Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fred MacMurray, Shirley Booth, Raymond Massey, Joan Blondell, Charles Coburn, Vera Ellen, Glenn Ford, Jean Seberg

Who was born on this date:

Actor Fred MacMurray was born on August 30, 1908 in Kankakee, Illinois. He appeared in more than 100 movies and was a successful television star in career that spanned nearly a half-century, from 1930 to the 1970s. MacMurray is well known for his role in the 1944 film noir Double Indemnity. Later in his career, he became better known as the paternal Steve Douglas, the widowed patriarch on My Three Sons, which ran on ABC from 1960–1965 and then on CBS from 1965–1972. 

In his heyday, MacMurray worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest names, including Billy Wilder and actors Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart and Marlene Dietrich. He played opposite Claudette Colbert in seven films, beginning with The Gilded Lily. He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams and with Joan Crawford in Above Suspicion, and with Carole Lombard in four films. Despite being typecast as a "nice guy," MacMurray often said his best roles were when he was cast against this type by Wilder. In 1944, he played the role of Walter Neff, an insurance salesman who plots with a greedy wife to murder her husband in Double Indemnity. Sixteen years later he played Jeff Sheldrake, a two-timing corporate executive in Wilder's Oscar winning comedy The Apartment. In another turn in the "not so nice" category, MacMurray played the cynical, duplicitous Lieutenant Thomas Keefer in 1954's The Caine Mutiny. 

MacMurray's career got its second wind beginning in 1959, when he was cast as the father figure in a popular Disney comedy, The Shaggy Dog. In the 1960s, he starred in My Three Sons, which ran for 12 seasons, making it one of America's longest-running television series. Concurrent with My Three Sons, MacMurray stayed busy in films, starring in 1961 as Professor Ned Brainerd in Disney's The Absent Minded Professor and in its sequel, Son of Flubber (1964). Later in life he suffered from a variety of illness, first suffering from throat cancer in the late 1970s and then a stroke in 1988. This stroke left his right side paralyzed and his speech affected, although with therapy he was able to make a remarkable recovery. He also suffered from leukemia but died from pneumonia on November 5, 1991. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Actress Shirley Booth was born on August 30, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York. Primarily a theatre actress, Booth's Broadway career began in 1925. Her most significant success was as Lola Delaney, in the drama Come back, Little Sheba, for which she received a Tony Award in 1950. She made her film debut, reprising her role in the 1952 film version for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Despite her successful entry into films, she preferred stage acting, and made only four more films. From 1961 until 1966, she played the title role in the sitcom Hazel, for which she won two Emmy Awards, and was acclaimed for her performance in the 1966 television production of The Glass Menagerie. She retired in 1974 and died on October 16, 1992 after a brief illness at her home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She is interred at Mount Hebron Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.

Actor Raymond Massey 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.

Actress Joan Blondell was born on August 30, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York. After winning a beauty pageant, she embarked upon a film career. Establishing herself as a sexy wisecracking blonde, she appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows. She was most active in films during the 1930s, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best Supporting Actress for her work in The Blue Veil (1951). 

She began to appear in short subjects, and was named as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1931. Blondell was paired with James Cagney in such films as Sinners' Holiday (1930), the film version of Penny Arcade and The Public Enemy (1931), and was one half of a gold-digging duo with Gelnda Farrell in nine films. Her stirring rendition of "Remember My Forgotten Man" in the production of Gold Diggers of 1933, in which she co-starred with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, became an anthem for the frustrations of the unemployed and the government's failed economic policies.  

By the end of the decade, she had made nearly fifty films, despite having left Warner Bros. in 1939. Continuing to work regularly for the rest of her life, Blondell was well received in her later films, despite being relegated to character and supporting roles after the mid-1940s. In 1951, she received a nomination for a best supporting actress Oscar in The Blue Veil. She was also featured prominently in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945); Nightmare Alley (1947); The Opposite Sex (1956); Desk set (1957); and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).  

Blondell appeared in numerous appearances in television programs throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. In her personal life she was married three times; her second husband was actor Dick Powell and third was producer Mike Todd and an often repeated myth is that he "dumped" Blondell for ElizabethTaylor is untrue. Blondell died from leukemia on December 25, 1979 in Santa Monica and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.

Who died on this date:

On August 30, 1962, actor Charles Coburn died. The venerable character actor who was known for his monocle, aristocratic southern style, and sly sense of humor was born June 19, 1877 in Savannah, Georgia. He began a very successful acting career in the theater at age fourteen. The bright lights of Hollywood did not beckon until 1938; the actor then nearly sixty was a veteran of the Broadway stage but was a new comer to film. From 1937 to 1961, Coburn made over ninety motion pictures and television appearances. In 1944, he won the best supporting actor Academy Award for The More the Merrier (1943), playing the charming and funny, Benjamin Dingle. In his acceptance speech (making fun of his own advanced age) said that he hoped that in another fifty years time, the children and children’s children of the present Academy voters would again honor him and his acting skill with another Oscar statuette. 

In a career in motion pictures that only spanned two decades, Coburn’s most memorable film credits include: Of Human Hearts (1938), Vivacious Lady (1938), The Lady Eve (1941), The Devil and Mrs. Jones (1941), Kings Row (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Rhapsody in Blue (1945), The Green Years (1946), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).  In his personal life, he had been a widower for twenty-two years, when in 1959, he met and married Winifred Natzka, a young woman half his age. The actor loved life and as his eightieth year approached,  lived it to the fullest, a ball of energy, he would bounce around all day, enjoying lunch with friends, dancing, and stayed up late with old cronies playing poker. On August 30, 1961, while between stage plays, Coburn underwent minor throat surgery at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City, during this procedure he suffered a fatal heart attack. After his death, controversy erupted as to what to do with the actors cremated remains. In his will he expressly wished not to have a funeral or memorial service and wanted his ashes scattered at several different locations, that included the foot of the Edwin Booth statue in Gramercy Park, the memorial tree to his first wife (also in Gramercy Park), his parent’s grave in Savannah, and along the Mohawk Trail in Albany, New York. Under the laws of New York and Georgia, this was not legally permissible and it is unknown if the executors of Coburn’s estate actually followed through with his final wishes.

On August 30, 1981, actress Vera Ellen died. She was born on February 16, 1921 in Norwood, Ohio. She is best known as a song and dance actress who partnered on film with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye and Donald O’Connor. In 1939 Vera-Ellen made her Broadway debut in the musical Very Warm for May at age 18. She became one of the youngest Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. This led to more roles on Broadway. She was spotted by Samuel Goldwyn, who cast her opposite Danny Kaye in Wonder Man (1945). She danced with Gene Kelly in the Hollywood musicals, Words and Music and On the Town, while also appearing in the last Marx Brothers film, Love Happy. She received top billing alongside Fred Astaire in the MGM musicals, Three Little Words and The Belle of New York (1952). She is most well-known for her performance in Paramount's blockbuster hit, White Christmas (1954). During the 1950s she was known for having the "smallest waist in Hollywood, and is believed to have suffered from anorexia nervosa. She retired from the big screen in 1957 but did appear in several television shows during the 1960s. Vera Ellen died on August 30, 1981 from cancer and is buried at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California.

On August 30, 2006, actor Glenn Ford died. He was born on May 1, 1916 in Quebec, Canada. His break through role in film came in 1946, starring alongside Rita Hayworth in the noir classic Gilda. He went on to be a leading man opposite her in a total of five films. His film career flourished in the 1950s and 1960s and continued into the 1980s with many television roles. In 1962, he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance in Pocketful of Miracles. Ford suffered a series of minor strokes which left him in frail health in the years leading up to his death. He died on August 30, 2006 at his home in Beverly Hills and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.

On August 30, 1979, Actress Jean Seberg died. She was born on November 13, 1938 in Marshalltown, Iowa. She starred in 37 films in Hollywood and France, including Breathless (1960), Paint Your Wagon (1969) and Airport (1970). In August 1979, she went missing and was found dead eleven days later in the back seat of her car, which was parked close to her Paris apartment. The police report stated that she had taken a massive overdose of pills and alcohol. A suicide note ("Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves.") was found in her hand, and "probable suicide" was ultimately ruled the official cause of death by the French coroner. However, it is often questioned how she could have operated a car with that amount of alcohol in her body, and without the corrective lenses she needed for driving. Seberg was interred in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris, France.

www.michaelthomasbarry.com, author of Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950

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