Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mae Clarke, Bela Lugosi, Stewart Granger

Who was born on this date:

Actress Mae Clarke was born on August 16, 1910 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She started her professional career as a dancer sharing a room with Barbara Stanwyck, and subsequently starred in numerous films for Universal Studios, including The Front Page (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). In the latter film, she played the role of Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancĂ©e Elizabeth, who was attacked by the Monster on her wedding day. Clarke also appeared in The Public Enemy (1931), in this film is one of cinema's most famous (and frequently parodied) scenes, in which James Cagney pushed a half grapefruit into Clarke's face, then went out and picked up Jean Harlow. Other notable film credits include Waterloo Bridge (1931) and Night World (1932). By the mid-1930s, Clarke was no longer a leading lady and was only featured in small parts. She died on April 29, 1992 from cancer and is buried at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California.

Who died on this date:

On August 16, 1956, actor Bela Lugosi died. He was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Romania. Lugosi made 12 films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany. There he began appearing in a small number of well received films. Lugosi left Germany in October 1920 and immigrated to the United States. His first American film role came in the 1923 melodrama The Silent Command. Several more silent roles followed, as villains or continental types, all in productions made in the New York area.  

Lugosi was approached in the summer of 1927 to star in a Broadway production of Dracula. The production was successful, running 261 performances before touring. Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage, Lugosi was not Universal Pictures first choice for the role of Dracula when the company optioned the rights to the Deane play and began production in 1930. A persistent rumor asserts that Lon Chaney was Universal's first choice for the role, and that Lugosi was chosen only due to Chaney's death shortly before production. This is questionable, because Chaney had been under long-term contract to MGM since 1925, and had negotiated a lucrative new contract just before his death. Through his association with Dracula (in which he appeared with minimal makeup, using his natural, heavily accented voice), Lugosi found himself typecast as a horror villain in such movies as Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven, and Son of Frankenstein for Universal, and the independent White Zombie. His accent, while a part of his image, limited the roles he could play. 

Regardless of controversy, five films at Universal, The Black Cat, The Raven, The Invisible Ray, Son of Frankenstein, Black Friday and two at RKO Pictures, You'll Find Out and the Body Snatcher, all paired Lugosi with Boris Karloff. Despite the relative size of their roles, Lugosi inevitably got second billing, below Karloff. Lugosi's attitude toward Karloff is the subject of contradictory reports, some claiming that he was openly resentful of Karloff's long-term success and ability to get good roles beyond the horror arena, while others suggested the two actors were for a time, at least good friends.  

Late in his life, Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when filmmaker Ed Wood, a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in numerous films. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956, while lying on a couch in his Los Angeles home. The rumor that Lugosi was clutching the script for The Final Curtain, a planned Ed Wood project, at the time of his death is not true. Lugosi was buried wearing one of the Dracula Cape costumes, per the request of his son and fourth wife at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never requested to be buried in his cloak; his son confirmed on numerous occasions that he and his mother, Lillian, actually made the decision but believed that it is what his father would have wanted.

On August 16, 1993, actor Stewart Granger died. He was born on May 6, 1913 in Old Brompton Road, near London.  He was mainly associated with heroic and romantic leading roles. He was a popular leading man from the 1940s to the early 1960s. In 1933, he made his film debut as an extra. His first starring film role was in The Man in Grey (1943), a film that helped to make him a huge star in Britain. A string of popular but critically dismissed films followed, including The Magic Bow and Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945). An exception was Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948).  

In 1949, Granger made Adam and Evelyne with Jean Simmons. The story, about a much older man and a teenager whom he gradually realizes is no longer a child but a young woman with mature emotions and sexuality had obvious parallels to Granger's and Simmons's own lives. Granger had first met the very young Jean Simmons when they both worked on Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). Three years later, Simmons had transformed from a promising newcomer into a star and a very attractive young woman. They married the following year in a bizarre wedding ceremony organized by Howard Hughes. In 1949, he appeared in King Solomon's Mines and based on its huge success was offered a seven-year contract by MGM. Film credits that followed included Soldiers Three (1952), Scaramouche (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Moonfleet (1955), Bhowani Junction (1956), The Little Hut (1957), and North to Alaska (1960), which was the last Hollywood movie Granger made. He died from prostate cancer on August 16, 1993 in Santa Monica, California. He was cremated and the remains were given to family with final disposition being unknown.

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

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