My memories of Judy Lewis
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Judy Lewis was the daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable. I had the pleasure of meeting her in the summer of 2001 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I remember it was for a screening but don’t ask me the name of the film. There was a gathering before the film where hors d’oeuvres and drinks were served. I happened to see Judy there and she was alone. I got up the nerve to talk to her (I don’t usually do that). I was working on my Rudolph Valentino book at the time and among other things, we discussed her mother and aunts appearance in The Shiek when they were children. She told me that she had heard that story before but her mother never discussed it, which she was sorry about. She was very gracious and kind and wished me good luck with my book. She didn’t hesitate when I asked to have our picture taken. Judy Lewis passed away from cancer on November 25 in a retirement home near Philadelphia. She was 76. Rest in peace.
Anita Page – You were meant for me
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Anita Page, the last great silent film star from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, would have celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday. Some argue whether she was a star, an actress or leading lady – to me she was all of the above and more. Anita was the first real actress that I had a chance to know personally.
Me and Anita at USC (Michael Schwibs photo)
SOME MEMORIES AND PHOTOS
I first met Anita Page in 1993 when I was researching my biography on Ramon Novarro, whom she costarred with in the 1929 film, The Flying Fleet. Her husband had passed away two years earlier, so to keep busy she came out of retirement and began appearing at film festivals and other functions.
At the time she was living in a retirement center in Burbank. Her good friend, actor Randal Malone, set up the interview. Anita was very sweet and accommodating to my questions. She had suffered a stroke after her husbands death which affected her short term memory. Her long-term memory was still intact, however she sometimes forgot that she had told a story and would repeat it. Other than being a little frail, that was the only noticeable evidence from her stroke.
Only once during the interview did she hesitate repeating information about Novarro. It was about his height. Evidently Novarro was not tall – probably about 5’8” – so he sometimes wore lifts in his shoes depending on his costar. Novarro wanted Anita to appear in the film with him, but the studio felt she was too tall and wanted to use Josephine Dunn instead.
Novarro told the executives, “I can always wear lifts in my shoes. Besides, I did a film with Joan Crawford and she’s as tall as Miss Page.” As we know Anita got the job, however, she thought the information about his height might be embarrassing so she asked that I turn off my tape recorder before she would tell the story – which of course I did.
I became friends with Anita and Randal that day and over the ensuing years was invited to their homes and to events where Anita was appearing. I also began interviewing her over a period of a year for a proposed book on her career. Whether it was at a noisy restaurant, her home or some other venue, I showed up with a tape recorder and we talked about early Hollywood. During that time she relayed stories about her films and the famous people she worked with and knew.
I completed a rough draft of what was to be the text for a coffee table book, but sadly it never came to fruition. I did, however, donate a copy of the unedited manuscript to the Margaret Herrick Library under the title, “Anita Page: You Were Meant For Me,” so future film historians will have access to her stories. The title is from the song by Nacio Herb Brown, her short-lived husband, who wrote it for Broadway Melody (1929) and dedicated it to her.
Anita with her parents (above), Maude and Marino Pomares. Mrs. Pomares died from cancer at her Manhattan Beach home in May 1943. A few years later her father remarried and he passed away in 1951. They are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. Anita also had a younger brother, Marino, Jr. who died in 1960 from a brain tumor. He was 36.
Anita was Clark Gable’s first leading lady in The Easiest Way (1931)
Above is a Los Angeles Examiner photo announcing Anita’s first arrival in California on December 7, 1927. She was a protégé of Harry K. Thaw who brought her and another starlet, Susan Hughes to California to make films. While Thaw’s plans failed, Anita (who was known then as Anita Rivers) decided to stay in Hollywood and try to make it on her own. Thaw returned to New York, as did Susan Hughes, who gave up show business.
Josephine Dunn, Joan Crawford and Anita Page in Our Moderm Maidens (1929)
Anita and me sitting on the steps outside her first Hollywood apartment (Randal Malone photo)
When I first interviewed Anita, she talked about her first Hollywood apartment that she shared with her mother. It intrigued me so I went about trying to find it using the phone book. Sure enough, there was a listing for Mrs. Marino Pomares in the 1928 directory – 7566 ½ De Longpre Avenue. Randal and I took Anita to the address for a photo shoot. Unfortunately the tenants were not home so we didn’t get a chance to look inside.
Actress Glenn Close as Norma Desmond and Anita Page (Michale Schwibs photo)
When Sunset Boulevard, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came to Los Angeles, Anita received an invitation to attend. A real silent film actress meets a fictional silent film actress — what great publicity! Randal graciously asked me to attend along with his friend Michael Schwibs. The four of us had the best seats in the house – fourth row center – all compliments of the theatre. The play was breathtaking and the performances top rate. Afterward we went backstage to personally meet the star of production, Glenn Close who played Norma Desmond. Ms Close was still in costume and in character and had a brief conversation with Anita. It was a great experience and Ms Close kindly signed my program. What a night.
Reportedly, at one point, Anita received more fan mail than any other actor at MGM except for Garbo
August 4, 1910 – September 6, 2008
Farrah Fawcett’s memorial omitted by the Academy
By Allan R. Ellenberger
My mother taught me that if you make a mistake, own up to it, make it right if you can, and then move on. Obviously the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences believes otherwise. However they admit that the omission of Farrah Fawcett in their memorial at this years Oscar ceremonies was not an error.
“I would not say that it was an oversight,” Leslie Unger, spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told E! News. “No matter how carefully and how conscientiously people address who is included, there are people who just simply can’t be.”
I agree, it is impossible to include every entertainment personality that has passed on during the previous year. But some inclussions to me seem to be a no-brainer — and Farrah Fawcett is one of them.
I’m the first to admit that I was not a huge fan of Charlie’s Angels — but I get it. But once Farrah left and moved into television and film, I became an admirer — The Burning Bed (1984), Extremities (1986), Poor Little Rich Girl (1987) all cemented her place in film history. And her fight to beat the cancer that finally took her life earned her the admiration of people around the world.
The Academy can’t be shocked by today’s reaction to their oversight — they had to know some kind of response would be forthcoming. Farrah’s longtime companion, Ryan O’Neal said of the omission:
“Farrah was a member of the Academy for over 40 years and we could not believe she did not get a mention. It was a terrible decision and very hurtful,” he said. O’Neal added that he and his daughter Tatum O’Neal plan to write to the Academy asking for an explanation.
Others shared the disappointment. Oscar winner, Jane Fonda wrote, “Where was Farrah Fawcett? She should have been included.”
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote via Twitter: “Major fail. … No Farrah in the memorial. They have a whole lot of ‘splaining to do.”
But according to Ms. Unger, no apology or explanation is forthcoming. That’s okay. I have a feeling that by the end of the week, Ms. Unger will be forgotten, but Farrah will endure in the memories of her fans for years to come. In any case, click below for a brief photo tribute. Rest in peace, Angel!
Farrah Fawcett: A quiet show of respect for an Angel
(1947 – 2009)
By Allan R. Ellenberger
June 26, 2009
Just two blocks west of where the crowds are honoring Michael Jackson on Hollywood Boulevard is a display of flowers and senitment for the former “Charlie’s Angels” star, Farrah Fawcett who died just a few hours before Jackson. The handful of people who were there were quiet and reverent in their display of affection for Farrah. Rest in Peace Angel!
Fans honor singer Michael Jackson on the Walk of Fame
(1958 – 2009)
By Allan R. Ellenberger
The helicoptors buzzing over my roof reminded me that the world was watching fans congregate at the Walk of Fame star for singer Michael Jackson, located in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. So I decided to check it out walking the five blocks from my home and finally working my way into the crowds as Michael Jackson songs blared from souvenir stores and hawkers sold Michael Jackson T-shirts on Hollywood Boulevard.
I never got close enough to see the “King of Pop’s” actual star since the wait in line was a half-block long and about 6 deep on the star-studded sidewalk. But here are a few of the sights I was able to record:
Fans wait in line for a chance for a 15 second glimpse of Jackson’s star
Grauman’s Chinese gives tribute to the pop singer on its neon sign
Michael Jackson fans wait in line to see his flower-strewn star
Media trucks cover fans as they view Michael Jackson’s star on the Walk of Fame. The Cinegrill at the Roosevelt displays Jackson’s name and birth/death years.
A century after his birth, Errol Flynn is in again
Sigh — our hero: Flynn with his schnauzer Moody on the set of “Never Say Goodbye” in 1945.
By Nick Thomas
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Movie audiences have always embraced their swashbuckling screen heroes, and this year marks the centenary of arguably the greatest, Errol Flynn. Mostly, Flynn is remembered for portraying a free-spirited adventurer who dispensed swift justice to oppressors, while extending a gentle hand of chivalry to ladies in need. Born on June 20, 1909, in the southern Australian state of Tasmania, Flynn lived life hard off-screen, too. In just 15 short years, from 1935 until his death 50 years ago, he racked up dozens of classic performances and a professional legacy that endures.
These days, swashbucklers are more likely to be called “action heroes,” who trade in their sabers for guns, bullwhips or light sabers in franchises such as “Indiana Jones,” “The Mummy” or “Star Wars.” More recently, after plundering almost $3 billion at the box office worldwide, the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy suggests that sword-wielding adventurers have retained their charm. But whatever their title or weaponry, these characters are little more than reincarnations of dashing screen legends, such as Flynn.
The Douglas Fairbanks Memorial
DOUGLAS ELTON FAIRBANKS, SR.
May 23, 1883 — December 12, 1939
By Allan R. Ellenberger
When actor Douglas Fairbanks died of a heart attack at his Santa Monica home on December 12, 1939, the world mourned with all of Hollywood. Following funeral services in the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Fairbanks’ casket was placed in a crypt next to Will Rogers, who, at the time, still awaited entombment in Claremore, Oklahoma.
The final resting place of Douglas Fairbanks at Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a stately marble sarcophagus estimated at the time to have cost $40,000. Add to that the cost of perpetual care and other expenses incidental to the building of the sarcophagus would bring the ultimate expenditure to about $50,000. At the time, it was one of the most costly of its kind in Southern California.
The crypt is set in front of four tall pillars of white Georgia marble, behind which is a panel that is inscribed: “Douglas Fairbanks, 1883-1939.” A bas relief bronze profile of the actor is positioned over the inscription.
In front of the sarcophagus is a long, narrow reflection pool, which, at the time, was lined with hedge trees.
The dedication ceremonies at Hollywood Cemetery were scheduled for May 25, 1941 – two days after the actor’s 58th birthday. Fairbanks’ close friend, actor Charlie Chaplin was selected to deliver the eulogy. Doug, Jr., who was touring South America at the time, could not return in time for the service. The simple ceremony was attended by 1,500 persons, including many of Fairbanks’ friends.
Fairbanks’ widow, the former Lady Sylvia Ashley, adorned in a white dress and veil, arrived at the ceremony with Chaplin, Robert Fairbanks (Douglas’ brother), Mrs. Fred Astaire and her sister, Mrs. Basil Bleck. Mrs. Fairbanks sat with the group in the first row of seats nearest the sarcophagus. Behind her were Norma Shearer and Kay Francis.
After the opening prayers by the Rev. Neal Dodd, pastor of St. Mary’s of the Angeles Episcopal Church, the widow placed her bouquet in the as yet unsealed end of the marble sarcophagus. Then, with trembling hands, she drew the cord unveiling the inscription and bas relief bust of her husband.
Chaplin’s eulogy was brief.
“We are gathered here to pay tribute to the one who might well be termed a great man. To name him thus would have brought incredulous laughter to his lips. That he was even a great artist he would have been the first to deny. Yet this modesty was but another facet of his greatness, and there were many facets.
His was a happy life. His rewards were great, his joys many. Now he pillows his head upon his arms, sighs deeply – and sleeps.
To the youth of a decade ago he was the epitome of knightly courage and romance… And as he worshiped heroes, so too did he worship those qualities a hero should possess.”
Relating Fairbanks’ versatility, Chaplin praised him most as the “eternal boy” – always fresh in viewpoint and interested in what each day would bring. Chaplin concluded with the inscription from Hamlet chiseled on the marble sarcophagus:
“Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
As he spoke, Fairbanks’ widow wept as she sat on the marble bench behind the sarcophagus.
Following Chaplin’s eulogy, Rev. Dodd read the memorial rites as Fairbanks copper casket was placed in the sarcophagus and the end was sealed.
In the section reserved for friends and family were the actors nieces: Shirley Burden, Mrs. Henri Chappellet, Mrs. Owen Crump and Leticia Fairbanks.
Other celebrities at the ceremony included Fred Astaire, Joseph Schenck, Randolph Scott, Bull Montana, Ruth Rennick, Richard Barthelmess, Daryl Zanuck and many more friends of Fairbanks.
Following the ceremony the crowd was permitted to file past the marble-columned memorial which faced a tree-lined reflection pool.
Fifty-nine years later, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was laid to rest along with his father in the sarcophagus.
This photo was taken in the mid 1990s before the Cassity family bought the cemetery and it was in bankruptcy. El Nino ravaged Southern California that year, including the Fairbanks Memorial.
TRIVIA: For years there was a rectangular opening approximately one inch wide on the east side of the sarcophagus in which you could look in and see the top of Fairbanks copper casket. Over the years people tossed coins on top of the casket that remained there until Doug Jr. was interred with his father. Today that opening is still there.
“I wonder sometimes when people congratulate me upon my performance in Ben-Hur how much that performance would have mattered had I had a fat stomach.”
– Ramon Novarro
Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of silent film actor, Ramon Novarro. In remembrance of him, the following is a brief account of how he received the role of Ben-Hur.
By Allan R. Ellenberger
When actor George Walsh was cast to play the title role in the Goldwyn production of Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro was devastated. He wanted to play the part so much he could taste it. But when the studios of Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer merged and Ben-Hur’s director, screenwriter, and Walsh himself were sent packing, Ramon didn’t allow himself the luxury of thinking he had a second chance.
That all changed one Sunday afternoon in June when MGM production chief Irving Thalberg called Novarro at his home. He told the actor he had something important to discuss with him and asked that he report to the studio immediately. Novarro drove to Culver City and went to Thalberg’s office, where the “Boy Wonder” got right to the point, asking the 25-year-old actor if he would like to play Ben-Hur.
Ramon was, of course, both shocked and delighted and replied that he would. But Thalberg had one request – that Novarro make a screen test. Putting his entire future on the line, Ramon refused the youthful mogul. “Why not?” Thalberg demanded.
Ramon reasoned that Thalberg was concerned about his physique and explained that his body was in good shape. If he had any doubts, all he had to do was screen his recent film, Where the Pavement Ends, throughout which Ramon is half-naked.
Thalberg smiled and agreed, respecting Ramon’s bluntness and honesty. He then instructed him to keep his casting a secret for now. He would be leaving for New York the next day, and no one must know. Novarro was on top of the world. His dream was at last coming true; the role of a lifetime belong to him.
The following morning a studio limo picked up Novarro at his home and whisked him to the Pasadena train station. Waiting there were MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, writers Carey Wilson and Bess Meredyth, attorney J. Robert Rubin and his wife Reba, director Fred Niblo and his wife, actress Enid Bennett, and Photoplay correspondent Herb Howe.
In New York, the group was greeted by Marcus Loew, head of MGM. Loew told Ramon to answer all reporter inquiries with the explanation that he was going on vacation. Just as Loew had predicted, reporters were at the dock, questioning everyone. They were naturally suspicious as to why so many MGM employees were traveling to Europe. Fred Niblo fibbed a little, saying he was going to shoot some French exteriors for his recent film with Novarro called The Red Lily and then go on to Monte Carlo to begin his next picture with Norma Talmadge.
The night before, director Marshall Neilan and wife, actress Blanche Sweet, sailed for France on the Olympic to make The Sporting Venus. The reporters knew the problems that the studio was having in Italy on the set of Ben-Hur, and that only fueled more rumors that either Neilan or Niblo was going to take over director’s duties from Charles Brabin.
As they were waiting to leave on the steamship the Leviathan, frequent Novarro costar Alice Terry arrived to see their departure. Ramon and Alice did an embrace for the cameras which rivaled anything they had done on the screen. At the last minute, Mayer, who was staying behind, gave some words of instruction to Niblo – “Be sure to have a lot of camels in the picture.”
After Ramon received farewell telegrams from Thalberg and actress and close friend Barbara La Marr, the ship pulled up anchor and made its way to Europe. As the ship passed the Statue of Liberty, Novarro may have stared at the beautiful lady in the harbor and pondered his future, and the events which led to this, the crossroads of his life.
Click HERE to watch the chariot scene from Ben-Hur (1925)
Comments by friends and co-workers:
“Ramon was apparently everything I had been told, but my informants, sleuths and guides who led me to the stage where he was working, had neglected to tabulate his greatest attribute, his sense of humor.”
– Elsie Janis, vaudeville performer and friend
“Ramon Novarro was a real Latin heartbreaker. Everywhere he went the women trailed him like a bunch of dogs chasing a bitch in heat. Funny how much of an animal we really are and we try so damned hard to always deny and hide that relationship.”
– Florence “Pancho” Barnes, aviatrix and friend
“I loved Ramon; he was one of my dearest friends. Whenever he came to London, we would walk arm in arm in Regents Park, perhaps have a cup of coffee together. I am very proud to think that I made a film with him. Both Frank [her husband] and I loved Ramon. What more can I say?”
– Evelyn Laye, costar in The Night is Young
“Ramon aged gracefully. He never considered himself a ‘has-been’ because he had enough money to choose his roles. He worked when he wanted and enjoyed his garden the rest of the time. He enjoyed a beautiful life.”
– Leonard Shannon, agent
“I never heard him say an unkind word about any of his contemporaries – nor of the stars of more recent years. And through the years, that sincere boyish enthusiasm the screen knew so well was ever present in his off screen life. The loss of Ramon Novarro leaves a tremendous gap in the ranks of the show business world that can never be filled.”
– Alan Brock, agent