Friday, October 14, 2011

Lillian Gish, Bing Crosby and Keenan Wynn

Who was born on this date:

Actress Lillian Gish was born on October 14, 1893 in Springfield. Ohio. Her stage, film and television career spanned 7 decades from 1912 to 1987. In 1912, Mary Pickford introduced Gish to D.W. Griffith, and helped get her a contract with Biograph Studios. She would soon become one of America's best-loved actresses. Her film debut was in 1912’s, An Unseen Enemy and she went on to star in many of Griffith's most acclaimed films, including The Birth of a Nation (1915). Having appeared in over 25 short films and features in her first two years as a movie actress, Lillian became a major star, becoming known as "The First Lady of the Silent Screen" and appearing in lavish productions, frequently of literary works. With her debut in talkies only moderately successful, she acted on the stage for the most part in the 1930s and early 1940s.  

Returning to movies, Gish was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award in 1946 for Duel in the Sun. She appeared in films from time to time for the rest of her life, notably in Night of the Hunter (1955). Gish received a Honorary Academy Award in 1971 "For superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures." Her last film role was in 1977’s, The Whales of August at the age of 93.Gish never married and had no children. The association between Gish and D. W. Griffith was so close that some suspected a romantic connection, an issue never acknowledged by Gish, although several of their associates were certain they were at least briefly involved. For the remainder of her life, she always referred to him as "Mr. Griffith." She maintained a very close relationship with Mary Pickford, for her entire life. Another of her closest friends was actress Helen Hayes. Gish died in her sleep on February 27, 1993 and is interred at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City.

Who died on this date: 

On October 14, 1977, actor Bing Crosby died. The singer, comedian, and actor was born Harry Lillis Crosby on May 2, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington. His trade mark nickname “Bing” was a derivative of a character named “Bingo” in the comic strip “Bingville Bugle,” the comic strip was a favorite of the young crooner. He never formally studied music but in his first year of college with a few buddies formed a small band called the “Musicaladers.” The group had some success and it was decided that they would go to Los Angeles and pursue a vaudeville career. During a successful two year tour of the country under the name “The Rhythm Boys,” they were discovered by band leader Paul Whiteman. Bing and his band mates toured with Whiteman for three years and it was with this band that Bing got his first taste of Hollywood, appearing in Whiteman’s motion picture, King of Jazz (1930). Bing and the Rhythm Boys then joined band leader Gus Arnheim at the Cocoanut Ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was here that Bing became known to the Hollywood crowd, and it was Mack Sennett, who signed him to a contract with Paramount Pictures. In a series of short subject films, Crosby was heard singing and this lead to his first musical recording contract with Brunswick Records. Later, a regular singing gig developed with CBS Radio and shows at the Paramount Theater in New York City. Moving back to the West Coast in 1932, Crosby appeared in his first feature film role, The Big Broadcast, a motion picture that would launch him into superstardom. Crosby would go on to appear in over fifty feature films, including twenty “Road” movies in which he appeared with his good friend, Bob Hope.  

His most famous movie role was that of Father O’Malley in Going My Way (1944), for which he won the best actor Academy Award. He would go on to recreate the successful role in two subsequent films, The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), and Say One for Me (1959), his other notable motion picture film credits include: Too Much Harmony (1933), Mississippi (1935), Anything Goes (1936), Pennies From Heaven (1936), Holiday Inn (1942), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), The Country Girl (1954) and High Society (1956). Another of Crosby’s most famous movies is the holiday favorite, White Christmas (1954); in it he sings the title track from the film. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” This song became his most popular and recognizable hit of his musical career. Crosby was nominated for two additional best actor Academy Awards for The Bell’s of St. Mary’s (1945) and The Country Girl (1954).  

Crosby’s personal life was not as successful as his professional one, in 1943, his Toluca Lake home was destroyed by fire, in 1952, his first wife Dixie Lee, died at the age of forty from cancer, he was criticized by his eldest son Gary in his book “Going My Own Way” (1983), in which Bing was characterized as an abusive and violent father. His four sons from his first marriage all died tragically, Lindsay and Dennis committed suicide, Gary from lung cancer and Phillip from a heart attack.  

In 1957, Crosby married for a second time, Kathryn Grant was a young actress thirty years his junior. The couple had three children, Harry, Nathaniel, and Mary, the later is an actress of some note. It is speculated that because of Crosby’s regret over the way he treated his first family, he became a better husband and doting father the second time around.  On October 14, 1977, after finishing an eighteen hole round of golf in Madrid, Spain, the acclaimed actor collapsed and died from a massive heart attack. He was in Spain for some rest and relaxation after completing a successful run at the London Palladium. He died while doing what he loved best. Golf was his passion. His body was flown back to the United States accompanied by his eldest son, Gary. A private funeral mass for only immediate family and few close friends, including Bob Hope, was held in the rectory chapel of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westwood. The forty-minute service included organ music in which some of Bing’s greatest hits were played. Bing Crosby is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.

On October 14, 1986, actor Keenan Wynn died. He was born on July 27, 1916 in New York City. Wynn appeared in hundreds of films and television shows between 1934 and 1986. He died on October 14, 1986 from pancreatic cancer and is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.

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