On This Day – January 28th

Eastern directorsToday we celebrate the birthdays of four men who were instrumental in shaping the history of Eastern European cinema.

Pyotr Chardynin (1872–1934)

One of Russia’s film pioneers, Chardynin was born in Simbirsk, Russian Empire on January 28th (Julian calendar), February 10th (Gregorian calendar). He started out as an actor on the stage, then moved on to films and finally to directing. He directed over 100 silent films. By the time the talkies arrived, Chardynin had been banned from directing by the Soviet regime. He died in the Ukraine on 14 August, 1934 of liver cancer.

Aleqsandre Tsutsunava (1881–1955)

Born in Likhauri, Georgia, Russian Empire (now Georgia) in 1881, Tsutsunava  was a well-known theater director. He directed the first Georgian, full-length feature film in 1909 called, ‘Berikaoba Keenoba’. The 1916 film, ‘Qristine’, also directed by Tsutsunava, is often credited as being the first feature film from Georgia . He continued directing until 1928. I’m not sure what happened after that. Perhaps with the advent of sound, he returned to the theater. Although sound took longer to come to Russia, so I really don’t know why the last film he is credited with came out in 1928. He died on 25 October, 1955 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Zaqaria Berishvili (1887–1965)

Born in 1887, Berishvili was a film director and actor. He acted in the theater from 1905 until 1921, when he took part in the organization of the film section of the People’s Commissariat for Education in Georgia.  He played small roles in silent films throughout the mid-1920s. He directed his first film in 1926. He made the transition to sound and directed a few talkies in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1946 he focused his efforts on dubbing foreign films into Georgian. He was the Honored Artist of Georgia, SSR  in 1945 and then again in 1961. He died on May 9, 1965.

Eugen Illés (1877–1951) – no photo available

Also credited as Jenõ Illés, he was born in Debrecen, Hungary. He got a degree in Liberal Arts in Budapest, then in Mechanical Engineering in Berlin. By 1911 he was the lead director of the Berlin branch of Pathé. His 1918 film, ‘Mania: The History of a Cigarette Factory Worker’ starring Pola Negri was thought to be destroyed, when it turned up in a Czech movie collection in 2011. The Polish completely restored it and took the film on a world tour. Because of his ties to his native Hungary, he was also able to facilitate the distribution of Hungarian films in Germany. He returned to Hungary to produce nine films between 1915 and 1917. He came back to Germany during WWI and shot hours of documentary film. He returned to Hungary in 1919. He died in Budapest on 17 October, 1951.

On This Day – January 15

Thomas Ricketts

Born in England on this day in 1853, Thomas Ricketts was the first official “Hollywood” director. His life in England is not very well documented (at least that I can find). He immigrated to the United States in 1870 or 1873 depending on which documents you choose.

There is little information about his first wife,  Olivia, born in November 1856 in New York. What information I could find, indicated that they married abt. 1878, had a son Frank who died as a child, and a daughter Ethel born in New Jersey abt. 1881. I’ve been unable to tell if they divorced or if she passed away.

His stage career began in 1882 with the Catherine Lewis Comic Opera Company at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York.  He married stage actress Josephine Ditt in 1905 or 1906. Josephine was born in Illinois on 7 September 1868 to Nicholas and Mary Ditt. Her father was a native of Alsace-Lorraine and immigrated to the United States in 1857.

Thomas’ friend, Henry Dixie, had been working with Essanay Studios in Chicago. In 1906 he convinced Thomas to take a extra part in a movie, because as Henry put it, movies were the future. Thomas accepted and ended up staying on to play Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and then to star in The Old Curiosity Shop. Thomas had a comedy he’d written and used on the stage called A Cure for the Goat. Essanay asked him to make it into a 600 foot film and he gladly obliged. He remained with the company for four years as one of their main directors. He’s credited as discovering Ethel Clayton, J. Warren Kerrigan, Bryant Washburn and Jack Conway.

With Aubrey Kennedy he helped to organize the American Film Company or “The Old Flying A”. He made the company’s first six films in Chicago and then moved on to the old Nestor Company on Staten Island.  In the fall of 1911 he moved his family to California. It was a split second decision and after arriving in Los Angeles, they realized that they had no idea where they were going to set up a movie studio. A real estate developer happened to overhear them talking at a hotel and suggested Hollywood.

So, they set out for Sunset & Gower where they found  a block long property. The owner wanted $50 rent per month for the whole block. They thought that was too much and opted for a lease with an option to buy the whole property for $9000 at the end of one year. They made the deal on a Sunday and by Tuesday the Nestor Film Studio was up and running.

The first movie they produced also happened to be the first true Hollywood-made movie. It was The Best Man Wins (1911) starring Harold Lockwood and Dorothy Davenport. Thomas’ wife Josephine also had a role as a vamp. Selig-Polyscope and Bison Film Company were already making films in Edendale, but theirs was the first real Hollywood film. In the next eighteen months, the studio turned out 50-60 films, half of which were directed by Thomas.

S.S. Hutchinson had decided to relocate their Niles, California movie studio to Santa Barbara. They invited Thomas to make a couple of movies – he stayed for four years. While there he made the film, Damaged Goods, with Richard Bennett and his own wife Josephine. It was a huge success grossing $1.5 million in its first run.

Despite all the success with Damaged Goods, Thomas didn’t find himself in high demand. He ended up taking a year off. He and Josephine bought a house in West Hollywood on Sweetzer Avenue, a house they would live in for the rest of their lives. After tinkering for awhile, Thomas decided if no one wanted him as a director, then he better start acting again.

He became quite a prolific actor in the 1920s and 1930s.  Many of the roles were uncredited, but he was never at a loss for work.  Any time someone needed an old man, especially an elderly butler, Thomas was there.

He worked up until his death from pneumonia on 20 January 1939. Josephine passed away nine months later on 18 October 1939.

He is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Black Oxen (1923) Corinne Griffith, Kate Lester and Thomas Ricketts, in the type of role for which he became famous

Black Oxen (1923) Clara Bow, Kate Lester and Thomas Ricketts, in the type of role for which he became famous

On This Day – January 13

Herbert BrenonSilent film director/writer Herbert Brenon was born on this day in 1880. While his name is probably not as well known to you as say, D.W. Griffith or Cecil B. DeMille, his movies probably are. Brenon directed some of the great silents of the twenties, such as The Street of Forgotten Men (Louise Brooks’ film debut), Peter Pan (with Betty Bronson), The Spanish Dancer (a Pola Negri epic), Dancing Mothers (with Clara Bow), The Great Gatsby (with Warner Baxter), Beau Geste (with Ronald Colman), Sorrell and Son (for which he was nominated for Best Director in the first Academy Awards) and Laugh Clown Laugh (with Lon Chaney, Sr.)

He was born Herbert Alexander Charles Reginald St. John Brenon in Dublin, Ireland. He left Ireland for England in 1883 and attended school in London. He immigrated to the United States on the 4th of July, 1896. He married actress Helen Violette Oberg (1885-1955) on 18 February 1904.  They had one son, Herbert Cyril Edward Brenon, whom they called Cyril (1906-1981), born while they were abroad in London. Brenon became a naturalized citizen in New York in 1918.

He got a job as a call boy for Augustin Daly’s Theater Company in New York in 1896. He traveled and played in stock companies for seven years before teaming up with his wife (who sometimes appeared under the stage name Helen Downing) and performing in vaudeville on the Orpheum and other circuits.

His foray into the moving picture business began when he got a job as a scenario writer for The Old Imperial Company, affectionately called “The Old Imp”. Carl Laemmle gave him his first directing opportunity in 1909 with a film called, All For Her. Brenon went on to direct films for Selig, Lubin, Vitagraph, Kalem, Fox, Famous Players-Lasky, United Artists and British Studios . He is credited with “discovering” Richard Barthelmess, Bert Lytell, Mary Brian and Esther Ralston.

He continued to write many of the scenarios for the films that he directed. Although initially outspoken about his opposition to sound films, he made the transition to talkies and directed films up until 1940.

He passed away at the age of 78 in Los Angeles on 21 June, 1958 of a heart ailment. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

On This Day – January 12

Jane Novak

Jane Novak (Johana Barbara Novak) was born on this day in 1896 to Joseph and Barbara Novak. Her parents both immigrated to the United States from Bohemia, modern day Czech Republic. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri with her three sisters and two brothers. Her aunt was actress Anne Schaefer, who in 1915, invited Jane to come to California.

When she arrived in California, she met actor Frank Newburg. He took her to see her aunt who was performing in a Vitagraph production at the time. The director saw her and asked to her to be in a scene, she agreed and a star was born.  Her younger sister Eva soon joined her in California and she too began acting in films.

Jane and Frank  were married 1915. They had one daughter and divorced in 1920. The following year, she got engaged to the great western star William S. Hart, but that union never came to fruition. She never remarried.

In 1924 she and fellow actress Gertrude Ryan sailed for Europe, so that Jane could star in a British-German collaboration in Berlin called, The Blackguard (Die Prinzessin und der Geiger).  The film was written by Alfred Hitchcock and they became good friends.

Jane appeared in a few sound films, including a bit part in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Foreign Correspondent, in 1940.  In 1974, she published a cookbook comprised of her own recipes called, ‘Treasury of Chicken Cookery’.

She passed away in Woodland Hills, California on February 1, 1990 at the age of 94. Her sister Eva preceded her in death in 1988.

On This Day – January 10

January 10th Birthdays

The actors and actresses above were all born on this day, January 10th.  Happy birthday from Silent Film Fans!

Top row from left to right:

Lya de Putti (1897 or 1899 – 1931) Born in Austria-Hungary (modern day Slovakia), Lya enjoyed much success in German silent films acting alongside some of the biggest names in German cinema and being directed by such greats as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau.  She came to the US in 1926 with the hopes of replicating her success in Europe. Alas, it was not meant to be. Sadly, she died at a young age of pneumonia,  following surgery to remove a chicken bone from her throat.

Francis X. Bushman (1883 – 1966) He was one of the first matinee idols, best remembered for his role opposite Ramon Navarro in Ben-Hur. His film career spanned 55 years (1911-1966). He found himself at the center of a scandal in 1918 when the public learned that he’d cheated on his wife of 16 years with actress Beverly Bayne. His wife divorced him and he married Bayne. The studio kept the marriage a secret fearing that it would affect his box office draw. He and Bayne divorced and he married two more times and had six children, three boys and three girls. His son Ralph Everly Bushman (1903–1978) had a film career from the 1920s through the 1940s. He was often billed as “Francis X. Bushman, Jr.” Another son, Bruce Bushman, was an art director and designer for Walt Disney’s animation studio.

Diana Kane (1901 – 1977) Diana was one of four sisters who appeared in silent films, Constance Lewis, Janice Wilson and the most famous Lois Wilson.  She married silent film director George Fitzmaurice in 1927. They had one daughter, Sheila, in 1929.

Douglas MacLean (1890 – 1967) Born Charles Douglas MacLean, he began his career in silent film in 1914. He made one talkie and then retired to become a movie writer/producer. He was married four times, one wife being silent film bit actress Barbara Barondess.

Bottom row left to right:

Pauline Starke (1901 – 1977) Her first role was as an extra in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in 1916. She was chosen to be a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1922.  She married silent film producer Jack White in 1927 and divorced him 1931.  According to a Palm Beach Post-Times article dated February 27, 1938, Pauline announced that she had married actor George Sherwood in New York on May 4, 1935 and that she was “contemplating getting a divorce from him soon”. Now this is where it gets confusing. I found an article in the Lewiston Evening Journal dated June 23, 1918 that discusses how film writer George Sherwood and his actress wife, the former Pauline Starke of films, had their schooner burglarized.  Another article in the Daily Reporter dated May 8, 1955 talks about how former silent film actress Pauline Starke and her ex-husband George Sherwood had left Hollywood for a six month stay in India and that “pals predict they will remarry”.  This timeline doesn’t make sense, unless they were married more than once. An article regarding her marriage to White mentions that neither had been married before. Of course, you can’t believe everything you read! If anyone has a clearer version of events, I’m all ears.

Olaf Storm (1894 – 1931) He was born in Denmark and made films in Germany. He had leading roles in various German silent films as well as small roles in F.W. Murnau’s, Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He founded his own film company around 1921 called, Olaf-Film-GmbH. There isn’t a lot of information out there about him. His on-screen career appears to have gone from 1919-1927. It is uncertain why he stopped making films and even more uncertain as to why he passed away in 1931 at the young age of 37. If anyone knows anything more about him, please let me know.

Pina Menichelli (1890 – 1984)  She was born in Italy and started out on the stage there. After bit parts in films, she was discovered by Italian film pioneer, Giovanni Pastrone, who cast her in the leading role in his film, Il Fuoco (The Fire) 1919. She became an overnight sensation. Famous for her strange vamp roles, she continued to gain success until an abrupt retirement in 1924. She reportedly destroyed everything she had relating to her career as an actress and never looked back.

Virginia Valli (1898 – 1968) She began her career as a dancer on the stage. Reportedly a director at Essanay Studios needed a dancer and after seeing her perform offered her the part. She married theatrical agent Demarest Lamson in 1921 and divorced him on 1926. She married silent film actor Charles Farrell in 1931 and retired from acting that same year. She and Charles were married until her death in 1968.

On This Day – January 9

Hungarian-born silent film actress Vilma Banky was born on this day sometime between 1898 and 1903. Her year of birth has been widely disputed. Her death certificate even lists the year as unknown.  She is best known as the leading lady in two Valentino pictures, The Eagle and Son of the Sheik. She married silent film heartthrob Rod La Rocque in 1927 and they were married until his death in 1969. She passed away on March 18, 1991.

Vilma Banky

Phyllis Haver

Phyllis HaverName: Phyllis Haver
Born: January 6, 1899, Douglass, KS
Father: James Hiram Haver (1872-1936)
Mother: Minnie Shanks (1879-1949)
Siblings: none
On-Screen Active Years: 1915-1930
She married millionaire William “Billy” Seeman (1891-1961) of Seeman Brothers, Inc., a New York wholesale grocer, in April of 1929.  She divorced him in an “8 minute divorce trial” in May of 1945 in Reno, Nevada.
Started out as a Sennett Bathing Beauty.
Phyllis and William Seeman were married by then mayor of New York City, James J. Walker, with whom Seeman was a close friend. The union took place in the home of cartoonist Rube Goldberg, the husband of William Seeman’s sister, Irma.
Phyllis was a great lover of animals. She had many dogs and cats over the years and was often photographed with them.
Her death was rumored to be a suicide.  A newspaper report at the time noted that police had said that she had attempted suicide a year before. It was also said that she was very despondent over the death of Mack Sennett earlier that month, whom she saw as a father figure.
Died: November 19, 1960, Sharon, CT at her home
Age: 61
Cause:  overdose of barbiturates
Interred: Grassy Hill Cemetery, Falls Village, CT
1930      She Couldn’t Say No (unknown if she was actually in this film)

1929      Thunder

1929      The Office Scandal

1928      The Shady Lady

1928      Sal of Singapore

1928      The Battle of the Sexes

1928      Tenth Avenue

1927      Chicago

1927      The Wise Wife

1927      The Fighting Eagle

1927      The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary

1927      Your Wife and Mine

1927      The Way of All Flesh

1927      The Little Adventuress

1927      No Control

1927      Nobody’s Widow

1927      Girl in the Rain

1926      What Price Glory?

1926      The Nervous Wreck

1926      Fig Leaves

1926      3 Bad Men

1926      Don Juan

1926      Up in Mabel’s Room

1926      Hard Boiled

1926      Other Women’s Husbands

1926      The Caveman

1925      A Fight to the Finish

1925      New Brooms

1925      The Golden Princess

1925      Rugged Water

1925      After Business Hours

1925      I Want My Man

1924      Her Husband’s Secret

1924      So Big

1924      One Glorious Night

1924      The Snob

1924      The Breath of Scandal

1924      The Foolish Virgin

1924      Single Wives

1924      The Midnight Express

1924      The Perfect Flapper

1924      The Hollywood Kid (Short)

1924      The Fighting Coward

1924      Singer Jim McKee

1924      Lilies of the Field

1923      The Temple of Venus

1923      The Common Law

1923      The Bolted Door

1923      The Balloonatic (Short)

1923      The Christian

1922      Home Movies

1922      Home Made Movies (Short)

1922      Step Forward (Short)

1921      Bright Eyes (Short)

1921      Love and Doughnuts (Short)

1921      Love’s Outcast (Short)

1921      Home Talent

1921      The Unhappy Finish (Short)

1921      A Small Town Idol

1921      On a Summer Day (Short)

1920      Love, Honor and Behave!

1920      Movie Fans (Short)

1920      Married Life

1920      Ten Dollars or Ten Days (Short)

1919      A Lady’s Tailor (Short)

1919      His Last False Step (Short)

1919      Salome vs. Shenandoah (Short)

1919      Up in Alf’s Place (Short)

1919      The Dentist (Short)

1919      Among Those Present (Short)

1919      Trying to Get Along (Short)

1919      Hearts and Flowers (Short)

1919      When Love Is Blind (Short)

1919      Why Beaches Are Popular (Short)

1919      The Foolish Age (Short)

1919      The Village Smithy (Short)

1919      Yankee Doodle in Berlin

1919      East Lynne with Variations (Short)

1919      Never Too Old (Short)

1918      Whose Little Wife Are You? (Short)

1918      His Wife’s Friend (Short)

1918      The Summer Girls (Short)

1918      She Loved Him Plenty (Short)

1918      Ladies First (Short)

1918      Love Loops the Loop (Short)

1918      His Smothered Love (Short)

1918      Those Athletic Girls (Short)

1918      It Pays to Exercise (Short)

1918      Whose Little Girl Are You? (Short)

1917      That Night (Short)

1917      Are Waitresses Safe? (Short)

1917      The Pullman Bride (Short)

1917      Their Husband (Short)

1917      Roping Her Romeo (Short)

1917      ’49-’17

1917      A Prairie Heiress (Short)

1917      A Bedroom Blunder (Short)

1917      All at Sea (Short)

1917      The Sultan’s Wife (Short)

1917      His Unconscious Conscience (Short)

1917      Whose Baby? (Short)

1917      A Janitor’s Vengeance (Short)

1917      A Dog Catcher’s Love (Short)

1916      Sunshine (Short)

Phyllis & Billy during happier times

Phyllis & Billy during happier times

On This Day – January 8

On this day in 1928, silent screen comedian Raymond Griffith, known for his trademark silk top hat, married stage & screen star Bertha Mann.  This was one of those rare unions that stood the test of time. They were married 29 years, until Raymond’s death in 1957.

The Griffiths

Alice Day

Marceline and Alice Day2Name: Alice Day
Birth Name: Jacquiline Alice Newlin (There are numerous references online to this first name, but I have yet to find hard proof. The 1910 census lists her name as Alice.)
Born: November 7, 1906, CO
Father: UNKNOWN Newlin
Mother: Irene M. Freeman aka Irene Day (1886-1961)
Siblings: Silent screen actress Marceline Day
On-Screen Active Years: 1923-1932
She married wealthy broker, Jack Cohn, in an extravagant wedding in Santa Barbara in 1930. They had two children, Richard Buschke Cohn (1931-2002) and Gary Buschke Cohn (1933-living?). The union ended with a lengthy court battle over custody of the children and allocation of property. In 1953, Richard legally changed his name to Richard Newlin Day. Little seems to be known about her second husband. His surname was Hawkins and that is the name that Alice was using at the time of her death.
Started out as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty
WAMPAS Baby Star of 1928
Died: May 25, 1995, Orange, CA
Age: 89
Cause: natural causes
Interred: n/a
1932 Gold

1932 Two-Fisted Law

1932 Love Bound

1931 The Lady from Nowhere

1930 Viennese Nights

1930 Hot Curves

1930 Ladies in Love

1930 In the Next Room

1930 Melody Man

1929 The Love Racket

1929 The Show of Shows

1929 Little Johnny Jones

1929 Is Everybody Happy?

1929 Skin Deep

1929 Times Square

1929 Drag

1929 Red Hot Speed

1928 The Way of the Strong

1928 Phyllis of the Follies

1928 The Smart Set

1927 The Gorilla

1927 Night Life

1927 See You in Jail

1927 A Dozen Socks (Short)

1927 The Plumber’s Daughter (Short)

1927 Pass the Dumplings (Short)

1926 The Waiter from the Ritz

1926 Kitty from Killarney (Short)

1926 Hesitating Horses (Short)

1926 His New York Wife

1926 Should Husbands Marry? (Short)

1926 The Perils of Petersboro (Short)

1926 Her Actor Friend (Short)

1926 Alice Be Good (Short)

1926 Puppy Lovetime (Short)

1926 The Ghost of Folly (Short)

1926 A Love Sundae (Short)

1926 Spanking Breezes (Short)

1926 Gooseland (Short)

1926 Hot Cakes for Two (Short)

1925 Hotsy-Totsy (Short)

1925 The Soapsuds Lady (Short)

1925 A Sweet Pickle (Short)

1925 Love and Kisses (Short)

1925 Cold Turkey (Short)

1925 Tee for Two (Short)

1925 Bashful Jim (Short)

1925 The Beloved Bozo (Short)

1925 Honeymoon Hardships (Short)

1925 The Plumber (Short)

1925 The Sea Squawk (Short)

1924 Off His Trolley (Short)

1924 The Reel Virginian (Short)

1924 Riders of the Purple Cows (Short)

1924 Little Robinson Corkscrew (Short)

1924 East of the Water Plug (Short)

1924 The First 100 Years (Short)

1924 Romeo and Juliet (Short)

1924 His New Mamma (Short)

1924 The Cat’s Meow (Short)

1924 Flickering Youth (Short)

1924 Shanghaied Lovers (Short)

1924 Secrets

1924 Picking Peaches (Short)

1923 My Pal (Short)

1923 The Temple of Venus

Alice Day