Friday, August 19, 2011

Marilyn Harris, Groucho Marx, Hermione Baddeley

Who was born on this date:

Child actress Marilyn Harris was born on August 19, 1924 and appeared in several Hollywood productions of the 1930s. She is best remembered for her role as 'Little Maria' in the classic horror film Frankenstein (1931). In arguably the film's most memorable scene, she meets the fugitive monster (played by Boris Karloff) beside a riverbank and charms the monster with her innocence, humanity and friendship, something which he had not experienced with previously hostile, mistrusting adults. A children's game is however tragically misinterpreted by the monster, and he ends up throwing Little Maria into the river, unintentionally drowning her and turning the surrounding village's population into a lynch mob, baying for revenge after the child's body is found. The shot of Maria being thrown into the water was cut from original prints and only restored in the 1980s. Harris later played teenage roles in a handful of films in the 1940s before leaving the profession; she died from cancer and heart failure on December 1, 1999. Her remains were cremated and given to family members, final disposition is unknown.

Who died on this date:

On August 19, 1977, Groucho Marx died. He was born in New York on October 2, 1890. His rapid-fire delivery of innuendo-laden patter earned him many admirers. He made 26 films, of which 13 were with his siblings Chico, and Harpo. He also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show You Bet your life. His distinctive appearance, carried over from his days in vaudville, included quirks such as an exaggerated stooped posture, glasses, cigars, and a thick grease paint mustache and eyebrows. The Marx Brothers first movie was a silent film made in 1921 that was never released and is believed to have been destroyed at the time. A decade later, the team made some of their Broadway hits into movies, including The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. Other successful films were Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera.  

In 1947, Marx was chosen to host a radio (later T.V.) quiz program You Bet your Life broadcast by ABC and then CBS, before moving over to NBC radio and television in 1950. Filmed before a live audience, the television show consisted of Marx interviewing the contestants and ad libbing jokes, before playing a brief quiz. Later in life, Groucho would sometimes note to talk-show hosts, not entirely jokingly, that he was unable to actually insult anyone, because the target of his comment assumed it was a Groucho-esque joke and would laugh. Listening in on the show was producer John Guedel, who got a brainstorm. He approached Groucho about doing a quiz show, to which Groucho derisively retorted, "A quiz show? Only actors who are completely washed up resort to a quiz show!" Undeterred, Guedel explained that the quiz would be only a backdrop for Groucho's interviews of people, and the storm of ad-libbing that they would elicit. Groucho said, "Well, I've had no success in radio, and I can't hold on to a sponsor. At this point, I'll try anything!" 

In 1974, Groucho with given an honorary Academy Award, this was his final major public appearance, in which he received a standing ovation. Noticeably frail and sluggish, Groucho took a bow for his deceased brothers, saying, "I wish that Harpo and Chico could be here to share with me this great honor." He also wished that Margaret Dumont could have been present, adding that she was a great straight woman for him and that she never understood any of his jokes. His health was noticeably worsening by the following year and when Gummo died on April 21, 1977, the death of his younger brother was not reported to Groucho because it was thought too detrimental to his health. Groucho maintained his irrepressible sense of humor to the very end, on his deathbed, and as a nurse came around with a thermometer, explaining that she wanted to see if he had a temperature, he responded, "Don't be silly—everybody has a temperature." Marx was hospitalized for pneumonia on June 22, 1977 and died on August 19 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was cremated and the ashes were interred in the Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, California.

On August 19, 1986, actress Hermione Baddeley died. She was born on November 13, 1906 in Broseley, England. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1959 for Room at the Top and a Tony Award for Best Performance by a leading Lady for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963). 

Baddeley was best known for performances in such films as Mary Poppins (as Ellen, the maid servant), The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Passport to Pimlico, The Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol. She had a successful professional relationship with actor Noel Coward, appearing in many of his plays throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  Baddeley continued to work sporadically on episodic television and feature films, until shortly before her death. She died on August 19, 1986 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center from complications of a stroke. She was buried at St. Mary and St. Melor Churchyard in Amesbury, England., author of Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950

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