Noir Nook: February Facts
I just love trivia. So in this month of love, I’m celebrating by serving up a bouquet of trivial facts about some of my favorite noir guys and gals!
Peggie Castle was the first actress to sign with Universal Studios under its “cheesecake” contract clause, which required “any feminine star who has a special physical charm to display this asset” through the first five years of her contract. According to a Universal spokesperson, many young actresses gained fame by posing for these pictures, but later “refuse to permit this type of exploitation, which seems unfair to their public and to themselves.”
Although Lee J. Cobb’s father was initially against Cobb’s acting aspirations (he wanted his son to be an accountant), he was responsible for coming up with the actor’s stage name. Cobb was born Leo Jacoby – his father suggested that he break his last name into two parts, becoming Lee J. Cobb. “When my father did this for me, I knew that, finally, he believed in me as an actor,” Cobb said.
Dorothy Malone was a model student. She was class president for six straight years, salutatorian at her eighth-grade graduation, parliamentarian of the student council, and vice-president of the school chapter of the National Honor Society. She also modeled clothes for Neiman-Marcus, won prizes for the showing and handling of dogs, and for two years was selected as best actress in a local competition.
Shortly after signing a seven-year contract with MGM, John Hodiak shot down the studio’s plans for him to change his name, citing his obligations toward his fellow Ukrainians. He also said that the name Hodiak “sounds like I look.”
While working as an understudy to Gypsy Rose Lee in Star and Garter in 1942, Adele Jergens got her big break in classic movie style. One night, Lee missed a show, Jergens performed in her place, and she was spotted by a talent scout from Columbia Studios, who placed her under contract.
When he was a boy, Edmond O’Brien planned to become a musician. He was inspired by his neighbor, Harry Houdini, from whom he learned a few tricks. O’Brien staged magic shows for his friends in the family basement and dubbed himself “Neirbo the Great” (O’Brien spelled backward).
Jan Sterling’s family was in the New York Social Register. Her ancestors included John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and her grandfather was a manufacturer of harvesting machines who sold out to the Deere Company after the turn of the century.
As a young man, Burt Lancaster teamed up with a boyhood chum, Nick Cravat, and formed an acrobatic act known as Lang and Cravat. For seven years, the two traveled around the United States in tent shows, vaudeville, Kay Brothers Circus, and even a stint with the Ringling Brothers Circus. “It was a great life,” Lancaster once said.
Jane Russell was once voted Miss Anatomy of the first half of the 20th century by the Anthropology Club of Harvard College.
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
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.
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