Saturday, May 30, 2009

For Your Consideration: Elizabeth Patterson

Elizabeth Patterson
November 22, 1875 - January 31, 1966

Many actors in Hollywood's Golden era created memorable performances that were denied peer recgonition. Of course, for a while the Oscars were the only game in town (we will now pause to imagine such a time), and they couldn't nominate everybody. In my little corner of the blogosphere I plan to spotlight some of these performances that still touch audiences.

Character actress great Elizabeth Patterson was a Daughter of the Old South. Her father, a Tennessee Judge and her mother, approved of Mary Elizabeth's studies in music elocution and English at Martin College, but did not imagine a life on the stage for their daughter. A trip to Europe that they hoped would get the acting bug out of her system only made her more determined, and with a small inheritance she won a position with the not-yet Sir Ben Greet Players. Sir Greet brought Shakespeare and fine drama to the masses and in 1913 brought "Patty" to Broadway in a revival of Everyman. She would appear in 26 Broadway productions from that date to 1954.

In 1926 at the age of 51, Elizabeth Patterson came to Hollywood for her first picture, setting up residence at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Some of her well-remembered films include Dinner at Eight, Hide-Out, Sing, You Sinners, Remember the Night, Michael Shayne: Private Detective, Tobacco Road, Hail the Conquering Hero and Lady on a Train. Fans of I Love Lucy recall her fondly as the Ricardo's obliging neighbour Mrs. Trumble. Somebody had to look after Little Ricky!

1949's Intruder in the Dust directed by Clarence Brown from William Faulkner's novel is my choice for Miss Patterson's award-worthy turn. She plays Miss Eunice Habersham, and was selected by Faulkner as the perfect choice for the role.

In Intruder in the Dust a bigot (David Clarke) is murdered and a proud and isolated black man (Juano Hernandez) is jailed for the crime. A teenage boy (Claude Jarman Jr.) whose views of life have been challenged by this man believes him innocent and enlists his lawyer uncle (David Brian) to defend him. A gathering lynch mob may not wait for a trial.

Elizabeth Patterson, Charles Kemper

Compelled to search for evidence, time is running out for the youngster and the man in jail. Observing the mob, the lawyer decides that only one thing will stop them and that one thing would be an old white woman without a rifle. Miss Habersham is surely brave and probably foolhardy, but she is a woman who will do the right thing and in "Patty's" hands she is a beautiful, determined sight to behold.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Frank Orth - You know him when you see him.

Frank Orth as the beleaguered copy editor Duffy
His Girl Friday

Frank Orth was born in Philadelphia, Pa on February 21, 1880. By the age of 17 he was a Vaudeville performer, a comic and musician. With partner Keller Mack he appeared in sketches such as The Wrong Hero and wrote songs. Meet Me on the Boardwalk Dearie was a 1910 hit.

By 1911 Frank found a different partner when he married Belgium born (March 5, 1890) Ann Codee. As Codee and Orth they made their living on the stage and went to Hollywood with the advent of sound appearing in movie shorts released between 1929 and 1931.

The elegant Ms. Codee found steady work in movies usually cast as a French noblewoman as in Her Highness and the Bellboy, Kitty, So This is Paris or as a refined maid as in Kiss Me, Kate, Lured, Hangover Square or Charlie Chan in Rio. In John Ford's When Willie Comes Marching Home Again she played a resistance fighter.

Frank was also very busy in the movies we like to call classic. He played Captain Tweedy in the Nancy Drew series featuring Bonita Granville. He was Mike who ran the Blair Hospital Cafe in the Doctor Kildare series starring Lew Ayres. Frank played cops, bartenders, judges, convicts, theatre managers, reporters, name it! You can find his familiar face in such movies as The Strawberry Blonde, Boom Town, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stanley and Livingstone, Sergeant York, I Wake Up Screaming, Tall in the Saddle, The Lost Weekend, Lady in the Lake and Cheaper by the Dozen. He played Inspector Faraday in the television series Boston Blackie starring Kent Taylor. Why, last night I saw Frank on TCM in a movie called Greenwich Village. There he Technicolor...wearing a dress yet! Something I thought I'd never see.

Frank retired after throat surgery in 1959. Lovely Ann passed away May 18, 1961 followed by her devoted husband of 60 years on March 17, 1962.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Favourite movies: Nothing But a Man (1964)

A rootless young track worker (Ivan Dixon) finds what he didn't know he needed when he meets a young teacher (Abbey Lincoln). Conflicted by past choices and examples, romance and responsibility begin a period of growth, change and understanding. Life does not play easy with the young couple, especially life in the American south at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

Ivan Dixon
1931 - 2008

A lovingly crafted film by Michael Roemer and Robert Young with a naturalistic and documentary feel. Specific to its time and place, yet universal in the undeniable truth that humans can but react to how they are treated. An outstanding American classic.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Welcome to the annual "Bing Crosby's Birthday" blog. I know I've only been blogging since last year, but this is what you have to expect, folks. To celebrate this year we rejoice in the grand news that the 1960 album Bing and Satchmo has been released on CD. We will now pause for general rejoicing, dancing in the street and cake.

Bing and Satchmo is a grand group of songs produced by Johnny Mercer with special attention to the musical history and comradery of the two stars. Bing and Louis did their duets in a New York studio June 28 & 29 of 1960. Billy May's orchestra and the chorus did their work about a week earlier in Hollywood. Louis' trumpet solos were on a third date, yet the whole thing sounds like one grand party.

The 14 tracks include Muskrat Ramble, Sugar, Preacher, Dardanella, Let's Sing Like a Dixieland Band, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Brother Bill, Little Ol' Tune, At the Jazz Band Ball, Rocky Mountain Moon, Bye Bye Blues and Lazy River.

A particular favourite of mine is Dardanella written in 1919 by Fred Fisher, Felix Bernard and Johnny S. Black and making period stops on Billboard since that time. It's a dandy arrangement with bells, and a light flow from the ubiquitous background singers of the era (bless their hearts) a perfect counterpoint to the "Road"-like vocals from Bing and Satchmo.

As long as you've decided to settle down with that birthday cake, how about watching Mr. Crosby and Mr. Armstrong in Pennies from Heaven and High Society. Now, that's the way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Happy Birthday!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Discovering Murray Kinnell

Murray Kinnell
July 24, 1889 - August 14, 1954

London-born Kinnell was a versatile actor who appeared on the British stage, Broadway and classic Hollywood films of the 1930s. A member of the George Arliss stock company he appeared in the 1928 Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice as Bassanio. Arliss was Shylock and young Peggy Wood was Portia. The cast also featured Hardie Albright and Spring Byington.

Heading west, Kinnell appeared in six well-received films with Arliss: 1930s Old English, 1932s A Successful Calamity and The Man Who Played God, 1933s Voltaire, 1934s The House of Rothchilds and Cardinal Richelieu in 1935.

You and I have seen Kinnell many times or I miss my bet. Any of these ring a bell - The Public Enemy, The Mouthpiece, Grand Hotel, The Beast of the City, Zoo in Budapest, The Last Days of Pompeii, Anne of Green Gables, Captain Blood, The Three Musketeers, Lloyds of London, One Rainy Afternoon, The Prince and the Pauper, Captains Courageous?

As a treat to myself, I've been going through my Charlie Chan's chronologically and one of the biggest treats is discovering Murray Kinnell. In The Black Camel from 1931 Kinnell portrays a philosphical beach bum/artist ("Smith, Jones - it doesn't matter.") He's wordly, sneaky and altogether intriguing.

Kinnell at 11:00

In 1934s Charlie Chan in London Kinnell is the butler of one of the country estates where cocktailing and fox hunting abound, and the ladies fashions are to die for! Inspector Chan is sure to find a murder among the guests - if the butler with an agenda will let him enter the house! Kinnell is pompous, practical and maybe something'll have to watch to find out.

"Thank you, so much."

Charlie Chan in Paris from 1935 finds Kinnell as a fussy bank employee. A most meticulous man. A most trustworthy man. Surely a man above suspicion.

How can one ever find time to fit in newer films when there is still so much to discover about the old favourites? I've known him for ages, but I just discovered Murray Kinnell.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...