Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anna Neagle, Bela Lugosi, Burt Lancaster and Jane Wyatt

Who was born on this date:

Actress Anna Neagle was born on October 20, 1904 in Forest Gate, Essex, England.She was a box-office sensation in British films for over 25 years. She was noted for her lightweight musicals, comedies and historical dramas. She won several awards as Britain's favorite actress and biggest female box-office draw. Almost all of her films were produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox, whom she married in 1943. Her first film was Goodnight Vienna (1932) but she was renowned for her portrayals of real-life British heroines in films including Nell Gwynn (1934), Victoria the Great (1937), Sixty Glorious Years (1938) and Nurse Edith Cavell (1939). Other film credits include Bitter Sweet (1933), The Three Maxims (1937), Sunny (1941), Forever and a Day (1943), Piccadilly Incident (1947), Lilacs in the Park (1953), and King’s Rhapsody (1955). Although plagued by Parkinson’s disease in her later years, Neagle continued to be active. She died on June 3, 1986 and is buried at the City of London Cemetery.

Actor Bela Lugosi 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.

Who died on this date:

On October 20, 1994, actor Burt Lancaster died. He was born on November 2, 1913 in New York City. He was noted for his athletic physique and distinctive smile (which he called "The Grin"). After initially building his career on "tough guy" roles Lancaster abandoned his "all-American" image in the late 1950s in favor of more complex and challenging roles, and came to be regarded as one of the best actors of his generation as a result. Lancaster was nominated four times for Academy Awards and one once for Elmer Gantry in 1960. Other notable film credits include The Killers (1946), Marty (1955), The Kentuckian (1955), Trapeze (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Midnight Man (1974), and Atlantic City (1980). In 1953, Lancaster played one of his best remembered roles with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. It was named one of "AFI's top 100 Most Romantic Films" of all time. Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He claimed to have been romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity. However, Ms. Kerr had stated that while there was a spark of attraction, nothing ever happened. He also had an affair with Joan Blondell and Shelly Winters. He was plagued by numerous illnesses in later life and died from a heart attack on October 20, 1994 at his Century City home. He was cremated and his ashes were buried under a large oak tree in Westwood Memorial Park.

On October 20, 2006, actress Jane Wyatt died. She was born on August 12, 1910 in Campgaw, New Jersey. She is best known for her role as the housewife and mother on the television comedy of the 1950s, Father Knows Best. Wyatt made the transition from stage to screen and was placed under contract at Universal, where she first starred in Lost Horizon (1937). Other film appearances included Gentleman’s Agreement, None but the Lonely Heart, Bommerang, and Our Very Own. For many people, Wyatt is best remembered for her television roles. Jane Wyatt died on October 20, 2006 at her home in Bel-Air, California and is buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California.

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