Edna Maison, at Home in the Rarefied Aria of Opera and Silver Screen

Edna Maison; Picture Player Camera Men's Ball Souvenir Program, 1914

Edna Maison; Picture Player Camera Men’s Ball Souvenir Program, 1914

 

Maison, Maison

Carmen Edna K. Maisonave[1] (Masion, Mason, Masonave, Maysonave, Malsonave) was born on August 17, 1886, (not in 1892 is as so popularly quoted) in San Francisco, California to Peter (Pierre) Maisonave and Mary Ely; Edna’s only sibling, Marie Elise was born 1895. If Edna was not born into a wealthy situation, she at the least was birthed into an industrious household, which would benefit her greatly as an example of work ethic. Her father was a long time Los Angeles grocer, who immigrated to the United States from France, in April of 1872, at the age of nineteen, on his own. Peter Maisonave brought his background of farming to the States and that occupation never really played a part (besides the entrepreneurial spirit that accompanies it) in America for this ambitious young man. His initial work was as a cook but the following year he had risen to clerk at the Miner’s Restaurant at the southwest corner of Dupont and Broadway; while in San Francisco he became a naturalized citizen, this being in 1877. His next residence was in Los Angeles, where he met and married Mary Ely just three days before Thanksgiving, 1884;[2] the young couple moved to San Francisco in 1886 where he picked up the trade of cattle dealer and the Maisonaves welcomed Enda to the world.

The family moved from the City by the Bay in 1888, back to the Los Angeles area and Peter started the first incarnation of his grocery store, which work he would continue through 1893, and then taking a position with Edward Duggan a local restaurateur.  Mary Ann Ely Maisonave took care of their home and their two daughters; that task must have been daunting at times, considering that Peter’s business was often housed in their home. In between the different versions of the Masonave grocery store, Peter owned a wood, coal, hay and grain supply business.

This birthdate confusion (as stated above) for Edna Maison is of course as always an attempt to make the young actress seem younger still, and may have been added to by her parents. In the 1900 Federal Census she was born in 1886 and for the 1910 Federal Census her date of birth is listed as 1888. None of this age-play information in any way detracts from her early, distinct talents. Ms. Maison was a young woman of “much rich, dark beauty,” easily looking the part of a woman of Spanish bloodline,[3] she with brown hair and brown eyes. The family was Catholic and attended the Sacred Heart church in East Los Angeles; Ms. Masion was involved in singing in Catholic festivities and fund-raising events.[4]

 

Maison, Preamble to Hollywood

She began her performances at the age of six with the Fred Cooper Stock Company,[5] which operated at the Burbank Theater; the theater,[6] which was under construction was finally ready for patrons on Monday, November 27, 1893.[7] Her first professional operatic position was at the age of fifteen with the Tivoli Opera House in San Francisco in 1901;[8] it was after she developed her “rich contralto voice” that the renowned contralto Estafanin Callamarini, took up teaching Edna;[9] some thought that Maison gave Callamarini a run for first place as a contralto.[10] After a year with Tivoli, she migrated to Fisher’s Theater, playing in that stock company.

The Wave July 27, 1901

The Wave July 27, 1901

 

Whatever Edna’s theatrical pursuits were during the following period (the remainder of 1902 through the summer of 1903), they either were not news worthy or have been lost to us. When seventeen, Edna’s parents desired a practical education for her and she was enrolled at Woodbury Business College in 1903, graduating in 1904, where she learned stenography (working in that field for portions of 1904-1905-1906) and was a starter on the women’s basketball team there; hers was the privilege of being part of the first group of women to play hoops at Woodbury.[11] Maison also used some of her spare time while at the Woodbury Business College, acting with fellow students; we can see Edna front and center in the photo that the Los Angeles Herald published along with their story.

Ms. Maison at a Woodbury College state production; Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, February 9, 1904

Ms. Maison in a Woodbury College stage production; Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, February 9, 1904

 

Maison was quiet for a while on the stage working as a court-stenographer in the office of the Los Angeles County Clerk, C. G. Keyes, often taking dictation from Mr. Keyes and registering voters;[12] she did this until another opportunity presented itself. That circumstance happened in the early summer of 1906 with baritone Evan Baldwin; Baldwin wrote a sketch (Why Dorothy Went to College) and he and Edna performed the skit at the Orpheum Theater.[13] This (the Baldwin sketch) of a sort re-launched Maison’s singing career and thereby her part in film history.

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, June 25, 1906

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, June 25, 1906

 

In Ms. Maison’s next engagement, that began in the spring of 1907 with the California Opera Company, better known as, The Californians, she was under the direction of Tom Karl. Karl an operatic tenor had won his fame as a member of, The Bostonians, which was formally known as, The Boston Ideals, a touring opera company. During his later career he relied upon recitals in music halls and hotels for his income; he moved to the Los Angeles area in 1905. In 1907 he co-founded, The Californians, with Dollon M. Dewey, who had also been a backer of, The Bostonians. Edna was not among the list of principals of the troupe, who all were east-coast folks, but was definitely a member of the group; her engagement ended with, The Californians, with the ending of the company in late August of 1907.[14] It was her time with, The Californians, that she met Robert Z. Leonard who was a supporting member of the same company;[15] besides this operatic connection they had little (two recorded appearances together on film) in common professionally, except working at Universal with the same people.

For the 1907-1908 season Ms. Maison performed with the Princess Theatre of San Francisco, which presented a slate of comic operas and musical comedies; many of those (including Robert Leonard) who had appeared with, The Californians, were in this company, sans Tom Karl.[16] Theater critic James Crawford considered her the beauty of the cast, with a voice “not large” but of a “pretty color.”[17] She was a contralto soloist with the Edgar Temple Opera Company of Los Angeles, in 1908; again working alongside “Big Bob” Robert Z. Leonard.[18] In July of 1908 Edna performed with the Manhattan Opera Company, along with Nigel de Brulliere (Brulier, Brouillet),[19] who would appear with her in, The Dumb Girl of Portici, in 1916. The spring of 1909 found Maison with the Florence Stone company for a brief time; she was brought in to bolster the singing. The company went to Minneapolis at the end of May but returned quickly to Los Angeles.[20] At the first of July of 1909 Masion was again signed by the Majestic Musical Company, but, by Independence Day, she was taken ill and lost the position.[21]

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 1, 1909

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 1, 1909

 

Maison at the Movies

Maison was in many respects the picture of a cultured woman, fitting well the description oft written by author Jane Austin of a young lady of society. Her interests included painting, specializing in flowers, working with oils and water colors. Edna loved nature and the open spaces; she was quite fond of animals and enjoyed riding.[22] This last love was instrumental in getting her a job in motion pictures; they wanted a leading lady who not only fit her physical appearance but who could also ride a horse. Ms. Maison said she “had little difficulty in the landing the position,” and that the movies afforded her the advantage of staying home with her mother and father instead of the constant travel with an opera company. Edna was very nervous about the change from the stage to celluloid, not knowing if she “would make good or not,”[23] but that worry was unwarranted for she was quite the popular young star in Hollywood. Maison brought to the stage and to the camera an “apparently tireless vivacity” which when singing left her “vocalizations” composed; she was considered to have a phenomenal voice.[24] It must have taken significant back-bone and self-confidence to move from one field of endeavor where she was highly praised to another where she was an unknown and her most notable talent could not be appreciated.

1913 saw Edna Maison and Margarita Fischer run on the Suffrage ticket in the newly incorporated town of Universal City, with a population of more than one-thousand-three-hundred in the municipality inhabited exclusively by moving-picture people. Ms. Fischer ran for Fire Commissioner and Maison for one of the two Aldermen offices available in Universal City; each of the ladies won their campaigned for seats.[25]

Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, May 20, 1913

Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, May 20, 1913

 

In 1916, Edna Maison had the opportunity to sit in the chair of assistant director for, Alias Jane Jones, for which she also starred in; she stated that she preferred acting to directing.[26] Cleo Madison is credited as the lead but all surviving evidence points to the contrary. Besides the aforementioned blurb that ascribed assistant-directing duties and the lead by, Motography magazine, Maison is also listed in the leading role in numerous (the majority) newspapers of the day.[27] The confusion of who starred in the film is not confined to today only, but in 1916, many ads accredited Cleo Madison as the leading lady, and one melded the names and reported that it was Edna Madison who starred in the movie.[28]

In the spring of 1916 Maison left Universal, to consider an offer from vaudeville; in reality, she was quite ill and needed time to recuperate; she took those weeks into the summer of 1916 to weigh her options.[29] She stayed with Carl Laemmle at Universal Film for the following year and finally ended her film acting career with the H. N. Nelson Attractions production of, The Mysterious Mr. Browning, which was released in December of 1918; a year-and-a-half after her last Universal project opened. This marked the end of both the stage and screen career of Edna Maison, yet, although she was off the silver-screen and no longer treading the boards of the theater, she was none the less still remembered in Hollywood; she was one of those “early day associates” of Carl Laemmle, who attended his funeral in 1939.[30]

Edna Poste Griffith Masion was a busy actress during her seven or so years in the moving making community, with no less than one-hundred appearances before the cameras. This number of film roles that we are aware of now, may be short of the actual total. The Story World and Photodramatist magazine reported that Maison worked early with director Charles K. French of the original Bison Company, the western branch of the New York Motion Picture Corporation; Bison Motion Pictures released over one-hundred-seventy-five pictures from November of 1909 through July of 1910 under the direction of French;[31] if this reportage is accurate, then we have no idea how many films Maison was in, but we do know that it is more than what is currently listed.

Oddly enough, it was July of 1909 when Maison was taken ill and lost her job with the Majestic Musical Company, with no other reports of stage appearances for her, or any news items, from July of 1909 through autumn of 1912 (where her work with Pathé is mentioned). Could this be the period (summer of 1909 through the summer of 1911) of early film-making for the actress? We will most likely never know for sure. Maison was engaged no later than in the middle of 1911 with the Pathé Western Company,[32] yet, with Bison and the additional six or so months added to her Pathé period, our current knowledge (with documentary evidence) of her first flick was, and still remains, The Girl Sheriff (Pathé), released in April of 1912. Two films, one from 1913, the other form 1914 are missing from Ms. Maison’s catalog of movies, both of which, peculiarly starred Robert Z. Leonard; not that Leonard was peculiar but that two of Maison’s missing credits were with Leonard. The first was The Stolen Idol, 1913[33] and When Fate Disposes, released in 1914.

Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, September 4, 1914

Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, September 4, 1914

 

Maison Married and After:

Edna Maison married Tom Poste in the late spring of 1911 (the couple eloped and the ceremony was in Santa Ana),[34] he a haberdasher, owning the Alexandria Haberdashers of Los Angeles, located first,  in the Hotel Alexandria (at Spring Street and 5th Street), then taking a storefront next to the hotel.[35]

Hotel Alexandria Where Tom Poste had his haberdashery; circa 1906

Hotel Alexandria Where Tom Poste had his haberdashery; circa 1906

 

Poste was eleven years her senior and their marriage had many problems from the outset. Maison filed for divorce in late spring of 1913, submitting evidence of a tooth which had been knocked out of her head by her husband; while going through tough times Ms. Maison would move back in with her mother and father. And in fact, the couple resided with the Maisonaves for while; it was a crowded household, for Edna’s sister, Elise (she was an actress as well, known as Elsie Maison[36]) was living there as well. Poste countered Maison’s accusations with a report that she had “a superabundance of temperament;” Edna accused him of as she put it, “a razor hunt,” in early 1913, threatening to kill her. In November of 1912 Masonave tipped a quart of ice water over Poste’s head, while he knocked at the door of their home;[37] a violent and tumultuous relationship is putting it lightly. Maybe the most unusual charges presented by Masonave were those that Poste’s “love of fine clothes was satisfied to the extreme, when she had to wear a summer hat in the winter time.”[38] But the divorce was put on hold until in January of 1915, when the Poste residence was raided by the Police in Glendale, California, for vice related activities and Edna announced she would use the evidence of the raid in her divorce suit; which evidently she did not file.[39] Poste then counter-sued Maison for divorce in 1915, but the case was dismissed; in 1916 he would sue again in early autumn.[40] That was the action which dissolved their marriage sometime in the first ten months of 1917.

Ms. Masonave’s second husband was Beverly Howard “Speed” Griffith and unlike her first hubby, Griffith was a Hollywood insider. He was a strikingly good looking man, with dark hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion; not overly tall 5, 10½ and at one-hundred-seventy-five-pounds, a moderate statured man. Griffith, like Masonave, enjoyed the outdoors, swimming, boating and auto-racing. The couple was wed on Thanksgiving Weekend, of 1917 in Los Angeles.[41]

Beverly Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual 1916 by Motion Picture News

Beverly Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual 1916 by Motion Picture News

 

Griffith was in the film-industry in the administrative field and was a resident of Universal City. He began working with Keystone as an assistant property-man, following up by earning the position of assistant to Mack Sennett. Next he was the assistant to general-manager F. J. Balshoffer at the newly organized Sterling Motion Picture Company. Then Carl Laemmle hired him as the business manager for five producing companies at Universal; also Griffith managed Animated Weekly and was the chief cameraman for the news branch at Universal. He also was responsible for some scenarios at Kalem, Sterling and Universal,[42] and in 1918 he was with Sunshine Comedies (a subsidiary of Fox), as an assistant manager.[43]

Not long after their marriage, Masonave quit the movies with no explanation whatsoever. When her husband was stationed in Washington for his service in the army she lived with her parents in Los Angeles. After his discharge, Mr. Griffith traveled much during their marriage, with extended time apart, often taking a room at a boarding house rather than at a hotel. Contrary to popular belief, Masonave and Griffith did not remain wed until her death; the couple was divorced in 1938, it being finalized in Dade County, Florida.

Edna Maison became ill either in late 1941 or early 1942, which sickness she fought for four years;[44] she died on January 11, 1946, in Los Angeles, California. She was buried under her married name of Griffith at Calvary Cemetery on Whittier Boulevard where her father was interred in 1924, and followed three years later by her mother and finally her sister Elise in 1984. Each member of this close-knit family had the same style gravestone, with one word of description above their respective name, that of their relation; in order of their passing: Father; Daughter; Mother; Daughter. Although her career ended almost one-hundred years ago, it is important for us to remember and to celebrate that star of so long ago, who shone brightly for albeit, a brief period of time, yet her distinctive mark is forever left upon the annals of Hollywood’s ever growing biography.

 

Movie Card, Circa 1914

Movie Card, Circa 1914

Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1914

Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1914

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Marion star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[2] Monday, November 24, 1884

[3] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 5; 7 1908

[4] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) October 30; December 16; 18,  1906

[5] I can find no corroborating evidence that Maison performed with Cooper, but Fred Cooper was the theater’s manager. Also, if Maison was there she was seven, not six, when she began with the company.

[6] Dr. David Burbank had originally begun work on the theater in the 1880’s but it had come to naught because of land title issues, which were cleared up in 1893. His was not the only money involved in the project, un-named investors from San Francisco helped back the building: Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) May 3, 1893

[7] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) November 26; 28, 1893

[8] Motion Picture Studio Directory and trade Annual, published by Motion Picture News, 1916

[9] Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[10] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 24, 1906

[11] Los Angeles Herald (September 27, 1903; January 17, 1904

[12] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 24, 1906

[13] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 25, 1906

[14] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) February 28, 1880; The Critic (Washington, D.C.) February 18, 1888;

Saint  Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) December 9, 1888; Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California)

December 31, 1905; January 7, 1906;  Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) April 24, 1907;

Santa Cruz  Weekly Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) August 24, 1907; Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California)

November 1, 1907; Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[15]  San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) January 14, 1912

Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

Motion Picture Studio Directory, Published by the Motion Picture News, 1916, 1919

[16] Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) November 1, 1907

San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) November 3, 1907

Billboard, November 7, 1907

[17] San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) October 29, 1907

[18] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 4, 1908

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 16, 1908

[19] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) July 12,, 1908

[20] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) May 9, 1909

[21] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) January 15;  July 1; 4, 1909

[22] Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[23] Motion Picture Magazine, January, 1915

[24] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 5; 22, 1908

[25] Altoona tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania) May 20, 1913

Daily Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon) June 13, 1913

[26] Motography, April 8, 1916

[27] Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) June 15, 1916; Daily Courier (Connellsville, Pennsylvania) June 21,

1916; Ottawa Herald (Ottawa, Kansas) July 6, 1916; Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah) August 15, 1916;

Daily Republican (Rushville, Indiana) August 22, 1916; Daily Times-Democrat (Macon, Missouri) September 28,

  1. etc., etc…

[28] Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington) June 8, 1916

[29] Motography, April 22, 1916

[30] Film Daily, September 27, 1939

[31] Story World and Photodramatist, September, 1923

[32] Moving Picture World, November 30, 1912

[33] I attempted to refrain from mentioning the obvious, connecting the title with the fact that it is missing, but I was not successful in my effort, as is seen from this endnote.

[34] Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) June 16, 1913

[35] The Grizzly Bear, December, 1907

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) February 18; March 12, 1910

[36] Elise Maison among the movies she appeared in were : The Potter and the Clay, 1914; The Lumber Yard Gang;

Mr. Opp, 1917, and a handful of other films, citations:  Moving Picture World, September 26, 1914; Motion

Picture News, February 19, 1916; Moving Picture World, August 4, 1917

[37] San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) June 16, 1913

[38] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) July 6, 1913

[39] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) January 30, 1915

[40] Variety, September 29, 1916

[41] Variety, December 14, 1917; the ceremony was held on Friday, November 30, 1917

[42] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, Published by Motion Picture News, 1916; 1918

[43] Photoplay, January, 1918

[44] Ogden standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) January 13, 1946

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Nancy Drew … Reporter, Happy Anniversary! Premiered February 18th, 1939

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Nancy Drew Reporter was the second of 4 films produced and distributed by Warner Brothers, starring the vivacious Bonita Granville as the plucky teenage detective, John Litel as Carson Drew her clueless, loving father and Frankie Thomas appeared as her sidekick, Ted Nickerson. Kenneth Gamet wrote the Reporter screenplay based on the Nancy Drew stories, using the novels as source materials, likewise for the other 3 Drews; Mr. Gamet and director William Clemens worked each of the Drew films. Bryan Foy had the responsibilities as producer for the first entry (Nancy Drew Detective, November 19th, 1938), but for “Reporter” Mr. Foy moved to associate producer, while Hal B. Wallis and Jack L. Warner came on board as executive producers; WB released the 4 movies Nancy Drew: Detective, Reporter, Trouble Shooter, The Hidden Staircase) in 294 days, 11/19/1938 to 9/9/1939. The films were a smash hit but in 1939 Granville moved from Warner Brothers to MGM, shelving any further projects, her onscreen persona being so entrenched with the character of Nancy Drew.

Bonita Granville

Bonita Granville

John Litel

John Litel

Frankie Thomas

Frankie Thomas

The idea for the Nancy Drew books was developed by Edward Stratemeyer (founder, creator of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, publishers of children’s stories communicated by series), and he gave the character outline to Mildred Wirt Benson (staff writer for the Syndicate); writing under the pen name of Carolyn Keene, Ms. Benson began the Nancy Drew series, on April 28th, 1930 with the release of the 3 volume breeder set which included: The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery.

nancyThe-Secret-of-the-Old-Clock-nancy-drew-52519_432_641nancyhiddenstaircasetarpypd10HnancyThe_Bungalow_Mystery

It is a great day to celebrate the mystery, the comedy, the thrills and the frills of Nancy Drew, so brightly brought to life by Bonita Granville and the rest of the Drew-crew. The Original Nancy Drew Movies are available on DVD.

nancyimagesnancy38_d_84398_0_NancyDrewTroubleShooternancystaircaselobby

By C. S. Williams

The Big Combo, Happy Anniversary! Premiered February 13th, 1955

On Sunday, February 13th, 1955 The Big Combo premiered in Japan and the United States. Directed by the master-of-style Joseph H. Lewis, photography by near-legendary-cinematographer John Alton, written by Philip Yordan (read further on Yordan from The Film Noir Foundation), music by David Raksin and starring: Cornel Wilde (one of my favorite actors), Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman. Not much liked by the New York Times  or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops but the Village Voice liked the film and is now regarded by a majority of critics  as a Film-Noir classic, although, some are only willing to assign it as a Top-Notch B-Movie, yet, others see it as a Wannabe-Classic. As for me, I think The Big Combo is a jazzy piece of film-making, full of riffs, darkening tones and sultry voices with pulsations galore that make the heart race. The Big Combo is available on Blu-Ray or DVD.

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By C. S. Williams

Harold Peary: The Great Gildersleeve and More

 

Harold Peary

Harold Peary

The radio and film character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve immortalized Harold Peary, whose voice is distinct in entertainment history, an unusual talent, a vocal-genius and facially, unparalleled with his often petulant and mischievous expressions, adding to him a sincere and gracious smile. Others (Willard Waterman, who replaced Harold in the Gildersleeve radio program resulting from a poor decision by Peary) on radio and television have tried to imitate that guttural to mid-pitched laugh, but those near-do-wells pale in comparison. There are two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame commemorating the work of Harold Peary, for his part in the fields of radio and television.

For this writer, it is not TV or radio but it is the movies of Harold Peary that draw my attention. I cannot pass up any opportunity to see Peary ply the personality of that sweet (way deep down in his soul) avuncular  icon, that bilious barker, the bellicose braggart, that bastion of frustration, the gelatinous girthed gadfly, that is the great Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. I must confess (albeit with much guilt and with some trepidation of written reprisals) that he (Gildersleeve) stands alone as my personal favorite of all comedic characters.

 

Practically Peary:

Harold (Harrold Pereira de Faria, Harold Perry Faria) Peary was born on July 25, 1908 in San Leandro, California to Jose (Joseph) P. Faria and Maude Focha. Joe Faria was born in Portugal and his wife Maude was born in California to immigrants from Portugal. Joe and Maude had their last name legally changed to Perry; Harold would attend Fremont High School in Oakland,[1] in which city he made quite the name for himself. When Harold Perry received notice that he was heir to an estate in Portugal, with the provision that he change his name back to his ancestral surname of Pereira de Faria, he promptly did. After the settlement of the inheritance he made the non-legal switch to Peary, which he took from North Pole explorer, Admiral Robert Peary.[2] Peary, Harold’s chosen professional name became legal in 1958 when he changed it from Harold Perry Faria. Peary’s predilection for a hobby? Collecting police crime scene photos;[3] a dark pastime for a light and jovial performer.

Peary was a life-long Republican and active in Hollywood in that regard and was a charter member of the Hollywood Republican Committee. Others that joined Peary in that group were Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Dick Powell, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Pickford, Harriett and Ozzie Nelson, Jeanette MacDonald, Edward Arnold, Walter Pidgeon, William Bendix, Adolphe Menjou, Ginger Rogers and directors Sam Wood and Leo McCarey.[4] Harold Peary not only appeared in two short films, The Shining Future and Road to Victory (one for Canada and the other for the U.S., the U. S. short-subject edited from the Canadian version) that were produced to help the WWII effort but performed on stage for the same cause.[5]

Professionally Peary:

1924 saw the rise of the boy baritone Harold Peary and he was heard on KLX, broadcasting from Oakland, California. His two selections for the program were “When Song is Sweet,” and “Sunrise and You.[6] Peary attended the Fulton Dramatic Stock School of Oakland, under the teaching of actor and Professor Norman Field, who had been a regular at the Fulton Playhouse in Oakland. Peary appeared in “The Charm School” in a supporting role at the Fulton in April of 1925.[7]

Oakland_Tribune_Fri__Sep_12__1924_

Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, September 12, 1924

 

In 1926 Peary was available for hire, not only on stage or radio but at any kind of event; he sang at the Oakland Advertising Club gathering which welcomed members of the Los Angeles Advertising Club, and the newest member to Oakland, Ms. Mary Ennis who worked with the Schlesinger store locally.[8] Further, in the late summer of the same year Peary appeared with the “Dalton Brothers,” Kelly, Jack and Pete, helping the vaudevillian trio in musical comedies and specializing in old-time ballads and favorite songs.[9] According to his words, Peary was going to work on The King of Kings, with Cecil B. De Mille in 1926;[10] can he be spotted? Probably not since he was reported to have tried his luck in Los Angeles and was back on vacation in Oakland, within a month of his proclamation of having a part in King of Kings.[11] There was one other report that is of interest regarding Peary doing silent films at the Fox, Christie and Chaplin studios;[12] unfortunately, there are no further references or supporting evidence to this period.

Harold Peary joined the Burke-Maxwell Players at the Casino Theater in 1927, as a character actor; the Casino was located at Foothill Boulevard and Thirty-Fifth Avenue in Oakland.[13] Peary sang again on Oakland radio KZM (call letters changed from KLX) in early January of 1929. Beginning in the spring of 1929 Peary landed a recurring gig on the NBC (San Francisco studio) radio program “Cotton Blossom Minstrels.”[14] Mr. Peary became a continuing performer with NBC radio on different programs often in “negro characterizations.” Indeed, Peary at that point was considered a “black-face” comedian.[15]

Harold J. Peary was living in San Francisco and beginning in 1930 was heard as a regular on Spotlight Review on NBC; often appearing with Captain (Bill) Royle, the duo performing “black face” vocals.[16] Many biographies, list the Peary “laugh” as originating in the late 1930s but actually, Harold Peary was already recognized for that “dirty laugh” in 1931, while working for NBC on the aforesaid program.[17] Much of 1930, 1931 and 1932 Peary spent either in his recurring role on Spotlight Review, or as was the case as often as not, in a variety-show skit heard just one time. Wheatenaville came a calling, another NBC program, with Peary performing several parts on the show; the serial premiered in the last week of September, 1932.[18]

Peary’s talent was varied and in one production, Flying Time, he portrayed Major Fellows, Tony the Wop and Diego Ramierez.”[19] Although, playing three parts was nothing compared to when he portrayed eight characters in one 15-minute broadcast; this on the Tom Mix serial[20] As is now seen (then heard) Peary often played minority parts “Black, Italian, Chinese and Hispanic,” earning the title of dialect-specialist from the press.[21] Prior to his part of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve on the Fibber and Molly McGee show, Peary played the “Chinese Boy” on their program.[22] Of course, being able to speak Spanish and Portuguese fluently helped immensely in the Hispanic roles that came his way, he was one of the most sought after character actors in radio.[23]

Fibber McGee cast caption

Lights Out, cast and Peary

Lights Out, cast, including Harold Peary, playing dead

 

In the late 1930s Harold Peary was heard not only in Fibber and Molly McGee but also on, Waterloo Junction, Public Hero No. One, Tom Mix-Ralston Straight Shooters[24] (starring Jack Holden) and It Can Be Done.[25]  Peary’s star continued to rise in radio; when he accepted his own program based on Gildersleeve, he gave up five shows that he had been voicing in, including Fibber McGee and Molly, which quintet of regular appearances actually paid more than his starring role of Gildersleeve (available on MP3 DVD).[26] His outrageous popularity on radio would morph into a film career with enormous success as the Great Gildersleeve in eleven different films. In the mid 1950s Peary gained a couple of turns in dramas, albeit small parts; appearing as Leo in, Port of Hell, 1954 and in Wetbacks, 1956 as Juan Ortega.

The rest of Peary’s career was filled with TV appearances on a multiplicity of shows, including his final years doing voice work for television animation characters; the voice of Big Ben, in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, 1976, and Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, 1979. Peary also provided the voice of Fenwick Fuddy on Yogi’s Space Race and Budford and the Galloping Ghost, 1978 and 1979 respectively. There were other series for Peary that got him at least a season of work. The CBS program, Willy, the June Havoc comedy which aired in 1954-1955; Harold appeared as Perry Bannister.  Another successful show for Peary was Blondie, on NBC, the Arthur Lake, Pamela Britton comedy based on the comic-strip and movies, which also starred Lake. Peary played the part of Herb Woodley for Blondie for this 1957 television production.

Personally Peary:

Harold Peary married dancer Eleanor Virginia (Betty) Jourdaine on May 14, 1929. In the 1940’s Peary and his wife Virginia took care of his nephew and niece;[27] life imitating art, for that is exactly what “Uncle Mort,” better known as Throckmorton Gildersleeve, did. Harold and Betty’s marriage lasted nearly seventeen years to date when their separation was announced in February of 1946.[28] Divorce proceedings were reported in late April, with a property settlement reached[29] and the divorce would have been final within a few weeks (Jourdaine was temporarily residing in Nevada) except Peary announced his engagement to Gloria Holliday, who was a member of his radio program. Betty Jourdaine packed up and went back home to Hollywood and filed the action there in the middle of May, on the grounds of mental cruelty.[30] This divorce would take more than a year from its inception (including the one-year interlocutory period) and would cause much confusion for everyone involved; the divorce was finalized on June 20, 1947.[31]

Harold Peary and first wife, Betty Jourdiane

Harold Peary and first wife, Betty Jourdaine

 

His second wife was Gloria Holliday (sixteen years younger), a singer and actress, appearing as Bessie on The Great Gildersleeve. The Holliday family formerly lived in the Big Sky State and Gloria was born in Billings; the Holliday’s moving to California in 1932.[32] Harold and Gloria were wed unofficially in a ceremony on July 8, 1946, in Tijuana, Mexico; they’re nuptials were in secret, and not legal. The Peary’s celebrated the birth of their son Harold Jose Faria (in 1958, when their son was twelve he changed his name to, Page Peary) who was born on March 9, 1947, prematurely.[33] The couple then followed up with the official shindig to tie the knot on June 24, 1947 just four days after the dissolution of his marriage to Betty Jourdaine. Holliday and Peary divorced without acrimony in the spring of 1956.

Harold Peary, wife Gloria and their son Page

Harold Peary, wife Gloria and their son Page

Gloria Holliday

Gloria Holliday

 

 

Mr. Peary’s third wife, whom he wed on Valentine’s Day, 1964, was electronic engineer Callie J. Lawson. Ms. Lawson was a resident of Manhattan Beach in California; he as well at the time. Peary was thirteen years Ms. Lawson’s senior;[34] the couple remained married until Callie’s death in 1977. Peary died at the Torrance Memorial Hospital on March 30, 1985, and then his ashes were received by the sea; he was survived by his son Page.[35]

 

great-gildersleevegreat gildersleeveHarold Peary2

 

Comin round the mountainCountry FairLook whos laughingHere we go again

seven_Days_leaveThe Great Gildersleeve movieposterGildersleeves bad daygildersleeve on boradwaygildersleeves ghost

 

The five film Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection (including Seven Days’ Leave) is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) February 5, 1964

[2] Joplin Globe (Joplin, Missouri) August 8, 1944

[3] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[4] Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas) October 21, 1947

[5] Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) June 27, 1944

[6] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) September 12, 1924

[7] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 19, 1925

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 28, 1925

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 29, 1925

[8] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) January 18, 1926

[9] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 18, 1926

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 18, 1935

[10] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 18, 1926

[11] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) September 15, 1926

[12] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[13] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) February 6, 1927

[14] Daily Review (Hayward, California) January 3, 1929

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 5; 12; July 3; 10; 17; 24; 31; August 14; October 2; 9; 16, 1929

[15] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 22; March 11, 1930

[16] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 25; March 18; April 12; July 12; August 9; September 13; November 15; 1930; January 3; February 14; March 21; May 9; 1931

[17] Variety, October 20, 1931

[18] Broadcasting, October 1, 1932

[19] Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) May 24, 1936

[20] Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, Illinois) July 11, 1938

Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) April 3, 1948

[21] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 9, 1937

Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[22] Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) January 26, 1938

[23] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[24]Broadcasting: Broadcast Advertising, April 15, 1938

[25] Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana) February 18, 1938

Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) March 4, 1938

Wellsboro Gazette (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) July 20, 1938

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) August 11, 1939

[26] Monroe News Star (Monroe, Louisiana) August 29, 1941

[27] Waterloo Daily Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) October 2, 1945

[28] Lincoln Evening Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) February 5, 1946

[29] The Times (San Mateo, California) April 24, 1946

[30] Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) June 21, 1946

[31] Kingsport News (Kingsport, Tennessee) May 15, 1946

Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) June 27, 1947

[32] Independent Record (Helena, Montana) July 6, 1947

[33] Zanesville Signal (Zanesville, Ohio) July 22, 1947

Daily Review (Hayward, California) April 30, 1958

[34] Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) February 5, 1964

[35] Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) April 1, 1985

Metropolis, Happy Anniversary! Premiered in Berlin, Germany at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo Movie Theater on Monday, January 10th, 1927.

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Metropolis changed the way I thought of Silent Film. Up to that point I had viewed the era as darkened, scratchy, unclear, with much over-exaggerated movements of body, face and eyes and to make matters worse there was no dialogue. But, here was a movie that challenged my thinking and my preconceived conceptions of non-talking films. This was movie making at its finest, regardless of decade. From the sets to the costumes, the story, the lighting, the cinematography, acting and direction, Metropolis was for that time and for this new century a Masterpiece.

This science-fiction juggernaut was based on the novel of the same name by Thea von Harbou, published in 1926 after principle filming began on May 22nd, 1925; Harbou wrote Metropolis with the purpose of making a film from it and the novel was serialized in 1926 in the journal Illustriertes Blatt leading up to the movie’s release. Harbou and husband Fritz Lang (uncredited) scripted Metropolis which leaps to and fro, one genre to the next all under the control of the imaginative Lang.

Fritz Lang and wife Thea von Harbou

Fritz Lang

Most of the cast were unknowns or as with leading lady Brigitte Helm, no experience at all, yet, Lang gained exactly what he wanted from his ensamble and multitude of extras, as well as from his crew which for this venture was of the most importance. It was in this visual perspective that Metropolis communicates its story. Driven not by words, not even action, but conveyed by the art and stylizations of the sets and costumes we the audience are caught up in and thrust forward by this creative visual contrivance of Fritz Lang to tell this dystopian tale. It has been a while since first I laid eyes upon Metropolis, yet, I cannot forget that I immediately found within its frames, beauty, thoughtfulness and a uncertainty of the future. Today, I am none the less impressed by this classic film, it is two hours that is well spent enjoying a piece of history and at the same time marveling at this piece of art that is: Metropolis.

Brigitte_Helm

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Behind the Scenes of Metropolis:

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By C. S. Williams

The Ultimate New Years Eve Movie! Repeat Performance, 1947

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I guess it is never too early to prepare for the end of the year, yet, oddly enough, this film which finds its plot entangled with and dare I say integral with New Years Eve was released on May 22nd, 1947. Repeat Performance was directed by Alfred Werker, Cinematography by Lew William O’Connell; starring: Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Richard Basehart and Tom Conway.  This is Fantasy-Film-Noir and maybe the strangest of the Noir-genre, with the exception of “Christmas Eve”, 1947. Repeat Performance has solid characterizations by Conway, Leslie, Basehart and Hayward and director Werker shows a steady hand in his pacing and story development. If you like your mysteries with an abnormal bent then as you organize your December 31st evening festivities, include Repeat Performance in your inventory of must-dos; no Bucket-List would be complete without this little sparkling concoction. Enjoy, be safe and Happy New Year!

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One Froggy Evening, Happy Anniversary! Opened December 31st, 1955

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Lobby Card

OneFroggyEvening_Lobby_Card

Lobby Card

A Chuck Jones masterpiece, a one of kind hilarious comment on human nature, the search for our hopes, the quest for our dreams and the pursuit of the happiness that we find in them; all told in just 7 minutes. I don’t know about you but every time I have a tech look at my PC (or for that matter a mechanic at my car, repairman at my washer or dryer, and so on, and so forth) I just can’t seem to reproduce the issue, which is now a called a “Dancing Frog”, a terminology for a computer problem that will not appear when anyone else is watching, due to our Froggy friend. By the way, lest we forget, the song “The Michigan Rag” was written (by One Froggy Evening writer Michael Maltese) solely for this short-film. And further, (I understand that cartoons take on a life of their own, but they are not real, at least that is what my mom told me) Hollywood nightclub singer Bill Roberts (popular in Hollywoodland during the 1950’s) provided the singing voice of the frog.

For  everybody  that loves the “Michigan Rag” here are the words for your perusal:

Everybody do the Michigan Rag
Everybody likes the Michigan Rag
Every Mame and Jane and Ruth
From Weehawken to Duluth
Slide, ride, glide the Michigan
Stomp, romp, pomp the Michigan
Jump, clump, pump the Michigan Rag
That lovin’ rag!

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By C. S. Williams