Actress Mae West was born on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. Known for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York before moving to Hollywood to become a comedienne, actress and writer in the motion picture industry. One of the more controversial movie stars of her time, West encountered many problems including censorship. When her cinematic career ended, she continued to perform on stage, in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, on radio and television.
Her first starring role on Broadway was in a play she titled Sex, which she also wrote, produced, and directed. Though critics hated the show, ticket sales were good. The notorious production did not go over well with city officials and the theater was raided with West arrested along with the cast. She was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days for "corrupting the morals of youth." While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife and told reporters that she wore her silk underpants while serving time. She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention about the case enhanced her career.
In 1932, West was offered a film contract by Paramount Pictures and made her film debut in Night After Night starring George Raft. At first, she did not like her small role in Night After Night, but was appeased when she was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In West's first scene, a hat check girl exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." Reflecting on the overall result of her rewritten scenes, Raft is said to have remarked, "She stole everything but the cameras." Other screen credits include She Done Him Wrong (1933), which was one of Cary Grant’s first major roles. The film was a box office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The success of the film most likely saved Paramount from bankruptcy. Additional films include I’m No Angel (1933), Belle of the Nineties (1934), Goin’ to Town (1935), Klondike Annie (1936), Go West, Young Man (1936), and Every Day’s a Holiday (1937). In 1939, West left Paramount Pictures and was approached by Universal Pictures to appear opposite W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee (1940). Despite their intense mutual dislike, and fights over the screenplay, the film was a box office success.
West's next film was The Heat’s On (1943) for Columbia Pictures. She initially didn't want to do the film but after producer and director Gregory Ratoff pleaded with her and claimed he would go bankrupt if she didn't, West relented. The film opened to bad reviews and failed at the box office. West would not return to films until 1970. After appearing in The Heat’s On in 1943, West remained active during the ensuing years by appearing on radio, Broadway, and television. After a 26 year absence from motion pictures, West appeared in Myra Breckenridge (1970). The movie was a deliberately campy sex comedy that was both a box office and critical failure. Despite Myra Breckinridge's mainstream failure, it did find an audience on the cult film circuit.
In 1976, she began work on her final film, Sexette (1978), which was adapted from a script written by West, daily revisions and disagreements hampered production from the beginning. Due to the numerous changes, West agreed to have her lines fed to her through a speaker concealed in her wig. Despite the daily problems, West was determined to see the film completed. In spite of her determination, West sometimes appeared disoriented and forgetful and found it difficult to follow directions. Upon its release, Sextette was a critical and commercial failure.
In August 1980, West tripped while getting out of bed. After the fall, West was unable to speak and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where tests revealed that she had suffered a stroke. She remained in the hospital where, seven days later, she had a diabetic reaction to the formula in her feeding tube. On September 18, she suffered a second stroke which left her right side paralyzed and developed pneumonia. By November, her condition had improved, but the prognosis was not good and she was sent home. She died there on November 22, 1980, at age 87.A private service was held at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills on November 25, 1980, she was buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
Actress Evelyn Ankers was born on August 17, 1918 in Chile. She often played cultured young woman in numerous horror films during the 1940s, most notably The Wolf Man (1941), opposite Lon Chaney, Jr. She was known as "the Queen of the Screamers", her other films include Hold That Ghots (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Captive Wild Woman (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), The Mad Ghoul (1943), Jungle Woman (1944), Weird Woman (1944), The Invisible man’s Revenge (1944) and The Frozen Ghost (1945). Ankers made over fifty films between 1936 and 1950, and then retired from movies to be a housewife. She occasionally played television roles and returned ten years later to make one more film, No Greater Love (1960), with her husband Richard Denning. Ankers died of ovarian cancer August 29, 1985 in Maui, Hawaii. She is buried at the Maui Veterans Cemetery in Makawao.
Who died on this date:
On August 17, 1963, film star Richard Barthelmess died. He was born on May 9, 1895 and was an Oscar nominated silent film actor and one of the original members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He made his first film appearance in 1916 in the serial Gloria’s Romance as an extra. His next role, in War Brides, attracted the attention of legendary director D.W. Griffith, who offered him several important roles, finally casting him opposite Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms (1919) and Way Down East (1920). He soon became one of Hollywood’s highest paid performers, starring in such classics as The Patent Leather Kid (1927) and The Noose (1928); he was nominated for Best Actor at the first Academy Awards for his performance in both these films.
With the advent of the sound era, Barthelmess' fortunes changed. He made several films in the new medium, most notably Son of the Gods (1930), The Dawn Patrol (1930), The Last Flight (1931), The cabin in the Cotton (1932), Central Airport (1933), and Only Angels Have Wings (1939). However, he failed to maintain the stardom of his silent film days and gradually left entertainment. Barthelmess died of cancer on August 17, 1963 and is interred at the Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, New York.
On August 17, 1987, film director Clarence Brown died. He was born on May 10, 1890 in Clinton, Massachusetts. After serving in World War I, Brown was given his first co-directing credit for The Great Redeemer (1920). Later that year, he directed a major portion of The Last of the Mohicans. At MGM he was one of the main directors of their female stars, where he directed both Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo six times. Garbo called Brown her favorite director. He not only made the difficult transition from silent cinema to sound cinema, but thrived there, proving himself to be a 'actor's director': listening to his actors', respecting their instincts, and often incorporating their suggestions into scenes. In doing so, Brown created believable, under-played, naturalistic dialogue scenes stripped of melodrama, pulsing with the honest rhythms of real-life conversation. He was nominated five times for a best director Academy Award and once as a producer, but never won an Oscar. Brown's films gained a total of 38 Academy Award nominations and earned nine Oscars. His film credits include Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930), A Free Soul (1931), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1944) and The Yearling (1946). Brown died on August 17, 1987 in Santa Monica and is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.
www.michaelthomasbarry.com, author of Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950