Saturday, February 7, 2009


March 14, 1932

Walter Huston is once more fighting political corruption in “The Beast of the City,” which is at the Roxy.

An actors’ actor, Mr. Huston knows his business from the cellar up to the attic. He was born in Toronto, spent his boyhood on a Canadian farm and got his start on the stage with a repertory company in Toronto.

He joined a road show to see the world and arrived in New York on a freight train with no money but lots of curiosity. He had a good singing voice and could dance anything from ballroom steps to a fast clog, but he was a long time from getting a job.

Finally he landed a role in a melodrama by Wallace Reid’s father, Hal Reid, called “In Convict Stripes.” Mary Pickford had been in that piece the year before and Lillian Gish succeeded her. Mr. Huston says that he has played every role in the repertoire of American stock companies except the cake of ice in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and he remembers the dark days in the South when the hostelries posted signs, “Dogs and actors not allowed.”

In 1905 he abandoned the stage for a jaunt in electrical engineering, but he went back, this time in vaudeville, writing most of his acts himself.

His first feature motion picture was the talking film “Gentlemen of the Press,” and he has been in films ever since, with occasional visits to the stage. Among his outstanding films were “Abraham Lincoln,” “The Virginian” and “The Criminal Code.” He will be out soon in Upton Sinclair’s “The Wet Parade.”

Erich von Stroheim, the leader of the mad collection of stunt fliers and motion picture executives who make up the cast of “The Lost Squadron” at the Mayfair, has a touch of romantic fiction in nearly everything he does.

His career has actually been colorful. He answers, on very little provocation, to the imposing name of Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Marie Stroheim von Nordenwald, and he has an excellent background for villainy. The cruel egocentric Prussian officer that he has depicted so successfully on the screen is right up his alley.

He was born in Vienna forty-seven years ago and his father was a Colonel on the general staff. He completed his education in the war college of the Hapsburgs. In the fighting attendant upon the annexation of Bosnia in 1908 he was wounded in action, transferred to the Imperial Palace Guards, and decorated.

In 1909 Count Stroheim came to America, sold fly paper, served as an overseer of a California estate and as a boatman at Lake Tahoe, and started as an actor on the Orpheum Circuit.

Then he went into the motion picture game, playing a Prussian in D. W. Griffith’s “The Heart of Humanity.” Dissatisfied, he camped on Carl Laemmle’s doorstep with a story he had written and a plan to produce it for $25,000. This emerged as “Blind Husbands” and it cost $85,000.

Nothing daunted, he agreed to produce “The Devil’s Pass Key” for $75,000. It took nine months and cost Mr. Laemmle $185,000. Mr. von Stroheim persuaded his boss to let him do “Foolish Wives” at a cost that positively was not to exceed $250,000. He “shot” 200,000 feet without duplication and seemed unable to end the picture. In desperation, Mr. Laemmle finally induced him to bring the epic to an end with a subtitle. It cost $1,100,000.

After that Mr. von Stroheim did “Greed,” “The Merry Widow” and a few others, acting in them as well as directing.

A screen villain without parallel in Hollywood, he has been known to rebel. When a director wanted him, in the role of a high Prussian officer, to beat some peasant women with a whip, he refused on the ground that such a task would not be allotted to an officer. Von Stroheim gave one of his outstanding performances in “The Great Gabbo.”

“The Passionate Plumber” at the Capitol, presents the old and the new in comedians – Buster Keaton, the frozen-faced comic of the screen, and Jimmy Durante of Broadway.

Buster, the funereal one, first opened his eyes in Pickway, Kan., the son of a transient vaudeville team. He was a tike of 3 when he made his stage debut with his mother and father in an act know as “The Three Keatons.” His first screen appearance was in a short comedy, “The Butcher Boy.” His unique stoical characterization was evolved almost at once and it paved the way for success as a cinema comedian.

Jimmy Durante is strictly of New York. He was born on the lower east side, started his career as a piano player and worked his way into popularity as a night club entertainer.

He made his screen debut some three years ago in “Roadhouse Nights,” and quickly came back to Broadway for a featured part in “The New Yorkers” and last year set up what seems to be a fairly permanent shop in Hollywood. He has since appeared with William Haines in “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford” and with Lawrence Tibbett in “The Cuban Love Song.”

Claudette Colbert, featured at the Paramount in “The Wiser Sex,” has an authentic French background despite her surprising absence of a Gaelic accent in her speech.

She was born in the Paris suburbs, near the Bois de Boulogne, and spent her afternoons being trundled up and down the bois by her nurse until she was 6. Then her family removed to New York for a fresh start.

Claudette, a shy, intelligent girl, was class valedictorian upon graduation from Washington Irving High School in New York City. She did a bit in a school play and almost but not quite persuaded her parents to let her try acting. She studied drawing and painting at the New York School of Applied Arts instead.

She won her first stage part as the result of a jest at a party attended by Anne Morrison, who named her for a part in “The Wild Westcotts.”
Success came fast after she played the lead in Brock Pemberton’s “The Marionette Man.”

She disliked silent pictures because it was too much the art of “making faces.” Her recent films have included “The Big Pond” and “The Smiling Lieutenant” with Chevalier, “Manslaughter,” “Honor Among Lovers” and “Secrets of a Secretary.”

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