Silents are Golden: A Little Tour Through The History Of Silent Comedy

A Little Tour Through The History Of Silent Comedy

When it comes to the genre of silent comedy, everyone’s familiar with the great Charlie Chaplin– perhaps the single most famous figure in cinema– and the solemn-faced Buster Keaton has a large and devoted following as well. And even if you haven’t seen his movies, the image of Harold Lloyd dangling from that clock is no doubt etched into your mind.

Buster Keaton Clock SceneActually showing it might not be necessary.

But while these three were certainly at the top of their genre (they were considered exceptional even back in the 1920s), there’s a ton of silent comedy to explore even beyond their extensive filmographies, everything from “polite” comedy to farce too, yes, even custard pie-throwing.

Who were the very first film comedians? If we’re being technical, we might say some of the earliest film comedians were stage actors and vaudevillians who agreed to perform their acts in front of motion picture cameras (filmmakers back then loved to document popular stage acts). Although the “pictures” were low-brow entertainment at the time, some actors quickly realized that films allowed them to be seen by tens of thousands of people all over the country–more than the biggest theaters could hold.

Little Tich Big Boots SceneEnglish comedian “Little Tich” performing his Big Boots dance.

Among the very first silent comedy stars were the French comedians André Deed (who played a bumbler named Foolshead) and dapper, top-hatted Max Linder. Linder, in particular, could be considered our very first official movie star, since the Pathé studio decided to launch a full-on publicity campaign for him–a first for a film actor.

Other comedians began following in their footsteps, resulting in a full-on flood by the early 1910s. Studios like Biograph, Vitagraph and Edison made sure to offer light comedies along with their usual dramas, making comedians like John Bunny, Flora Finch, Alkali Ike, Wally Van and Lillian “Dimples” Walker familiar to many theatergoers.

Bunny and Finch in Bunny’s Birthday Surprise (1913).Bunny and Finch in Bunny’s Birthday Surprise (1913).

In the mid-1910s silent comedy was beginning to establish itself, and there was a more definite divide between light comedy and zany slapstick. A studio like Vitagraph was associated with more “genteel” humor while the Keystone Film Company is even today synonymous with slapstick. By this point, the most popular comedians included Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, Ford Sterling, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew and Fay Tincher.

Barney Oldfield's Race for a LifeMabel Normand and Ford Sterling in the melodrama spoof Barney Oldfield’s Race For a Life (1913)

1914 would turn out to be a hugely significant year. For one thing, there was a sudden rise in comedy duos, from Plump and Runt (“Plump” being played by Oliver Hardy!) to Pokes and Jabbs to Waddy and Arty. These would pave the way for the famous teams to come, such as Laurel and Hardy. And for another thing, this was when a British music hall performer named Charlie Chaplin decided to join the Keystone studio. He quickly proved himself to be a unique and charismatic performer, and within the next two years, he would be the most popular comedian on the planet–if not the most popular face in cinema. In 1916, stage star Minnie Fiske wrote an article proclaiming Chaplin a “genius” and an “artist,” and the world’s been calling him the same ever since.

Charlie ChaplinArtist.

New comedians kept cropping up throughout the rest of the Edwardian era. By 1917, Larry Semon’s broad slapstick was very popular, and a fellow named Harold Lloyd was starting to make himself noticed. Cross-eyed Ben Turpin was a uniquely familiar face. Female clowns Alice Howell and Louise Fazenda were gaining fans, and Buster Keaton was appearing in his first films as support to the wildly popular Roscoe Arbuckle.

By the early 1920s, Chaplin was still on top of the world, and Keaton had his own film studio where he was churning out well-received comedies. Arbuckle was no longer in the picture thanks to the unfortunate Labor Day scandal in 1921. Harold Lloyd had worked his way up to being a box office sensation and would remain one of the top movie stars right up to the end of the silent era. Indeed, Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were widely acknowledged as excellent comedians, and any new comics who became successful were usually compared with them at some point.

Clipping from Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 6, 1925.Clipping from Exhibitor’s Trade Review, June 6, 1925.

Highlights of the 1920s included a baby-faced comedian named Harry Langdon becoming a sensation, and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy finally being teamed up in a series of shorts. All-American types like Johnny Hines and Douglas MacLean made a number of hits, and the Our Gang series started in 1922 and wouldn’t stop until 1944. There were also a number of stars who were adept at both comedy and drama–actresses like Mary Pickford, Constance Talmadge, and Colleen Moore being among them. In general, much of silent comedy had hit its stride by this decade, with finer cinematography being used and the pace of many films actually being slower than your typical hectic, high-energy 1910s slapstick shorts.

Colleen Moore in Her Wild OatColleen Moore in Her Wild Oat (1927).

Throughout the whole era there were, of course, countless comedians who tried and failed to make it big, or else became popular for just a short time, or else gamely acted in countless shorts that always seemed to fly just under the radar. Then there were the hundreds of supporting players, of all ages and appearances. The names could easily fill a good-sized book–and their surviving films makes for years of quirky enjoyment.

I hope you enjoyed this brief tour (and yes, it’s very brief) through the crowded world of silent comedy. Feel free to explore it at your leisure, and thoroughly, too–for you never know what obscure performer might end up becoming one of your favorites!

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – Exclusive Interview with Director Alexandra Dean

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Exclusive Interview with Director Alexandra Dean

HLM_PosterBombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

When it comes to women, whether in real life or as depicted in art, there always seems to be a tendency to place them in some sort of dichotomy. They’re either a whore or a Madonna, a butch or a femme, a beauty or a brain and never the two shall meet. From the 1928 silent classic Metropolis to the 2008 modern-day pop ballad You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift, the lumping of women into easily identifiable tropes can be found pretty much everywhere. However, if you are a woman or perhaps just happen to know a few, you’re well aware that women are much more complex than portrayed in certain sects of the media.

In her debut documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, director Alexandra Dean tells the story of one such woman. Touted by MGM as the most beautiful woman in the world, Hedy Lamarr is often remembered for that: her beauty. And while, yes, she was an absolute knock-out, she was far more than JUST a knock-out. She was a funny, talented actress who also had the intellectual fortitude to invent a guided torpedo that hopped among 88 frequencies, thus preventing enemies to lock onto allied targets. The invention has gone on to be used as the basis for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, ya know, pretty much everything we need to navigate through the modern world.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Alexandra about her documentary, Lamarr and her own challenges being a woman in a male dominated field.


I am curious about the title of your documentary: Bombshell. Considering Lamarr’s own frustration with being given that identity by the studio and public, can you explain that choice?

So, bombshell has a triple meaning. One, obviously, is that she was described as a bombshell but that is the least important of the meanings to me.  The most important, of course, is that she was designing a bombshell. She was literally designing a torpedo for use in the Second World War. And the third meaning is that people, when I tell them her story they respond with, “Wait, that’s kind of bombshell. Her story. That she was an inventor and such a beautiful woman ”

So the word really kept coming back to me. The bombshell movie star. Inventing a bombshell. Her story was a bombshell. It meant so much  - that word. By the end it was obvious that was what we had to call the movie.

HLM_BeautyHedy Lamarr: The Beauty

The long-lost Forbes interview tapes seem like a goldmine and your most direct source into the mind of Lamarr. How did those tapes help you structure the documentary?

We found the tapes six months into making the documentary. I basically threw away the old structure of the film I was making, then followed Hedy’s lead when we found the tapes. We let her tell her story in her own words, which she wasn’t able to do in her lifetime. It was a huge undertaking for us (to restructure the documentary) but it was definitely the right way to go. The more that I let Hedy lead the way, the better and stronger the story seemed to get.

You have so many wonderful and diverse interview subjects in your film including the great Mel Brooks, many of her family members, and the US Military. How did get manage to get them all to participate?

It was really necessary to cast a wide net because people didn’t know Hedy’s whole story. The few that are still alive only remember parts of it or interacted with her during a short time over her very long and very varied life. So, finding every single person that I could talk to that had something directly to say about her was so important.

It wasn’t like a lot of other documentaries where you have the option of just going with three interview subjects or having the option of just letting one person tell the whole story. No one knew the whole story. In fact, there were all these aspects of her story that we kept uncovering and we would then have to teach to the historians who had written about her. They would read the primary source and they would be able to tell it back to us. We were forging new ground.

Who was the interview subject that shed the most light on her story?

The most crucial were her children, Anthony and Denise. They were incredible. Denise had done very few interviews in her life. She really doesn’t love to talk about this but she did eventually come on board as a partner with me in making this film. For that I am profoundly grateful. And her (Hedy’s) son, Anthony, really is the keeper of the flame. He is the guardian of her story and without him there is no story. He kept the archive – every bit of evidence in my investigation came from him.

The most important of her friends was Robert Osborne. He was her best friend for about a decade. And he brought back to life this fun-loving, cheeky, silly, Hedy that nobody else could really describe. He would sneak into the back yards of different stars in Be-Air with her, in their huge gardens. They were really naughty and cheeky together. It really showed a new side of Hedy.

And Robert Osborne gave us his last interview two weeks before he died, even though he was not in good shape. He had given multiple interviews with us but in the last one he really wanted to set the record straight because he was so concerned with how she had been maligned in her lifetime. So he had this real mission to tell the world who she really was.

HLM_Stars-and-StripesHedy Lamarr: The Brain

Early in the documentary, you make it a point to highlight that fact that Hedy had something of an intellectual fascination in her own beauty as a source of power over others. Do you think her willingness to utilize her looks as a tool early in her life unintentionally aided in her own “bombshell” stereotype later in life?

Yes. I think Hedy struggled with how to use this double-edged sword of her beauty. It’s part of what is so fascinating to us, particularly as women, but some men as well, in her story because it’s something that we don’t often talk about in the media – this double-edged sword that is great beauty. But I also think that all of us struggle a little bit with how much to use the power of looks when you’re young and beautiful because it does create this backlash when you’re older.

The more you lean on your looks when you’re young for your power, the more the vacuum is intensified when you get older and those looks fade. Where you put your power, where you see your self-worth, all of those things are very important. Hedy’s story makes you look at that in your own life.

Many of Lamarr’s inventions seemed to come out of a desire to aid the war effort, such as the coca-cola tablet and frequency hopping technique. Do you think without the war, she would have merely been a hobbyist? Or do think  Hedy’s need to do something great with her intellectual abilities was innate?

I don’t know if she would have done it without the war. The truth is the war was personal for Hedy because she was Jewish, because she couldn’t tell anyone is Hollywood that she was Jewish, because was her mother was trapped in Britain during the blitz.

Hedy was in an extreme situation and it’s often in those extreme situations when you find sides of yourself you didn’t know were there. In this case, Hedy wanted to save her mother’s life. She also wanted to save the lives of orphans who were being ferried across the ocean and getting blown up by the Nazis. She was in a state of in extremis and that did bring out this incredibly bold and incredibly brilliant side of her.

HLM_patentHedy Lamarr‘s Patent

Earlier in the film Diane Kruger stated, “She created her own reality.” This line really stuck with me, especially in relation to Lamarr’s various plastic surgeries, because at that point it seems she wasn’t necessarily creating her own reality but conforming to a reality she thought others expected from her. This ultimately led to her life as a recluse because she could not maintain what she thought others wanted from her. I’m curious if you have any more thoughts on that, outside of what you were able to put into the film.

Hedy tried to shape her own reality and had great success doing so when she was young. She was able to, because she had all this power both with her mind and her looks, escape the Nazis. And in her flight, she became a major movie star – the stuff of fantasies.

But as she got older the power of the face faded, as did her power to shape her reality. Her reality became a nightmare to her. She couldn’t invent her way out of it. She tried. That’s what she was trying to do with the plastic surgery, she was trying to invent her way out of this problem she was having, which was the world reacting so negatively to her looks. But she couldn’t, and it backfired on her.

So, you get this sense of the more power you have when you’re younger to shape your world, the less you have when you are older – unless you have found a way to navigate that problem apart from your appearance.

You’re a first time female feature film director. Lamarr was a first time female patent holder. Did you find yourself facing similar challenges that Lamarr had, as you both were entering a male dominated field?

Yeah! The parallels are really striking. It’s surprising. We’re in a moment where the number of females, if you look at the industry as a whole, has been hovering around 15-16 percent. With the top films, it’s more like seven percent. It’s dismal – no better than the inventors in Silicon Valley and no better than Hedy in 1945. So, that’s depressing. But I do think we’re really starting to take notice for the first time.

In fact, as this film rolled out across the country, the reaction I had from people was this moment of awakening. One of the reasons I think this film really struck a cord is that people are starting to realize how much women have been overlooked in various ways even though we think we’ve made progress in those areas. We haven’t made as much progress as we thought and it’s been this sentiment that’s echoed through science and invention as well as the history of film, particularly directing. So, it’s an incredibly parallel journey for me and Hedy.

I have taken a lot from Hedy’s story and I do think about it a lot as we female director. One of the biggest things for me is what Hedy says at the end of the film:

“You may not feel like you get applause for your greatest accomplishments. You might never feel recognized but do it anyway. Do it anyway because it’s in trying to move the needle and trying to make a mark on the world that you’ll find meaning in your own life.”

HLM - inventing

Hedy Lamarr inventing

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Lamarr while making this film?

The most surprising thing for me was sort of meeting her through the tapes. She was funny! She had this warmth and this humor. She was a bit capricious, a bit cheeky – a little naughty. When you read history about someone, you often don’t get the nuances of their character. And so I was putting her on this pedestal as this beauty with brains. Once I had met her, almost as a friend, she was so different than that. She was so human, so complex, so three-dimensional. You know, with so many thoughts and so many strengths. I found her easier to identify with than I had expected.

She was flawed but that doesn’t make her any less brilliant.

What compelled you to make this film? Why was it important for Hedy Lamarr’s story to be told.

I think I have a bit of an obsession with the idea that people’s stories are not taken seriously because they just don’t look the part. Because their appearance, for some reason, hides or obscures who they really are.

I think my own grandma experienced that. She was a really incredible woman who played in Second City in Chicago and was an incredible actress then gave it all up to have her four daughters. She was one of my favorite people on earth and when she died, her story wasn’t out there on Google. You couldn’t find her anymore. But she was the most extraordinary person I have ever met. That drives me to tell the stories of extraordinary people who have been lost or hidden or overlooked – trying to bring them back.

Are you currently working on another project in that regards – trying to bring someone back?

Yes. I’m looking at, who I like to call the greatest artist never known, Niki de St. Phalle. If you look at the Dior collection this year, it’s all emblazoned with her artwork. Google has used her to shape their google letters in the past. So, she’s everywhere and yet we don’t know who she is. She’s American and yet she’s only known in Europe. Her art work was shaped around her own #MeToo moment as a young woman and we were not ready for her yet, but I think now we are.

niki-de-saint-phalleNiki de Saint Phalle art work


I would like to extend my gratitude to Alexandra Dean for taking the time to do this interview with us. If you haven’t yet, you can order your copy of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, you can do so by clicking here!


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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Noir Nook: Uncommon Ladies of Noir – Shelley Winters

Noir Nook: Uncommon Ladies of Noir – Shelley Winters

Shelley Winters may be best known for her role as an overweight, but heroic, former championship swimmer in 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, or perhaps her Oscar-winning turns in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) or A Patch of Blue (1965) – but she also left an indelible mark in the world of film noir. This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at her noir features.

Shelley Winters HeadshotShelley Winters, an uncommon noir starlet

Born Shirley Schrift in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 18, 1920, Winters was the second daughter of a Jewish tailor cutter and a former singer with the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company. When the future actress was still a child, her family moved to New York, where her favorite pastime was going to the movies. But the joys of her early years were shattered when her father was convicted of arson, accused of setting his Long Island haberdashery on fire. Sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, Jonas Schrift spent a year in Sing Sing before being cleared of all charges, but according to the actress, he was “a shattered man.” In an effort to escape the grim reality of her life, Shirley developed “a whole fantasy world,” an ability that would later become a powerful tool in her performances.
In the late 1930s, Shirley made her first attempt to break into the movies she loved so much, by auditioning for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). She didn’t get the part, of course, but less than a decade later, she would land a role in the film that would turn out to be her big break.

Shelley Winters A Double LifeShelley Winters as Pat Kroll in A Double Life (1947).

A Double Life (1947)
According to Winters, she beat out nine other actresses for her part in Universal’s A Double Life (1947), including Lana Turner. In this George Cukor-directed noir, Winters plays a waitress whose attraction to an unstable Broadway actor (Ronald Colman) turns out to be her undoing. Years after the film’s release, Winters recalled that her first day of filming was a nightmare. “Everything imaginable went wrong. I stumbled in. I poured coffee on Ronald Colman’s hands. I poured coffee on his lap. I dropped my pad. I broke my pencil . . . It wasn’t funny.” But Colman calmed Winters’s jitters and she stated that she has “always been eternally grateful” to him. Winters made the most of her small role (one critic singled out her “intriguing” portrayal), which led to contract offers from four studios.

Shelley Winters Cry of the CityRichard Conte as Martin Rome and Shelley Winters as Brenda Martingale in Cry of the City (1948).

Cry of the City (1948)
After signing with Universal, Winters was loaned to 20th Century-Fox for Cry of the City (1948). Here, she plays another small but eye-catching role, this time as the ex-girlfriend of a small-time hood (Richard Conte) whose unsuccessful restaurant stick-up leaves a policeman dead. With her star on the rise, Winters was named by the Saturday Evening Post as one of the six promising actresses of the future, alongside Jane Greer, Ava Gardner, Ruth Roman, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Totter. (The Post sure could pick ‘em!)

Shelley Winters He Ran All the WayShelley Winters as Peg Dobbs in He Ran All The Way (1951).

He Ran All The Way (1951)
In this feature, Winters’s character is held hostage in her home, along with her parents and younger brother, by a local lowlife (John Garfield) who’s wanted for murder. She earned widespread praise from critics, including one who called the role her “first full-length part that makes adult sense.” (The film, incidentally, was John Garfield’s last before his untimely death at age 39.)

Initially, Universal wouldn’t loan Winters to United Artists for He Ran All the Way. Instead, they planned to star her in what she labeled “some cockamamie film” called Little Egypt, about a fake Egyptian princess. Not wanting to risk suspension by refusing Little Egypt, Winters instead started “eating as if it was going out of style,” gaining 12 pounds within one week. When the Universal execs saw that Winters could no longer fit into her scanty costume, they agreed to the loan out. Winters then embarked on a weight-loss strategy that consisted of fasting, diet and water pills, and frequent steam baths. She quickly lost 15 pounds, but the rapid weight gain and loss started a lifelong process of “ruining my metabolism,” Winters said.

Shelley Winters The Big KnifeShelley Winters as Dixie Evans in The Big Knife (1955).

The Big Knife (1955)
Based on a Clifford Odets play, The Big Knife stars Jack Palance as a womanizing film star named Charlie Castle, whose not-so-stellar life off-camera includes his determination to reconcile with his wife (Ida Lupino), and his battle against his studio, which wants him to renew his contract for another seven years. Faced with Charlie’s objections, the studio head (Rod Steiger) blackmails him by threatening to reveal his involvement in a drunk driving accident in which a child was killed. Winters was memorable as a hard-drinking starlet who was with Charlie on the night of the accident, but the film was a critical disaster. (One critic judged it “too unrelentingly morbid to appeal to a sizable viewing audience.”)

Shelley Winters I Died a Thousand TimesShelley Winters as Marie Garson in I Died a Thousand Times (1955).

I Died a Thousand Times (1955)
This color Warner Bros. film is a remake of the studio’s High Sierra (1941), focusing on a recently released ex-con, Roy Earle (Jack Palance, again) and his ill-fated attempt to rob a California resort hotel. Winters plays Marie (the role portrayed by Ida Lupino in the original), the girlfriend of one of the small-time criminals who team up with Roy for the heist. Marie falls for Roy, but their dreams for a future together are not to be realized. Critics savaged the film upon its release, and it paled in comparison to 1941 version. Even Winters wasn’t a fan – she later remembered asking the film’s director, “Why is Warners remaking [High Sierra]? Why don’t they just re-release this great picture as is?”

Shelley Winters Odds Against TomorrowShelley Winters as Lorry in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Released at the end of the classic noir era, Odds Against Tomorrow centers on an intricately designed plot to knock over an upstate New York Bank. The plan is complicated, though, by the racial tension between two of the men involved – Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a black singer, and Earl (Robert Ryan), a white ex-con. Winters plays Earl’s unfailingly supportive wife – years after the film’s release, director Robert Wise praised her performance, calling her “quite effective.”

Check out Shelley Winters in her noir roles. You won’t be sorry!


– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:


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It is hard for modern audiences, often sitting with just a few dozen other patrons in a multiplex, to realize that in the twenties and thirties 3,500 seat movie palaces filled their seats three or four times a day. Movie-going then went far beyond the feature. The program could include a concert by the theatre’s 40-piece orchestra, a newsreel, short, cartoon and coming attractions. Larger theatres boasted massive Wurlitzer, Robert Morgan or Moller organs and music libraries that filled rooms.

Roxy Theatre ConductorsThe 5000+ seat Roxy theatre boasted four house conductors for their massive orchestra. They provided music for overtures, exits, live stage acts, and special music programs often tied to a feature’s theme.

As audiences first entered, the organ would often be playing appropriate “audience entrance music” to build anticipation for the upcoming show. Just before the main feature began, the orchestra would play an overture – often written for the specific film, as the lights dimmed.

And with the need for theatres to empty the seats and refill them quickly after the feature was over, the orchestra or organ would play some type of audience exit music, with patrons encouraged to head to the exits by ushers with outstretched arms pointing to the doors. In other words – they were told to get out, but nicely, and with musical accompaniment.

Capital Theatre Program 1928This 1929 program for Manhattan’s massive Capitol Theatre demonstrate the full program of live music, shorts and a feature that patrons could enjoy.

While the talkie revolution began with The Jazz Singer in late 1927, by the end of 1929 silent films were essentially gone for good. So were nearly 35,000 theatre musicians. By then, most theatres had eliminated live music. Only the largest movie palaces retained them, and by 1932 even those were largely gone.

But how to welcome – and then move out – their audiences?

Vitaphone Overture Disk LabelA 16 inch Vitaphone disk with overture music.

Vitaphone came to the rescue. Beginning with The Jazz Singer, many films with sound were shipped with a 16-inch disk of an overture, or “audience entrance” music. These contained tunes selected from the soundtrack or were in a mood that reflected the feel of the feature. Warner Archive’s deluxe The Jazz Singer DVD and Blu-ray, for example, contains the film’s overture. Many, but not all, Warner Bros features with synchronized scores were provided with these overture disks. For the exit of the audience, often the studio provided a separate disk with similar music. As my sample links below for MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929 demonstrate, the exit music could take on the beat of a march, all the better to move the audience out quickly.

Roxy Theatre Program (1928)A page from a 1928 NYC Roxy Theatre program, showing that there was much more to a film show than just the feature.

A complete list of early sound films for which overture or exit music was provided does not exist. But a cursory check of The Vitaphone Project’s disk database included the following features as having been issued with them:

Noah’s Ark (WB/’29)
Mammy (WB/’30)
Paris (WB/’29)
Sally (WB/’29)
The Show of Shows (WB/’29)
Marianne (MGM/’29)
Time, the Place and the Girl (WB/’29)
Dynamite (MGM ’29)
Dancing Sweeties (FN/’29)
Watch Your Step (WB/’28)
The Desert Song (WB/’29)
Don Juan (WB/’26)
Weary River (WB/’29)
Lilac Time (FN/’28)
Under a Texas Moon (WB/’30)

Most musicals of 1929-30 had both overture and exit music disks. The sample below for the still largely lost Gold Diggers of Broadway (WB/29), demonstrates the studio’s creativity in crafting a smooth medley of the film’s popular tunes, including “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, “Painting The Clouds with Sunshine”, and “In a Kitchenette”.

Dolg Diggers of Broadway (1929) Movie PosterThe studio supplied 16 inch Vitaphone disk of overture music for Gold Diggers of Broadway (WB/’29) included the film’s hits “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and “Painting The Clouds With Sunshine”.

Overture and exit music disks waned after mid-1930, concurrent with the almost total elimination of movie musicals. By that time, the genre had worn out its welcome, and would not see a resurgence until 42nd Street in 1932. But some special musicals were still being made during this lean period. Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee! (UA/’30) had two versions of overture and exit music, running about 9 minutes each. And as late as 1932, Paramount issued entrance/exit music (by now on an optical 35mm track) for Maurice Chevalier’s One Hour with You. This one (listen to the sample below) has that distinctive Nat Finston-led Paramount orchestra “sound” that is unmistakable.

Eddie Cantor Whoopee! Movie Poster 1930Poster for Eddie Cantor’s 1930 Technicolor musical Whoopee!, which United Artists supplied with not one, but two, overtures that could double as exit music.
One Hour with You (1932) Movie PosterParamount’s 1932 musical One Hour with You overture is a late example of that practice.

More generically, during the thirties, several companies issued “For Theatre Use Only” 33 1/3 and 78rpm 10-inch disks with non-vocal versions of pop tunes. These could be used as the booth operator chose, to welcome and exit audiences. While even Warner Bros had abandoned the direct disk recording of their sound films by around March 1930, the turntables often remained in the booth. Others added inexpensive 78rpm players if they did not want to convert the old Vitaphone turntables to that speed. These generic theatre-use music disks were primarily made by the American Record Company (ARC), which at the time owned a number of commercial 78 rpm record labels including Oriole, Melotone, and Perfect. They even had a Fox Movietone label. The content of these disks was from ARC’s band recordings. During a session, the band would sometimes record a separate non-vocal version of a pop dance tune. It was these that were used for their “For Theatre Use Only” series. At least 200 such sides were issued through the late 1930’s.

Theatre Use Only LabelLabel fore a mid-thirties “Theatre Use Only” 78rpm disk, which operators could used generically for overture or exit music and featured non-vocal pop tunes of the day.
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 PosterMGM’s all-star Hollywood Revue of 1929 was supplied with disks for theoverture, intermission, and audience exit.

Examples of Vitaphone and other recorded overtures from my collection:

No, No. Nanette (WB/1930):

Gold Diggers of Broadway (WB/1929):

Whoopee! (UA/1930):

Hollywood Revue of 1929 (MGM/1929): Overture, Intermission and Exit Music:

One Hour with You (Paramount/ 1932):

Overtures, of course, were still being supplied to theatres by studios into the 1980’s, but only for the biggest productions, and by this time on 35mm film. Ben Hur (MGM/’59) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (UA/’63) are just two examples.

Today, the jaunty, custom recorded overtures of the early days of sound have been replaced with local ads for restaurants, plumbers, and gutter replacements. A decided come down indeed.


– Ron Hutchinson, Founder of The Vitaphone Project, for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Ron’s Vitaphone View articles here.

Ron is widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost film historians, with special emphasis on the period covering the transition to sound (1925-30) and early attempts to add sound to film. As the founder of The Vitaphone Project, he has worked with Warner Brothers, UCLA, LOC and private collectors worldwide to find previously lost soundtrack discs and restore early sound shorts. Ron’s unique knowledge has  been sourced in over 25 books as well as documentaries for PBS and TCM, and commentary for “The Jazz Singer” DVD boxed set. He was awarded the National Society of Film Critics “Film Heritage Honor” for his work in film preservation and discoveries, and was the presenter of rare Vitaphone shorts at the 2016 TCM Film Festival. For more information you can visit the Vitaphone Project website or Facebook Group.

And, if you’re interested in exploring some of these newly discovered shorts and rarities, you can pick them up on DVD via amazon:


Posted in Posts by Ron Hutchinson, Vitaphone View | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Celebrating Judy Garland’s Birthday with Her Friend and Confidante, Dottie Ponedel (Exclusive Guest Post by Author Danny Miller)


Celebrating Judy Garland’s Birthday with Her Friend and Confidante, Dottie Ponedel

Judy Garland and Dottie Ponedel
Judy Garland and Dottie Ponedel always found time for laughs on set.

Today marks the 96th anniversary of the birth of Judy Garland, by any measure one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever seen, whether it was on an MGM soundstage, in a recording studio, or on a concert stage. So much has been written about Garland since her death in 1969, but how much of it is accurate?

I had the pleasure over the past few years of working on a book with Meredith Ponedel about her aunt, make-up artist Dottie Ponedel, who was a true pioneer for women make-up artists in the old studio system. About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars includes many stories Dottie left behind about her amazing life. As a young woman in the early 1920s, she made the trek from Chicago to Los Angeles, unexpectedly finding her way into the burgeoning silent movie industry, first as an extra, and eventually as an actress and dance double for many of the early movies’ biggest stars, from Mabel Normand to Greta Garbo, and finally, through luck and chance, becoming one of the most renowned and sought-after make-up artists of her day. She was responsible for creating Marlene Dietrich’s iconic look in the early 1930s, and also worked closely with other great stars including Carole Lombard, Joan Blondell, Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gail Patrick, Frances Dee, and many others, often developing lifelong friendships with them.

About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars by meredith ponedel and danny miller

But of all the stars Dottie worked with, no one was more important to her than the legendary Judy Garland. She worked with Judy on every film the star made at MGM beginning with Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and, in the process, became her closest friend, confidante, and surrogate mother.

In fact, it was Dottie’s feelings about the stream of salacious books and articles that came out about her dear friend following Garland’s death in 1969 at the age of 47 that convinced her that she needed to get her own stories down to set the record straight. As she explains here:

Now that Judy Garland has taken her final trip over the rainbow, it’s up to me to write the story that Judy and I were going to write together. I was with Judy a quarter of a century and if she wasn’t at my house or me at hers, or on the phone, I always knew what she was up to.

Few people meant more to me in my life than Judy Garland. All of these people who have written about Judy ought to drop dead, because there is no truth to anything they’ve said. They are just trying to make a dollar on her even though she’s gone. But to me, Judy is not dead, she will always live and these people who write about her, even her husbands, never knew Judy like I did. They write that Louis B. Mayer watched her food, which is a lie, because I’m the one who ordered her food and we had big lunches. Steaks, egg salad, anything Judy wanted, we had. And as far as taking marijuana, dope, the needle, or anything that these people wrote about, it’s a goddamn lie as the only thing Judy would take was Benzedrine if she had a hard day. She would also take a sleeping pill, but who hasn’t? The only needle I ever saw go into Judy’s arm was glucose from the doctor because the studio insisted that she be there but Judy was pretty tired and didn’t want to eat. The glucose seemed to pep her up.

I wish Judy were here to put a libel suit on these S.O.B.’s. Those who were close to Judy knew that she was one of the greatest comediennes of all time. She would stretch her mouth with both thumbs and cross her eyes and say, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, am I not the most beautiful of them all?”

Oh, we had such wonderful times during those years, so many happy times. I miss the rings of the telephone during the night, at two, three, or four in the morning. That’s when Judy would be walking up and down from one room to another and would call me and say, “Are you asleep Dottie?” I used to wish I could get a good night’s sleep, but what could you do with Judy—you just had to talk to her. I never regret what I went through with Judy and I would do it all over again, hitting the high spots and low spots of her life, her marriages and her babies, her opening nights, the cries and laughter that came from her, and how she shared this home of mine.

Dottie Ponedel doing Judy Garland's makeupDottie and Judy began their relationship in the make-up room but became lifelong friends and confidantes.

Dottie was brought onto Meet Me in St. Louis by Vincente Minnelli who admired Dottie’s make-up expertise, and she immediately discarded many of the techniques the studio had been using on Judy. All agreed that under Dottie’s deft hands, Judy never looked more beautiful in her first adult role. Here Ponedel explains her relationship with the star, that veered between mother and daughter and two best girlfriends on a series of crazy adventures.

I knew that Judy was worming herself right into my heart when she said to me, “You know, Dottie, I’ve been looking for something like you for a long time.” I knew what she meant. She was looking for that love she never got.

Don’t forget Judy was on the stage at three. Judy and I became like mother and daughter. She once said to me, “How does it feel to be indispensable?” I said, “There is no such thing as being indispensable. There is always somebody to take your place.”

But not in the case of Judy Garland. There was nobody to follow this girl. When God dished out talent, she got way more than her share. Judy could take an audience and twist it and turn it, stand them up on their ear and the crowds would holler for more.

I used to love going with Judy to the recording studio at MGM to listen to her pre-record her songs for a picture. After finishing a song, Judy would come over to me. She could always tell by the look in my eye whether she hit the top or not. It got to the point where Johnny Green, the orchestra conductor, would look over at me as if to say, “Is that okay?” or, “Can she do better?” But often when she sang her heart out on those numbers, the whole orchestra would be up on its feet applauding her over and over. Sometimes I’d see our producer, Arthur Freed, in the corner with tears falling right down on his cheeks. Oh boy, Judy moved everyone in that recording room.

judy garland“Dottie—Stay with me baby. I love you, Judy”

Dottie relates in detail in the book the fun she and Judy had during the making of many great MGM movies, at home at Dottie’s or the Minnellis’ house, and on promotional trips to New York and to London. Though she loved Judy with everything she had, she also was quite honest in describing some of Judy’s challenges.

The studio worked Judy like a horse. If Arthur Freed wasn’t ready with a new picture for Judy, Joe Pasternak was. These were two of the biggest producers of musicals at MGM and they kept Judy riding on a treadmill. If she wasn’t shooting, she was rehearsing or learning new songs or dances, they had her going all the time.

It’s a wonder she didn’t jump out of her skin but being Judy, with a constitution made of steel, she was equal to the task. I don’t think anybody could turn out as many pictures as Judy did for MGM. She made millions for them and wound up penniless. But that was mostly because she had no head for business. Judy never knew the value of a dollar. That’s why everybody took advantage of her. She never knew where her money was going. I tried to sit her down with pencil and paper and show her figures of what she should have been able to save that year but Judy looked up at me and said, “Dottie, I’ll always be able to make a dollar so what’s the use of worrying?”

I said, “Judy, you know if I could get part of Mae West’s brain and part of Paulette Goddard’s brain and put them into your brain, you could be President of the United States. Because Miss West and Miss Goddard could turn this land of ours into a Shangri-La if they had a mind to. Judy, if you were as smart as Paulette you’d have a couple million under your belt by now.”

Dottie stayed with Judy throughout all the ups and downs of her MGM career. Unfortunately, shortly after Judy left the studio, Dottie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was unable to continue in her craft. However, she remained close friends with Garland until the end of her life. In the Epilogue to the book, Meredith Ponedel, who knew Judy quite well as a child, recounts the tragic day when they learned of Garland’s death.

It’s hard not to speculate what Garland’s premature death deprived us of in terms of the work she might have done in her later years. That she was a phenomenal singer and actress was never in question. I’m grateful that Dottie’s book also reveals in the clearest possible way what a fabulous, loyal, and devoted friend she was as well.

Happy Birthday, Judy.

Dottie Ponedel and Judy Garland, on the set of The Harvey GirlsDottie and Judy on the set of The Harvey Girls (1946) just before shooting the scene featuring that year’s Academy Award winner for Best Song, “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.”


– Danny Miller for Classic Movie Hub

Danny Miller is a freelance writer, book editor, and co-author of  About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the StarsYou can read more of Danny’s articles at Cinephiled, or you can follow him on Twitter at @dannymmiller.

CMH is giving away 10 copies of About Face from now through July 7 — you can enter by clicking here.

AND if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase it here:

Posted in Books, Guest Posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Win Tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Big” (30th Anniversary) (Giveaway runs through June 30)

Win tickets to see “Big” on the big screen!
In Select Cinemas Nationwide Sun July 15 and Wed July 18!

“Your wish is granted.”

CMH continues into our 3rd year of our partnership with Fathom Events - with the 7th of our 13 movie ticket giveaways for 2018, courtesy of Fathom Events!

That said, we’ll be giving away EIGHT PAIRS of tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Big – the first movie directed by a woman, Penny Marshall, to gross more than $100 million — on the Big Screen!

In order to qualify to win a pair of movie tickets via this contest, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, June 30 at 6 PM EST.

We will announce the winner(s) on Twitter on Sunday, July 1, between 6PM EST and 7PM EST. If a winner(s) does not have a Twitter account, we will announce that winner(s) via this blog in the comment section below.

TCM BIG Screen Classics Present Big

The film will be playing in select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day-only event on Sunday, July 15 and Wednesday, July 18 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time. Winners will be responsible for their own transportation to the Event. Only United States entries are eligible. Please click here before you enter to ensure that the Event is scheduled at a theater near you and that you are able to attend. (please note that there might be slightly different theater listings for each date)

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, June 30 at 6PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

Although not officially a classic-era film, what in your opinion makes “Big” a classic? And, if you haven’t seen it, why do you want to see it on the Big Screen?

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:
I just entered to win tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics Presents: Big” on the Big Screen courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub & @FathomEvents #EnterToWin #CMHContest link here:

*If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: If for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks in Big

About the film: A 13-year-old boy, transformed into a 35-year-old man by a carnival wishing machine, becomes a successful executive by turning his juvenile intellect to toy design. This 30th Anniversary event includes exclusive insight from Turner Classic Movies.

Please note that only United States residents are eligible to enter this giveaway contest. (see contest rules for further information)

BlogHub members ARE also eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

You can follow Fathom Events on Twitter at @fathomevents

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Fathom Events | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Classic Movie Travels: Jeanette Loff

Classic Movie Travels: Jeanette Loff – from Idaho to Hollywood

Jeanette Loff PosesThe beautiful Jeanette Loff poses in a fringe dress.

When I watch early films, I often wonder what became of certain individuals and where their lives took them beyond their work in the film industry. While many stay in the industry, other leave for their own reasons or depart in a twist of fate outside of their control. Though Jeanette Loff made less than 30 films, her appearance in King of Jazz (1930) sparked my interest and inspired me to research her life and career.

Janette Clarinda Lov was born in Orofino, Idaho, to Danish immigrant Marius (Maurice) Lov and Norwegian immigrant Inga Lov. Her father was a professional violinist from Copenhagen and would later own a shop. Marius and Inga had five children, including three sisters and one brother, with Janette being the eldest.

During her infancy, her family relocated often, raising Janette throughout the Pacific Northwest. According to the 1910 census, Marius was 30, Inga was 25, Janette was 4, and Janette’s younger sister, Irene, was 3 years old when the family moved to Otter Tail, Minnesota. By 1913, the family moved to Wadena, Saskatchewan, Canada, where her sister, Myrtle Dorothea, was born in 1914. While there, Janette played the piano at a little theater for one dollar per night and free admission to the show. Her mother was also a pianist, often singing as she played. When Janette was younger, her mother would sing her to sleep. As a result, Janette developed a love of music and imagined herself singing before large audiences. In fact, as Janette played the piano to accompany silent films, she wished that the actors and actresses would sing.

Janette expressed an interest in performing at a young age, playing the title role in the play version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. By age 16, she was a lyric soprano and carried out a leading role in the operetta, Treasure Hunters. 

Jeanette Loff HeadshotClassic 1930′s beauty!

Janette’s high school years were impacted by her family’s frequent moves, although she was excited to move closer to cities where she felt she could realize her dreams of becoming a notable performer. Though she enjoyed the closeness and friendliness of a small town like Wadena, she was excited to move to the city. She briefly attended Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Idaho, but that was soon followed by a family move to Portland, Oregon, when she was 17. There, she continued her musical education at the Ellison-White Conservatory of Music, taking singing lessons and learning how to play the pipe organ. Janette appeared singing theater prologues during vacations from school.

Freshly trained, she would play the organ at theaters in Portland under that stage name of Jan Lov. Eventually, she found herself playing the largest theater in the city. Furthermore, advertising programs announced “Jeanette Loff and the Console,” showing off her new stage name.

Jeanette’s career in films began in 1926 with a series of uncredited roles in Young April (1926), The Collegians (1926), and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927). Cecil B. DeMille offered her a contract and she quickly became one of Hollywood busiest starlets, often appearing in ingenue roles and being spotted around town for publicity purposes. In fact, in 1928, Jeanette was the first person to ride with Santa Claus down Hollywood Boulevard at the first Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles. During the same year, she appeared in Annapolis (1928), Love Over Night (1928), and Hold ‘Em Yale (1928), among several other films.

A young Jeanette Loff and her long hairJeanette Loff and her long, long hair.

Behind the scenes, Jeanette married a salesman named Harry Rosenbloom, though they divorced in 1929. She claimed that he became jealous and violent when watching her onscreen. She also had love affairs with producer Paul Bern, songwriter Walter O’Keefe, and actor Gilbert Roland. Jeanette showed off her soprano voice in films like Party Girl (1930) and King of Jazz (1930). She received critical acclaim for her performance opposite Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in Party Girl, while her work as a vocalist in King of Jazz was praised in New York Times review. After her parents divorced, Jeanette’s mother and sisters Irene and Myrtle came to live with her in her Beverly Hills, California, home.

Jeanette Loff in King of JazzJeanette Loff in King of Jazz (1930)

Since she felt that her roles were repetitive, she took a break from films in order to work on the stage. She remained under contract to Universal Pictures for some months but made no additional films for the studio. Jeanette relocated to New York City, appearing in musical plays and working with orchestras, prior to returning to films. Additionally, she sang with Charles “Buddy” Rogers’ Orchestra in New York. Jeanette tried to make a comeback with the drama St. Louis Woman (1934) but it was not a hit. After a few more small roles, her career stalled. Her final film roles would be in Hide-Out (1934), Flirtation (1934), and Million Dollar Baby (1934).

In her leisure, Jeanette made trips to Hawaii and San Francisco in 1935. She also traveled to Marseille, France, and New York in 1936. Later that year, she married Los Angeles producer and liquor salesman Bertram Eli Friedlob. They would remain married until her passing.

Jeanette Loff White FlowersGorgeous Loff poses with elegant white flowers.

Tragically, Jeanette ingested ammonia at home on August 1, 1942. This caused severe chemical burns to her throat and mouth. She died of ammonia poisoning three days later. Coroners were unable to determine whether she ingested ammonia either accidentally or intentionally. Jeanette had been suffering from a stomach ailment and may have accidentally taken the wrong bottle of medication. While her death could not be patently ruled either accident or suicide, her family maintained that she had been murdered. Jeanette is interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, with her sister, Myrtle Dorothea.

Today, there are a few places in existence that would have been of relevance to Jeanette. In her home state of Idaho, visitors can still see her alma mater, Lewiston High School. It continues to function as a high school and stands at 1114 9th Avenue in Lewiston, Idaho.

Jeanette Loff Lewiston High School, IdahoJeanette Loff’s alma mater, Lewiston High School, Lewiston, Idaho.

According to the Portland Historical Society, the Ellison-White Conservatory of music started in 1915 and then changed to the Portland School of Music in the late 1930s. The school had buildings at 654 Everett Street in 1917; 1539 NE 10th St in 1939; and 931 SW King at Park Place in 1942. Unfortunately, it no longer exists today.

In 1930, Jeanette resided at 1336 N Harper Ave, West Hollywood, California. Here is a shot of the property today:

Jeanette Loff Residence at 1336 N Harper Ave, West Hollywood, CaliforniaJeanette Loff Residence at 1336 N Harper Ave, West Hollywood, California.

In 1940, Jeanette lived at 9233 Doheny Rd. in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, where she was poisoned. Here is the property today:

Jeanette Loff's West Hollywood, California home at 9233 Doheny Rd.Jeanette Loff’s West Hollywood, California home at 9233 Doheny Rd.

Though Jeanette’s life was cut short and there are no places dedicated to her, she can be remembered by the body of work she left behind–especially through the recent restoration of King of Jazz. 


–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | 3 Comments

Looking at the Stars: The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald

“Man, woman or child, Ella is the best.” – Bing Crosby

It was in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter decreed June to be Black Music Month. President Obama later changed the official designation to African-American Music Appreciation Month. Although it is astonishing that it took until the late 1970s for the talents of African-American vocalists, musicians, composers and artists to be recognized, we’re happy it happened. The work of many of African-Americans have influenced music the world over. With this humble homage to a legend, Classic Movie Hub joins the celebration.

African-American Music Appreciation Month has been intended as the focus of this month’s Looking at the Stars column for some time. A problem arose, however, as the attempt was made to narrow the focus to a single aspect, group or person given the depth of black talent we have enjoyed for over a century. In the final analysis I had to go with the one many consider the greatest female vocalist of the 20th Century, a Jazz pioneer of whom this blogger is a devoted fan. This month we honor the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald

“I never considered myself a singer. My real ambition was to dance.” – Ella Fitzgerald

When Ella Fitzgerald was 15 years old, she entered an amateur night competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Ella and two of her friends drew straws and she picked the shortest one making her the loser, the one that had to perform a dance. When her time came to perform, however, young Ella was unable to move from fright and decided to sing a song instead. She followed with three encores and took home the 25 dollars prize money. That night no one could have known that Ella Fitzgerald would later be considered a supreme master of her craft, one honored by presidents, the greatest artists of our times, and an enduringly adoring public.

The night at the Apollo led to many other amateur night wins for Ella Fitzgerald until she landed a gig with Chick Webb and his orchestra. The rest is legend. Throughout her storied career Fitzgerald has been honored with numerous hall of fame inductions, recorded over 70 albums and thousands of songs, performed alongside some of the greatest entertainers in history, and was a sought-after guest on every variety show imaginable on radio and television.

“The one radio voice that I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” - Doris Day

Ella Fitzgerald appeared in only four movies, which is a shame. The first of these is Arthur Lubin’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy starring Abbott and Costello. Ella plays a maid named Ruby and I have a vivid memory of the first time I saw her sing her hit “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” on a bus in the movie. I became her fan that very day.

Fitzgerald’s next feature film appearance came thirteen years later in Jack Webb’s Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). Here Ella plays night singer, Maggie Jackson and her musical performances alone are worth the price of admission. One can only imagine what a thrill it was for Webb to have Ella a part of his movie. Pete Kelly’s Blues was first a radio show conceived by Jack Webb thanks to his love of Jazz.

Jack Webb and Ella Fitzgerald on set of PETE KELLY'S BLUES

Allen Reisner’s St. Louis Blues (1958) and Philip Leacock’s Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960) complete Ella’s filmography. The first is a biopic based on the life of the “Father of the Blues,” composer/musician, W. C. Handy played by Nat “King” Cole in the picture. This is a great viewing choice for African-American Music Appreciation Month with such luminaries as Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson, and Ruby Dee joining Cole and Fitzgerald.

Let No Man Write My Epitaph is a straight drama with an outstanding cast besides Ella Fitzgerald who recorded several songs for the soundtrack and received the best acting notices of her career. In this sequel to the 1949 Nicholas Ray film, Knock on Any Door, Ella plays a drug-addicted woman in a tenement where neighbors band together to save a boy. Her performance here provides a glimpse into what could have been had Ella Fitzgerald been offered other dramatic roles. It is difficult to complain about that with sincerity, however, when this amazing talent has left us gold in her life’s work.

Ella Fitzgerald’s style has influenced numerous generations of singers, but for this fan, she is a go-to for serenity. Ella’s voice is magic – it delights with scat and turns the coldest winter’s day to summertime. If you listen to one artist this month – or any month – let it be the First Lady of Song.

Similarly themed pages…

Vincente Minnelli’s Cabin in the Sky (19430)

Ethel Waters page

Movie musicals page


Until next month,

–Aurora Bugallo for Classic Movie Hub

Aurora Bugallo is a classic film-obsessed blogger, and co-founder and co-host of the Classic Movies and More Youtube show. You can read more of Aurora’s articles at Once Upon a Screen, or you can follow her on Twitter at @CitizenScreen.

Posted in Looking at the Stars | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars” Book Giveaway (June 4 – July 7)

“About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel,
Make-up Artist to the Stars”

We have TEN Copies to Give Away in July!

It’s time for our next book giveaway! And, this is a very special one for me, as I have the pleasure of knowing two of the authors, but more about that later… That said, I am delighted to say that CMH will be giving away TEN COPIES of  “About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars” by Dorothy Ponedel, Meredith Ponedel, and Danny Miller, courtesy of Bear Manor Books.

About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars  by meredith ponedel and danny miller


In order to qualify to win one of these books via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, July 7 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick two winners on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • June 9: Two Winners
  • June 16: Two Winners
  • June 23: Two Winners
  • June 30: Two Winners
  • July 7: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub and/or right here on this Blog in the comment section below (depending on how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner at 10PM EST on Sunday June 10.

dottie ponedel, judy garland and joan blondellDottie Ponedel with Judy Garland and Joan Blondell


As I mentioned above, I have the pleasure of knowing two of the authors: respected writer, editor and friend, Danny Miller of Cinephiled (@dannymmiller), and Dottie’s niece, Meredith Ponedel (@Merrydyth), who I had the honor of meeting at the TCM Film Festival a few years ago (and I might add that we hit it off so well that I felt like I knew Meredith for years!).

That said, I’d like to share some interviews that I did with Dottie for the Classic Movies and More YouTube Channel (that I share with @CitizenScreen and @2MovieReviewers):

And here’s Part Two: Meredith Ponedel Interview Part 2 of 3

And Part Three: Meredith Ponedel Interview Part 3 of 3


And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, July 7 at 10PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) *Then TWEET (not DM) the following message (if you don’t have twitter, see below):
Just entered to win the “About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub @BearManorMedia and authors @Merrydyth & @dannymmiller #CMHContest Link:

What is it that you respect the most about Dottie Ponedel, and if you’re not familiar with her or her work, why do you want to win this book?

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

Click here for the full contest rules and more details. 

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the areas noted above.


About the book: Dottie Ponedel knows how to amuse with rouge. Her autobiography, the story of a pioneering make-up woman in silent movies and early talkies, puts a new foundation on the stars from the Golden Age of movies. Sinners and saints without greasepaint make for memorable close-ups. Enjoy Dottie’s confidential revelations about Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Joan Blondell, Paulette Goddard, Barbara Stanwyck, and others. “No stranger is going to pat this puss,” Mae West once declared. Mae, and Dottie’s other clients, often demanded her services, but tomcats and contracts seldom blended. Dottie constantly fought all-male make-up departments at the studios to get the recognition she deserved. Amazing challenges facing a woman at the top of her craft play poignantly against her straight-talking, heartwarming, hilarious encounters with famous faces. Dotti Ponedel. The designer with eye liner.


If you don’t want to wait to win, you can purchase the book by clicking here:

Good Luck!


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

“Hollywood Heyday: 75 Candid Interviews with Golden Age Legends” Book Giveaway (June 4 – July 7)

“Hollywood Heyday: 75 Candid Interviews with
Golden Age Legends” 

We have TEN Copies to Give Away!

“In-depth interviews – things that people really want to know — not gossip.”
-Jane Powell

Time for our next book giveaway! CMH is thrilled to be giving away TEN COPIES of the new book, “Hollywood Heyday: 75 Candid Interviews with Golden Age Legends” by David Fantle and Tom Johnson, courtesy of McFarland Books.

Lots of rare and candid interviews here — including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Mel Blanc, Jerry Lewis, Gregory Peck, James Cagney and so many more — over 60 interviews in all — a real page-turner for all of us classic movie fans…

In order to qualify to win one of these books via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, July 7 at 9PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick two winners on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • June 9: Two Winners
  • June 16: Two Winners
  • June 23: Two Winners
  • June 30: Two Winners
  • July 7: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub and/or right here on this Blog in the comment section below (depending on how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 9PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner at 9PM EST on Sunday June 10.

hollywood heyday by dave fantle


ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, July 7 at 9PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) *Then TWEET (not DM) the following message (if you don’t have twitter, see below):
Just entered to win the “Hollywood Heyday: 75 Candid Interviews with Golden Age Legends” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub  @McFarlandCoPub and @fantle you can enter here:

Who would you have wanted to interview (or speak with) from among the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and why? 

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

Click here for the full contest rules and more details. 

Please note that continental United States and Canadian residents are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the areas noted above.


About the book: “What audacity!” exclaimed actor Robert Wagner when he heard about the authors’ adolescent exploits in nabbing interviews with Hollywood celebrities. In 1978, Fantle and Johnson, St. Paul teenagers, boarded a plane to meet with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. They had written the stars requesting interviews–and to their amazement, both agreed. Over the years, more than 250 other stars also agreed–Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, George Burns, Rod Steiger, Milton Berle, Frank Capra and Hoagy Carmichael, to name a few. Published for the first time and with exclusive photos, this selection of 75 interviews chronicles the authors’ 40-year quest for insights and anecdotes from iconic 20th century artists.


If you don’t want to wait to win, you can purchase the book by clicking here:

Good Luck!


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Uncategorized | 30 Comments