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|Saturday, 17th May 2008
A star is born
|s corny a title as you are going to see, unless you are a fan of some of the movies this bunch churned out.
Below is a slice through the film industry, celluloid archeology I like to call it but then again I expect a recycling manager to remove the household rubbish once a week. So away with all the pretension and boil it down. Below are a few movie stars which appear on cigarette cards who also happened to be been born in the month of January. I leave you to guess what Febuary will bring you.
If you are going to start anywhere then start with Marion Davies. Born in New York 1897 on 3 January she dies in 1961. Potentially she is already more famous because of the film Citizen Kane than she is for her real life. Although the two women are comparable they should not really be confused with one another.
Citizen Kane gives a bitter flavour to the Hearst / Davies romance (Hearst born 29th April in the mid 1860's). The more people are allowed to examine the more faults they are going to find. Hearst had great plans for the woman he loved. Nothing wrong in that; the problem occurred when he had the monies to put some of those plans into practice, combined with a desire to push her in directions she was not suited.
Her forte was comedy but Hearst was not going to let the woman he loved end up with a pie wacked in her face. Hearst created Cosmopolitan Pictures to showcase his lover.
The fact Hearst owned rather a large quantity of newspapers was not going to be overlooked by publicity hungry film studios.
Paramount distributed her early films but soon MGM were being generous with their funds.
Hearst monies ran out before his health did and both events occurred considerably before his death (14th August 1951). By this time Marion Davies career was over but she remained loyal to the man she loved, offering back the jewels he had bought her in more grand days.
Obviously cards depicting the woman would have been more than aware of the relationship of the two and for the text to reflect that knowledge.
Ardath, Scenes from big films  seems pretty keen to push her films having no less than four cards with her getting a mention in the one set alone. Although other companies issued her likeness I think my favourite is from the Wills, Cinema Stars (series 1)  and is the card illustrated.
Jane Wyman was born 4 Jan 1917 as Sarah Jane Fulks at St Joseph Missouri. It would be unkind if she was only remembered as the first wife of Ronald Reagan (she married on the 25 Jan 1940). She churned out many of the seemingly endless westerns of the period but in 1948 broke through with the Oscar winning performance in Johnny Belinda.
She played the part of a deaf-mute, half her age (which was 34 at the time). This shift in direction meant she was playing roles designed to bring tears to the eyes for another 8 years or so. A notable low light was 'Stage fright' (1950) which is a duff-note in the career of Hitchcock.
By 1954 Hollywood had her playing the role of a blind woman in Magnificent Obsession. At this point she basically went into semi-retirement making only a few more films. However in the 1980's her career was 'revived' with the TV series Falcon's Crest.
It is unfair to compare one generations idea of entertainment with another, particularly when one is stuck in a particular entertainment period. Still most of us are prepared to accept the early Hollywood Western was a pretty grim affair. Churned out endlessly with a formulaic approach which would make Star Trek, the original series, seem like the height of invention (Dammit Jim, I'm a webmaster not a Doctor).
Tom Mix was the star of more than his fair share of these westerns and was born Jan 6th 1880/81.
In the early period of the western the budgets and the speed at which the things were made meant there was a very big premium put on anyone that could actually make a horse do at least 60% of what was intended whilst in front of the camera. Plenty of the stars got the first break because they could ride a horse and Tom Mix was a supreme example.. He made the transition from Texas Ranger to Wild West showman in 1906 (same year as John Stetson died, hat inventor) and was taken up by the Selig studio's to look after the horses.
His ability with the horses was noted and soon he was doing stunt work. Then it was noticed the fellow had a certain way about him, dressed well, looked okay so why not make him the star of the show as well, all meant movies could be made cheaper if the star could not only ride a horse but fall of it as well.
By 1910 Tom Mix was churning out the movies. In 1917 he had moved to Fox and nurtured a more foppish style. During the 1920's he was in 5 to 6 films a year and took to directing a number of them.
All the while the image of himself and his horse (Tony) were carefully nurtured, primarily by himself.
Tom's career came to a pretty swift end when sound became the big thing.
Again the card choosen shows Tom Mix just how he would want to be seen in one of the few sets of cards which depicts stars of the silent screen, Wills, Cinema Stars 
On the same day as Tom Mix, although separated by a generation was born Grectchen Michaela Young in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1913. She is better known to film goers as Loretta Young. Whatever you think of her early work she was obviously not a fan as in 1971 she launched legal proceedings to stop her old films going out on the TV networks (if only more stars tried the same trick). The sister of an actress she was working as an extra when she got a part in Naughty by Nice (1927) answering a phone. Her first sound film, The Squall, was in 1929 which was about when she married the actor Grant Withers. For whatever reason this marriage failed and she was divorced by the age of 21. By 1934 she was working for Twentieth Century (her early work was with First National and Warners) where she made Call of the Wild (1935) with Clark Gable. On location the two of them got close.
Close enough for her adopted daughter to have written a book claiming to be the biological daughter of Young by Gable.
There was a break in her career when she walked out because of pay and the films she was being offered. It looked like it might be over but Colombia came to the rescue (took her on half pay). She worked steadily in the first half of the 1940's and in 1947 took a somewhat surprising Oscar for 'The Farmers Daughter'. Her movie career could be typified by a downward trend line during this period and she made only a handful of films in the 1950's (out of a total of some 90 odd films).
Her final effort was in 1986, Christmas Eve where she played a terminally ill grandmother.
We are half way through the month now, Jan 15 1937 sees the birth of Margaret O'Brien. You might have thought the Hollywood Brat Pack of the 1980's was pretty grim but in the early days of Hollywood some of the actors were barely out of diapers. Margaret O'Brien was one of them when her acting career started at the age of four. Just imagine her talents as a homeless survivor of the London Blitz in 1942 at the age of five.
The only trouble with being a child star, a bit like being a boy soprano, you are working to a pretty tight deadline and to my mind this is no bad thing in either instance. Anyway her last film output was basically in 1955 and a very late effort at the age of 23 in 1960. It is said she auditioned for the role of Natalie Wood in 'Rebel without a cause' but managed to answer all the questions by exclaiming love for parents and teachers, which wasn't quite required for the film. If she had got the role think how history may have been changed.
From child star to something quite different, born Jan 18, 1904. This fellow is so well even his real name Archie Leach is known, that's fame for you. Archibald Alexander Leach was born in Bristol, England. Now this is a fellow that had staying power, a leading man for about 30 years. Don't ask me how he did it. Greatness does not really do this fellow justice. Mind you when a lot of your film output is under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock you have a good start. In these roles he shined. If he was playing the good-guy there was just enough bad-guy in him to make sure you never took your eyes of him and if he was playing the 'bad guy' there was always just enough 'good guy' in him to make you wonder if he was going to actually go through with the dark deeds. Often he managed all this by barely moving, but never being still.
He played opposite Loretta Young in Born to be Bad in 1934 but I only mention this as it ties up two names on this list. I certainly do not mention it as something to actually watch. The list of star women he played opposite is all but endless. He played opposite Hepburn and made it real enough you almost forgot she should have always played opposite Tracy.
In 1944 he did the remarkable None but the Lonely Heart . This was easily the closest Cary Grant got to his real life on film but was something of a failure and an experiment he did not repeat.
In 1948 he played Every Girl Should be Married opposite Betsie Drake and took the title to heart when they married shortly after.
By the 1950's Grant was sensible enough to notice that as a lead man it might not quite be right for young women to keep throwing themselves at him. Some people suggest he never wanted women throwing themselves at hiim anyway, perish those thoughts. If only some of the ageing hairless stars of today could come to these conclusions it would make eating your popcorn easier. I'm talking to you Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and an endless list of others.
The fact there are only so many days in a year means people have to share birth dates, and so it is that in 1913 on 18trh January Danny Kaye was born. Real name David Daniel Kominski. I think there is another page on this site which hints at my feelings for this fellow. What can I say, how can Cary Grant and Danny Kaye possibly share a birth date. Perhaps history has been unkind to him, if there had been some wonderful accident which had meant every one of this fellows films had been destroyed perhaps he would still be considered as amazing as he was when first he appeared.
There is a sense of unexploded bomb about his screen performances. Before the films he was an entertainer, vaudeville, dancer, singer, comedian with the common thread being he wasn't that well received. He even appeared in a couple of two-reelers which had the decency to fail.
Things all changed in 1940 with a Broadway debut and also meeting and marrying Sylvia Fine who was to become the 'brains' behind the man. I'm leaving it there, rest assured I have worse bile stored up for George Formby.
On 23 January, 1899 Humphrey Bogart was born. I have written about his career on another page. Go see
Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effrom Borgnine, Hamden, Connecticut, 24 January 1917. He has to be the classic example of why the sexes just are not equal. Any woman looking that bad would barely be allowed into a movie theatre let along appear on the silver screen. Still one of the pleasures of being a bloke is being boot ugly can be passed off as 'interesting' or if really grim, 'rugged personality'. If you need to know I am neither good looking or ugly, think of a 1950's bank manager without a suit (yep, you've got it.)
From bug-eyed brute he enjoyed a brief career in the lead roles and won best actor Oscar in 1955 but it was a brief time at the summit. Still he has appeared in a lot of films and they were not all remakes of the Dirty Dozen you keep being inflicted with come Christmas.
On 29 January 1879 an original was born in the form of William Claude Dukinfield. Thankfully this was shortened to W.C Fields (you cannot help but read that name in that accent.)
Now I pretty much have a love hate relationships with this fellow in the same way as I do Mae West. Something tells me I should like them, despite the fact they would have loathed me but to misquote, 'I like WC Field movies, but I couldn't watch a whole one.' I hope my interest in these characters isn't driven by the fact I would wish to become a one-line wit, drunk and being the only one to see the world as it really is.
West and Fields had lead roles in My Little Chickadee . They co-wrote (or Fields wrote and then shared credit depending on the story you here) this rather stumbling film and it is reported they did not get on. Pretty much says it all.
Fields made a lot of money being sour, he was of course a drunk to the extent being sober could be considered an occasion. A lot of his money has never been recovered as he had a habit of opening accounts in false names wherever he went, surely a surreal moment for bank staff. Imagine the man coming in and claiming to be Mahatma Kane Reeves or even Egbert Souse.
WC Fields was a leading vaudeville performer by 1900. Pool Shark  being a short film of his stage act.
WC Fields always wanted to play Dickens and pestered and pestered until finally he got his wish. However unlikely you would think this combination he was surprisingly good (good does not do justice) in the roles. For this reason I think his favourite card would have been from the Ogdens, Natural and Character Studies which sees him playing the role of Wilkins Micawber in 'David Copperfield'.
WC on his deathbed rambled great long passages of Dickens his depth of passion for the author surprising even those around him.
These are a few selected people, born in January, to appear both in the film industry and cigarette cards.