Friday, July 14, 2023

The 90th Anniversary of Popeye Cartoons

Scene from "Popeye the Sailor" (1933)
It was 90 years ago on this date, on June 14 1933, that the animated theatrical short "Popeye the Sailor" was released. Having first appeared in the comic strip Thimble Theatre, "Popeye the Sailor" marked the film debut of Popeye, as well as his love interest Olive Oyl and his rival Bluto. "Popeye the Sailor" would launch an entire series of Popeye theatrical cartoons that lasted until 1957.

Popeye first appeared in the comic strip Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar on January 17 1929. At the time Thimble Theatre was almost ten years old, having debuted on December 19 1919. In the beginning the comic strip centred on a character named Ham Gravy and his girlfriend Olive Oyl. Thimble Theatre was known for its sometimes lengthy storylines, in which some characters would appear never to be used again. Popeye was one of these characters who was meant to appear for only one storyline. As it turned out, Popeye became so popular that the character was brought back only five weeks after his first appearance. Popeye was given a larger role in Thimble Theatre until eventually he was the comic strip's central character. He replaced Ham Gravy as Olive Oyl's love interest, and Ham Gravy left the comic strip, last appearing on May 12 1930.

With Popeye as its new lead character, Thimble Theatre became not only one of King Features' most popular comic strips, but one of the most popular comic strips in the United States. With the success of Thimble Theatre and the popularity of Popeye, it was then natural that in November 1932 that King Features entered into an agreement with Fleischer Studios, to produce a series of cartoons starring Popeye and the other characters from Thimble Theatre. Fleischer Studios, run by brothers Max and Dave Fleischer, had already seen a good deal of success in animation. During the Silent Era they had produced the popular Out of the Inkwell series of cartoons. It was in 1930 that they introduced their most successful original character, Betty Boop. Starting in 1926, the Fleischer cartoons were distributed by Paramount Pictures.

While the very first Popeye cartoon, "Popeye the Sailor" starred Popeye and Betty Boop only had a brief cameo, it was officially counted as part of the Betty Boop series. The first official cartoon in the series was "I Yam What I Yam," released on September 29 1933. As to "Popeye the Sailor," its plot was fairly simple, with Popeye and Bluto fighting over Olive Oyl, this time in a carnival setting. The theatrical short not only marked the film debuts of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, but also introduced the song "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man," written by Sammy Lerner. The opening theme of the first few cartoons was a variation of the song "Strike Up the Band (Here Comes a Sailor)," written in 1900 by Andrew B. Sterling and Charles B. Ward. It had earlier been used in the 1930 Fleischer Studios Screen Songs animated short "Strike Up the Band." After the first few theatrical shorts, an instrumental version of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" served as the first part of the opening theme, which would segue into "I'm Popeye The Sailor Man."

In "Popeye the Sailor," Billy Costello voiced Popeye, Bonnie Poe voiced Olive Oyl, and William Pennell voiced Bluto. Mae Questrel, the actor now most associated with Olive Oyl, first voiced the character in the third cartoon, "I Eats My Spinach," although Betty Poe would still voice Olive Oyl in some cartoons until 1935. Mae Questrel continued to provide voices for Fleischer Studios cartoons until 1938, when the Fleischer Brothers moved their studio from New York City to Miami. She returned to voicing Olive Oyl in 1944 after Paramount had taken over Fleischer Studios, renamed it Famous Studios, and moved everything back to New York City. As to Billy Costello, after 25 cartoons he was fired by Fleischer Studios. As the popularity of the Popeye cartoons grew, Billy Costello began to demand more money and even time off during recording sessions. He was replaced by Jack Mercer, an animator with a gift for imitating voices. Jack Mercer continued to voice Popeye until 1957 when production on the cartoons ended. Both Jack Mercer and Mae Questrel would provide voices for the series of made-for-television Popeye cartoons produced between 1960 and 1962. Jack Mercer would also voice Popeye for the 1978 Saturday morning cartoon The All-New Popeye Hour.

Eventually other characters from Thimble Theatre beyond Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto would appear in the Popeye theatrical cartoons. Hamburger loving J. Wellington Wimpy first appeared in the second cartoon, "I Yam What I Yam." Swee' Pea first appeared in the 1936 cartoon "Little Swee' Pea." Eugene the Jeep first appeared in the 1938 cartoon "Popeye With the Jeep." The Goons would only appear once in the series of animated theatrical shorts, in the 1938 cartoon "Goonland."

The Popeye cartoons proved to be phenomenally popular. Popeye was the undisputed star of the Fleischer Studios cartoons by 1936. As the 1930s progressed, Popeye became the most popular animated cartoon character in the country, surpassing Disney's Mickey Mouse. Fleischer Studios even created a "Popeye Club," in which for 10 cents members would receive a Popeye kazoo, a membership card, and other items. Popeye would continue to be the most popular animated character even as the Thirties came to a close.

During the Thirties, Fleischer Studios would produce three Popeye Colour Features. These cartoons differed from other Popeye cartoons not only in that they were in colour (at the time the Popeye series was still in black-and-white), but that they were also longer, ranging in length from 16 to 21 minutes. The first of the Popeye Colour Features, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindband the Sailor," was released on November 27 1936 and was nominated for the 1936 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. The second, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves," was released on November 26, 1937. The third and final Colour Feature, "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp," was released on April 7 1939. It was the longest of the Colour Features at 21 minutes in length.

It was in May 1937 that conditions at Fleischer Studios resulted in a strike that lasted for five months. It was partly due to the strike and to take advantage of lower corporate tax rates that Fleischer Studios moved to Miami, Florida in September 1938. Production of Popeye theatrical shorts continued unabated, but some have detected differences between the cartoons produced in New York City and the ones later produced in Miami. The colours in the cartoons were brighter after the move to Miami, but the artwork was also less detailed.

Despite the success of the Popeye cartoons and later the Superman cartoons, Fleischer Studios were financially in trouble for much of its history. In 1937 Paramount Studio loaned Max and Dave Fleischer the money to build a bigger studio, the goal being to produce animated features with which to compete with Disney. Neither Gulliver's Travels (1939) nor Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) proved to be overwhelming successes at the box office. Short of money, the Fleischers continually looked to Paramount for more loans. Finally, on May 24 1941, Paramount took over Fleischer Studios, renaming the company Famous Studios. Eventually Paramount also moved production back to New York City. The Fleischers themselves remained in control of production until the end of 1941. The first Popeye cartoon released by Famous Studios was "You're a Sap, Jap," on August 7 1942.

One change that would be made in the character of Popeye even as Fleischer Studios was coming to an end was a change in what Popeye wore. Originally wearing the sailor suit he wore in Thimble Theatre, in "The Mighty Navy," released on October 14 1941, Popeye joined the Navy and began wearing a U.S. Naval uniform. Afterwards, Popeye would appear in his original sailor suit in only two more cartoons: "Popeye Makes a Movie" (released on August 11 1950) and "Big Bad Sindbad" (released on December 12 1952). "Big Bad Sindbad" mostly reused footage from the 1935 Colour Feature "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor."

With the exception of the three Colour Features, Popeye cartoons were produced in black and white until 1943. It was with "Her Honour the Mare," released on November 2 1943, that the series began being shot in colour. While "Her Honour the Mare" and other cartoons in the mid-Forties were produced using Technicolor, some cartoons in the series in the late Forties used such cheaper colour processes as Cinecolor and Polacolor.

Most of the animators with Fleischer Studios remained with Famous Studios, although there would be noticeable changes in the cartoons from when the Fleischers were in charge. While production values remained high for much of the Forties, many feel that the Popeye cartoons produced by Famous Studios lacked the creativity of the entries produced by Fleischer Studios. The plots of the theatrical shorts became more formulaic, as did the gags in the cartoons. Matters would grow worse in the 1950s, when Paramount downsized the staff of Famous Studios and the budgets for the Popeye cartoons and other theatrical shorts were cut. Some of the cartoons from the Fifties would even reuse footage from earlier cartoons (an example from above being "Big Bad Sindband" reusing footage from "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindband the Sailor"). It was in 1956 that Famous Studios was renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios. Production on the Popeye cartoons would continue for one more year, with the final short, "Spooky Swabs," released on August 9 1957.

It was in June 1956 that Paramount sold the Popeye theatrical shorts to television distributor Associated Artists Productions. The Popeye theatrical shorts proved to be phenomenally successful on television, so much so that in 1960 King Features commissioned a new series of animated shorts made for television. These new made-for-TV cartoons would also prove to be a hit. It was in 1958 that United Artists bought Associated Artists Productions. In turn, United Artists would merge with MGM in 1981. In 1986 Ted Turner bought MGM/UA. He then sold it back to Kirk Kerkorian, but retained ownership of the MGM/UA library, including the Popeye theatrical shorts. The Popeye cartoons would air on Ted Turner's channels, such as TBS and the Cartoon Network. Turner Entertainment was acquired by Time Warner in 1996. It was in 2019 that Turner Classic Movies began airing the Popeye theatrical shorts, and they still air on the channel to this day. MeTV also shows the Popeye theatrical shorts, both on their weekday series Toon In With Me and on their Saturday morning series Popeye and Pals.

Lasting for 24 years, the Popeye theatrical shorts proved to be among the most successful theatrical cartoons of all time.Much of this was perhaps due to the high quality of the Fleischer cartoons, which featured superior animation and a great deal of creativity when it came to stories Already a popular comic strip character, the theatrical cartoons propelled Popeye to even greater heights. He ultimately became one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of the Hollywood Sign

Perhaps no landmark is as identified with Hollywood and even the City of Los Angeles as a whole as the Hollywood Sign. Set atop the southern slope of Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains, it is visible throughout much of Los Angeles County. It is often used in establishing shots in movies and television shows to indicate they are set in Hollywood or Los Angeles in general. It has appeared in movies from Down Three Dark Streets (1954) to Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood (2019). There is some uncertainty as to the exact date when the Hollywood Sign was dedicated, but legend has it that it was on July 13 1923. If that is the case, then the Hollywood Sign turns 100 today. Regardless, it is fairly certain that 2023 is the year of its 100th anniversary.

The Hollywood Sign originated as a promotion for a new housing development. It was in the early 1920s that Eli P. Clark and Moses Sherman, both Southern California railroad tycoons, in partnership with Harry Chandler, publisher of The Los Angeles Times, and real estate developers Tracy E. Shoults and Sidney H. Woodruff, set out to develop a new hillside community called "Hollywoodland." In order to advertise the new housing development, they contracted the Crescent Sign Company to build a sign reading "HOLLYWOODLAND" in 50 foot block letters. The original sign was made of wood and sheet metal. It's not known who exactly came up with the idea of the sign. And, as mentioned above, we aren't even certain of the date when it was dedicated. According to the Hollywood Sign Trust, the sign was completed in December 1923. It is known that the total cost of the Hollywoodland sign was $21,000 (which would be $372,516.80 today).  Originally it was lit by some 4000 electric lights, which may well have made it the largest electric sign in the world at the time.

The Hollywood Sign was meant to only stand for 18 months, which makes the fact that some version of  it is still standing 100 years later all the more remarkable. It certainly outlasted the group behind the Hollywoodland development. The Great Depression was not a good time for real estate development, and the syndicate behind Hollywoodland was dissolved in 1933. Moses Sherman's company, the M.H. Sherman Company, then took over ownership of the sign. Given how much it cost to light the sign, not to mention maintain it, the M.H. Sherman Company discontinued maintenance on the Hollywood Sign that year.

As it was, it was only a year earlier that the Hollywood Sign had been the site of a tragedy. On September 15 1932, actress Peg Entwistle used a workman's ladder to climb to the top of the "H" on the sign and jump to her death. A hiker discovered her body two days later. A suicide note was found in her purse.There have been claims that Peg Entwistle's suicide immediately made the Hollywood Sign a symbol of the dark side of the film industry, but this does not seem to be the case. It would be many years before the Hollywood Sign would become a symbol of Hollywood, the City of Los Angeles, and the American film industry in general, let alone a symbol of its dark side. Leo Braudy, author of  The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon, pointed out that the idea of Peg Entwistle's suicide as a tragic, but critical moment in the history of the sign did not emerge until the 1970s when the story of her death was revived because of renewed interest in the Hollywood Sign and its history.

Sadly, after the M.H. Sherman Company stopped maintaining the Hollywoodland Sign, it began to deteriorate. High winds took down the sign's second "O" in September 1936. It would lose two more letters over the next two and a half years In 1944 the "H" in the sign was taken down by high winds, although at the time The Los Angeles Times considered vandals could also have been responsible and an urban legend would persist that caretaker Albert Kothe had crashed into the sign while driving his car drunk (given how steep Mount Lee's southern slope is, I think this story can be discounted).

By 1947 the Hollywood Sign was in such a sorry state that the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Commission wanted it torn down. Local people protested the possible demolition of the sign and eventually the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in to save it. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce entered into a contract with the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Commission to repair the sign. It was then in September 1949 that the sign was restored and the final four letters, spelling "LAND" were removed so that it referred to the area and not a long defunct housing development. From that time forward, it has read "HOLLYWOOD."

It was in 1973 that the Hollywood Sign was declared a cultural landmark by the Los Angeles heritage commission. Unfortunately, being made of wood and sheet metal, it would continue to deteriorate. A severe windstorm on February 10, 1978 damaged the first "O" so that it now looked more like a "U." The third "O" collapsed entirely. A campaign to save the sign then replaced the old sign with a new version consisting of 44 foot high letters made of steel. It was unveiled on November 11 1978. Since then the Hollywood Sign has been refurbished from time to time. In 2005 it was repainted. It was repainted again this very year, just in time for its 100th anniversary.

Over the years the Hollywood Sign would fall victim to pranksters. On New Year's Day of 1976, art student Danny Finegood draped pieces of fabric over the letters of the sign so it read "HOLLYWEED." In 2017 artist Zachary Cole Fernandez repeated Danny Finegood's prank. More recently, pranksters made the sign read "Hollyboob" in 2021. Last year many were angered (myself included) when, following the Los Angeles Ram's victory in the Super Bowl, the City of Los of Angeles itself tried making the sign read "Rams' House." In 1987 Fox Broadcasting paid to have the sign altered to read "Fox" as promotion for their new network. I don't know if that generated any anger on the part of those who love the sign or not, but it would not surprise me if it did.

Of course, the Hollywood Sign has appeared in a number of movies and television shows over the years, so many that it would be exceedingly difficult to list them all. It played a central role in the classic film noir Down Three Dark Streets (1954), with the film's climax taking place at the Hollywood Sign. It was also central to the plot of the 2001 movie The Hollywood Sign. In the disaster movie Earthquake (1978), the sign topples down as the quake takes place. In Superman (1978), another earthquake took out the Hollywood Sign. In 1941 (1979) pilot Wild Bill Kelso fired upon the sign. In The Rocketeer (1991), while operating the film's jet pack, villain Neville Sinclar (Timothy Dalton) knocks down the last four letters of the Hollywoodland Sign so that it now reads "HOLLYWOOD." As mentioned above, it is often used in establishing shots, so that it has appeared in such movies as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Predator 2 (1990), and Mulholland Drive (2001). It has appeared on such television shows as Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Beverly Hills 90120.

While the Hollywood Sign is beloved by film buffs all over the world, as well as Los Angelenos, I have a very personal connection to it. It was on July 29 2019 the ashes of actress Vanessa Marquez were scattered atop Mount Lee at the Hollywood Sign, as per her request, by her mother, a few of her friends, and myself. Like most classic film buffs, Vanessa loved classic movies, Hollywood, and the Hollywood Sign.

Essentially constructed as an advertisement and subject to neglect over many years, the Hollywood Sign has become a symbol of not only of the film industry, but of the art of cinema itself. It ceased long ago to belong to the neighbourhood of Hollywood or even the City of Los Angeles. It belongs to  anyone who loves film and loves the place where films are made. It would be difficult to find an greater symbol of the American film industry.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

TCM Summer Under the Stars 2023

Every August on Turner Classic Movies is dedicated to Summer Under the Stars. Each day of the month is dedicated to a different star, with 24 hours worth of their movies. This year sees several stars being honoured during Summer Under the Stars for the very first time, including Anthony Perkins, Stella Stevens, Jackie Cooper, the Nicholas Brothers, Rhonda Fleming, Katy Jurado, Geraldine Chaplin, and John Carradine. Of course, this year's Summer Under the Stars also includes many of the biggest stars of years, among them Lucille Ball, Errol Flynn, Robert Ryan, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, Vincent Price, Humphrey Bogart, and many others.

Below are my picks as to what to watch, although given this year's Summer Under the Stars line-up one might want to watch everything! All times are Central.

August 1, Lucille Ball:
6:15 AM Room Service (1938)
7:45 AM Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
1:45 PM Lured (1947)
7:00 PM The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
9:00 PM Forever, Darling  (1956)

August 2, Anthony Perkins:
6:45 AM Tall Story (1960)
8:15 AM The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
7:00 PM Psycho (1960)

August 3, Stella Stevens:
8:30 AM The Secret of My Success (1965)
10:30 AM How To Save a Marriage--And Ruin Your Life (1968)
2:30 PM The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963)
4:45 PM The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
11:00 PM The Silencers (1966)

August 4, Jackie Cooper:
1:45 PM Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
7:00 PM The Champ (1931)
10:30 PM Treasure Island (1934)

August 5, Errol Flynn:
12:30 PM Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
7:00 PM The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
10:00 PM The Sea Hawk (1940)
12:15 AM The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

August 6, Debbie Reynolds:
8:00 AM Susan Slept Here (1954)
9:45 AM The Catered Affair (1956)
1:15 AM The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
5:00 PM Singin' in the Rain (1952)

August 7, Robert Ryan:
6:30 AM Act of Violence (1949)
9:30 AM The Naked Spur (1953)
7:00 PM Berlin Express (1949)
8:45 PM The Set-Up (1949)
10:15 PM On Dangerous Ground (1952)

August 8, Joan Blondell:
5:15 PM Dames (1934)
7:00 PM Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
9:00 PM Footlight Parade (1933)
11:00 PM Topper Returns (1941)

August 9, the Nicholas Brothers:
7:15 AM The Emperor Jones (1933)
11:30 PM Tap (1989)
1:30 PM The Pirate (1948)
7:00 PM Stormy Weather (1943)
8:30 PM Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
9:15 PM Down Argentine Way (1940)

August 10, Rhonda Fleming:
11:00 AM Alias Jesee James (1959)
5:00 PM Out of the Past (1947)
7:00 PM While the City Sleeps (1956)
9:00 PM The Killer isl Loose (1956)

August 11, Alan Ladd:
7:00 PM Shane (1953)
9:15 PM This Gun for Hire (1942)
11:00 PM The Blue Dahlia (1948) 
1:00 AM The Glass Key (1942)

August 12, Deborah Kerr:
6:30 AM The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
2:30 PM King Solomon's Mines (1950)
4:30 PM The Sundowners (1960)
7:00 PM Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

August 13, Paul Newman:
12:15 PM Harper (1966)
4:30 PM Cool Hand Luke (1967)
7:00 PM The Long Hot Summer (1958)

August 14, Greer Garson:
3:00 PM Pride and Prejudice (1940)
5:00 Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
7:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)

August 15, Ronald Colman:
10:30 AM Lost Horizon (1937)
12:45 PM The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
2:30 PM A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
4:45 PM Random Harvest (1942)
7:00 PM Raffles (1930)

August 16, Katy Jurado:
7:00 AM Barabbas (1962)
1:30 PM Trapeze (1956)
7:00 PM High Noon (1952)
12:45 AM Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

August 17, Bob Hope:
10:30 AM Road to Singapore (1940)
2:00 PM Road to Zanzibar (1941)
1:45 PM Road to Morocco (1942)
3:30 PM Road to Utopia (1946)
5:15 PM Road to Bali (1953)
8:45 PM The Ghost Breakers (1940)
12:00 AM My Favourite Brunette (1947)

August 18, Carole Lombard:
11:00 AM Nothing Sacred (1937)
12:15 PM Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
2:00 PM To Be or Not to Be (1942)
10:15 PM My Man Godfrey (1936)
12:00 AM Twentieth Century (1934)

August 19, Fred Astaire:
11:00 AM Easter Parade (1948)
1:00 PM The Band Wagon (1954)
3:00 PM Top Hat (1935)
9:15 PM Royal Wedding (1951)
11:00 PM Silk Stockings (1957)

August 20, Barbara Stanwyck:
11:00 AM Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
1:00 PM Ball of Fire (1942)
3:00 AM Double Indemnity (1944)
7:00 PM Baby Face (1933)

August 21, James Stewart:
1:00 PM Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  (1939)
5:15 PM The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
7:00 PM Winchester '73 (1950)
11:00 PM Carbine Williams (1952)

August 22, Geraldine Chaplin:
11:30 AM The Three Musketeers (1973)
1:30 PM The Four Musketeers (1975)
4:30 PM Doctor Zhivago (1965)

August 23, Vincent Price:
7:00 AM The Las Vegas Story (1952)
8 :45 AM His Kind of Woman (1951)
1:00 PM Twice Told Tales (1963)
3:15 PM  Diary of a Madman (1963)
5:15 PM The Last Man on Earth (1964)
7:00 PM House of Wax (1953)
8:45 PM House on Haunted Hill (1958)
10:15 PM The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
11:45 PM The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
1:30 PM The Tingler (1959)

August 24, Loretta Young:
7:00 PM Bedtime Story (1940)
10:30 PM A Night to Remember (1942)
10:15 PM Cause for Alarm (1951)

August 25, Ernest Borgnine:
7:00 AM Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
2:15 PM: The Dirty Dozen (1967)
7:00 PM Ice Station Zebra (1968)
9:45 PM The Wild Bunch (1969)
12:30 AM Escape from New York (1981)

August 26, Doris Day:
5:00 PM Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)  
7:00 PM Pillow Talk (1959)
9:00 PM Move Over, Darling (1963)
11:00 PM The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

August 27, Humphrey Bogart:
9:15 AM The Return of Doctor X (1939)
5:00 PM Key Largo (1948)
7:00 PM To Have and Have Not (1944)
9:00 PM The Maltese Falcon (1941)
11:00 PM In a Lonely Place (1950)

August 28, Ann Sheridan:
12:30 PM They Drive By Night (1940)
7:00 PM Kings Row (1942)
9:15 PM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
11:15 PM Nora Prentiss (1947)

August 29, Woody Strode:
3:30 PM Pork Chop Hill (1959)
7:00 PM Spartacus (1960)
10:30 PM Sergeant Rutledge (1960)
12:30 PM The Professionals  (1966)

August 30, Sophia Loren:
11:30 PM Operation Crossbow (1965)
9:30 PM Arabesque (1967)

August 31, John Carradine:
7:15 AM Captains Courageous (1937)
7:00 PM Stagecoach (1939)
8:45 PM The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
1:00 AM Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

Monday, July 10, 2023

Margia Dean R.I.P.

Margia Dean, who appeared in the movies Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), died on June 23 2023 at the age of 101.

Margia Dean was born Marguerite Louise Skliris on April 7 1922 in Chicago. Her family moved to California when she was young and she she grew up in San Francisco. As a child she acted on stage. She won both the Miss San Francisco and Miss California pageants and competed in the Miss America pageant in 1939. She graduated from Galileo High School and afterwards acted at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles.

Margia Dean made her film debut in a bit part in Casanova in Burlesque (1944). In the late Forties she appeared in the movies Call of the South Seas (1944), Take It Big (1944), The Desert Hawk (1944), Delinquent Daughters (1944), Minstrel Man (1944), Earl Carroll Vanities (1945), The Power of the Whistler (1945), The Crime Doctor's Warning (1945), Who's Guilty? (1945), Living in a Big Way (1947), Shep Comes Home (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1949), Rimfire (1949), Grand Canyon (1949), Ringside (1949), Treasure of Monte Cristo (1949), Tough Assignment (1949), Red Desert (1949), The Baron of Arizona (1950), Western Pacific Agent (1950), Motor Patrol (1950), Hi-Jacked (1950), The Return of Jesse James (1950), and Bandit Queen (1950). She made her television debut in a recurring role on the TV show Dick Tracy.

In the Fifties she appeared in the movies Fingerprints Don't Lie (1951), Mask of the Dragon (1951), Tales of Robin Hood (1951), Pier 23 (1951), Kentucky Jubilee (1951), Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951), Savage Drums (1951), Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), Leave It to the Marines (1951), Sky High (1951), F.B.I Girl (1951), Superman and the Mole Men (1951), Loan Shark (1952), Mr. Walkie Talkie (1952), Mesa of Lost Women (1953), Sins of Jezebel (1953), Fangs of the Wild (1954), The Lonesome Trail (1955), The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Last of the Desperadoes (1955), The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956), Frontier Gambler (1956), Stagecoach to Fury (1956), Badlands of Montana (1957), Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958), Villa!! (1958), and The Secret of the Purple Reef (1960). She guest starred on the shows Racket Squad, Adventures of Superman, The Revlon Mirror Theatre, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Joe Palooka Story, and I Spy (1955).

In the Sixties she appeared in the movies The Big Show (1961), 7 Women from Hell (1961), and Moro Witch Doctor (1964).

Margia Dean retired from acting in the Sixties. She later served as a vice-president at a real estate/construction firm. She also operated a dress shop in Brentwood and a coffee shop in Beverly Hills.

Margia Dean was a talented actress who really deserved better roles than she often got. She did very well in The Quatermass Xperiment, playing the wife of an ill-fated astronaut who eventually loses her mind. In The Big Show she played a circus aerialist abandoned by her sweetheart when he decides to marry someone else. She was a gifted singer and among her most notable careers was that of a saloon singer in I Shot Jesse James. She also sang in Villa!! and Frontier Gambler. Many of Margia Dean's roles during her career were small, but she was always a pleasure to see on screen.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Betta St. John Passes On

Betta St. John who appeared in such movies as The Robe  (1953) and The City of the Dead (1960--retitled Horror Hotel in the US), died on June 23 2023 at the age of 93.

Betta St. John was born Betty Jean Striegler in Hawthorne, California on November 26 1929. She was only seven when her mother enrolled her in a theatrical school. She made her film debut when she was only about 10, in an uncredited role in Destry Rides Again (1939). As a child actor she also appeared in bit parts in  Lydia (1941), and Jane Eyre (1943).  She appeared in the 1940 "Our Gang" short "Waldo's Last Stand." She was 16 when she made her Broadway debut in Carousel. In 1949 she appeared on Broadway in South Pacific.

Betta St. John appeared in her first adult role on film in the romantic comedy Dream Wife in 1953. In the Fifties she appeared in the movies The Robe (1953), All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953), Dangerous Mission (1954), The Saracen Blade (1954), The Student Prince (1954), The Law vs. Billy the Kid (1954), The Naked Dawn (1955), Alias John Preston (1955), Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957), Hide Tide at Noon (1957), The Snorkel (1958), Corridors of Blood (1958), Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), and The City of the Dead (1960). She made her television debut in an episode of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents in 1955. In the Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Count of Monte Cristo, The Errol Flynn Theatre, ITV Play of the Week, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, The Invisible Man, Armchair Theatre, The Four Just Men, International Detective, and Rendezvous.

Betta St. John retired from acting in 1960 to concentrate on raising her family. She made only two more appearances afterwards, in the two part episode "Members Only"of the TV series The Third Man.

In her brief career Betta St. John played a number of notable roles. In Dream Wife she played Princess Tarji from the fictional nation of Bukistan. In The Robe she was the disabled woman Miriam. In Tarzan and the Lost Safari she played one of the survivors of a plane crash. Among her most notable roles were those in her two horror movies. In Corridors of Blood she played the niece of Dr. Thomas Bolton (Boris Karloff), who is obsessed with developing an inhalable anaesthetic in London in 1840. In The City of the Dead she played antiques dealer Patricia Russell, who also happens to be the granddaughter of the local pastor. Betta St. John's career was not long and she never had the opportunity to play a wide variety of roles, she did well with the parts she played and she was always memorable.