On This Day – January 29th

Happy Birthday to comedian W.C. Fields (1880–1946)

WC Fields



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 20th

Aileen Manning

Aileen Manning was born Aileen Casey on this day in Boulder, Colorado in 1886 to Robert Casey and Eliza Edgar. She only had one sibling, Leota, who died before Aileen was born at the age of 1 year 8 months.

In 1900, Aileen and her mother were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She married around 1905. I can’t find any information about this marriage. By 1919, she and her mother were living in Los Angeles.  Her father had passed away and Aileen was divorced.

Aileen began acting in films in the late teens. Her paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Manning. I suspect this is where she got her stage name, a name she would officially keep for the rest of her life. Although she appeared in a number of films, her career never really took off. She was always cast in a supporting role, never the lead. She made a few talkies, but retired from the screen in 1931.

The 1930 US Census has Aileen living alone in Los Angeles and widowed. I don’t know if this is a mistake or if she married again and he passed away. There is little to no biographical information about her out there (at least that I can find).

By 1935, Aileen moved back to Colorado. She still listed her occupation as that of actress.  The 1940 census shows her living as a lodger in Colorado Springs and divorced.

She died on March 25, 1946 in Los Angeles. She was 60 years old.

On This Day – January 17th

Silent Film Fans wishes a Happy Birthday to:

January 17th birthdays!

Click on image to enlarge

On This Day – January 14

Bebe Daniels 1

Bebe Daniels was born Phyllis Virginia Daniels on this day in 1901 in Dallas, Texas.  Her father, Melville Daniel MacMeal (sometimes spelled McMeal or MacNeal) was a theater manager who went by the names Melville Daniels and Danny Daniels. Her mother, Pastora Engracia Griffin, who took the stage name Phyllis Griffin (1874-1959), was a theatrical actress who was born in Medellin, Antioquia State, Columbia, South America to an American father and Columbian mother.

Legend has it that Bebe’s first taste of stardom came at the age of 2 months, when her mother carried her onto the stage during a play in 1901 called  Jane.  Bebe did begin acting at a very young age and touring the country with her parents theatrical productions.

It wasn’t long before they came to Los Angeles and little Bebe got a part in a motion picture. As near as I can tell, her first real role came in 1910 with A Common Enemy for Selig-Polyscope. She continued to act in many shorts, one of which was The Wonderful Wizard of OZ where she played Dorothy.  In 1915, Hal Roach paired her with Harold Lloyd in the  “Lonesome Luke” series. (Incidentally, Hal Roach’s birthday is also January 14th.) She had a widely publicized courtship (thanks to Roach) with Lloyd even though she was only 14 and he was almost 22! As Bebe put it in an interview in 1929, “I was too young and he was too poor and by the time I was old enough and he was rich enough we had ceased to care.”

She made almost 200 shorts with Roach. When she turned 18, she was approached by Cecil B. DeMille and offered a contract with Paramount. She worked for Paramount and its subsidiary, Realart, from 1919-1928. She acted alongside some of the greatest leading men to ever grace the silver screen; Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, Wally Reid, William Powell, Rod la Rocque, just to name a few.

The advent of talkies allowed the studios to dump stars that they felt were underperforming at the box office, overpriced or just too difficult.  It was in 1928, that Paramount decided not to renew Bebe’s contract. Undeterred, she signed with William LeBaron at RKO Studios and made the musical Rio Rita, proving that not only was her voice fit for sound, but she could really sing too. Rio Rita was a huge success.  Paramount must have been kicking themselves for letting her go. She starred in four more films for RKO, before signing a contract with Warner Brothers and starring in such greats as The Maltese Falcon and 42nd Street.

Bebe married her costar, Ben Lyon, from her third talking film on 14 June 1930. They had a daughter, Barbara (1931-1995) who went on to become a singer and adopted a son, Richard (1934-2013), who went on to become an actor.

The Lyons were growing tired of Hollywood life.  Bebe had some trouble with what we would now call a stalker. They loved England and decided that they wanted to relocate to London. They got very involved in English theater and radio.  Bebe made a few British films. They opted to stay in England during the Blitz.  They returned to California for a short time after the war, but moved back and remained in England for good. Bebe, Ben and their two children all starred in the wildly popular British radio program called Life With The Lyons (1951-1961), which later made the transition to television.

After suffering from several severe strokes in the early 1960s, Bebe was pretty much forced to retire. She helped her son Richard run an antique shop in England.

She passed away on 16 March, 1971 of a cerebral hemorrhage in her home in London at the age of 70. Husband Ben was by her side. Her ashes are interred in the Chapel columbarium at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Bebe Daniels

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.