Getting Mary-ed was one of the most important decisions of her life.
Above you see a Paramount Pictures promo image of U.S. actress Mary Astor made around 1930. Astor is remembered by movie fans for her role in 1941's The Maltese Falcon, but she had been in film for more than twenty years by then. We often note show business name changes. Astor's real name was Lucile Langhanke. Would she have been as successful using that name? There's no way to know, but we doubt it. To us, Langhanke sounds like a cut of meat. Like something from the middle ages. Gimme a langhanke and an ale! And a roasted Maltese falcon too! Acting is hungry work! But instead she appropriated the family name of a strain of British royalty and her career took flight, so it seems Mary made the right choice.
Of course I know it isn't raining in here. But I can't take a chance on anything ruining this hair-do.
This is an unusually cool shot, we think. In addition to its compositional elements, the pattern on the dress and umbrella are the same. Fashionistas take note—that's how it's done. The star of the photo is U.S. actress Pamela Tiffin, née Pamela Wonso, who was noticed for her beauty—a producer spotted her having lunch in the Paramount Pictures studio commissary—but became an award nominated performer. We've featured her before, and you can see those images here. 1966 on this one.
Well, what are you waiting for? I haven't got all day—impress me.
Brooklyn born actress Grace Bradley gives the camera a provocative look in this beautiful Paramount promo shot from 1934. She had a very successful run in cinema that began in 1932, but after appearing in more than thirty productions gave up show business in order to support the career of her husband, cowboy star William Boyd, the man behind the legendary character Hopalong Cassidy. Bradley hopped along herself until age ninety-seven, finally dying in California in 2010. We should all do so well.
How'd ya like to teach an old dog some new tricks?
Clark Gable poses for a candid photo with Mamie Van Doren, his co-star in the 1958 Paramount romantic comedy Teacher's Pet. Van Doren wasn't Gable's love interest in the film—that was Doris Day. And Day wasn't the pet—that was Gable. The story deals with a grizzled veteran reporter ordered by his editor to help a college professor with her journalism class, and how his initial reluctance turns to attraction. Looks like he was plenty attracted to Van Doren too, though, doesn't it? And really, who could blame him? The photo was made just as production on Teacher's Pet began. That was today in 1957.
John Payne goes to hell and back for loot and love.
The film we talked about Sunday, 1944’s Bermuda Mystery, was an island thriller in name only, but Hell’s Island actually works hard to create a Caribbean mood—though it was shot in Southern California. John Payne is hired to fly to the mythical island of Santo Rosario and retrieve a priceless ruby in the possession of his former girlfriend. The girlfriend, Mary Murphy, ran away to the island after jilting the hero to marry a rich islander. Payne arrives and finds that moneybags is imprisoned for life for murder, and Murphy now lives alone in a big mansion, pining for her incarcerated husband. But did he actually commit the crime?
Murphy wants Payne to help her husband escape, and Payne agrees because supposedly only the husband knows where the ruby is. This is all a pretty fertile set-up for a thriller, and while the filmmakers don’t get every element right, they end up with a passably engrossing final product. Some websites call Hell’s Island a film noir, which it is in terms of story elements, mood, and characterizations—but it’s shot in Technicolor, which for some may put it in another category visually. In the end, think of it as a passable vintage crime flick with a few twists and turns, a conveniently placed alligator pit, plenty of swanky menswear, lots of corpses, and one very elusive ruby. Hell’s Island opened today in 1955.
The only real murders committed may have been of the animals.
Murders in the Zoo is a brisk little sixty-two-minute thriller for which you see two excellent promos above. A dealer in large animals uses the menagerie he’s recently procured in Asia to dispose of his wife’s suitors. The cast is good, especially Kathleen Burke as the straying spouse. You’ll notice she’s called The Panther Woman on the posters. That’s a reference to her role as a woman bred from a panther in the previous year’s hit thriller Island of Lost Souls, and here she retains a hint of animal cunning that makes her the most watchable cast member. Other aspects of the film are less watchable. Zoos are sad affairs even today, but during the 1930s they were tawdry places rife with choke collars and tiny cages. Watching Murders in the Zoo explains why today’s productions have the American Humane Association on set defending the animals’ wellbeing.
Late in the proceedings, the villain tries to facilitate his escape from justice by (spoiler alert) releasing all the big cats from their cages, triggering a feline free-for-all of slashing claws and gnashing fangs. This is no special effect, folks. The sequence is brief and uses footage from two angles to extend the running time, but still, injuries surely resulted. At the least, the leopard that was held down and gnawed on by a lion probably had PTSD until the end of its days. Sometimes we point out scenes in vintage cinema that fall into the could-not-be-filmed-today category, and usually those exemplify the visionary artistry of the past. What is mostly exemplified by Murders in the Zoo’s cat scrum is the cruelty of the human species. But from a purely cinematic perspective it’s a powerful scene, and indeed, the entire zoo setting heightens the overarching dread. As 1930s movies go, Murders in the Zoo is an excellent one. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.
Each day presents an ocean of possibilities.
Texas-born actress Mary Martin enjoys some time on the water in this Paramount publicity photo. Though she had no idea at this moment, her film, stage and radio career would profit her two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yes, you can receive two. Hers are for film and radio, and we assume that puts her in rare company. This shot is from 1940.
Beautiful beyond a shadow of a doubt.
This shadow-draped photo appeared around the time Paramount made the actress pictured change her professional name to Margaret Hayes, which was early 1941. Before that she was Dana Edwards. And before that she was Dana Dale. And way before that she was born Florette Regina Ottenheimer, so any of those new names would have been an upgrade, especially in 1941 when a German name may have been a hindrance for an actress just starting out. Anyway, she’s remembered today by her Margaret Hayes moniker and here she looks quite provocative, to say the least. Just the thing to get your Monday started right.
Focusing on what matters most.
This unusual promo image of American actress Nancy Carroll, née Ann Veronica LaHiff, which features only her face in focus, was made by famed photographer Eugene Robert Richee for Paramount Pictures when Carroll was a contract star for the studio. Carroll appeared in movies like 1928’s Manhattan Cocktail, 1929’s The Wolf of Wall Street, 1932’s The Man I Killed, and dozens of others. Though she’s perhaps not widely known today, she was a blazing star, one of the biggest of her era, until Paramount dropped her for allegedly being difficult. After Paramount she was never an A-list actress again, but she worked until the 1960s and today has a plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This shot dates from around 1930.
There’s no business like snow business.
Today in 1932 Los Angeles suffered what was called the first real snowstorm in its history when two inches of accumulation settled downtown and the Hollywood Hills became a winter wonderland. It had snowed at least once before in 1882, but the 1932 storm remains even today the heaviest snow ever recorded in Southern California. Did scientists suggest the polar vortex had something to do with it? Possibly, since they had known about it for decades, but in the absence of politics you can bet the general public didn’t care at all. The above member of the general public is named Judith Wood, an actress who appeared in The Vice Squad, Road to Reno and other films. She regards the scene with amusement and/or amazement from her hilltop home.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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