Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 31, 1949, actor Richard Gere is 62 years old today.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Born Rebecca J. Pearch in Sonoma County, California, on August 29, 1959, actress Rebecca De Mornay is 52 years old today.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Character actress Beulah Bondi entered the theatre at age 7, playing the male role of Little Lord Fauntleroy; it would be her last role in drag and one of the very few times that she'd play a character her own age. Upon graduation from Valparaiso University she joined a stock company, working throughout the country until her 1925 Broadway debut in "Wild Birds". Even in her late twenties and early thirties, Bondi specialized in playing mothers, grandmothers, and society dowagers. She made her first film, "Street Scene", in 1931, concentrating on movies thereafter. She is best known to modern film fans for her role as James Stewart's mother in the Christmastime favorite "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). It was but one of several occasions (among them "Vivacious Lady" in 1938 and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in 1939) that she played Stewart's mother; as late as 1971, Bondi was playing the same role in the short-lived sitcom "The Jimmy Stewart Show". Even after her official screen retirement - her last film was "Tammy and the Doctor" in 1963 - Bondi kept herself open for television roles, including an Emmy-winning 1977 performance on the dramatic TV series "The Waltons". Despite the fact that she was known for playing mother figures, Bondi never married in real life. She died from pulmonary complications due to broken ribs suffered when she tripped over her cat on January 11, 1981, aged 92.
Character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. was the son of an influential theatrical actor/writer/producer who died early in the 20th Century. The younger Cook was in vaudeville and stock by the time he was fourteen-years old. In 1928, Cook enjoyed critical praise for his performance in the play "Her Unborn Child", a performance he would repeat for his film debut in the 1930 film version of the play. The first ten years of Cook's Hollywood career found the slight, baby-faced actor playing innumerable college intellectuals and hapless freshmen, such as 1936's "Pigskin Parade". In 1940, Cook was cast as a man wrongly convicted of murder in "Stranger on the Third Floor" and so was launched the second phase of Cook's career as the helpless victim. The actor's ability to play beyond this stereotype was first tapped by director John Huston, who cast Cook as Wilmer, the hair-trigger homicidal killer in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). Sometimes he'd be shot full of holes (as in the closing gag of 1941's "Hellzapoppin'"), sometimes he'd fall victim to some other grisly demise (poison in "The Big Sleep" in 1946), and sometimes he'd be the squirrelly little guy who turned out to be the last-reel murderer as in I Wake Up Screaming . Seemingly born to play film noir characters, Cook had one of his best extended moments in "Phantom Lady" (1944), wherein he plays a set of drums with ever-increasing orgiastic fervor. Another career high point was his death scene in "Shane" (1953); Cook is shot down by hired gun Jack Palance and plummets to the ground like a dead rabbit. A near-hermit in real life who lived in a remote mountain home and had to receive his studio calls by courier, Cook nonetheless never wanted for work, even late in life. In the 1980s, Cook had a recurring role as the snarling elderly mobster Ice Pick in "Magnum P.I." Elisha Cook, Jr. died of a stroke on May 18, 1995, at age 88 in Big Pine, California.
Character actor Edward Arnold was born in New York to German immigrant parents. Orphaned at 11, Arnold supported himself with a series of manual labor jobs. He made his first stage appearance at 12, playing Lorenzo in an amateur production of "The Merchant of Venice" at the East Side Settlement House. Encouraged to continue acting by playwright/journalist John D. Barry, Arnold became a professional at 15, joining the prestigious Ben Greet Players shortly afterward. After touring with such notables as Ethel Barrymore and Maxine Elliot, he did bit and extra work at Chicago's Essanay Film Studios and New Jersey's World Studios during the early teens. Hoping to become a slender leading man, Arnold found that his fortune lay in character parts and accordingly beefed up his body. Following several seasons on Broadway, Arnold made his talking picture debut as a gangster in 1933's "Whistling in the Dark". He continued playing supporting villains until landing the title role in "Diamond Jim" (1935) which required him to add 25 pounds to his already substantial frame; he repeated this characterization in the 1940 biopic "Lillian Russell". Other starring roles followed in films like "Sutter's Gold" (1936), "Come and Get It" (1936), and "Toast of New York" (1937) but in 1937 Arnold's career momentum halted briefly when he was labeled "box office poison" by a committee of film exhibitors. Undaunted, Arnold accepted lesser billing in secondary roles, remaining in demand until his death. A favorite of director Frank Capra (who frequently chided the actor for the "phony laugh" that was his trademark), Arnold appeared in a trio of Capra films, playing Jimmy Stewart's millionaire father in "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), a corrupt political boss in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), and a would-be fascist in "Meet John Doe" (1941). Despite the fact that he was not considered a box-office draw, Arnold continued to be cast in starring roles from time to time, notably Daniel Webster in 1941's "The Devil and Daniel Webster", as blind detective Duncan Maclain in "Eyes in the Night" (1942) and "The Hidden Eye" (1945). During the 1940s, Arnold became increasingly active in politics, carrying this interest over into a radio anthology, "Mr. President", which ran from 1947 through 1953. He was co-founder of the "I Am an American Foundation," an officer of Hollywood's Permanent Charities Committee, and a president of the Screen Actors Guild. Though a staunch right-wing conservative (he once considered running for Senate on the Republican ticket), Arnold labored long and hard to protect his fellow actors from the persecution of the HUAC "communist witch-hunt." Edward Arnold's last film appearance was in the potboiler "Miami Expose" (1956). He died at his home in Encino, California, from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 26, 1956, at age 66.
Sidney Blackmer had planned to study law at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, but football and amateur theatricals held more interest for him. Heading east to make his fortune as an actor, Blackmer accepted day work at various film studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, reportedly appearing in the pioneering Pearl White serial "The Perils of Pauline" in 1914. After making his Broadway bow in 1917, Blackmer served as a lieutenant in World War I. His star-making stage role was the title character in 1921's "The Mountain Man". Eager to have a go at all branches of entertainment, Blackmer sang on radio in the 1920s, and participated in the first experimental dramatic presentations of the Allen B. DuMont television series. In films, Blackmer was usually cast as a smooth society villain; as The Big Boy in the 1931 gangster flick "Little Caesar". He appeared in both sinister and sympathetic roles in a handful of Shirley Temple pictures and also starred as pulp-novel detective Thatcher Colt in the 1943 film "The Panther's Claw". In 1950, Blackmer won the Tony award for his portrayal of Doc in the William Inge play "Come Back Little Sheba"; he later created the role of Boss Finley in Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth". Blackmer is remembered for his more than a dozen portrayals of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and for his role in the Academy Award-winning 1968 Roman Polanski film about urban New York witches, "Rosemary's Baby", in which he played an over-solicitous neighbor. For several years, he served as the national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Sidney Blackmer died of cancer on October 6, 1973, at the age of 78.
Lurene Tuttle was a character actress and drama coach whose six-decade career included every dramatic medium, including stage, radio, film and television.
In 1936, she began her radio career opposite Dick Powell in the CBS series "Hollywood Hotel." Within a year, she was "working any time I wasn't sleeping," with roles in anthologies and running parts in such radio staples as "Sam Spade," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," "A Date With Judy" and "The Red Skelton Show."
Her film debut was in "Heaven Only Knows" in 1947. Her career continued with featured roles in Orson Welles' "Macbeth," and with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." Other films included "Niagara" with Marilyn Monroe, "The Glass Slipper," "The Sweet Smell of Success," "Psycho," "The Fortune Cookie," "Walking Tall" and "The Manitou. "Lurene Tuttle was the wife of radio actor/announcer Mel Ruick and the mother of musical comedy actress Barbara Ruick. She became a respected acting coach and teacher until her death from cancer in 1986 at age 78.
American actor Hugh Beaumont originally studied for the clergy, remaining busy as a lay minister throughout his acting career. After stage experience, Beaumont arrived in Hollywood in 1940. While most of the draftable leading men were away during World War II, Beaumont enjoyed a brief spell of stardom; his faint resemblance to actor Lloyd Nolan enabled Beaumont to inherit Nolan's screen role of detective Michael Shayne in a series of inexpensive films. After the war, Beaumont returned to character parts, contributing memorable moments to such films as "The Blue Dahlia" (1946) and "The Guilt of Janet Ames" (1947). He also played quite a few villains during this period; fans of Beaumont's later television work are in for a jolt as they watch the affable Hugh Beaumont connive and murder his way through 1948's "Money Madness". During the early 1950s, Beaumont frequently popped up in uncredited featured roles at 20th Century-Fox, most prominently in "Phone Call From a Stranger" (1952) as the doctor killed by drunken driver Michael Rennie, and in "The Revolt of Mamie Stover" (1956) as a Honolulu cop who advises good-time girl Jane Russell to get out of town. In 1957, Beaumont was cast as the father Ward Cleaver on the popular sitcom "Leave It to Beaver". While he despaired that the series might ruin his chances for good film roles, Beaumont remained with the series until its cancellation in 1963. Hugh Beaumont retired from show business in the late 1960s, launching a second career as a successful Christmas tree farmer. He was forced to retire in 1972 after suffering a stroke from which he never fully recovered. On May 14, 1982, Hugh Beaumont died of a heart attack while visiting his son in Munich, Germany. His ashes were scattered on the family-owned island on Lake Wabana, Minnesota.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Strother Martin was the National Junior Springboard Diving Champion when he came to Hollywood as a swimming coach in the late 1940s. He stuck around to play a few movie bits and extra roles before finally receiving a role of substance in "The Asphalt Jungle" in 1950. Lean and limber in his early day, Martin was frequently cast in parts which called upon his athletic prowess such as a drawling big-league ball player in 1951's "Rhubarb". As his face grew more pocked and his body more paunched with each advancing year, Martin put his reedy, whiny voice and sinister squint to excellent use as a villain, most often in westerns. It took him nearly 20 years to matriculate from character actor to character star. In 1967, Martin skyrocketed to fame as the sadistic prison-farm captain in "Cool Hand Luke": his character's signature line, "What we have here is a failure to communicate", became a national catchphrase. Strother Martin appeared in memorable roles in such films as " True Grit", "Rooster Cogburn", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and "The Wild Bunch". While he continued accepting secondary roles for the rest of his career, Martin was awarded top billing in two sleazy but likable films, "Brotherhood of Satan" and "Ssssssss". A veteran of scores of television shows, Strother Martin was seen on a weekly basis as Aaron Donager in "Hotel De Paree" in 1959 and as Jimmy Stewart's country cousin in "Hawkins" in 1973. Strother Martin died of a heart attack in 1980 at age 61.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Character actor Billy Barty made many film appearances from 1931 on, most often cast as bratty children due to his height. He was a peripheral member of an Our Gang rip-off in the Mickey McGuire comedy shorts, portrayed the infant-turned-pig in "Alice in Wonderland" in 1933, did a turn in blackface as a shrunken Eddie Cantor in "Roman Scandals" in 1933, and he frequently popped up as a lasciviously leering baby in the risqué musical highlights of Busby Berkeley's Warner Brothers films. One of Barty's most celebrated cinema moments occurred in 1937's "Nothing Sacred" in which, playing a small boy, he pops up out of nowhere to bite Fredric March in the leg. Barty was busy but virtually anonymous in films since he seldom received screen credit. TV audiences began to connect his name with his face in the 1950s when Barty was featured on various variety series hosted by bandleader Spike Jones. Disdainful of certain professional "little people" who rely on size alone to get laughs, Barty was seen at his very best on the Jones programs, dancing, singing, and delivering dead-on impressions: the diminutive actor's takeoff on Liberace was almost unbearably funny. Though he was willing to poke fun at himself on camera, Barty was fiercely opposed to TV and film producers who exploited midgets and dwarves and as he continued his career into the 1970s and 80s, Barty saw to it that his own roles were devoid of patronization; in fact, he often secured parts that could have been portrayed by so-called normal actors, proof that one's stature has little to do with one's talent. One of his most memorable roles was that of a Bible salesman who Goldie Hawn mistakes for a killer in "Foul Play" in 1978. A two-fisted advocate of equitable treatment of short actors, Billy Barty took time away from his many roles in movies and TV to maintain his support organization The Little People of America and the Billy Barty Foundation. Billy Barty died in December 2000 of heart failure at age 76.