Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Peter Lawford, Elia Kazan, Merna Kennedy, Dennia Morgan, Maria Montez, Catherine Owen

Who was born on this date:

Actor Peter Lawford was born on September 7, 1923 in London, England. He was a member of the "Rat Pack", and brother-in-law to President John F. Kennedy. In his earlier professional years (late 1930s through the 1950s) he had a strong presence in popular culture and starred in a number of highly acclaimed films. Lawford made his film debut in Poor Old Bill (1930). His first major movie role was A Yank at Eton (1942), where he played a snobbish bully opposite Mickey Rooney. The picture was a smash hit, and Lawford's performance was widely praised. He won even greater acclaim for his performance in The White Cliff of Dover (1944), in which he played a young soldier in World War II. MGM gave him another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and Son of Lassie (1945).

Lawford's busiest year as an actor was 1946, when two of his films opened within days of each other: Cluny Brown (1946) and Two Sisters From Boston (1946). He also made his first comedy that same year: My Brother Talks To Horses (released in 1947). He appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Lawford was given other important roles in MGM films over the next few years, including  Easter Parade (1948), Little Women (1949), and It Should Happen to You (1954). In 1959, Frank Sinatra invited the Englishman to join "The Rat Pack" and also got him a role in Never So Few. The casino caper Ocean’s Eleven (1960) was a project Lawford first brought to Sinatra's attention. It became the first film to feature all five main "Rat Pack" members Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Lawford. He also guest starred on various television series throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  
His first marriage, in 1954, was to Patricia Kennedy, sister of then-US Senator John F. Kennedy. Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack", helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party. Lawford and Patricia Kennedy divorced in February 1966. Lawford married his second wife, Mary Rowan, the daughter of comedian Dan Rowan in October 1971 when she was one day shy of twenty-second birthday. Rowan and Lawford separated two years later and divorced in January 1975. In June 1976, he married aspiring actress Deborah Gould, twenty-five, whom he had known for only three weeks. Lawford and Gould separated two months after marrying and divorced in 1977. During his separation from Gould, Lawford met seventeen-year-old Patricia Seaton, who would later become his fourth and final wife in July 1984, months before his death.  
Peter Lawford died on December 24, 1984 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from cardiac arrest which was complicated by kidney and liver failure after years of drug and alcohol abuse. His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred originally interred at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Owing to a dispute between his widow and the cemetery, Lawford's ashes were removed and scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by his widow, Patricia Seaton Lawford, who invited the National Enquirer tabloid to photograph the event. A plaque bearing Lawford's name was erected at Westwood Village Memorial Park.

Director Elia Kazan was one of the giants of American film; he was respected by many and despised by others. He was born Elias Kazanjoglou on September 7, 1909 in Constantinople, Turkey. Kazan immigrated to the United States in his late teens to attend college at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts and after graduation studied drama at Yale University. In 1932, he joined the Group Theater in New York City, there he met and became good friends with Lee Strasberg. This group evolved and began to advocate for social change through political agitation. It was during this time that Kazan joined the Communist Party and embraced left-wing politics, which had become popular among the theater crowd. After two years he became disenchanted with the party and left the organization but he continued to be an advocate of free speech and discussion.

In the early 1940’s, Kazan arrived in Hollywood first appearing as an actor in a few forgettable films then he found his true calling behind the camera. His directorial debut came in 1945 with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and although he would only direct twenty feature motion pictures in career that spanned three decades (1945-1976), he would make some of Hollywood’s greatest films that include; Boomerang! (1947), Man on a Tightrope (1953), Baby Doll (1956), Wild River (1960), Splendor in the Grass (1961), The Arrangement (1969), and The Last Tycoon (1976). Kazan was nominated for five best director Academy Awards, winning twice, his Oscar nominated films were A Street Car Named Desire (1951), East of Eden (1955), and America, America (1963). Kazan’s directorial award winning movies were Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947) and On The Waterfront (1954). Kazan’s films were moody and realistic, they were filled with drama that dealt with American problems and the characters in these movies were often absorbed with intensity. He was a proponent of the method acting style and in 1947 co-founded the legendary Actors Studio in New York City.  

In the mid-1950’s, Kazan became entangled in the House Un-American Activities Commission hearings. He felt pressured by the committee to name Communists in the film industry and because of this was labeled a pariah by many in Hollywood. Unapologetic, Kazan forged on and in his 1954 Oscar winning film, On the Waterfront Kazan’s unrepentant attitude towards ratting out former friends and colleagues resonates. In a critical scene from the movie, actor Marlon Brando’s character shouts “I’m glad what I done – you hear me? – glad what I done!” Kazan later said that the dialogue in this film was meant to convey a message, a message that he was glad to have testified the way he did and that he had no regrets. Kazan went on to have great successes both in movies and Broadway and in 1999 received an honorary Academy Award for life time achievement. On September 28, 2003, Elia Kazan died from natural causes at his home in New York City. His burial location is unknown.     

Actress Merna Kennedy was born on September 7, 1908 in Kankakee, Illinois. She is best-known for her film role opposite Charlie Chaplin in the silent film The Circus (1928). A dancer, she had muscular legs which helped her gain the role of the circus bareback rider. Kennedy continued acting after The Circus, starring in early sound films, but retired in 1934, when she married choreographer/director Busby Berkeley. Their marriage broke up a year later. Other notable film credits include King of Jazz (1930) and Lady with a Past (1932). Kennedy died from a heart attack on December 20, 1944 at age 36 in Los Angeles, California. She is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Califiornia.

Who died on this date: 

On September 7, 1994, actor Dennis Morgan died. He was born on December 20, 1908 in Prentice, Wisconsin. Morgan was a leading man with Warner Bros. in the 1940s, starring with best friend Jack Carson in many movies, several of which were "two guys" buddy pictures. His peak years were 1943 to 1949. He appeared in sporadic TV guest roles in the 1950s and quietly retired with an occasional spot on TV after 1955.  Notable film credits include Kitty Foyle (1940), The Desert Song (1943), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), God is my Co-Pilot (1945), and Perfect Strangers (1950). He died on September 7, 1994 in Fresno, California and is buried at the Oakhill Cemetery in Oakhurst, California.

On September 7, 1951, actress MarĂ­a Montez died. She was born on June 6, 1912 in the Dominican Republic. She was an actress who gained fame and popularity in the 1940s as an exotic beauty starring in a series of filmed-in-Technicolor costume adventure films. Her screen image was that of a hot-blooded Latin seductress, dressed in fanciful costumes and sparkling jewels. She became so identified with these adventure epics that she became known as "The Queen of Technicolor." Over her career, Montez appeared in 26 films some of her notable credits include Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), Gypsy Wildcat (1944), and Sudan (1945). She suffered a heart attack and drowned in her bathtub on September 7, 1951in Suresnes, France and is buried at the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris.

On September 7, 1965, actress Catherine Owen died. She was born on July 28, 1900 in Louisville, Kentucky. Owen graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She appeared on Broadway in the 1920s through early 1930s in productions including The Mountain Man, The Whole Town's Talking, Trelawny of the Wells, The Love City and The Play's the Thing. In films, Owen appeared in His Glorious Night (1929), The Rogue Song (1930), Born Reckless (1930), and Behind Office Doors (1931). Owen movie career ended in 1931 after appearing only nine feature films. She died on September 7, 1965 from a stroke in New York City and is buried at the Old Tennent Churchyard Cemetery in Tennent, New Jersey.

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