Stage Coach (1939), a Tony Award in 1953 for Hazel Flagg, and an Emmy for best actor in 1953. On December 17, 1962, Mitchell died at his Beverly Hills home after a long struggle with bone cancer. His funeral service was private and held at his home with only family members and a few close friends in attendance. Mitchell’s remains were cremated and it is alleged that his ashes are held in storage at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles, California.

Actress Sally Blane was born on July 11, 1910 in Salida, Colorado. She was the sister of actresses Polly Ann and Loretta Young, and half-sister to actress Georgiana Young, the wife of actor Ricardo Montalban. She made her film debut at the age of seven when she appeared in Sirens of the Sea in 1917. She returned to the film business as an adult in the 1920s where she played small parts in a number of silent films. Her career continued into the 1930s when Blane appeared in a number of low-budget films, among them Once a Sinner (1930), A Dangerous Affair (1930), Arabian Knights (1931), Anabelle's Affairs (1931), Hello Everybody! (1933), City Limits (1934), Against the Law (1934) and This Is the Life (1935). Some of her scenes, including one in Annabell's Affairs, in which she appeared in skimpy lingerie with Jeanette Macdonald and Joyce Compton, were quite risqué for their day, pre-dating the industry's Hays Code that largely forbade such shots after 1934.

Although her film appearances tapered off toward the late 1930s, Blane eventually appeared in over 100 films. She appeared onscreen at one time or another with all her sisters, for example with Georgina in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). After that Blane appeared in only four more movies in small supporting roles, Fighting Mad (1939), Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), La Fuga (1944) and A Bullet for Joey (1955). Blane died of cancer, as had her sisters Polly and Loretta, on August 27, 1997 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Who died on this date:

On July 11, 1989, actor Laurence Olivier died. He was considered by many to be the greatest actor of his time and a living reincarnation of the traditional Shakespearian thespians of times long past, Sir Laurence Kerr Olivier was born on May 22, 1907 in Dorking, Surrey, England. The youngest of three children, Olivier was raised in a very strict religious home. His father was a high ranking Anglican priest and his mother, while tender and doting, died when Laurence was only twelve. Laurence’s Uncle Sydney Olivier was the first Baron Olivier and was Governor of Jamaica and Secretary of State for India.
His love for acting began at an early age, performing in school plays. Because of his natural talent for the performing arts, his father agreed to support this calling. While a student at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he appeared in numerous Shakespearian productions and his roles became more and more significant. Moving to New York City in the late 1920’s, Olivier’s star status rapidly gained momentum and soon caught the eye of Hollywood studio executives. His first foray into film came in 1930 with The Temporary Widow and his first starring role came the next year in The Yellow Ticket (1931), Olivier did not hold either of these films in high regard. Although his greatest successes were to come on the silver screen, he always held contempt for the medium; his first love would always be the stage.

In a show business career that would span nearly six decades (1930-1989), Olivier would appear in over eighty feature films and television programs. His greatest film achievements include; Perfect Understanding (1933), Conquest of the Air (1936), Pride and Prejudice (1940), 21 Days (1940), That Hamilton Woman (1941), The Prince and the Show Girl (1957), Spartacus (1960), Khartoum (1966), Battle of Britain (1969), Dracula (1979), The Jazz Singer (1980), and Clash of the Titans (1981). He was nominated for eight best acting Oscars, Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca (1940), The Chronicles History of King Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), Richard III (1955), The Entertainer (1960), Othello (1965), Sleuth (1972), and The Boys from Brazil (1978). Olivier was also nominated for a best director and supporting actor Oscar’s for Hamlet (1948) and The Marathon Man (1976), respectively. His only win came in 1949 for his portrayal of the title role of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in Hamlet (1948). He was also the recipient of two honorary Academy Awards, 1947 for outstanding achievement as an actor, producer, and director for Henry V (1946), and 1979 for lifetime achievement in film.

Unlike his professional career, his personal life was filled with turmoil. He was married three times and divorced twice, most notably to fellow Academy Award winning actress Vivien Leigh. Olivier met Leigh while the pair were still married and carried on a torrid love affair. They eventually married on August 30, 1940, and their tumultuous union lasted twenty years. Throughout his life Olivier was known as notorious womanizer and had numerous affairs which included his second wife Vivien Leigh, Claire Bloom, and his third wife, Joan Plowright. It has been alleged, but never proven, that he was bi-sexual. Rumors of romantic trysts with fellow actors Danny Kaye and Henry Ainley have persisted but no actual evidence has ever been produced. But in a tantalizing 2006 radio interview, Joan Plowright responded to a question about these rumors by saying “If a man is touched by genius, he is not an ordinary person. He doesn’t lead an ordinary life. He has extremes of behavior which you understand and you just find a way not to be swept overboard by his demons.”

Laurence Olivier died on July 11, 1989 at his country home in Steyning, West Sussex, England. The exact cause of his death is in dispute, some sources point to kidney failure and others to complications from a muscle disorder. What is known is that Olivier had been in poor health for many years and just four months prior to his death; the actor had undergone hip replacement surgery after a fall. His cremated remains are interred at Westminster Abbey, London, England in Poets Corner, one of only four actors to have been accorded this honor and he is interred ironically near many of the famous people he portrayed both on stage and screen.

On July 11, 2005, actress Frances Langford died. She was born on April 4, 1913 in Lakeland, Florida. At age 17, she was singing for local dances. Cigar manufacturer Eli Witt heard her sing at an American Legion party and hired her to sing on his local radio show. While singing for radio during the early 1930s, she was heard by Rudy Vallee, who invited her to become a regular on his radio show and from 1935 until 1938 she was a regular performer on Dick Powell's radio show. She made her film debut in Every Night at Eight (1935) she introduced what became her signature song: "I'm in the Mood for Love." She then began appearing frequently in films such as Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Born to Dance (1936) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney. During World War II, she joined Hope, Jerry Colonna, and other performers on U.S.O. tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of G.I.'s throughout the world. Her association with Hope continued into the 1980s. In 1989 she joined him for a USO tour to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf. She died on July 11, 2005 at her Jensen Beach home from congestive heart failure and her ashes were scattered at sea., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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