Category Archives: Uncategorized

RUTH HARRIET LOUISE: Photographer to the Stars

Ruth Harriet Louise ( self portrait 1928)

Ruth Harriet Louise (1903-1940) photographed some of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the 1920s. She joined MGM at the age of 22 and became the only woman working  as a portrait photographer at a Hollywood studio.

Born Ruth Goldstein in New York, Ruth followed her brother Mark ( director Mark Sandrich) to Hollywood and set up her own portrait studio.

Ruth’s cousin, Carmel Myers, asked Ruth to photograph her whilst Carmel was making  BEN HUR in 1925. Louis B. Mayer was impressed and Ruth went to work at MGM.

Carmel Myers

Ruth ran MGM’s portrait studio from 1925 to 1930. Garbo selected her as her exclusive portrait photographer. Clarence Sinclair Bull ran the Stills dept ( taking photographs on the film sets), while Ruth reported directly to Howard Strickling, head of MGM publicity.

In the 1920s, Hollywood was still generally hospitable to woman professionals – and many studio employees and executives were young, like Ruth.

However, in 1930 George Hurrell became the chief MGM portrait photographer and Ruth’s contract was not renewed.

I don’t know the exact circumstances as to why, suddenly,Ruth’s work was devalued to the extent she lost her job. I’ve read top MGM star ,Norma Shearer,preferred Hurrell’s photos.
She was only 25 and yet there is little evidence of her working in the 1930s. Could it be she chose family life after the tough routine at MGM. Her husband was director Leigh Jason (his films include “The Mad Miss Manton “, “The Bride  Walks Out” and “Out of the Blue”.)

Ruth had a son who died aged 6 in 1938, and only two years later Ruth died a few days after giving birth to a second son who also died. She was 37 years old.

 

Garbo

 

Myrna Loy

 

William Haines

 

Bessie Love

 

John Gilbert

Ramon Novarro 

 

Ruth with Joan Crawford

 

Mark Sandrich, Ruth Harriet Louise, Leigh Jason. 1928.

 

 

Joan Crawford posing as ‘Hamlet’!

Dressed in homage to John Barrymore, 6 stills of Joan Crawford by Ruth appeared in a 1929 edition of Motion Picture  magazine under the caption, To wed, or not to wed!  ( just before Joan’s marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)

(John Barrymore had played Hamlet on stage in the early 1920s. In 1933, two short  scenes from “Hamlet” were shot in Technicolor for a possible film version . Barrymore was 51 and the proposal for a film was not taken forward.
In the few clips on You Tube, Barrymore is seen with Donald Crisp, Reginald Denny, Irving Pichel.)

 

 

The short announcement of Ruth’s departure from MGM.

 

Nice to see that Ruth’s career is documented in this book, RUTH HARRIET LOUISE AND HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR  PHOTOGRAPHY (2002).

The book makes the point – “…..the extraordinary fact is that she was the most reproduced photographer in America during her tenure at MGM.”

  • Ruth herself is quoted: “With actors, of course, having their pictures taken is part of their business and they are more or less in my hands…..I don’t mind bossing them around one bit……I realise some of their success depends on me.”

 

 

Ruth’s brother ,Mark Sandrich ( the original family name was Sendreich), with Irving Berlin, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire on the set of CAREFREE.
Mark had directed 5 of the Astaire/ Rogers films and had started work on BLUE SKIES in 1946 when he died suddenly.

(Mark’s son, Jay Sandrich, died this month aged 89. Jay won many Emmies for his television direction. )

Mark Sandrich

Sandrich’s fedora hat was a constant on his sets.

 

Mark Sandrich, George Gershwin

SHINE ON HARVEST MOON

Shine on Harvest Moon” is a ballad written in 1908 by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth, a vaudevillian duo who premiered it in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1908.

The original sheet music from 1908.

It became a song for the ages, recorded by many singers including Ruth Etting, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney.

Laurel and Hardy did it beautifully in “Flying Deuces” (1939)

 

 

In 1944, the fictionalised lives of Bayes and Norworth was filmed as “Shine on Harvest Moon”, with Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan. (Nobody can really explain why Ann Sheridan’s singing was dubbed by Lynn Martin.)

Dennis Morgan, Ann Sheridan

 

Love this number from NANCY GOES to RIO (1950), with Ann Sothern, Jane Powell and a surprisingly nimble Louis Calhern.

 

THIS ‘N THAT 24

………Picturegoer, Jan.1937:

More MGM films to come soon: William Powell and Myrna Loy in “The Prisoner of Zenda”.

Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in ”Pride and Prejudice.”

(I can maybe see the first casting, but the second?!)

……….Movie Life, June 1947:

  •         Latest version of LITTLE WOMEN will be in Technicolor and will feature Jennifer Jones, Van Johnson, Shirley Temple, Lionel  Barrymore, Charles Coburn and Anne Revere in its cast.

(Did the magazines  just pluck these names out of the air? Though that cast could work.)

  • Peter Lawford travels to England later this year to work with Greer Garson in THE FORSYTE SAGA.

(Sorry, Peter, the trip is off but you will be in “Little Women.”)

Peter Lawford

 

………..Odd results if these celebrities had married each other!

Gracie Fields – Spencer Tracy

         Penny Singleton – Jack Benny

Rhonda Fleming – Henry Fonda

                     Andrea Leeds – Tom D’Andrea

Lynn  Carver – Jeffrey Lynn

             Carole Lombard – Charles Farrell

 

………Due out in the U.K. on 13 December, 2021, a blu Ray set of Mae West’s 10 Hollywood films (1932-1943), from Powerhousefilms.co.uk.

A limited edition of 6,000 units, costing £59.99.

 

 

…………. Cary Grant was  photographed outside the Woolworth Building in New York. He once said: “if any happy medium, any fortune telling gypsy had prophesied I would marry the heiress granddaughter of its founder, no palm would have been crossed with my silver!”

 

Barbara Hutton, Cary Grant

The Woolworth heiress and Cary were married from 1942 till 1945 – her third of seven marriages, his second of five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE SET 49

Carole Landis. FOUR JILLS AND A JEEP (1944).

Like the brooch.

 

Looking serious . Robert  Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Vincente Minnelli.   UNDERCURRENT.

 

 

Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt relax between scenes. LOST HORIZON.

 

 

I think William Wellman is enjoying dousing  Carole Lombard and Fredric March. NOTHING SACRED.

 

Sidney Blackmer and Dana Andrews go over the photographic proof. BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.

Dana holds the stocking.

 

 Gregory La Cava , Eve Arden look over the script  while  ‘Henry’ is bored.  STAGE DOOR.

 

In conference for the next scene.   Jean Arthur,  Wesley Ruggles, Melvyn Douglas, Fred MacMurray. TOO MANY HUSBANDS. 

 

 

Bette Davis, George Brent , William Wyler. JEZEBEL. 

Got to get the distance right. Cheer up, Bette. Second Oscar awaits you.

 

Lauren Bacall with Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael on the set of “To Have and Have Not”
1944
Photo by Mac Julian

 

Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth. AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD.

Alexander Scourby in the background. I thought he was very good as the head villain .

JANE POWELL (1929-2021)

Forever remembered for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, Jane Powell has died at the age of 92. Known for her beautiful soprano voice, Jane shared the ‘girl next door’ image at MGM with Debbie Reynolds.

In a quote from USA Today, the petite blonde  said, “I was at MGM for 11 years and nobody ever let me play anything but teenagers.”

Born Suzanne Lorraine Burce, Jane was singing and dancing from a very young age and her parents moved  from Oregon to Los Angeles.

An MGM contract in  1943 started a series of musicals for Jane, though her first film was on loan-out to United Artists for Song  of the Open Road in which she played a girl called Jane Powell. Without consulting her, MGM informed her that this would be her stage name.

With Louis Calhern, Scotty Beckett and Ann Sothern. NANCY GOES TO RIO.

Jane played Wallace Beery’s daughter in “A Date With Judy”; Jeanette MacDonald’s daughter in “Three Daring Daughters”; and Ann Sothern’s daughter in “Nancy Goes to Rio.” (‘Rio’ was made in 1950 by which time Jane was 23 and married, but still playing teenagers.)

 

With Jeanette MacDonald. Three Daring Daughters

 

With Peter  Lawford, Fred Astaire and Sarah Churchill. ROYAL WEDDING.

When it came to ROYAL WEDDING, Jane could have easily played Fred Astaire’s daughter, but the role was that of Fred’s sister – she was 21, Fred was 50! But it worked. Their number, “How Could You Believe Me…..” is wonderful.

Not first choice for the role ( she replaced June Allyson, then Judy Garland.), Jane had a beautiful song, “Too Late Now”  which became a hit.  (Jane can be seen on You Tube singing this song at the Hollywood  Bowl in 2010.)

 

With director Stanley Donen. Royal Wedding.

In a 2017 interview in the Connecticut Post with Frank  Rizzo, Jane talked about working with Astaire:

”He was wonderful to me. I rehearsed with a stand in and didn’t do anything with him until everything was fine. But he was a very private man. I was terrified dancing with him, but I was terrified all the time anyway.”

 

With Fred Astaire.

 

With Farley Granger and Bobby Van.

 

 

Jane played the Judy Garland role in a TV version of “Meet Me in St.Louis “, with Tab Hunter (1959).

 

With Dickie Moore, whom Jane married in 1988 (her fifth marriage). They were together until his death in 2015.

In 1961, Jane filmed a TV pilot (“The Jane Powell Show”) which wasn’t picked up. It can be seen on You Tube and looks good, with Jane as a performer who leaves show business when she marries a college professor played by Russell Johnson.)

Jane reinvented her career when the film roles ( in particular musicals) dried up. She only made about 20 films. Thereafter she sang in nightclubs and did many stage appearances in My Fair Lady, The Boy Friend, Brigadoon, Carousel.

She re-united with Howard Keel in South Pacific, Seven Brides for Seven  Brothers and I Do, I Do (which I saw in Los Angeles.) And Jane took over from Debbie Reynolds in “Irene “ on Broadway.

Plus many television appearances.

 

Jane’s interviews indicate that she felt she missed out on a normal childhood ( reminds me of Dean Stockwell saying similar things.)

I must read her autobiography, “The Girl Next Door, and How She Grew.” (1988). She had such a lovely voice, it’s not clear what vocal training she had, and I wonder if she ever considered operatic roles.

She had ,over the years, appeared many times on TCM and was an excellent interviewee – one story she told was how she and Elizabeth Taylor were bridesmaids at each of their first weddings – Jane suggested it was better to stop then, in view of all their subsequent weddings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSELMO BALLESTER

Anselmo Ballester (1897-1974) was an Italian poster artist who created some of the best European film posters for RKO, Fox,Paramount and Columbia.

Ballester studied in Rome ,specialising in poster design. He began painting posters at the age of 17 in 1914 and worked through till the 1950s, creating posters for both European  and American  film companies.

What  I’ve seen of his posters are very impressive, dramatic, full of colour and creating an intensity that draws you to it.  ( One he did of Salome sold for $19,000 in 2008.)

He has been called THE poster designer for Italian film posters and his work is much sought after.

 

A few examples.

”My Name Is Julia Ross”

 

The Man From Laramie.  That hand with the blood on it! (Was it Alex Nicol who fired the shot?)

 

The Jolson Story.  The Jolson pose, on his knee and the spotlight he loved.

 

 

Man in the Dark. (Man in the Shadow) .Made for 3-D distribution.

 

A Matter of Life  and Death (“Stairway to Paradise”).Marius Goring centre stage.

 

Harriet Craig. (“Alone with her Remorse”).  The shadow, the staircase, the red and yellow.

 

A swirl of dark and light.

 

Stagecoach.

The stars framed in that Indian silhouette.

 

I nearly bought this poster book but said no to a £6 price tag with postage of £17 added!

THE LEGACY OF BILLY WILDER

 

In 2018, Hillsdale College , a liberal arts college in Michigan, hosted a lecture series celebrating Billy Wilder . Over four days, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SOME LIKE IT HOT and THE APARTMENT were screened.

Included for audiences were talks about Wilder by Anthony Slide, Alain Silver, Daniel M. Kimmel and Leonard Maltin.

 

And the college have made the talks available to view . https://www.hillsdale.edu/educational-outreach/center-for-constructive-alternatives/2017-2018-cca-iv-films-Billy-wilder

Best for me was Leonard Maltin who spoke for nearly an hour, without notes. An excellent and knowledgeable speaker, he spoke at length about Billy Wilder’s career.

Points highlighted from his talk:

  • Wilder sought out raw material he could mold and shape. Other than “The Apartment”, all his films were based on other material –  short stories, plays, silent films, books.

 

  • No one had ever done a serious study of alcoholism- seemingly uncommercial, but “The Lost  Weekend” won Oscars.

 

 

  • Ace in the Hole” was inspired by the true story of a man trapped in a mine which became a media circus.The film flopped when it was released in 1951 and Paramount re-titled it “The Big Carnival” in a blatant attempt to mislead the public – it didn’t help. Now it’s held up as one of his best films.

 

  • Fred MacMurray had never played a heel, he was a light comedy lead, yet perfect in “Double Indemnity” – and 16 years later, Wilder cast him again in “The Apartment” , also as a heel.

 

 

  •             ”The Apartment” took criticism for its story line about attempted suicide – the film is comedy, social satire – it runs the gamut of emotions.

Other general comments by Mr. Maltin:

The studio system was “a jail with  velvet iron bars”.

Films were made for an audience. To see them in any lesser form (TV etc) is to lessen their impact.”

A member of the audience called out, Mr. Maltin, I consider you a national treasure “

Leonard reposted: “Flattery will get you everywhere!”

A big thank you to Hillsdale  College for making  these lectures available to view.

 

Leonard Maltin

I am reminded that I used to love reading “Film Fan Monthly” which Leonard edited and published from 1966 to 1975. A great magazine for fans of vintage Hollywood.

Over the years, in the blog, I’ve reviewed three of Leonard Maltin’s books- Hooked on Hollywood, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy and The Real Stars.

 

 

JANE RUSSELL BIOGRAPHY

Jane Russell  only made 25 films in a career lasting many decades, yet she is a name every classic film fan knows. Perhaps because of her long association with Howard Hughes, or her legendary partnering with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Personally, I’m a fan because there are four of her films I can watch anytime and always enjoy – His Kind of Woman, Macao, The Las Vegas Story and Gentlemen  Prefer Blondes – all made in the period of the early 50s.

 

With Jack Buetel. THE OUTLAW.

Christina Rice’s biography is thorough and detailed about Jane’s life – her three marriages, her adopted children and her long personal contract with Howard Hughes.

Hughes wanted unknowns for Billy the Kid and the Mexican girl ‘Rio’ in “The Outlaw”. Jane’s contract started at $50 per week, going up to $400 at the end of five years. He took over direction of the film from Howard Hawks  ( The book’ s title – ‘Mean….Moody ….Magnificent’ comes from “The Outlaw” tagline . ).

Typical of Howard Hughes, “The Outlaw” started filming in December 1940 and only got a limited release in 1946! ( the worldwide release wasn’t until 1950).

I’ve included some pictures below, not from the book , which has hardly any stills, but mainly on the set photos.

Jane  certainly deserves this history of her life and career . I’d have liked more detail about her movies ( which makes me think of the  “Films of…” publications , with some biographical facts, but no one seems to be doing that format any more.)

Jane wrote her autobiography in 1985, ‘Jane Russell, My Paths  and  Detours’.( which is still available on Amazon).


Christina Rice is a librarian and  archivist at Los Angeles Public Library. She previously wrote “Ann Dvorak, Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.”which I reviewed in  2013.

 

With Robert Mitchum

 

 

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES

 

 

With Clark Gable in THE TALL MEN.

 

 

Jane with her gospel singing group.

 

 

DEMILLE’S HOLLYWOOD

 

The author of “Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood (2004, University Press of Kentucky), Robert S. Birchard, had seen every available film made by the king of spectacle. (Mr. Birchard died in 2016.)

The majority of DeMille’s 52 silent films and all his 18 sound  films survive. ( I was amazed to realise that the famed director had only made 18 films in the sound era.)

The book’s format discusses each DeMille film  from a production point of view, with Paramount allowing the director to be an independent in- house producer/director.

So, for each film, from The Squaw Man to The Ten Commandments, we get some fascinating insights into the film making process, DeMille style.

A young Cecil Blount DeMille

I confess to skipping over the silent film chapters and will quote exclusively from the sound film comments.

 

  • SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932)

 ……Fredric March was on loan to MGM for SMILIN’ THROUGH and shooting was delayed for a week.
……..Claudette Colbert was paid $15,000 for her role of ‘Poppaea’.

………    Art director Mitchell Leisen built a full sized replica of the Coliseum for $45,000.

The film had 15 sets and locations and thousands of extras. The total cost for the epic was $700,000.

In contrast, Ernst Lubitsch spent over a million dollars on the four character ONE HOUR  WITH YOU.

Samuel Goldwyn bet DeMille $100 that his THE KID FROM SPAIN would outgross “Sign of the Cross” by at least 30%  – DeMille wrote a cheque!   ( though “Sign of the Cross” made a profit of half a million dollars).

 

 

 

  • CLEOPATRA (1934)

……..DeMille said to a colleague: “Don’t faint. Do you think Adolph Menjou could play Julius Caesar?” (He settled on Warren William).

……..It’s always interesting to hear who was considered for different roles in a film.
For the part of ‘Marc Anthony’, DeMille considered Richard Dix, Charles Bickford. He offered William Gargan a test. But he liked Henry Wilcoxon.

DeMille had a habit of getting his secretaries to take notes of ideas he had and then remind him later. One note said,  “C.B., you want to talk to Wilcoxon about ‘abandon’ – so he will lose some of that British reserve .”

The minute detail of daily production costs and delays – “84 minutes lost owing to Miss Colbert not answering her calls on time.”

Claudette Colbert, Henry Wilcoxon.

 

  • The Crusades (1935)

…………Considered for the female lead were Madeleine Carroll, Merle Oberon, Ann Harding. There’s a wonderful memo from the Paramount casting  director  discussing Olivia De Havilland:  “She is a San Francisco society girl – has never done any picture work or made any screen tests.”
           Loretta Young was borrowed from Fox at $2500 per week for 8 weeks.
……….Censors in Egypt, Syria and Palestine rejected “The Crusades.”

 

  • The Plainsman ( 1937)

……….Paramount insisted on Gary Cooper playing the lead.

Regarding the film’s  ending, DeMille said to his wife, “When  thinking it over, I conclude that if Wild Bill was not killed, ‘The Plainsman’ would just be another cowboy picture and the public would forget the whole thing almost immediately.”

 

  • Union Pacific (1939)

………..Joel McCrea was DeMille’s first choice for the lead. Claudette Colbert turned down the role of ‘Mollie Monahan’.

………..  DeMille described Barbara Stanwyck as “the most cooperative and least temperamental.”

………….Filming started in November 1938 and the film was in cinemas in April 1939.

…………   DeMille was hospitalised for an operation  and then directed for five days of shooting from a stretcher – to the delight of the publicity dept.

 

  • Reap The Wild Wind (1942)

…………DeMille wanted Vivien Leigh for the lead.

An anonymous moviegoer wrote to DeMille: “Dear Mr. DeMille, The parade passed you by years ago. Your pictures are TRIPE. Why don’t you give up. Your ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ stunk.
You’re smart to drag in everything but the kitchen sink, and yet it died.”

Wow! Not much different from trolls on the internet today.

(The film made a nice profit).

 

 

DeMille with Anne Bauchens (1882-1967) who edited all of his films. She was the first woman to win an editing Oscar (for NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE in 1940)

DeMille died in 1959.

An excellent book and reminds me again that many museums and universities in America have the archives of  Hollywood studios and artists. Hopefully some day, the invaluable records will be digitised.

BOGIE AND BACALL Re-United.

 

In her autobiography, Lauren Bacall said:

1956 was to be the year that Bogie and I were to make our first film together since KEY LARGO eight years before.”

But it wasn’t to be. Warner Brothers had bought the novel “Melville Goodwin USA”  by John P. Marquand.   Bogart and Bacall were cast and in February 1956 they were at the stage of doing costume tests.

Bogie had been diagnosed with cancer and had been in hospital. He had to pull out of the film and Lauren also left the production. Bogie died less than a year later.
The film was filmed with Kirk Douglas and Susan Hayward and released in 1957.

It’s sad but also interesting to see this extended video of costume tests for Bogie and his wife. There’s a lot of turning round. Unfortunately,no sound. I wonder what Bogie was saying as he twirled. He makes a joke about Lauren’s height which makes me think of a line in The Big Sleep. (“You’re not very tall, are you? – Martha Vickers.)

Nice closeup at the end.

 

 

TOP SECRET AFFAIR was made by Susan Hayward’ s own company, Carrollton Inc ( named after her adopted home town in Georgia.)

I don’t recall having seen this film. Ms. Hayward said of it, “the film was very good, but nobody went to see it.”

 

 

It would have been great to see Bogart and Bacall together again.