Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ten Classic Actors from Missouri

Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog has come up with a great game for the start of this year. Quite simply, one names any 10 classic actors from his or her state, Canadian province, or country. I am fortunate in being from Missouri in that we have produced a number of great actors over the years, not to mention other creative personnel in film. I have restricted my list to actors actually born in Missouri, although, as I will mention after my list, there are others who lived here for an extended period of time.

Vincent Price: Given how refined and sophisticated he was, one might think the Master of Menace was born in the United Kingdom or Europe, but he was actually born in St. Louis, Missouri. What is more, Vincent Price maintained close ties to Missouri his entire life. Starting around 1960 he would make annual appearances at Northeast Missouri State University, something he did for 30 years. He also taught workshops on both acting and art history at the university. In 1984 Mr. Price founded the Vincent Price Theatrical Performance scholarship at the university, awarded to those who have demonstrated talent in acting. It is little wonder the state of Missouri loves him so, to the point that upon the centenary of his birth (the "Vincentennial", as it was called), the city of St. Louis set aside a day for celebration.

Betty Grable: Dancer, singer, pinup girl, and the highest salaried woman in the United States for the years 1946 and 1947, Betty Grable was born in St. Louis  on December 18 1916.

Ginger Rogers: Ginger Rogers was born in Independence, Missouri and spent much of her childhood in nearby Kansas City, Missouri. Her birthplace, 100 W Moore St., Independence, Missouri, is now The Ginger House, a museum dedicated to the legendary star.

Robert Cummings: Better known these days as Bob Cummings, the movie star and sitcom star was born in Joplin, Missouri. Mr. Cummings has the distinction of being the only star of Kings Row (1942) to have actually been born in Missouri (the fictional town of Kings Row in both the novel and the movie was very thinly based on author Henry Bellamann's hometown of Fulton, Missouri). Like Vincent Price, Bob Cummings also acknowledged his ties to Missouri. On his classic sitcom The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob), his character Bob Collins's hometown was Joplin. In 1988 he was an honoured guest at Fulton, Missouri's Kingdom Days festival and even hosted a special screening of King's Row.

Jean Harlow: The original Blonde Bombshell was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She attended Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls there, which Bess Truman had also attended.

Virginia Mayo: Not only was Virginia Mayo born in St. Louis, but her family had very deep roots there. In fact, her great-great-great grandfather was Captain James Piggott, who founded East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1797. One of Virginia's aunts operated an acting school in St. Louis, and Virginia Mayo started attending there when she was six. She even began her acting career in St. Louis. One of her first professional acting jobs was at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (better known now as The Muny). Virginia Mayo is one of my all time favourite actresses, and I am very proud that we share our home state.

Cliff Edwards: Ukulele player, singer, actor, and the voice of Jiminy Cricket, Cliff Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri (which is about an hour away from my hometown). Not only was Cliff Edwards the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but he also became a close friend of Walt Disney. While Mr. Disney was not born in Missouri, he grew up in Marceline and started his career in Kansas City. Uncle Walt even paid for Cliff Edwards's grave marker upon his death.

Frank Faylen: A character actor with numerous credits, today Frank Faylen is probably best known as taxi cab driver Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Dobie's father Herbert T. Gillis on the classic sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Frank Faylen began his career here in Missouri and, what is more, he started rather young. His family lived on a showboat and he appeared with his parents on stage when he was still a baby!

Dabbs Greer: A character actor with a long list of credits, Dabbs Greer was born in Fairview, Missouri and attended Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Fittingly, he made his film debut as an extra in a movie about another famous Missourian, Jesse James (1938). Although he spent much of his life in California, when he died he was buried in Peace Valley Cemetery in Anderson, Missouri, where he had spent much of his childhood.

Ruth Warrick: Ruth Warrick was born in one of my favourite cities, St. Joseph, Missouri. She had an auspicious film debut, appearing as Charles Foster Kane's first wife in Citizen Kane (1941). Over the years she appeared in other classic films, including The Corsican Brothers (1941) and Journey into Fear (1943). She would be part of the original cast of the soap opera All My Children, on which she starred for 25 years.

As I mentioned earlier, Missouri has produced several individuals on the other side of the camera in addition to actors. Elgin Lessley, the pioneering cameraman who worked with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, was born right here in Randolph County (in Higbee, which is only about twenty minutes away from me). Legendary animators Ub Iwerks and Friz Freleng were born in Kansas City. There have also been more recent actors born here. Jon Hamm, best known as Don Draper on Made Men, is living proof that the handsomest, coolest men were all born in Missouri on March 10. Like Elgin Lessley, character actor Brent Brisoce was also born in Randolph County (Moberly, to be exact). He was one of my acquaintances in my youth, and there was never a nicer guy. One of my favourite actors, Robert Guillaume was born in St. Louis. Of course, there are also several famous people who weren't born in Missouri, but spent their childhoods here, including Agnes Moorehead (who grew up in Carondolet, St. Louis), Walt Disney (who claimed Marceline, Missouri as his hometown and began his animation career in Kansas City), and Steve McQueen (who claimed Slater, Missouri as his hometown). BTW, both Marceline and Slater are about an hour away from my hometown.

Anyway, I hope my fellow bloggers participate in this game, as I am interested to see what actors are from your home state or province!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Godspeed Don Lusk

A young Don Lusk working on Pinocchio
Don Lusk, the last living Disney animator from the Golden Age of Animation, died on December 30 2018 at the age of 105.

Don Lusk was born on October 28 1913 in Burbank, California. He was hired by Walt Disney Productions in 1933 as an in-betweener. He was 20 years old at the time. His first work as an animator for Disney was on the short "Mickey's Polo Team" in 1936. Among other animated shorts on which he worked was "Ferdinand the Bull" (1938), which won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoons. He went onto work on the feature films Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1944), and Bambi (1942). Mr. Lusk was one of the 334 Disney employees who went on strike in 1941. Unlike many of those who walked out on strike, he would go onto have a long career at Disney, although he admitted that after the strike his opportunities for advancement at the company were limited.

During World War II Don Lusk was drafted into the United States Marine Corps. He served in the training film unit in Quantico, Virginia. He returned to Disney following the war and worked on such  features as Song of the South (1946), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1953), Sleeping Beauty 1959), and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), as well as several animated shorts.

Don Lusk left Disney in 1960. Afterwards he worked on several animated shorts for Walter Lantz. In the Sixties he worked on features for various companies: Gay Pur-ee (1962) for UPA, Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964) and The Man Called Flintstone (1966) for Hanna-Barbera, The Man from Button Willow (1965) for United Screen Arts, and A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) for Lee Mendelson Films. In the Seventies he worked on Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977).  His last feature film work was on The Thief and the Cobbler (1993) for animator Richard Williams.

Mr. Lusk also did a good deal of work on television. He did a good deal of work for Hanna-Barbera, serving as an animator on The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He directed several episodes of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, Challenge of the Gobots, the 1986 version of Jonny Quest, Smurfs, The Pirates of the Dark Water, and various other shows for the company. He directed several Peanuts specials for Lee Mendelson Films.  He retired from the animation industry in 1993 when he turned 80.

To say the death of Don Lusk marks the end of an era would not be an exaggeration. He started working at Disney four years before the company would release its first animated feature (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937). His career spanned the Golden Age of Animation, during which he worked on feature films and theatrical shorts. He made the transition to television just as animated cartoons started to dominate Saturday morning. Mr. Lusk may not have enjoyed the name recognition or prestige of Disney's Nine Old Men, but in many ways he was a pioneer in animation, working in the industry from early in the Sound Era into the Nineties. That he had a career that lasted so long and spanned decades is proof that he was a man of considerable talent.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Godspeed Dame June Whitfield

Dame June Whitfield, who appeared in several "Carry On..." movies and starred on such TV shows as Happily Ever After, Terry and June, Last of the Summer Wine, and Absolutely Fabulous, died on December 28 2018 at the age of 93.

Dame June Whitfield was born on November 11 1925 in Streatham, London. Her mother enrolled her in the Robinson School of Dancing, Elocution, Pianoforte, and Singing when she was only three. She was only five years old when she made her stage debut in a play. She attended Streatham Hill High School until she was evacuated to Bognor Regis during World War II. There she attended St. Michael's School. She was later evacuated to Penzance. Afterwards her parents moved to Huddersfield. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1944.

In the Forties she worked with actor Wilfrid Pickles on the West End and elsewhere. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in Quiet Weekend in 1946. She appeared in another uncredited role in The 20 Questions Murder Mystery in 1950. In 1951 she made her television debut on an episode of The Passing Show. In 1953 she replaced Joy Nichols on the hit radio show Take It From Here. In the Fifties she was a regular on the TV shows Fast and Loose, The Tony Hancock Show, and Before Your Very Eyes. She guest starred on such shows as Jack Hylton Presents; Yes, It's the Cathode-Ray Tube Show!; Hancock's Half Hour; Dixon of Dock Green; My Pal Bob; On with the Show; It's Saturday Night; and Arthur's Treasured Volumes. She made her first appearance in a "Carry On..." film in 1959 with Carry On Nurse. She appeared in the film Friends and Neighbours (1959).

In the Sixties she was a regular on the TV shows The Seven Faces of Jim, Six More Faces of Jim, More Faces of Jim, How to Be an Alien, Baxter On..., Call It What You Like, Mild and Bitter, Hancock's, Beggar My Neighbour, and The Best Things in Life. She guest starred on such shows as Benny Hill, Steptoe and Son, The Big Noise, Frankie Howard, Never a Cross Word, Father Dear Father; Harry Worth; The Fossett Saga; Armchair Theatre; and According to Dora. She appeared in the film The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966).

In the Seventies Dame June was a regular on the TV shows The Dick Emery Show and Happily Ever After. She guest starred on The Goodies, Whoops Baghdad!, Bless This House,. The Morecambe & Wise Show, Jackanory, Cannon and Ball, and It Ain't Half Hot Mum. She appeared in the films The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971), Bless This House (1972), Carry On Abroad (1972), Carry On Girls (1973), and Not Now, Comrade (1976).

In the Eighties she starred on the show Terry and June. She was a regular on the shows Roland the Rat: the Series and Cluedo. She guest starred on such shows as Minder, Sharing Time, and The Sooty Show. In the Nineties she played Eddy's mother on Absolutely Fabulous, a role she would play into the Teens. She guest starred on such shows as Out of Sight, Friends, Brambly Hedge, Rex the Runt, and Days Like These. She appeared in the films Carry On Columbus (1992) and Jude (1996).

Throughout the Naughts she played Nelly on Last of the Summer Wine. She guest starred on the shows The Royal, Dirty Tricks, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, New Tricks, Children in Need, Harley Street, Kingdom, Doctor Who, and Coronation Street. She appeared in the film Innocent (2009).  In the Teens she appeared in the films Run for Your Wife (2012) and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016). She guest starred on the shows Midsomer Murders, Jonathan Creek, Topsy and Tim, EastEnders, and Boomers.

If Dame June Whitfield was just so prolific as an actress, it was because she was just so very good. Dame June had a gift for comedy, with absolutely perfect timing. She was also rather versatile. She could play everything from middle aged housewife June Medford to Mother on Absolutely Fabulous to God herself on the miniseries You, Me and the Apocalypse. Dame June Whitfield was in demand throughout her career precisely because she was so very talented.