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Saturday, 5th July 2008
He's looking at you kid.

S ome of the great Hollywood legends

would have been 100 years old this year (1999) but none lived that long. I was just putting the finishing touches to the title banner of this page. How I chuckled as I produced yet another finely crafted masterpiece in 6kb. Drinks all round as I staggered from my garret shielding my eyes from cold winter sun.

Where are they now? was the title and your guess would have been as good as mine as the page is about actors born in 1899.

However it all turned to mud in my hands when I discovered this was not even original within my own website. So back to the paint program.

There are a magnificent seven names on my list of actors born in 1899
     

There are a magnificent seven names on my list of actors born in 1899 who appear on cards, the last of which died in 1986, James Cagney.

It was interesting to note that the first of the them to pass away on my list was Humphrey Bogart (1957) so neatly my list begins with an anti-hero gangster and ends with the same and both men hugely popular with cinema audiences right up to today.

The seven reads like a 'Who Was' of show business and to try and get an uncluttered perspective of their work is just impossible and would miss the point. Like any form of art it has its fans and its detractors and this group of people alter through time and find different reasons to shore-up their arguments. Start thinking and you stop doing so it is time for me to do some doing.

To make up the seven I have looked at both cigarette and trade cards, not exactly cheating but worth bringing to your attention.

I suppose I should have anticipated the next problem when there was a disagreement over the exact year in which Gloria Swanston & Charles Boyer were born. Some authorities on the subject disagree with the date 1899 but I left the last word the the London Times, they said 1899, others back them up so on the list they go.

It is quite a common problem as a star was liable to 'forget' exactly how old they were in a business obsessed with youth. But I was still quite surprised to discover we cannot agree today as to when some of them were born.

Good that it was a problem with one actor and one actress, doesn't give me a chance at being a sexist pig. They'll be other opportunities I don't doubt.

humphrey bogart

Starting with the first out first in principle, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957). The chances of me doing him justice are close to zero. Potentially he is a greater actor now than he was then. The first surprise is he died before 1960. The next surprise is discovering that Bogart spent the 1930' s making decidedly poor movies.

It was the decade he made,' The Petrified Forest'. He spent the remainder of the decade playing gangster roles. Bogart often complained Warners made him play second fiddle to Robinson, Raft and Cagney. Given that company and the respective films they were making it is no surprise.

BOGART
Bridgewater series 7 1939 2. Humphrey Bogart

DeBeukelaer Film Stars KF900 1937 1058. Humphrey Bogart

A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade 2nd series (1940) multisize set 114. Bullets or Ballots (M-B&W) - Humphrey Bogart Edward G. Robinson

A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade 2nd series (1940) multisize set 118. The Petrified Forest (M-B&W) - Humphrey Bogart Leslie Howard Bette Davis

A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade 2nd series (1940) multisize set 125. The Roaring Twenties (L-B&W) - James Cagney Humphrey Bogart Jeffrey Lynn

Dinkie Warner Bros. Artists (Series 4) (1948) L24 5. Humphrey Bogart

Carreras Turf Cigarettes Famous Film Stars (1949) 19. Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Carreras Turf Cigarettes Film Stars (1947) 5. Humphrey Bogart

AW Allen (Aus trade) Film Stars (2nd) (1939) 5. Humphrey Bogart
   
     

If things had continued through the 1940' s Bogart would almost be forgotten by now. But in 1941 ' High Sierra' changed his direction. Bogart had found his niche, a detached outsider having grown weary and cynical with a past driving him to a future of self-destruction.

There followed 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'Casablanca' and then 1944, Lauren Bacall and 'To Have or Have Not' and 'The Big Sleep.'

If I said anything detrimental about these films there would be a lynching I suspect and certainly these four films have something special. A moot point if that something special is Bogart but already I hear the villagers gathering at the castle gate.

Everyone knows what Bogart as an actor stands for even if one cannot quite explain it. He conjures up an attitude much of which was defined by the four films above and then re-worked and perhaps even parodied in the following films.

Bogart from one of those endless Bridgewater series
Bridgewater series 7 1939

1951 'The African Queen' was his Oscar role which, following some of his earlier work, feels a bit like the movie industry realising they should have given him an Oscar before and better give him an award quick just in case he does not produce anything as good again.

The fact in 1950 he had done, 'In A Lonely Place' which gets behind the character of his portrayals and shows us something rather unpleasant behind the facade.

His final films saw a clearly ill Bogart and it was not good work.

Charles laughton

Next up is Charles Laughton [Gallaher Champions of Screen & Stage (red back) (1934) 42. Charles Laughton], who died in 1962.

If Bogart's work has become greater than its original intention over the years then Laughton's has diminished. A self-consciously ugly man many of his roles in Hollywood accentuated this fact. His acting style which might be summed up as, more is more, does not fit in with modern acting. Rarely are you allowed to forget it is an actor at work.

His relationship with Hollywood was troubled to say the least.
     

His relationship with Hollywood was troubled to say the least. It was back in Britain with,' The Private Lives of Henry VIII' which made him a player in the game.

Returning to Hollywood he made four films, 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street' (1934) 'Ruggles of Red Cap' (1935) 'Les Misreables' (1935) and 'Mutiny on the Bounty' (1935). By 1936 he was back in England but 1939 would find him back in Hollywood.

During the war years he worked extensively and was brilliant as Quasimodo in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1939). After the war there was a decline in his film career which he filled with more theater work. The 1950/60's saw him make only five films. Oscar-nominated in 'Witness for the Prosecution' (1957) but at his best as Gracchus in Spartacus (1960).

Somehow he did not fit in then and he does not really fit in now, an actor touched with genius but driven by a strange madness as can be readily seen in his directorial debut, actually his only direction.

akim tamiroff

In 1972 Akim Tamiroff [Bridgewater series 7 [1939] 38. Akim Tamiroff ] passed away. Born in Russia he was much used as a rogue figure. It was a role made for him, his manner and accent fitting the part to perfection. It was never going to get him a lead role but that was no great problem in the 1930 when a supporting actor could work on two or three films simultaneously.

Playing the bad-guy during that period was not all that demanding of a talent as the audience were not allowed to be in any doubt the bad-guy was just that. That is not say there was not talent in the performance. Many directors would let supporting actors invent their character for the part.

In the 1950's Akim worked with Welles on three films. Rarely was Akim ever allowed anything but a sticky-end which makes Alphaville an unpleasant film in 1965 as we watch his character die in squalor, worn out and broken.

Charles boyer

Charles Boyer [ Players Film Stars (1938) 2nd 5. Charles Boyer] died in 1978. Born in France he makes the first four film stars born in 1899 an American a Brit a Russian and now a Frenchman. Being French he played plenty of romantic roles although mostly for comic purpose. During the 20's he was involved in the french film industry. For a while he failed to settle with any company switching between American and French film industries. When war broke out he was in France but the authorities sent him to the U.S. for propaganda purposes.

In the 1950's his versatility grew and he worked on television as well as in French and American film industries.

In 1978 he took his own life two days after the death of his wife. They had been married 44 years. Their only son had committed suicide in 1965.

gloria swanson

Gloria Swanson [Ardath Scenes from big films 98 :Gloria Swanson and John Halliday in Perfect Understanding] died in 1983 so appears next. The only woman in the group I am writing about in this article which only goes to prove nothing. Her career is such that it can be split into two. This is quite natural as she retired in 1934 but like a lot of stars one retirement was not enough.

...ike a lot of stars one retirement was not enough.
     

She started in 1915 when a visit to the Essanay studios culminated in a job. She appeared in several small roles with Wallace Beery. This led to their getting married and heading for Hollywood. Swanson joined Sennett which naturally meant two-reel comedies.

By 1919 she was working for Cecil B De Mille making six films for him.

For Paramount she became one of their major stars. At this time she was trying to gain ever greater control of the roles she was playing and the films they were played in.

In 1926 her contract was up for renewal and a figure of $17,500 per week was floated but this was not enough to stop her creating her own production company. In 1928 she started on the ill-fated project,' Queen Kelly' with her lover Joseph Kennedy. The resulting shambles was never released in the U.S.

This was not the end of her and other films made by the production company were successful. Quite why she retired the first time might never really be known.

Coming out of retirement was not trouble free. Two of the three films she made were howlers but the third was masterpiece. 'Sunset Boulevard' must be the film she will be ever remembered for. The portrayal of a faded screen star from the silent era, living like a witch in a decaying mansion basically on the verge of madness.

Perhaps if this film had been the last of the trilogy comprising her comeback things would have been different, instead it was the first and the dross came afterwards.

Gloria suggested that 'Sunset Boulevard' enabled her to finally get out of debt from the ill-fated 'Queen Kelly' episode.

Gloria sank into retirement once more. She came out of retirement one final time to play herself in Airport 1975 which as a subject matter never really survived the endless stream of disaster movies which seemed to fall over one another to be more ludicrous than the last and have now been rendered painful to watch. Unfortunately many great actors took some final pay cheques out of this nonsense.

pat o'brien

Pat O'Brien [Ardath From Screen & Stage (1936) 49. Pat O'Brien and Beverly Roberts in China Clipper] died the same year as Gloria, 1983. Pat worked for Warner Brothers and a lot of his films were with Cagney. While James was the bad guy Pat was the good guy.

...if only because Cagney O'Brien and Bogart, all appearing together.
     

Usually a priest or a policeman and always the hint of Irish coming through. 'Angels with Dirty' faces being a memorable film if only because Cagney O'Brien and Bogart, all appearing together some line up. His career always seemed to be there or thereabouts and his style was not to be there.

james cagney

I started this page with a legend which has become a myth and now I end with a legend. James Cagney died in 1986.

CAGNEY
Ardath Famous Film Stars (1934) 21. James Cagney

Ardath From Screen & Stage (1936) 7. Joan Blondell and James Cagney in Footlight Parade
Gallaher Film Episodes (1936) 38. James Cagney and Margaret Lindsay in G-Men
Godfrey Phillips Screen Stars (embossed) A series (1936) 17. James Cagney
Bridgewater series 3 1934 81. James Cagney
DeBeukelaer Film Stars KF900 1932 268. James Cagney
DeBeukelaer Film Stars KF900 1937 1049. James Cagney
A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade (1940) multisize set 100. The Oklahoma Kid (S-B&W) - James Cagney
A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade 2nd series (1940) multisize set 124. Angels With Dirty Faces (S-B&W) - James Cagney
A. & M. Wix Cinema Cavalcade 2nd series (1940) multisize set 125. The Roaring Twenties (L-B&W) - James Cagney Humphrey Bogart Jeffrey Lynn
   
     

Although Cagney will always be associated with the gangster roles he had more to him than that. He began as a song and dance man in vaudeville. His early impact was quite literally the crushing of a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face in Public Enemy [1931]. This pretty much set the standard for a lot of what followed, a street-wise hoodlum with barely controllable aggression. In 'Jimmy the Gent' [1934] he takes a comic role which makes you realize just how close to comedy a lot of what he did was. Happily not quite otherwise we would have had a second Norman Wisdom.

In 1939 Cagney's contract with Warners expired and although he was keen to set up his own company he was persuaded not to.

These were dark days for Hollywood and there was rumour of Cagney having communist association. It was this which saw him persuading Warners ( with the help of his brother, William) to put him in 'Yankee Doodle Dandie'. Cagney is at his best in this film and probably deserved the Oscar.

His remaining films show a steady decline from this point as Cagney ages and becomes less and less like the character he creates on screen. In 1957 he produced a fine performance in, 'Man of a Thousand Faces.'

His film career just about got into the 60's. Then in the very twilight of his life he appeared in 'Ragtime' (1981) sitting very still and looking very old and finally on TV as 'Terrible Joe Moran' a wheelchair bound ex-boxer. Nobody chooses their end and some of these actors have to be proof of that.

For hundreds more stars and their images check out my movie star section of this site.