Wednesday, December 15, 2010
SCREEN LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD
By Hubbard Keavy
Hollywood, May 1, 1932
No one lives in hotels in Hollywood. Folks stay in them temporarily, make them their homes when they expect to be here a short time, say, for one or two pictures.
Aline MacMahon took a hotel suite, expected to return to New York after her first film, “Five Star Final.”
Then came another picture, “Heart of New York,” and then “The Mouthpiece,” which was followed by “Week-end Marriage.”
She decided after six months, when she was cast as the head nurse in “Life Begins” (a story set in a maternity ward,) that it was high time she moved to a house.
No, she didn’t decide to go home the day after she signed the lease. She thinks she’ll stay here.
THE RIGHT NICHE
You’ll probably be seeing a lot of this young Irish-Jewish girl who made her debut as Edward G. Robinson’s wise-cracking secretary in the tabloid newspaper story.
She seems to have been made for a niche that was unfilled until she happened along in the coast production of “Once in a Lifetime.”
Incidentally, Aline may play her same role in that famous satire on the movies when, and if, the producer who owns it ever gets an adaptation that retains the spirit of the play without treating his brothers too caustically.
Miss MacMahon is a Brooklynite who “recited pieces” when she was young. Being a pretty good reciter, she was encouraged to try the stage. And after she attended Columbia University she did with much success.
Her father, Bill MacMahon, was a newspaperman for years. Her mother is Jewish. Aline has been married for four years to a New York architect.
On the day they had been married a month, Gene Markey sent Joan Bennett three boxes of flowers – gardenias, roses and gladioli.
In the largest box was a card saying:
“With sincerest sympathy to Mrs. Markey from Mr. Markey.”
Spencer Tracy’s wife and son bought him a polo pony for a birthday present the other day.
Spencer says when he gets three or four more horses he’ll be able to get in a game.
Tracy and many others who are just learning the gentleman’s sport usually play on the basis of so much for the use of a horse, equipment and the field. Even playing that way it’s an expensive pastime.
Approximately only one-third of the 210 actors and actresses among the great and near great in Hollywood, a survey shows, have attended college.
Seventy-six went to college, 73 have but a grammar school education and 61 have a high school training or its equivalent.
This might indicate that a sorority pin is no pass to movie success, nor a fraternity emblem a stepping stone to stardom.
But for the majority, amateur or actual stage training was a prerequisite of their picture careers.
ARLISS LOOKS ABROAD
There is a possibility that George Arliss’ next picture will be made in his native England.
The film quota laws require each company releasing pictures in England to produce a certain number of them there.
Few of the American-produced British movies are released in this country, however, since usually they are of inferior quality or have no American box office names. An Arliss picture could be shown successfully in both countries.
The star has tentatively agreed to the plan, provided as much effort and money are put into the picture as would be here.
As Arliss might have put it, but didn’t, “no cheating.”
Rotund Eugene Pallette has played 640 movie roles, which much be a record.
Johnny Mack Brown, who has been conspicuous by his absence from the screen the last few months, will be in a series of six westerns after he finishes “The Fatal Alarm,” a mellow melodrama.
BOX OFFICE TITLES
The title-changing activities of movie men sometimes have an effect opposite that intended. There is the case of “Old Man Minnick,” “Chic” Sale picture.
It was changed to “The Expert” for a two-fold reason. Warners hoped its similarity to a title Sale made famous, “The Specialist,” would help the picture. And they thought “Old Man” might keep young people away.
“The Expert” attracted men in great numbers; women stayed away.
It’s really a delightful story of an old man, one the whole family would enjoy.
O. K. WITH PARENTS
One can’t help admiring James Force’s nerve and confidence.
He’s the amateur actor whose friends are financing his assault on the movies.
Here a little more than a month, he still is looking for his first job. There’s no indication of downheartedness.
“I didn’t expect to get any kind of break in so short a time,” he says.
“I’m going to give this proposition a year or two, or maybe three if necessary.”
Force, 30-year-old insurance salesman in St. Louis, sold “stock” to 35 of his friends, most of them fraternity brothers. Each sends him from $5 to $25 a month, a total of $250.
The contract with each specifies he will share, in proportion to the amount he contributes, half of all Force makes as an actor during the next 10 years.
If Force is successful, each sponsor is guaranteed a maximum return of 2,000 per cent – or $20 for each $1 invested.
When Force conceived the idea of an organized, well financed trip to Movieland last December he quit his job to devote all his time to his campaign.
In less than a month he had explained it to 100 persons; 33 were “sold.”
I asked Force what his parents thought about his “proposition.”
“Father just grinned when I told him,” he answered, “and said: ‘Well, I guess it don’t hurt to try anything once.’ Mother’s different. She’s as sure as I am that I’ll succeed.”
“She seems to be concerned about only one thing now. She’s afraid I’ll marry some Hollywood girl and get divorced right away, like, as she says, ‘Everyone else does out there.’
“She also advises me in every letter to keep away from the wild parties.
“I’ve been to a couple of parties, but there weren’t any picture people there. Nor were they very wild.”
Force specialized in amateur shows and in occasional stock company appearances as a character player, but he’ll take anything in the movies to get started.
Extra? Sure, he says: “I’m not proud. I’ll be atmosphere, background or spear carrier.”
He thinks he’ll have to get over a natural reticence that is keeping him from “muscling in” at the studios and talking about himself and what he can do.
“In fact,” he added, “I’ve got to get rid of what I think at times is an inferiority complex. I understand no one in Hollywood feels inferior.”
Real happenings and unreel matters:
Reginald Denny has given up flying, Ben Lyon says, because Mrs. Denny worried every time he left the ground.
Ben, the only actor in the air division of the R. O. T. C. averages an hour’s flying every week without worrying Bebe Daniels Lyon. He has nearly 550 hours to his credit.
Just back from a vaudeville tour, Ben says the biggest laugh of the whole trip occurred in St. Louis.
The theater he played in seats 5,600, and plays to capacity only on Sundays. The rest of the week the house is seldom more than a third full – or at least, Ben added, it was so when he was there.
One night an actor glanced over the many empty seats and exclaimed: “I’ve played towns smaller than this theater.”
Joan Crawford’s brother’s ex-wife, Jeanne Le Sueur, has become a “stand-in” for movie players. Currently she is standing up while Peggy Shannon sits down.
James Dunn met Mrs. Le Sueur on the set and the next thing James knew he was reported going places with Jeanne, and then the romance rumors started.
Dunn denied all and said his flame is still June Knight, dancing in New York, and that he phones and writes daily.
Charles Bickford, who heretofore would rather have his own way than a steady job at $2,500 per in the movies, has changed his mind.
He read Jim Tully’s “Laughter in Hell,” a story of brutality in prison camps, and mentioned that he’d like to play the murdering hero-convict in it.
Universal’s Carl Laemmle has been trying to get Bickford’s name on a long-termer for two years, since Charlie helped make “Hell’s Heroes” an outstanding picture.
When Bickford learned he could have “Laughter in Hell” provided he signed a contract he considered only a few minutes before saying “yes.”
“Bad Boy” Bickford, as he has been called, usually has trouble of some kind with his movie employers, the base of it being his objection to roles for which he thinks he’s unsuited.
TENDER HEARTED HAROLD
When one of 20 ducks being used in a “gag” in Harold Lloyd’s “Movie Crazy” was killed accidentally, Harold decided the rest should be spared from possible similar fates in the future.
He pensioned the 19, taking them to a big pond on his estate where they’ll spend the rest of their days.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Because so few are able to say her name the way she would like it, Ann Dvorak has adopted the popular pronunciation.
Ann is the slender, dark-eyed young girl who sprang to prominence after playing in “Scarface.”
“Dvor-shak” is the way she has been saying it, giving it the same sounds as the Czecho-Slovakian composer’s name. But everyone insisted on “Devor-ak.”
Now even Ann is pronouncing it the way it is spelled.
The history of Ann’s name is almost as involved as the solution of the ancient puzzler, “How old is Ann?”
Her real name is McKim. Her mother, who was Anna Lehr in pictures several years ago (and who has remarried since separating from Ann’s father) wanted Ann to use her name.
Daughter demurred because she wanted to start out altogether on her own.
A family conference resulted in the selection of Dvorak, a family name from her mother’s side. Howard Hughes, who picked her for “Scarface,” wanted to change it to something easier to say, but a newspaperman argued against it.
According to Ann, he said it’s unusual enough to be interesting “and when she’s famous she can drop the Ann and be just Dvorak.”
Of course you know she’s legally Mrs. Leslie Fenton now.
It would take too many words to explain the family history of Lysle Talbot, a Nebraskan who gained his experience in stock companies in Texas, Ohio, South Dakota and Iowa. But his real name is Lysle Hollywood.
He’s here for pictures and luckily, says he, he took the family name of Talbot years ago. His mother’s family name is Warner and he almost used that.
It would look like more than a coincidence if he had, because he’s in Warner pictures now.
HIS ROLES TRAIL HIM
A lonesome man on the night of a movie premier is “Chic” Sale.
Sale has as many fans as the next one, but they don’t know him without his whiskers, mustachios and the spectacles of the characters he has made famous.
Even children, who have an uncanny perception about such matters, seldom recognize this thin, slightly stopped young man with the sharp nose and the pleasant eyes.
He’s one man on the screen, another off. No other actor, not even Lon Chaney, was ever so completely sold to the public as a character rather than an individual.
ART AND MECHANICS
Charlie Ruggles has sent a servant or two to Setauket, Long Island to prepare his home for occupancy because he expects to return there.
Inquiry by your curious reporter seemed in order when Charlie made this statement.
Here is a comedian engaged successfully and regularly in his business returning to a residence too far from filmland for commuting.
And we learn that Charlie’s contract expires in a few weeks and he doesn’t expect to say “yes” to another agreement, although it is probable he will be offered one.
The answer to the “why” interrogation is that (like numerous others of greater and lesser importance,) Charlie will be asked to take a cut if his contract is renewed – something Charlie says he will not do.
“I think it is a mistake for any player to lower his salary,” Ruggles told me. “Rather than take a cut, I’ll go back to my first love, the stage.
“Anyway, I don’t want to stay away from the stage too long or I’ll forget what I’ve been learning during all these years.”
Charlie regards the theater as art and the movies as something entirely mechanical.
Said he with frankness:
“Motion pictures, from the actor’s standpoint, are entirely a monetary business. They have no heart, no romance, no traditions, as has the stage.
“Most people are in this business in Hollywood to make a lot of money and get out. Some keep collecting money.”
He had much else to say on the same subject, none of which sounded to me like the “beefing” of one disappointed because his boss isn’t raising his salary.
WHY DO THEY?
Every time I hear a motion picture player, accustomed to the comparative leisurely life of working in the movies, complaining about the hardships of vaudeville (as most who have made “personal appearances” do) I feel like asking “Why do you do it, then?”
Any movie “name” can collect twice as much per week in vaudeville as he ever did in pictures.
The gentlemen who hire the Montgomerys and Tracys and Gables and others who play polo won’t object until one of them cracks a collar bone while a picture is in production. One day there’ll be a lot of good ponies for sale cheap.