Movie Stars of the 1920s • The major luminaries of the 1920s silver screen, with a bit of bio to give you their back stories! • Fatty Arbuckle Josephine Baker John Barrymore • Betty Boop Clara Bow Charlie Chaplin • Claudette Colbert Gary Cooper Douglas Fairbanks • Greta Garbo WC Fields Janet Gaynor • Lillian Gish Jean Harlow Buster Keaton • Laurel & Hardy Carole Lombard Harold Lloyd • Tom Mix Mary Pickford Will Rogers • Gloria Swanson Rudolph Valentino Mae West
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Fatty Arbuckle • Actor, director, producer and screenwriter, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the most loved then reviled personalities of early films, The large but agile performer began in travelling shows and vaudeville and started appearing in films around 1910. He signed with comedy producer Mack Sennett in 1913 as a member of the Keystone Cops and rose to prominence while performing and collaborating with Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin in Keystone Comedies. • By the mid-teens Arbuckle was a full fledged director and writer of his own and other comics films. 1917 found him with his own production company and a promising protégé: Buster Keaton. Sadly, his success was short lived as he fell victim to one of the most infamous of Hollywood scandals. In late 1921, Arbuckle threw a party which was crashed by a starlet named Virginia Rappe who fell seriously ill and died a few days later. • Arbuckle was accused of rape and charged with manslaughter for which he was acquitted in 1923. Nevertheless, the press made much of Arbuckle's supposed guilt, causing a public outcry of moral outrage. Worried for their future, Hollywood's powerful mogels started the Hays Office to protect the image of the film industry and used Arbuckle as their first "sacrifice."
Josephine Baker Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906, Josephine ran away at age 13 to join a traveling road show. In 1921, she got her first break as a dancer in a successful run of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along, which toured the country in 1922. Choosing to use the last name of her second husband, Willie Baker, Josephine Baker left the United States for Paris in 1925 to perform in a new musical review called La Revue Nègre, where she quickly became the star of the show at age 19 and the toast of Paris and Europe. She moved on to star in the Folies-Bergère, including a celebrated performance in a banana skirt. From her early days as a chorus girl, Baker developed a talent for comedy but also had a personal sense of high style. She became the inspiration to many of the hottest fashion designers of the time. The musical and artistic rebellion of the 1920s made Paris a hotbed for the arts, fueling the visual artistic movement that erupted after World War I and embodied modernity and change. Paris embraced African-Americans and the radical new musical language called jazz that was first introduced by the touring Captain James Europe in 1917. Many African-American artists moved to Paris or spent considerable time there rather than endure the racism and segregation in America. Baker was one of these expatriates who adopted France as her home. While not technically a film star, she was one of the few female African American entertainers in the 1920s.
John Barrymore • Like his brother Lionel and his sister Ethel, American actor John Barrymore had early intentions to break away from the family theatrical tradition and become an artist, in the "demonic" style of Gustav Doré. But acting won out; thanks to his natural flair and good looks, Barrymore was a matinee idol within a few seasons after his 1903 stage debut. His best-known Broadway role for many years was as an inebriated wireless operator in the Dick Davis farce The Dictator. On stage and in silent films (including a 1915 version of The Dictator), John was most at home in comedies. His one chance for greatness occurred in 1922, when he played Hamlet. • Eventually, Barrymore abandoned the theatre altogether for the movies, where he was often cast more for his looks than his talent. Perhaps in revenge against Hollywood "flesh peddlers," Barrymore loved to play roles that required physical distortion, grotesque makeup, or all-out "mad" scenes; to him, his Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) was infinitely more satisfying than Don Juan (1926). When talkies came in, Barrymore's days as a romantic lead had passed, but his exquisite voice and superb bearing guaranteed him stronger film roles than he'd had in silents; still, for every Grand Hotel (1932), there were the gloriously hammy excesses of Moby Dick (1930) and Svengali (1931). Unfortunately, throughout his life, Barrymore was plagued by his taste for alcohol, and his personal problems began catching up with him in the mid-1930s.
Betty Boop • Although Betty Boop first appeared as a cartoon in the 1930s, her model, Helen Kane, spent the early 1920s in vaudeville. Betty Boop is drawn obviously to look like a flapper and thus is included with our 1920s theme. • Grim Natwick was the first animator to draw Betty, who had not yet been officially named. He took inspiration for Betty's spit curls from a song sheet of a Broadway performer named Helen Kane, commonly called the "Boop Oop a Doop Girl". Betty Boop’s high baby voice, like her spit curls, were in imitation of Helen Kane. • Kane was a singer and kickline dancer. She played the New York Palace for the first time in 1921. Her Broadway days started there as well with the Stars of the Future (1922-24, and a brief revival in early 1927). • Her first starring role was in "Betty Coed" (1931), which also marked the first time the name Betty was connected with the Betty Boop character. • The first cartoon appearance of the character Betty Boop was in the 6th Talkartoon entitled "Dizzy Dishes" (1930.). • Betty started out being designed as a human-like dog, only her black button nose and floppy ears hinting at her canine nature. These ears later became her round earrings, in part due to the fact that the Fleischer animators had a tendency to change animating styles and features of characters from cartoon to cartoon, and sometimes within the same cartoon. (In "Bum Bandit"-1931- Betty's nose changes from black to white and then back again in the same cartoon.)
Clara Bow • Clara Bow was perhaps one of the first silver screen sex sirens, flaunting her sexuality in an age when such behaviour was still shocking. She was a pioneer of sexual freedom long before the likes Marilyn Monroe.Born and raised in a Brooklyn tenement, Clara's childhood was largely unhappy. Her mother was mentally ill and had never even registered Clara’s birth, in the belief that they both might die during the heat wave of that year.In an effort to escape her daily life, Clara focused all her attention on the new world of the movies. Always on the lookout for film contests, Clara entered and won a feature in Motion Picture Magazine. Clara’s prize was to be a part in a motion picture, ‘Beyond the Rainbow’Despite her performance later being cut, Clara picked up favourable early reviews and went on appear in a low-budget whaling movie, ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’.Clara made 25 film features within two years, and became famous as the "It" girl of the roaring 1920s, a flapper par excellence. She became a symbol of the flapper age and her bobbed hair look was soon imitated by women all across America. While living the life of a movie star, however, she became the victim of numerous scandals. As her gambling debts and unpaid taxes mounted, she quickly fell from grace with the public. With the advent of sound, her career ground to a halt. In 1931, she eloped with cowboy star, Rex Bell and retired fully from the screen in 1933. Her latter years were plagued by weight problems and mental instability. Clara died in 1965.
Charlie Chaplin • Chaplin, Charlie (1889-1977), English motion-picture actor, director, producer, and composer, one of the most creative artists in film history, who first achieved worldwide fame through his performances in silent films. His full name was Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin.Born in London, as a child Chaplin appeared in music hall and pantomime performances. In 1910 he toured the United States with a pantomime troupe and decided to remain in the country. Chaplin first appeared on the screen in 1914 with the Keystone Film Company of American director Mack Sennett. In Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), wearing baggy pants, enormous shoes, and a bowler hat and carrying a bamboo cane, he originated his world-famous character, the Tramp. He played this classic role in more than 70 films during his career. • He was associated later with the Essanay Film Company, the Mutual Film Company, and the First National Film Company. In 1918 his own studio in Hollywood, California, was completed. During these years Chaplin gradually developed the tramp character from a jaunty, slapstick stereotype into the compassionate human figure that came to be loved by audiences throughout the world. In 1919 he helped found the United Artists Corporation, with which he was associated until 1952.
Claudette Colbert • Paris-born actress Claudette Colbert was brought to New York at the age of seven by her banker father. She planned an art career after high school graduation, studying at the Art Student's League. Attending a party with actress Anne Morrison, the 18-year-old was offered a three-line bit in a new play “The Wild Westcotts.” That ended her art aspirations, and Colbert embarked on a stage career in 1925, scoring her first big critical success in the 1926 Broadway production of The Barker, in which she played a duplicitous snake charmer. One year later, the actress made her first film at Long Island's Astoria studio, For the Love of Mike (1927), but the film was unsuccessful. • Colbert disliked film acting; but audiences responded to her beauty and cultured voice, so she forsook the stage for Hollywood. Colbert's popularity (and salary) skyrocketed after she was cast as "the wickedest woman in history," Nero's unscrupulous wife Poppaea, in the Biblical epic The Sign of the Cross (1932). Colbert expanded her range as a street-smart smuggler's daughter in I Cover the Waterfront and in the pioneering screwball comedy Three-Cornered Moon (both 1933), but it was for a role she nearly refused that the actress secured her box-office stature. Virtually every other actress in Hollywood had turned down the role of spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews in Columbia's It Happened One Night (1934), and when director Frank Capra approached an unenthusiastic Colbert, she wearily agreed to appear in the film on the conditions that she be paid twice her normal salary and that the film be completed before she was scheduled to go on vacation in four weeks. Colbert considered the experience one of the worst in her life -- until the 1935 Academy Awards ceremony, in which It Happened One Night won in virtually all major categories, including a Best Actress Oscar for her. Colbert remained a top money-making star until her last big hit, The Egg and I (1947).
Gary Cooper • Gary Cooper started as an extra in westerns in the 1920s and went on to become one of Hollywood's greatest stars, known for his Oscar-winning roles in Sergeant York (1941) and High Noon (1952). • Cooper spent his childhood in Montana and England (his parents were British) and went to college in Iowa. In 1924 he ended up in Los Angeles, looking for work as a newspaper cartoonist. When that didn't pan out he found work as a Hollywood extra and bit player; he had his first substantial role in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). • Tall and handsome, Cooper had a shy smile and slow speech which made him a the very definition of the stoic hero of the American west, but he was equally successful at romantic comedy, especially in Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Meet John Doe (1941). • His other films include A Farewell to Arms (1932), The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and Along Came Jones (1946). When he was given a special Oscar in 1961 his friend and fellow star Jimmy Stewart accepted the award and revealed that Cooper was dying of cancer. Cooper died less than a month later.
Douglas Fairbanks • Douglas Fairbanks was raised by his southern mother who had separated from his father, an attorney, when he was five. He began amateur theater at age 12 and continued while attending the Colorado School of Mines. In 1900 they moved to New York. He attended Harvard, traveled to Europe, worked on a cattle freighter, in a hardware store and as a clerk on Wall Street. He made his Broadway debut in 1902 and five years later left theater to marry an industrialist's daughter. He returned when his father-in-law went broke the next year. • In 1915 he went to Hollywood and worked under a reluctant D.W. Griffith. The following year he formed his own production company. During a Liberty Bond tour with Charles Chaplin he fell in love with Mary Pickford with whom he, Chaplin and Griffith had formed United Artists in 1919. He made very successful early social comedies, then highly popular swashbucklers during the 'twenties. The owners of Hollywood's Pickfair Mansion separated in 1933 and divorced in 1936. In March of that year he married an ex-chorus girl and retired from acting.
WC Fields • William Claude Dukenfield was the eldest of five children born to Cockney immigrant James Dukenfield and Philadelphia native Kate Felton. He went to school for four years, then quit to work with his father selling vegetables from a horse cart. At eleven, after many fights with his alcoholic father (who hit him on the head with a shovel), he ran away from home. For a while he lived in a hole in the ground, depending on stolen food and clothing. He was often beaten and spent nights in jail. His first regular job was delivering ice. • By age thirteen he was a skilled pool player and juggler. It was then, at an amusement park in Norristown PA, that he was first hired as an entertainer. There he developed the technique of pretending to lose the things he was juggling. In 1893 he was employed as a juggler at Fortescue's Pier, Atlantic City. When business was slow he pretended to drown in the ocean (management thought his fake rescue would draw customers). • By nineteen he was billed as "The Distinguished Comedian" and began opening bank accounts in every city he played. At age twenty-three he opened at the Palace in London and played with Sarah Bernhardt at Buckingham Palace. He starred at the Folies-Bergere (young Charles Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier were on the program).
Greta Garbo • Greta Garbo was one of the most prominent and best loved stars of all the 1920s and 1930s icons. Many a costume history book touts her as an intriguing fashion icon of mystery and allure. Her softer look was full of femininity and captivation that sat happily alongside that of the flapper. • Greta Garbo was born in 1905 as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm. Born of impoverished parents she first went to work at age 14 in a barber's shop, but later became a model. Keen to act after featuring as a bathing beauty in a film Garbo studied acting from 1922 to 1924 at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm. • Mauritz Stiller an important Swedish director gave her a role in Gösta Berling's Saga along with the stage name Greta Garbo. In 1925 Garbo was also given a contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the USA when Stiller went to work for MGM. She made 27 films, but her greatest success was as a talking actress because of her smooth feminine seductive voice. Garbo is remembered for not only her great and unusual ethereal beauty, but also her voice. • She continued to make successful films until 1941.
Janet Gaynor • After graduating from high school in San Francisco, Janet moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at a Hollywood secretarial college. Eager to get into movies, she started working as an extra in comedy shorts. In 1925, she was hired by Fox and was cast in The Johnstown Flood (1926). In 1927 she appeared in Seventh Heaven (1927) as Diane and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) as the wife in danger. For those two movies and the Street Angel (1928), Janet received the first Oscar for best actress. She was to become one of the biggest stars at Fox. She was teamed with Charles Farrell in 11 films altogether as she went from "the World's Sweetheart" to "America's favorite love-birds".When sound came in, Janet did not miss a beat since her voice translated well to sound. In most of these films, including the musical talkie Sunnyside Up (1929), Janet played the poor little waif who falls for Farrell. By 1934, she was Hollywood's top box office attraction. Fox and Janet began to disagree on the roles that were assigned to her and as her popularity waned, the roles became worse. She left Fox in 1936 but gave such a great performance in A Star is Born (1937) that she was nominated for an Academy Award. By then, her first marriage had ended and she made only two more films. She retired from the screen when she married Hollywood costume designer Gilbert Adrian in 1939. She returned to the screen only once more to make a guest appearance as Pat Boone’s mother in Bernadine (1957).
Lillian Gish • Lillian Gish was born into a broken family where her restless father James Lee Gish was frequently absent. Mary Robinson McConnell a.k.a. Mary Gish, her mother, had entered into acting to make money to support the family. As soon as Lillian and her sister Dorothy were old enough, they became part of the act. To supplement their income, the two sisters also posed for pictures and acted in melodramas of the time. In 1912, they met fellow child actress Mary Pickford, and she got them extra work with Biograph films. • Director D.W. Griffith was impressed by both the girls and especially by Lillian, who he saw as a exquisitely fragile, ethereal beauty. Over the next decade, Lillian was to become one of Griffith's greatest stars. She appeared in features such as The Birth of a Nation (1915); Broken Blossoms, or the Yellow Man and the Girl (1919); and Orphans of the Storm (1921). With Griffith, she became the greatest screen heroine of the time and was known as 'The First Lady of the Silent Screen'. • Lillian even tried her hand at directing with a movie called Remodeling Her Husband (1920) starring her sister Dorothy. After 13 years with Griffith, Lillian went to MGM where her first picture was la Boheme (1926). Her new contract gave her control over the type of picture, the director, the supporting lead and the cameraman. In the late 20s, Lillian's star began to wane and sound pictures became the rage with the viewing public. Lillian was released by MGM in 1928 and went back to the stage and was a great success. She would continue on the stage for the next half century. Lillian Gish never married.
Jean Harlow • The dentist's daughter eloped at age 16 with a young businessman and wound up in Los Angeles where she found work as an extra and bit player. Her first big break came in 1930 when Howard Hughes revamped his unreleased 1927 silent Hell’s Angels (1930) into a sound version. Harlow, with her divorce in 1929, had adopted her mother's maiden. Hughes loaned her out for a number of movies which, like Platinum Blonde (1931), featured her platinum hair and more than obvious sexuality - she claimed she never wore underwear. In 1932 Hughes sold her contract to MGM, and her role in Red-Headed Woman (1932) for that studio led the Hays Office to forbid the depiction of unpunished adultery. • She married Irving Thalberg’s right-hand man, Paul Bern. The marriage ended after a few weeks: the day after his former common-law wife met Harlow, Bern shot himself. A few days later former Mrs. Bern was found floating in the Sacramento River, after allegedly committing suicide. Harlow had another brief marriage, followed by an affair with William Powell. She made three films with Spencer Tracy and six with Clark Gable, receiving much improved critical acclaim for her acting, allure and comedic talent. During the filming of Saratoga (1937) she was hospitalized for uremic poisoning, and died on June 7 of cerebral edema at age 26.
Buster Keaton • When at six months he tumbled down a flight of stairs unharmed he was given the name "Buster" by harry Houdini, who shared headlines with The Three Keatons: Buster, his father and mother. Their act, one of the most dangerous in vaudeville, was about how to discipline a prankster child. Buster was thrown all over the stage and even into the audience. No matter what the stunt, he was poker-faced. By age 21 his father was so alcoholic the stunts became too dangerous to perform and the act dissolved. • Buster first saw a movie studio in March 1917 and on April 23 his film, 'Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle 's The Butcher Boy (1917), was released. He stayed with Fatty through 15 two-reelers, even though he was offered much more to sign with Fox or Warner Bros. after returning from ten months with the U.S. Army (40th Infantry Division) in France. His first full-length feature, The Saphead (1920), established him as a star in his own right. By the middle of 1921 he had his own production company--Buster Keaton Productions--and was writing, directing and starring in his own films. With a small and close team around him, Keaton created some of the most beautiful and imaginative films of the silent era. The General (1927), his favorite, was one of the last films over which he had artistic control. • By 1932 he was a divorced alcoholic, getting work where he could, mostly in short comedies. In 1935 he entered a mental hospital. MGM rehired him in 1937 as a $100-a-week gag-man (his salary ten years before was more than ten times this amount). In 1959, he received a special Oscar for his life work in comedy, and he began to receive the accolades he so richly deserved, with festivals around the world honoring his work. He died at 70 years of age.
Laurel & Hardy • The comedy team that is widely regarded as the greatest in film history. Stan Laurel (original name Arthur Stanley Jefferson; b. June 16, 1890, Lancashire, Eng.—d. Feb. 23, 1965, Santa Monica, Calif., U.S.) and Oliver Hardy (original name Norvell Hardy; b. Jan. 18, 1892, Harlem, Ga., U.S.—d. Aug. 7, 1957, North Hollywood, Calif.) made more than 100 comedies together, with Laurel playing the bumbling and innocent foil to the pompous Hardy.The son of a theatrical manager and performer, Stan Jefferson became a music-hall comedian during his teenage years, and by 1910 he was understudying Charlie Chaplin. After the Karno company disbanded during an American tour in 1913, he worked in American films and vaudeville for several years, during which time he changed his surname to “Laurel,” after deciding that a stage name with 13 letters was bad luck. He found minor success as the star of his own series of comedy shorts in the early 1920s. • Georgia attorney Oliver Hardy died while his son, Norvell, was an infant; in tribute, the younger Hardy later adopted his father's first name. While managing a movie theatre in 1913, Hardy decided that he could do better—or at least no worse—than the actors he saw on-screen, and so he went to work at the Lubin Studios in Jacksonville, Fla., the following year. During the next decade, Hardy appeared in more than 200 films for various studios (including an appearance as the Tin Man in the 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz) before being signed by Hal Roach in 1926. • The two soon became members of Roach's “All-Stars. By the end of 1927, they were an official team. The comedic formula that they developed was simple but enduring: two friends who possessed a combination of utter brainlessness and eternal optimism, or, as Laurel himself described it: “Two minds without a single thought.”
Carole Lombard • Born in Indiana, she was eight years old when her parents divorced, and her mother took her and her two older brothers to L.A. to start a new life. At age twelve she was spotted playing baseball in the street by a director who cast her as a tom-boy in "A Perfect Crime". Bitten by the movie bug, she went on to amateur theatre, small and then larger roles in Fox westerns and comedies. In 1926, an auto accident scarred the left side of her face, which was repaired by plastic surgery. After recuperating, she went to Max Sennett and made 13 two-reelers in 18 months. This was followed by full-length features at Pathe and then Paramount, where she became one of Hollywood's highest paid stars. • In her personal life, she became noted for her coarse language, practical jokes, lavish parties and her genuine concern for all people, down to the lowliest crew members. She was returning from a War bond drive in her home state of Indiana, when her plane crashed outside of Las Vegas in 1942, killing her and her mother and 20 other passengers.
Harold Lloyd • Harold Clayton Lloyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska on the 20th of April 1893. When Harold was 12 he joined the theatre usually just performing with his high school. Later, actor John Lane Connor asked Lloyd to go to Los Angeles with him. This led to the first movie appearance of Lloyd in a 1913 film called The Old Monk’s Tale (1913). That year Lloyd was cast as an extra in a movie called Rory 'o The Bogs where he came upon another extra, Hal Roach. In 1915 Roach had developed a new film company and he invited Harold Lloyd for his own series. • In 1917 Lloyd thought up a new character called simply "Glasses" character. In 1921 Lloyd began making feature-length comedies. The first of these was A Sailor-Made Man (1921) which was a huge a success. It was followed by Grandma’s Boy (1922). Next came an interesting picture called Doctor Jack (1922)_followed by Lloyd's most spectacular film, Safety Last (1923) in 1923. The film showed Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a building. At the end of that year Lloyd left Roach and formed his own company. His most popular film was The Freshman (1925) in 1925. In 1928 Lloyd had already written his own autobiography "An American Comedy" the same year where he made his last silent film entitled Speedy (1928).His career was going down with the dawn of sound. He made one more thrill picture called Feet First (1930)in the style of Safety Last. But with the depression hitting, he no longer achieved the same fame as he did in the roaring twenties. He returned two years later with an amazing film which was regarded as his best talkie. The movie was Movie Crazy (1932) where Lloyd considered he was at his funniest.
Tom Mix • The son of a lumberman, Tom Mix joined the army as a young man and was an artillery sergeant during the Philippine campaign from 1898 to 1901, though he never saw action. In fact, Mix deserted from the Army and carefully kept the facts about his military service a closely guarded secret. About 1903 he was drum major with the Oklahoma Cavalry Band, playing in the St. Louis World's Fair. In 1904 he was a bartender and sheriff-marshal in Dewey, Oklahoma. He was in a series of Wild West shows, from 1906-1909; In 1910, Mix was hired by Selig to provide and handle horses. His first movie was Ranch Life in the Great Southwest (1910). He continued with Selig until 1917, writing and directing as well as acting. • He was signed by Fox Films in 1917 and remained with them until 1928, averaging five or so films a year. His popularity eclipsed all other great cowboy stars like Hoot Gibson and even the legendary William S. Hart) of the silent era and he earned--- and spent--- millions. In addition to Mix's riding and shooting skills, the films also showcased the talents of his amazing horse, Tony the Horse. Sound and encroaching middle age were not favorable to Mix, and after making a handful of pictures during the sound era he left the film industry after 1935's serial, The Miracle Rider (1935) (a huge hit for lowly Mascot Pictures, grossing over $1 million--- Mix earned $40,000), touring with the Sells Floto Circus in 1930 and 1931 and the Tom Mix Circus from 1936 to 1938. While Mix was a great showman, the combination of the Depression and the high cost of overhead conspired against his success. He died in an auto accident in 1940.
Mary Pickford • Mary Pickford began in the theater at age six. In 1907, she adopted a family name Pickford and joined a troupe, appearing in the long-running The Warrens of Virginia". She began in films in 1909 with the 'American Mutoscope & Biograph [us]', a studio that was responsible for many great films for the next 60-plus years before being bought by MGM. Mary was more than an actress; she was a tough, savvy businesswoman with, and was proud of the fact that she knew what worked for her and what didn't. • On top of all that, she was one of 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Finally, at 43, Mary made her last film, Star Night at the Coconut Grove (1934), and then retired from films for a well-deserved rest. Her career lasted from 1908 to 1935, encompassing 236 films. Without a doubt, Mary Pickford was the most popular star in the silent era, if not of all time. She was awarded an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1976, from the very organization she had started years earlier. On May 29, 1979, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Santa Monica, California. She was 87 years old.
Will Rogers • World-famous, widely popular American humorist of the stage and of silent and sound films, Will Rogers graduated from military school, but his first real job was in the livestock business in Argentina, of all places. He transported pack animals across the South Atlantic from Buenos Aires to South Africa for use in the Boer War (1899-1902). He stayed in Johannesburg for a short while, appearing there in Wild West shows where he drew upon his expertise with horse and lasso. Returning to America, he brought his talents to vaudeville and by 1917 was a Ziegfeld Follies star. • Over the years he gradually blended into his act his unique style of topical, iconoclastic humor, in which he speared the efforts of the powerful to trample the rights of the common man, while twirling his lariat and perhaps chewing on a blade of straw. Although appearing in many silents, he reached his motion-picture zenith with the arrival of sound. Now mass audiences could hear his rural twang as he delivered his homespun philosophy on behalf of Everyman. The appeal and weight of his words carried such weight with the average citizen that he was even nominated for governor of Oklahoma (which he declined).
Gloria Swanson • Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in 1915. From the following year on, she had leading roles and, in 1919, a contract with Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille transformed her from a typical Mack Sennett comedienne into a lively, provocative, even predatory, star. She collected husbands and lovers. Joseph Kennedy, father of former President JFK, produced her Queen Kelly (1929). • She survived the switch to talkies, even learning how to sing for Music in the Air (1934), but her kinds of films were over with by that time. She returned to the stage in the 1940s. She was a clothes designer and artist; she founded Essence of Nature Cosmetics; and she made television appearances through the 1960s and 1970s, doing cameos and pushing health foods. She received Best Actress nominations for Sadie Thompson (1928), The Trespasser (1929) and Sunset Blvd. (1950).
Rudolph Valentino • His father Giovanni had been in a traveling circus before meeting his mother and settling down as a veterinarian. Though his father was a strict authoritarian, his mother doted on her "beautiful baby" even to the exclusion of his older brother Alberto and younger sister Maria. By the time he was eleven he was an undisciplined, pampered bully. He was expelled from many schools, finally obtaining a diploma in the Science of Farming from the Academy of Agriculture.He went to Paris where he learned apache dancing, joined a gay crowd, returned broke, took his inheritance of $4000 and, December 1913, sailed for New York. He worked as a busboy, then gigolo, while pursuing dance, especially the tango. In 1917 went to Hollywood and obtained a small dancing part in Alimony (1917). When he did get acting roles they were villains not lovers. In 1921 he was cast in the lead of The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse. The first million dollar production saved Metro and made Rudy a star.Natacha Rambova (nee Winifred Hudnut) became attached to Rudy and they eloped to Mexico 13 May, 1922 in the belief his divorce from Jean Acker was official. He was jailed as a bigamist and fined $10,000. After their re-marriage the following year she fled to Paris having never entered his new mansion, Falcon Lair. He took up her interest in séances and the occult. He began dating sexy Pola Negri partly to improve his image as a man. While touring to promote his last film, an editorial in the Chicago Tribune accused him of "effeminization of the American male". He defended his manhood by challenging the writer of the article to a boxing match (which never took place). He died shortly afterward. 80,000 mourners caused a near riot at his New York funeral. Another funeral followed in California.
Mae West • Mary Jane West was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 17, 1893, to parents involved in prizefighting and vaudeville. Mae herself worked on the stage from the time she was five years old. She never was academically inclined because she was too busy performing. She studied dance as a child, and by the time she was 14 she was billed as "The Baby Vamp" for her performances on stage. Later Mae began writing her own plays. One of those plays, "Sex", landed her in jail for ten days on obscenity charges in 1926. • Two years later her play "Diamond Lil" became a huge Broadway success. Mae caught the attention of the Hollywood studios and was given her first movie role in Night after Night (1932). Although it was a small role, she was able to display a wit that was to make her world-famous. Raft himself said of Mae, "She stole everything but the cameras." The moviegoing public fell in love with the first woman to make racy comments on film. She became a box-office smash hit, breaking all sorts of attendance records. • Her second film, She Done Him Wrong (1933), was based on her earlier and popular play that she had written herself. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. It also made Cary Grant a star. Her third film later that year was I’m No Angel (1933). The controversy aroused by these two films resulted in the studios establishing the Motion Picture Production Code, which regulated what content could be shown or said in pictures. As a result of these codes, Mae began to double-talk so that a person could take a word or phrase any way they wished..