Author Archives: Vienna

THE KING OF JAZZ 1930

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Highlight for me of the 2017 Glasgow Film Festival was the beautifully restored 1930 Universal revue, KING OF JAZZ. Only the second movie to be filmed entirely in (two-strip) Technicolor.(The first being Warners 1929 ON WITH THE SHOW.)

This is the  film that introduced the film going public to BING CROSBY and to the most famous band leader of the time, PAUL WHITEMAN.

 

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Paul Whiteman in front of the giant scrapbook which was used to introduce each section if the film. The book was 20  feet high and was designed by Wynn Holcomb.

The scrapbook and Master of Ceremonies Charles Irwin were the connecting threads for the  revue.

 

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A giant piano with the orchestra on top.

Paul Whiteman insisted on pre-recording all the songs and music.He felt that a Sound Stage didn’t offer the acoustic control of a recording studio.

The usual approach in the early days of sound was to film musical numbers live in performance , with cameras in soundproof booths and microphones on the orchestra and stage. Plus an engineer mixing the sound during the performance.

For King Of Jazz, all the music and songs were pre-recorded on 35mm film in November and December of. 1929.

Playing the recorded music through loudspeakers on the sound stage  allowed  JOHN MURRAY ANDERSON  to direct action like a silent film director.

The sound and syncronisation are perfect for such an early sound film.

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Three technicians show the scale of the prop piano.

 

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The Rhythm Boys, Harry Barris, Bing Crosby, Al Rinker.

Bing Crosby’s first film appearance.  The Rhythm Boys  were Whiteman’s vocal trio. After the film, they left Whiteman and briefly joined the Gus Arnheim orchestra in Los Angeles, but they disbanded soon after. Bing stayed in Hollywood and became a Paramount star. Universal had had him in their grasp and let him go.

Universal also didn’t hold on to the film’s director John Murray Anderson. KING OF JAZZ was his first and only film. He was known for his ambitious Broadway shows and many of the musical numbers and performers in the film originated in his stage productions.

Technicolor cinematographer,RAY RENNAHAN ,praised Anderson –

“From the film point  of view, he knew nothing about it, but he could explain  what he wanted….”

John Murray Anderson

John Murray Anderson

Cameraman Jerry  Ash had  been a magician. Anderson asked him to make a list of  trick photography he’d like to try.

Ash staged the intro to the “Meet The Boys” number ( Whiteman introducing his band members)).

Whiteman enters the scene carrying a small valise. He places it on a miniature bandstand and watches as the band members come out of the valise. There is then  a dissolve into a full size set. It’s very well done.

 

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The spectacular sets were designed by HERMAN ROSSE who won an Oscar for his work on the film. He designed a moving bandstand which separated in the middle and he used motifs from classical literature.It’s fascinating to see sketches for the bandstand in the book about the film ( see below), and how faithfully the studio  technicians brought it to life.

 

 

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Dancer JACQUES CARTIER ‘playing ‘ the clarinet solo at the start of ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’

Two strip Technicolor was basically red and green colours.  Not a lot of blue. A technical advisor suggested that the Rhapsody was an emotion, not a colour!

 

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier

 

 

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Jeanette Loff  and Stanley Smith

‘A Bench in the Park’ which was reminiscent of the later Busby Berkeley ‘Pettin’ in the park’ number.

 

 

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The Sisters ‘G’ (Eleanor and Karla Gutchrlein)  , from Germany, were stars of continental revues.They had previously worked for the film’s director, John Murray Anderson.

 

John Boles

John Boles

‘The Song of the Dawn’ was sung by JOHN BOLES, a Universal player.

John’s first talkie was The Desert Song.

Bing Crosby was slated for this song but he was involved in a drink-drive incident and Whiteman gave the number to John Boles.

 

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Amazing dance scene during ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.  The voodoo dancer is actually a white Englishman, Jacques Cartier. He had perfected this kind of dance in Broadway revues. He dances on an enormous African drum and his shadow is projected on a background screen. Very dramatic.

Not a single black performer appeared in the movie.

 

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It Happened In Monterey

 

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When the film premiered at the Roxy Theatre ( capacity 6,000)  in New York in May 1930, the Whiteman orchestra and George Gershwin appeared in a 40 minute stage show 5 times a day for the first week! Wow.

Released at the same time as Universal’ s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT,  King of Jazz was not nearly as popular with audiences. ‘All Quiet ‘ went on to make a good profit for the studio whilst King Of Jazz lost nearly a million dollars. (Hollywood insiders dubbed it Universal’s ‘Rhapsody in Red’.)

One critic said of Junior Laemmle,

“Thanks to ALL QUIET, his vision has saved Universal, for it is doubtful it would have survived without the success of this picture.”

Seeing a pristine print today, with all its glamour and huge production numbers, you wonder why it didn’t attract larger success.

From what I’ve read, audiences back then much preferred films to have a plot they could follow, with characters moving the story forward. For a revue, they expected big Hollywood names.

The stars of King of Jazz were the skilled performers that John  Murray Anderson brought from New York.

All the big studios ,with the advent of sound , had rushed out musicals, using their roster of stars  in a series of revues – MGM’s Broadway Melody of 1929; Paramount had Paramount On Parade ( which opened a week after King of  Jazz); Warner Brothers had Show Of Shows.

MGM’s big guns included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, Marion Davies.

Warners had Myrna Loy, Noah Beery, John Barrymore,Loretta Young, Richard Barthemless. ( but no Al Jolson).

Paramount not only brought out their big stars like Maurice Chevalier,Kay Franics,Gary Cooper,Clara Bow, but also a slew of directors like Ernst Lubitsch, Dorothy Arzner,Edmund Goulding.

Trouble is Universal  didn’t have much of a roster. They gambled on the name of Paul Whiteman, the most well known band leader of the 1920s, to sell the film. Whiteman signed a contract in October 1928 which guaranteed him 40% of net profits, with a guaranteed $200,000.

Filming was to start in February 1929. In fact it didn’t start till November and lasted 4 months. (Most production  schedules took 5 to 6 weeks.) The budget for the film was one of the biggest ever in Hollywood (2 million dollars),   even without a lot of star names.

In November, Laemmle laid off 70 % of regular employees  ie everyone not working on the two big films, King of Jazz and All Quiet on the Western Front. Universal were taking a huge gamble on just two films.

The 1929 Stock Crash didn’t help business either.

 

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Publicity shot  of the Markert dancers on the giant piano.

The Markert Dancers were from the Roxy Theatre in New YorK. In 1932,they moved to the new Radio City Music Hall and became The Rockettes.  Their precision dancing was skilfully choreographed by RUSSELL MARKERT.

 

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Pianist Roy Bargy was the soloist on ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ He looked so like Gershwin, some reviewers said it was Gershwin at the piano. (Even though Bargy’s name was prominently displayed on screen.)

Why didn’t George Gershwin do it? The perfect opportunity to get him on film  playing his famous composition.

Gershwin  did insist on a $50,000 payment just for the use of his ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, and he also wasn’t happy with the  proposed orchestration for the number.

Sad that he didn’t feel the need to be recorded on film playing his famous composition with the orchestra he had first performed it with in 1924.

 

The Laemmles and Paul Whiteman

The Laemmles and Paul Whiteman

Carl Laemmle  Sr. had started Universal in 1912. . In 1929 he made his 21 year old son, Carl Jr. (1908 – 1974) head of all production at Universal City.

‘Junior’ ( as he became known) may not have been up there with young Irving Thalberg ( who had also worked at Universal) ,but he did oversee King Of Jazz and All Quiet On the Western Front (which was in production at the same time.) Laemmle Sr.gave  full credit to his son for purchasing the rights to All Quiet and choosing its director.

‘Junior’  would later bring Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy to the screen. He also produced BACK STREET and IMITATION OF LIFE. He championed director JAMES WHALE and was working on SHOW BOAT  when Laemmle Sr. lost control of the studio.His final production, MY MAN GODFREY  started shooting  during Junior’s final week at the studio.

I really knew nothing about Carl Laemmle’s son until reading about King of Jazz. He had stepped down as head of production in 1934 and formed  his own production company at Universal.

He never produced another film after Show Boat  in 1936.  I would love to know more about him. Maybe not ‘a boy genius’ like Thalberg,  but worthy of some attention for the 6 years he ran Universal.

 

Paul Whiteman, Carl Laemmle Jr.

Paul Whiteman, Carl Laemmle Jr.

 

Carl Laemmle, Carl Laemmle Jr.

Carl Laemmle, Carl Laemmle Jr.

 

 

Bing Crosby

Once Bing became a star, he was featured prominently on any publicity .

 

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Carl Laemmle Jr made at least 9 foreign versions , with a different Master of Ceremonies (Charles Irwin in the English version.)

Bela Lugosi did the Hungarian intros. Nils  Asther did the Swedish  version.

The movie was more popular abroad than in the States.

The studio tried to recoup some of the costs by reissuing the film in 1933, but they reduced the film’s length to 65 minutes. Some exhibitors advertised it as starring Bing Crosby. Others featured John  Boles who had been successful in  BACK STREET. By 1933, Whiteman was no longer the star attraction. ( The public are fickle!)

A profit of $100,000 was made.

The next Universal musical wasn’t for two years – MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS.

John Murray Anderson went back to the stage. He featured ESTHER WILLIAMS in one of his aquacades and later on he staged the spectacular finale of Esther’s first feature, BATHING BEAUTY.

Paul Whiteman was active in radio and live performances throughout the 1930s.

 

 

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A perfect accompaniment to seeing the film is the 2016 book by James Layton and David Pierce. It tells you everything you need to know about the making of the film and is full of terrific illustrations.

David Pierce is the co-founder of the Media History Digital Library which provides online an excellent selection of motion picture magazines ,free to view.

 

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The story of how King  Of Jazz   came to be made is in itself a great insight into the early days of sound pictures and how this one picture reached our screens.

I’ve only covered some of what’s in this film. Being  a revue, there are sketches ( some funny, some  dated), eccentric dancing , an animated cartoon ( first one in color), ‘The Stars and Stripes forever ‘ played on a bicycle pump)!  I loved all of it!

Congratulations  are due to Universal for restoring this fascinating film, and to James Layton and  David Pierce for their excellent history of the film.

Now, let’s have the DVD soonest!

And my thanks to the Glasgow Film Theatre for screening it.

 

Some thoughts on LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN 1945

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CRAZY WOMAN

The French title for LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN  may not be as good but it does tell you in two words that GENE TIERNEY’s ‘Ellen’ is far from normal.

Seeing the beautifully restored print at the Glasgow Film Festival was such a treat. As I looked around me at the almost full cinema, I wondered how many were seeing it for the first time.

Imagine my surprise then when , 20 minutes into the film, my feeling was that it was slow moving. It’s supposed to be noir but so far it’s more like a romantic melodrama.

 

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The first gorgeous set in the film. Ellen (Gene Tierney) meets Richard (Cornel Wilde) whom she thinks looks very like her recently deceased father. She is engaged to lawyer Vincent Price but immediately breaks it off with him.

The two characters who could have been better written – Ellen’s mother,Mrs. Berent (Mary Philips) and Ellen’s adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain). Their history with Ellen is only hinted at.

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Mary Philips, Gene Tierney

 

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Jeanne Crain

They both seem to have reached an accommodation regarding Ellen which amounts to never arguing with her. Ruth obviously accepts that she will always be in the beautiful Ellen’s shadow.

Ellen’s  obsessively close relationship with her late father appears to have caused a rift in the family relationships.

Ruth tells Richard that she was adopted as a child partly because Mrs. Berent felt excluded by Ellen and her father.

 

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Ellen is a manipulator. All that matters is what she wants. Other people’s feelings don’t concern her.  Richard is mesmorised and she knows it.

Gene Tierney’s husband, Oleg Cassini, designed some beautiful costumes for her.

 

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Richard is a writer. Ellen resents even the time he spends at the typewriter.

 

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Richard’s brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) has polio.

 

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One of the best scenes in the film. Ellen tries to convince  Danny’s doctor to tell  Richard  that Danny needs to stay in the hospital. She says “After all he is a cripple.”

As she is talking and the doctor is growing more horrified at her lack of empathy, Richard walks in and without a breath, she immediately changes – “Darling, wonderful news.. .” She says she has persuaded the doctor to let them take Danny home with them.

The doctor (Reed Hadley) is so bemused, he says nothing.

Ellen knows how to act ‘normal’, but sometimes the mask slips and the real Ellen is revealed eg telling an astonished  Ruth  she doesn’t want the baby; or when Richard invites Ellen’s mother and Ruth to their lodge. Ellen simply cannot conceal the fact that she doesn’t want to see them. They are an intrusion in her private world with Richard.

A very weak comment from Mrs. Berent about her daughter, “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. She just loves too much.”

I think we can agree Ellen is a lot more complex!

 

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Now this is noir . Black and white photo of that moment when Ellen’s profoundly disturbed mind sends her crashing down the stairs in order to abort the baby she is carrying.

She only had one thing on her mind. To make herself beautiful again to Richard  The thought that she might do herself serious injury or even kill herself doesn’t seem to occur to her.

 

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Poor Vincent Price. What a one-note performance. Not his fault. The character was poorly written.

The court scene near the end of the film could have been so much better. As one IMDB reviewer said, “Wilde opens his mouth and the case disappears.”

It is so highly improbable that Richard relating what Ellen had told him before she died ( admitting killing Danny and their unborn child) would be accepted without any evidence.

And Richard’s prison sentence didn’t make any sense.

 

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Ellen after the fall down the stairs. It’s as if it never happened. She had her figure back, she’s beautiful again. Her husband is mourning the loss of their child but she hasn’t the capacity to appreciate other people’s feelings, even her husband’s.

 

Of course the famous lake scene in Leave Her To Heaven is unforgettable. Ellen lets her young brother in law die simply because he is in the way. She cannot share Richard with anyone.

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I was impressed by Mary Philips who played Ellen’s mother. I hadnt realised that Mary Philips was married to Humphrey Bogart from 1928 to 1938. She was a stage actress who only made about 20 films.

I’d love  to have seen Dana Andrews reunited with Gene Tierney. Cornel Wilde just didn’t seem up to the part of the husband.

I felt a bit for Jeanne Crain. This really was a supporting role and her character of Ruth isn’t very interesting. She is just too good in contrast to the complicated Ellen.  You wanted either Ruth  or her mother to stand up to Ellen  for once,  but it never happened.

The restored film is a stunning technicolor feast for the eyes – beautiful sets, locations ,clothes.  The Alfred Newman score fits perfectly. Director John M. Stahl ( Back Street, Imitation of Life) has made a highly charged  melodrama. Film Noir? I don’t think so.

(Anyone want to argue?!)

The Tierney character is undoubtedly noir, but the rest of the film isn’t. It reminded me of the 1950s  Douglas Sirk films like Written on the Wind.

Of Gene Tierney’s top roles, I still prefer LAURA !

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I wish I could have asked some of the first time viewers at the screening what they thought of the film. We were so lucky to see such a beautiful print.

 

 

 

ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS 1968

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The second last of the A.C.Lyles westerns of the 1960s. Missing from the usual stock company were  Lon Chaney and Richard Arlen.

I was surprised to see Howard Keel in the lead. ( Howard played the lead in three of the Lyles westerns.)

Set near the end of the Civil War, Keel plays an ex- confederate soldier who comes to town to take over as Sheriff. As usual, the mayor (Brian Donlevy) wants law and order. Barton MacLane is the crooked sheriff who allows saloon owner Scott  Brady to run the town as he wants.

James Craig works for Brady.

John  Ireland is MacLane ‘s honest, one -armed deputy. He’s in love with shop owner Yvonne de Carlo.

Marilyn Maxwell has a small role as a saloon gal.

The plot involves two of the main characters identified as southern spies. But I lost interest. If you study the film’s poster above, it reveals too much!

Roy Rogers Jr. has one brief scene as a young man about to join the Union army. He did look like his father.

It was sad to see Brian Donlevy in only a couple of scenes. What a waste. Howard Keel didn’t seem a natural for non-musical westerns. His attempt at a southern accent was poor.

It was interesting to hear James Cagney doing the voiceover at the start of the film. He describes the situation whereby Confederate soldiers in military prisons could enlist in the Union army. They wouldnt be asked to fight in the South, but to settle and patrol the west, including bringing order to lawless towns. 

Arizona Bushwhackers was filmed back to back with the Lyles last western BUCKSKIN.

I still enjoy seeing all the familiar faces but I guess they were running out of ideas.

 

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Yvonne de Carlo, John Ireland

 

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Marilyn Maxwell, Howard Keel.

 

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Scott  Brady, John Ireland,Barton MacLane ,Brian Donlevy.

 

ON THE TOWN

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Bette Davis greets Joan  Blondell and Dick Powell.

 

 

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Gorgeous pic of Joan Blondell with her husband Dick Powell. Furs were the fashion.

 

 

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Dick Powell and June Allyson.

 

 

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Irene Dunne greets Jane Russell. Irene ‘s husband ,Dr. Francis  Griffin to Irene’s right.

 

 

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Cary Grant, Joan Crawford. Wonder what the event was.

 

 

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Ronald Colman, Claudette Colbert. Awards ceremony?

 

 

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Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. Such a handsome couple. Fur again.

 

 

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James Stewart, Olivia De Havilland. Looks like a premiere .

 

 

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Doris Day, Joan Crawford.

 

 

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Joan’s favorite escort, Cesar Romero.

 

 

LAW OF THE LAWLESS 1964

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Another A.C.Lyles western which is full of well known faces. In this one, Dale Robertson is Judge Clem Rogers who comes into town for the trial of Pete Stone (John Agar) who has murdered George Stapelton (Jody McCrea). Stone’s father Tom (Barton MacLane) will stop at nothing to get his boy released. He brings Joe Rile( Bruce Cabot) into town as gun back-up if the trial doesn’t find his son innocent.

 

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Yvonne de Carlo, Dale Robertson

Silas Miller (Bill Williams) runs the local saloon. Working there is Ellie Irish (Yvonne de Carlo) and bartender Richard Arlen.

 

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William Bendix is sheriff Ed Tanner. He is also the court prosecutor, and he takes church services. An all round handy man.

At the hotel Judge  Rogers meets with the accused’s father and his lawyer,Rand McDonald (Kent Taylor). It turns out that Rogers was a friend of Pete Stone, but he wont let that get in the way of justice.

(George Chandler is the hotel clerk.Lon Chaney and Donald Barry also have small roles.)

Nearly a third of the film is taken up with the trial which was well done. Stone’s father has brought to town kinfolk of people the judge has sentenced to hang. (He’s known as the hanging judge).

 

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Dale Robertson,George Chandler, Bill Williams, William Bendix

The saloon owner,Silas Miller (who is wheel-chair bound after a gunfight) tells of seeing the murder. There is  a flashback and this is the only short scene Jody McCrea (son of Joel McCrea) appears in.

Stone’s lawyer suggests the murdered man was jealous of Stone. There is evidence that the widow was on more than friendly terms with Stone.

And so the story plays out. The judge’s father had been killed in a gunfight (by Rile ) and the judge  has made a promise to himself to stop gunfights wherever he can, to get rid of the law of the fast gun.  He refuses to draw on Rile who faces him later. At the end he gives his gun to the bartender and says, “Sell that to the highest bidder.”

The story and cast are solid. We even get a snatch of Yvonne de Carlo singing ‘Red River Valley’.

 

 

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Bruce Cabot, Kent Taylor,William Bendix,Barton MacLane,Richard Arlen, Lon Chaney.

 

 

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That middle shot is publicity only.

JEAN ARTHUR NOTES

 

JEAN ARTHUR’s film career started in 1923 in a John Ford film, CAMEO KIRBY. She worked solidly through the 1920s and transitioned into talkies, still without becoming a star.

Seeing her riding in THE PLAINSMAN and ARIZONA,  it looks like she learned her horse riding skills in 1920s silents.

After 9 years in Hollywood, Jean made a bold move, and took herself off to New York where she played in 5 Broadway productions. It’s interesting to see her costars in these plays:

1932. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, with Dorothy Gish, Henry Hull, J.Edward Bromberg.

1932: THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD, with Claude Rains.

1933: 25 DOLLARS AN HOUR was directed by Thomas Mitchell.

1933: THE CURTAIN RISES.

1933: THE BRIDE OF TOROZKO, with Van Heflin,Victor Killian, Sam Jaffe, Lionel Stander.

None of the plays lasted very long, averaging  20 performances.

However, her sojourn in New York seemed to give the Hollywood studios a new impetus to give her bigger and better roles , and Jean was a top star for the rest of the 30s and into the 40s.

 

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I love this poster. Out of all the actors listed, only Jean made it as a star. Tiffany Productions was started in 1921 by Mae Murray and her husband director  Robert Z Leonard. They  made about 70 features up to 1932 . Many of their films are lost.

The company was sued by Tiffany and Co for using slogans like “Another gem from Tiffany”!

 

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A young,dark haired Jean in a John Ford  film with John Gilbert. Jean’s film debut in 1923 when she was 23.

 

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A 1928 portrait. Jean always wanted to play Peter Pan and finally did.

 

William Holden, Jean Arthur.ARIZONA.

William Holden, Jean Arthur.ARIZONA.

 

On the set. ARIZONA.

On the set. ARIZONA.

 

 

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As Calamity Jane, With Gary Cooper.THE PLAINSMAN.

 

 

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With Jack Carson,Thomas Mitchell. MR. SMITH GOES  TO WASHINGTON.

 

 

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A serious Jean in HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT, one of my favourites of all Jean’s films.

 

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Nice shot of Jean with Millard Mitchell near the start of A FOREIGN AFFAIR.

 

 

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A nice casual shot, date unknown. Love the little chair.

 

 

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Jean’s TV  debut on GUNSMOKE. The episode is from 1965 and is called ‘Thursday’s Child”.

 

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On Gunsmoke.

 

 

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Jean’s 1966 TV series, THE JEAN ARTHUR SHOW. She played a lawyer. It only ran 13 episodes.

Clips can be seen on You Tube.

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With Richard Conte  and Ron Harper ( who played her son )

Jean lectured on film at Vassar College for 4 years from 1968. She was described as shy and kept to herself, living in a small two-room apartment.

In May 2015, her hometown Plattsburgh, New York honoured Jean with a plaque in front of the house where she was born – 94 Oak Street.

She lived in Carmel for the last 30 years of her life. She had no survivors and wanted no funeral services. She died at the age of 91.

Jean reputedly took her name from two of her heroes,Joan of Arc and King Arthur.

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