Thursday, April 9, 2009


There is a limitless sea between the Maurice Chevalier whose new picture, “One Hour With You,” is to be presented simultaneously at two Broadway theaters – the Rialto and Rivoli – Wednesday night and the Maruice Chevalier who returned to his native France in 1918, a poilu in a faded horizon-blue uniform, from a prison camp in Germany. His slight successes as a music-hall singer were forgotten and he had a wound in his chest which doctors said would never again permit him to sing.

He was born in Menilmontant, the Bowery of Paris. His father was a house painter, who died when Maurice was 11. His ambition was for the stage almost from the beginning, but his mother did not favor the life of an actor. The lad became an apprentice carpenter, but he spent more time imitating his stage favorites than in practicing his trade, and lost his job. After that he went from job to job, electrician, printer, apprentice in a nail factory, losing them with perfect abandon.

He was 15 when he went to the concert of the Three Lions one night with mythical references and was allowed to try his young voice before the patrons. Ushered to the door, he found another job, this time at the Casino des Tourelles. This paid him 3 francs an evening, four evenings a week.

A friend took him to meet Mistinguett, idol of the Paris musical comedy stage, who, scanning his sparkling face, is reported to have said: “You need have no worry about your future, with a smile like yours.” A few years later, Chevalier found himself, now a tall youth in his late teens, the dancing partner of the great Mistinguett in the Folies Bergere.

He went off to war, was wounded, imprisoned and came back with a Military Cross. He found work in an obscure café, recovered his voice, and again became the partner of Mistinguett. He went to London and appeared with Elsie Janis in a review entitled “Hello, America.” Jesse L. Lasky engaged him for the talking films in 1928 and he became a cinema favorite at once with his first picture, “Innocents of Paris.”

He made “Playboy of Paris” and ‘The Big Pond.” Then Ernst Lubitsch directed him in “The Love Parade.” The collaboration of the Parisian and the German won high favor. Last year they turned out “The Smiling Lieutenant” and the current film is a product of the same duo. They will do another later in the Spring.

A newsreel photographer started Marion Davies on a screen career which has continued right into the talking film era and up to her present title role in “Polly of the Circus,” at the Capitol. The camera man photographed her with other girls on the beach in Florida. A producer saw the pictures and introduced her to Hollywood. She made “Runaway Romany” for the producer and has been in lights ever since. Miss Davies was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of former Magistrate Bernard Douras. Her first role was in the chorus of “Chu Chin Chow,” whence she was graduated into the cast of “Oh, Boy,” as a featured dancer.

She posed for Howard Chandler Christy and Harrison Fisher and was the model for Christy’s painting, “Morning.” She climaxed her stage career in the Follies, and then went into pictures. Some of her silent films were “Little Old New York,” “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” “Janice Meredith” and “Beverly of Graustark.” Since the advent of sound she has made, among others, “Bachelor Father,” “It’s a Wise Child” and “Five and Ten” among others.

Miss Davies is supported by Clark Gable in “Polly of the Circus.” One of cinemas’s younger and most popular recruits, Mr. Gable was born in Ohio, and went to business college there without any though of either stage or screen as a livelihood.

Working nights as a stage hand in Akron, he learned the rudiments of acting and joined a traveling troupe. He managed to see most of the tank towns during his extended experience in stock. He got his chance in pictures while he was playing in “The Last Mile” in Los Angeles. He appeared with Joan Crawford in “Dance, Fools, Dance,” and his fortune was made.

Since then he has been in “Susan Lenox” with Greta Garbo; “The Easiest Way,” with Constance Bennett,“A Free Soul,” with Norma Shearer, and in “Laughing Sinners<” “The Secret Six,” “Sporting Blood,” “Possessed” and “Hell Divers.”

Miriam Hopkins, who trips across the Paramount screen this week in “Dancers in the Dark,” is relatively new to the cinema spotlight. Her appearance with Chevalier last year in “The Smiling Lieutenant” started her on the upward swing and her recent performance in “24 Hours,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Two Kinds of Women” have added greatly to her popularity.

Miss Hopkins is as genuinely American as her name. She comes from Savannah, Ga., and is a direct descendent of Arthur Middleton, one of the Declaration of Independence signers. She journeyed to New York in 1917 to go to boarding school and wound up as a chorus girl in the Music Box Revue.

The footlights appealed to her, so she studied dancing – Grecian interpretive, ballet and toe – and landed a job in a ballet company en route to South America. On the day the boat sailed, she broke her ankle. That was the turning point in her budding career. She stayed in New York, went into vaudeville, worked up to a featured role in “The Garrick Gaieties” and then retired from musical comedy for a fling at serious dramatics. After calling on theatrical agents for months she was given a part in “Excess Baggage.”

In rapid succession she appeared in “Flight,” the Guild’s “The Camel Through the Needle’s Eye” and in “Lysistrata,” It was in the Aristophanes comedy that she really began to be talked about. Between performances Paramount induced her to take a run over to the Astoria studio for a part in “The Best People.” A motion picture contract was the result and when “Lysistrata” finally closed, she went off to Hollywood.

When a young man named James Cagney rang the bell with two startling performances in “The Doorway to Hell” and “The Public Enemy,” Hollywood rubbed its eyes and discovered that it knew practically nothing about him. That blind spot has since been corrected and there is no dearth of information about Mr. Cagney’s rise from gentleman of the chorus to the screen’s favorite bad boy.

His next picture is “The Crowd Roars,” which will be presented at the Winter Garden on Tuesday.

He is as intimately of New York as his speech and demeanor would indicate. He was born at Eighth Street and Avenue D, the son of a bookkeeper, and when his father obtained work in Yorkville, the family moved uptown with him. After he received his diploma from Stuyvesant High School, he enrolled in the Fine Arts course at Columbia, but his family needed his help so he went to work.

He wrapped bundles at Wanamaker’s and went into vaudeville with a stage-struck lad who worked with him. Not vastly inspired by his job of female impersonator, he turned his back on the stage and went to work in Wall Street. But soon he was back touring the country in another vaudeville act.

Then he went into the chorus of a revue called “Pitter Patter.” If it is hard to picture the present Mr. Cagney as a chorus boy, there are photographs to prove it.

His first serious work on the stage was in the Maxwell Anderson-Jim Tully piece, “Outside Looking In.” In 1930 he played a part in “Penny Arcade,” and when the Warners bought the play for the screen they took him along to Hollywood with it.

In November of that year he got his first real chance, as a gangster in support of Lew Ayres in “The Doorway to Hell.” Though still unknown to the film public, his performance brought such favorable press that the Warners decided to take a chance with him in another gang picture, “The Public Enemy.”

From that time on his popularity kept growing. His most recent pictures have been “Blonde Crazy,” and “Taxi.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff about Chevalier, especially about his service experience. I recently got the Eclipse boxset of Lubitsch musicals all starring Maurice and they are great. He is so much fun to watch and that beaming smile of his is contagious; it makes you want to smile too.