Monday, December 5, 2011

Joan Blondell

Rose Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979) was an American actress. After winning a beauty pageant, Blondell embarked upon a film career. Establishing herself as a sexy wisecracking blonde, she was a Pre-code staple of Warner Brothers and appeared in more than 100 movies and television productions. She was most active in films during the 1930s, and during this time she co-starred with Glenda Farrell in nine films, in which the duo portrayed gold-diggers. Blondell continued acting for the rest of her life, often in small character roles or supporting television roles. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Blue Veil (1951).

Blondell was born to a vaudeville family in New York City. Her father, known as Eddie Blondell was born in Indiana in 1866 to French parents, and was a vaudeville comedian and one of the original Katzenjammer Kids. Blondell's mother was Kathryn ("Katie") Cain, born April 13, 1884, in Brooklyn of Irish American parents. Her younger sister, Gloria, also an actress, was briefly married to film producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (the future producer of the James Bond film series) and bears a strong resemblance to her older sister, Joan. Blondell also had a brother, the namesake of her father and grandfather. Her cradle was a property trunk as her parents moved from place to place and she made her first appearance on stage at the age of four months when she was carried on in a cradle as the daughter of Peggy Astaire in The Greatest Love.

Joan had spent six years in Australia and seen much of the world by the time her family, who had been on tour, settled in Dallas, Texas when she was a teenager. Under the name Rosebud Blondell, she won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant and placed fourth for Miss America in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September of that same year. She attended what is now the University of North Texas, then a teacher's college, in Denton, where her mother was a local stage actress, and she worked as a fashion model, a circus hand, and a clerk in a New York store. Around 1927, she returned to New York, joined a stock company to become an actress, and performed on Broadway. In 1930, she starred with James Cagney in Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade only lasted three weeks, but Al Jolson saw it and bought the rights to the play for $20,000. He then sold the rights to Warner Brothers with the proviso that Blondell and Cagney be cast in the film version. Placed under contract by Warners, she moved to Hollywood where studio boss Jack Warner wanted her to change her name to "Inez Holmes", but Blondell refused. She began to appear in short subjects, and was named as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1931.

Blondell was paired with James Cagney in such films as Sinners' Holiday (1930) – the film version of Penny Arcade – and The Public Enemy (1931), and was one half of a gold-digging duo with Glenda Farrell in nine films. During the Great Depression, Blondell was one of the highest paid individuals in the United States. Her stirring rendition of "Remember My Forgotten Man" in the Busby Berkeley production of Gold Diggers of 1933, in which she co-starred with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, became an anthem for the frustrations of the unemployed and the government's failed economic policies. (Even though she was cast in many of the classic Warners musicals, she was not a singer, and in the Forgotten Man number, she mostly talked and acted her way through the song.) In 1937, she starred opposite Errol Flynn in The Perfect Specimen.

By the end of the decade, she had made nearly fifty films, despite having left Warner Brothers in 1939. She co-starred with John Wayne in Lady For A Night in 1942. Continuing to work regularly for the rest of her life, Blondell was well received in her later films, despite being relegated to character and supporting roles after the mid-1940s (she was billed below the title for the first time in 14 years in 1945's Adventure, which starred Clark Gable and Greer Garson), and received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in The Blue Veil (1951). She was also featured prominently in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945); Nightmare Alley (1947); The Opposite Sex (1956), which paired her with ex-husband Dick Powell's wife, June Allyson; Desk Set (1957); and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). She received considerable acclaim for her performance as Lady Fingers in Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid (1965), garnering a Golden Globe nomination and National Board of Review win for Best Supporting Actress. John Cassavetes cast her as a cynical, aging playwright in his film Opening Night (1977). Blondell was widely seen in two films released not long before her death, Grease (1978) and the remake of The Champ (1979) with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder.

Blondell also appeared in various television programs, including the episode "You're All Right, Ivy" of Jack Palance's circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth, which aired on ABC in the 1963—1964 television season. Her co-stars in the segment were Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton. In 1965, she was in the running to replace Vivian Vance as Lucille Ball's sidekick on the hit CBS television comedy series The Lucy Show. Unfortunately, after filming her second guest appearance as 'Joan Brenner' (Lucy's new friend from California), Blondell walked off the set right after the episode had completed filming when Ball humiliated her by harshly criticizing her performance in front of the studio audience and technicians.

Blondell continued working on television. In 1968, she guest-starred on the CBS-TV sitcom Family Affair. She also replaced Bea Benaderet, who was ill, for one episode on the CBS television series Petticoat Junction. In that installment, Blondell played FloraBelle Campbell, a lady visitor to Hooterville, who had once dated Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) and Sam Drucker (Frank Cady). That same year, Blondell co-starred in the ABC western series Here Come the Brides, set in the Pacific Northwest of the 19th century. Her co-stars included singer Bobby Sherman and actor-singer David Soul. For her performance as Lottie Hatfield, Blondell received two consecutive Emmy nominations for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a dramatic series.

In 1972, she had an ongoing supporting role in the NBC series Banyon, as Peggy Revere who operated a secretarial school in the same building as the Banyon detective agency. This was a 1930s period drama. Her students worked in Banyon's office, providing fresh faces for the show weekly. The show failed and was replaced mid-season.

Blondell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures, at 6309 Hollywood Boulevard. In December 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a retrospective of Blondell's films in connection with a new biography by film professor Matthew Kennedy.

As for her personal life, Blondell was married three times, first to cinematographer George Barnes in a private wedding ceremony on 4 January 1933 at the First Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, Arizona. They had one child — Norman S. Powell, who became an accomplished producer, director, and television executive — and divorced in 1936. On 19 September 1936, she married her second husband, actor, director, and singer Dick Powell. They had a daughter, Ellen Powell, who became a studio hair stylist, and Powell adopted her son by her previous marriage. Blondell and Powell were divorced on 14 July 1944.

On 5 July 1947, Blondell married her third husband, producer Mike Todd, whom she divorced in 1950. Her marriage to Todd was an emotional and financial disaster. She once accused him of holding her outside a hotel window by her ankles. He was also a heavy spender who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling (high-stakes bridge was one of his weaknesses) and went through a controversial bankruptcy during their marriage. An often-repeated myth is that Mike Todd "dumped" Joan Blondell for Elizabeth Taylor. In actuality, Blondell left Todd of her own accord years before he met Taylor.

She died of leukemia in Santa Monica, California, on Christmas Day 1979 at the age of 73 with her children and her sister at her bedside. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

She wrote a novel titled Center Door Fancy (New York: Delacorte Press, 1972), which was a thinly disguised autobiography.

View Joan Blondell's filmography, courtesy of Internet Movie DataBase.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yakima Canutt

(November 29, 1895 – May 24, 1986), also known as Yak Canutt, was an American rodeo rider, actor, stuntman and action director. Born Enos Edward Canutt in the Snake River Hills, near Colfax, Washington; he was one of five children of John Lemuel Canutt, a rancher, and Nettie Ellen Stevens. He grew up in eastern Washington on a ranch near Penawawa Creek, founded by his grandfather and operated by his father, who also served a term in the state legislature. His formal education was limited to elementary school in Green Lake, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. He gained the education for his life's work on the family ranch, where he learned to hunt, trap, shoot, and ride.

He broke a wild bronco when 11. As a 6-foot-tall sixteen-year-old he started bronc riding at the Whitman County Fair in Colfax in 1912 and at 17 he won the title of World's Best Bronco Buster. Canutt started rodeo riding professionally and gained a reputation as a bronc rider, bulldogger and all-around cowboy. It was at the 1914 Pendleton Round-Up, Pendleton, Oregon he got his nickname "Yakima" when a newspaper caption misidentified him. "Yakima Canutt may be the most famous person NOT from Yakima Washington" says Elizabeth Gibson, author of Yakima, Washington. Winning second place at the 1915 Pendleton Round-Up brought attention from show promoters, who invited him to compete around the country.

"I started in major rodeos in 1914, and went through to 1923. There was quite a crop of us traveling together, and we would have special railroad cars and cars for the horses. We'd play anywhere from three, six, eight ten-day shows. Bronc riding and bulldogging were my specialties, but I did some roping." said Canutt.

During the 1916 season, he became interested in Kitty Wilks, who had won the Lady's Bronc-Riding Championship a couple of times. They married at a show in Kalispell, Montana; he was 21 and she 28. The couple divorced in 1919. While bulldogging in Idaho, Canutt's mouth and upper lip were torn by a bull's horn; but after stitches, Canutt returned to the competition. It wasn't until a year later that a plastic surgeon could correct the injury.

Canutt won his first world championship at the Olympics of the West in 1917 and won more championships in the next few years. In between rodeos he broke horses for the French government in World War I. In 1918, he went to Spokane to enlist in the Navy and was stationed in Bremerton. In the fall he was given a 30-day furlough to defend his rodeo title. Having enlisted for the war, he was discharged in spring 1919. At the 1919 Calgary Stampede he competed in the bucking event and met Pete Knight.

He traveled to Los Angeles for a rodeo, and decided to winter in Hollywood, where he met screen personalities. It was here that Tom Mix, who had also started in rodeos, invited him to be in two of his pictures. Mix added to his flashy wardrobe by borrowing two of Canutt's two-tone shirts and having his tailor make 40 copies.

Canutt got his first taste of stunting with a fight scene on a serial called Lightning Brice; he didn't stay, and left Hollywood to play the 1920 rodeo circuit. The Fort Worth rodeo was nicknamed "Yak's show" after he won the saddle-bronc competition three years in 1921, 1922 and 1923. He had won the saddle-bronc competition in Pendleton in 1917, 1919, and 1923 and came second in 1915, and 1929. Canutt won the steer bulldogging in 1920, and 1921 and won the All-Around Police Gazette belt in 1917, 1919, 1920 and 1923 While in Hollywood in 1923 for an awards ceremony, he was offered eight western action pictures for producer Ben Wilson at Burwillow Studios; the first was to be Riding Mad.

Canutt had been perfecting tricks such as the Crupper Mount, a leap-frog over the horse's rump into the saddle. Douglas Fairbanks used some in his film The Gaucho. Fairbanks and Canutt became friends and competed regularly at Fairbanks' gym. Canutt took small parts in pictures of others to get experience. It was in Branded a Bandit (1924) that his nose was broken in a 12-foot fall from a cliff. The picture was delayed several weeks, and when it resumed Canutt's close shots were from the side. A plastic surgeon reset the nose, which healed, inspiring Canutt to remark that he thought it looked better.

When his contract with Wilson expired in 1927, Canutt was making appearances at rodeos across the country. By 1928 the talkies were coming out and though he had been in 48 silent pictures, Canutt knew his career was in trouble. His voice had been damaged from flu in the Navy. He started taking on bit parts and stunts, and realized more could be done with action in pictures.

In 1930 between pictures and rodeoing, Canutt met Minnie Audrea Yeager Rice at a party at her parents' home. She was 12 years his junior. They kept company during the next year while he picked up work on the serials for Mascot Pictures Corporation. They married on November 12, 1931.

When rodeo riders invaded Hollywood, they brought a battery of rodeo techniques that Canutt would expand and improve, including horse falls and wagon wrecks, along with the harnesses and cable rigs to make the stunts foolproof and safe. Among the new safety devices was the 'L' stirrup, which allowed a man to fall off a horse without getting hung in the stirrup. Canutt also developed cabling and equipment to cause spectacular wagon crashes, while releasing the team, all on the same spot every time. Safety methods such as these saved film-makers time and money and prevented accidents and injury to performers. One of Yakima's inventions was the 'Running W' stunt, bringing down a horse at the gallop by attaching a wire, anchored to the ground, to its fetlocks and launching the rider forwards spectacularly. This rendered the horse badly shaken and unusable for the rest of the day. The 'Running W' is now banned and has been replaced with the falling-horse technique. It is believed that the last time it was used was on the 1983 Iraqi film al-Mas' Ala Al-Kubra when the British actor and friend of Yak Marc Sinden and stuntman Ken Buckle (who had been trained by Yak) performed the stunt three times during a cavalry charge sequence.

It was while working on Mascot serials that Canutt practiced and perfected his most famous stunts, including the drop from a stagecoach that he would employ in John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach. He first did it in Riders of the Dawn in 1937 while doubling for Jack Randall.

While at Mascot, Canutt met John Wayne while doubling for him in a motorcycle stunt for The Shadow of the Eagle in 1932. Wayne admired Canutt’s agility and earlessness, and Canutt respected Wayne’s willingness to learn and attempt his own stunts. Canutt taught Wayne how to fall off a horse.

"The two worked together to create a technique that made on-screen fight scenes more realistic. Wayne and Canutt found if they stood at a certain angle in front of the camera, they could throw a punch at an actor’s face and make it look as if actual contact had been made."

Canutt and Wayne pioneered stunt and screen fighting techniques still in use. Much of Wayne's on-screen persona was from Canutt. The characterizations associated with Wayne - the drawling, hesitant speech and the hip-rolling walk - were pure Canutt. Said Wayne, "I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand."

In 1932, Canutt's first son Edward Clay was born and nicknamed 'Tap', short for Tapadero, a Mexican stirrup covering. It was in 1932 that Canutt broke his shoulder in four places while trying to transfer from horse to wagon team. Though work was scarce, he got by combining stunting and rodeo work.

In 1934, Herbert J. Yates of Consolidated Film Industries combined Monogram, Mascot, Liberty, Majestic, Chesterfield, and Invincible Pictures to form Republic Pictures, and Canutt became Republic's top stuntman. He handled all the action on many pictures, including Gene Autry films; and several series and serials, such as The Lone Ranger and Zorro. For Zorro Rides Again, Canutt did almost all the scenes in which Zorro wore a mask, and he was on the screen as much as the star John Carroll. When the action was indicated in a Republic script, it said "see Yakima Canutt for action sequences."

William Witney, one of Republic's film directors, said: "There will probably never be another stuntman who can compare to Yakima Canutt. He had been a world champion cowboy several times and where horses were concerned he could do it all. He invented all the gadgets that made stunt work easier. One of his clever devices was a step that attached to the saddle so that he had leverage to transfer to another moving object, like a wagon or a train. Another was the “shotgun,” a spring-loaded device used to separate the tongue of a running wagon from the horses, thus cutting the horses loose. It also included a shock cord attached to the wagon bed, which caused wheels to cramp and turn the wagon over on the precise spot that was most advantageous for the camera."

In the 1936 film San Francisco Canutt replaced Clark Gable in a scene in which a wall was to fall on the star. Canutt said: "We had a heavy table situated so that I could dive under it at the last moment. Just as the wall started down, a girl in the scene became hysterical and panicked. I grabbed her, leaped for the table, but didn't quite make it." The girl was unhurt but he broke six ribs.

Canutt tried to get into directing; he was growing older and knew his stunting days were numbered. Harry Joe, Canutt's second son, was born in January 1937. Joe and Tap would become important stuntmen, working with their father.

In 1938, Republic Pictures started expanding into bigger pictures and budgets. Canutt's mentor and action director for the 1925 Ben-Hur, Breezy Eason was hired as second unit director, and Canutt to coordinate and ramrod the stunts. For Canutt this meant hiring stuntmen and doing some stunts himself, but laying out the action for the director and writing additional stunts.

"In the five years between 1925 and 1930, fifty-five people were killed making movies, and more than ten thousand injured. By the late 1930s, the maverick stuntman willing to do anything for a buck was disappearing. Now under scrutiny, experienced stunt men began to separate themselves from amateurs by building special equipment, rehearsing stunts, and developing new techniques." – from Falling: How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill by Garrett Soden.

John Ford hired Canutt on John Wayne's recommendation for Stagecoach, where Canutt supervised the river-crossing scene as well as the Indian chase scene, did the stagecoach drop, and doubled for Wayne in the coach stunts. For safety during the stagecoach drop stunt, Canutt devised modified yokes and tongues, to give extra handholds and extra room between the teams. Whenever Ford made an action picture and Canutt wasn't working elsewhere, he was on Ford's payroll.Also in 1939, Canutt doubled Clark Gable in the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind; he also appeared as a renegade accosting Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) as she crosses a bridge in a carriage driving through a shantytown.

In 1940, Canutt sustained serious internal injuries when a horse fell on him while doubling for Clark Gable in Boom Town (1940). Though in discomfort for months after an operation to repair his bifurcated intestines, he continued to work. Republic's Sol Siegel offered him the chance to direct the action sequences of Dark Command, starring Wayne and directed by Raoul Walsh. On Dark Command, Canutt fashioned an elaborate cable system to yank back the plummeting coach before it fell on the stuntman and horses; he also created a breakaway harness from which they were released before hitting the water.

It was in 1943 while doing a low budget Roy Rogers called Idaho that Canutt broke both his legs at the ankles in a fall off a wagon. He recovered to write the stunts and supervise the action for another Wayne film, In Old Oklahoma. In the next decade Canutt became one of the best second unit and action directors. MGM brought Canutt to England in 1952 to direct the action and jousting sequences in Ivanhoe with Robert Taylor. This would set a precedent by filming action abroad instead of on the studio lot, and Canutt introduced many British stuntmen to Hollywood-style stunt training. Ivanhoe was followed by Knights of the Round Table, again with director Richard Thorpe and starring Robert Taylor. Canutt was again brought in for lavish action scenes in King Richard and the Crusaders.

Canutt directed the close-action scenes for Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, spending five days directing retakes that included the slave army rolling its flaming logs into the Romans, and other fight scenes featuring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and John Ireland.

For Ben-Hur, Canutt staged the chariot race with nine teams of four horses. He trained Charlton Heston, (Judah Ben-Hur) and Stephen Boyd, (Messala) to do their own charioteering. He and his crew spent five months on the race sequence. In contrast to the 1925 film, not one horse was hurt, and no humans were seriously injured; though Joe Canutt, while doubling for Charlton Heston, did cut his chin because he did not follow his father’s advice to hook himself to the chariot when Judah Ben-Hur's chariot bounced over the wreck of another chariot.

Walt Disney brought Canutt in to do Second Unit for Westward Ho, the Wagons! in 1956; the first live action Disney picture followed by Old Yeller the next year, and culminating in 1960's Swiss Family Robinson which involved transporting many exotic animals to a remote island in the West Indies.

Anthony Mann specifically requested Canutt for Second Unit for his 1961 El Cid, where Canutt directed sons Joe and Tap doubling for Charlton Heston and Christopher Rhodes in a stunning tournament joust. "Canutt was surely the most active stager of tournaments since the Middle Ages" – from Swordsmen of the Screen. He was determined to make the combat scenes in El Cid the best that had ever been filmed. Mann again requested him for 1964's The Fall of the Roman Empire. Over the next ten years, Canutt would continue to work bringing his talents to Cat Ballou, Khartoum, Where Eagles Dare and 1970's A Man Called Horse.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Yakima Canutt has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street. In 1967, he was given an Honorary Academy Award for achievements as a stunt man and for developing safety devices to protect stunt men everywhere. He was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (Hall of Fame).

Yakima Canutt died of natural causes at the age of 90 in North Hollywood, California. He is buried at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery there.

View Yakima Canutt's filmography, courtesy of Internet Movie DataBase.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

John Agar

John G. Agar (January 31, 1921 – April 7, 2002) was an American actor. He starred alongside John Wayne in the films Sands of Iwo Jima and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but was later relegated to B movies, such as Tarantula, The Mole People, The Brain from Planet Arous, Flesh and the Spur, and Hand of Death. He also starred with Lucille Ball in the 1951 movie The Magic Carpet.

Agar was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Lillian (née Rogers) and John Agar, Sr., a meat packer. He was educated at the Harvard School for Boys in Chicago and Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois and graduated from Trinity-Pawling Preparatory School in Pawling, New York, but did not attend college. He and his family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1942, following his father’s death. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps, and he was a sergeant at the time he left the army in 1946.

John Agar was one of a promising group of leading men to emerge in the years after World War II. He never became the kind of star that he seemed destined to become in mainstream movies, but he did find a niche in genre films a decade later.

Agar was the son of a Chicago meatpacker and never aspired to an acting career until fate took a hand in 1945, when he met Shirley Temple, the former child star and one of the most famous young actresses in Hollywood. In a whirlwind romance, the 17-year-old Temple married the 25-year-old Agar. His good looks made him seem a natural candidate for the screen and, in 1946, he was signed to a six-year contract by producer David O. Selznick. He never actually appeared in any of Selznick's movies, but his services were loaned out at a considerable profit to the producer, beginning in 1948 with his screen debut (opposite Temple) in John Ford's classic cavalry drama Fort Apache, starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. His work in that movie led to a still larger role in Ford's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, also starring Wayne.

Those films were to mark the peak of Agar's mainstream film career, though John Wayne, who took a liking to the younger actor, saw to it that he had a major role in The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), which was one of the most popular war movies of its era. His marriage to Temple lasted five years and they had one daughter together, Linda Susan Agar, who was later known as Susan Black, taking the surname of her stepfather Charles Alden Black. In 1949, however, Temple divorced Agar and his career slowed considerably; apart from the film he did with Wayne, the most notable aspect of his career that year was his appearance in the anti-Communist potboiler I Married a Communist (aka The Woman on Pier 13). During the early '50s, he appeared in a series of low-budget programmers such as The Magic Carpet, one of Lucille Ball's last feature films prior to the actress becoming a television star, and played leads in second features, including the offbeat comedy The Rocket Man.

Agar seemed destined to follow in the same downward career path already blazed by such failed mid-'40s leading men as Sonny Tufts, when a film came along at Universal-International in 1955 that gave his career a second wind. The studio was preparing a sequel to its massively popular Creature From the Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, and needed a new leading man; Agar's performance in an independent film called The Golden Mistress had impressed the studio and he was signed to do the movie. Revenge of the Creature, directed by Arnold, was nearly as successful as its predecessor, and Agar had also come off well, playing a two-fisted scientist. He was cast as the lead in Arnold's next science fiction film, Tarantula, then in a Western, Star in the Dust, and then in The Mole People, another science fiction title. In between, he also slipped in a leading-man performance in Hugo Haas' crime drama Hold Back Tomorrow. He left Universal when the studio refused to give him roles in a wider range of movies, but his career move backfired, limiting him almost entirely to science fiction and Western movies for the next decade.

In 1956, the same year that he did The Mole People, Agar made what was arguably the most interesting of all his 1950s films, Flesh and the Spur, directed by Edward L. Cahn for American International. The revenge Western, in which he played a dual role, wasn't seen much beyond the drive-in circuit, however, and was not widely shown on television; it is seldom mentioned in his biographies despite the high quality of the acting and writing. Agar was most visible over the next few years in horror and science fiction films, including Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, Attack of the Puppet People, The Brain From Planet Arous, Invisible Invaders, and Journey to the Seventh Planet. Every so often, he would also work in a mainstream feature such as Joe Butterfly or odd independent features like Lisette, but it was the science fiction films that he was most closely associated with and where he found an audience and a fandom. Coupled with his earlier movies for Universal, those films turned Agar into one of the most visible and popular leading men in science fiction cinema and a serious screen hero to millions of baby-boomer preteens and teenagers. The fact that his performances weren't bad — and as in The Brain From Planet Arous, were so good they were scary — also helped. It required a special level of talent to make these movies work and Agar was perfect in them, very convincing whether playing a man possessed by aliens invaders or a scientist trying to save the Earth.

In 1962, he made Hand of Death, a film seemingly inspired in part by Robert Clarke's The Hideous Sun Demon, about a scientist transformed into a deadly monster, that has become well known in the field because of its sheer obscurity: The movie has dropped out of distribution and nobody seems to know who owns it or even who has materials on Hand of Death. By the time of its release, however, this kind of movie was rapidly losing its theatrical audience, as earlier examples from the genre (including Agar's own Universal titles) began showing up regularly on television. Hollywood stopped making them and roles dried up for the actor. He appeared in a series of movies for producer A.C. Lyles, including the Korean War drama The Young and the Brave and a pair of Westerns, Law of the Lawless and Johnny Reno, both notable for their casts of aging veteran actors, as well as in a few more science fiction films. In Arthur C. Pierce's Women of the Prehistoric Planet, Agar pulled a Dr. McCoy, playing the avuncular chief medical officer in the crew of a spaceship and also had starring roles in a pair of low-budget Larry Buchanan films for American International Pictures, Zontar, the Thing From Venus and Curse of the Swamp Creature. His career after that moved into the realm of supporting and character parts, including a small but key role in Roger Corman's first big-budget, big-studio film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

He returned to working with John Wayne in three Westerns, The Undefeated, Chisum, and Big Jake, and turned up every so often in bit parts and supporting roles, sometimes in big-budget, high-profile films such as the 1976 remake of King Kong, but mostly he supported himself by selling insurance. In the 1990s, however, Agar was rediscovered by directors such as John Carpenter, who began using him in their movies and television productions, and he has worked onscreen in small roles into the 21st century.

Agar was married in 1951 to model Loretta Barnett Combs (1922–2000). They remained married until her death in 2000. They had two sons, Martin Agar and John G. Agar III. Agar died on April 7, 2002 at Burbank, California of complications from emphysema. He was buried beside his wife at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

View John Agar's filmography, courtesy of Internet Movie DataBase.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez

May 24, 1925 – February 6, 2006

Almost literally "born in a trunk" - Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez entered the world in Aquilares, Texas (now considered a ghost town) in 1925. The Texas native was born Ramiro Gonzalez-Gonzalez (the surnames of both his mother and father). As Pedro's entrance into the world approached, the couple extended their stay in Aquilares for three weeks rather than risk having Pedro born between towns. There he arrived - in a tent alongside a dressing room - the sixth of what would eventually become a family of nine children. His mother was a dancer from Mexico and his father was a trumpet player from Floresville, Texas. Mrs. Gonzalez performed under the stage name "La Perla Fronteriza" (Pearl of the Frontier) and reportedly once danced for Francisco "Pancho" Villa and his troops during one or another of the Mexican Revolutions.

The family's lifestyle was nomadic. Moving across the harsh landscape and performing at oil camps with no amenities, their audience was made up of entertainment-starved Mexican laborers. It wasn't the easiest gig, but times were hard and at least the audience was employed. Even before he could attend school (had there been one) Pedro joined one of his sisters in a comedy sketch. Billed as Las Perlitas (the Little Pearls) - it gave little Pedro an intoxicating taste of show business. Gasoline rationing during WWII put an end to the Mexican border circuit and the Gonzalez family sought other venues.

Married at age 17 to a 15-year old dancer, Leandra ("Lee") Aguirre, who he met while playing the same bill in San Antonio, Pedro was a driver in the Army during WWII. In the late 1940s his parents retired from show business and Pedro found himself working the comedy circuits primarily to Spanish-speaking audiences. He later adapted by learning English.

As a young man who could neither read nor write, Pedro found himself making ends meet by working at a television station in San Antonio, hauling cables and doing general grunt work. During a lull in a local telethon, Pedro was introduced on stage and his personality and style caught the attention of a visiting talent scout who encouraged him to be a contestant on Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life" series. The appearance (February 12, 1953), with the two comedians mugging and trading quips, proved a riotous success and caught the eye of none other than John Wayne, who signed Pedro to a contract with his production company. He was given a role in the movie The High and the Mighty (1954). It was the first of many character roles - usually comic relief - where Pedro played saloon keepers, cab drivers - or hotel proprietors. He stayed on the Wayne company payroll until 1974.

He never finished school and, thus, became a functional illiterate for the rest of his life. A character film actor was born, making his film debut with Wings of the Hawk (1953), Pedro would become a stock player in Wayne's company for nearly two decades, appearing alongside the Duke in such films as Hondo (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Wings of Eagles (1957), Rio Bravo (1959), McLintock! (1963), Hellfighters (1968) and Chisum (1970). He also appeared in three films that John Wayne produced but did not appear in: Ring of Fear (1954), Gun the Man Down (1956), and Man in the Vault (1956).

Many of the roles he played would today be considered somewhat politically incorrect for "reenforcing cultural stereotypes" - but to Pedro work was work. As a result of playing comic relief roles, he was accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes about Hispanic men. However, Edward James Olmos said of Gonzalez-Gonzalez at the time of his death that he "inspired every Latino actor." He never turned down a role when it was offered. During his career he performed alongside such actors as Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, Karl Malden, James Garner and James Arness. One of his early talents was making musical instruments out of tangible items such as hubcaps, water-filled bottles and frying pans. Frequently appeared in Rex Allen's live stage show during Rex Allen Days in Willcox, AZ. Also had an alley named for him there (adjacent to Rex Allen Drive). He is featured in a film that accompanies the boat ride in the Mexican pavilion at the EPCOT park located in Walt Disney World Flordia.

Between movie roles, television appearances helped pay the bills and Pedro appeared on shows ranging from Ozzie and Harriett and Art Linkletter to Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, I Spy and I Dream of Jeannie. As Pedro could not read or write, his wife would help him memorize his lines by reading his script to him, or sometimes the director would encourage the comedian to improvise a scene. Scores of TV parts came his way but the stereotype hurt him in the long run and prevented him from attaining top character stardom. Following the Duke's death in the late 70s, Pedro lost much of his desire to perform.

He and wife Lee had three children, Ramiro, Yolanda and Rosie. Son Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez Jr. (Ramiro) appeared with his father in The Young Land (1959) and McLintock! (1963), but eventually retired to become a physician. Well-known actor/grandson Clifton Collins Jr. electrified film audiences when he co-starred with Philip Seymour Hoffman as doomed murderer Perry Smith in the critically-acclaimed film Capote (2005). Pedro died at age 80 of natural causes in Culver City, California, survived by his beloved wife of nearly 64 years,two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez was posthumously honoured on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 14, 2008. Samuel L. Jackson and the dead star's actor grandson Clifton Collins Jr. unveiled the 2,374th star, right next to movie legend's John Wayne, with whom Pedro co-starred in several films.

View his filmography, courtesy of Internet Movie DataBase.

Contributors to this article are Gary Brumburgh (IMDB mini-biograghy) and John Troesser from (A Guy So Nice - They Named Him Twice).

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

James Arness

James King Arness (May 26, 1923 – June 3, 2011) was an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. His younger brother was actor Peter Graves. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Marshal Matt Dillon in five separate decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s. In Europe Arness reached cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the western series How the West Was Won.

Arness was born James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness (July 22, 1894 – July 1982), a businessman, and Ruth (née Duesler) Aurness (died September 1986), a journalist. His father's ancestry was Norwegian, his mother's German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf's father Peter Aursnes emigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. Arness and his family were Methodists.

Arness attended John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School and West High School in Minneapolis. Despite "being a poor student and skipping many classes", he graduated from high school in June 1942. He then enlisted in the United States Army to serve in World War II. Arness' younger brother was actor Peter Graves (1926–2010). Peter used the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name.

In his prewar years, Arness worked as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler, loading and unloading railway boxcars at the Minneapolis freight-yards, and logging in Pierce, Idaho. Arness wanted to be a naval fighter pilot, but he felt his poor eyesight would bar him. His height of 6 feet 7 inches ended his hopes, since 6 feet 2 inches was the limit for aviators. Instead, he was called for the Army and reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota in March 1943. Arness served as a rifleman with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy. According to James Arness – An Autobiography, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 21, 1944 as a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Due to his height, he was the first ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water; it came up to his waist. On January 29, 1945, having undergone surgery several times, Arness was honorably discharged. His wounds continued to bother him, and in later years Arness suffered from acute leg pain, which sometimes hurt when mounting a horse. His decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

After his discharge, James Arness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin. He began his performing career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945. Aurness soon began acting, and appeared in films. He began with RKO, which immediately changed his name to "Arness". His film debut was as Loretta Young's (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter Holstrom, in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). Though identified with westerns, Arness also appeared in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World (in which he portrayed the title character) and Them!. He was a close friend of John Wayne and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky (check the video clip below from this film), and The Sea Chase. In 1956 he starred in the film Gun The Man Down for John Wayne's company, Batjac.

John Wayne was originally offered the starring role in an upcoming TV western drama titled Gunsmoke. Wayne turned down the offer, but strongly recommended Arness for the role. The actor was 32 when friend John Wayne recommended Arness instead. Afraid of being typecast, Arness initially rejected it.

"Go ahead and take it, Jim," Wayne urged him. "You're too big for pictures. Guys like Gregory Peck and I don't want a big lug like you towering over us. Make your mark in television." Then Wayne filmed an introduction for the first episode of "Gunsmoke" to give the largely unknown Arness the proper send-off. (A video clip of this introduction is below.)
"I predict he'll be a big star," Wayne told viewers. "So you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me."

After Gunsmoke ended, Arness performed in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and in five made-for-television Gunsmoke movies between 1987 and 1994. An exception was as a big city police officer in a short-lived 1981 series, McClain's Law. His role as Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won made him into a cult figure in many European countries, as the series has been re-broadcast many times around Europe, where it became more popular than in the United States. Arness did the narration for Harry Carey, Jr.'s Comanche Stallion (directed by Clyde Lucas).

Arness was married twice, first to Virginia Chapman from 1948 until their divorce in 1960. She died in 1976. Arness was married to Janet Surtees from 1978 until his death. He had two sons, Rolf (born February 18, 1952) and Craig (died December 14, 2004). His daughter Jenny Lee Aurness (May 23, 1950 – May 12, 1975) died of suicide. Rolf Aurness became World Surfing Champion in 1970. Craig Aurness founded the stock photography agency Westlight and also was a photographer for National Geographic.

Arness died of natural causes at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles, California on June 3, 2011.

For his contributions to the television industry, Arness has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Arness was inducted into the Santa Clarita Walk of Western Stars in 2006, and gave a related TV interview. On the 50th anniversary of television in 1989, People Magazine chose the top 25 television stars of all time. Arness was number 6.

Arness was nominated for the following Emmy awards:
1957: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series
1958: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic or Comedy Series
1959: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series

James Arness disdained publicity and banned reporters from the Gunsmoke set. He was said to be a shy and sensitive man who enjoyed poetry, sailboat racing, and surfing. TV Guide dubbed him "The Greta Garbo of Dodge City."

You can view the filmograpy of James Arness here courtesy of the Internet Movie Database.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Lady Takes A Chance (1943)

This film is one of the few romantic comedies in John Wayne's lengthy filmography. The role of Duke makes few demands on Wayne, who is charming and restive enough. Although he was a star already in 1943, he was a star in formulaic westerns churned out by a third-rate studio (Republic). The films that would make him a superstar (The Angel and the Badman, Fort Apache, Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Sands of Iwo Jima) were all made after World War which time Arthur was free of her Columbia contract and very choosy about roles and directors (walking out of Born Yesterday during rehearsals, making A Foreign Affair for Billy Wilder and Shane for George Stevens, and returning thirteen years later for a TV series, The Jean Arthur Show, that was cancelled after twelve episodes).

In 1943, when Columbia's legendarily despotic chief Harry Cohn lent his top female star to Republic to make a romantic comedy with its rising male star John Wayne, Jean Arthur had a string of successful and very funny comedies (The Devil and Miss Jones, Talk of the Town, The More the Merrier), as well as having played the female lead in two of Frank Capra's best-loved movies (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Arthur exerted a pixieish charm with an odd mix of the prim and the brassy.

As the title character in A Lady Takes a Chance she plays Molly Trousdale, a stylish New Yorker. A young lady who earns a proletarian $23.67 a week leaves on a sortie into our Western wonderland via a $137.50 bus tour, touting "14 breathless days of romance and adventure". She is first seen wearing a very large hat—boarding a transcontinental bus. Each of her three suitors brings her presents and bid her very reluctant goodbye. With such ardent male attention, her seatmate is puzzled about why she is leaving. The back stories of her three relationships is never filled in, but it seems more that she is not in love with any of them than that she can't make up her mind. But maybe she is taking a trip to see the country to clear her mind and make a choice.

Within ten minutes of the opening, the bus tour members are at a rodeo. Molly is at the edge of the stands trying to take a snapshot when a cowboy is thrown over the fence and lands on top of her. The cowboy (and the "chance" of the title) is John Wayne, called (in this movie and offscreen) "Duke." He is drawn to her, but is used to rodeo groupies and saloon denizens and doesn't know how to talk to a "lady."

He takes her to a saloon, where many female friends flirt with him and Molly looks dignified, if pained. They try again and he wins $238 playing craps with her blowing on the dice. Listening closely to dice she is given to roll herself, she realizes they are loaded and reduces the all-or-nothing bet to $1. The Duke is impressed. He is also impressed by her downing a potent drink called "cactus milk", (see the video clip link below of Cactus Milk episode). Soon there is a barroom brawl, followed by offending Molly after she has missed her bus.

The brawl, the bandiage, the offenses, etc. are all standard issue 1930s and 40s Hollywood issue. The high point for viewers and the low point for Molly is a night on the desert, freaked out by coyote howls and being so cold she steals Duke's horse's blanket, causing the horse to get sick.

In a motel that is remarkably well stocked with everything Molly needs to whip up a romantic candlelit dinner, Duke recoils at being snared by domesticity—drawing the line at wearing an apron to help with washing the dishes. He is a "don't fence me in" man who enjoys many women, not (he thinks) a "one-woman man" who can be "hooked" by feminine wiles and domestic bliss. Indeed, his "better half" (the Duke's label) is Waco, one of those grizzled, maternal cooks so common in midcentury westerns. Waco is played by Charles Winninger, who created the role of Cap'n Andy in the original stage production of Show Boat and repeated the role in the 1936 film version. Screen formula requires Molly to supplant Waco.

The screenplay (by Robert Arsey) is formulaic sitcom, directed by journeyman William A. Seiter, who directed more than a hundred movies I've never heard of along with the Astaire-Rogers vehicle Roberta, the Marx Brothers's antics in Room Service, and One Touch of Venus, Ava Gardner's first leading role.

If "A Lady Takes a Chance" is quite continuously amusing, it is largely because of Miss Arthur's pert little ways, her prim hesitations at the wrong times, her un-cloying coyness. Quite gradually she had become one of Hollywood's delightful comediennes. Mr. Wayne, with his muscles and slow drawl, makes a sturdy partner in this romantic duet. Charles Winninger is excellent as an oldtime cowhand, and Phil Silvers brings back some burlesque gusto as the professional tour conductor who insists that all his customers be happy.

You can view the filmographies of John Wayne and Jean Arthur here courtesy of the Internet Movie Database. If you would like more information on Jean Arthur check out the book "Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew" by John Oller.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

February 27, 1932 - March 23, 2011

Today a truly great star has passed away, Elizabeth Taylor. I am posting an article by Christy Lemire, Associated Press Movie Critic and one of the critics on the new PBS show, Ebert Presents At The Movies. At the end of the article please watch the video. It is a video from Turner Classic Movies about her career narrated by the late Paul Newman.

By CHRISTY LEMIRE, AP Movie Critic and critic on Ebert Presents At The Movies on PBS.

LOS ANGELES – In death, she is being heralded for her great beauty, iconic and legendary persona, tireless humanitarian work, and the compassion and optimism she exuded despite decades of physical ailments. But Elizabeth Taylor was, above all else, a performer — a three-time Oscar winner, a radiant child star whose best work as an adult was her most splashy and scenery-chewing. While she may not have been the greatest actress of her generation in terms of pure talent and technique, she had an irresistible screen presence that kept audiences ravished by her films.

The contradictions alone were fascinating: She could seem demure yet seductive, aristocratic yet bawdy. That tiny voice and petite stature seemed at odds with the intimidating femininity that would define her glamorous aura.

When she was young, though — in early, family-friendly films such as "Lassie Come Home" (1943) and especially "National Velvet" (1944) — she possessed a startling and mature beauty for someone her age. Those mesmerizing eyes that luxurious dark hair and flawless skin — they were all there, even back then. It's as if she never had to suffer through an awkward period like the rest of us.

Under Vincente Minnelli's direction in "Father of the Bride" (1950), she got a rare chance to show off some comic ability as a young woman trying to put on the perfect wedding, even though Spencer Tracy, as her beleaguered father, gets the majority of the big laughs.

The following year, opposite a blue-collar Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" (1951), she was gorgeous, sophisticated, a vibrant image of idealized womanhood. When they first meet and she asks flirtatiously, "Do I make you nervous?" as he's trying to play billiards, there's really only one answer. But an evolution was occurring during this time in Taylor's career. The sweetness and freshness of her looks collided with the pain and anger that seethed within many of her characters.

One of her strongest performances came in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), as the fragile and damaged but volatile Maggie. She was all curves, dressed in clingy white, alternately playing and pleading in that breathy Southern drawl. Watching her exchange Tennessee Williams' banter with Paul Newman in his peak made you want to hold your own breath.

The next year found her in another Williams adaptation, "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959), as a young woman in danger after witnessing a tragedy (opposite Clift again). The playwright's work suited her — the tormented characters, the great, gothic theatricality of it all.

"I'm not like anyone, I'm me," she announces in a moment of defiant confidence in "Butterfield 8" (1960). But as Gloria, the sassy, brassy, boozy, trashy, model-call girl, she also famously acknowledges, "I was the slut of all time!" Taylor is over the top in her big, confessional scene with Eddie Fisher, but still riveting to watch, the way she works the highs and lows of it. The performance would earn her the first of her two Academy Awards for best actress.

And then ... there was the 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz epic "Cleopatra," which would become infamous not just for its scope (it's the most expensive movie ever made — $44 million — if you adjust for inflation) but for providing the place where Taylor's path scandalously crossed Richard Burton's. They'd go on to marry and divorce twice in real life and co-star in several movies together; this first on-screen pairing, however, was less than auspicious. When Taylor (as Cleopatra) demands that Burton (as Mark Antony) kneel before her, it's a moment that should be fraught with tension. Instead, it's impossible not to laugh out loud. The outlandish makeup and costumes were also a hoot.

But it was Mike Nichols who would get the best work out of Taylor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). She and Burton tear each other apart as the boozy and bickering husband and wife George and Martha. And Nichols, making his directing debut in an adaptation of Edward Albee's painfully honest play, gets up close and personal for the carnage. The glamour girl was long gone here, and the performance earned Taylor her second best actress Oscar. (She also received an honorary Academy Award for her humanitarian work in 1993.)

Screen work was scarce in the 1980s. But even in her last film role — which, sadly enough, was the 1994 live-action version of "The Flintstones" — that big personality was on full display. Her performance as Fred's mother-in-law earned her a Razzie Award nomination for worst supporting actress, but she definitely livens things up. She bursts into a party, all hair and fur and jewels, flashing those famous eyes and calling for a conga line when the situation gets awkward.

She was still irresistible, even then.

View Elizabeth Taylor's filmography at Internet Movie Database.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Katy Jurado

Katy Jurado (January 16, 1924 – July 5, 2002), born María Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado García in Guadalajara, Jalisco, was an Mexican actress who had a successful film career both in Mexico and in Hollywood. Jurado had already established herself as an actress in Mexico in the 1940s when she came to Hollywood becoming a regular in Western films of the 1950s and 1960s. She worked with many Hollywood legends, including Gary Cooper in High Noon, Spencer Tracy in Broken Lance, and Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks, and such respected directors as Fred Zinneman (High Noon), Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) and John Huston (Under
the Volcano).

Jurado made seventy one films during her career. She became the first Latina/Hispanic actress nominated for an Academy Award when she was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her work in 1954's Broken Lance and was the first to win a Golden Globe. Like many Latin actors, she was typecast to play ethnic roles in American films. By contrast, she was generally cast in Mexican films in glamorous roles as a wealthy socialite; sometimes she also sang and danced.

Katy Jurado was born Maria Christina Jurado Garcia on January 16, 1924, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. One of three children, Jurado had a privileged childhood. Both her maternal and paternal families were wealthy, six generations earlier, they had owned much of the land that became the state of Texas. Both families lost much of their wealth during the Mexican revolution. Family's lands were confiscated by the federal government for redistribution to the landless peasantry.

However, Jurado still lived well. Her father was a cattle baron and orange farmer, and her mother was a well-known opera singer who gave up the stage to marry and raise a family. Jurado's cousin, Emilio Portes Gil, was president of Mexico beginning in 1928. Despite the loss of property, the matriarch of the family, her grandmother, continued to live by her aristocratic ideals.

Jurado moved with her family to Mexico City in 1927 and studied journalism. Discovered by Director Emilio Fernández when she was sixteen, Jurado went against family wishes and began pursuing a career in acting. Emilio Fernandez wanted to cast her in one of his films, Jurado's grandmother objected to her wish to become a movie actress. To get around the ban, Katy slipped from the grasp of her family's control by marrying the Mexican actor and writer Víctor Velázquez against her parents' wishes. Together, they had a son and a daughter, Victor Hugo and Sandra. The marriage ended in divorce in 1943, and the children remained with Jurado's family in Mexico when she traveled to the United States to work.

Jurado began acting in Mexican films starting in 1943, with the movie No Matarás (Thou Shalt Not Kill), and went on to appear in sixteen more films over the next seven years during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Her very particular features were the key of her notable success. Blessed with a stunning beauty and an assertive personality, Jurado specialized in playing determined women in a wide variety of films. Her looks, evocative of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, allowed her to carve a niche for herself in the Mexican cinema. However, she typically was cast as a dangerous seductress cum man-eater, a popular type in Mexican movies.

In addition to acting, Jurado worked as a movie columnist, radio reporter and bullfight critic to support her family. She was on assignment when Director Budd Boetticher and actor John Wayne spotted her at a bullfight. Neither knew at the time that she was an actress. However, Boetticher, who was also a professional bullfighter, cast Jurado in his 1951 film Bullfighter and the Lady (produced by John Wayne), opposite Gilbert Roland as the wife of an aging matador. Jurado stayed close to home, as the film was made on location in Mexico. At that time, Jurado had very limited English language skills. She memorized and delivered her lines phonetically.

Despite this handicap, her strong performance brought her to the attention of Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer. Kramer cast her in the classic western High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. Jurado quickly learned to speak English for the role, studying and taking classes two hours a day for two months. Jurado delivered a powerful performance as the saloon owner Helen Ramírez, former love of reluctant hero, Will Kane, in one of the most memorable films of the era. She earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and gained widespread notice in the American movie industry. Only two other Mexican actresses have been nominated since then: Salma Hayek as Best Actress in 2002 for Frida and Adriana Barraza as Best Supporting Actress in 2006 for Babel.

In 1954 Jurado replaced Dolores del Río in the film Broken Lance for which she received an Academy Award nomination, playing Spencer Tracy's Comanche wife and the mother of Robert Wagner. In 1953 she starred in Arrowhead with Charlton Heston and Jack Palance, playing a Comanche. In a 1955 interview with Louella Parsons, Jurado commented on the mostly Indian roles she was given: " I don't mind dramatic roles. I love to act, any character at all. But just once I would like to be my Mexican self in an American motion picture".

In 1956, she had a supporting role in Trapeze. Later, she appeared in The Racers, Trial. On the set of The Badlanders, she met her costar Ernest Borgnine who became her second husband on December 31, 1959. The couple founded, the movie production company SANVIO CORP. With her husband support, she starred in Dino de Laurentis Italian productions like Barabbas and I braganti italiani. However her tumultuous marriage with Borgnine ended in divorce in 1963. He called her "beautiful, but a tiger".

In 1958 she starred in Broadway in the Tennessee Williams play The Red Devil Battery Sign, with Anthony Quinn and Claire Bloom. She had a torrid affair with the actor Marlon Brando. Brando, who was involved at the time with Movita Castaneda and was having a parallel relationship with Rita Moreno, was smitten with Katy Jurado after seeing her in High Noon. He told Joseph L. Mankiewicz that he was attracted to "Her enigmatic eyes, black as hell, pointing at you like a fiery arrows". Katy recalled years later in an interview that " Marlon called me one night for a date, and I accepted. I knew all about Movita. I knew he had a thing for Rita Moreno. Hell, it was just a date. I didn't plan to marry him ".

However, their first date became the beginning of an extended affair that lasted many years and peaked at the time they worked together on One-Eyed Jacks (1960) , a film directed by Brando. "Marlon asked me to marry many times, but for me my children were first," she said. "Our friendship pact was sealed with an Indian ritual for the rest of our lives." She also maintained a close friendship with stars like Anthony Quinn, Burt Lancaster, Sam Peckinpah, Frank Sinatra, Dolores del Río, John Wayne and many others.

As her career in the U.S. began to wind down, she was reduced to appearing in Smoky (1966) with Fess Parker and the movie Stay Away, Joe (1968), playing the half-Apache mother of Elvis Presley. In 1966 she reprised her "Helen Ramirez" role from High Noon (1952) in a High Noon TV pilot called The Clock Strikes Noon Again which co-starred Peter Fonda as the son of Will Kane.

In 1968, Jurado became depressed and attempted suicide by ingesting sleeping pills. She had left a suicide note for her family and was discovered in time to save her life. After her suicide attempt, she moved back to Mexico permanently, though she continued to appear in American films as a character actress. She revived both her personal and professional lives and, in 1972, married again, on a private island she owned off the coast of southern Mexico. During this period she appeared in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1972).

Jurado again appeared on television and in films during the 1970s. Tragedy stuck when her son died in an automobile accident in 1981 at the age of 35. In the following years she worked on television both in The United States and in Mexico.

She did guest appearances on Playhouse Drama and The Rifleman. She also co-starred in the short-lived television series a.k.a. Pablo in 1984, a situation comedy series for ABC, with Paul Rodriguez. In 1984, she acted in the Mexican-American production Under the Volcano , directed by John Huston . Her last American film appearance was in Stephen Frears' Western The Hi-Lo Country, capping a half-century-long American movie career.

In 1992 Jurado was honored with the Golden Boot Awards award for her notable contribution to the western movies. Towards the end of her life, she suffered from heart and lung ailments. She died of kidney failure and pulmonary disease on July 5, 2002, at the age of 78 at her home in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. She was buried in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at the Panteón de la Páz cemetery. She was survived by her daughter.

You can veiw Katy Jurado's filmography at Internet Movie Database.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gabby Hayes

The subject of this posting is Gabby Hayes. George Francis "Gabby" Hayes (May 7, 1885 – February 9, 1969) was an American radio, film, and television actor. He was best known for his numerous appearances in Western movies as the colorful sidekick to the leading man.

Hayes was born the third of seven children in Wellsville, New York. He was the son of Elizabeth Morrison and Clark Hayes, and did not come from a cowboy background. In fact, he did not know how to ride a horse until he was in his forties and had to learn for movie roles. His father, Clark Hayes, operated a hotel and was also involved in oil production.

George Hayes played semi-professional baseball while in high school, then ran away from home in 1902, at 17. He joined a stock company, apparently traveled for a time with a circus, and became a successful vaudevillian. He had become so successful that by 1928 he was able, at 43, to retire to a home on Long Island in Baldwin, New York. He lost all his savings the next year in the 1929 stock-market crash and returned to acting.

Hayes married Olive E. Ireland, daughter of a New Jersey glass finisher, on March 4, 1914. She joined him in vaudeville, performing under the name Dorothy Earle (not to be confused with film actress/writer Dorothy Earle). She convinced him in 1929 to try his luck in motion pictures, and the couple moved to Los Angeles. They remained together until her death July 5, 1957. The couple had no children.

On his move to Los Angeles, according to later interviews, Hayes had a chance meeting with producer Trem Carr, who liked his look and gave him thirty roles over the next six years. In his early career, Hayes was cast in a variety of roles, including villains, and occasionally played two roles in a single film. He found a niche in the growing genre of western films, many of which were series with recurring characters. Ironically, Hayes would admit he had never been a big fan of westerns.

Hayes, in real life an intelligent, well groomed, and articulate man, was cast as a grizzled codger who uttered phrases like "consarn it", "yer durn tootin", "dadgumit", "durn persnickety female", and "young whippersnapper".

Hayes played the part of Windy Halliday, the sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), from 1935 to 1939. In 1939, Hayes left Paramount Pictures in a dispute over his salary and moved to Republic Pictures. Paramount held the rights to the name Windy Halliday, so a new nickname was created for Hayes' character; Gabby. As Gabby Whitaker, Hayes appeared in more than 40 pictures between 1939 and 1946, usually with Roy Rogers but also with Gene Autry or Wild Bill Elliott, often working under the directorship of Joseph Kane.

Hayes was also repeatedly cast as a sidekick to western icons Randolph Scott (6 times) and John Wayne (15 times, some as straight or villainous characters). Hayes became a popular performer and consistently appeared among the ten favorite actors in polls taken of movie-goers of the period. He appeared in either or both the Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice Magazine lists of Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars for twelve straight years and a thirteenth time in 1954, four years after his last movie.

The western film genre declined in the late 1940s and Hayes made his last film appearance in The Cariboo Trail (1950). He moved to television and hosted The Gabby Hayes Show, a western series, from 1950 to 1954 on NBC, and a new version in 1956 on ABC. He introduced the show, often while whittling on a piece of wood and would sometimes throw in some tall stories. Half way through the show he would say something else and at the end too but he did not appear as an active character in the stories themselves. When the series ended, Hayes retired from show business. He lent his name to a comic book series and to a children's summer camp in New York.

Following his wife's death in 1957, he lived in and managed a ten-unit apartment building he owned in North Hollywood, California. In early 1969, he entered Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank, California, for treatment of cardiovascular disease. He died there on February 9, 1969, at the age of eighty-three. George "Gabby" Hayes was interred in the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

For his contribution to radio, Gabby Hayes has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6427 Hollywood Blvd. and a second star at 1724 Vine Street for his contribution to the television industry. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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Welcome To My Blog

I am a fan of classic cinema, especially the films of John Wayne. This blog will have information and articles pertaining to classic movies and some behind the scenes stuff as well. As this blog is mostly about classic cinema, it won't be a traditional one. The subjects of the articles will not be the major stars except perhaps John Wayne. Other sites can cover the major stars and mainstream films but I want offer up the unusual. I will highlight films as well as actors and actresses.

Visit my John Wayne site for all things John Wayne and check out my store:

John Wayne Store

Click Here! for Jason Brubaker's Movie Maker Action Pack. Utilizing this professional script to screen movie making system, you will discover how write, produce and sell your movie for maximum profit.

I hope to get something going soon, stay tuned.

Paul Newton