These days it’s good to know that organisations like TCM and the Film Noir Foundation care about classic Hollywood. They have made it their business to preserve films and honor the people who were part of that era and ,when possible.interview them for posterity.
Back in the 1960s, you could argue there was only Richard Lamparski, a writer and broadcaster who managed to find actors who had long since disappeared from the public radar.
From 1965 to 1973, Lamparski had a radio show in New York and he had half hour interviews with many stars of film and TV.
At the same time, he started a series of books,Whatever Became Of in 1967 . The series was ongoing for nearly 20 years and ran to 11 books. (The only ones I have still to find are numbers 6,7 and 8.)
Many were interviewed in person at their homes, or by telephone. The author also made a point of having a photo taken as they looked at the time of his writing. Many of the ‘now’ photos could be harsh and showed the ravages of time. One silent star said no,because ..”It’s the now photo that I can do without.”
Some of those interviewed would have liked to be in the business again. Others had no desire to be in acting again.
Jane Frazee was working as a realtor in 1974; Jean Parker was occasionally working as an acting coach.; Jean Hagen was in poor health and living at the Motion Picture Home.
Jeffrey Lynn in 1974 had two jobs, one of which was managing a movie theatre in Tarzana,Calif. Lee Bowman coached public speaking and didn’t miss acting. Buster Crabbe’s reaction was “What would we talk about.I’m a stockbroker.”
Allyn Joslyn looked poorly but was very happy with his wife of 40 years in their lovely Beverly Hills home;
Barbara Lawrence was selling real estate in Beverly Hills. Poor Edmund O’Brien was living in a Santa Monica rest home – the Motion Picture Home did not take patients with a mental disorder.
Ann Savage was widowed in 1969 and was then working for a law firm. Ann commented, “Knowing that the good work we did in Detour all those years ago is finally receiving some recognition, is very gratifying.”
(Ann had been flying planes since the early 70s.)
Joan Bennett (aged 76 in 1986) commented, “I don’t think much of most of the films I made,but being a movie star was something I liked very much.”
Jan Sterling,living in London with Sam Wanamaker,had this to say,”My professional inactivity is due to my almost total lack of ambition, and the fact I enjoy my life very much.”
Several of the radio interviews have survived (See OTRR Library).
Leo Gorcey,in 1968, was a pleasure to listen to. Here are some of his comments:
“I never studied acting. My father was an actor (Bernard Gorcey). I started out to be a plumber – my uncle had a plumbing shop on 23rd Street. but he only paid me $6 a week. …….”
(Leo’s father got him into the play Dead End)
“It paid $35 a week, which in those days was a big sum of money.”
“We (the Dead End Kids) were never as friendly as most people think we might have been. We had a few little beefs once in a while, and if somebody got a broken nose, it means they didn’t duck too fast!”
“One day I was wearing a little felt deal – I lost it. I borrowed an ‘Adams’ from a prop man. I borrowed it for 30 years. He never got it back.!”
“I always though Billy Halop was a very good actor.Gabriel Dell was the best actor in the group.”
“I raise cows,horses. I don’t have any real problems in life.”
Margaret Hamilton gave a great interview in 1975, saying how much she enjoyed working on My Little Chickadee:
“I just adored Mr.Fields – a fine gentleman, and fun. I loved Mae West too. She’s about up to my shoulder.”
The director told Margaret, “I’m not directing this picture – I’m refereeing it.!”
Ruth Warwick was enthusiastic about her first acting assignment in Citizen Kane and said Orson Welles was, “Absolutely the best director I ever worked for.”
(When Louella Parsons saw a screening of the film – “..Louella demanded that they burn the negative,right there on the spot!
( Mayer,Warner and Cohn were going to pay RKO to destroy the film due to similarities between Kane and William Randolph Hearst.).
Ruth said her name (and others connected with the film) couldn’t be listed in a Hearst newspaper for 5 years.
Oh, to hear some of the other radio interviews, if they are still around – Ruth Donnelly,Lynn Bari,John Payne,Una Merkle,Binnie Barnes among others.
Mr Lamparski was a skilled and informed interviewer and I wonder he wasn’t snapped up for TV.
There is an interview with him at the Showbiz Wizard.
We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.