Friday, May 22, 2015

Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984)

Birth name: Peter Johann Weißmüller
Birthdate: Thursday, June 2nd, 1904
Location: Freidorf, Hungary

Died: Friday, January 20th, 1984
Location: Acapulco, Mexico
Cause of death: Pulmonary edema

Best known for: If ever there was an actor known for just one singular role, and none of any others he might have played, it's Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in several films of the 1930s and 40s. His previous career as a championship swimmer should not be overlooked, however - he won three gold medals at the 1924 Paris Olympics and a further two at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. He also bagged a bronze as part of the US water polo team in 1924.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ethel Merman (1908-1984)

Birth name: Ethel Agnes Zimmermann
Birthdate: Thursday, January 16th, 1908
Location: Queens, New York, USA

Died: Wednesday, February 15th, 1984
Location: Manhattan, New York, USA
Cause of death: Brain cancer

Best known for: Actress and singer known as the First Lady of the musical comedy stage, appearing in big hits in Broadway musicals throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/ Comedy for 1953's Call Me Madam, but is best known for her belting voice and introducing such standards as I Got Rhythm, Everything's Coming Up Roses and There's No Business Like Show Business to the live stage lexicon.

Ray Milland (1907-1986)

Birth name: Alfred Reginald Jones
Birthdate: Thursday, January 3rd, 1907
Location: Neath, Wales, UK

Died: Monday, March 10th, 1986
Location: Torrance, California, USA
Cause of death: Lung cancer

Best known for: Actor and director who never quite made it to the top flight of screen stars, but was ever dependable in classics such as The Lost Weekend (1945, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe), Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) and of course his own The Ray Milland Show aka Meet Mr McNutley (1953-55).

As the 1950s gave way to the 60s, Ray's screen acting became less common, but this was only because he was concentrating more and more on directing from behind the camera - he'd made his directorial debut with the 1955 Western A Man Alone, and soon moved into television, helming episodes of The Ford Television Theatre (1956), Suspicion (1958) and Thriller (1961). Ray was also taking roles on the stage during this time, including 1966's Hostile Witness on Broadway (a film version of which became his last directing job in 1968).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986)

Birth name: Elsa Sullivan Lanchester
Birthdate: Tuesday, October 28th, 1902
Location: Lewisham, London, UK

Died: Friday, December 26th, 1986
Location: California, USA
Cause of death: Bronchopneumonia

Best known for: Elsa will forever be associated with the iconic role of the bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 film of the same name. She was nominated for an Oscar twice - for Best Supporting Actress in Come to the Stable (1949, losing to Mercedes McCambridge) and in Witness for the Prosecution (1958, losing to Miyoshi Umeki).

In 1929, years before Elsa came to recognition as the fright-haired bride, she married fellow actor Charles Laughton, and they remained married for the rest of Charles's life, until he died in 1962. The pair appeared in no fewer than 12 movies together during this time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Max Wall (1908-1990)

Birth name: Maxwell George Lorimer
Birthdate: Thursday, March 12th, 1908
Location: Stockwell, London, UK

Died: Monday, May 21st, 1990
Location: Westminster, London, UK
Cause of death: Fractured skull

Best known for: Comedian and actor whose career spanned music hall (starting out as The Boy with the Educated Feet), film, TV and stage. He was known for his outlandish appearance, notably long black hair with bald cap, drainpipe trousers and bovver boots, along with a "funny walk" (this was actually the character of Professor Wallofski, inspiration for John Cleese's Ministry of Silly Walks in Monty Python's Flying Circus).

Max's heyday was the 1930s when he appeared in many stage comedies and musicals, never making much of an impact on the silver screen (in the 1930s he made two appearances - 1934's On the Air and 1938's Save a Little Sunshine), and it wasn't until the 1950s, following his war service, that he re-emerged as a more populist entertainer.

Margaret Rutherford (1892-1972)

Birth name: Margaret Taylor Rutherford
Birthdate: Wednesday, May 11th, 1892
Location: Balham, London, UK

Died: Sunday, May 22nd, 1972
Location: Chalfont St Peter, UK
Cause of death: Alzheimer's Disease

Best known for: Without doubt Margaret's lasting legacy is her depiction of Agatha Christie's elderly sleuth Miss Marple in a handful of films in the early 1960s, but by that point she'd already had an impressive career in British film, principally in comedy. It's little known that Margaret actually won an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1964, for Best Supporting Actress, for the previous year's The VIPs, although she was not present at the awards; her trophy was collected on her behalf by Peter Ustinov. She was awarded an OBE in 1961, and then a DBE (becoming Dame Margaret Rutherford) in 1967.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Roy Rogers (1911-1998)

Birth name: Leonard Franklin Slye
Birthdate: Sunday, November 5th, 1911
Location: Cincinnati, USA

Died: Monday, July 6th, 1998
Location: California, USA
Cause of death: Heart failure

Best known for: Legendary cowboy actor and singer who was an icon of the Western film genre in the 1940s and who complemented his screen career with a string of big-selling Country and Western songs in the USA. He also had his own Roy Rogers TV show, which ran for six years and 100 episodes in the 1950s.

When the final edition of The Roy Rogers Show aired on June 9th, 1957, it also pretty much brought Roy's otherwise illustrious career to an end. Roy was 45 at this point and his style of Western, principally aimed at and merchandised for the juvenile market, was going out of fashion in the wake of grittier outings such as John Wayne's The Searchers or Rock Hudson's Giant.

Tyrone Power (1914-1958)

Birth name: Tyrone Edmund Power Junior
Birthdate: Tuesday, May 5th, 1914
Location: Cincinnati, USA

Died: Saturday, November 15th, 1958
Location: Madrid, Spain
Cause of death: Heart attack

Best known for: Matinee idol in the 1940s and 50s who became known for his swashbuckling, action roles as well as his romantic leads, notably in The Mark of Zorro (1940), The Black Rose (1950) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

Tyrone's career can be cleanly divided into two halves - before the Second World War, and after it. Between 1942-46 Tyrone served as a US Marine pilot both on home turf and in the South Pacific, and was elevated to the rank of captain in the reserves in 1951. He was a war hero as well as a silver screen hero, and the first role he took upon returning to the acting profession was Larry Darrell in The Razor's Edge (1946), an adaptation of the novel by W Somerset Maugham about an adventurer who goes off for a decade to "find himself". The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and won his co-star Anne Baxter a Best Actress Oscar.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Carmen Miranda (1909-1955)

Birth name: Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha
Birthdate: Tuesday, February 9th, 1909
Location: Marco de Canaveses, Portugal

Died: Friday, August 5th, 1955
Location: California, USA
Cause of death: Heart attack

Best known for: Singer, dancer, Broadway star and film actress who made it big on the big screen in the 1940s with films such as Down Argentine Way (1940) and The Gang's All Here (1943). She is particularly remembered for her fruit hat and extravagant appearance.

The Brazilian Bombshell became a massive star in the 1940s, being invited to sing for President Roosevelt, and becoming the highest paid woman in the United States in 1945 (in excess of $200,000). However, in the years following the war, Carmen's popularity waned, and she became frustrated with her constantly being labelled the "Brazilian Bombshell" when she felt she had much more to offer. Her career turned gradually away from movies and onto the television, appearing in variety spectaculars as well as returning to her roots performing in nightclubs.

Jackie Coogan (1914-1984)

Birth name: John Leslie Coogan
Birthdate: Monday, October 26th, 1914
Location: Los Angeles, USA

Died: Thursday, March 1st, 1984
Location: Santa Monica, USA
Cause of death: Heart attack

Best known for: His role as the eponymous child star in Charlie Chaplin's silent classic The Kid (1921), and much later in his career as bald-headed Uncle Fester in the sitcom The Addams Family (1964-66). He was also married to Hollywood starlet Betty Grable between 1937-39 - his first of four wives.

Making his earliest film appearance at the age of three, Jackie was the world's first child star, and the first one to go through the now familiar trappings and pitfalls of growing up and being a "former child star". After his rise to success and fame thanks to Chaplin, he became the first actor to be actively merchandised by Hollywood, and his face could be found on everything from peanut butter to whistles.