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Monday, December 02, 2013

Kicking Them When They're Down

1934's Skewed Notion of Wash-Outs and Has-Beens

Then-and-now of past stars engaged a public more as movies themselves went into a next generation. What had become of favorites eased off talking screens? Loyal enough fan following watched for updates and would save what scraps were served. That's how I came upon these 1934 newspaper features from an album long ago and lovingly kept as salute not only to fresh stars, but those for whom parades had passed. A forward-charging industry was quick to dismiss those it once celebrated, but outlying folk did not forget. They felt sacred bond to favorites Hollywood and an insensitive press put to pasture. If print outlets bothered with old faces at all, it was too often to note how far they'd fallen. The at top child star update sheds cold tears upon Baby Peggy "who can't get a job at 17." So long as we're separating winners and losers over a very long haul, I'd say Peggy was the biggest victor of all for surviving a spectacular longest, and continuing well into this century to represent an era of which virtually all other membership has passed (age ninety-five and going strong). Best evidence of her accomplishments can be had via Milestone's first-rate DVD dedicated to the child star of silents, which includes a fascinating documentary in addition to several of Baby Peggy's shorts-features.

Excavator scribes played rougher with grown-ups. When the Sun Goes Down in Hollywood, It Usually Stays There goes the headline at above left. Ouch! No wonder stars struggled so to stay on top ... but were these appraisals fair, or even accurate? History to come would put the lie to a lot of them. Bessie Love was called "a discard at 36," which may have come as shock in hindsight to a woman who'd work on stage and screen until her death in 1986. Colleen Moore was "all but forgotten by the cinema fans at 32," but wait, didn't she appear in two 1934 releases, the year this knock was published, with one of them a starring part? (Social Register and Success At Any Price). Anyway, Colleen had made her pile and married rich in the bargain. Emil Jannings was said to have gotten the hook because he couldn't master English, which I assume to be more or less true, but a "curtain" dropped upon his career was premature in light of numerous German talkers he'd do.

My favorite is Francis X. Bushman, as in "the talkies do without him." Fact is, they'd serve him well, as would  stage and television, right to the end. I recognized the mighty X at age twelve whilst watching an episode of Batman, and liked him besides in Sabrina on NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies, plus Ghost In The Invisible Bikini at the Liberty. That's how talkies did without FxB. A video of the 1960 Hollywood Christmas Parade is at Jerry Mathers' website and is fantastic for glimpse of then-luminaries in open cars, waving at fans. There's Gene Autry, Anne Francis, Bozo The Clown, countless others (the video runs twenty-three minutes) --- and then comes Francis X. Bushman, sat up with his wife on throne-like back seat of a convertible as well-known host of a Los Angeles televised movie show. God Bless Hollywood, says Bushman to an on-the-spot interviewer, the Grand Old Man having outlived all those who tried putting skids under him.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Boy, even by Hollywood standards, those captions are cruel -- and whoever wrote them seemed to genuinely enjoy it.

Count me in as another TV viewer who remembers F.X. Bushman on "Batman." Even at that age, I was aware he was a silent movie actor, and was mightily impressed he was still acting.

4:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson talks about Whatever Happened To ... some classic comedians:

Popular culture seems especially fond of tragic ends for comedians, although some of the poster boys were less tragic than legend:

-- Fatty Arbuckle was washed up onscreen, but I understand he was solvent and socially accepted (quietly) in Hollywood.

-- Harry Langdon wasn't rich (his son recalls his mother went to work after Harry's death), but kept working and lived comfortably.

-- Stan Laurel was likewise comfortable in official retirement. The normally cheery Stan was furious when a European news story had him living in poverty, triggering anxious inquiries from friends and a delegation delivering the results of charitable collection.

-- Keaton is remembered for sadly pratfalling through beach movies and early TV shows; but he was happily married, got a nice home out of forgettable biopic, and worked by choice. In "Buster Keaton Rides Again", his wife notes with some annoyance that he declares himself retired, then gets upset when there's not a part being offered.

If you've seen "The Comic," note how it lays most of the tragic clown cliches over something that looks like a grimmed-up version of Keaton's life (Dick Van Dyke's old man makeup and growly voice are almost explicitly Keaton). My suspicion is that Van Dyke and Carl Reiner, both friends and fans of Stan Laurel, wanted to distance their anti-hero as far as possible from their idol (even though they recreate several of Laurel's gags).

4:44 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

One of Francis X. Bushman silents have resurfaced a few months ago. My friend Andrea Cuarterolo located in Italy THE CHARGE OF THE GAUCHOS (UNA NUEVA Y GLORIOSA NACION). Fernando Martín Peña managed to see it at the Pordenone film festival and reported that, unlike the successful film that it was in Argentina (the version is the international edition, with less scenes), he found it to be a B production. I haven't seen it yet, and while it is not the great film we wanted to be, many people like me are still eager to be able to finally see it. Bushman, in the lead, is fine.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I'm with Kevin K. -- the most depressing thing about that "When the Sun Goes Down in Hollywood" piece is the cruel relish the writer takes in recounting the various "downfalls". I couldn't help noticing, however, how cravenly he or she toadies to Wallace Beery. Given that Beery was by all accounts just about the most horrible person who ever basked in the California sun, and allegedly not above beating you to death if he got drunk enough, I'd say that writer was your typical bully -- happy to kick you when you can't hurt him/her, but a cringing coward otherwise.

1:43 AM  

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