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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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

F. W. Murnau, Happy Birthday! Born December 28th; 1888-1931

murnau sjff_02_img0783

F. W. Murnau

Storyteller supreme is an apt title for Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe, better known as F. W. Murnau; 21 movies in 12 years, his career stopped short by an automobile accident, just prior to the premier of his last film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, in 1931.

What a genius for moving-pictures he had and we are all the more blessed to have what little record we do have.  The space (and time) needed to explain the gifts of Murnau, well, time and space fail me and maybe my words as well; for I seem so awed by his talent that the terminology that comes to me seems weak, feeble before his brilliance that is so clearly seen in his work.

Drama, legends, horror, romance and complicated comedies were part and parcel with Murnau. Nosferatu, still what I consider to be the creepiest of all vampire films; Sunrise a poignant gut wrenching, tear-jerker filled with lust, deception, love and as the subtitle implies full of the music of life. I will cease my chatter here and let you be reminded of his work by looking over some of the posters that I have provided from his films. I implore you to buy, rent, stream, whatever you have to do, watch and pay especially close attention to the movies, the art and the language of F. W. Murnau.

murnauSatanás_1murnau 1920 Der Bucklige und die Tanzerin (ale) 01murnau tumblr_m0xkh7YZEI1r0i1g5o1_500murnauAbend+nacht+morgen+(1920)murnau the-haunted-castle-movie-poster-1921-1020442722murnauNosferatu-Original-Postermurnau 936full-der-brennende-acker-postermurnaudXFLaYhk4gY746TeUzYx9PDxMaYmurnauFinances_of_the_Grand_Duke-804337324-largemurnau tumblr_lvoe64GND71qa6hmqo1_500murnauTartuffe-241248143-largemurnau faust_postermurnau Sunrise-Postermurnau 1928_4_Devils-971x808murnauuntitledmurnautabu_cov-15

F. W. Murnau film list:

1931 Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

1930 City Girl

1928 4 Devils

1927 Sunrise

1926 Faust

1925 Tartuffe

1924 The Last Laugh

1924 Finances of the Grand Duke

1923 Die Austreibung (Short)

1922 Phantom

1922 Der brennende Acker

1922 Nosferatu

1922 Marizza, genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna

1921 The Haunted Castle

1921 Desire

1921 The Dark Road

1920 Abend – Nacht – Morgen

1920 Der Januskopf

1920 Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin

1920 Satanas

1919 Emerald of Death

 

By C. S. Williams

Humphrey Bogart, Happy Birthday! Born Christmas Day; 1899-1957

bogy3_humphrey-bogart bogy600full-humphrey-bogart bogy1563116-nku__humphrey_bogart bogy9799516_ori bogybogartin bogyhumphrey-bogart bogyhumphrey-bogart-625x450 bogyimages bogyuntitled bogy01+humphrey-bogart-01 bogy1-humphrey-bogart-1899-1957-granger

Born Christmas Day of 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart made 8 appearances on Broadway before his first role in film came in 1928 in short film called “The Dancing Town”; it would be two years more before Bogart would make his first feature film.  His was a stalwart career, full of envious roles, with many Oscar worthy performances. His one Academy Award for Best Actor, of course, was in the African Queen, 1951, a brilliant interpretation as the drunkard, Charlie Allnut. But, he was just as dynamic as café owner Rick Blaine, in Casablanca, 1942 or one could choose, his turn as Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg, in The Caine Mutiny, 1954. These few films I have mentioned but scratch the surface of his weighty, admirable resume, and what should have been an award-strewn path to film glory.

Bogart’s lack of multiple Oscars does not detract from his appearance in so many of what we the modern film-watchers consider to be true classics: The Maltese Falcon, 1941, To Have and Have Not, 1944, The Big Sleep, 1946, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, 1948 and Sabrina, 1954. Other movies which Humphrey Bogart made might not come to mind immediately as a classic, but on further review we see that in their own way they rank at least as a minor classic as well; I am thinking of The Harder They Fall, 1956 (Bogart’s last film), The Barefoot Contessa, 1954 and High Sierra 1941. I could go on listing his plaudit laudable works but shall end by saying that since I was a boy I have been fascinated by Bogart, his tough-guy persona, he being my first anti-hero-hero and found so much more in his acting arsenal as I watched amazed at what this little guy with a slight lisp and too much saliva could do with a choice part.

Whether the lead or in support Humphrey Bogart seemed always to grab the camera’s attention, thereby our attention, and make the movie his own. What a great Christmas present we the movie-loving public received on Christmas Day, 1899. I don’t know about you but any and all of my differing Best-Film-Lists contain Bogart films galore, which if we take the second syllable of galore we find that the work of Bogart has taken on Hollywood lore status. Relax, if you can while taking in a Bogie movie of your choice.

bogyPoster+-+Petrified+Forest,+The_13bogyKID+7bogy7085241_f260bogyAngels_with_Dirty_Faces_Film_Posterbogy1_20110515_123844bogyhigh+sierra+posterbogy220px-FalconmbogyPoster - All Through the Night_06bogyPoster - Across the Pacific (1942)_02bogycasablanca-17fga0mbogyPoster - Action in the North Atlantic_07bogySahara_-_1943_-_-posterbogyPoster - To Have and Have Not_02bogyBigsleep2bogydark_passage_xlgbogy600full-the-treasure-of-the-sierra-madre-photobogykey-largo-posterbogyEnforcer_WEB1bogyevent_255648462bogyPoster - Battle Circus_03bogyPoster+-+Beat+the+Devil_05bogy936full-the-caine-mutiny-posterbogyPoster-Art-sabrina-1954-14441722-2560-2004bogyl_46754_097182c6bogymax1355154722-inlay-coverbogy3xHgFp60IRq5VlIMC9Wyt8grrfUbogydesperate_hours_ver2_xlgbogymax1358704736-inlay-cover

By C. S. Williams

John Brascia, Dancing Dynamo, The Expanded Experience

white-christmas-ellen-abraham

John Brascia

 

John Brascia burst upon the cinematic scene, with good looks, a tremendous smile and most of all his natural born athleticism which imbued his dance steps with vigor and excitement. His talent for dancing was immediately recognized as special and great things were heralded for his career; his name mentioned in the same rarified air of, Astaire and Kelly.[1] His turns in White Christmas, 1954 and Meet Me in Las Vegas in 1956 brought to Brascia, adulations and plaudits in perpetuity, without reserve; that is the magnificence of his performances in these two film-musicals.

Over the course of 2015 this biography proved wildly popular, particularly as Christmas approached. It is with this in mind that I have returned to the Brascia “well,” to apprehend what crisp elixir I might draw forth to quench my curiosity and hopefully to refresh the reader as well. This John Brascia expanded biography is an increase of 20%, and media has been added to enhance the reader’s experience. If you have not read this, the longest article regarding the special talents of John Brascia,[2] then the entirety of the biography is new territory, yet, if you have already perused this bio, it is my intention to make the rereading of it easier. All new materials within the body of this commentary are in italics, making a friendlier excursion for those coming back for a second cup of Brascia…

A bit of thanks is needed to be passed along to my wife, Margaret and my son, Stephen, who afford me the time to research for these works; for their love and kindly support I am eternally grateful. C. S. Williams

Brascia’s Back-story: The Family

Jovani “John” Frank Brascia was born on May 11, 1932, in Fresno, California, to Italian immigrants Gaetano (Galtano, Tommy) Brascia and Caterina “Katie” Napolitano. The Brascia clan including grandparents Mike and Consetta Brascia moved from Brooklyn, New York, before John Frank was born.

In California:

Tommy Brascia co-owned (with his father Mike[3]) and operated a liquor store, which was located at 126 West I Street (at the time a popular small business area) in Colton, California. It seems that Tommy was making some of his profits by bookmaking and pool-selling. He was arrested and charged with those and other sundry violations of the California state penal codes in the summer of 1949;[4] he was sentenced to ninety-days and a $250.00 fine; suspension of his sentence was dependent upon no further violations.[5] In addition, to the spirits store Tommy Brascia had an amusement games business in Van Nuys, California.[6] While an apartment above the liquor store on West I Street, began as the Brascia’s home,[7]  by the late 1940s their residence was at 715 West E Street in Colton.[8]

John’s Sibs

John (Jovani, Johnny, Johnnie, Johnie) Brascia had an older brother, the middle child, Vincent; he played second-singles on the Colton High-School tennis squad.[9] The oldest of the Brascia children was their sister, Cecilia (named after her aunt) who graduated from Colton High School in 1945.[10] The Brascia family attended the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church of Colton where in the late spring of 1944 John received his first Holy Communion.[11]

Johnny Himself:

Johnny Brascia (Deadeye Johnny) was a high-school basketball player beginning in his sophomore year at Colton High, acting as a co-captain; Colton is a suburb of San Bernardino, California.[12] At 5’11” he took the position of guard in his junior year; he was a starter for the Colton Yellowjackets.[13] It is certain that Brascia became a two-sport athlete, possibly three, if we accept a one line report about him suiting up for baseball at Colton High, yet there is no further evidence of this.[14] He played for Colton on the football squad as the starting quarterback in his junior and senior years.[15] In 1950 (just three years and six months before he would go before the cameras on White Christmas and the very same year when he appeared as a dancer in, Summer Stock (although uncredited), Brascia was voted to Second-Team of the All-Citrus Belt Basketball League.[16] In his years in basketball, Brascia was coached by Tom Morrow a Southern California coaching legend, who piloted the school’s program for twenty-four years, 1947-1971.[17] Some writers have made mention that Brascia attended Hollywood High as though his entire scholastic-sports career was played out there. It is true that he went to the Tinseltown high school, just not a significant amount, spending April and May of his senior year there.[18]

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

 

At what juncture Brascia became interested with dancing is not easily discernible and one friend said that Johnny “never showed any indication… of going into the performing arts.”[19] It does not appear that he was involved in any high-school stage productions; the closest he came to stage work while in school was when he took part in a program of tumbling and acrobatics as part of the Public Schools week at Colton High School in April of 1949.[20] But, he obviously loved the movies and maybe infatuation with them and their stars is a better term, because he was ejected from Paramount Studios in 1950, when caught climbing a wall to watch the actors and actresses go by.[21] Some of those who have written bio-briefs have speculated as to what Brascia was up to after he graduated high school and before he hit the Great White Way in early 1953. The answer to the question of that twenty-four-month work-gap, may be that he was a telephone lineman. We know that he had two uncredited appearances before the camera in Summer Stock in 1950 and Call Me Madam (filming in 1952), which was finished before his Broadway stint.

summer-stock-poster-2

call-me-madam-movie-poster

Excepting those two film dance-ons, that is a full two years unaccounted for. Others have suggested military service,[22] to fill in the dark-fissure of his early career, which does not seem plausible considering Brascia was living in North Hollywood, in the late summer of 1951. His brother Vincent did join the Army, shipping off to Japan in 1951 and was a Master Sargent on the front lines in Korea in ’52, still, there is no evidence of John serving in any of the military branches.[23] On the other hand this work as a lineman with a telephone company appears all the more probable, since by the very fact that he was still residing in Southern California in 1951. This in-between job as a lineman was posited by columnist Marilyn Beck in a 1968 article, with what appears to be information from a short interview.[24] It was during these early years that Brascia commenced dance lessons with Louis “Luigi” Faccuito, jazz-dance impresario; the exact period of time when these lessons were given, neither Faccuito or Brascia, nor any reporter has stated.[25]

Louis “Luigi” Faccuito

Louis “Luigi” Faccuito

 

Brascia on Broadway:

At some point prior to Broadway, Brascia appeared in a production of Madame Butterfly; at what theater and with who was not reported. However, in 1952 the Metropolitan Opera staged Butterfly in February and the New York City Opera produced this well-known piece by Puccini, staging it at the City Center in late March.[26] Whichever company he appeared with I am sure by Mr. Brascia’s work ethic, that he presented the audience with a treat; Madame Butterfly was his first official appearance in New York.[27] Brascia’s only production on Broadway was in Hazel Flagg, which premiered at the, Mark Hellinger Theatre, on February 11, 1953 and ended its run on September 19, 1953. He and Sheree North (her Broadway debut as well) were added to the cast in the middle of December, 1952, with rehearsals starting at the end of the year.[28]  

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

 

It is then from the middle of September of ’51 through mid-December of ‘52 that nothing is known of the actions nor what occupied his time as no personal accounts (addresses, tryouts or jobs) were relayed by Johnny, nor have any Brascia journals surfaced to give insight into his early days in the Big Apple. We do know that Brascia lived in the vicinity of West 57th Street and 6th Avenue, near Carnegie Hall. Times were tough for the struggling dancer, who often visited a Horn & Hardart Automat, preparing what he referred to as the “starving actor’s tomato soup;” a cup of hot water, ketchup, mustard and spices, along with what bread and butter he could afford.[29]

Horn & Hardart Automat

 

During the first few months of his new found fame, Brascia was romantically connected to cast member Estelle Aza; Aza had already been in two Broadway productions, each role non-speaking.[30]  Johnny would win the Outer Circle Award for Best Supporting Performance for his portrayal of Willie in Hazel Flagg;[31] he also won the Best Dancer from the Donaldson Awards poll of Billboard, for his work in Flagg.[32] He was a favorite of Rosalind Russell who threw a small party for the dancer at Bruno’s Pen & Pencil; as a gift she presented Brascia with a stack of letters-of-introduction to her friends in Hollywood.[33]

Billboard June 20, 1953

Billboard June 20, 1953

 

After the Saturday night, 4th of July performance, Flagg, went on break and during this summer hiatus Brascia went to Hollywood and spent time with actress-dancer Ann Miller. Flagg returned from recess on September 1, 1953, and Brascia made his way back for the reopening; the play lasted only another nineteen days after the summer vacation.[34] Robert Alton staged the dances and musical numbers for, Call Me Madam, which work he finished prior to heading for Broadway and the Hazel Flagg production.[35] Brascia, aforesaid, appeared uncredited in Madam clearly, his relationship with Alton led to Hazel Flagg which led to White Christmas. Most modern retellings of Alton and Brascia’s association are accounted beginning with Flagg. But, this Call Me Madam dancing by Brascia in the ‘Ocarina’ scene introduced him to choreographer Robert Alton, and when Alton took the duties as stager of the dances and musical numbers on White Christmas, he cast Brascia in the role of John.[36] At the last of August of 1953, Los Angeles Times columnist, Edwin Schallert wrote that Irving Berlin was writing-on a special role for John Brascia, to introduce the young dancer to film-audiences. Further Schallert confirmed the professional relationship of Alton and Brascia, and that Alton had discovered Johnny in the chorus of, Call Me Madame; in addition, this article by Edwin Schallert revealed that Brascia, although especially written-in, still had to compete with Danny Kaye for on-screen dancing-time.[37]

In early September it was reported that Brascia would leave Flagg to dance with Vera Ellen in White Christmas,[38] and the rest as they say is history; no sooner did Brascia get hired for White Christmas, in 1953, than he began courting Vera Ellen, he, her junior by eleven years.[39] Much of Robert Alton’s White Christmas choreography intended for Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen proved too complicated for Kaye, Brascia stepped in[40] and with his performance hoofed his way into Hollywood history; thrilling audiences for the last six decades. Brascia’s aforementioned dance teacher, Luigi Faccuito, although unlisted and uncredited appeared in White Christmas as well.  There are a few Call Me Madam alums in that 1954 Irving Berlin ode to the White Christmas, Gorge Chakiris, Barrie Chase and Vera Ellen. Donald O’Connor who was to play the Phil Davis role (eventually filled by Danny Kaye), in, White Christmas, also co-starred in Madam. Brascia and Vera Ellen, were afforded the opportunity to show off their exceptional dancing skills in the Abraham, Choreography and Mandy sequences of White Christmas.

White_Chrismas_poster

Abraham Scene with Brascia & Vera Ellen

Abraham Scene with Brascia & Vera Ellen

More from the Abraham Scene Brascia & Vera Ellen

More from the Abraham Scene Brascia & Vera Ellen

 

Brascia Ballroom:

Brascia during the 1950’s and 60’s lived not by checks from his film work or in ballet or musicals, but with dancing in clubs and on television. 1954 must have been an uncomfortable year of for Brascia, after the flurry of the bustle of 1953. Yet, 1954 was cushioned by the impending release of White Christmas in the autumn and his behind the scenes duties on, There’s No Business Like Show Business. Johnny took dance-in Joan Weamer (standing in for Marilyn Monroe) through the steps in the “Heat Wave” number. Brascia’s job along with Ms. Weamer and four male dancers, including White Christmas alumni George Chakiris was to demonstrate the scene for Monroe;[41] still this resulted in no screen time for John but it did as an uncredited appearance for Chakiris. For There’s No Business, Robert Alton again was the dance maestro and seeming to fill the role of mentor or benefactor to Brascia and Chakiris.[42]

There's_No_Business_Like_Show_Business_movie_poster

 

Then in May of 1955 Vera Ellen began a production at the newly constructed hotel-casino, The Dunes, in Las Vegas; this extravaganza (Magic Carpet Revue) played in the Arabian Room. The cast of the show was sixty strong and featured Brascia.[43] When Johnny was filming his sequences with Cyd Charisse for Meet Me in Las Vegas (opened in February, 1956), Ellen waited patiently for her twenty-four-year-old dancing partner to return.[44] The work with friend Vera Ellen in Vegas and the Vegas musical starring Charisse and Dan Daily, provided a significant bridge of publicity for Brascia, much needed for the coming year of 1956.

Shows At The Dunes

MEET_ME_IN_LAS_VEGAS poster

Johnny Brascia in the Frankie and Johnny ballet scene with the marvelous Cyd Charisse and the beautiful Liliane Montevecchi

Johnny Brascia in the Frankie and Johnny ballet scene with the marvelous Cyd Charisse and the beautiful Liliane Montevecchi

 

Professionally, 1956 was a repeat of 1954 for Brascia, the year went as dark as a Monday at a Broadway Theatre. From here on out though, Brascia would without a doubt face no employment drought. But his stability in regards to being employed began not with work but with romance in 1955, setting the stage for the name of Brascia to be read everywhere for the next four years, whether working or not. Women of all ages seemed to be attracted to Johnny and for a brief period Dallas heiress, Peggy Kane was romantically involved with Brascia; this bit appeared in Walter Winchell’s, Man About Town, On Broadway, and Broadway and Elsewhere columns in February of 1955.[45] The other noteworthy event for Brascia in 1955 began in the summer, which was his involvement with actress, Movita (Maria Castaneda), almost fifteen years older than he, which stirred more than a few notices in newspapers across the land, because of her romantic ties to Marlon Brando (future husband of Movita). Brascia and Movita nearly married in 1957, they had set the wedding-date for March 27, but their on-again-off-again romance soon went off and the nuptials were delayed.[46]

Maria "Movita" Castaneda

Maria “Movita” Castaneda

 

1957, brought Johnny and ballerina Mia Slavenska to rehearsals for a rock-n-roll act for TV and clubs; the twosome did make appearances at two hotels with the show. The act was tried out at the famous Borscht Belt resort, the Concord Hotel (located in Kiamesha Lake, in the Catskills), in March of ‘57, and at the, Royal York Hotel in, Toronto. This venture seems not have panned out, for nothing further was written regarding the act.[47]

Mia Slavenska

Mia Slavenska

 

Most of Johnny’s success was with (Brascia & Tybee), Ms. Tybee Afra, playing the best clubs and the best television shows (a cursory glance of TV listings of the late 1950s through the 1960s reveals they appeared often on the boob-tube).[48]

Tybe Afra, Spencer Times, Spencer, Iowa, March 30, 1958

Tybe Afra, Spencer Times, Spencer, Iowa, March 30, 1958

 

To list each performer Brascia and Tybee danced for and categorize all of their performances would take an entire article itself. What follows is a small sampling of those “stars” which Brascia & Tybee, especially in the late 1950’s through the mid-60’s, was most often seen with: Jack Benny,[49] Tony Martin, Maurice Chevalier, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Woody Allen, Petula Clark,[50] George Burns, Danny Thomas, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Las Vegas, Miami, Reno, and Tahoe; all of the major metropolitan cities saw the choreographed moves of this dynamic couple. Brascia & Tybee were one of the highest paid dance teams in entertainment; quickly moving up the show business ladder of success, nearing number-one (I include some adverts to visually demonstrate their popularity).[51]

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 11, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 11, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 12, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 12, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, March 27, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, March 27, 1959

Appeal Democrat, Marysville, California, May 4, 1959

Appeal Democrat, Marysville, California, May 4, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, October 11, 1966

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, October 11, 1966

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, June 26, 1968

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, June 26, 1968

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, June 18, 1966

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, June 18, 1966

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, August 1, 1969

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, August 1, 1969

 

According to author Josephine Powell, Afra and Brascia met at Lindy’s Deli in New York after Tybee finished shooting her scenes for Silk Stockings (appearing as Fifi, uncredited) in the spring of 1957; Brascia’s account stated that Afra suggested them teaming up. The couple’s first routine featured Roger ‘King’ Mosian (Mozian)[52] on drums and Dominic Frontiere[53] on piano with Brascia’s former dance teacher, Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito staging the act.

 

Rober King Mozian

Roger King Mozian

Dominic Frontiere

Dominic Frontiere

 

Since Brascia felt Afra needed ballet lessons to further prepare the duet he set a schedule of instruction up for her. An MCA agent saw one of their rehearsals at Grossinger’s and Brascia and Tybee were signed to appear at the Latin Casino in Philadelphia. The weekend shows at Grossinger’s were a success and fortuitously enough a representative of the Fontainebleau Hotel, in Miami Beach attended; the duo was offered $1,000 per week to open for Lena Horne, and $1,200 a week when later opening for Tony Martin. It was at the Fontainebleau that a talent scout for the Ed Sullivan Show saw the dancing couple, and scheduled them for the May 26, 1957 broadcast, which program Frank Sinatra saw and promptly contacted Brascia and Tybee’s agent and they got a booking at the Sands in Las Vegas, opening for the Rat Pack, featuring Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. The dancing-duo was being paid $1,750 each week[54] for their turns on the floor to captivate and energize the audience, preparing them for the Rat Pack experience.

Although Tybee Afra and John F. Brascia were now partnered, Johnny received an opportunity to appear in one piece in the 1958 (opened February 4) Broadway production of, Oh Captain. Unfortunately, His number was cut after the Philadelphia premier in January of 1958;[55] he had the role of, The Couturier. This loss in turn led to a tryout with Jerome Robbins, founder of the Ballets, U. S. A… Brascia was promptly hired. The U.S. State Department sponsored the twenty-week tour of Europe, that included stops at the Brussels Fair and the Festival of Two Worlds, in Spoleto, Italy; American artists that participated were Thomas Schippers who directed the musical branch, Jose Quintero, the drama and Jerome Robbins, choreographed a program of ballets.[56] The tour began in the late spring of 1958 and performed throughout the summer and the company of dancers that Robbins’ assembled was sixteen, inclusive of our Mr. Brascia.[57] The ballet portion of the tour staged, Games, by Todd Bolender, and three by Robbins: N. Y. Export: op. Jazz; Afternoon of a Faun, and, The Concert, filled the dancing program.[58]

The romantic entanglement twixt Movita and Johnny appeared at the first not to be hampered by the sixth-month separation, while John was on the State Department European tour, he declaring his desire of marriage to the actress soon after his return home. This relationship endured almost three-and-a-half years, from August of ‘55 to early 1959.[59] Finally, the Movita wedding was cancelled altogether and by March of 1959, Brascia’s interests had moved from Ms. Castaneda, to dance partner, Tybee Afra.[60] The couple’s partnership turned to friendship and then to marriage; Afra and Brascia were wed in early September, 1959, in a ceremony in the Catskills.[61]

Brascia and Tybee made an appearance on, Talent Scouts, in February of 1960, hosted by Dave Garroway and the dancing duo was introduced by Maureen O’Hara.[62] Johnny Brascia had the lead role in the Robert Herridge Theater production of, Frankie and Johnny (perfect choice since he had danced the Johnny role in the Meet Me in Las Vegas, ballet sequence), a thirty-minute jazz-ballet broadcast in October of 1960, with music by Charlie Mingus and choreography by Lee Sherman. Tybee Brascia had the part of Nelly Bly and Melissa Hayden played opposite Johnny.[63]  The famous Copa Room at the Sands Hotel, in Las Vegas showcased Brascia & Tybee in 1960-1961.[64] The 1960-61 Ed Sullivan Show, on CBS, featured Brascia & Tybee, twice over; in December, 1960 and in April of 1961.[65] At the 26th annual Poinsettia Ball, held at the Hotel Americana, on December 1, 1962, Brascia & Tybee entertained guests with their dancing prowess; the emcee for the event was George DeWitt.[66]

On June 25, 1964,[67] Xavier Cugat brought a million-dollar law-suit against Brascia and Tybee. The grievance claimed that the husband and wife team persuaded Cugat’s ex-wife Abbe Lane to break her contract with him. Brascia and Tybee, who denied wooing Lane,[68] were a part of the Cugat-Lane show. Cugat filed for $200,000 plus $800,000 in punitive damages just three weeks after Lane divorced Cugat in Mexico.[69] In most modern mentions, Brascia is listed as being accused of either stealing Cugat’s wife or that he was sued for alienation of affection, when in fact the charges, according to the New York Times read that John and Tybee Brascia “did carry on a constant campaign in various countries of the world undermining the relationship between the plaintiff and Abbe Lane and did so all of this while professing great friendship for plaintiff.”[70] In July of 1964 John and Tybee Brascia countered Cugat with a law-suit of their own, claiming that the band leader had influenced booking agents from hiring them; they filed in the New York State Supreme Court for $6,100,000 on Monday, July 27.[71] Unfortunately, I have found (my searches have been from the comfort of my office, Nero Wolfe style) no further information on the resolution to these cases.

Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat

Abbe Lane

Abbe Lane

 

In the spring of 1966 and Brascia & Tybee were featured in the Dean Martin Show at Harrah’s, in Lake Tahoe, as well the pair performed on Dean Martin’s television program on October 6, 1966.[72]  1966 also found Brascia and Afra in Rome, for a TV special for Studio Uno, staring Marcello Mastroianni and produced by Hermes Pan; the couple was joined by Jerry Jackson and White Christmas cast-mate, Barrie Chase.[73] It was during the early 1960’s through 1966 that John Brascia and Tybee Afra-Brascia made nine films in Italy; I am unable to find any references to titles or possible stars.[74] The dynamic-duo had the privilege of dancing at the 8ooth birthday celebration of Copenhagen in August of 1967;[75] I doubt they ever danced for any birthday-wish recipient any older than this one.

Brascia Before the Cameras Again:

Dean Martin made, The Ambushers (a “Matt Helm” film) in 1967 and brought along friend John Brascia for the project, for his first non-dance related film or television appearance. This was in a way was a second career, for this nouveau-dramatique actor, not quite leaving dance behind but taking new bold steps; he received positive reviews for his performance. 1967 offered Brascia & Tybee the opportunity to be the first U. S. dancers to appear in East Berlin, East Germany;[76] the couple must have been truly excited to be taking their steps beyond the wall and letting their talents speak freedom from the dance floor.

the-ambushers

Johnny did work on Bullitt in 1968 as a gangster, but evidently his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor;[77] this tidbit was reported in the Voice of Broadway syndicated column written by Jack O’Brian and by Hollywood reporter Earl Wilson. It is a shame that this part of Brascia’s résumé is lost, because according to O’Brian, Brascia was great![78] What many refer to as the premiere showing of Bullitt on October 17, 1968 was actually VIP preview.[79] The official premiere was in San Francisco on November 15, with the majority of the country seeing the film near Christmas. The footage involving Brascia must have been edited before the general release in November. However, 1968 was not bereft of Brascia for he had a role in another Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie, The Wrecking Crew, with a Christmas opening.

wrecking_crew_xlg

 

With the Ed Sullivan again, Brascia and Tybee headlined for the “Really Big Show” during the May Sweeps, in 1969;[80] they were regulars the TV icon Sullivan. 1970 also saw Brascia form a company (K. O. B. Productions) with friends, Lawrence Kubik and Robert Vincent O’Neil (in 1980 O’Neil would again collaborate with Brascia). The trio had written a comedy-adventure, Giovanni Jones, with Kubik set to produce, Mr. O’Neil directing and Brascia acting in the title role. The film was scheduled to roll cameras in October of ’70, on location in Italy; “without a trace” is any further information regarding this film or the K. O. B. film company.[81]

Yet, with all of their professional success, things were not perfect for the couple and John and Tybee Brascia filed for divorce in May of 1970. Brascia and Susan Harper Pierson (actress Sondra “Sandra” Scott) planned on marrying in November when the dissolution was final.[82] At last, on December 19 of 1970 the couple was married in Los Angeles proper with Tony Bennett in attendance as Best Man.[83]

 

Susan Harper Pierson, actress, Sandra "Sondra" Scott

Susan Harper Pierson, actress, Sandra “Sondra” Scott

Bennett and Brascia were friends and in fact, the latter introduced Bennett to Fred Astaire.[84] The newly formed Brascia & Brascia got to work straight away and their daughter Christina C. was born in the middle of September of 1971; Christina would act as well, appearing on the NBC soap-opera, Santa Barbara in 1992-1993, as, Aurora DeAngelis for thirty-episodes. Although domestic bliss was over, still the dance team of Brascia and Tybee continued,[85] making appearances through the summer of 1972; then Johnny Brascia hung up his dancing shoes;[86] or did he?

Christina Brascia

Christina Brascia

Christina Brascia as Aurora DeAngelis

Christina Brascia as Aurora DeAngelis

 

John Brascia was on the short-list, well actually a long-list, for the role of Sonny Corleone, in the Godfather. This information comes to us by Francis Ford Coppola’s own hand, written on a sheet of paper from a yellow pad. This can be seen at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California, which is located off of highway 101, north of San Francisco.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery Movie Gallery

Francis Ford Coppola Winery Movie Gallery

The Godfather casting list located at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

The Godfather casting list located at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

 

Tybee Afra-Brascia married stuntman-actor Daniel C. Vafiadis (AKA Dan Vadis, Dan Vardis), in June of 1973 in Los Angeles. Vadis was best known for his cinematic work in Italy; Tybee retried for a while soon after marrying Vardis.[87] She followed with a short revival professionally[88] and then died in Los Angeles, at the age of fifty, in 1982.

Dan Vadis (Vardis)

Dan Vadis (Vardis)

 

1973 saw Johnny in two films, Walking Tall and Executive Action; these two films represented Brascia’s first non-musical film-roles that were not attached to friend Dean Martin. Executive Action, afforded Brascia the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s most memorable tough-persona actors, Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. While his appearance with Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall, will forever have Johnny Brascia in a rough-and-tumble cult-classic; quite the departure for a Broadway-Hollywood-musical and nightclub dancer.

Walking Tall

executive-action-movie-poster

A made for television movie followed in 1974, Pray for the Wildcats; Brascia had a two-episode stint on ABC’s, S.W.A.T., in 1975. He had a single appearance in Joe and Sons, a short lived series on CBS, 1976. Nevertheless, nothing could help personally, for John and Sondra Brascia were unable to make a go of it and their marriage lasted but a few years; Sondra married again in November of 1976 to California real estate investor and apartment landlord, Kurt Bromet.[89]

In 1977 Brascia did make a special appearance on the Donny and Marie Show, dancing once again with Cyd Charisse; Charisse proffered the idea of partnering with Johnny in dance when she and husband Tony Martin made future musical appearances.[90] In October of 1978, Brascia began his own company, Jovani Productions, Inc., with Norman G. Rudman as agent of service of process for the company. Offices for Jovani Productions were housed at 9200 Sunset Blvd, Room 825, in Los Angeles, in the rather large commercial office building, which was formerly known as, Luckman Plaza.[91]

With his new film concern, Jovani, in working order, Johnny Brascia actively pursued acting, writing and producing, The Baltimore Bullet, in 1980; Rudman acted as executive producer for the project.

Thebaltimorebullet

Notwithstanding, a movie to the company’s credit and the trio of responsibilities of producer, writer and actor for Brascia, this would be his last work; he would spend the remainder of his life with family and friends.

 

 

In 1986 Brascia married actress-model Jordan Michaels (Michaels had a bit role in The Baltimore Bullet), who was nearly sixteen-years younger and they had a daughter, Giavonna in June of 1987.[92] The latter years could not have been easy for John Brascia or his family for he began a twenty-year battle with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s.[93] Brascia died on February 19, 2013, in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. He is survived by his two daughters and his grandchildren.

Jordan Michaels

Jordan Michaels

 

John Frank Brascia was a wonderfully energetic dancer and a rare talent; although never becoming a screen or television star, nevertheless, he captivated audiences for more than thirty years with his unique style and smile. I am sure his filmed performances, few though they be, will continue to capture the hearts and minds of dance-lovers for decades to come.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] The Two of Us, Tony Martin & Cyd Charisse, as told to Dick Kleiner, published by Mason/Charter, 1976, page 210

[2] Actually, this is the only genuine biography of Brascia of which I am aware. Beyond a few paragraphs dedicated to him every few years, this is the only treatment of his professional and personal life.

[3] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) September 18, 1944

[4] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 25, 1949

[5] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) July 6, 1949

[6] Van Nuys News (Van Nuys, California) April 13, 1950

[7] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 6, 1943

[8] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) July 13, 1949

[9] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 26, 1946

[10] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 17, 1945

[11] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 10, 1944

[12] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 18; March 5, 1948

[13] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) January 7; February 11;  1949

[14] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California)  May 3, 2014

[15] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 21, 1948

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 20, 1949

[16] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) March 3, 1950

[17] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) November 5, 1954

Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California)   April 24, 2014

[18] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) March 30, 1950

[19] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California) May 3, 2014

[20] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 29, 1949

[21]Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, New York) October 3, 1954

Lubbock evening Journal (Lubbock, Texas) October 21, 1954

[22] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California) May 1, 2014

[23] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) May 13; September 18, 1951

Chino Champion (Chino, California) February 29, 1952

[24] Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio) January 29, 1968

[25] Luigi’s Jazz Warm Up: an Introduction to Jazz Style and Technique, by Luigi, Lorraine Person Kriegel and Francis

Roach, published by Princeton Book Company, 1997, page 17

[26] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) February 2, 1952

New York Age (New York, New York) March 22, 1952

[27] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) September 29, 1953

[28] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) December 13, 1952

Billboard, December 27, 1952

[29] Heartship Celebrity Cookbook by Krystiahn, 2003

[30] Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira, New York) June 18, 1953

[31] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 16, 1953

[32] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) June 16, 1953

[33] Screenland Plus TV-Land, December, 1953

[34] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) July 1, 1953

Winona Republican-Herald (Winona, Minnesota) September 2, 1953

[35] Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) June 17, 1952

[36] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[37] Los Angeles Time (Los Angeles, California) August 31, 1953

[38] Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) September 9, 1953

[39] Times recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) September 23, 1953

[40] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) November 23, 2007

The Independent (London, United Kingdom) September 29, 2003

[41] Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, by Michelle Vogel, published by McFarland & Company, Inc., 2014, page

109

[42] Also appeared in: On the Town, 1949; Annie Get Your Gun, 1950; An American in Paris, 1951,

Singin’ in the Rain, 1952 and many more which list  may be seen on Wikipedia

Cumberland News (Cumberland, Maryland) February 22, 1973

Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) February 7, 1973

New York Times (New York, New York) April 15, 2001

[43] Las Vegas Strip History

[44] Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) May 26, 1955

[45] Terre Haute Tribune (Terre Haute, Indiana) February 8, 1955

Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) February 15, 1955

[46]Monroe Morning World (Monroe, Louisiana) August 7, 1955                                                                                 Shamokin News-Dispatch (Shamokin, Pennsylvania) February 21, 1957                                                                           Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, New York) February 21, 1957                                                                        News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) March 16, 1957                                                                                                         Pittsburgh Post Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 10, 1957

[47] Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, New York) February 21, 1957                                                                            News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) March 16, 1957                                                                                                   Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio) March 16, 1957                                                                                                                      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 10, 1957

[48] Eureka Humboldt Standard (Eureka, California) July 3, 1965

[49] Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) August 27, 1959

[50] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) December 2, 1966

Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) October 18, 1967

[51] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

Tonawanda News (Tonawanda, New York) August 29, 1968

[52] Mozian was a drummer, specializing in Latin rhythms, composing, arranging, conducting; besides playing the trumpet and bongos, he danced and sometimes choreographed.

[53] Frontiere, in 1960, would begin a forty-year career in Hollywood both composing and musically performing for film and television.

[54] Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming, by Josephine Powell, Author House, 2007

[55] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) January 13, 1958

[56] Anderson Daily Bulletin (Anderson, Indiana) February 24, 1958

Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) March 4, 1958

[57] Lubbock Evening Journal (Lubbock, Texas) June 11, 1958

[58] News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) June 28, 1958

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) July 13, 1958

[59] Oneonta Star (Oneonta, New York) December 26, 1958

[60] News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) March 9, 1959

[61] Daily Record (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania) September 15, 1959

[62] Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) February 21, 1960

[63] Knickerbocker News (Albany, New York) February 24, 1961

[64] Johnny’s Joint

[65] Classic TV Archive

[66] New York Times (New York, New York) October 21, 1962

Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) December 5, 1962

Cedar Rapids Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) December 7, 1962

[67] Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) June 26, 1964

[68] Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) July 28, 1964

[69] Standard Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) June 26, 1964

[70] New York Times (New York, New York) June 26, 1964

[71] Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) July 28, 1964

[72] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

[73] Knickerbocker News (Albany, New York) December 17, 1965

Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire, by John Franceschina, Oxford University Press, 2012

[74] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

[75] Progress-Index (Petersburg, Virginia) May 29, 1967

[76] Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) August 5, 19676

[77] Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) March 13, 1968

Tonawanda News (Tonawanda, New York) August 29, 1968

Monroe News Star (Monroe, Louisiana) August 30, 1968

Logansport Pharos Tribune (Logansport, Indiana) August 30, 1968

[78] Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) August 30, 1968

[79] David ‘Tex’ Allen

[80] La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wisconsin) May 4, 1969

[81] Motion Picture Herald, 1970

[82] Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) July 29, 1970

[83] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[84] The Good Life: The Autobiography of Tony Bennett, by Tony Bennett, publisher Pocket Books, 1998

[85] Lubbock Avalanche Journal (Lubbock, Texas) May 21, 1971

[86] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[87] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[88] Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Illinois) December 26, 1979

[89] Independent (Long Beach, California) November 17, 1976

[90] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[91] California Corporation Commission

Bizapedia

[92] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[93] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

Gilbert Warrenton, A Centennial Look at the Captivating Cinematographer

Motion Picture Studio Directory And Trade Annual 1918

Motion Picture Studio Directory And Trade Annual 1918

 

Gilbert Warrenton, noted cinematographer, who according to film-historian Kevin Brownlow (many others agree as well), was a principal exponent of the moving camera and the ‘German’ style in Hollywood. Warrenton was considered shoulder to shoulder with Karl Freund, until he arrived in California himself. Gilbert used revolutionary camera techniques in such films as The Man Who Laughs (1927), The Cat and the Canary (1927) and Lonesome (1928), but he was known for a distinctive stylization from his earliest days in 1914-1917.[1] Warrenton enjoyed six decades in the film industry, often photographing B-Westerns, TV series and late in his career, Science Fiction pictures. Within this first paragraph I have added nothing new to the memory of Mr. Warrenton, and making an addition to his work-history is my goal, therefore I will confine myself to his early days in cinema, and his personal life, which in the modern era remains undocumented. It is my intention to provide the reader with a clearer picture of who Gilbert Warrenton was, and what motivations led him to film, and in film.

Gilbert Chapman Warrenton was born in Lake View (near Peterson) New Jersey, on March 7, 1894, to Harry Hertzler and Ida May Kelley. Gilbert had blue eyes brown hair (adding some gray as he matured) and would grow to six-feet in height, with a ruddy complexion. Hertzler was an accountant, as well as the buying and selling of mortgages, he later would specialize in exports, while Ida May was a, singer, a music teacher, dramatic-reader and actress. Their names were well known in Paterson, New Jersey, with Hertzler and Warrenton appearing often in the local newspapers.[2] His sister Virginia, was born in 1887, and she too was influenced to the arts, at the early age of 5.[3]

Gilbert’s preoccupation with film, we now know, did not appear out of the blue, for his mother was somewhat of a noted singer and of course an actress both on stage and in celluloid, as well as writing at the least, one scenario and acting as producer and director on a handful of projects.[4] Ida May Kelley was known as Lule Mae Warrenton (she took that name no later than 1889[5]) on stage and before the camera, and her true success began once she was based in Los Angeles; that proved a perfect fit for motion pictures when first the Dream-Makers began their weaving in the area. Ms. Warrenton, had divorced Gilbert’s father and had married Charles Bradley (circa 1900), they first moving to Squaw Valley, California, which sets to the north-west of Lake Tahoe. Ida May taught music in the area, while husband Charles was a Wool-grader.

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 1905

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 1905

 

Warrenton began his silver-screen career (by his recollection[6]) in 1913 and was officially announced as being added to the staff of Universal in early 1914.[7] Gilbert Warrenton, had a preoccupation with photography which went beyond capturing images for moving pictures. His first recorded professional film job came with humorist, novelist Homer Croy (When to Lock the Stable, West of the Water Tower, They Had to See Paris) in 1914; Croy, with Warrenton, set upon a world-trip to film short travelogues for Universal, departing for Japan, on the S.S. Hongkong Maru of the Toyo Kisen Kaisha Oriental Steamship Company, from San Francisco, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1914 (Tuesday, March 17); first stop being Honolulu.[8] What a way to celebrate one’s twentieth-birthday!

This excursion took Warrenton and his director Croy to Japan and to Egypt. The titles filmed for Universal on this trip around the world, were, Here and There in Japan, The Japanese Silk Industry, In the Land of the Mikado. Croy continued onto Egypt (who his cameraman is anybody’s guess) Warrenton stopped over in Honolulu, to visit his mother who, “making some very unusual pictures,”[9] for Universal. While in Hawaii, Gilbert took landscapes of the interior of the islands.[10] These Croy short films were released from December of 1914 through April of the following year. Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned educational films afford the young Gilbert Warrenton a credit, yet, it is clear from contemporaneous reports that he was the man at the camera while Croy was in Japan.

Upon Warrenton’s return to the States, he worked on A Modern Melnotte, which was released in September of 1914; he used four double exposures in the film for director Lloyd Ingraham.[11] Also, he did some still photo work for Universal that year, with the beautiful image below offering an early insight to the talent of young Warrenton, as he caught Universal star, Cleo Madison in silhouette.

Motography, August 1, 1914

Motography, August 1, 1914

 

In addition, Gilbert was responsible for the photograph of Edna Maison, posing as the Madonna with the Baby for, The Heart of a Magdalene, released in December of 1914. The still was enlarged and sent to exhibitors all over the country for promotion of the movie.[12]

Moving Picture World November 28, 1914

Moving Picture World November 28, 1914

 

1915 should be considered a banner-year for Warrenton, since he began as cameraman for director Frank Lloyd, although no titles are associated with this period for Gilbert. Lloyd and company left Universal, contemplating two offers, and while the Lloyd troupe were deciding, Warrenton accepted an assignment from Universal for the Louis Joseph Vance (author of, The Lone Wolf series) company, and headed for Needles, California to film.[13] What was intended to be filmed is unknown but a hint might be available from a report in April of 1915, that Vance had secured the photoplay rights to the works of Booth Tarkington, Stewart Edward White and Joseph Conrad.[14]

Camera-work, regardless of what type, continued to provide Gilbert with opportunities, when he made at least one, possibly two trips to Mexico, in the spring and summer of 1916 (with Beverly Howard Griffith) to cover the incursions by Pancho Villa into the United States and the retaliatory expeditions by the U. S. military, as well as gaining permission to follow Mexican General P. Elias Calles, on his southern expedition.[15] The news-film duo where in El Paso, prior to their trip south of the border, recording the enlisting of prominent citizens for the Citizens’ Training Camp; the camp was a part of the larger National Preparedness Plan.[16] During this period, Gilbert was able to film a meeting between U.S. General Hugh L. Scott and Mexican General Alvaro Obregon.

New York Dramatic Mirror, August 5, 1916

New York Dramatic Mirror, August 5, 1916

 

In early August of 16’, Beverley Griffith and Warrenton developed a, shall we say, innovated method for getting film and photographs of the Elephant Butte Dam, northwest of El Paso, Texas, by suspending the Dort automobile owned by Animated Weekly, by a cable 1461 feet long and 296 feet above the water level; at the time Elephant Butte Dam was the largest single block concrete construction in the world.[17]

By late summer of 1916, Warrenton was the photographer for the Juvenile division at Universal, under the direction of his mother, Lule Warrenton.[18] In the latter part of that same summer, nearing the first days of autumn, Gilbert rolled the camera for director Raymond Wells, for a special scene for, The Saintly Sinner (released in February of 1917), starring Ruth Stonehouse, Henri De Vries and Jack Mulhall. Warrenton and director Wells, rode in a car, while Mulhall took the train at Newhall (about 30-miles from Los Angeles), rolling camera at three points along the journey. The auto had to reach speeds of sixty miles an hour to keep up with the rail conveyance; Mulhall being captured on camera on the moving train.[19]

In the fall of 16’, Warrenton, busied himself in Hawaii, working the camera for director, Dr. H. G. Stafford, of the Aloha Film Company. The movie sported scenes shot on Oahu and Hawaii, with a night view of Kilauea. The film’s public premier (there was a private viewing on November 1, 1916) was held at the Hawaii Theater, in Honolulu, on Monday, November 6, 1916.[20]

Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 2, 1916

Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 2, 1916

 

It was the aforementioned positions at Universal and the resulting product which afforded both Warrentons the opportunity to join a start-up film company, Frieder Film Corporation, which was based in Chicago; the concern featured Irene M. Frieder as president of the company; at the time Frieder being the only woman president of an American film corporation.[21]

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, April 12, 1917

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, April 12, 1917

 

The mother and son team finished their first movie for Frieder by May of 1917, with Lule as director and Gilbert at camera.[22] That initial Frieder offering, entitled, A Bit of Heaven, was based on the Kate Douglas Wiggin, story, The Bird’s Christmas Carrol.

Motion Picture News, April 7, 1917

Motion Picture News, April 7, 1917

 

The follow up for Frieder was, The Littlest Fugitive, with plans for the third Frieder film to be, Hop o’ My Thumb. All three starred the 5-year-old Mary Louise Cooper.[23] Lule Warrenton was the first (and as of 1917, the one and only) woman producer with a studio and company all her own; the focus was to be directed toward the child audience, with the longest films to no more than five-reels or one-hour-fifteen-minutes.[24] The studio was located in Lankershim, in what is now referred to as North Hollywood (just west of Burbank).[25] Contrary to what was written in the Silent Feminists, The Littlest Fugitive was a finished product, according to a report in Moving Picture World, in the April 28, 1917 edition and needed only to be edited according to the Motion Picture News of the same date; the third Frieder project, Hop o’ My Thumb stands without any supporting evidence as to completion.[26] In addition to Hop o’ My Thumb as unfinished, Star Dust was announced in June of 1917 as the next Frieder project, with Peggy Custer on loan from Universal to star, Irma Sorter, Chandler Honse, along with June Hovick (in her debut), Carl Miller, Louis Koch, Alexia Durant, W. S. Hooser and little Mary Louise Cooper, of course Gilbert Warrenton was slated to handle the camera-work.[27] As with Hop o’ My Thumb there is no proof that the Frieder production of Star Dust was completed.

 

Personal Warrenton Post 1917:

Gilbert Warrenton, was descendant of Andrew Adams (on his father’s side), and continued the long and proud heritage of military service for his country.[28] An interesting side note, but seemingly of no consequence, was when Warrenton applied for membership with The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution in 1967; Gilbert tried to demonstrate on the paperwork that he had always used the name Warrenton. He did indeed use the name Warrenton for all legal matters, including military service (which they accepted). Yet, in 1905 at the marriage of his sister Virginia, he was reported as Gilbert Hertzler.[29] Gilbert may have used his given name of Warrenton, but at least through the first ten or twelve years of his life he was Gilbert Hertzler.

 

Gilbert was a Major in the U.S Air Force during WWII, serving from September of 1942, into August of 1947. With this connection, he was offered the opportunity to make a photographic record of two Atomic Tests (Cross Roads and Greenhouse) in the Pacific.[30]

Major Gilbert Warrenton, this film was taken from the pages of the Needle, the McCornack General Hospital newsletter, Pasadena, California

Major Gilbert Warrenton, this film was taken from the pages of the Needle, the McCornack General Hospital newsletter, Pasadena, California

 

Warrenton, married Lucille Rhea Morrison on November 7, 1926; Rhea was nearly eight years younger than Gilbert, born in March of 1902.  The couple had two sons, William, in 1923, and Gilbert, Jr. two days after Christmas of 1930.[31] When Gilbert the senior was not working behind the camera, he was working the ground, citing his occupation as farmer in the Federal census.[32] Gilbert Hertzler Warrenton died on the 21st of August, 1980 in Riverside, California.

 

[1] Kevin Brownlow, Film History, Vol. 24, No.3, Behind the Camera (2012), pp.324-333

New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) March 24, 1917

[2] Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) December 3, 1892; January 23, 187-97; May 24, 1894; September 11, 1895

The Evening News (Paterson, New Jersey) September 9, 1893; September 7, 1895

[3] The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) November 19, 1892

[4] Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lea, Minnesota) January 1, 1896

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) September 16, 1907

[5] Owosso Times (Owosso, Michigan) July 26, 1889

[6] Kevin Brownlow, Film History, Vol. 24, No.3, Behind the Camera (2012), pp.324-333

[7] San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) March 12, 1914

[8] San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) March 12, 1914

Variety, March 27, 1914

Billboard, April 4, 1914

Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington) April 6, 1914

[9] Motion Picture News, June 6, 1914

[10] Motion Picture News, June 20, 1914

[11] Motography, August 29, 1914, page 322

[12] Motography, November 14, 1914

[13] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York), March 24, 1915

[14] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) April 15, 1915

[15] Los Angeles Time (Los Angeles, California) April 12, 1916

Moving Picture Weekly, July 15, 1916

[16] El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas) April 7, 1916

[17] Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon) august 15, 1916

[18] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) August 5, 1916

[19] Motography, September 16, 1916

[20] Honolulu Star Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) November 2; 6; 7, 1916

[21] Motography February 10, 1917

Motion Picture News, May 12, 1917

[22] Billboard, May 12, 1917

[23] Moving Picture World, April 28, 1917

[24] Moving Picture World, February17, 1917

[25] Moving Picture World, February17, 1917

[26] The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors, by Anthony Slide, Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1996, page 48

Moving Picture World, April 28, 1917

Motion Picture News, April 28, 1917

 

[27] Motion Picture News, June 2, 1917

[28] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[29] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) November 30, 1905

[30] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[31] The California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (Application for Membership), 1967

[32] 1940

John W. Leezer, a Leading Light in Early Cinematography

International Photographer November 1931

The International Photographer November 1931

 

John William Leezer was born in Keokuk, Iowa, on May 1, 1876, he was an intelligent, thoughtful man with his attentions directed toward the artistic rather than just the functional; he stood 5-feet-8-and-a-half-inches tall, stout boned, a youthful face with brown hair and brown eyes. Leezer was regarded by his peers and critics to be an artistic cinematographer.[1] His later professional years would be occupied by his love of the art of photography, the innovation of the equipment and furthering the knowledge of those interested in the field of cinematography. Leezer believed himself to be the first use the soft-focus lens on, The Marriage of Molly O, 1916.[2]

Personal Leezer:

Leezer served in the Spanish-American War of 1898 in the Fifth U. S. Artillery, in Battery K.[3] After the war, Leezer made his way to New York where he met his future wife, Rena Crocker, who was born in 1882, and the coupled married in 1902. Their first child, Dorothy was welcomed the next year, and the year following saw Lewis added to the family. By 1906 the Leezer clan had moved to Pennsylvania and there in the same year another daughter was born, Marian, and finally Arthur was welcomed in California, in 1914.

Leezer’s Laser Steps to Hollywood:

John W. Leezer opened a portrait studio, which did business from 1907 through 1909 in the Keystone State.[4] Finally, Leezer, growing weary of his venture accepted a position with the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, in the photographic department. National Cash Register was highly active with industrial films capturing the commercial activities of the company.[5] Leezer spent two years in Dayton and then moved to the Kinemacolor laboratory, which location (east or west coast) is unclear, where he was in charge for 1912 and most of 1913.[6]

In the latter part of 1913 he fulfilled a short engagement with Mack Sennett; and in late 1913 and into 1914 he worked at Essanay Studio, Reliance on one project and with Majestic and Mutual.[7] It was this early work with Sennett and at Reliance that D. W. Griffith viewed and hired Leezer for the Fine Arts staff, where he made ten movies;[8] one of these ten that Leezer made for Griffith is lost to his résumé.

In 1920 he and wife Rena were living in Burbank, California on Olive Avenue, it was in this period, the 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s that Leezer often wrote articles regarding photography, the process and its innovations, for, The American Cinematographer and International Photographer.[9] Also, 1921 was the year Leezer became the vice-president and general manager of, The World Classics Film Corporation, an educational film production concern.[10]

Mr. Leezer was always inventive with his camera-work but he made his mark photographing in the outdoors, with such films as, A Girl of the Timber Claims, 1917, Nugget Nell, 1919 and two Strongheart the Dog pictures: The Love Master, 1924, where Leezer and crew went to film in the Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada,[11] and returned to the same for White Fang, 1925.[12]

American Cinematographer February 1, 1922

John Leezer American Cinematographer February 1, 1922

 

Lighting the Leezer Lens: Missing Leezer

J. W. Leezer worked with Wilfred Lucas on The Trey o’ Hearts, a serial for Universal, in 1914; his cameraman for the project was Steve Rounds.[13] It is clear that Leezer photographed for director Arthur Mackley on one or more Broncho Billy Anderson westerns.[14] Leezer once claimed that he had shot more Indians than anyone in the country,[15] so it may be that his time with Broncho Billy was more extended than anyone has previously thought; how many titles are missing? Anyone’s guess to that question is as good as another. As well, Leezer may have donned the director’s cap, this according to one report, but for what production is a mystery.[16] He was working for R K O, in 1929, but in what capacity was not stated.[17] Leezer was also one of numerous cameramen used on, Hell’s Angeles, 1930, under the photographic direction of Gaetano Gaudio, who supervised the ground level cameras and Harry Perry who was in charge of the aerial cinematography.[18]

On Saturday, August 6, John W. Leezer died in Vista, California, at the age of 62; he was remembered with a sixteen-word obituary in the August 17 edition of Variety.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Wid’s Daily, January 8, 1919

Washington Post, February 22, 1920

[2] The American Cinematographer, February 1, 1922

[3] Motography,  March 3, 1917

[4] The American Cinematographer, February 1, 1922

[5] The American Cinematographer, January, 1926

[6] The American Cinematographer, February 1, 1922

[7] The American Cinematographer, February 1, 1922

The International Photographer, January, 1935

[8] The American Cinematographer, February 1, 1922

[9] The American Cinematographer, November 1, 1921

The American Cinematographer, March 1, 1922

[10] The American Cinematographer, January 1, 1922

[11] Exhibitors Herald, January 5, 1924

[12] Exhibitors Trade Review, January 27, 1923

[13] The International Photographer, January, 1935

[14] The International Photographer, January, 1935

[15] Moving Picture World, April 5, 1919

[16] Exhibitors Trade Review, February 25, 1922

[17] Motion Picture Almanac, 1929

[18]The International Photographer, March, 1929

The International Photographer, August, 1930